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Leinster, Murray – The Middle of the Week After Next (1952)

04/23/2013

I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but this entry is very strongly reminiscent of many of the stories in the earlier volumes of this series, a kind of whodunnit revolving around an eccentric scientist whose new invention causes some sort of chaos, which is then explained away with a lot of technical talk toward the end. The narrative voice also very strongly anticipates that used by Rod Serling in the Twilight Zone (which will begin a years later, in 1959), opening with:

“It can be reported that Mr. Thaddeus Binder is again puttering happily around the workshop he calls his laboratory, engaged again upon something that he-alone-calls philosophic-scientific research.”

Mr. Binder, eager to demonstrate his new concept of “compenetrability” (the abstract thought that… two things might manage to be in the same place at the same time.) to a friend, grabs his test subject (a deerskin throw that had had a picture of Hiawatha and Minnehaha on it) and jumps into a taxi driven by one Mr. Steems. After a few blocks, Mr. Steems is shocked to discover that Mr. Binder has vanished, leaving behind only the deer skin, with a variety of metal objects left on top of it (buttons, a watch, change, etc).

Mr. Steems is one of those characters that mid-century sf writers love to hate: a brutish, quick-tempered man of the toiling classes who is completely stumped by his exposure to the forward-thinking experiments of Mr. Binder:

Mr. Steems retired to a bar and had several beers. There was a situation to be faced; to be thought out. But Mr. Steems was not an intellectual type. Thinking made his head hurt.

He decides to do nothing (not even bothering to take the deer skin out of his taxi, oddly) and proceeds to have every fare that he picks up vanish – including his fiance’s harpy of a mother, which leads to some painful melodrama between Steems, the fiance, and a policeman who is vying for her affections. Steems continues enriching himself off the leavings of his mysteriously-vanished victims until he comes to the notice of the newspaper (“52 MISSING IN CITY! MONSTER AT WORK?”), which prompts another anti-Red rant: “It’s them Commies start stories like that! Them newspaper guys, they Commies!

Years and years from now when I reach 1991 and the end of the Soviet Union, maybe I’ll go back and compile all these references – and also the ones that balance out the commie-bashing with some capitalist-bashing, because there’s been a surprising number of those, including our Mr. Steems here, who yells at a rich guy who got in his cab “It’s guys like you-guys that because you got some money think you can raise hell that can make a living-it’s guys like you that ruin this country! Yah, you capitalists-”.

A week later, people reappear, sans metal, without realizing that any time had passed, and head to the police station to report being robbed and tossed out of a taxi. Mr. Binder finally makes it to his friend’s house, where he gives us the obligatory technical explanation, that “if the electric fields of atoms can be stopped from hindering, there is plenty of room for one seemingly solid object to penetrate another, and therefore for two or more things to be in the same place at the same time” and so on. This has the effect of pushing the atoms at right angles to all other dimensions, into the fourth dimension, and therefore into the middle of the week after next.

I am not a fan of these kinds of stories.

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