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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Farwell to the Master

Author: Harry Bates


Publisher: Spastic Cats (2013) (Originally Published 1940 in Astounding Science Fiction magazine)

Paperback 82 pages.

Finished 2/2/2017

Amazon Listing





“At last, after exactly two days, in full view of tens of thousands of persons assembled and standing well back, and under the muzzles of scores of the army’s most powerful guns and ray projectors, an opening appeared in the walls of the ship, and a ramp slid down, and out stepped man, godlike in appearance and human in form, closely followed by a giant robot” 
The classic science fiction story remembered mainly because the film The Day the Earth Stood Still was adapted from the tale. For those who are fans of the 1951 film, starring Micheal Rennie and Patricia Neal (or even its 2008 remake), you may be surprised that its main focus is not Klaatu, but his silent counterpart Gort (called Gnut in the story). Klaatu is killed three pages in.
The protagonist is a photojournalist named Cliff Sutherland who notices something strange. Gnut becomes inert after Kaatu is killed by a religious maniac, but Sutherland after comparing some photographs he took of the robot discovers that it is in a slightly different position. He stalks out the interplanetary wing of the Smithsonian in Washington to unravel the mystery.
What I found most amusing was the lack of technological advancement in this story set in our future. For while the movie was set in 1950’s America, the setting of the story is way past that, after man has landed on other planets. Still for all this, the main character stalks the inert robot Gnut with an infrared camera (state of the art when it was written), rather than a recording on his cell phone. And while there are robots, there are no computers. Newspapers are still the front line for news. The protagonist states only two spaceships were ever built. The first was sucked into the sun, while the other had colonized Mars. I am aware that much of what we have was well beyond the ideas of the time, but it is still fun reflecting on our “old future” as envisioned from the past.



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