Friday, September 7, 2012

Stanley G. Weinbaum: The New Adam

Stanley G. Weinbaum was born on April 4, 1902 and died on December 14, 1935, when he was only 33.  He's one of those writers, composers, or artists about whom any conversation always turns to wondering what he would have accomplished if he had lived another decade or two or three.  He published his first SF short story in July 1934 and died about 18 months later.  That short story was "A Martian Odyssey," which, in 1970, was voted by the Science Fiction Writers of America as one of the top three short stories of all time.  Only Isaac Asimov's "Nightfall" got more votes, and Weinbaum's story beat out Daniel Keyes' "Flowers for Algernon" for the second spot.  I have read a collection of his short works, The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum, but this is the first novel I have read by him.  I think I will search out his other two novels.

Edmond Hall is The New Adam.    Aside from his extraordinarily high intelligence, he has two unique features.  The first is an extra joint in his fingers and toes.  This, of course, posed some problems for him while growing up.  The second wasn't noticeable, and he only told a very few people about it.  He had a double mind, each of which could be working on a separate track.  And, when he wished, he could bring them together to have a conversation, each developing a different solution to a problem.  He thought everybody was like this, until in school one day, a teacher told him to pay attention to class because nobody could do two things at once.  By this time, he had learned that it was best not to argue with adults.

Weinbaum's novel is a unique treatment of the subject.  It reads more like a 19th century biography than the typical SF novel of the theme. This is not the usual tale of a superman forced to go into hiding while defeating or at least eluding his enemies with his superpowers or his ability to create high-tech weapons and various other almost magical devices. Instead, we are given the story of an individual who is the classic outsider, one who doesn't fit in society. Therefore there is no crowd of enraged or frightened standard humans out for his blood.  The government is unaware of his true nature, and as long as he doesn't break any laws, it will ignore him as it will any law-abiding citizen.

Edmond Hall is the first person to appear in the further evolutionary development of homo sapiens.   He is seen as a bright boy and a genius when he matures into an adult.  But., nobody suspects that Hall is the next evolutionary step in the development of homo sapiens. 

For a story to work, there must be conflict, and conflict there is.  Only it's the typical conflicts faced by every child during the process of growing up: making friends, getting along with fellow students at school, or placating one's parents or relatives while striving for independence.  Nothing stands out that would identify Edmond Hall as being other than a very bright boy.  But, inside his head, there are two minds working.

Once Hall is an adult, he has to decide on a career.  First he tries science and invents some gadgetry that brings in enough money so that he does not have to work.  He is now free to experiment:  science, political power, the arts.  But, he can find nothing that satisfies him.

His intellectual superiority wasn't a problem while he was maturing, for he could communicate with  highly intelligent adults.  But, as he matured the number of adults who who were at his intellectual  level dwindled until he found himself alone. He searches for others like him but finds no evidence to suggest there are others who could be equals.  He is like a standard human marooned on an island with only dogs for companionship..

Finally he discovers love.  There is just one problem: Vanny is a normal human being.  He is attracted to her physically, but she cannot come close to him on an intellectual level.  It is then that he discovers there are a few others like him, a woman and two men.  With Sarah, he finds the opposite problem: he feels nothing for her,  but at last he has found his intellectual equals.

The conclusion, in keeping with the rest of the novel, is not the standard ending found in most works that focus on homo superior, but it is appropriate and satisfying, if unexpected.

If you are looking for a unique treatment of this theme, I recommend  The New Adam.

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