“The Machine Man of Ardathia,” Francis Flagg, 1927

“The Machine Man of Ardathia,” Francis Flagg, 1927 – A “machine” man in a glass casing–with tubes in his body, a metallic voice, and a large head–enters the room of a irascible old man and calls him a Prehistoric man.  The intruder explains testily that he’s a historian from the future who’s made an error.  The traveler was actually aiming for 15,000—not 30,000—years in the past.  His goal was to research the Bi-Chanics, an intermediary stage between the primitive, animal-like humans of the 20th century and the mechanical men of the future.  When the traveler claims that the Bi-Chanics were the first to learn to subordinate machines to their use (e.g., mechanical hearts), he is corrected: A Russian recently utilized a mechanical heart, and humans are now hatching rabbits and guinea pigs in ecto-genic incubators. The mechanical man wonders why humanity didn’t take advantage of advances in technology sooner if they had already begun such experimentation.

The visitor reveals that significant alterations have been made to the human body. Skin is now hairless, heads are enlarged, wastes are no longer excreted, food is not consumed, young are not birthed. Blood has been replaced by a cleansing, nourishing fluid inside the cylinder.   There are no males or females (though he still refers to them as “men”). Their separation from the environment inside encasings staves off aging.

In the descriptions of the future that follow, it is revealed that the Bi-Chanics discovered that “man only became human” when he fashioned “tools” that lengthened his arms, strengthened his grip.  Man’s bodily advancement only lay through the machine, through prosthetics, and that humans advance their lives by seeking “the protection” of the machine.  The Bi-Chanics would have survived, but they could not give up an old-fashioned version of reproduction and this eventually “felled” their society, such that the Tri-Namics (which was actually a youth revolution, not a separate civilization) were able to “overthrow” them.  In Tri-Namic society, ova are no longer taken from women, as they were with the Bi-Chanics, but created artificially; as the embryo develops, tubes are introduced and become an integral part of its being.

If that is true, the narrator asks, what of the soul, the spirit? The traveler tries to explain, but the old man’s language is too limited. He reads the mechanical man’s body: head size corresponds to reduced animal passion, no longer ruled by viscera. He concludes that the mechanical men live a joyless existence, without sex, mates, trapped forever in a casing, without full use of their limbs. The machine man laughs: Is you who are shackled in your limited body–behold the use of my limbs.  A ray of light lifts the old man up, probes him. The old man is sent five years into the future and then back.  He learns more about the  Tri-Namics, who also invented the envelope casing. The story concludes with a postscript commenting on the papers found by author.

Comments: An early entry into sf’s discussion of prosthetics, cyborgs, and transhumanism. This story and “The Cities of Ardathia” are part of a future history sequence.  See Bleiler’s Science Fiction: The Gernsback Years for a more detailed description of both stories. This text is available in Amazing: The Wonder Years 1926-1935.

Authors: Wikipedia: “George Henry Weiss (1898–1946) was an American poet, writer and novelist. His science fiction stories and poetry appeared under the pseudonym “Francis Flagg” in the magazines Amazing Stories, Astounding, Tales of Wonder, Weird Tales and others.

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About jennre

Lifelong sf fan, first-time blogger
This entry was posted in 1926-1939, cyborgs/posthumans, gender, mechanization, natural/artificial, primitive/civilized, progress/obsolescence, religion/soul/spirituality, sex/reproduction/sterility, the body. Bookmark the permalink.

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