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Taine, John

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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Pseudonym for all his fiction of Scottish-born mathematician and author Eric Temple Bell (1883-1960), permanently in US from 1902; under his own name he wrote at least 250 papers and several studies in mathematical history and theory. Taine's first novels were Lost-World tales: The Purple Sapphire (1924), set in Tibet where an ancient race possesses the secret of atomic power; and The Gold Tooth (1927), set in Korea, where another ancient race is discovered, whose secret – the transmutation of metal – is almost revealed to Japan (see Yellow Peril), but Caucasian explorers prevent this from happening, and soon become successful capitalists. Before beginning to write (occasionally) for the sf Pulp magazines in 1930, he also published Quayle's Invention (1927), about the Invention of another technique for transmuting metals. In Green Fire: The Story of the Terrible Days in the Summer of 1990: Now Told in Full for the First Time (1928), a Mad Scientist attempts to control atomic energy, but almost blows up the entire universe.

Taine's best and most interesting work comprises a long sequence (only connected thematically) of mutational romances (see Mutants) involving rapid and uncontrolled Evolution: The Greatest Adventure (1929), in which an Underground Antarctic Lost World contains frozen spores which, when activated, will cover the world with uncontrollable life forms; The Iron Star (1930), an Apes as Human tale focusing on a giant meteorite in the Congo; The Crystal Horde (Winter 1930 Amazing Stories Quarterly as "White Lily"; 1952), in which life based on crystalline silicate threatens to engulf carbon life on Earth; and Seeds of Life (Fall 1931 Amazing Stories Quarterly; 1951), an important early Superman story whose Hero/Antihero anticipates a flood of musing, mostly in Comics, about responsibility – the Mad Scientist protagonist, who decides he must exterminate Homo sapiens, is one of many Genre SF predecessors of the antihero Crake at the heart of Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake (2003). The last two tales were later assembled as Seeds of Life and White Lily (omni 1966)."The Ultimate Catalyst" (June 1939 Thrilling Wonder) promulgates similar crises in short form.

Before the Dawn (1934) is a didactic prehistoric romance in which the age of the Dinosaurs, as dramatized through the life story of a Tyrannosaurus rex as observed through a Time Viewer. The Time Stream (December 1931-March 1932 Wonder Stories; 1946) is an elaborate Time-Travel adventure into the past and future and to other worlds which, like the mutational romances, helped to extend the horizons of pulp sf and is one of the outstanding products of the early SF Magazines; the magazine version of the tale was assembled with The Greatest Adventure and The Purple Sapphire as Three Science Fiction Novels (omni 1964). The Forbidden Garden (1947) is another Lost Race tale set in Tibet. The title story of The Cosmic Geoids and One Other (coll 1949) is an interesting but not altogether successful literary experiment, taking the form of a series of imaginary scientific reports dealing with strange Extraterrestrial objects; the "one other" is the novella "Black Goldfish" (1948 Fantasy Book Vol 1 #4). Of less interest were the superweapon story "Twelve Eighty-Seven" (May-September 1935 Astounding) and the Disaster story Tomorrow (April 1939 Marvel Science Stories; 2021 dos). Taine's last book was G.O.G. 666 (1954), a Cold War Apes as Human tale whose eponymous Monster, though created by the Russians, is treated sympathetically.

Taine's prose style is sometimes crude, and his characterization usually lacks finesse, but his best work shows an admirable imaginative flair. He loved to do things on a grand scale, sometimes conveying his effects with a distant evolutionary perspective characteristic of the Scientific Romance; and many of his novels end with catastrophes which overwhelm whole continents. [BS/JC]

see also: Biology; Devolution; Fantastic Voyages; History of SF; Intelligence; Metaphysics; Money; The Monolith Monsters; Pseudoscience.

Eric Temple Bell

born Peterhead, near Aberdeen, Scotland: 7 February 1883

died Watsonville, California: 21 December 1960


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