Thursday, January 21, 2010

Thursday Preview: In Caverns Below (Preview #2)

(Click on the cover illustration to read the pdf file in your browser. To download it, left-click on the illustration and select "Download Linked File" if you have a two-button mouse, or control-click with a one-button mouse.)

It's time for the second preview of In Caverns Below, the Gulliver's Travels of underground adventure, and the first in our Thrilling Wonder Stories Vintage Series of novels which originally appeared the 1929-55 Wonder magazines!

We missed last week's Thursday Preview, but that's okay, because this week, we're making up for it by bringing you a pdf file of two consecutive chapters.

This week's preview actually comes just before last week's. Mining engineer Frank Comstock, having accidentally fallen into the subterranean country of Wu, was about to be put to death when a curious professor, Tan Torm, elects to take responsibility for the stranger in order to find out about the land he comes from. Tan Torm takes Frank to live in his home along with his wife Tan Tal, and their daughters Loa, Moa, and Noa. 

And in this week's preview, the learning works both ways, as Frank finds out about war, investment, and leadership in the land of Wu. It's irrational, absurd... and vaguely familiar.

"You see, my dear young man," explained the Professor, turning to me not unkindly, "we live in an age of reason. Reason and science--these are the two features of our life, and both of these tell us that man is a fighting animal. Biology assures us that he was created with the instinct of aggression, which is necessary for the sake of self-preservation. Psychology declares that all the instincts planted in him by nature must be satisfied. Accordingly, men satisfy their instinct of self-preservation by destroying one another. That fact was demonstrated long ago by the world’s leading military psychologist, the great philosopher Yil Zom."

Tan Tal once more lifted her voice. "Besides, there is another reason. If we didn’t fight, think of the loss to industry! Think of all the millions invested in Mulflar Works and land-battleship factories! Why, if we didn’t have any war, all this investment would be wasted."

"Yes, and my stocks in Mulflar Products, Amalgamated, couldn’t possibly maintain their present high of 311!" said the Professor.

Taking advantage of a gap in the conversation, I asked, “What’s the present war all about, Professor Tan Torm? What is the issue, the principle behind it?”

“Issue? Principle behind it?” snorted Tan Torm. “What makes you think there is any issue, any principle behind it? We’re fighting for the national honor—and, certainly, there is no principle behind that!”

In the next chapter of the preview, Tan Torm takes Frank to pledge his allegiance to Wu, and Frank finds patriotism a hard pill to swallow.

“Do as the man says!” shrilled the Professor’s voice in my ear. “What use is the Oath of Fidelity if you don’t swallow it—and swallow it whole?”

I reached for the pellet, and regarded it suspiciously. It was as hard and unappetizing as a chip of granite.

“What are you waiting for?” demanded the official. “Don’t you want to swallow it? Will we have to call a recruiting sergeant and force it down your throat?”

Realizing that he was in earnest, I lifted the pellet toward my lips; it had an odor of overripe cheese. And so once more I hesitated.

“Great caverns! I suppose we’ll have to force it down your throat after all!” threatened the official.

I thrust the Oath into my mouth, but not so easily could I gulp it down. The seconds that followed were among the most miserable of my existence; the Oath of Fidelity caught, and would not go up or down.

They tell me that my face went blue in the ensuing struggle, and that I sank down and almost fainted. I was aware that Tan Torm was pounding on my back; someone had snatched a tool like a pair of pliers and was forcing the ball down my throat.

At last, thanks to heroic efforts, the refractory bit of paper went down after all, the reviving air entered my lungs. A minute longer, and the Oath would have killed me.

As I gradually regained my senses, I saw the Professor passing out a bright piece of brass, and heard the ringing of the cash register.

“Congratulations, young man!” exclaimed Tan Torm heartily, as he led me away. “The Oath of Fidelity pretty nearly didn’t take—but I’m glad you swallowed it after all. Now you’re a full-fledged citizen!”

You can buy In Caverns Below from,, and many other online booksellers. Or order it from your favorite brick-and-mortar bookstore. Its ISBN code is 978-0-9796718-9-0.

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