Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Myshkin by David V. Reed

Lame and tedious mad scientist tale
Originally published in the April 1953 issue of Other Worlds Science Fiction, Myshkin is a science fiction novel by David V. Reed, who is perhaps best known as a writer of Batman comics in the ‘50s. In this mad scientist tale, the narrator, Lieutenant Henry Bannerman, returns from service in World War II and looks up his former roommate, a man known only as Myshkin. Bannerman finds that his old friend has gone somewhat off his rocker by devoting all his time and energy to the creation of a new invention. Remarkably, the machine that Myshkin has created is, for all intents and purposes, a 3D printer. It scans any object placed within its “cage” and creates a miniature duplicate composed of whatever raw material is fed into the machine. Myshkin goes beyond mere replication, however, pushing the envelope of what this 3D printer can do, until one of his creations gets out of hand and becomes dangerous.

While the basic premise of the novel is fine, Reed takes the story in directions that are merely frustrating and annoying. The book is incredibly poorly written, consisting almost entirely of dialogue in the form of convoluted, pun-riddled Who’s-on-First? routines that go nowhere and aren’t the least bit funny. All the action takes place in two apartments, where a series of unlikable, unfunny characters are constantly and pointlessly entering and exiting, to the extent where it’s difficult to keep track of who is where and what’s actually happening in the story. The cast includes two female characters whose sole purpose is to be sexy and stupid. A large portion of the narrative is given up to a Sherlock Holmes-style locked-room mystery revolving around how and why a bundle of clothes has been moved. Everyone eventually ends up fighting over a chemical compound, the value of which is unclear.

Science is almost entirely absent from this science fiction. The series of events that takes place is nonsensical and asinine. Never is any attempt made to offer an explanation for the fantastical happenings until the very end, where Reed provides a brisk and half-baked wrap-up. Myshkin is a tedious ordeal to read, neither intelligent nor entertaining. Though it was a respect for vintage pulp fiction that led me to read the novel in the first place, Myshkin represents the nadir of the sci-fi produced in the pulp era, a reminder that this was a time when newsstands were crammed with so many fiction magazines that just about anything could get published.