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July/August 2019
 
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The Mind of Mr Soames, by Charles Eric Maine (1961)


IN REAL life, Charles Eric Maine was David McIlwain, a pioneer of early British sf fandom in the 1930s. His professional debut was a script for the BBC radio play Spaceways (1952), which he later novelized. Generally, Maine wrote semi-hardboiled thrillers with shaky genre trappings. A nuclear researcher in The Isotope Man (1957) has become radioactive enough to affect camera film: Somehow, in a group picture, it's only his image that is blurred.

The Mind of Mr Soames is an unusually sober venture whose premise is barely sf. Soames has spent his life in a coma and is revived by delicate neurosurgery at age thirty. Psychologists at the Institute grapple uncertainly with the problem of educating and civilizing this strong-willed man-child. Soames quickly learns basic English but doesn't grasp morality or discipline; his learned mentors utterly fail to convey the idea of a social contract. One exasperated doctor is soon reduced to explaining: "Because I said so." Violence ensues.

Plausible touches include interfering pressmen who want a news story about reuniting Soames with his family (this goes badly), and our man's fascination with the Institute's lake—not Freudian womb-fixation but an echo from decades of reduced-metabolism coma in a chilled tank, now dimly recalled as lost tranquillity.

Inevitably Soames escapes and, taking over the narrative point of view, interacts bruisingly with the outside world. Finally, at bay and in grim accordance with what Isaac Asimov called the Frankenstein Complex, he unwittingly kills the surgeon who was in effect his creator. Good intentions on all sides add up to tragedy.

David Langford

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