Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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Lt. Terrance Donovan
Mrs. Peabody Glassock
Lower New York
EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS'
The Scientists Revolt
Copyright © 2002
David Bruce Bozarth,
This little-heralded tale was first published in Fantastic Adventures, 1939. A footnote explains that "[l]ate in the twenty-first century, all of Europe became involved in a war from which emerged a scientific power that ruled the whole continent. ..." The Science Rule was benevolent, though it could not predict the calamity of automation on the lives of humans. With no work to demand their efforts, the people became discontent and morally undermined. America, however, is different in this future world. In the first chapter Macklin Donovan looks down on Lower New York. The narrator muses with him: "Here, unlike Europe, and Asia, science had truly served, and not in a century had war come to America. Nor had any invader done other than cast covetous eyes on the wealth that science so ably protected. America was impregnable; democracy and science together were unassailable." This is similar to the future world Burroughs envisioned in Beyond Thirty, which was set in 2137. In Beyond Thirty, Europe had fallen into barbarism while the Americas prospered. The Europe of "The Scientists Revolt" is more stable, though the civil unrest shown in the story is set against scientific progress. Burroughs may not have been happy with the way the story was handled by the publisher (see more in the Afterword) and the story was never picked up for book publication.
Prologue: 2190 A.D.
Someone shoots out a window near the Science Ruler of Assuria. He remarks to Sanders that, but for his wife, he wishes the assassination had been successful. Sanders reminds him of his son. The Science Ruler says his son might be better off, since the animosity of the people is centered on himself. Only a few people remain loyal to the Science Ruler. Sanders says the people regret the birth of this son, because it indicates the continuation of the tyranny of science. Sanders suggests that to save the baby, though the mother is too ill to move, they give the boy to a mother in the Foreign Guard. She is to charade that she has twins. Under the pretext of defecting from the Science Ruler, she and her husband are to leave the palace. The Science Ruler agrees and calls Danard to arrange the plot, against the advice of Sanders. Donovan is commissioned to save the baby with his wife. He is to flee to America, where funding will be sent; he is to make no contact with the ruler unless specifically requested; the child is not to know his identity. The Science Rule is toppled the next day, May 2. The mob is angered that the child is missing. The bodies of the Science Ruler and his wife are never found. Two weeks later above the Atlantic, a child is buried at sea, leaving a young Irish mother with only one child.
Chapter 1: Twenty-Two Years Later
Macklin Donovan comforts his father at the side of his dying wife. Macklin works undercover, a guest at the Thorns' home. Macklin is a friend of Thorn's son, Percy. Other guests are Mrs. Glassock and her daughter Genevive, John Saran, an Assurian political exile, and his daughter Nariva. Macklin returns to Thorn Towers. Macklin notes the butler, Greeves, seems to be always watching. Thorn says his party will return to Three Gables the next day, the summer heat unbearable and his business nearly complete. Macklin detects eyes signaling throughout the afternoon. Euphonia, Thorn's sister, seems the only one genuine in behavior. The others find her laughable. Genevive seeks Macklin's approval, asking if she smokes too much. Macklin's response brings questions from Percy when they are alone. Percy loves Genevive. Macklin assures Percy that he will not encourage Genevive. Alone, Macklin studies the library. Nariva enters, surprised to find Macklin. They discuss her perfume. Macklin declares his love for her. She, in distress, says she loves him too but bolts up the stairs. While dressing, Genevive tells her mother that she prefers Percy. Mrs. Glassock tells her that Macklin's fortune is more desirable. Saran tells Nariva, in her room, that she has failed him.
Chapter 2: Murder in the Dark
Returning from dining out, Macklin notices an exchange of glances between Nariva and Greeves. Macklin has been unable and unwilling to connect Nariva with his criminal investigation. Greeves shuts off all but selected lights on the three floors on his way to bed then enters a closet. Macklin stays awake waiting for the household to go to sleep, suspecting intrigue in the night. He receives a paper under his door asking him to come to Nariva's room at 2:15, precisely. As he goes to rendezvous with Nariva, he discovers a calling card in his room with BEWARE scrawled on it. As he leaves the room he hears a needle pistol report, a body fall, and a woman shriek. He sees Thorn's body at the top of the stairs and assesses potential shooting points. Others rush to the scene. While most of the others look at Thorn, Greeves stares at Macklin. Macklin tells Greeves to call the police and the others to leave the body alone. Nariva has not gathered with the others and does not answer knocks at her door. Finally she opens and, wide-eyed at the scene, says she must have swooned when she heard the noise.
Chapter 3: Mystery
Macklin's father leads the police response. Macklin relates what he saw and heard and says he believes the shot was intended for someone else. Saran says he saw Macklin over the body, putting something in his pocket. Macklin volunteers to be searched. Saran objects because Donovan is Macklin's father, which surprises the others. Saran does not answer as to the source of his information. Neither Donovan affirms or denies the charge. Captain Bushor arrives and takes over the investigation. Saran accuses Macklin of burning a paper after the police arrived and implies that Macklin also hid the murder weapon in his room. Officer McGroarty whispers his defense of Macklin's character, heard by Mrs. Glassock. Bushor takes Macklin and Saran out and leaves the rest under McGroarty's eye. They note the absence of Greeves. Bushor sends an officer to look for him. As they approach his room, Macklin sees a woman enter it and notes the hall lights are off. The light in Macklin's room is off, though Macklin had left it on. He tells Bushor where his gun is, but the gun is missing. The police search. Saran suggests they search the bed and is surprised no gun is found there. Macklin is surprised no woman is found in the room. Bushor leaves them all under house arrest, under Donovan.
Chapter 4: Ghostly Disappearances
The Glassocks turn coldly from Macklin, upset at his deception of them. Returning to his room, Macklin is beckoned by Nariva who retreats when Saran's door opens. Saran tells Macklin to stay away from Nariva. Macklin sits in his room trying to find a way to believe Nariva had not intended to kill him. He sees a paper come under his closet door, but finds the closet empty. He locks it. A noise from the balcony precedes the hiss of a needle-gun shot. Macklin finds his balcony, and the others, empty, then sees a dagger on the floor. He notes its foreign make and a faint fragrance of Nariva's perfume. Macklin must have dozed for a scream awakens him. As he leaps from his bed, a needle whizzes past him from the closet. Flipping on the light he finds the closet still locked. Commotion in the hall draws him. Donovan asks who is missing: Greeves, Saran, and Nariva. They find Saran dead in his room, legs in his closet, a needle-wound in the forehead. Nariva's room is empty. Saran's room is locked. They force the door and find the body missing. A maid claims the house is haunted, that she had often heard footsteps in the night where no one was, but Greeves had told her it was her imagination. Donovan tells the others that they may congregate in the library rather than return to their rooms.
Chapter 5: The Vanishing Mr. Greeves
Donovan, Macklin and McGroarty search the penthouse but do not find Greeves, Nariva, or Saran's body. Donovan assigns two guards to Macklin. The guards fall asleep. Macklin finds another scrap of paper warning him to leave his room. Investigating a noise in Saran's room, Macklin apprehends Greeves. Greeves warns him and the officers that if Macklin returns to his room he will die. He bolts up the stairs, felling one officer, Macklin shooting at him and pursuing. Greeves evades them. Macklin, and his officers, wait in the dark room across the hall from his (Macklin's). Macklin, in the dark, returns to his room. He suspects a movement on the balcony. As he moves toward it, a flashlight beam from the closet shows Saran's dead face at the window. Saran's face moves away. The flashlight finds Macklin. He fires his needle gun into the light. The light goes out. He goes to the closet to find it locked and the key missing.
Chapter 6: The Mystery of the Closet
Macklin cannot understand how the light shown through a locked door. He investigates the balcony, crosses to the next, and enters the open window. A voice whispers, "Go back before they kill you." He approaches the voice. The closet door opens, empty. He pulls a hanger and an eerie blue light and crackling noise unnerve him. He opens the closet to find himself in a room that is not part of the Thorn penthouse. "Is that you, Danard?" demands a man. Macklin sees beyond him several men and Nariva. He is seized and dragged into the dark. The light comes on and the officers find Donovan in the closet. His gun, which had been taken in the scuffle, is found beside him. Donovan comes to investigate the sounds. Macklin asks him to turn off all the lights in the house and post officers at each bedroom door. Anyone coming through the doors is to be seized unless the countersign of "Three Gables" is offered. Donovan tells Macklin that he fears for him and that he has information about Macklin that cannot be revealed. He asks Macklin to go home under police escort. Macklin laughs. Donovan agrees to his son's plan.
Chapter 7: Across Space
Macklin returns in the darkness to the closet. He finds and pulls the hanger. After the light and crackle, he hears an altercation, opens the door quietly and finds darkness. He finds a hallway and sees through a window the Thorn building a mile away. He finds the voices and listens through the door. Greeves and another are speaking Assurian, which Macklin has learned as a child. The men are discussing a traitor. Saran complains that someone tried to kill him. Nariva defends herself. Conversation reveals Nariva has been hired to play Saran's daughter. The large man, Danard, identifies Nariva as a spy, the daughter of Michael Sanders. As Saran aims his pistol at Nariva, Macklin enters the room and shoots him. The others turn to fire at Macklin, shouting, "For Assuria!" Macklin's gun jams and Greeves shoots Danard. Nariva hits the light. Macklin is seized and dragged from the room. After much running, they – Macklin, Greeves, and Nariva – are tackled by Donovan's men. Donovan comes. Greeves leads the police force through the closet to the other building via "radio transmission," Greeves explains. They find Saran's body but not Danard's. Greeves says Danard killed Thorn.
Chapter 8: A Prince of Science
In the library, Greeves identifies Nariva as Sanders' daughter. Greeves then says that only Sanders and Danard knew the Science Ruler's son was alive. Danard became a secret revolutionist, seeking the heir's life. Danard wanted to become Assuria's dictator. He intended to kill the child, now a man living an assumed life. The man has been found. Greeves defers to Nariva who bows before Macklin. Macklin denies the implication and asks about Thorn's murder. Greeves relates that Danard had identified Macklin as a threat and designed the murder that mistakenly claimed Thorn. Nariva and Greeves, through use of the closet transmitters, had tried to warn Macklin. Thorn's death confused the plotters because, though he was duped, he was a major financer of Danard's plot. The disappearances of Greeves and Nariva are squared with their explained interference in Danard's plot. Nariva had shot and wounded Saran. Nariva had nearly been hit when Macklin shot the light. Greeves asks Donovan to tell Macklin who he is. Donovan hesitates then says his wife in her illness revealed that Macklin is their own son, that the Science Ruler's son died in infancy. Greeves urges them to go to Donovan's wife. In the aerial taxi, Macklin and Nariva vow to marry regardless of the outcome.
This story is a kind of black sheep in the Burroughs canon—for two reasons: the changes introduced editorially do not help it and it does not hold up to favorable comparison with other Burroughs work. While most everything that Burroughs submitted was edited in some way, this story was altered significantly. Ray Palmer is "credited" with the changes. The nineteenth-century Prisoner-of-Zenda type setting used in The Mad King and The Rider is transformed into a twenty-second-century quasi-European backdrop, still retaining the name Assuria, a kind of acronym for Russia. Palmer bought the story more than 15 years after Burroughs wrote it (1922/1939). The story had received repeated rejections. Burroughs used the pen name of John Tyler McCulloch on this story but Palmer refused to use it, intending instead to buy the Burroughs name to help launch Fantastic Adventures. The story Burroughs wrote – entitled "Beware!" – has never been commercially published, though it is available in the Burroughs Bulletin (Old Series #39 and New Series #33). The futuristic setting was added by Palmer, as was the concept of radio transmission of humans. The names also were changed from Burroughs Eastern Europe nomenclature to more manageable forms: Semepovski became Sanders, Saranov became Saran, Drovoff became Danard, and so on. Without much judgment, Irwin Porges explains that the tale was "transformed from a hodge-podge royal intrigue-detective mystery novelette to a science-fiction story" (362). Richard Lupoff sees this story as the nadir of Burroughs' published work, commenting: "One The Science Revolt [sic] is enough blot on an author's record" (293). The mystery lacks sustained suspense and the writing is trite by most readers' reaction. Bob Davis, who was first offered the manuscript, wrote back to ERB candidly: "[The story is] the nearest approach to mediocrity that ever came from your pen, and Lord, Edgar, how did you come to fall back among the Russians [...]. That whole bunch smell to high heaven in fiction [...]" (qtd. in Porges 362). (Burroughs wrote the piece five years after the Bolshevik Revolution.) Whether the story "smells" is up to readers to decide, but the story will never be one that brings positive acclaim for Burroughs.
- Lupoff, Richard A. Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure. Rev. ed. New York: Ace, 1968.
- Porges, Irwin. Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan. Provo: Brigham Young UP, 1975.