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I'm a grad student, an avid reader, a huge nerd, fervent roleplayer, wife, cat lover, tea snob, and obsessive keeper of lists.

"The Cave of Horror" by S.P. Meek

Second in my ongoing series of reviews of science fiction stories and books I found on Project Gutenberg...



The second story in the first issue of Astounding Stories of Super-Science that I've read from Project Gutenberg. In this one, a scientist and his sidekick (apparently this author wrote a whole series about them, according to Wikipedia) investigate "Mammoth Cave," where people have been going missing, including the soldiers brought in to search the cave after most of a family disappeared.

Once there, the scientist figures out that this is a monstrous creature from BELOW THE EARTH, which can only be seen in ultraviolet light (I know nothing about the science, but this seems a little dicey to me). It is a small one, obviously, and ravenous, and eats cows like they're popcorn. Or people, when it can get people.

After driving a tank into the cave...

Okay, list of questions:
A) Can you really drive a tank into a cave and maneuver it in such a way as to turn quickly and beat a hasty retreat?
B) Are driving a tractor and driving a tank really transferable skills in 1930?
C) Are there a lot of mysterious monsters from under the earth that can really survive something like 4-6 grenades?

Anyway, after driving the tank into the cave with a sheep strapped to the front, the scientist is able to snap pictures of the creature and, DUN DUN DUN! Discovers it mostly exists in two dimensions! It's huge! And broad! With human-like hands! But is sort of a snake! But it's only about two inches wide!

When he fails to kill the monster, presumably to stuff and mount it, the scientist makes what was to me the weirdest choice of all. Despite the massive manhunt, the double-digit number of soldiers who have been mauled and eaten, the cows they've requisitioned, and the general feeling that something is going on, without the carcass, the scientist decides he's going to go back to the lab and will never speak of it again! Because no one would believe him and he'd be laughed at!

Also, with no evidence, he decides that now that cave is perfectly safe to open to the civilian population again, and there's no reason they should be warned. 

If this is what scientists are like, I think I'm a little frightened of scientists now.

So, it's a crazy story, and oh, the science is told in such a boring manner (the author was apparently an Army scientist), but there are moments of genuine tenseness snuggled in between the howlers like commenting on how the scientist had "dreamer's hands," which I still don't understand as a descriptor.

As for gender, well, there are no women in this story, which tells you something all by itself. The only mentioned woman is the one whose entire family were the first to be eaten by the creature, and she doesn't even get a name that I remember. Nope, this is all male scientists and soldiers.

Ditto for race.

As for the science, well, I have to say that scientists don't come off so well in this, in their willingness to suppress evidence that might save someone's life in order to preserve their prestige.

So far, in this issue, all the scariest things come from under the earth. We'll see if that changes!