The Thunder Child

Science Fiction and Fantasy
Web Magazine and Sourcebooks

Radio Drama
Science Faction

The Plot Zone
"Stand By For Mars!"
The Plot Zone

The Plot Zone: Miniature Masterpieces

by Cathy Gale

Stories are listed in chronological order, not by author.

1. Rappaccini's Daughter, by Nathanial Hawthorne (1846)
2. The Land Ironclads, by H. G. Wells (1903)
3. With the Night Mail, by Rudyard Kipling (1905)
4. The Hungry Guinea Pig, by Miles Breuer (1930)

Rappaccini's Daughter, by Nathanial Hawthorne, 1846

The DA, or Differential Analyzer:
Type: Drama Style: Plate Glass Narrator:3rd person
Homage: None Time: Past (from the present of 1846) Location: Italy
Themes: Father/daughter relationship, Scientists sacrificing lives for science Women: 1 Minorities: None Aliens: None
Real People: the Borgias, Benvenuto Cellini


A young man, named Giovanni Guasconti, came, very long ago, from the more southern region of Italy, to pursue his studies at the University of Padua. Giovanni, who had but a scant supply of gold ducats in his pocket, took lodgings in a high and gloomy chamber of an old edifice which looked not unworthy to have been the palace of a Paduan noble, and which, in fact, exhibited over its entrance the armorial bearings of a family long since extinct. The young stranger, who was not unstudied in the great poem of his country, recollected that one of the ancestors of this family, and perhaps an occupant of this very mansion, had been pictured by Dante as a partaker of the immortal agonies of his Inferno. These reminiscences and asociations, together with the tendency to heartbreak natural to a young man for the first time out of his native sphere, caused Giovanni to sigh heavily as he looked around the desolate and ill-furnished apartment.

Guasconti is a young man who comes to Padua to pursue his studies. He rents a room which overlooks the gardens of Rappaccini, a scientist who experiments with plants and herbs. Rappaccini has a daughter, who has never been out of the garden. Guasconti discovers that everything she touches dies, but that does not prevent him from courting her.

Giovanni Guasconti
Dame Lisabetta
Giacomo Rappaccini
Beatrice Rappaccini
Pietro Baglioni
- the protagonist
- old, his landlady
- the famous doctor, who distills plants into medicines
- his daughter
- Professor of Medicine at the university of Padua

The image of the scientist::

" for Rappaccini, it is said of him...that he cares infinitely more for science than for mankind. His patients are interesting to him only as subjects for some new experiment. He would sacrifice human life, his own among the rest, or whatever else was dearest to him, for the sake of adding so much as a grain of mustard seed to the great heap of his accumulated knowledge."


"I know little of the Signora Beatrice save that Rappaccini is said to have instructed her deeply in his science, and that, young and beautiful as fame reports her, she is already qualified to fill a professor's chair." says Baglioni.

But, it turns out this is not true. Beatrice tells Giovanni that her father has taught her nothing:

"No; although I have grown up among these flowers, I know no more of them than their hues and perfume; and sometimes methinks I would fain rid myself of even that small knowledge."

Why did Rappacini do what he did to his daughter?

"Wouldst thou, then, have preferred the condition of a weak woman, exposed to all evil and capable of none"?
"I would fain have been loved, not feared."

Much literary criticism has been written about this story - much of it in a psycho-sexual vein, and it has provided the inspiration for many future science fiction and fantasy stories. I was reminded of a slightly more moral Frankenstein. Rappaccini creates his daughter and does not abandon her as Frankenstein does his creature...and he even creates a mate for her - someone who can withstand her poison. He wants her to be happy..but he doesn't realize or care what it would have taken to make her happy. She was more than anything else an experiment.

See the external webspage: Survey of Criticism: Rappaccini's Daughter.

Collected in:
The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF

The Land Ironclads, by H. G. Wells, 1903

The DA, or Differential Analyzer:
Type: Drama Style: Plate Glass Narrator:3rd person
Homage: None Time: Future Location: Earth
Themes: War, Mankind versus machinery Women: None Minorities: None Aliens: None
Real People: None


The young lieutenant lay beside the war correspondent and admired the idyllic calm of the enemy's lines through his field-glass.

Two countries are at war. One consists of 'civilized' men - men who live in towns and who have grown soft. The other consists of men who live out in the open, hardy souls who can ride horses and fight and shoot. A war correspondent believes these men will win without trouble, for all he thinks they're uncivilized louts. But the civilized men have science...and science = invention...

A Lieutenant
A War correspondent
A War artist

The image of the soldier:

"If a decent civilization cannot produce better men for war than..." [thinks the correspondent of the enemy]
..."Than our open air life." [says the lieutenant]
"Then civilization has to stop."

The correspondent's opinion of the soldiers:

"Louts. Cunning, elementary louts. And they are going to beat the townsmen at the game of war!"

There are no women in this story.

The narrator of the story refers to non-whites in typical 1903 fashion:

For the enemy these young engineers were defeating they felt a certain qualified pity and a quite unqualified contempt. They regarded these big, healthy men they were shooting down precisely as these same big, healthy men might regard some inferior kind of nigger.

Description of the land ironclads:

They were essentially long, narrow, and very strong steel frameworks carrying the engines, and borne upon eight pairs of big pedrail wheels, each about ten feet in diameter, each a driving wheel and set upon long axles to swivel round a common axis. This arrangement gave them the maximum of adaptability to the contours of the ground. They crawled level along the ground with one foot high upon a hillock and another deep in a depression, and they could hold themselves erect and steady sideways upon even a steep hillside. The engineers directed the engines under the command of the captain, who had look-out points at small ports all round the upper edge of the adjustable skirt of twelve-inch iron plating which protected the whole affair, and who could also raise or depress a conning tower set about the portholes through the centre of the iron top cover. The riflemen each occupied a small cabin of peculiar construction, and these cabins were slung along the sides of and before and behind the great main framework, in a manner suggestive of the slinging of the seats in an Irish jaunting car. Their rifles, however, were very different pieces of apparatus from the simple mechanisms in the hands of their adversaries.

H. G. Wells wrote his most famous novel, The War of the Worlds, (1898)in part as a reaction to the partitioning of Africa, which was going on at the time. The Martians had as little concern for the original inhabitants of the earth as the colonizing Europeans had for the original inhabitants of the African countries. In "The Land Ironclads" Wells makes a similar point, with his comments about the 'civilized men' mowing down the louts with as little compassion as the louts mowed down 'inferior kinds of niggers.' Although it sounds unsympathetic to the original inhabitants, he's actually making a point.

"The Land Ironclads" is a most evocative story. With its description of trench warfare one is reminded of the horrible trench warfare of WWI still to come. The dialogue of the lieutenant with the correspondent, of them both being in a "Boy's Own Paper adventure" with no thought of the agonies of war, is splendid. The irony of the correspondent's confidence at the beginning of the battle with his resignation at the end are nicely juxtaposed.

Wells, in essence, gave inventors the idea for the tank. Wells final sentence, about the civilized men who won the battle, is telling. (He's comparing the civilized men to the uncivilized ones, and finding them much the same in essence.):

And he was much too good a journalist to spoil his contrast by remarking that the half-dozen comparatively slender young men in blue pyjamas who were standing about their victorious land ironclad, drinking coffee and eating biscuits, had also in their eyes and carriage something not altogether degraded below the level of a man.


"And this is war!"
"No, it's Bloch."
"The game's a draw."
"No, they've got to win or else they lose. A draw's a win for our side."
Wells refers to Ivan Stanislavovic Bloch (1836 - 1902), an industrialist who devoted his life to the study of modern warfare. Bloch theorized that modern weapons had made charging across open ground obsolete, and foresaw the rise of trench warfare.

Collected in:
The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF

With the Night Mail: A STORY OF 2000 A. D.(Together with extracts from the magazine in which it appeared), Rudyard Kipling, 1905

The DA, or Differential Analyzer:
Type: Drama Style: Plate Glass Narrator:1st person
Homage: None Time: 2000 AD Location: Air power, dirgibles
Themes: War, Mankind versus machinery Women: None Minorities: None Aliens: None
Real People: None


At nine o'clock of a gusty winter night I stood on the lower stages of one of the G. P. O. outward mail towers. My purpose was a run to Quebec in "Postal Packet 162" or such other as may be appointed;" and the Postmaster-General himself coutersigned the order. This talisman opened all doors, even those in the despatching-caisson at the foot of the tower where they were delivering the sorted Continental mail. The bags lay packed close as herrings in the long grey underbodies which are G. P. O. still calls "coaches." Five such coaches were filled as I watched, and were shot up the guides to be locked on to their waiting packets three hundred feet nearer the stars.
In the world of the future airships have far outstripped planes and even cars for transportation use. There are 'lanes' of altitude for every airship-personal, business - "liners, yachts", and they are all busy! The narrator is, a journalist who is to write a story on the G. P. O. (General Post Office)'s Postal Packet 162. He takes us on a journey, a "night in the life" type of story, as the Packet rescues the crew of a derelict airship, and survives a storm, before completing its appointed round by delivering the mail to Quebec. Modern day yachts might even look like one of these futuristic airships. Some used Viking yachts for sale hardly resemble older boats. Newer yacht have incorporated aerodynamic designs that make them both functional and beautiful.

Narrator (journalist)
Captain Purnall
Relief Captain Hodgson
Various others

Illustrations (of varying quality) availabe at the Forgotten Futures website.

On the notice-board in the Captain's Room, the pulsing arrows of some twenty indicators register, degree by geographical degree, the progress of as many homeward bound packets.

Here we find Fleury's Paradox of the Bulk-headed Vacuum - which we accept now without thought - literally in full blast. The three engines are H.T. & T. assisted-vacuo Fleury turbines running from 3000 to the Limit - that is to say, up to the point when the blades make the air "bell" - cut out a vacuum for themselves precisely as over-driven marine propellers used to do. "162's" Limit is low on account of the small size of her nine screws, which, though handier than the old colloid Thelussons, "bell" sooner....

From the low-arched expansion tanks on either side the valves descend pillarwise to the turbine-chests, and thence the obedient gas whirls through the spirals of the blades with ta force that would whip the teeth out of a power saw. Behind, is its own pressure held in leash or spurred on by the lift-shuts, before it, the vacuum where Fleury's Ray dances in violet-green bands and whirled turbillons of flame. The jointed U-tubes of the vacuum chamber are pressure-tempered colloid (no glass would endure the strain for an instant) and a junior engineer with tinted spectacles watches the Ray intently. It is the very heart of the machine - a mystery to this day. Even Fleury who begat it, and, unlike Magniac, died a multi-millionaire, could not explain how the restless little imp shuddering in the U-tube can, in the fractional fraction of a second, strike the furious blast of gas into a chill greyish-green liquid that drains (you can hear it trickle) from the far end of the vacuum through the eduction-pipes and the mains back to the bilges. Here it returns to its gaseous, one had almost written sagacious, state and climbs to start work afresh. Bilge tank, upper tank, dorsal-tank, expansion chamber, vacuum, main-return (as a liquid) and the bilge -tank once more in is the ordained cycle...If a speck of oil, if even the natural grease of the human finger touch the hooded terminals, Fleury's Ray will wink and disappear and must be laboriously built up again. This means half a day's work for all hands and an expense of one hundred and seventy-odd pounds to the G. P. O. for radium-salts and such trifles.

Here Tim, from the Control Platform, shouts that were are to get into our inflators and to bring him his at once. We hurry into the heavy rubber suits - the engineers are already dressed - and inflate at the air-pump taps. G. P. O. inflators are thrice as thick as a racing man's "flickers" and chafe abominably under the armpits. George takes the wheel until Tim has blown himself up to the extreme of rotundity.


"There is no sense in in urging machinery when Aeolus himself gives you good knots for nothing." Aeolus is the Greek god of winds.


What if that wavering carcass had been filled with the men of the old days, each one of them taught (that is the horror of it!) that after death he would very possibly go for ever to unspeakable torment?)

"With the Night Mail" is a long novella divided into three parts, ostensibly from an Aerial Control Board magazine of the future (much like the Shipping News) - the narrative which tells of one night in the life of a mail packet, weekly reports on lights, missing ships, weather notes and correspondence, and then 8 pages of advertisements. Rudyard Kipling presents a complete world of the future. [In the original story, not reproduced in Ascent of Wonder, are illustrations of the dirigibles, which can be seen at this external site: Forgotten Futures: With the Night Mail text.

Collected in:
The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF

The Hungry Guinea Pig, Miles J. Breuer, 1930

The DA, or Differential Analyzer:
Type: Drama Style: Plate Glass Narrator: 3rd person
Homage: None Time: Present Location: Chicago
Themes: Giantism, Scientists meddling Women: None Minorities: None Aliens: None
Real People: None


Dr. Clarence Hinkle walked remniscently westward along Harrison Street. Things had changed. The city had grown. "The spirit of Chicago is growth," thought Dr. Hinkle.

Dr. Clarence Hinkle, a doctor from Nebraska, comes to Chicago to visit his friend Parmenter. Parmenter has been experimenting with

Dr. Clarence Hinkle
Dr. Parmenter
various others


"A few years ago I got interested in ductless glands and internal secretions...I've done a lot of work on those two little brain glands [pituitary and pineal] and written a lot about them."

"You will recollect that in the pathological condition known as acromegaly, in which there is an excess of pituitary gland secretion supplied to the body, the limbs grow long, and tall giants are produced...perhaps you have followed McCord's experiments: he fed chicks with pineal glands from cattle, and they grew to three or four times the size of normal birds. Then a couple of workers in California separated from the pituitary body a substance which they call tehelin, and which, when injected into mice, doubled their growth."


This story was written in and takes place in 1930. The giant guinea pig escapes and does quite a bit of damage - accidentally, of course. First, the widow of a lawyer files a lawsuit because her husband was squashed in his car by the guinea pig...then quickly other lawsuits follow.

Scientist's View of Himself:

All his life Parmenter had been working, not for his own interests, but for the good of mankind. To have the people to whom he had freely given of his life and work turn against him in this unkind way was something he could neither grasp nor endure.

Giant creatures were not invented by the "radiation theater" of 1950s movies, merely perfected. Here, in 1930, a giant monster is created quite believably, using pituitary and pineal gland extracts.

Collected in:
The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF

Return to:
The Thunder Child Miniature Masterpieces Index

Click on the icons for new features in The Thunder Child.
Radiation Theater: 1950s Sci Fi Movies Discussion Boards
The Sand Rock Sentinel: Ripped From the Headlines of 1950s Sci Fi Films

Recommended Reading

[Home Page] [Contact Us] [Triskelion] [TechnoOcean] [Daily Space] [Store] [Site Map]

To see our animated navigation bars, please download the Flash Player from Adobe.

All text © 2006, 2007 The Thunder Child unless otherwise credited.
All illustrations retain original copyright.
Please contact us with any concerns as to correct attribution.
Any questions, comments or concerns contact The Thunder Child.