Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Doctor! Doctor!

Fu Manchu's Bride, by Sax Rohmer. PF Collier & Son, 1933, The Orient Edition.

Dear diary: today this reader and I went down to the bay of Ste Claire de la Roche and saw the worm-man and encountered the Life Principle, which is male in orchids, but female in coal! There the words of Fu Manchu almost destroyed the world, but other words, timely phrases, saved us all. Now the reader and I are friends for life!

Fu Manchu's Bride (other editions are more pleasingly titled The Bride of Fu Manchu) is the sixth in a series by Sax Rohmer. This particular novel brings the exclamatory Alan Sterling to the caves and compound of the ruthless Doctor Fu Manchu. The Doctor has evil designs—of course!—upon the world and seeks to conquer nations by methods that would probably seem far-fetched to ordinary warmongers like Napoleon or Attila the Hun. The evil mandarin's power is his personality, diffused through resistless opiates and even more resistless words:

Some of the secret of this strange man's power lay in the fact that he never questioned his own authority, or the obedience of those upon whom he laid his orders. (130)

Who could prevail against a man like this? Moreover, to carry out his evil plans, Fu Manchu possesses terrible weapons to warp a man's heart, including fearful insects and monsters—"The head was hairless, and the entire face, trunk, and limbs glistened moistly like the skin of an earthworm" (132)—along with his secret organization, the Si-Fan, and the deadliest army the world has ever known: "An army of flies—carrying the germ of a new plague; a plague for which medical science knows no remedy!" (199). The cunning mandarin has acquired these weapons by forcing the many brilliant scientists he keeps imprisoned in his compound at Ste Claire de la Roche to produce destructive hybrids of malformed life.

Into this world stumbles Alan Sterling, looking to even a score with Fu Manchu for killing his friend, Doctor Petrie, the only man to have formulated a cure against the plague-army. Petrie's last words to Sterling were a warning, a groaning hollow voice crying against the machinations of Doctor Fu Manchu. Petrie's words saved Alan Stirling's life. Motivated also by by his protective love for Fu Manchu's innocent tool, the violet-eyed Fleurette, Sterling teams up with habitual defender-of-the-empire Sir Denis Nayland Smith to keep vigil against the evil superhuman. Sterling, however, is abducted by Fu Manchu and taken back to the doctor's compound, where he undergoes The Blessing Of The Celestial Vision. But The Vision in the syringe does not work. The drug does not enter Sterling's system. Fu Manchu's daughter, disagreeing with her father's plans, has replaced The Vision with a placebo. But no one can deceive Fu Manchu, no one can lie to the doctor (229), for when Doctor Fu Manchu speaks:

All that was me, all that I regarded as my personality, fought against [Fu Manchu's] command—for a command it was. Yet—the plain fact must be recorded: I stood up. (231)

Sterling, Fleurette and Fu Manchu's daughter are found out. Sterling is removed to a small subterranean apartment, and the caves and tunnels of the compound are suffused with monstrous insects. Sterling escapes, however, discovering that his uniform can isolate him from the deadly horde. Rejoined by Nayland Smith, Sterling hunts down Fu Manchu and rescues the previously-believed-dead Doctor Petrie in the process. Fu Manchu, however, escapes, because he always escapes, this man with a bloody mountain of crime behind him. Temporarily imprisoned in Nice, the large-skulled superman imperiously declares, "You have checked me. But you cannot hold back the cloudburst nor stifle the volcano" (313). Fu Manchu is replaced by a decoy, and disappears into the mysteries of the Si-Fan. "[Fu Manchu] was rather obscure," says Sterling (314), and is rebuked by Nayland Smith for his lack of understanding. Nayland Smith points out that Fu Manchu is never obscure, that the oriental genius always declares his intentions firmly and truthfully. Most men fail to believe the evil Doctor because they cannot see the incredible world around themselves. Fu Manchu, on the other hand, believes that fable is at least as true as fact (144). It is from the unseen world of the incredible that the Doctor draws his power and inspiration and he always returns to this fabulous universe, leaving behind only the promise of more terror to come.

We in the West follow our well trodden paths; no one of us sees more than the others see. But, under the street along which we are walking, at the back of a house which we have passed a hundred times, beyond some beach on which we sun ourselves, lies something else—something unsuspected. (305)

Sterling cannot see, nor Sir Denis Nayland Smith himself see, very far ahead. The most these men can do is watch, listen, spot the signs, hear the words, the terrible guttural voice of Fu Manchu promising doom to seven continents. That wicked personality will soon be abroad the age again, green eyes and hypnotizing voice encouraging world-wide submission. Whose warning words will wake the next Sterling, the next Nayland Smith, to the complicated plans of Fu Manchu?

Reading: The Demolished Man + Alfred Bester

Listening: History EP + controller.controller

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