Wednesday, August 5, 2015

"And the Dead Spake..."

"And the Dead Spake..."
by E.F. Benson

On a quiet London cul-de-sac there lives a surgeon of unrivaled genius.  As he tells his friend (our narrator), he is convinced that it is possible for the dead to speak-- after a fashion.

My Reaction:
This story was somewhat less to my taste than the last.  It's fine-- an interesting premise-- but probably suffers a little from its age.  Some of these ideas might have seemed more shocking and creative when this was first published than they do nearly a hundred years later. 

Specifics (with SPOILERS):
--The surgeon's ideas for organ transplant were interesting (considering how long it would be before the first successful transplant), but he got a few things wrong.  Keeping the organ at body temperature, for instance.  (Don't they chill them during transport?)  He also seems to think that the organs can be kept for a longer period of time than is yet possible. Then there's the issue of selling the organs...

--I had to laugh at the idea that the living friends of the dead could recognize and identify the "voices" of the departed.  If they were said to identify their friends by the content of what they heard-- or even by the syntax or diction-- I could be persuaded, but by "the faithfulness and individuality of these records"?  These people recognized "the tones of the speaker".  If that means that the "recording" sounds similar to the voice of the living person, it is ridiculous.  (Yes, I am writing about a science fiction-y horror tale about attaching brains to phonographs and hearing the dead person's thoughts-- and still I say that this is a bridge too far.) 

Our brains don't determine how our voices sound, and the brain is not chiefly responsible for an individual's tone/timbre/resonance/what-have-you.  A voice is determined by a combination of factors, including vocal cords, voice box, lungs, nasal passages, the shape of the mouth and tongue, and the placement of the teeth.  (And more things besides.)  Am I nit-picking?  Maybe.  But it amuses me that someone with some fairly advanced ideas about "science-fictional medicine" could completely overlook/ignore something as basic as that. 

--The "confession from beyond the grave" scene was a bit of overkill for me.  We'd already been told that she was a murderer, so not much was gained by having her admit to it in her own words.  A little extra gooseflesh, I guess.