Part Sherlock Holmes, part Professor Challenger, Doctor Bird faced sixteen encounters with the strange and fantastic
Captain Sterner St. Paul Meek (1894-1972) was the perfect writer to create a scientist-adventurer. Meek was a military chemist who worked on ordinance in WWI and wrote as a hobby. He sold his first story to Field and Stream in 1928. Only two years later he would be a prolific producer of Science Fiction adventure yarns.
It was in 1930, for the very first issue of the Clayton Astounding Stories of Super Science that Meek created his alter-ego in scientist-adventurer, Professor Bird. Part Sherlock Holmes, part Professor Challenger, Doctor Bird and his military side-kick, Operative Carnes, faced sixteen encounters with the strange and fantastic.
“The Cave of Horror” (Astounding, January 1930) introduces Doctor Bird :
“Carnes sat on the edge of a bench and watched with admiration the long nervous hands and the slim tapering fingers of the famous scientist. Dr. Bird stood well over six feet and weighed two hundred and six pounds stripped: his massive shoulders and heavy shock of unruly black hair combined to give him the appearance of a prize fighter– until one looked at his hands.”
Later in the story we learn that Bird had been an athlete of note during his college days as he easily catches up to his two fleeing companions. Here is the first inkling of Doc Savage, scientist-adventurer yet to be invented in 1933.
Bird and Carnes are off to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, where tourists and soldiers keep disappearing. Screams and shots are heard, a strange musky odor lingers but few other clues exist. After an initial encounter with the monster, Bird realizes it is invisible and brings in special military equipment to deal with it. His ultra-violet photos prove the beast is flat and able to worm its way through cracks despite being very tall and vicious.
In the end he kills it but isn’t able to secure the body as evidence.
Haunted cave stories were nothing new, even in 1930. Two that may have inspired Meek were C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne’s “The Lizard” (1898) and Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Terror of Blue John Gap” (1910). The horror feel of the story was one of the reasons that Lester Del Rey described the contents of the first issue of Astounding as “a sadly mixed business.” (The Worlds of Science Fiction, 1976). As a kind of scientific ghostbreaker tale it works fine, having the required Gernsbackian goobly-gook to explain the technology. A similar plot would be used on Star Trek’s “The Devil in the Dark” episode (June 15, 1967) thirty-seven years later.
The second adventure of Dr. Bird, “The Radio Robbery”, appeared in Astounding’s competition, Amazing Stories, February 1930. I am not sure why this happened but we can surmise that Meek sent one story to Harry Bates at Astounding and another to T. O’Connor Sloane at Amazing, hedging his bets that one of the editors would bite. It appears both did.
As the title suggests, this plot involves the theft of gold bars and the solution lies in radio technology. A man is killed and a vault full of gold bricks turned to copper. Carnes calls Dr. Bird in and using radio detection equipment he triangulates the location of the villain, a Dr. Wallace, the creator of unstable synthetic gold.
The tale is not so much a Science Fiction tale as a Mystery solved using Science. This format would dominate the rest of the series.
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