Dani Zweig's Belated Reviews : archive

Belated Reviews #25: Eando Binder and "Anton York, Immortal"

By my lights, Eando Binder is another one-book author, though this statement is in accurate in several respects. Eando Binder was E-and-O (Earl and Otto) Binder. (I've heard 'Binder' rhymed with 'flinder', not with 'finder', btw.) They also produced a considerable number of stories and later books. (The distinction blurs, because many of their books are fixup novels created from series of short stories.) The most influential of their works were their Anton York stories and their Adam Link stories, both of which may be found in novel format. (I've seen references to a third major series, their "Via" stories, but have never read them.)

After 1940, Otto Binder continued to write alone under the Eando name -- a change for the worse. Not much worse, come to think of it; most of what they wrote was quite bad. Their more important works are distinguished for their impact, rather than for the quality of the writing. (In addition to the obvious science-fiction venues, Otto Binder also wrote pulp-style stories for comic books. An evening spent with old "Strange Adventures" comics will tell you most of what you need to know about bad pulp sf.)

"Anton York, Immortal" (***) consists of stories written between 1937 and1940, and is the answer to "Why are you reviewing Binder's work if it's so bad?" I discovered it in the school library in grade eight (just about the perfect age to read it, and just about the age of the original target audience), and proceeded to reread that copy to tatters. It has the faults of pre-Golden-Age science fiction -- heavy-handed prose, minimal characterization, a somewhat idolatrous attitude towards science and technology -- but, like the best of those stories, it has the virtues of its faults -- a reliance on idea and on wonder.

Anton York is the son of Matthew York who, late in the nineteenth century, develops (and innoculates him with) a serum which grants immortality through its interaction with cosmic radiation. (Radiation of one sort or another was behind much of the fictional science of that day.) This longevity, later shared with his wife, allows him to take the decades needed to develop the superscience which in later stories enables them to explore the galaxy. (Presumably Vera spends those decades bringing him his coffee. Ah well, she gets a larger -- if always supporting -- role as the stories progress.)

In his first major test, York uses scientific superiority to save the Earth from renegades who have stolen the immortality secret. In a later story he faces insane immortals whose science is millenia more advanced than his own. Finally, in compliance with the Law of Exponentially Increasing Antagonists, he must save Earth from an invasion from another universe -- one in which the laws of nature which he knows so well do not hold.

It's a wonderful foundation for wish-fulfillment fantasy: The Yorks acquire a deus-ex-machina role in Earth's history, periodically returning from their travels just in time to save the planet, to a chorus of "Not the *legendary* Anton York!"

For all that I've been disparaging the writing, it's easy for someone reading this book to see what the attraction of the science fiction of that day could be for its readers.

More for completeness than out of personal conviction, I will touch on "Adam Link, Robot" (*). I'm sorry, I know that it's influential and I know that many readers think highly of it, but I couldn't stand it. The first and best of the Adam Link stories which came to make up this novel appeared in 1939 as "I Robot". (Yes, Eando Binder used the title, and a number of the ideas that went with it, before Asimov.) The story is essentially lifted from Frankenstein, with metal replacing spare body parts, and with panicky Americans with shotguns replacing German peasants with pitchforks. It has the virtue of brevity, and it made a tremendous splash. The stories that followed, monuments to the virtue of leaving well enough alone, are less in the tradition of Frankenstein than in the tradition of Tennessee Tuxedo, as Adam Link (soon joined by Eve Link) struggles to prove to a hostile world that he can measure up to man.

A good number of Eando Binder's books can be found on the shelves of used book stores. I'd recommend trying "Anton York, Immortal", if your curiousity so moves you, and skipping the rest.

%A Binder, Eando
%O actually Earl and Otto Binder
%T Anton York, Immortal
%T Adam Link, Robot


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Dani Zweig