Philadelphia: Prime Press,
1949. 160 pp., $2.50
Colonel Keller, who once claimed that he had written about more babies per square story than any other author of science-fiction, has truly outdone himself. In this highly readable short novel, he reconsiders a problem which baffled the medieval alchemists -- how to produce babies without the aid of woman. Hero of the book is Horatio Bumble, a modern Paracelsus who decides to grow himself a baby son in a ten-gallon wine bottle, amply fertilized with horse manure.
Anyone who ever visited the Kellers in their spacious home in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, will quickly identify the prototypes of Horatio Bumble, retired physician, army colonel, and author, who in the course of his career has taught hundreds of illiterate soldiers to read and write; of Helen, his charming wife; and of Lady, the family Pekinese. Pervading and dominating each scene is the character of Bumble himself, the gracious gentleman who takes the most exasperating situations in his stride, even when unjustly thrown into prison, even when kidnapped by thugs. Indeed, Colonel Bumble is a man so ingenious that he is reported to have invented a mechanical burper for infants, complete with an attached curd extractor.
THE HOMUNCULUS is full of delicious whimsy. Interest in the plot is heightened by the introduction of two astonishing characters: the mysterious Pete and his sister Sarah, who answer Bumble's help wanted advertisement. As servants, they are inhumanly perfect; and when Pete casually remarks that he is a personal friend of Alexander, Hannibal, Napoleon, and Robert E. Lee, suspicions will begin to form in the mind of even the densest reader. So captivating a woman is Sarah that at her slightest suggestion, twelve gangsters scribble full confessions of their misdeeds.
Like every Keller yarn, THE HOMUNCULUS distinctly and unmistakably bears the mark of its author. Nonetheless one detects a certain flavor reminiscent of James Branch Cabell -- particularly in the characters of the supernatural servants. Pete's remark concerning the fleeting quality of time is memorable: "Four thousand years ago I met a lovely girl in China and time passed so pleasantly that she was a great grandmother before I realized that the honeymoon was over."
There is even a touch of pathos in this book, as evidenced by Walter Spence, the freelance writer who composes a diatribe to the effect that mechanical woman of rubber would be preferable to their flesh-and-blood counterparts, then suddenly realizes that if a certain long-lost love had lived, he never would have written such tripe.
Like virtually all Keller novels THE HOMUNCULUS has a clearly stated theme. In the words of Sarah, the eternal woman, "You can do anything if you really want to do it; try hard and have complete faith in your ability to attain your objective." There are other significant statements of philosophy. In one chapter, we find Horatio Bumble meditating in his garden. He remarks that he would like to enclose the garden with a brick wall, barred by a heavy oaken gate, through which only kindred spirits might pass. However he realizes that because of the nature of the world in which he lives, this cannot be. No man can be an island complete in himself. Finally Bumble echoes Wordsworth's observation that the world is too much with us, late and soon.
This book is not for the reader whose tastes incline toward the E. E. Smith brand of space-opera, or to the traditional weird tale, with its moldering corpses and synthetic spooks. For THE HOMUNCULUS is a story about real human beings, with all their heartaches, their desires, their triumphs. This novel is true to David H. Keller's conviction that the finest fantasy is that which studies how real human beings might react to an extraordinary situation. It is because of this conviction that, in the opinion of this writer, Colonel Keller has made a supreme contribution to the art of fantastic literature.
Text versions and page scans Judy Bemis
Data entry by Judy Bemis
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