Introduction On Racism Epigraphs A History of the Pulps A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Glossary and Character Taxonomy Breakdown by Country of Origin Bibliography Table of Contents The Best of the Encyclopedia
Thinking Machine. The Thinking Machine was created by Jacques Futrelle (Paul Darraq, Doris Harvey, Batty Logan) and appeared in forty-eight stories and two novels from 1905 to 1912, beginning with “The Problem of Cell 13" (Boston American, Oct. 30, 1905).
The Thinking Machine is Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, a native Bostonian. He is almost a Big-Headed Dwarf Genius: he is a small, thin man with a very big head, a bulbous, protruding forehead, and straw-colored hair. His darting, intelligent eyes are blue, and sit behind thick glasses. "The face was white with the pallor of the student; his mouth was a bloodless slit." He is the world's foremost scientist and logician. His nickname, "the Thinking Machine," was given to him by an angered Russian chessmaster. The Russian was a world champion in chess but was defeated in a match by Van Dusen after Van Dusen had spent only a day learning about chess. Van Dusen sequesters himself in his personal laboratory for weeks on end, working hour after hour and rarely coming back to Earth, his mind venturing into realms that mere mortals can know nothing of. He is nominally employed by an unnamed college in the Boston area (read: Harvard).
Van Dusen is extremely irritated when anyone interrupts his routine. (The Professor's distemper is one of his hallmarks; he is continually irascible and foul-tempered). But Van Dusen’s friend Hutchinson Hatch, a newspaper reporter, "lean, wiry, hard as nails," often brings "problems" (unsolved crimes) to Van Dusen's attention. Inevitably the Professor is interested in the problems, although his foul mood never lifts, and he relentlessly grills Hatch for information and sends Hatch out to gather more information. Once those bits of knowledge are presented to Van Dusen, he thinks intently, then orders the police, in the form of Detectives Mallory and Cunningham, to make the necessary raids and arrests.
Mallory and Cunningham are not especially happy about this arrangement, but they accept it and follow Van Dusen’s orders because he always solves his cases. Van Dusen has contempt for Mallory and Cunningham and for the police in general--they are just not intelligent, by his standards--but he is willing to solve the cases out of intellectual curiosity, if not moral indignation. Many of the crimes seem impossible, and some verge on the supernatural: death by vacuum, disappearances from locked rooms, haunted house horrors, disappearing houses, radium thefts, disappearing automobiles, footprints in the snow that abruptly stopped. But the Professor, who is world-renowned for his intelligence and accepted by everyone in academia as the final arbiter in thorny cases, solves them all.
* I'm including the Thinking Machine stories and novels in the Best of the Encyclopedia list because they're fun reads. The Thinking Machine is enjoyably acerbic in the traditional pulp way. The mysteries he's involved in can be extremely tricky to work out for readers. The Thinking Machine always solves them, but the reader may not. Some readers get irritated by this, but, really, that's just the sign of a good mystery. Stylistically the stories and novels haven't aged badly--Futrelle was a very 20th-century writer, but his style was a clean one of the kind popular with magazine readers in the 1910s which is still readable with pleasure in the 2020s. Recommended.
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