The Last Monster by Gardner F. Fox appeared in the Fall 1945 issue of Planet Stories.
So far, Gardner F. Fox’s The Last Monster has been one of my favorite stories in this issue. I will now put him alongside Misha Burnett in the very short list of authors who write Lovecraftian monster stories I don’t hate.
Stories from monster/alien perspectives are so old-hat that they’re often seen on lists of markets’ story ideas that they won’t accept because they’ve seen it all before. But this was 1945, the War was not yet won, and Fox sold Planet Stories a piece about the last member of a great ancient race of tentacle monsters from beyond the stars.
Irgi is the last of his kind and acts as the custodian of his people’s world and heritage. Alas, he discovered the secret of immortality too late to save his people, but he can at least keep their treasures safe and clean. But he is so lonely! When he wishes upon a star that he were not so lonely, what should appear but a spaceship of humans on an urgent mission…
Everyone is dying of space cancer and Brave But Tumorous Space Captain and his crew of Nice Guy with Dying Wife, Convict Miner and Thick Accent Gutter Trash are the only ones desperate enough to go off in search of the Radium deposits necessary to create cancer medicine, and find themselves on Irgi’s world.
Irgi is delighted to have company while the humans are terrified by a giant tentacle monster. Irgi subdues the crews, after he realizes they can’t understand his vocal frequency, so he can cure their cancer and prove his friendship, but when Gutter Trash escapes, messes with immortality/cure-all machine and gets obliterated, the other humans begin to panic as they think they’re being taken to their doom. Irgi feels awful; the only way he can prove his intentions is by curing the humans. He recalibrates the machine from his own frequency to that of the humans and uses it to cure the crew. Then he loads everything up on their ship and sends them off with a wave. He knows he can’t go to earth, because humans would be scared of him, but he can now die, his source of immortality gone, in the knowledge he will be remembered as a hero, just like George Washington, and maybe have statues built in his honor.
The humans leave the doomed Irgi, wondering what the hell that strange awful monster was but glad that they would all soon be rich and famous for finding the cure for space cancer.
I’m beginning to think that radiation cancer is kind of a thing with Fox, as it’s the second story of his I’ve read out of three in which radiation disease is a key plot point. In Fox’s sci-fi future, anyone who travels in space is pretty much doomed because deadly space rays lead to space cancer. It’s certainly an aspect of sci-fi space-travel adventure that you don’t see being addressed by many of his contemporaries, even when the power of atomic radiation is acknowledged. It’s also far less preposterous than the radiation emitting monolith in Fox’s Arsenal of Miracles that is the cause for the eventual death of all living things. The human characters are pretty generic tropes, but they’re not the worst and they get the job done. Irgi is not particularly nuanced, but one certainly has to feel for him, and this story does tug at the heart-strings. And it DOES make you think what it must have been like for the last of those Great Races of Lovecraft as their mighty civilizations were in their twilight years; would they be remembered as great scientists and builders or as monsters?