[originally posted here at Castalia House]
The Metal Chamber by Duane W. Rimel appeared in the March 1939 issue of Weird Tales. A scanned pdf of this issue can be found here at Luminist.org.
The Metal Chamber is small and claustrophobic piece written largely in the form of a suicide note from a biologist who dabbled in telepathy and found himself abducted by aliens. I hesitate to call it quasi-Lovecraftian, because for all I know, this style of writing was part and parcel of Weird Tales’ non-Heroic Fantasy offerings, simply that Lovecraft was one of the most adept at it.* But we have a first person narrative from a crazy professorial type whose meddling has gotten him into a bind, and he describes his horror and isolation as best he can, trying to create a little tension and brooding atmosphere. And if I was not so familiar with Lovecraft, I might be convinced he did a passable job at it.
The professor recounts his experiments into hypnosis and telepathy and is sure that is the reason for his imprisonment. He’s kept alive by strange nutrient liquids and is observed by nigh invisible beings; he has nightmare recollections of the strange egg that landed on his lawn and brought him inside. Near the end, he reveals that his experiments in telepathy had led him to create a serum that allowed him to greatly amplify his abilities to make contact with the thoughts of others. In doing so, he overreached and made contact with a race of superbeings from far beyond the stars. The serum unfortunately wore off, leaving him stuck with and unable to communicate with the things that have abducted him.
In the end, the professor dies not by his own hand, but from shock, and we’re informed in a brief epilogue that the preceding hand-written note was found and turned in as evidence by the professor’s cook, and that the case would be closed (dumped into the X-Files or something).
The writing in this story wasn’t bad; in fact, there was a good story to be told, but it was somewhat foiled in the order of the telling. Far better, in my opinion, would be to start with the dabbling in hypnosis and telepathy, then the development of the telepathic amplification serum, then the contact with the superbeings from beyond the stars, the elation of the opportunity to go with such giants, then the realization that once the serum wore off, there would be complete isolation – these ‘men’ were no men at all, and without the ability to reach their minds, nothing but alien horror would remain. In this case, however, the attempt to create an atmospheric horror first ends up failing its premise with the ups and downs it takes over its short journey to its conclusion. Still, there were a few powerful scenes in this brief tale.
The description of the alien city is sufficiently fantastic yet, along with the simple line “I was taken before their king, and I know that I was tried and judged and found wanting…”, felt otherwise wasted in this particularly by-the-numbers “scientist dabbles in unknown, consumed and driven mad by the horror” short.
*:It is worth noting Mr. Rimel was a fan-letter writer to Weird Tales and was actually mentored by and collaborated with Lovecraft on a handful of stories and poems. So the “Lovecraftian” aspect of his writing certainly has its justification. Also, in the 60s he apparently wrote a couple of those lesbian erotic thrillers that @PulpLibrarian sometimes features.