Short Story #408: The Adaptive Ultimate by Stanley G. Weinbaum
Title: The Adaptive Ultimate
Author: Stanley G. Weinbaum
Dr. Daniel Scott has a theory about evolution and adaptation and he enlists his friend, Dr. Herman Bach to help him out. He has created a serum from fruit flies (the supposed most adaptable species) that can heal illnesses in animals. Now he needs a human to test it on. Initially appalled, Bach does not look to actively help him but then a terminally ill patient with no chance of survival arrives at the hospital, Kyra Zelas. They explain to her what they are going to try to do, explaining that it’s unlikely to be successful but she chooses to be a subject. To everyone’s surprise, it works overwhelmingly well and she recovers full in a short time. Upon release though she commits murder, with no justification other than to obtain the man’s wallet. In the court trial, Scott and Bach expect they will need to help her but as she is described by witnesses, her appearance changes, leaving the court incapable of prosecuting her. The doctors bring her to Herman’s home with hopes of studying her further as they begin to realize that she can mutate and adapt at will in response to any dangers. As the doctors realize what they have done, Zelas becomes increasingly aware and comfortable with her abilities. She leaves them for long stretches and takes up with increasingly more powerful men and they attempt to stop her but are powerless to directly attack her. They devise a plan to suffocate her with carbon dioxide when she visits them again. Once asleep, they manage to kill her by destroying her pineal gland through her nose. Once dead, her physical beauty disappears and she returns to what she had previously looked like; except for Dan, who couldn’t help but love her, still sees the beautiful version of Zelas.
Much like his previous stories, I'm impressed with some of the scientific questions that Weinbaum is grappling with in this tale. It's clearly a Frankenstein-inspired tale that raises interesting questions about the evolutionary idea of adaptation and ideas around gene-splicing. I'm less impressed with Weinbaum's view of women or at least Zelas. I think it was noticeable for me because his previous two stories that I've read are devoid of women and this story has at best a dubious representation of women. Elements of it remind me of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, wherein two men bet upon how a lowly impoverished girl can make it in high society, but much more nefarious. As doctors, Bach and Scott use their authority to convince a nearly-dying girl to accept an untested drug. They follow this with the assumption that then Zilas is their property and when she does not act as such, their only recourse is to knock her own and while she lay asleep, kill her (by penetrating her face). Needless to say, it leaves one a bit dubious.