Tuesday, July 9, 2013
YEAR 1935: KYRA ZELAS
Published in the November 1935 issue of ASTOUNDING MAGAZINE, "The Adaptive Ultimate" had the honor of being more frequently adapted than the majority of pulp SF short stories: once on radio, twice on television, and once in a 1957 film entitled SHE-DEVIL. However, it may be theorized that the main reason for the relative popularity of this Stanley Weinbaum tale is that it's a fairly talky variation on the Frankenstein theme, and didn't require much in the way of expensive sets or FX.
The idea of scientists experimenting on female subjects had been touched on elsewhere, as in Hans Heinz Ewers' 1911 novel ALRAUNE. In this story, researcher Daniel Scott attempts to transfer the adaptive capacities of fruit flies to human beings, on the theory that they'll be able to heal diseases or fatal wounds through the power of "adaptation." I don't think that even in 1935 any biologists would've bought into Scott's heavily hormonal theory of adaptation, but as is often the case, bad science can make a good story.
A colleague gives Scott the go-ahead to experiment on a drab, impoverished woman named Kyra Zelas, because she's in the final stage of tuberculosis. For what it's worth, Scott does at least ask Kyra's permission before injecting her with his wonder drug. The serum works too well: not only does Kyra recover from her disease, she loses all moral compass as a side-effect. Almost immediately after recovering, she commits the crime of bludgeoning an old man to death for his money. When called to trial, she simply changes her appearance to that of a dazzling beauty so that the witnesses to the crime cannot swear that she was the perpetrator.
Scott and his colleague plot to kill their pet monster, but when their first attempt fails, Kyra escapes. Rather improbably, she comes back, apparently because she's become fascinated with her "creator." Eventually the scientists come up with a way to kill their adaptative adversary, but in a minor ironic touch, Scott has fallen in love with her. Even though in death she reverts to her original body, he still sees her as a gorgeous siren. One may see Kyra Zelas as the modern-day descendant of myth-figures like the Loathly Lady of the famous Gawain story.