Review of “The Last Test” (1928)


H. P. Lovecraft (writer), Adolphe de Castro (writer).

Read in 2017.

Medical science, the Mythos and yellow journalism.

I’ve not looked into the nature of the collaboration, but it is striking how the lying tabloid press in the story paints Surama, a brilliant researcher’s right-hand man, as an evil oriental of the type Lovecraft uses so frequently, long before Surama is actually characterized this way by the privileged narrator. The story is half-way through before it turns to cynical and racist horror, and two thirds of the way before HPL tosses in a “Yog-Sothoth”. The initial, hopeful and fairly accurate depiction of science, reminiscent of later popularizers like Carl Sagan, is then replaced by fascism:

Yes, it may be horrible, but it’s glorious too. The pursuit of knowledge, I mean. Certainly, there’s no slovenly sentiment connected with it. Doesn’t Nature kill—constantly and remorselessly—and are any but fools horrified at the struggle? Killings are necessary. They are the glory of science.

The characters of Dalton and Georgina react to this change idiotically, suggesting the two authors had different visions. The villain then confesses to being driven by crude sadism after having tried to use the Mythos as a shortcut to scientific discovery. His massive shift in personality is not motivated by anything in the narrative and reminds me of the worst hacks who conceive of the Mythos as a moral dichotomy. The revelation is so large that it makes the omniscient narrator effectively dishonest. It‘s fascinating that Lovecraft (re)wrote some of this, but the first half is better than the second, and neither is worthy on its own merits.

References here: At the Mountains of Madness (1936), The Stranger (1942).

text fiction