By: Perley Poore Sheehan and Robt. H. Davis
November 15, 2023

“Blood and Iron: A Play in One Act,” A Radium Age proto-sf ancestor of The Six Million Dollar Man and RoboCop, was first published in the December 1917 issue of The Strand. (Note that the play predates Karel Čapek’s “R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Robots” by four years.) HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize it here for HILOBROW’s readers.

ALL INSTALLMENTS: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8.


EMPEROR (without enthusiasm): My time is limited. The Crown Prince awaits me.

SCIENTIST (quivering with enthusiasm): When your Majesty comprehends this greatest of all birthday gifts — a million cripples transformed into a million fighting units! — your Majesty’s might becomes terrible!

EMPEROR (indulgently): Generalities!

SCIENTIST: I particularize (as EMPEROR makes sharp gesture that he is ready to listen). The key-note of efficiency is the elimination of waste. Our problem was to eliminate the waste represented by the wounded. In brief, we have succeeded.

EMPEROR (beginning to display interest): How so?

SCIENTIST: After countless experiments we can now take a soldier, no matter how badly wounded, and return him to the trenches — a super-soldier — no longer a bungling, mortal man — but a beautiful, efficient machine!

EMPEROR (laughing): You are enthusiastic but — not contagious! (deprecatory gesture) — but — (sternly) your promises have not always been kept. The proof!

SCIENTIST: (with impulsive devotion): Your Majesty, I foresaw your doubts. I brought —

EMPEROR: Ha! A — specimen!

SCIENTIST (appreciating the jeu d’esprit): Perfectly ! He is in the ante-room.

EMPEROR (curtly): Bring him in! Bring him in!

SCIENTIST: Er — I beg your Majesty’s pardon — but — he is not — altogether pleasant to look upon.

EMPEROR: Nonsense! Whatever makes for the strength of the dynasty is agreeable to the Imperial eyes.

SCIENTIST (with tremulous delight): May I?

EMPEROR: Certainly! Make haste!

SCIENTIST (nimbly crosses to door, opens it, and ejaculates command): Attention! Forward! Hep! (There is a momentary silence, then a metallic clatter as if caused by a movement of iron, then a heavy step. ENTER 241 erect, with measured tread, observing nothing. He comes down to centre of stage, where he stops in response to the SCIENTIST’s order): Halt!

(As 241 stands at military attention the SCIENTIST, with manifest delight, flutters bowing before EMPEROR and explains) The ultimate triumph! — our two hundred and forty-first experiment. Hence — Number Two Hundred and Forty-One! (During this explanation 241 does not stir. The EMPEROR stares at 241 with a sort of horrified fascination.)

EMPEROR: He — marches — splendidly!

SCIENTIST: The least of his accomplishments. Permit me! (Returns to 241 , whom he prods, 241 remaining impassive.) Magnificent! (gesture of approval as he carries on inspection of arms, hands, body and head of 241. Runs finger around left eye, taps gently left ear. Contemplates ensemble and makes gesture for 241 to open mouth. 241 opens mouth and shows glittering array of metallic teeth; he shuts them with click like a steel trap). Perfection! Right arm! (241 lifts right arm in stiff but sweeping gesture.) Left knee! (241 crooks left knee twice.) Hands! (241 opens and closes both cotton-gloved hands and manipulates fingers.)


RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF: “Radium Age” is Josh Glenn’s name for the nascent sf genre’s c. 1900–1935 era, a period which saw the discovery of radioactivity, i.e., the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. More info here.

SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Moon Men | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable | Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows | William Haggard’s The High Wire | Hammond Innes’s Air Bridge | James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen | John Buchan’s “No Man’s Land” | John Russell’s “The Fourth Man” | E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” | John Buchan’s Huntingtower | Arthur Conan Doyle’s When the World Screamed | Victor Bridges’ A Rogue By Compulsion | Jack London’s The Iron Heel | H. De Vere Stacpoole’s The Man Who Lost Himself | P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith | Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | Houdini and Lovecraft’s “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” | Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sussex Vampire” | Francis Stevens’s “Friend Island” | George C. Wallis’s “The Last Days of Earth” | Frank L. Pollock’s “Finis” | A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool | E. Nesbit’s “The Third Drug” | George Allan England’s “The Thing from — ‘Outside'” | Booth Tarkington’s “The Veiled Feminists of Atlantis” | H.G. Wells’s “The Land Ironclads” | J.D. Beresford’s The Hampdenshire Wonder | Valery Bryusov’s “The Republic of the Southern Cross” | Algernon Blackwood’s “A Victim of Higher Space” | A. Merritt’s “The People of the Pit” | Max Brand’s The Untamed | Julian Huxley’s “The Tissue-Culture King” | Clare Winger Harris’s “A Runaway World” | Francis Stevens’s “Thomas Dunbar” | George Gurdjieff’s “Beelzebub’s Tales” | Robert W. Chambers’s “The Harbor-Master” | Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s “The Hall Bedroom” | Clare Winger Harris’s “The Fifth Dimension” | Francis Stevens’s “Behind the Curtain” | more to come.