Farewell to the Master is the short story that forms the premise of the popular 1951 (remade in 2008) science fiction movie The Day the Earth Stood Still, in which an alien and his robot visit Earth to warn humans that their atomic weapons and violent tendencies will not be tolerated by the rest of the galaxy. Earth can get in line with peaceful galactic ideology, or be destroyed.
Not surprisingly, Bates’ story, which was published before atomic weapons were developed, is hardly like the movie. Yes, there’s a humanoid alien and his robot who appear in Washington D.C. in a spaceship. Yes, a violent human being shoots the alien. But from there the stories diverge. There’s no threat of Earth’s destruction and Harry Bates never penned the famous phrase from the movie: “Klaatu barada nikto.” While the movie and the original story have different messages for humans, both are meant to knock us off the pedestal we’ve placed ourselves on.
In Farewell to the Master, a photojournalist realizes that the robot is more than he appears and that there is some secret activity going on in the spaceship. He is determined to get photographic evidence and sell it to the highest bidder. The resulting story is exciting, suspenseful and, of course, short. Here in 2012, the famous “ironic” twist at the end isn’t too surprising, but it probably was in 1940.
Blackstone Audio has just released Farewell to the Master on audio. Tom Weiner gives his usual enthusiastic performance – I am always happy to see his name on an audiobook. I’m also pleased that Blackstone Audio has been producing old SF lately and I can hardly keep up with all of it. I have just one complaint about this production. Right now the CD version of this book is available at Blackstone Audio or Amazon for $20 which I think is overpriced considering that the story is only 1½ hours long and you can read it for free online (it’s in the public domain) or for 99¢ on Kindle. However, the Audible download version is available at Audible for less than $5, which is completely reasonable — I can recommend this version if you download from Audible. Just make sure you’re purchasing the one narrated by Tom Weiner and produced by Blackstone Audio. I have tried a sample of the other audiobook version of this story and I much prefer Tom Weiner’s narration.