The Ole Doc Methuselah stories are a series of seven novelettes that L. Ron Hubbard wrote for _Astounding_ between 1947 and 1950 under the pseudonym of Rene Lafayette. They remained uncollected for twenty years, but they were finally assembled as _Ole Doc Methuselah_ (1970), complete with a page explaining why L. Ron Hubbard was a Benifactor to Humanity. I do not have all of the stories in their original magazine form, but I do have a few of them. It looks as if few changes were made from magazine to book form.
The stories are about a human medical man with an alien sidekick who flies about the galaxy solving medical problems that are usually linked with skulduggery and planetary social troubles. Science fiction readers may notice a faint similarity with Murray Leinster's later Med Service stories, about a human medical man with an alien sidekick who flies about the galaxy solving medical problems that are usually linked with skulduggery and planetary social troubles.
There are some differences between the series. Leinster's stories are better crafted, more logical, and more scientifically savvy. But Hubbard's tales have a splash, color, and flamboyance that is lacking in the Med Service series. All of the stories are passably entertaining. My favorite yarns in this collection are the title story, in which Doc goes on a fishing trip that leads him into a ruthless planetary real estate scam; "Her Majesty's Aberration," in which Doc's absent-mindedness takes him to a planet that most of us would be happy to avoid; and "Plague," in which an old-fashioned solution is found to a new-fangled problem.
One story, "The Great Air Monopoly," makes use of a longish footnote about the United Medical Society (U.M.S.) from a fictitious future history by Hubbard. This was a practice that was common in pulp science fiction stories in the thirties and forties. They were frequently loaded with footnotes to give them a kind of authenticity. Sometimes the notes were basic science notations. But on other occasions, they could be rather free-wheeling and imaginative. After the forties, this practice was pretty much discontinued, though I believe that Jack Vance used it with some of his stories.
But it is impossible for certain passages not to hit me with their unintended irony:
"My man," said Ole Doc, "your precious bombs were one of the oldest known buncombes in medical history a propellant and ephedrine, that's all. Ephedrine barely permits the allergy patient to breathe. It wasn't 'air' you were selling but a phony, second-rate drug that costs about a dollar a barrel. They'd take a little and needed more. You were clear back in the dark ages of medical history-- about a century after they stopped using witches for doctors. Ragweed, ephedrine-- but they were enough to wreck the lives of almost everyone on this planet." (108)
A few months after the publication of the last Doc Methuselah story, the first of L. Ron Hubbard's Dianetics articles was published in _Astounding_. What do you suppose Doc Methuselah would say about that?