Monday, June 7, 2010

Ray Bradbury's Bad Pharmacology

Remember the mechanical hound in Fahrenheit 451? Bradbury's sinister description of this, one of many of the perverted institutions of a reverse-firehouse and indeed a reverse-society, is memorable enough:
Light flickered on bits of ruby glass and on sensitive capillary hairs in the nylon-brushed nostrils of the creature that quivered gently, its eight legs spidered under it on rubber padded paws...a four-inch hollow steel needle plunged down from the proboscis of the hound to inject massive jolts of morphine or procaine...The procaine needle flicked out and in, out and in. A single clear drop of the stuff of dreams fell from the needle as it vanished in the Hound's muzzle.

I remember this wicked thing scaring the hell out of me in sixth grade, which I don't feel so bad about in retrospect because the creature he paints is easily the most expert nightmare of his entire oeuvre. (I didn't include an image in the post because like renderings of Grendel from Beowulf, trapping the Hound in a visual instantiation somehow invariably falls short of capturing the sheer direness of the creature in the text.) But I also remember wondering what procaine was. And now that I know better I doubt that even in the 50s when Bradbury wrote this that an injection of local anesthetic would've been the best way to kill someone. Yes, you would get CNS and cardiotoxicity, but only at very high doses. Why not cyanide? Why not strychnine? Morphine (the Hound's other poison) would work better than procaine, but still wouldn't have been the best he could have done.

I hate when my education disrupts my appreciation of great literature. It was already bad enough when I couldn't enjoy the basic sensory celebration of going to the bathroom without thinking about ion channels.

No comments: