The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Homunculus begins with a mysterious dirigible being sighted over London, piloted by an equally mysterious man named Birdlip. Dr. Langston St. Ives, a professor out of favor with the Royal Academy because of his unorthodox ideas, has constructed a spacecraft, for which he needs the services of a toymaker, William Keeble, who apparently has created a perpetual motion machine. St. Ives has elicited the help of Bill Kraken, a former assistant to Sebastian Owlesby, a deceased scientist who seems to have had some connection with the dirigible now belonging to Birdlip.

Gradually, two sides in a confrontation are sorted out. The protagonists are members of the Trismegistus Club, which meets in the tobacco shop of Captain Powers, a man with a wooden leg that can be used as a pipe and has a receptacle for liquor. This leg was built by Keeble, most of whose apparently magical inventions also serve as flasks. The other major member of the club is Jack Owlesby, son of the late scientist.

On the other side, Dr. Ignacio Narbondo apparently is in league with Kelso Drake, one of the worlds richest men, who is rumored to have hidden a spacecraft in one of his brothels. This was the original landing vessel of the homunculus, a humanlike creature a few inches high. Narbondo’s primary allies are Billy Deener, a thief and probably a murderer, and Willis Pule, who is a wizard or scientist (the two types are never clearly differentiated) and who knows a lot about the homunculus.

The homunculus himself is suspected to be on board the dirigible with Birdlip, trapped in a box made by Keeble. At least two other almost identical boxes exist, one containing an emerald, the other an oxygenator Keeble built for use in St. Ives’s ship.

Narbondo has been animating corpses by some mysterious means involving the use of carp glands and various chemicals. The Reverend Shiloh is a mad...

(The entire section is 782 words.)