“The Ultimate Threshold” (short story) by German Maksimov
English Publication History: The Ultimate Threshold (Holt, Reinhart and Winston, 1970), World’s Spring (Macmillan, 1981)
Original: Russian (Последний порог), 1965
Translated by Mirra Ginsburg, 1970
Synopsis: “I am Velt-Nipr-ma Gullit, Master Mechanic, Honorary Ling of Sym-Kri” (125), he tells the confessor Machine at the House of Death, which he famously built so that all could have the choice of life; however, the society’s members of the forty-two castes warped the gift of life into an opportunity of death as strife for class became the focus of the lower castes. Now that Gullit knows his gift of good is actually an evil, he enters to take his own life after confessing to his own creation with intentions held.
Analysis: If you could give a caveman a wrench, he’d probably beat his neighbor; give him fire, he’ll probably burn down the forest; give him a sheep, he’ll probably fornicate with it… to err is human, it’s just in our genes. It’s pretty much written very clearly on our warning labels when we’re born: “Danger: Human”. Give humans the greatest gift—anything, name anything—and they’ll simply pervert it; case in point: the internet. What a great opportunity for everyone to learn and communicate… what a shame it’s become: cat pictures, spam, intentional misinformation, smut, banner advertising, trolls, etc.
The House of Death was meant to encourage people to reflect on their lives, to analyze their past choices while on the threshold of suicide; it was meant to cure the people of their woes and strength the fabric of society. Little did the creator—Gullit—realize that the resolve of common people is desperately low. The masses in the lower castes were simply driven numb by their perpetual struggle to achieve, were driven mad by what they could never become. Gullit’s intentions were honest, but he didn’t have all the facts. Because his lofty title and position, he was socially distant from the reality of his society. His one grand act of kindness utterly backfired.
“The road to hell is paved with good intentions” – even Karl Marx uses this aphorism in his Communist Manifesto. Look at Communism in the Soviet Union, in general: paved with good intentions and all, but it descended into a war of propaganda, hate, nuclear arms, skullduggery, and isolationism. Many government programs that have failed—in America, in the USSR, or here in Thailand—did so because of that vital link between—what I’ll inelegantly refer to as—policy makers and policy doers. The policy makers, like Gullit, are often out of touch with their highly esteemed position and the teetering weight of their ego; most often, they just don’t forget about the people, they just don’t care.
Gullit, however, did care and that’s what makes the story so tragic.
Review: Though the trope is tried and true—that of the creator confronting his creation so that he may undermine and destroy it—this story is a successful recycling of it with its social relevance and gloomy perspective. It’s fairly linear, a straight shot from start to finish, but I see strands of commentary slinging out upon every page. Some of the relevance in subtle or subjective as with most stories, but the story shines in its delivery of the explicit message, which isn’t conveyed via rambling monologue or lengthy paragraph.