“The Iron Terror” is a short story by Robert E. Howard, featuring a blend of horror and science fiction elements set against the backdrop of a bleak New York winter. The narrative follows a daring encounter with a formidable mechanical creation. This is an early El Borak short story. First printed in English in the chapbook The Coming of El Borak (September 1987), it was not published in Howard’s lifetime. Howard tried submitting it to Cosmopolitan in 1922 or 1923.


On a stormy night in New York, amidst one of the fiercest blizzards, an old scientist in a secluded and darkened laboratory celebrates the completion of his mysterious invention. At the same time, a man named Gordon, after battling through the storm, arrives at the scientist’s residence, assisted inside by an impassive Chinese servant.

Gordon, a man of medium height, robust build, and intense intellectual and physical prowess, is led to a room adorned with an impressive array of global weaponry. He is soon greeted by the elderly scientist, who boasts about his collection and tests Gordon’s knowledge of the various weapons displayed, which Gordon identifies with expert accuracy.

The scientist, cynical and sneering, hints at Gordon’s ambitious plans to unify the tribes of Arabia and form an empire. The conversation shifts to the scientist’s invention — a formidable iron automaton, powered by a unique form of concentrated radium, and controlled via a wireless, remote device. The automaton, resembling a steel man, is capable of immeasurable destruction, wielding swords and hurling bombs with precise and relentless force.

As Gordon assesses the potential of this ‘Iron Terror,’ the scientist accidentally triggers the automaton into action. The control machine malfunctions during a demonstration, leading to the automaton going rogue. The laboratory turns into a battleground, with Gordon struggling to deactivate the rampaging machine. The scientist is incapacitated, and Gordon, realizing the danger of the uncontrollable machine, tries desperately to stop it using various weapons from the collection, all proving futile against the steel behemoth.

In a frantic effort, Gordon destroys the control panel with a battle-axe in hopes of stopping the automaton. He narrowly escapes death as the machine’s grip loosens, finally halting its rampage after the destruction of its control mechanism.


  • Gordon: The protagonist, a man of great physical and intellectual capability, known for his strategic thinking and military skills. He is intrigued by the potential of the automaton for his own use in empire-building but becomes its adversary.
  • The Old Scientist: An eccentric and somewhat malevolent inventor who has created the Iron Terror. He is dismissive of Gordon’s concerns about the safety and control of his invention.
  • The Chinese Servant: An assistant to the scientist, who helps Gordon navigate the house and introduces him to the scientist.
  • The Iron Terror: A metal automaton, the central piece of the scientist’s invention, capable of massive destruction and programmed to perform complex tasks, ultimately turning uncontrollable.

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