Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Carter Manuscripts

The name of Norman Carter Bean is one that is familiar to scholars of the two Carter Manuscripts. Paradoxically, the name is practically unknown to the millions who have read the four published excerpts from the Manuscripts, which is just how Bean preferred it.

Norman C. Bean (1855 - 1942) was the son of Julian Hastings Bean, a Richmond, Virginia businessman, and Emily Carter, youngest daughter of Colonel Randolph Bulmer Carter, patriarch of the influential Carter family of Ares, Virginia. Colonel Carter, as a member of Virginia's landowning gentry, initially opposed the match between Emily and Julian, referring to the latter as "a common peddler." However, he was persuaded to change his mind when "Uncle Jack" Carter intervened on the couple's behalf.

John Carter was one of the most colorful and mysterious figures in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia. For decades many historians disputed his very existence, but the careful scholarship of the noted genealogist and man of letters J. B. Cabell firmly established the astonishing facts surrounding Carter's life. As far back as the seventeenth century, there have been references to a "John Carter," a tall young man with dark hair and gray eyes. Despite the years that pass, John Carter's apparent age is always said to be in the neighborhood of thirty years.

In his 1922 genealogical monograph "The Carters of Ares Plantation," Cabell was able to substantiate a popular legend among the Carter family, that placed its origins in the year 1644. It was in April of that year, according to Cabell, that John Carter adopted a two year old boy who had been orphaned in an Indian attack. Naming the boy Norman Carter, John Carter raised him on a plantation that he had named Ares after the Greek god of war. When Norman Carter married in 1665, John Carter granted ownership of Ares Plantation to him and his wife, then left to fight in the Second Anglo-Dutch War.

For the next two centuries, the Carter family continued to own Ares Plantation, and always the figure of "Uncle Jack Carter" hovered in the background, disappearing for years, and then returning to make the acquaintance and win the devotion of another generation of Carters. It was during one such visit in 1853 that Uncle Jack Carter intervened on behalf of Julian Bean's suit for the hand of Emily Carter. This earned John Carter the couple's undying gratitude, and it was at his suggestion that they named their first son Norman Carter Bean in 1855.

The American Civil War (1861-65) proved disastrous for the Carter family. By war's end the family had lost possession of Ares Plantation, while Emily Carter Bean's father and brothers were all killed in various engagements. By contrast, the Bean family prospered, as Julian Bean's Richmond general store expanded to three Richmond stores and a fourth in Petersburg. Thus, 1865 found Julian Bean as the de facto head and chief financial support of the surviving members of the Carter family.

Julian Bean's business acumen brought continued growth to his business, and the J. H. Bean's Dry Goods Company had expanded to ten stores throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1876, the year that saw the sudden return of Uncle Jack Carter. Carter had joined the Confederate Army in 1861, serving as a Captain in a Virginia cavalry regiment, and after the defeat of the C.S.A. in 1865 had gone west to prospect in the Arizona Territory. No records exist of John Carter's activities between his arrival in Tucson, Arizona Territory in October 1865 in the company of his partner James K. Powell, and his appearance eleven years later in San Francisco, California, with a pack train full of newly-mined gold.

The Bean family was immensely pleased by John Carter's return, and all of them urged him to remain with them in their home in Richmond. He did so for the next year, but eventually purchased a property in Westchester County, New York, on the banks of the Hudson River, and made it his permanent residence. In his introduction to the first excerpt from John Carter's memoirs, Norman Bean remarks on the change in Carter's personality that his latest absence had brought about: " . . . when he thought himself alone I have seen him sit for hours gazing off into space, his face set in a look of wistful longing and hopeless misery . . . . "

At this time Norman Bean worked as a purchasing agent for his father's company, and whenever his business brought him to New York City, he would travel up the Hudson to visit with Carter. We know that Carter formed a strong attachment to the man whose birth he had helped to facilitate, and who may have reminded him of the orphan he had rescued over two centuries before. When Carter's lifeless body was found on the grounds of his Westchester County home on April 4, 1886, his will revealed that he had made Norman Bean the executor of his estate, and the beneficiary of the income from his numerous investments.

Among the papers Bean found in his "great-uncle's" possession was a sealed manuscript. Carter's will instructed that the manuscript remain sealed until eleven years after his death, and Bean, faithfully adhering to his favorite relative's wishes, did not open the packet until shortly after midnight on the morning of April 4, 1897. What he found was the document now known as the First John Carter Manuscript, or JCM 1 as it is known to scholars.

Over the next week, Bean read JCM 1, a massive work more than 300,000 words long. In it, Captain Jack Carter told of Powell's death at the hands of an Apache war party, and of a strange out-of-body experience that Carter himself underwent in an Arizona cave. With his corporeal body lying lifeless on the floor of the cave, Carter's spirit was drawn across interplanetary space to the planet Mars. The JCM 1 document records Carter's ten years on the planet Mars, first as a captive of the savage Tharks, and later as the husband of Dejah Thoris, a beautiful Martian princess. At the end of ten years, with the planet dying, Carter was able to open a way to a suddenly nonfunction "atmosphere plant." Losing consciousness, Carter awoke to find himself back in his corporeal body in the Arizona cave.

Bean was at a loss to know what to do with his great-uncle's manuscript. Carter's will had specified that the manuscript remain unpublished for an additional ten years. In any case, there was little prospect that the manuscript would see publication even after that time, due both to its fantastic subject matter and its great length.

Bean's dilemma was doubled in August 1898, when he learned that his suspicion about John Carter's 1886 death proved true. Carter's "death" had actually been a second out-of-body experience, and his corporeal body, lying in an open casket in a Richmond mausoleum, had reawakened three months before. Bean again met John Carter, and was given the Second John Carter Manuscript, or JCM 2, an equally massive document detailing Carter's return to Mars, and the next eleven years of his life there. Concerning the publication of his memoirs, Carter told Bean, "Give them what you wish of it, what you think will not harm them, but do not feel aggrieved if they laugh at you."

As he had expected, Bean's attempts to have his great-uncle's memoirs published proved fruitless. The two manuscripts might have remained unpublished to this very day, had it not been for a business trip Bean made to Chicago in June 1911. It was there that Bean met Edgar Rice Burroughs, a stationery salesmen twenty years his junior, in the course of his business dealings. The two men struck up a close friendship, and one night Bean revealed the existence of the two manuscripts to Burroughs. It was then that Burroughs suggested a solution to Bean's dilemma: that he publish excerpts from the Carter manuscripts in a popular fiction magazine. Bean's desire to see Carter's memoirs published overcame his distaste at the idea that they would be regarded as fiction, and he invited Burroughs to visit him in Richmond and read the two manuscripts himself.

It was at Burroughs' suggestion that Bean omitted all of the events in the first Carter manuscript between Carter's marriage to Dejah Thoris in July 1886 and the events surrounding the atmosphere plant in March 1876, resulting in a 70,000 word excerpt. It was also at Burroughs' suggestion that Bean translated the Martian placename Jalarth, or Second Element, as Helium, the second chemical element. Newell Metcalf, the Managing Editor of All-Story Magazine, accepted the resulting manuscript for publication in November 1911, and the excerpt was serialized in All-Story between February and July 1912 under the title Under the Moons of Mars.

Bean was gratified at the positive response the excerpt received from the magazine's readers, but found that he intensely disliked becoming a public figure. When Metcalf wrote in 1912 requesting that Bean "write a sequel" to Under the Moons of Mars, Bean contacted Burroughs with a proposition: he would turn over the two Carter manuscripts to Burroughs, and it would be up to Burroughs to edit them into publishable form. Furthermore, all future excerpts from the manuscripts would be published under Burroughs' name. Burroughs accepted, and over the course of the next four years he published three excerpts from the JCM 2 manuscript. They appeared in All-Story under the titles The Gods of Mars (January through May 1913), The Warlord of Mars (December 1913 through March 1914), and Thuvia, Maid of Mars (April 8, 15, and 22, 1916).

When the A. C. McClurg publishing company released the original excerpt as a hardback book on October 10, 1917, under the title A Princess of Mars, Burroughs was listed as the author. However, Bean's original introduction to the story ran unaltered under Burroughs name, so that the Chicago-born Burroughs appears to be claiming to have been born in Virginia in 1855. The book publication of The Gods of Mars in September 1918 included an account of Bean's 1898 meeting with Carter, also under Burroughs' name.

Carter remained in sporadic contact with Bean for the rest of the latter's life, and several of these contacts resulted in further accounts of events on Mars. A 1920 meeting produced an oral account that was serialized in Argosy All Story Weekly from February 18 to March 25, 1922 under the title The Chessmen of Mars. A 1925 meeting brought the Paxton Manuscript, which was published under the title The Master Mind of Mars in the 1927 issue of Amazing Stories Annual. A 1933 meeting resulted in another oral account, published in Blue Book Magazine from November 1934 to April 1935 under the title Swords of Mars. Finally, a 1940 meeting resulted in yet another oral account, published in four separate installments in Amazing Stories magazine in 1941 and collected together in 1948 as Llana of Gathol. When Burroughs wrote of these meetings in his introductory remarks to these later accounts, he substituted details of his own life for that of Bean, writing of meetings between himself and Carter in Arizona and Hawaii.

Since Bean's death in 1942, there have been no more reports of John Carter returning to Earth; Bean's death had severed the last link between Carter and Earth, and since then Carter has been content to mind the affairs of his adopted Martian homeworld.

Following the magazine serialization of Thuvia, Maid of Mars in 1916, Burroughs returned the original Carter manuscripts to Bean. Bean had the manuscripts sealed, and in accordance with the instructions found in Bean's will, they remained sealed until the 65th anniversary of Bean's death, March 5, 2007. On that date, per Bean's instructions, the two Carter manuscripts were turned over to the College of William & Mary. Since then, Professor Simon Joyce, Director of Literary and Cultural Studies, has been editing the two manuscripts for publication. JCM 1 has been scheduled for publication by W. W. Norton on September 5, 2010, while JCM 2 is tentatively scheduled for publication in September 2011. The upcoming publication of JCM 1 is eagerly anticipated by both Carter scholars and fans of Carter's already-published memoirs.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

New look

I like to post the occasional music video from YouTube, following in the footsteps of such notable bloggers as Atrios and TBogg. Unfortunately, them new-fangled widescreen videos kept getting cut off. The problem, apparently, was my ancient, decrepit blog template, which just wasn't up to the task of showing the entire video in its itty-bitty window.

It was a conflict between inertia and esthetics, and esthetics has finally won. I've changed my blog to this new template, and though it's not as severe in appearance as the old one, rest assured that the Johnny Pez blog will continue its mission to claw its way up the Technorati authority rankings until it stands supreme in the blogosphere.

BTW, if you think the blue motif is too . . . blue, it's also available in orange.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Deuce Baggins, Private Eye

Being a weak-willed person, I tend to follow other people's suggestions with little thought for the consequences. So, back in November, when Blue Gal suggested taking part in National Blog Posting Month, I did so. Every day for thirty days I posted to my blog at the NaBloPoMo site as well as to this blog. I met a number of other fascinating bloggers there who were also taking part, and you can find links to their blogs over on the sidebar under NABLOPOMO BLOGS.

During the course of November, as I grew desperate for something to write about, I started writing a piece of fiction called "Deuce Baggins, Private Eye". Imagine if The Lord of the Rings had been a collaboration between J.R.R. Tolkien and Raymond Chandler, and you've got "Deuce Baggins".

I've decided that the time has come to gather all the bits of the story into one place, and post a link up on my sidebar, and this post is going to be the place. So here, collected together for the first time, is the complete "Deuce Baggins, Private Eye":

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3 (Yes, this link takes you to another blog. Long story.)
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"He Who Shrank" by Henry Hasse, Epilogue


This is the twelfth and final installment of "He Who Shrank" by Henry Hasse, a science fiction story from the Gernsback Era that first appeared in the August 1936 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. Its appearance here is part of Project Golden Age, a bold attempt to create online versions of all the public domain stories from Isaac Asimov's 1974 anthology Before the Golden Age.

The story so far:
The world's greatest scientist has created "Shrinx", a substance that causes a person to continually shrink in size. He has forcibly injected his assistant with "Shrinx", and his assistant is now so microscopically small that he has passed through subuniverses beyond counting. On a primitive planet called Earth, he was able to tell his story telepathically to a science fiction writer . . .



Epilogue

National Press-Radio Service, Sept. 29, 1937 (through Cleveland Daily Clarion): -- Exactly one year ago today was a day never to be forgotten in the history of this planet. On that day a strange visitor arrived -- and departed.

On September 29, 1936, at 3:31 P.M., that thing from outer space known henceforth only as "The Alien" landed in Lake Erie near Cleveland, causing not so much destruction and terror as great bewilderment and awe, scientists being baffled in their attempts to determine whence it came and the secret of its strange steady shrinking.

Now, on the anniversary of that memorable day, we are presenting to the public a most unusual and interesting document purported to be a true account and history of that strange being, The Alien. This document was presented to us only a few days ago by Stanton Cobb Lentz, renowned author of The Answer of the Ages and other serious books, as well as scores of short stories and books of the widely popular type of literature known as science-fiction.

You have read the above document. While our opinion as to its authenticity is frankly skeptical, we shall print Mr. Lentz's comment and let you, the reader, judge for yourself whether the story was related to Mr. Lentz by The Alien in the manner described, or whether it is only a product of Mr. Lentz's most fertile imagination.

"On the afternoon of September 29 a year ago," states Mr. Lentz, "I fled the city as did many others, heeding the warning of a possible tidal wave, should The Alien land in the lake. Thousands of persons had gathered five or six miles to the south, and from there we watched the huge shape overhead, so expansive that it blotted out the sunlight and plunged that section of the country into a partial eclipse. It seemed to draw nearer by slow degrees until, about 3:30 o'clock, it began its downward rush. The sound of contact as it struck the lake was audible for miles, but it was not until later that we learned the extent of the flood. After the landing all was confusion and excitement as combat planes arrived and very foolishly began to bombard the creature and crowds began to advance upon the scene. The entire countryside being in such crowded turmoil, it took me several difficult hours to return to my home. There I listened to the varied reports of the happenings of the past several hours.

"When I had that strange feeling that someone was behind me, and when I whirled to see The Alien standing there in the room, I do not presume to say that I was not scared. I was. I was very much scared. I had seen The Alien when it was five or six hundred feet tall -- but that had been from afar. Now it was only ten or eleven feet tall, but was standing right before me. But my scaredness was only momentary, for something seemed to enter and calm my mind.

"Then, although there was no audible sound, I became aware of the thought: 'I know that you would like to learn things about myself, things which those others -- your scientists -- would have liked to know.'

"This was mental telepathy! I had often used the theory in my stories, but never had I dreamed that I would experience such a medium of thought in real fact. But here it was.

" 'Those others, your scientists,' came the next thought, 'would never have believed nor even understood my story, even if their minds were of the type to receive my thoughts, which they are not.' And then I began to feel a strain upon my mind, and knew that I could not stand much more of it.

"Then came the thought that he would relate his story through my sub-conscious mind if I had some means of recording it in my own language. For an instant I hesitated; and then I realized that time was fleeing and never again would I have such an opportunity as this. I went to my desk, where only that morning I had been working on a manuscript. There was paper and ink in plenty.

"My last impression was of some force seeming to spread over my mind; then a terrific dizziness, and the ceiling seemed to crash upon me.

"No time at all had seemed to elapse, when my mind regained its normal faculties; but before me on the desk was a pile of manuscript paper closely written in my own longhand. And -- what many persons will find it hard to believe -- standing upon the pile of written paper upon my desk top, was The Alien -- now scarcely two inches in height -- and steadily and surely diminishing! In utter fascination I watched the transformation that was taking place before my eyes; watched until The Alien had become entirely invisible. Had descended down into the topmost sheet of paper there on my desk . . . .

"Now I realize that the foregoing document and my explanation of it will be received in many ways. I have waited a full year before making it public. Accept it now as fiction if you wish. There may be some few who will see the truth of it, or at least the possibility; but the vast majority will leap at once to the conclusion that the whole thing is a concoction of my own imagination; that, taking advantage of The Alien's landing on this planet, I wrote the story to fit the occasion, very appropriately using The Alien as the main theme. To many this will seem all the more to be true, in face of the fact that in most of my science-fiction stories I have poked ridicule and derision and satire at mankind and all its high vaunted science and civilization and achievements -- always more or less with my tongue in my cheek however, as the expression has it. And then along comes this Alien, takes a look at us and concludes that he is very disappointed, not to mention disgusted.

"However, I wish to represent a few facts to help substantiate the authenticity of the script. Firstly: for some time after awakening from my hypnosis I was beset by a curious dizziness, though my mind was quite clear. Shortly after The Alien had disappeared, I called upon my physician, Dr. C. M. Rollins. After an examination and a few mental tests he was greatly puzzled. He could not diagnose my case; my dizziness was the after effect of a hypnosis of a type he had never before encountered. I offered no explanation except to say that I had not been feeling well for the past several days.

"Secondly: the muscles of my right hand were so cramped from the long period of steady writing that I could not open my fingers. As an explanation I said that I had been writing for hours on the final chapters of my latest book, and Dr. Rollins said: 'Man, you must be crazy.' The process of relaxing the muscles was painful.

"Upon my request Dr. Rollins will vouch for the truth of the above statements.

"Thirdly: when I read the manuscript the writing was easily recognizable as my own free, swinging longhand up to the last few paragraphs, when the writing becomes shaky, the last few words terminating in an almost undecipherable scrawl as The Alien's contact with my mind slipped away.

"Fourthly: I presented the manuscript to Mr. Howard A. Byerson, fiction editor of the National Newspaper Syndicate Service, and at once he misunderstood the entire idea. 'I have read your story, Mr. Lentz,' he said a few days later, 'and it certainly comes at an appropriate time, right on the anniversary of The Alien's landing. A neat idea about the origin of The Alien, but a bit farfetched. Now, let's see, about the price; of course we shall syndicate your story through our National Newspaper chain, and --'

" 'You have the wrong idea,' I said. 'It is not a story, but a true history of The Alien as related to me by The Alien, and I wish that fact emphasized: if necessary I will write a letter of explanation to be published with the manuscript. And I am not selling you the publication rights, I am merely giving you the document as the quickest and surest way of presenting it to the public.'

" 'But surely you are not serious? An appropriate story by Stanton Cobb Lentz, on the eve of the anniversary of The Alien's landing, is a scoop; and you --'

" 'I do not ask and will not take a cent for the document,' I said; 'you have it now, it is yours, so do with it as you see fit.'

"A memory that will live with me always is the sight of The Alien as last seen by me -- as last seen on this earth -- as it disappeared into infinite smallness there upon my desk -- waving two arms upward as if in farewell . . . .

And whether the above true account and history of The Alien be received as such, or as fiction, there can be no doubt that on a not far off September, a thing from some infinite sphere above landed on this earth -- and departed."

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rocky Jones, Space Ranger

The early 1950s was the heyday of the live-action television space opera. Starting in the summer of 1949 with the premier of Captain Video and His Video Rangers on the DuMont Television Network, a number of science fiction series aimed at children were broadcast on all four American television networks: Tom Corbett, Space Cadet; Space Patrol; Captain Z-Ro; and Rod Brown of the Rocket Rangers. Like Captain Video, all of the subsequent series were broadcast live, and as a result, all that remains of them are some kinescopes of a few episodes. With one exception.

In 1951, Roland Reed, the head of Roland Reed Productions in Hollywood, decided to produce his own science fiction television series. He commissioned a script for a pilot episode of a series called Rocky Jones, Space Ranger from one of his writers, Warren Wilson. Unlike the other series appearing on the air at the time, Reed intended for his Rocky Jones series to be shot on film and syndicated to individual stations across the United States. The pilot was produced between January and May 1952, and finally screened for Reed in September. Reed green-lighted production, and over the course of the next year scripts for 26 episodes were written. Because of cast changes for some of the characters, the original pilot episode was never aired, except for some sequences that were re-used in the episode "Bobby's Comet".

The series began to air on various stations in February 1954, while filming of the episodes continued. Sudden cast changes were required when one actor was jailed in February 1954, and another died in June. An additional 13 episodes were filmed between August and October 1954, and the last of these aired in November. After that, Roland Reed Productions ended production of the Rocky Jones series.

The series quickly fell into obscurity, though it lived on in the memories of baby boomers who watched it as children (including science fiction writer John Varley, who named the heroine of his Titan trilogy, Cirocco "Rocky" Jones, after the series' lead character).

Because the series existed physically as a set of film canisters located in the vaults of various television stations, it did not remain in obscurity. Most of the half-hour episodes formed the segments of three-chapter serials, and after the series' original run ended, these serials were formed into 90-minute television movies and were broadcast from time to time, just like the Hollywood B-grade monster movies they superficially resembled.

In September 1992, one of these fix-up Rocky Jones movies, Manhunt in Space, was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, followed by a second, Crash of the Moons, in November. This led to a revival of interest in the series, helped along by the fact that the copyright on the episodes had lapsed. With the series in the public domain, cheaply-produced DVDs of the episodes began to appear for sale.

However, while the original episodes of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger have been preserved for posterity, there is one sense in which Tom Corbett, Space Cadet still has the advantage. From 1952 to 1956, a series of eight novelizations of Tom Corbett episodes were published, and seven of them can be found at Project Gutenberg. Unlike Corbett, and unlike his fellow Space Ranger Lucky Starr, Rocky Jones has never been immortalized in prose.

Well, that's no good, is it? Something has to be done for poor Rocky, and if you want something done right (or at all), you have to do it yourself. So it is that the sprawling Johnny Pez blog empire has spread to a new blog, http://rockyjonesspaceranger.blogspot.com/. Here you will find my ongoing project to novelize the Rocky Jones television series. I'm still working my way through the first serial, "Beyond the Curtain of Space", with the sixth chapter having just gone up yesterday, covering the first seven minutes or so of the second episode. I can't promise that the work will go quickly, since I have a lot of other tasks taking up my time (this blog not being the least of them), but if the internet and I both last long enough, Rocky Jones will see himself ensconced within the field of literature (if not necessarily of print).

"He Who Shrank" by Henry Hasse, part 11


This is the eleventh installment of "He Who Shrank" by Henry Hasse, a science fiction story from the Gernsback Era that first appeared in the August 1936 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. Its appearance here is part of Project Golden Age, a bold attempt to create online versions of all the public domain stories from Isaac Asimov's 1974 anthology Before the Golden Age.

The story so far:
The world's greatest scientist has created "Shrinx", a substance that causes a person to continually shrink in size. He has forcibly injected his assistant with "Shrinx", and his assistant is now so microscopically small that he has passed through subuniverses beyond counting. Now he finds himself on a primitive planet called Earth . . .



XI

My mind had, indeed, become much more penetrative than ever before. No doubt my surge of anger had sent out intangible waves which had struck upon their centers of consciousness with sufficient force to render them insensible.

I was glad to be done with them. I left the four walls of the building, emerged into the glorious expansive night under the stars and set out along the street in a direction that I believed would lead me away from the city. I wanted to get away from it, away from this world and the people who inhabited it.

As I advanced along the streets all who saw me recognized me at once and most of them fled unreasonably for safety. A group of persons in one of the vehicles tried to bar my progress, but I exercised my power of anger upon them; they dropped senselessly and their vehicle crashed into a building and was demolished.

In a few minutes the city was behind me and I was striding down one of the roads, destination unknown; nor did it matter, except that now I was free and alone as it should be. I had but a few more hours on this world.

And then it was that the feeling came upon me again, the strange feeling that I had experienced twice before: once when I had selected the tiny orange sun from among the millions of others, and again when I had chosen this tiny blue planet. Now I felt it for a third time, more strongly than ever, and now I knew that this feeling had some very definite purpose for being. It was as though something, some power beyond question, drew me irresistibly to it; I could not resist, nor did I want to. This time it was very strong and very near.

Peering into the darkness along the road, I saw a light some distance ahead and to the left, and I knew that I must go to that light.

When I had come nearer I could see that it emanated from a house set far back in a grove of trees, and I approached it without hesitation. The night was warm, and a pair of double windows opened upon a well-lighted room. In this room was a man.

I stepped inside and stood motionless, not yet knowing why I should have been drawn there.

The man's back was toward me. He was seated before a square dialed instrument, and seemed to be listening intently to some report coming from it. The sounds from the box were unintelligible to me, so I turned my attention to reading the man's mind as he listened, and was not surprised to learn that the reports concerned myself.

"-- casualties somewhat exaggerated, though the property damage has reached millions of dollars," came the news from the box. "Cleveland was of course hardest hit, though not unexpectedly, astronomical computators having estimated with fair accuracy the radius of danger. The creature landed in Lake Erie only a few miles east of the city. At the contact the waters rose over the breakwater with a rush and inundated nearly one third of the city before receding, and it was well that the greater part of the populace had heeded the advance warnings and fled . . . . all lake towns in the vicinity have reported heavy property damage, and cities as far east as Erie, and as far west as Toledo, have reported high flood waters . . . . all available Government combat planes were rushed to the scene in case the creature should show signs of hostility . . . . scientific men who have awaited the thing's landing for months immediately chartered planes for Cleveland . . . . despite the elaborate cordons of police and militiamen, the crowds broke through and entered the area, and within an hour after the landing roads in every direction were congested with traffic . . . . for several hours scientists circled and examined the creature in planes, while its unbelievable shrinkage continued . . . . the only report we have from them is that, aside from the contour of its great bell-shaped torso, the creature is quite amazingly correct anatomically . . . . an unofficial statement from Dr. Hilton U. Cogsworthy of the Alleghany Biological Society, is to the effect that such a creature isn't. That it cannot possibly exist. That the whole thing is the result of some kind of mass hypnotism on a gigantic scale. This, of course, in lieu of some reasonable explanation . . . . many persons would like to believe the 'mass hypnotism' theory, and many always will; but those who have seen it and taken photographs of it from every angle know that it does exist and that its steady shrinking goes on . . . . Professor James L. Harvey of Miami University has suffered a stroke of temporary insanity and is under the care of physicians. The habitual curiosity seekers who flocked to the scene are apparently more hardened . . . . the latest report is that the creature, still very large, has been transported under heavy guard to the Cleveland Institute of Scientific Research, where is gathered every scientist of note east of the Mississippi . . . . stand by for further news flashes . . . . "

The voice from the box ceased, and as I continued to read the mind of the man whose back was toward me, I saw that he was deeply absorbed in the news he had heard. And the mind of this person was something of a puzzle to me. He was above the average intelligence of those on this world, and was possessed of a certain amount of fundamental scientific knowledge; but I could see immediately that his was not a scientifically trained mind. By profession he was a writer -- one who recorded fictitious "happenings" in the written language, so that others might absorb and enjoy them.

And as I probed into his mind I was amazed at the depth of imagination there, a trait almost wholly lacking in those others I had encountered, the scientists. And I knew that at last here was one with whose mind I might contact . . . . here was one who was different from the others . . . . who went deeper . . . . who seemed on the very edge of the truth. Here was one who thought: "-- this strange creature, which has landed here . . . . alien to anything we have ever known . . . . might it not be alien even to our universe? . . . . the strange shrinking . . . . from that phenomenon alone we might conclude that it has come an inconceivable distance . . . . its shrinking may have begun hundreds, thousands of years ago . . . . and if we could but communicate with it, before it passes from Earth forever, what strange things might it not tell us!"

The voice came from the box again, interrupting these thoughts in his mind.

"Attention! Flash! The report comes that the alien space-creature, which was taken to the Scientific Research Institute for observation by scientists, has escaped, after projecting a kind of invisible mind force which rendered unconscious all those within reach. The creature was reported seen by a number of persons, after it left the building. A police squad car was wrecked as a direct result of the creature's 'mind force,' and three policemen were injured, none seriously. It was last seen leaving the city by the north-east, and all persons are ordered to be on the lookout and to report immediately if it is sighted."

* * *

Again the report from the box ceased, and again I probed into the man's mind, this time deeper, hoping to establish a contact with it which would allow for thought-communication.

I must have at least aroused some hidden mind-instinct, for he whirled to face me, overturning his chair. Surprise was on his face, and something in his eyes that must have been fear.

"Do not be alarmed," I flashed. "Be seated again."

I could see that his mind had not received my thought. But he must have known from my manner that I meant no harm, for he resumed his seat. I advanced further into the room, standing before him. The fear had gone out of his eyes and he only sat tensely staring at me, his hands gripping the arms of the chair.

"I know that you would like to learn things about myself," I telepathed; "things which those others -- your scientists -- would have liked to know."

Reading his mind I could see that he had not received the thought, so I probed even deeper and again flashed the same thought. This time he did receive it, and there was an answering light in his eyes.

"He said "Yes," aloud.

"Those others, your scientists," I went on, "would never have believed nor even understood my story, even if their minds were of the type to receive my thoughts, which they are not."

He received and comprehended that thought, too, but I could see that this was a great strain on his mind and could not go on for long.

"Yours is the only mind I have encountered here with which I could establish thought," I continued, "but even now it is becoming weakened under the unaccustomed strain. I wish to leave my record and story with you, but it cannot be by this means. I can put your mind under a hypnotic influence and impress my thoughts upon your subconscious mind, if you have some means of recording them. But you must hurry; I have only a few more hours here at the most, and in your entire lifetime it would be impossible for you to record all that I could tell."

I could read doubt in his mind. But only for one instant did he hesitate. Then he rose and went to a table where there was a pile of smooth white paper and a sharp pointed instrument -- pen -- for recording my thoughts in words of his own language.

"I am ready," was the thought in his mind.

* * *

So I have told my story. Why? I do not know, except that I wanted to. Of all the universes I have passed into, only on this blue sphere have I found creatures even remotely resembling myself. And they are a disappointment; and now I know that I shall never find others of my kind. Never, unless --

I have a theory. Where is the beginning or the end of the eternal All I have been traversing? Suppose there is none? Suppose that, after traversing a few more atomic cycles, I should enter a universe which seemed somehow familiar to me; and that I should enter a certain familiar galaxy, and approach a certain sun, a certain planet -- and find that I was back where I started from so long ago: back on my own planet, where I should find the Professor in the laboratory still receiving my sound and sight impressions! An insane theory; an impossible one. It shall never be.

Well, then, suppose that after leaving this sphere -- after descending into another atomic universe -- I should choose not to alight on any planet? Suppose I should remain in empty space, my size constantly diminishing? That would be one way of ending it all, I suppose. Or would it? Is not my body matter, and is not matter infinite, limitless, eternal? How then could I ever reach a "nothingness?" It it hopeless. I am eternal. My mind too must be eternal or it would surely have snapped long ago at such concepts.

I am so very small that my mind is losing contact with the mind of him who sits here before me writing these thoughts in words of his own language, though his mind is under the hypnotic spell of my own and he is oblivious to the words he writes. I have clambered upon top of the table beside the pile of pages he has written, to bring my mind closer to his. But why should I want to continue the thought-contact for another instant? My story is finished, there is nothing more to tell.

I shall never find others of my kind . . . . I am alone . . . . I think that soon, in some manner, I shall try to put an end to it . . . .

I am very small now . . . . the hypnosis is passing from his mind . . . . I can no longer control it . . . . the thought-contact is slipping . . . .

Saturday, July 3, 2010

"He Who Shrank" by Henry Hasse, part 10


This is the tenth installment of "He Who Shrank" by Henry Hasse, a science fiction story from the Gernsback Era that first appeared in the August 1936 issue of Amazing Stories magazine. Its appearance here is part of Project Golden Age, a bold attempt to create online versions of all the public domain stories from Isaac Asimov's 1974 anthology Before the Golden Age.

The story so far:
The world's greatest scientist has created "Shrinx", a substance that causes a person to continually shrink in size. He has forcibly injected his assistant with "Shrinx", and his assistant is now so microscopically small that he has passed through subuniverses beyond counting . . .



X

So it was that I departed from a certain world of highly intelligent gaseous beings; a world that was in itself composed of a highly rarified substance bordering on nebulosity. So it was tht I became even smaller, was lifted up in a whirling, expanding vortex of the dense atmosphere, and entered the universe which it composed.

Why I was attracted by that tiny, far-away speck of yellow, I do not know. It was near the center of the nebula I had entered. There were other suns far brighter, far more attractive, very much nearer. This minute yellow sun was dwarfed by other suns and sun-clusters around it -- seemed insignificant and lost among them. And why I was drawn to it, so far away, I cannot explain.

But mere distance, even space distance, was nothing to me now. I had long since learned from the Pure Intelligences the secret of propulsion by mind influence, and by this means I propelled myself through space at any desired speed not exceeding that of light; as my mind was incapable of imagining speed faster than light, I of course could not cause my material body to exceed it.

So I neared the yellow sun in a few minutes, and observed that it had twelve planets. And as I was far too large to yet land on any sphere, I wandered far among other suns, observing the haphazard construction of this universe, but never losing sight of the small yellow sun that had so intrigued me. And at last, much smaller, I returned to it.

And of all the twelve planets, one was particularly attractive to me. It was a tiny blue one. It made not much difference where I landed, so why should I have picked it from among the others? Perhaps only a whim -- but I think the true reason was because of its constant pale blue twinkling, as though it were beckoning to me, inviting me to come to it. It was an unexplainable phenomenon; none of the others did that. So I moved closer to the orbit of the blue planet, and landed upon it.

As usual I didn't move from where I stood for a time, until I could view the surrounding terrain; and then I observed that I had landed in a great lake -- a chain of lakes. A short distance to my left was a city a mile wide, a great part of which was inundated by the flood I had caused.

Very carefully, so as not to cause further tidal waves, I stepped from the lake to solid ground, and the waters receded somewhat.

Soon I saw a group of five machines flying toward me; each of them had two wings held stiffly at right angles to the body. Looking around me I saw others of these machines winging toward me from every direction, always in groups of five, in V formation. When they had come very close they began to dart and swoop in a most peculiar manner, from them came sharp staccato sounds, and I felt the impact of many tiny pellets upon my skin! These beings were very warlike, I thought, or else very excitable.

Their bombardment continued for some time, and I began to find it most irritating; these tiny pellets could not harm me seriously, could not even pierce my skin, but the impact of them stung. I could not account for their attack upon me, unless it be that they were angry at the flood I had caused by my landing. If that were the case they were very unreasonable, I thought; any damage I had done was purely unintentional, and they should realize that.

But I was soon to learn that these creatures were very foolish in many of their actions and manners; they were to prove puzzling to me in more ways than one.

I waved my arms around, and presently they ceased their futile bombardment, but continued to fly around me.

I wished I could see what manner of beings flew these machines. They were continually landing and rising again from a wide level field below.

For several hours they buzzed all around while I became steadily smaller. Below me I could see long ribbons of white that I guessed were roads. Along these roads crawled tiny vehicles, which soon became so numerous that all movement came to a standstill, so congested were they. In the fields a large part of the populace had gathered, and was being constantly augmented by others.

* * *

At last I was sufficiently small so that I could make out closer details, and I looked more intently at the beings who inhabited this world. My heart gave a quick leap then, for they somewhat resembled myself in structure. They were four-limbed and stood erect, their method of locomotion consisting of short jerky hops, very different from the smooth gliding movement of my own race. Their general features were somewhat different too -- seemed grotesque to me -- but the only main difference between them and myself was that their bodies were somewhat more columnar, roughly oval in shape and very thin, I would say almost frail.

Among the thousands gathered there were perhaps a score who seemed in authority. They rode upon the backs of clumsy looking, four-footed animals, and seemed to have difficulty in keeping the excited crowd under control. I, of course, was the center of their excitement; my presence seemed to have caused more consternation here than upon any other world.

Eventually a way was made through the crowd and one of the ponderous four wheeled vehicles was brought along the road opposite to where I stood. I supposed they wanted me to enter the rough box-like affair, so I did so, and was hauled with many bumps and jolts over the rough road toward the city I had seen to the left. I could have rebelled at this barbarous treatment, but I reflected that I was still very large and this was probably the only way they had of transporting me to wherever I was going.

It had become quite dark, and the city was aglow with thousands of lights. I was taken into a certain building, and at once many important looking persons came to observe me.

I have stated that my mind had become much more penetrative than ever before, so I was not surprised to learn that I could read many of the thoughts of these persons without much difficulty. I learned that these were scientists who had come here from other immediate cities as quickly as possible -- most of them in the winged machines, which they called "planes" -- when they had been certain that I would land. They had observed me through their telescopes, and their period of waiting had been a speculative one. And I could now see that they were greatly puzzled, filled with much wonderment, and no more enlightenment about me than they had been possessed of before.

Though still very large, I was becoming surely smaller, and it was this aspect that puzzled them most, just as it had on all the other worlds. Secondly in their speculations was the matter of where I had come from.

Many were the theories that passed among them. Certain they were that I had come a far distance. Uranus? Neptune? Pluto? I learned that these were the names of the outmost planets of this system. No, they decided; I must have come a much farther distance than that. Perhaps from another faraway galaxy of this universe! Their minds were staggered at that thought. Yet how very far away they were from the truth.

They addressed me in their own language, and seemed to realize that it was futile. Although I understood everything they said and everything that was in their minds, they could not know that I did, for I could not answer them. Their minds seemed utterly closed to all my attempts at thought communication, so I gave it up.

They conversed then among themselves, and I could read the hopelessness in their minds. I could see, too, as they discussed me, that they looked upon me as being abhorrent, a monstrosity. And as I searched the recesses of their minds, I found many things.

I found that it was the inherent instinct of this race to look upon all unnatural occurrences and phenomena with suspicion and disbelief and prejudiced mind.

I found that they had great pride for their accomplishments in the way of scientific and inventive progress. Their astronomers had delved a short distance into outer space, but considered it a very great distance; and having failed to find signs of intelligent life upon any immediate sphere, they leaped blindly and fondly to the conclusion that their own species of life was the dominant one in this solar system and perhaps -- it was a reluctant perhaps -- in the entire universe.

Their conception of the universe was a puny one. True, at the present time there was extant a theory of an expanding universe, and in that theory at least they were correct, I knew, remembering the former world I had left -- the swirling, expanding wisp of gaseous atmosphere of which this tiny blue sphere was an electron. Yes, their "expanding universe" theory was indeed correct. But very few of their thinkers went beyond their own immediate universe -- went deeply enough to even remotely glimpse the vast truth.

They had vast cities, yes. I had seen many of them from my height as I towered above their world. A great civilization, I had thought then. But now I know that great cities do not make great civilizations. I am disappointed at what I have found here, and cannot even understand why I should be disappointed, for this blue sphere is nothing to me and soon I will be gone on my eternal journey downward . . . .

Many things I read in these scientists' minds -- things clear and concise, things dim and remote; but they would never know.

And then in the mind of one of the persons, I read an idea. He went away, and returned shortly with an apparatus consisting of wires, a headphone, and a flat revolving disc. He spoke into an instrument, a sort of amplifier. Then a few minutes later he touched a sharp pointed instrument to the rotating disc, and I heard the identical sounds reproduced which he had spoken. A very crude method, but effective in a certain way. They wanted to register my speech so that they would have at least something to work on when I had gone.

I tried to speak some of my old language into the instrument. I had thought I was beyond all surprises, but I was surprised at what happened. For nothing happened. I could not speak. Neither in the old familiar language I had known so long ago, nor in any kind of sound. I had communicated so entirely by thought transference on so many of the other worlds, that now my power of vocal utterance was gone.

They were disappointed. I was not sorry, for they could not have deciphered any language so utterly alien as mine was.

Then they resorted to the mathematics by which this universe and all universes are controlled; into which mathematical mold the eternal All was cast at the beginning and has moved errorlessly since. They produced a great chart which showed the conglomerated masses of this and other galaxies. Then upon a black panel set in the wall, was drawn a circle -- understandable in any universe -- and around it ten smaller circles. This was evidently their solar system, though I could not understand why they drew but ten circles when I had seen twelve planets from outer space. Then a tiny spot was designated on the chart, the position of this system in its particular galaxy. Then they handed the chart to me.

It was useless. Utterly impossible. How could I ever indicate my own universe, much less my galaxy and solar system, by such puny methods as these? How could I make them know that my own universe and planet were so infinitely large in the scheme of things that theirs were practically non-existent? How could I make them know that their universe was not outside my own, but on my planet? -- superimposed in a block of metal on a laboratory table, in a grain of sand, in the atoms of glass in a microscopic slide, in a drop of water, in a blade of grass, in a bit of cold flame, in a thousand other variations of elements and substances all of which I had passed down into and beyond, and finally in a wisp of gas that was the cause of their "expanding universe." Even could I have conversed with them in their own language I could not have made them grasp the vastness of all those substances existing on worlds each of which was but an electron of an atom in one of trillions upon trillions of molecules of an infinitely larger world! Such a conception would have shattered their minds.

It was very evident that they would never be able to establish communication with me even remotely, nor I with them; and I was becoming very impatient. I wanted to be out of the stifling building, out under the night sky, free and unhampered in the vast space which was my abode.

Upon seeing that I made no move to indicate on the chart which part of their puny universe I came from, the scientists around me again conversed among themselves; and this time I was amazed at the trend of their thoughts.

For the conclusion which they had reached was that I was some freak of outer space which had somehow wandered here, and that my place in the scale of evolution was too far below their own for them to establish ideas with me either by spoken language (of which they concluded I had none) or by signs (which I was apparently too barbaric to understand)!! This -- this was their unanimous conclusion! This, because I had not uttered any language for them to record, and because the chart of their universe was utterly insignificant to me! Never did it occur to them that the opposite might be true -- that I might converse with them but for the fact that their minds were too weak to register my thoughts!

Disgust was my reaction to these short-sighted conclusions of their unimaginable minds -- disgust which gave way to an old emotion, that of anger.

And as that one impulsive, rising burst of anger flooded my mind, a strange thing happened:

Every one of the scientists before me dropped to the floor in a state of unconsciousness.