Friday, April 24, 2009

"Microcosmic Buccaneers" by Harl Vincent, part 1

"Microcosmic Buccaneers" is the third story by Harl Vincent that the Johnny Pez blog will be re"print"ing. Like the rest of the early work of this pioneer of magazine science fiction, "Microcosmic Buccaneers" has long since passed into the public domain. And like the previous stories that have appeared here, this is its first "publication" since its initial appearance in the pulp magazines.

"Microcosmic Buccaneers" appeared in the November 1929 issue of Amazing Stories, about eight months after Amazing's founder, Hugo Gernsback, lost control of it and his various other business concerns in a forced bankruptcy. Although Gernsback quickly established another set of science fiction magazines, the new publishers of Amazing had a more enlightened payment policy than its founder (which is to say, they actually did so), so Vincent preferred submitting his stories to them. The post-Gernsback Amazing eventually published twenty-eight of Vincent's stories from 1929 to 1942.

As I've noted before, Harl Vincent was the pen name of Harold Vincent Schoepflin, a mechanical engineer employed by Westinghouse. When Amazing Stories first came out, Vincent, like many of the new magazine's readers, felt compelled to write his own science fiction stories. Unlike most of the others, he proved to have a talent for writing, and his stories began seeing print, starting with "The Golden Girl of Munan" in the June 1928 issue. "Microcosmic Buccaneers" was his tenth published story.

As with Vincent's previous stories, I'll be publishing "Microcosmic Buccaneers" in a blog-friendly multipart format. Here, then, is part 1:

Microcosmic Buccaneers
by Harl Vincent

An Astounding Discovery

It was utterly incomprehensible, yet it was true. They had seen it with their own eyes. Young Grayson R36B stared at his father's friend with amazement written large on his lean, bronze countenance. Minott V8CA, Director of Physical Research of the eighth Terrestrial district, returned the stare with something of awe in his tired gray eyes.

"Grayson, my boy" he said, "we have succeeded beyond my most optimistic hopes. We have delved into the secrets of the microcosmos. We have located one of the innumerable universes and have there found an inconceivably minute world with its own sun, moon and stars, and peopled by living, thinking creatures who resemble the white race of our earth in physical appearance. It is quite unthinkable, but here in the evidence."

He glanced again into the eyepiece of the massive instrument before which they stood.

"I still can not understand it," remarked the younger man, slowly and with a perplexed frown. "Of course I am as yet ignorant of all excepting the mere rudiments of science. But it seems to me I have read, or perhaps you have told me, that these electrons, of which our infinitesimal world is one, are traveling at great speed even in matter of considerable density. How, then, can your super-microscope view these objects as if they were stationary?"

"That is a feature I neglected to mention. The initial magnification, as I believe I told you, is accomplished by a powerful ray of vibrations. This ray impinges on the object to be viewed and is the first stage of magnification in the system which gives us such enormous powers. The ray, inb addition to giving us the first ten thousand diameters, has the property of following the motions of which you speak. Its far end oscillates in exact harmony with the motions of the molecule or atom or electron as the case may be, while the source of the ray remains stationary and thus impresses a stationary image on the object reflector to the second stage of the instrument."

Grayson R36B nodded in comprehension, though he was unable to picture in his mind's eye such movements of a ray so small as to be unmeasurable and, in fact, invisible in a high power microscope of standard type. This was but one of the many things he had yet to learn. But he found the mysteries of science intensely interesting as propounded by his mentor, and he looked forward happily to many years of such association with the great man into whose care he had been legally placed at the death of his father, two years ago.

"What is the next step?" he asked.

Minott V8CA pondered the question. He had been wondering over the same subject. He was not satisfied with knowing as little as they had been able to see of the inhabitants of the tiny world now visible in the eyepiece of his instrument. He wanted to view them from still closer, to learn more of their lives and of their history. He replied, half jesting, "I should like to pay them a visit."

"Pay them a visit? But that is impossible."

"Nothing is impossible. We are living in the thirty-third century, my boy. Fifteen centuries ago it was thought impossible that man would ever fly -- mind you, fly in the atmosphere like a bird. Ten centuries ago it was thought that gravity could never be counteracted or overcome. And less than five centuries ago a trip to one of the planets was held to be the height of ridiculous imagination. Yet all of these things have been accomplished, and much more. No, I would not say the trip is impossible."

"But it is hardly probable, is it?"

"Hardly. Though the thing merits consideration."

The great scientist mused further. His young protege let his mind dwell upon the bizarre possibility suggested by the older man. There was no more adventure in the world, he ruminated. Some of the ancient sound films, that had been used as a part of his education, portrayed stirring events of the distant past. Adventures had been commonplace in those heroic days -- ocean flights in tiny, wind-buffeted vessels that looked as though they would never weather the storms -- struggles of man against the wilderness, building huge dams across turbulent rivers or erecting strange steel towers that carried power lines through well-nigh impenetrable jungles. Wars and rebellions in remote provinces had likewise appealed to him. But in his own day there was none of that, none of the excitement that had been the lot of adventurous youth in the dark ages. There were no storms now to buffet the gigantic air liners crossing the oceans, for science had conquered the weather. There was no wilderness nor jungle. Nor were their remote provinces, where battles might be fought and deeds of valor might be performed. The world was entirely civilized and overpopulated. Several generations back it had been considered somewhat of an adventure to make a trip to Mars or to Venus, but even this no longer provided excitement, for these planets were now but a few hours away and were so like earth in civilization and appearance as to present no novelty for a visiting terrestrial. Now here was a new possibility in the microcosmos -- and who knew how many more of the tiny worlds might be inhabited? But he could not bring himself to seriously consider the probability of ever reaching one of them.

"Grayson," spoke the older man, interrupting his line of thought, "I intend to do some heavy thinking over this thing. You know the control of our physical size is a comparatively simple matter now, within limits. Of course we have standardized six feet three inches as a man's stature and five feet eleven as a woman's, but there is no reason this might not be altered greatly if desired. By the use of one of the hormones of the pituitary gland we might grow giants of eight feet stature and by causing certain endocrine deficiencies it is possible to dwarf a man to a fourth of normal height. By similar processes it might be that we could contrive to reduce ourselves to the dimensions necessary for life on our newly found electron world."

"You really think something might be done?"

"Might be is the proper term. It is far from being a simple matter. But, as I said before, I shall think about it seriously."

"Supposing it were possible to reduce our bodies to the proper size. We should then be the distance of many universes from that grain of sand which contains our Lilliputian world. We might as well be at the edge of our own galactic universe. How would we ever reach it?"

"That is probably the most difficult part of the problem, and the one requiring the most thought. But it must be susceptible to solution, if not in our lifetime at least at some future date."

Grayson's delight at the words of his guardian was evident in his eyes and it abated but little at the further warning that all this talk of visiting the populated electron was extremely fanciful. And that night he dreamed of green forests and of running streams and of all those things that had existed for him only in history and in carefully preserved picturings. For Grayson R36B was not yet twenty-five years of age.

(continue to part 2)

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