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 . . .


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."


Andy said...

I'm the fine gentleman who praised this story on the page for Isaac Asimov's book "Before The Golden Age-part 3." I'm surprised He Who Shrank is in the public domain. But a commentor to my post alerted me to your work. You've done a fine service to humans and non-immigrant aliens everywhere.

Susan said...

I want to thank you for posting this.My Uncle Hank wrote it,and I have been searching for some of his writings for some time. It was a very interesting read, from a very interesting man.He would be pleased that others are now getting to enjoy his stories again.
Thank You!

Mr Huaso said...

Thanks for posting this. I was forced by my literary curiosity to steal this and put it in a single document, but I wanted to thank you very very much :).

TedAHunt said...

Next in line to thank you is an older gentleman who first read this moving story no later than the early 70s, in his small town library's old copy of of "Adventures in Time and Space" (

The Bohr model of the atom was by then already displaced, (though it's still a useful introduction before confounding the student with quantum mechanics). These developments don't make Henry Hasse's story any less awesome as an attempt to illustrate the infinite or the fun of trying to wrap our minds around it. We can enjoy the same thrill today following speculation on possible forms of the multiverse and whether its existence can ever be conclusively demonstrated.

One former science teacher can hold out some hope for our species as long as there are those who'll appreciate works like "He Who Shrank", Poul Anderson's "Tau Zero", and "The Gentle Seduction" by Marc Stiegler

Rhys said...

My 11-year-old son, while contemplating the bubbles in the dishwashing we oblige him to do for his allowance, said today "Dad! What if atoms are solar systems and the whole of existence is just an infinity of Russian dolls?"

"Have I got a story for you". And you've been kind enough to transcribe it.


Gary said...

It would be great if someone could write a sequel, maybe call it "He Who Grew", in which the Alien's shrinking is reversed and, many (for him) aeons and worlds later, he finds himself back in the Professor's laboratory. If that were to happen, I think that the aeons for him would be a mere moment for the Professor.

Unknown said...

Thank you! In fact a million of them! I have been looking and trying to find this for so many years. I am going to enjoy reading this very much.

Dan Jensen said...

I first read this story when I was in junior high in the early 1970s; I never forgot it, and it made a huge impression on me. So glad to have rediscovered it here on line.