The Devolutionist (6)
March 28, 2013
HILOBROW is pleased to present the sixth installment of our serialization of Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist. New installments will appear each Thursday for eighteen weeks.
“The Devolutionist” (Argosy All-Story Weekly, July 1921) is the third occult-science-fiction Dr. Kinney story; the others are “The Lord of Death” (June 1919), “The Queen of Life” (August 1919), and “The Emancipatrix” (September 1921). Having learned how to visit other worlds telepathically, without leaving Earth — by means of Venusian technology — Dr. Kinney and his companions enter the minds and share the sensations of the inhabitants of a human-like civilization on other planets. In this story, they visit a double planet: Hafen is the abode of capitalists, Holl of workers. A nearby planet of “cooperative democrats” is in trouble, so Kinney & co. step in.
Cobbler and one-reeler writer Homer Eon Flint (1888–1924) published a number of pulp science fiction stories — including “The Planeteer” (1918; one of the earliest examples of cosmic sci-fi) and The Blind Spot (1921, with Austin Hall) — during the genre’s Radium Age. Everett Bleiler’s Science Fiction: The Early Years calls Flint “in many ways the outstanding writer of s-f in the Munsey pulp magazines.” Flint died in a crash near Oakland, Calif., after supposedly stealing a taxi at gunpoint in order to use it in a bank hold-up.
THE WORLD’S BOSSES
Van Emmon was afterward unable to recall any experience between his entering the sublimial state and becoming tele-conscious. That is, his only recollection was of a definite scene, experienced through the eyes and ears of his agent.
The place was a large high-ceilinged room, its architecture suggesting some public building. In the center, and directly in front of Van Emmon’s agent, stood a large, rectangular table, about which sat a number of men. Van Emmon counted nine of them.
The whole atmosphere was solemn and important. Van Emmon was reminded of old photographs of cabinet meetings in Washington, of strategy boards during the great war. He listened intently for something to be said.
Near the foot of the table —Van Emmon’s agent sat at the head — a tall man with an imposing, square-cut beard rose to his feet. He gazed at each of the other eight in turn, significantly; and when he spoke the geologist was so impressed with the deadly seriousness of the scene that he forgot to be amazed at his ability to understand what was said, forgot to marvel that these men were, undeniably, human beings of exceptional character.
“Gentlemen,” said the man who had risen, “I do not need to remind you of the seriousness of this occasion. I only wish to congratulate you, and myself, on the fact that we now have a chairman to whom we can look with confidence. I say this without meaning any reflection upon his predecessor.”
He sat down, and immediately a white-haired man with a wide, complacent type of face arose and declared: “No reflection is felt, sir. On the contrary, I am exceedingly glad that Mr. Powart is to take my place. I only wish that the commission felt free to discard its rule of choosing by lots; I should like to present Mr. Powart with the chair for as long a period as he would care to fill it.”
He took his seat amid a general murmur of approval, while nine pair of eyes were turned in unison upon the pair Van Emmon was sharing. His agent, then, was chairman of some sort of a council, known as “the commission.”
Powart got to his feet. Even in this simple act his motions were swift and sure; they harmonized perfectly with the way he talked.
“Thanks, both you. To be frank, I am glad, for the sake of the association, that the youngest commissioner has come to its head at this time. If there were a younger than myself, I would say the same.”
He paused and glanced at some memoranda in his hand. Van Emmon was struck, first, by the smooth skin and perfect formation of the hand and wrist; and, second, by the peculiar writing on the papers. He had no idea what it meant, although his agent certainly did. (Afterward the four concluded that, in the case of words written in code or otherwise requiring an effort of the agent’s conscious mind, the people on the earth, being in touch only with the subconscious, were never informed. But they never had any trouble in understanding anything that was said aloud.)
“If there are any special matters which should be handled in general session, now is the time to bring them up,” said Powart, and remained standing.
An undersized man with a remarkably large head of hair spoke up from the righthand side of the table: “I want to suggest that it is high time we sent another expedition to Alma.”
“I agree,” from the man who had been Powart’s predecessor. Apparently these ten men had nearly dispensed with parliamentary rules. “What are the prospects, Powart?”
“First rate. Runled’s old space-boat has been renovated recently, and I understand that enough of the required materials have been mined to insure one round trip.”
“It is very fortunate that we shall be able to visit Alma again, even though we use up our entire supply in the attempt. It seems that we shall soon need, and need badly, certain chemical secrets which they alone possess.”
“When can the boat start?”
“Within a week. I shall keep in touch with the crew by wireless, and advise you of their progress from time to time. Alma is a sort of a hobby with me; I wouldn’t mind taking the trip myself.”
There was a long pause. Powart waited, as though in expectation of further remarks, then gave another glance at his memoranda and began:
“Of course, we are mainly concerned with the demonstration in Calastia. As to its cause, I may mention that Eklan Norbith was in a hospital at the time, having a substitution. Had he been on the spot, the uprising would have been checked before any one heard of it.
“But it now seems that Calastia, during the last few hours, has become a seething hotbed of rebellion. Of course, we have isolated the district, and a search for arms is now in progress.
“The head of the recalcitrants is a man named Ernol. He takes his confinement as a matter of course, and no amount of pressure will induce him to talk. Neither can we get anything from his companions, nor from his son.
“It is up to us to decide what measures to adopt.”
A large, pugnacious-looking man on the left put in the first comment. “Would it not be a saving of time to provoke violence, in one way or another, and thus form a pretext for disposing of the entire lot?”
“I admire your bluntness,” remarked the former chairman across the table, “although I can’t say as much for your philosophy. It is our duty to keep everybody contented; we cannot do any public weeding-out until the others are satisfied that the malcontents are really weeds.”
“That is clear enough,” spoke the shock-headed man. “What are the conditions, Powart?”
“Nearly normal. The percentage of overhead is only slightly higher than average. Until Ernol moved into the locality every one seemed contented with the regular arrangements.”
“What is his contention?”
“The usual democratic nonsense. He claims that the commission is autocratic, down to its last deputy. Denies that we have the right to apportion one-half the earnings to the workers and the other half to the owners. States that our system is wasteful, unjust, and demoralizing.”
“And what does he propose?”
“Democratic control of industry. You know — that old line of talk.”
“Does he deny that the commission has abolished poverty and war?”
“No; but he points out that our present standard of living has not changed for generations, and argues that degeneration must result. Of course, he is right in his fact but wrong in his conclusion.”
“Doesn’t he admit the necessity of some sort of an international governing body?”
“Yes; but he claims that the commission should be elected by direct vote of the people!”
A general smile of derision greeted this. The only face that remained serious was that of the shock-headed man. He said:
“There must be a slip somewhere, Powart. Isn’t there a heavy fine and imprisonment for teaching such stuff? How did Ernol ever get hold of the notion?”
“Probably through tradition. We can’t keep people from talking to their own children; perhaps Ernol’s great-grandparents told him of the days when every one was allowed to vote.”
The shock-headed man got another idea. “What has the man to say against our system of voting in proportion to property interests?”
“Says it’s all right in principle; but he claims that the earth belongs to one and all, equally, and therefore each should have an equal voice in its disposition and government.”
This time there was no smiling. The pugnacious-looking man spoke for the rest when he said:
“We cannot allow such ideas to gain headway, Powart! Have you a plan?”
“We must keep a close watch upon Calastia, and allow no one to leave its borders. As for Ernol, I have concluded that the best thing will be — turn him loose!”
They looked at him in consternation. He explained:
“I have been reading up the experience of the past few centuries in such cases; and if there is one thing that stands out clearer than any other it is this: the surest way to make the public sympathize with a radical is to persecute him. But disregard him and ridicule him, and his philosophy doesn’t last long.
“Instead of trying to make an example of this chap, by severely punishing him, we shall let him go. It may be that he will object to this; he may have discovered the same truths I have been reading, and would like nothing better than to become a ‘martyr.’ But we shall force him out, if need be.”
“But suppose he continues his talking?”
“In that case we must simply watch our chance, and take him secretly; if need be, arrest a thousand others at the same time. The main thing is secrecy; so that the people cannot know, no matter what they may suspect, what has become of him. His final disposition will be a question of mere expediency.”
The former chairman approved heartily. “You’ve got the right idea, Powart. Is there anything further on tap?”
Powart put his notes away. “Every national report is the same as usual; all quiet, and people apparently well satisfied.
“If there is no further business, we may consider ourselves adjourned.”
The men got to their feet with the usual accompanying noises. The tall man with the square-cut beard immediately came and offered Powart his hand. Van Emmon noticed that they shook hands almost exactly as Americans would.
“Things seem to be coming your way, my boy,” said the bearded man, his keen eyes softening slightly. “I saw the paper this morning. Congratulations! She is one girl in millions. Has she fixed the date?”
“No. Mona was rather taken by surprise — to be frank with you, uncle.”
As Powart spoke, he was eyeing the door and nodding permission for an attendant to enter. The man stepped obsequiously forward and presented a message, for all the world like any ordinary aerogram. Powart opened it while his uncle signed.
The chairman gave a low whistle of surprise. “Mona had an accident with her flier, a little while ago, and was rescued by”— he looked closer at the aerogram —“a chap named Fort. She is now recuperating on board the Cobulus.”
The tall man took the message and read it himself, while Powart glanced about the room. Van Emmon caught a glimpse of a clock, and he noted the pendulum especially. But before he could learn anything further, Dr. Kinney’s hand jerked as before, and the gong rang. The four awakened.
They had been “visiting” over an hour.
RADIUM AGE SCIENCE FICTION: “Radium Age” is HILOBROW’s name for the 1904–33 era, which saw the discovery of radioactivity, the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. This era also saw the publication of genre-shattering writing by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sax Rohmer, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Jack London, Arthur Conan Doyle, Aldous Huxley, Olaf Stapledon, Karel Čapek, H.P. Lovecraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Philip Gordon Wylie, and other pioneers of post-Verne/Wells, pre-Golden Age “science fiction.”
HILOBOOKS: The mission of HiLoBooks is to serialize novels (both original and reissued) on HiLobrow, and to reissue Radium Age science fiction in beautiful new print editions. The following titles can be read in serial form via HiLobrow.com and/or purchased in gorgeous paperback form online or via your local independent bookstore: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”), Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt, H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook, Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins, William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, J.D. Beresford’s Goslings, E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man, Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage, and Muriel Jaeger’s The Man with Six Senses. Also serialized on HiLobrow: W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet”, Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist, Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon — 2419 A.D., Jack London’s “The Red One”. For more information, visit the HiLoBooks homepage.
ORIGINAL FICTION from HILOBROW: James Parker’s swearing-animal fable The Ballad of Cocky The Fox, later published in limited-edition paperback by HiLoBooks; plus: a newsletter, The Sniffer, by Patrick Cates, and further stories: “The Cockarillion”) | Karinne Keithley Syers’s hollow-earth adventure Linda, later published in limited-edition paperback; plus: ukulele music, and a “Floating Appendix”) | Matthew Battles’s stories “Gita Nova“, “Makes the Man,” “Imago,” “Camera Lucida,” “A Simple Message”, “Children of the Volcano”, “The Gnomon”, “Billable Memories”, “For Provisional Description of Superficial Features”, “The Dogs in the Trees”, “The Sovereignties of Invention”, and “Survivor: The Island of Dr. Moreau”; several of these later appeared in the collection The Sovereignties of Invention, published by Red Lemonade | Robert Waldron’s high-school campus roman à clef The School on the Fens | Peggy Nelson’s “Mood Indigo“, “Top Kill Fail“, and “Mercerism” | Annalee Newitz’s “The Great Oxygen Race” | Flourish Klink’s Star Trek fanfic “Conference Comms” | Charlie Mitchell’s “A Fantasy Land” | Charlie Mitchell’s “Sentinels” | Joshua Glenn’s “The Lawless One”, and the mashup story “Zarathustra vs. Swamp Thing” | Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri’s Idoru Jones comics | John Holbo’s “Sugarplum Squeampunk” | “Another Corporate Death” (1) and “Another Corporate Death” (2) by Mike Fleisch | Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Frank Fiorentino’s graphic novel “The Song of Otto” (excerpt) | John Holbo’s graphic novel On Beyond Zarathustra (excerpt) | “Manoj” and “Josh” by Vijay Balakrishnan | “Verge” by Chris Rossi, and his audio novel Low Priority Hero | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD (1.408-415) by Flourish Klink | EPIC WINS: THE KALEVALA (3.1-278) by James Parker | EPIC WINS: THE ARGONAUTICA (2.815-834) by Joshua Glenn | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD by Stephen Burt | EPIC WINS: THE MYTH OF THE ELK by Matthew Battles | EPIC WINS: GOTHAMIAD by Chad Parmenter | TROUBLED SUPERHUMAN CONTEST: Charles Pappas, “The Law” | CATASTROPHE CONTEST: Timothy Raymond, “Hem and the Flood” | TELEPATHY CONTEST: Rachel Ellis Adams, “Fatima, Can You Hear Me?” | OIL SPILL CONTEST: A.E. Smith, “Sound Thinking | LITTLE NEMO CAPTION CONTEST: Joe Lyons, “Necronomicon” | SPOOKY-KOOKY CONTEST: Tucker Cummings, “Well Marbled” | INVENT-A-HERO CONTEST: TG Gibbon, “The Firefly” | FANFICTION CONTEST: Lyette Mercier’s “Sex and the Single Superhero”