The Devolutionist (9)
April 18, 2013
HILOBROW is pleased to present the ninth 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.
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THE STAGNANT WORLD
Smith entered the mind of his Capellan agent at a moment when he was clearly off duty. In fact, the engineer of the Cobulus was at the time enjoying an uncommonly good photoplay.
Smith had arrived too late to see the beginning of the picture; but he found it to be a more or less conventional society drama. And for a while he was mainly interested in the remarkably clear photography, the natural coloring and stereoscopic effect that the doctor had already noted through young Ernol. Smith nearly overlooked the really fine music, all coming from a talking machine of some kind.
And then the picture came to an end, and a farce-comedy began. It was an extraordinarily ingenious thing, with little or no plot; afterward Smith could not describe it with any accuracy. However, Mrs. Kinney, downstairs, plainly heard him laughing as though his sides would give way.
The picture over, Smith’s man got up and left the place; and once outside he glanced at his watch and took up a position on the curb, much as Smith had often done when a younger man. The Capellan seemed to know a good many of the people who came out of the playhouse; and meanwhile Smith took note of something of extreme importance.
The playhouse did not have any advertising whatever in sight, except for a single bulletin-board, like the bill of fare of a cafeteria. Moreover — and this is the significant thing — there was no box-office, neither was any one at the door to take tickets.
The place was wide open to the world. It was located on a very busy street in what appeared to be a good-sized city; but, to all appearances, any one might enter who chose to.
“Free amusements,” thought Smith, “to keep the boobs happy.”
Shortly his agent stepped down the street, which seemed to be greatly like one in any city on the earth, except that there was remarkably little noise. Perhaps it was due to the total lack of street-cars and surface machinery in general. Certainly the space between the sidewalks was used for little else than the parking of flying-machines. The buildings housed a variety of stores, all built on a large scale. There were no small shops at all.
Smith’s agent quickly reached his own flier, a small two-seater ornithopter finished in dull gray —Smith’s favorite color, incidentally — and in a minute or two he was well under way. Smith had a chance to watch, at close range, the distorted S-motion of the machine’s wings. But the flight lasted only a few minutes, and presently the craft was again at rest.
This time it was parked under a tremendously long shed, which Smith afterward saw was really a balcony, one of a tier of ten. Opposite the spot was a large building, like a depot; and over its roof Smith saw the huge bulk of an airship.
It was, of course, the Cobulus; and it was when Smith’s agent passed through a checking-in room that his name was heard for the first time. “All right, Reblong,” was the way it came, from the official who punched his time-card. And Reblong, with Smith making eager use of his eyes, went directly through a hatch in the side of the great ship, and thence down a corridor to his engine-room.
Smith got little opportunity to study the machinery. Reblong gave the place a single sweeping glance, then strode to a short, black-bearded chap who stood near the instrument board.
“Everything as usual, my friend?” He had a pleasant voice, as Smith learned for the first time.
“Yes — as usual!” The man’s voice was bitter. “That’s just what’s wrong! There’s never any improvement; it’s always — as usual! Say, Reblong; no offense, but I think we are fools to put up with what we are given!”
Smith’s man complacently seated himself in front of the instruments. “Personally, I think we are mighty lucky, instead of foolish.”
“Lucky!” The other man snorted. “I wish Ernol could hear you say that! He’d have a fit!”
Reblong was not at all disturbed. “By the way, what’s become of the chap? I haven’t seen him around for weeks?”
“Don’t know, exactly,” with some uneasiness. “He went back to Calastia, and that’s the last I heard of him.”
“Calastia? I saw an item in the paper last night, to the effect that Calastia was under quarantine. All news cut off.”
The man instantly smelled a mouse. “Quarantine! Why should that cause the news to be cut off? There’s something more than quarantine the matter, Reblong!” He began to pace the room excitedly. “I say it again, we’re fools to believe everything the commission tells us. I think they’ve been hoodwinking us about long enough!”
Reblong suppressed a yawn. “I don’t care if they do, old man. I’m willing to leave it up to them to run the government.”
“And that’s exactly what’s the matter!” cried the other. “You and every other chap except those Ernol has taught, thinks that the commission is God-given and can do no wrong!”
“Yes?” politely. “Maybe so; only, you can’t blame us for thinking pretty highly of a government that has done this.” Reblong checked the items off on his fingers, meanwhile eying his companion steadily: “It has done away with the liquor traffic; it has fully protected women in industry; it has put an end to child labor; it has abolished poverty; it has abolished war; and”— with considerable emphasis for so quiet a man —“it has provided you and me and everybody else with a mighty fine education, free of charge!”
Reblong’s manner, by its very emphasis, had the effect of making the other man suddenly quite cool. “Correct; I admit them all. And at the same time I want to show you that the commission has accomplished all this, not primarily for our benefit, but in the interests of the owners.
“They gave us prohibition because drinking was bad for business; no other reason, Reblong! And that’s why the women are protected, too; a protected, contented woman brings in better dividends to the owners than one who is worked to death.
“Neither did it pay to allow child labor; it resulted in misery and reduced production, in the long run, and that meant reduced dividends. Poverty didn’t pay, either; poor people do not make efficient workmen. War was abolished, Reblong, not for any humanitarian motives, but because peace brought in fatter profits and less waste.
“And as for our compulsory education”— he snapped his fingers contemptuously —“just what does it amount to? Simply this: it didn’t pay the owners to allow illiteracy! An educated workman is a better dividend-producer than an ignorant one. That’s all there is to it, Reblong! Don’t fool yourself into thinking that the commission has done all this for your benefit! Not much!”
“Maybe you’re right,” conceded Reblong. “As for myself, I don’t care a rap what the commission’s reasons were. I’m satisfied!”
The other man looked disgusted. “Satisfied! Just because you’re guaranteed your dollar an hour, and your pension at sixty! Satisfied, when half the company’s profits go to the owners, not one of whom ever did a bit of work in his life! A bunch of people who do nothing but blow in the money we earn, and spend more in a day than we do in a month!”
“They’re welcome,” commented Reblong with much indifference. “If I got all that you have told me is coming to me, I’d probably ruin myself with high living anyhow.”
“You don’t mean to say that you’ve swallowed that old piffle!” said the black-bearded chap incredulously.
“I don’t see any piffle about it. As I look at the matter, the owners are doing us a genuine favor. Not only do they take the burden of our surplus earnings off our shoulders, but they run our government for us without charge.”
“Well, I’ll be utterly damned!” The other fellow looked as though the words were not half strong enough. “I never thought a full-grown man could continue to believe the stuff we were taught when we were kids! Don’t you ever think for yourself, Reblong? Why, look here!”
He came closer and spoke with painstaking clearness, as though he were addressing a child.
“The commission, instead of assuring us that increased wages would be our ruin, could just as well be educating us to spend wisely! Just as well, Reblong! And as for child labor — man, children ought to be kept out of industry until they’re twenty, instead of sixteen! Every last one of us ought to be given a college education, instead of merely the children of the rich! And all this could be done, too. There’s no earthly reason why we should permit that bunch of parasites in Hafen to graft off us any longer! Put ’em to work, like you and me, and make life easier for us all!”
“But,” objected Reblong, a little upset, “there’s only a few of the owners. They couldn’t help much.”
“But their servants could. Do you know that there’s ten servants, on an average, to every family of the rich? Servants who do nothing but make life still easier for people who already hog it all!”
“Well, suppose they did all go to work; who would run our government for us, my friend?”
“Who! Why — if we can do the work, I guess we can certainly do the governing, Reblong.”
Reblong turned away, plainly bewildered. “It doesn’t look right to me, old man. I’d rather let things stand as they are, so far as I’m concerned.”
Somewhere a warning instrument was thrumming loudly. The man with the democratic ideas automatically turned to his locker, and proceeded to change his outer clothing. Reblong meanwhile took off his suit and slipped into some full-length overalls. As he buttoned them up around the neck he stepped in front of a glass.
Smith was nearly floored. The man was almost his exact double; an ordinary, everyday sort of a chap, with a very commonplace face. Perhaps, like Smith’s, his face concealed a remarkable technical knowledge; but nobody would have given him a second glance. Was he, thought Smith, a typical Capellan workman?
The other man was ready to go. He hesitated, studying the floor; then said, regretfully: “The worst part of it is, Reblong, everybody I talk to is as bad as you are. They all admit that things are not what they should be — but nobody cares!”
He went to the door, and Reblong heard him say, under his breath, as he turned the knob: “Great Heavens! What’s come over the world anyhow? Has it gone stagnant?”
“Smith’s agent quickly reached his own flier, a small two-seater ornithopter” — An ornithopter is an aircraft that flies by flapping its wings. The Sanskrit epic Ramayana (4th Century BC) describes an ornithopter, the Pushpaka Vimana.
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”