The Devolutionist (11)
May 2, 2013
HILOBROW is pleased to present the eleventh 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 DOUBLE WORLD
The four felt that they understood the situation quite well, indeed. It was really simple, this far-off world with its standardized life, this petrified civilization in which everything was guaranteed except the one real essential — progress.
But what was Fort going to do about it? Billie was not the only one who was interested; Van Emmon was equally curious, and Smith privately believed that the geologist was slightly jealous of the distant athlete. Certainly he was as eager as any one to continue the investigation, and stoutly defended Powart against any criticism.
“He’s the right man in the right place!” he insisted. “Lord, I wish I was in his boots!”
“Well, I’m rather thankful you’re not, dear,” commented Billie with a look which quickly brought an answering light to his eyes. Yet, behind her remark there was a certain wistfulness which the doctor did not overlook.
Yes, the four felt that they were very well acquainted with Capellette.
But the most amazing part of the whole proposition was yet to be discovered. It was not until after nearly two weeks of daily investigation, in fact, that the whole astonishing truth of the matter was uncovered.
It came through Billie. Fort was now calling regularly at Mona’s house, evidently trying his best to understand the girl and make himself understood; for he said not a word about his suit. And one day he suggested that they make a much longer flight than any they had so far taken together.
“I haven’t been down into the contact for a long while. Have you?”
And the two set out, Billie wondering mightily what “the contact” might be. They flew for several hours in a direction which would have been called “westerly” on the Earth; and during the time they were above land, Billie saw no sign of factories, farms, or other forms of industry. In fact, hill and valley alike were laid out with handsome residences, beautifully kept grounds, vast parks and extensive greens, suggesting golf. That was all.
Then she noticed something that made her marvel. The sun, which had stood directly overhead when they left the house, within less than three hours began to descend with increasing rapidity; so that in half the length of an ordinary afternoon it had approached to within an hour of setting. Its motion was so rapid that it could almost be seen.
Soon Billie concluded that the two fliers were bound for the bottom of some unusually wide and exceptionally deep canyon. She tried to remember what she had read of the Earth’s greatest chasms; was it possible for the sun to disappear in mid-afternoon in such? And yet the flight went on and on, until Billie began to wonder if a chasm could be a hundred miles deep.
Soon she could dimly discern the dark mass of the opposite side. The fliers were steadily approaching this, and all the time going deeper and deeper. Once Mona turned her eyes searching to the right and left; whereupon Billie was still further mystified to see that, although the cleft was fifty or sixty miles in length, yet its extreme ends seemed entirely open to the world. Nothing but a deep “V” of blue sky was to be seen in either direction.
The sun disappeared altogether. Always the two walls grew closer and closer together, until at last Billie could see, despite the semidarkness, a heavy growth of vegetation on the opposite wall. Beneath her, as well, the surface was densely wooded.
Still they descended! It was unbelievable; surely the chasm did not extend right into the heart of the globe. They had been flying for hours!
At last came a time when the far wall of the cleft was so near that Billie could have shot a deer upon it. She estimated the distance at two hundred yards; and then, and not until then, did she realize that Mona, in order to inspect this bank, was now looking up. The wall which had seemed right ahead, all along, was now actually overhead!
Were they entering some sort of a cave? If so, it had dimensions that staggered the imagination. What was more, if it were a cave, how could the mind of man account for vegetation on its roof?
Within a few minutes Fort called from his machine; whereupon Mona located a landing-place, a small clearing dimly visible in the distance. The opposite wall of the chasm — or the roof of the cave, whichever it was — now approached to within five yards of the tops of the two machines. Mona and the athlete stepped out, and looked around.
Billie’s senses swam. This clearing, as has been said, was only a few yards away from the tops of the bushes on the roof. Moreover, all this vegetation, instead of growing at right angles from the surface in the usual way, was all lying flat against the soil, and all pointing in one direction — back, the way they had come!
The sky was not overhead any longer; it was a mere strip of very dark blue, lying far off on the horizon. That is, to the right; on the left, the cavelike cleft extended still further, its limits shrouded in darkness.
“Queer, isn’t it?” laughed Fort. “Shall we walk around?”
Whereupon the two young people set out on a narrow, but much worn trail. Keeping the sky always at their right, they passed through the thicket, Mona’s eyes telling Billie that the queer horizontal vegetation grew always toward the light.
It was much like the growth at the bottom of any gulch; only the two were walking in the normal way, upright, at right angles to the surface, quite as though it were level ground!
Overhead the thicket grew in the same fashion; Billie thought the foliage much like ferns. Here and there, however, was a small flowering shrub; and it was to one of these that a tiny, orange-colored bird came flying.
And Billie wondered why Mona did not gasp in astonishment. For the bird, when it alighted upon the shrub, was not over eight feet above Mona’s eyes; and unless there was something decidedly wrong with the girl’s vision, the bird had alighted upside down!
There it clung, chirping flatly, moving its head from side to side and watching the two with bright, unfrightened eyes. But Mona was not much interested; she and Fort moved on. And shortly Billie was gazing at a fresh wonder.
Directly opposite them, on what Billie was now calling the roof, instead of the wall, there appeared a deep furrow in the ferns. She saw that it was a path, much like the one Mona was treading; it meandered in and out of sight from time to time. What was the meaning of it? Billie began to wonder if “the contact” was the name of some mechanical illusion, like a distorted mirror.
The two had been walking for nearly an hour when, right ahead of them, the thicket opened up, and another clearing presented itself. That is, Billie called it another clearing, until she looked more closely and made out two flying-machines in it. They were the ones the pair had come in!
Now Billie was positive that they had not turned around in their walk; they had kept the sky on their right all the while. In fact, the sky was still on that side. They were approaching the clearing from the side opposite the one they had gone out from!
Yet, neither the athlete nor the surgeon seemed to see anything peculiar in the fact. Instead, they looked at one another as much as to say, “Well, time to go, isn’t it?”
Then Fort stared up at the mysterious roof. There was another clearing there, a little to one side; which accounted for Billie’s overlooking it at first. Fort led the way over opposite.
“Shall we try it?” he dared Mona.
“You first,” she replied, indifferently.
Whereupon the athlete, without another word, pulled his cap down tight, made sure his pockets were buttoned, cleared the shrubbery away from his feet and — leaped! Leaped straight into the air, and as he went up, he flipped his body as only an acrobat can, so that he turned a mid air somersault.
But he did not come back to where he jumped from. Instead, his jump took him five yards, which separated the ground from the roof; and when he landed his feet were resting on the roof, and his head was pointing downward, toward Mona.
“It’s easy,” he remarked, craning his neck so that he could look at the girl. “Come on; I’ll catch you!”
And then Billie’s senses whirled as the surgeon duplicated the feat. Next second Mona was standing beside Fort, five yards above the spot she had just left; and in that second everything had become precisely reversed; the two were now looking up! Looking up, to behold their machines, apparently upside down, just over their heads!
As though this were not enough, Mona picked a leaf from a shrub and threw it some seven or eight feet up. It remained motionless in mid air!
It was too much for Billie. She felt that she could not contemplate the thing any longer with safety to her sanity. She exerted her will, and broke the connection with Mona; so that a few minutes later her three friends on the Earth were listening to her account.
The doctor waited until she was all through; then, “While you were having that experience I was in touch with young Ernol again. The boy has recovered and is still in jail, but they let him have his books now. And I’ve been helping him study geography.”
“Very simple. Capellete is a double world!”
“Yes! There are two globes, instead of one. They’re twins, and Siamese twins at that!” He drew a figure on his knee, thus:
“Just imagine the Earth and Venus of the same size, and so near to one another that their combined gravity has brought them together! That’s Capellette! And the contact is the place where they touch!”
They considered this in wondering silence for a while. Then the doctor continued:
“It’s just as we had deduced; each of the planets is larger than the Earth. I saw the figures in that geography.
“But astronomically they are one. They revolve around Capella together; the rotate about a common center daily, just as the Earth rotates on its axis. This common center is, of course, in the contact.”
“Are both globes inhabited?” Billie was greatly interested.
“Yes. All parts of both planets are developed to the same extent, and evenly settled. They are just one great nation, with a common language. This, of course, is traceable to the great density of the air, enabling the people to fly wherever they wanted to go. There never has been such a thing as an ‘Old World’ and a ‘New World’ with them.
“The really remarkable fact, however, Billie has already hinted at. The country near Mona’s home shows no sign of industry; there’s nothing but parks and magnificent estates. And the geography explains it all. One of the planets is devoted entirely to industry and the homes of those who are engaged therein; the workers inhabit that globe exclusively. There are about ten billion of them.
“The other globe is exclusively a residence tract, set aside for the homes of the rich; what they call the owners. There is no industry of any kind. No workers live there, excepting the army of servants and park attendants which the owners need for their own comfort. The population is about a hundred million, of which only one in ten is a capitalist. The rest are serving people.”
Van Emmon seemed to feel that it was his place to comment. “In other words, Newport on a grand scale!”
“Is that the way Powart seems to regard it?” from Billie.
“Apparently. There were a lot of things in his talk which I couldn’t understand until now; but it’s clear enough — the doctor’s right.”
“Then,” pursed the girl deliberately, “the Capellans have divided the world between them, so that the working classes inhabit one-half, and the capitalists the other?”
The doctor explained that the dividing was all done by the owners. “Every bit of the land on the residence planet is privately owned, with the exception of certain small amusement tracts. Theoretically, the planet is open to one and all; practically no worker is welcome there for more than a few hours, and then only in one of those parks. There is no hotel.”
Van Emmon was straining his memory. “Let’s see — I heard Powart name the place. He called it — called it — Hafen!”
“Yes. And the other — the world which is the home of the working people, but which they do not own; the world whose factories and farms provide a standard living for the workers and lives of luxury for the owners — this world is known as Holl. But if I read young Ernol’s mind aright, these words mean nothing more or less than — Heaven and hell!”
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”