The Devolutionist (12)
May 9, 2013
HILOBROW is pleased to present the twelfth 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.
CAUSE AND EFFECT
From that time on the four did not hold any more formal discussions of what they learned. This was due to a most extraordinary discovery.
They found that they could keep in touch with each other while they were “visiting”! It was a tremendous help; it enabled them to communicate and compare notes as they went along. The doctor declared that the Venusians themselves had not been able to do more.
Thus, when Powart called on Mona a few days after she had declined his ring, Billie was able to tell the other three all that took place, as fast as it happened. As usual, Powart’s stay was a brief one.
“I hope you have recovered your former self-confidence,” said he, consciously repressing the masterful note in his voice. “Not that I am unwilling to wait, Mona.”
“You are very patient,” she assured him. “I am glad to say that I am no longer troubled with any doubts of myself. Something else worries me now.”
He frowned at the implication. “What is it?” coldly.
“Frankly, it is your record.” She knew she was jarring him terribly, but she went on with evident relish, “You are the most important man in the world. Odd, isn’t it, that I should find fault with that? But it is a serious objection. You are still a very young man; you have become one of the commission; for a year, you are its head. The point is, what’s before you?” She paused to let this take effect. “You’ve already accomplished all that any man can possible accomplish in the political field. You haven’t any future!”
Powart grasped the thought with his usual instant decision. “I understand. You are right, too. I had not thought of it before.” A slight pause. “You fear that you may come to tire of me; is that it?”
She nodded emphatically. “If you had asked me a few years ago, before you had reached the top — it would have been different.”
He remained standing, frowning hard. Presently he glanced at his watch, and said he would have to be going.
“I will see what can be done about it,” he stated. “I have a plan which should get results.”
“Are you going to take up a hobby?” eagerly.
“Not a new one; but a hobby I have always had.” And with this enigmatic reply he was off.
Van Emmon kept track of his further movements, and reported everything to the other three. Powart had not been in flight long before he sent off a wireless despatch, to which he received a most extraordinary reply. It was from the expedition which he had sent to Alma a week before:
People of Alma give us warm welcome. Invite us to stay. We propose to do so. The planet infinitely preferable to either Hafen or Holl. Accept our resignations or not, as you please, and be damned to you!
Powart made no comment upon this, which he read in privacy after carefully decoding it. Van Emmon had no idea what he was thinking, of course, but wondered mightily how the chairman was going to deal with the situation. He could scarcely read that aerogram to the commission. For some time he paced the cabin of his yacht, and at the end he behaved like a man whose mind had been pretty strongly made up.
The commission met, it seems, in a central part of Hafen. Powart reached the place some hours after leaving Mona. He arrived to find the other nine members waiting for him; and without the least delay he took his place at the head of the table.
“We will postpone the usual routine until the next session if you like,” said he. There was no objection; whereupon Powart produced a message from his pocket.
“You will recall the expedition to Alma. I have just received their first report since reaching the planet.” And then, to the vast amazement of the people on the earth, he read — not what Van Emmon had seen him receive, but this, in his strong, matter-of-fact voice:
“People of Alma facing starvation, due to overpopulation and land-exhaustion. Have disabled our boat and will not permit us to return, although allowing us to use wireless, which they do not understand.
“They are constructing a fleet of huge space-boats, all heavily armed, intending to cross over to Hafen and Holl, and conquer the Capellans.”
Powart glanced keenly around the table. “This is all that has been received. Evidently our men were prevented from sending any more. I expect nothing further. It remains for us to decide, at once, what we should do.”
The silence of the next few minutes was largely due to consternation. To most of the commissioners the problem was staggering. They looked up in eager relief as the shock-headed man broke the silence.
“It seems to me that war is not inevitable. Apparently the thing that Alma needs is food. We still have a good deal of underdeveloped land on Holl; why not make a bargain with them?”
“You mean present them with enough land to raise the food they need?” from the former chairman.
“Yes, in exchange for whatever manufactured goods they can supply, and which we need. I see no reason for an invasion.”
Powart coughed slightly. “I do. We must not think that Alma is the same sort of a world as ours. It is a much older planet, and somewhat smaller. Yet it is more than eight times as densely populated as Holl. What land we could spare would be only a fraction of what they need. They intend not merely to invade and conquer us, but to destroy us just as we destroyed the Ammians!” [Footnote: Doubtless referring to some aboriginal tribe or race, such as the Indians of America.]
The nine sat for an instant in stunned silence at this amazing fabrication. Then the big man with the aggressive face leaped to his feet, brought his fist down upon the table with a thump, and shouted:
“Well, then, if it’s war, it’s war!”
“Aye!” cried Powart’s uncle; and in a flash the whole council was on its feet. “War be it!” they shouted.
In another moment the excitement had abated as suddenly as it had arisen. They got back into their seats, looking slightly abashed. Powart still remained standing.
“Then the only question is, shall we make preparations at once, or wait until we have thought the matter over further?” His tone was one of scientific indifference; and the discussion of the next few minutes was all in favor of his scheme. It ended in a motion to resolve the commission into a ways and means committee for the purpose of common defense.
“Second the motion!” cried the aggressive man; and the response was unanimous. Powart directed that a memorandum be made of the vote; then pressed one of a row of pushbuttons at his hand. An attendant immediately entered.
“Bring File 6, Folio 1,164, Sheet 10,” ordered Powart with his usual decisive exactness. The attendant disappeared, and in less than a minute returned with a large sheet of parchment. Powart immediately located the passage he desired.
“The action you have just taken,” he stated, “amounts to a declaration that a state of war exists. Under such circumstances, the law explicitly states the function of the chair. Read!” and he handed the parchment to the nearest commissioner. Within ten minutes the law had been read by every man present. Powart instantly continued with his statement:
“This commission is hereby automatically converted into a general staff, with myself, the chairman, as supreme commander. Your functions, while this state of war endures, will consist partly in proposing what steps I shall take, partly, in advising me regarding my decisions, and partly in carrying out whatever orders I may give.”
He pressed another button, and when the attendant responded, Powart made a signal with his hand. The attendant turned on his heel, saluting, faced the door he had left open behind him, and ordered:
“In single file — march!”
A company of guards trooped straight into the hall, and formed a hollow square about the table. The nine men stared at Powart in astonishment and perplexity. He did not keep them waiting.
“Pursuant to the authority vested in me by these acts, I hereby declare that a state of war exists between us and the people of Alma. I also declare the International Commission dissolved as such; the same is now my general staff, and will remain where it now is — indefinitely!”
The nine looked at each other blankly. Were they under arrest?
“And further, I hereby declare that martial law now exists throughout all the domain formerly under the rule of the commission! Until peace is declared, my word” — he paused ominously — “is the sole and only law.”
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”