The Devolutionist (13)
May 16, 2013
HILOBROW is pleased to present the thirteenth 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.
Meanwhile Billie was still “haunting” Mona, and shortly was able to tell the other three that Fort had called, taking the surgeon out in a machine large enough to hold them both. They proceeded to a near-by park, where a game of aerial punt-ball was already in progress. [Footnote: The game is described more or less completely in various sporting publications.]
Billie took great interest in the darting play of the little flylike machines, the action of the mechanical catapults, and the ease with which the twelve-inch ball was usually caught in the baskets on the machines’ prows. She reported the score from time to time in a manner which would have made a telegrapher jealous.
Returning from the game, Mona and Fort became pretty confidential, the natural result of a common enthusiasm; for their side won. But Fort was content for a while to merely watch Mona, who was driving.
Finally the conversation made an opening for him to say, “I asked your mother, Mona, what she thought of me as a prospective son-in-law.”
The girl was in no way rattled. “I suppose she told you that it wouldn’t make any difference what she might say; I’d do as I pleased anyhow. Didn’t she?”
Fort nodded, slightly taken back. Then his boldness returned. “Well, I had to bring up the subject somehow. And now that I’ve done it — do you love me well enough to marry me, Mona?”
She pretended to be very busy with the driving; so that Billie never knew whether Fort looked anxious or not. Presently Mona said:
“I think —I rather think I like you too well to marry you. What I mean is, I’m afraid it would spoil you, my dear boy. You’re too well satisfied with yourself. I don’t want to marry a man who is content to fly around half the time and admire me the other half; although,” she added, “I like to be admired as well as any one.”
Fort looked as though he would, with an ounce more provocation, take her in his arms and say something to get quick results. But he didn’t. “I see,” pretty soberly, for him. “You want me to get in and do something important. Like Powart?” suddenly.
But Mona would not answer him directly. “It’s only fair to say that I’ve given him an ultimatum, too.” She hinted at what she had told the chairman. “I said nothing about — you.”
Fort took a deep breath. Mona gave him a glance or two, and Billie could see a startling change come over him. It was amazing; Fort, for the first time in his life had made a serious resolve!
“This makes everything very different!” he declared; and even his voice was altered. There was a determined, purposeful ring about it which was altogether unlike his usual reckless tones.
“Thanks for not telling Mr. Powart,” Fort went on in the same quiet way. “Clearly, I should tell him myself. And I shall. After that it is up to me!”
Next instant he had thrown off his seriousness, and for the remainder of the flight was his former jovial self. He seemed a trifle ashamed, however, of his old lightheartedness; so much so that Mona warned him not to tamper too much with his disposition. “I like it too well, boy.”
He went straight home after a hurried leave-taking, and Mona did not see him again until after the declaration of war. The next the four heard of him was through Van Emmon; Fort called upon the self-made commander-in-chief as quickly as he could.
“I have the honor to inform you,” said Fort, coming straight to the point, “that Miss Mona has seen fit to encourage my suit. In short, sir,” with the strange new note of resolution in his voice, “I am your rival for her hand! I thought it only right that you should know.”
Powart took this as he took everything, standing. And Van Emmon could see no sign that the announcement had disturbed his poise.
“You are considerate,” he stated with the faintest trace of sarcasm. “Let me call your attention to the fact that, because of the position which recent events have forced upon me, it is quite within my power to dispose of your opposition”— significantly.
“Quite so! I shall appreciate your consideration also.” Then the athlete permitted himself a slight smile. “On second thoughts, however, you can’t afford to be other than considerate. If anything happens to me now, Miss Mona will naturally think of you; for she knows I have come here!”
A single exclamation escaped Powart, and from the light in Fort’s eyes, Van Emmon knew that the chief was sorely provoked. However, he spoke with his usual coolness and certainty.
“Under the circumstances, you will be exempt, Mr. Fort, from the conscription which is now under way. I shall do nothing that might hinder your activities in any way? I take it”— evenly —“that you hope to accomplish something — big?”
Fort bowed. “It is my intention to set a mark even further than your own, sir!”
For the first time Powart laughed. It was a really hearty laugh, as though Fort’s preposterous boast was so utterly ridiculous that sarcasm was out of place.
“Mr. Fort”— when his mirth had subsided —“I only wish your judgment was as sound as your optimism! Tell me — do you intend to make yourself ruler of a bigger world than this?”
Fort dropped his seriousness for an instant. “To tell the truth, Powart, I haven’t any plan at all — yet. Thanks for the exemption. In return, I assure you that whatever I do will be as truly in the interests of the people as what you have done.”
Powart eyed him keenly. For a moment Van Emmon thought he would try to learn if Fort had any suspicions. But he said nothing further than a curt, “The audience is ended.”
A few minutes later Billie, through Mona, knew that Fort was reporting progress. He did it by telephone.
“Thought you’d like to know,” he finished. “Hope I didn’t rouse you out of bed.”
It was night in Mona’s part of the world, and Billie had come upon the girl just as she was preparing for bed.
“Thank you,” she said, through a tremendous yawn. “I was just about to retire. Good luck”— another yawn —“and good —”
Her voice changed. “Mr. Fort!” sharply. “Powart’s declaration of war on Alma is a frame-up! Never mind how I happen to know; it is true; they are not planning to invade us at all! He trumped up this affair in order to make himself dictator!”
“What!” The athlete was astounded. “Are you sure of this, Mona?”
The girl’s manner had changed again. “I beg your pardon?” she inquired, vastly confused. “Did I say something that — why, I am not aware, Mr. Fort, that I had said anything more than ‘good night’!”
“You AREN’T!” His voice was strained and excited. “Mona — you just now said something of the most extraordinary — surely — incredulously — you recall saying something, don’t you?”
She was still bewildered. “I do not!” Then gathering her poise again, “What did I say?”
“You said —” He stopped and waited a long while before going on.
Then he stated with a soberness that was almost stern:
“Mona, you told me something which could have come only through a supernatural agency. I am sure of it, from your manner. You were temporarily possessed.” He paused again.
She sensed his earnestness, and spoke just as seriously. “It is not impossible. I have heard of such things before. I was sleepy, and — the point is, what did I say?” she demanded.
“I do not intend to tell — you. What I learned gives me a great advantage over Powart; that’s all I can say. More would be dishonorable. Will you take my word for that, Mona?”
“Certainly,” with swift decision, and a grace that Billie envied. Whereupon she went to bed, but not to sleep until after many an hour of wide-eyed wondering.
Fort next showed himself to Smith, through Reblong. He had secured a pass to the engine-room of the Cobulus; and shortly his breezy manner completely broke down the engineer’s usual reserve.
“Always glad to show the machinery,” said Reblong, denying that the visitor was making any trouble. Fort’s technical knowledge had delighted him. “Come again any time you like.”
Which Fort did, the very next day. And this time he brought a package of sweetmeats, during the eating of which the two men became pretty friendly.
“You’re different from most of the folks of your — station,” Reblong finally made bold to remark. “Any harm in my saying so?”
“On the contrary,” laughed the athlete. “I rather pride myself on my democracy.
“The fact is, I want you to tell me a few things about your fellow-workers. I understand you’re one of the officers of your guild?”
“Secretary,” replied Reblong, a little dubiously. Was Fort a secret investigator?
“Then you can tell me. Is there any dissatisfaction? Are the men entirely content with their treatment?”
Reblong hesitated about replying, and Fort assured him, “This is a purely personal matter with me, old man. I am really anxious to know whether the working world is as well satisfied, as happy as I am.”
And thus Fort discovered, just as another man had already discovered, that the average Capellan workman was entirely satisfied with what he knew to be unjust treatment. Even when Fort told Reblong what he had learned about Powart’s trickery — leaving out all details about Mona, of course — the engineer would not listen to any hint of revolution.
“I don’t like to question your word, Mr. Fort”—Reblong was very uncomfortable —“but I have such confidence in the commission that — well, you understand.”
And Fort said, just as the other fellow had said after talking with Reblong —Reblong, the representative Capellan workman; Reblong, who voiced the opinions of his billions of fellow-workmen when he refused to consider a rebellion —Fort said:
“Well, I’ll be utterly damned!”
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”