The Devolutionist (15)
May 30, 2013
HILOBROW is pleased to present the fifteenth 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.
From then on until the end the doctor was out of it. Try as he might, he could find no other mind with which to connect, no other view-point like his own. He had to content himself with what the others learned.
Their knowledge of the rescue stopped short soon after the Cobulus, with its living freight, quitted the prison grounds. Reblong, as Smith watched, continued to operate the engines during about two hundred miles of flight; then Fort, having shown one of his new comrades how to steer, came down to the instruments, leading the force of cleaners whom he had kidnaped.
“Thanks very much,” to Reblong, in the voice of a man who was having the time of his life. “I dare say you feel a little sour about this; but later on you can have the satisfaction of having helped, even though against your will.”
“What are you going to do now?” Reblong wanted to know as the athlete released him from his chair. The other Capellans were content to stare and listen.
The strange glint came back into Fort’s eyes. “It’s up to you, folks!” And he explained the situation, making it clear that they, the cruiser’s workmen, would not dare return and tell the truth, for fear of punishment for disloyalty. In the end the Cobulus was halted, and Reblong and the rest were set down in an unsettled mountain country, with enough supplies to last a year.
Thus the engineer became a fugitive. Smith learned nothing further from him. For all practical purposes, the investigation was narrowed down to what Billie, through Mona, and her husband, through Powart, were able to uncover. But it was enough; enough to strain their imaginations to the snapping point, and make all four doubt their new-found senses.
Van Emmon declared that he intended to warn Powart that his plan was suspected. “It’s only fair,” stoutly, “after what you told Fort, through Mona.” And Billie had no answer to that.
So the geologist watched the chief closely, finding it decidedly hard to catch him in the required state of semiconsciousness. Apparently Powart was always alert, even up to the exact moment of going to sleep; after which he invariably slept like a log, but awakening with a start, bolt upright in bed. But Van Emmon continued to watch his chance.
Meanwhile another message had been received from the Alma expedition. It ran as follows, after decoding:
People here are planning to construct a great fleet to visit Hafen and Holl about the middle of next year. To carry a regular army of missionaries, to preach the gospel of social democracy.
Better make the most of your reign while it lasts, Mr. Powart.
The chairman was glad to get this, rather than otherwise. Somehow the thing strengthened his whole plan. From his standpoint the proposed invasion of missionaries “to preach the gospel of social democracy,” was far more to be feared than a military invasion.
So, although he made certain changes in the message, he did not have to counterfeit his earnestness when he presented the matter to his staff, the former commission. Perhaps the expedition’s last remark, “Married yet?” had something to do with the vigor of his tones.
“They are planning,” he told the nine, “to undo all that our civilization has accomplished. Unless we can circumvent them, Hafen and Holl will be turned into bedlam.”
He lost no time about what he had next to say. “Knowing what we do about Alma’s designs upon us, I believe that it would be folly to wait until we are attacked. They doubtless possess inventions against which we would be powerless; they are such highly advanced people in such matters. So what I propose is to prevent them from attacking us at all!”
He paused portentously, finding in each face before him an anxious excitement which was exactly what he wanted. They were hanging breathlessly upon his words.
“Let me remind you that Alma is not only our nearest neighbor in the solar system, but that, at present, only a few million miles separate us. She is within a few weeks of the nearest point. Furthermore”— speaking with care —“we must remember that Alma is not only nearer the sun than we are, but it is a much older planet. Were it not for the glass with which she is completely roofed in, the people would suffer from lack of air. In short, this roof of theirs is vitality itself to them. Now, my campaign — subject to your suggestions and advices — shall be to puncture that roof!”
The sensation was tremendous. None of the nine had ever heard the like before. And yet, such was the dominating energy of their commander, it bridged the gap for them all; instantly they saw that his idea was the best possible.
“The only question, of course — sir — is the matter of means.” The shock-headed man spoke with immense respect. The others looked as though they envied him his nerve.
Powart was ready with his reply. “I have already considered this. Briefly we shall construct a piece of artillery of such dimensions that we can bombard the planet directly!”
He explained that it meant operations on a scale never before attempted. It meant a cannon as much beyond what had ever been made before, as that roof had exceeded anything of the kind. “And so far as I have figured the matter, the total resources of Holl will have to be pressed into service for the purpose. There will be no opportunity for insurrection while this work is in progress.”
And he went on to elaborate. The nine made some suggestions, a few of which were adopted. The thing was worked out, then and there, with such completeness that the plan was publicly announced the very next day.
Powart himself carried a copy of the manifesto to Mona. He found her superintending the work of her gardeners. She did suggest going into the house, but offered him a seat on the grass beside her. He stood instead.
“It seems to be the only thing to do,” commented the surgeon, after reading the document in silence. She had not the remotest idea, of course, that the whole thing was based upon pure fraud. “Are you sure that this bombardment will not cost a good many lives?”
“I doubt if there will be any loss at all,” he replied. “It is my intention to communicate with Alma just before the first shot is fired, and warn them what to expect; so that they can keep away from the spot we shall aim at, and get supplies ready for repairing the break.”
“I see. Your plan is to keep them so busy mending breaks that they will lose all interest in their proposed invasion.” She laughed a little. “Really, it is a rather comical sort of warfare. But you certainly deserve a great deal of credit for finding such a humane way out of the difficulty. You will go down in history as the world’s greatest man!”
Powart drew a deep breath. But he said quietly enough, “Don’t you think that I have done enough to — dispose of that objection of yours?”
She was momentarily at a loss for words. “Really — the thing is so immense —I can hardly believe that you did all this entirely on my account. Did you?”
He was taken off his guard. “Yes —I mean, no. Your objection was what set me to thinking; but the opportunity of doing our people a service — that, Mona, is what —” He hesitated; it was not easy, with the girl staring innocently at him, declare that he had not deliberately formed his opportunity out of thin air.
But she had no suspicions. Billie had not been able to reach her again.
The four on the earth knew little of Fort. He called up Powart two days after the Cobulus’s sensational flight, reporting that he had been kidnapped “by some masked men” along with Reblong and the others, but that he alone had escaped. The ship, was found, abandoned, in an undeveloped part of Holl; and all signs indicated that the former prisoners had separated at this point. Prolonged search failed to locate them, or the missing employees.
Fort continued to go and come quite as before. He called frequently upon Mona, with whom he was exceedingly careful to avoid all reference to Powart, for fear he might blurt out the truth. The girl told him that he still had a lot of time to make good; she would not marry, she said, until after all danger from Alma was past. He was satisfied.
“I have a little scheme up my sleeve,” casually, “such as may amount to something, and may not. I need just about that much time to finish it, anyhow.”
“Is it anything you can talk about now?”
And the subject was dropped.
Thus matters stood when half the industrial army of Holl, taken from their regular tasks, were set to the making of the giant gun and its equally giant projectiles. Monstrous though they were to be, however, they were no less prodigious than Powart. Could Fort, wondered Mona, possibly equal him?
And so the weeks passed into months, and finally the great day came.
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”