The Devolutionist (17)
June 13, 2013
HILOBROW is pleased to present the seventeenth 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.
Mona removed from her ears two tiny devices like collar-buttons. She noted Fort and the others doing the same. Without this protection their eardrums would have been burst. And while the girl was doing this she heard the athlete hailing the dictator:
“Good for you, Powart! It’s a fine job, and I’m ever so much obliged to you.”
The dictator stared in amazement. Mona looked from the one to the other, perplexed. Fort was laughing shakily.
“You may as well make your apologies now, Powart; you’re out of it! I’ve won, and you’ve lost! I’ve done a bigger thing than you have!”
Mona gave an exclamation of impatience. “What do you mean?” she cried shrilly. “Are you out of your head?”
“Not a bit of it! I mean just what I say! Powart hasn’t succeeded; he’s failed. And because he has failed, I’ve outdone him.”
He was gazing impudently at the dictator as he said this; Powart was leaning over the railing of the bridge, a short distance away, too indignant to speak. Next instant, however, Fort glanced at his watch.
“Have to be leaving you now,” he called. He turned his machine around. “You’ll learn soon enough, Powart, exactly what I mean. And you’ll know that I’m right. Good-bye!”
Within a minute he and Mona were two miles away. Fort kept silent all the while. He seemed to be intent upon getting the most out of his machine, and kept looking anxiously at his watch. Finally Mona could hold in no longer.
“Boy, I’ve simply got to know what your game is. You’ve kept me waiting long enough.”
He immediately began to explain. First, he told her frankly and fully, just what she had said to him over the telephone, when she was under Billie’s “influence.” “I was so sure it was genuine I went right ahead on that lead, Mona.”
“You are positive you heard me say that?” from the girl thoughtfully.
“Absolutely. And somehow I knew it was the truth.”
“Powart had tricked us; not merely the workers, whom he has been hoodwinking all along, but you and me and all the rest! So I looked into the matter and discovered that the poor devils on Holl have been treated all wrong. All wrong, Mona! I never realized it before, until I investigated; but they’ve been enduring rank injustice for generations, and we’ve encouraged them to be satisfied with it.”
“I know it,” she interrupted softly. “I’ve known it for years, boy. What could we do to help them?”
“Exactly!” cried Fort, looking ahead and down, toward the chasm of the contact, then at his watch once more. “Exactly what I found out, Mona! There was no use telling them the truth; they wouldn’t believe it! They were too well satisfied.
“And so, when I heard of Powart’s scheme to bombard Alma, I saw a way to free the poor idiots on Holl! A way to release them from their bondage —OUR bonds, Mona — and defeat Powart’s trickery, and win you — all at one move!”
The girl was plainly thrilled. Yet she kept her voice comparatively cool as she asked: “So far, so good. But I don’t see that you’ve done anything at all except to kidnap me.”
He made an impatient gesture. “Look at the ground!” he ordered curtly; and Mona wonderingly obeyed.
They were nearly to the contact. This time, however, they were not flying down into the cleft, but over it. The curious, canonlike chasm where the two worlds touched was perhaps ten miles below them.
“Look closely!” shouted Fort excitedly. He was glancing at his watch again, and changing the angle of his wings. “By heavens, we are just in time!” The craft dove perilously; he straightened its course. “Look closely, I tell you! It’s something you’ve never seen before, and will never see again!”
And Mona, staring down at the point where Hafen and Holl came together — the curious region of balanced gravitations, like nothing else anywhere in the universe — saw, as she passed over, something that made her senses whirl.
Hafen and Holl were no longer one!
The two globes were now a quarter of a mile apart, and the distance was steadily growing. Even as Mona watched the gap increased until almost a mile separated the two great worlds.
“Do you see?” cried Fort, fairly squirming in his seat. “Do you see what I’ve done, Mona?”
“I’ve taken Ernol and his friends — the bunch I rescued from the prison — and put them to work. Put them to work digging a tunnel! We’ve been flying above that tunnel just now. It runs — from the contact to the cannon — the bottom of the cannon, Mona!
“When Powart’s shot was fired, the recoil — the kick — broke the contact! Understand? Do you see it?”
Mona stared in dull wonder. When she found voice it was strangely flat and commonplace.
“Yes, but —I don’t see how the recoil could separate two worlds as large as Hafen and Holl!”
Fort chuckled breathlessly. “Your forget something. You’re thinking only of the gravitation; you’re forgetting the centrifugal force. Hafen and Holl, by their daily rotation — around the contact as a center — were always tending to separate. That recoil was just enough to turn the balance; they’ll never touch again.
“And what’s more,” he rushed on, “Powart’s shot is sure to miss! The recoil threw the cannon out of line. Hafen had already mooved before the projectile left the gun. Powart — has failed!”
Suddenly the surgeon wheeled upon the athlete. “Boy, we’re headed in the wrong way! We’ll land in Holl, not in Hafen!”
“Who wants to live in Hafen now?” he shouted, clinging desperately to his controls. The craft was tossing in the newly created air-currents. “Don’t you see?
“I’ve cut Hafen from Holl forever! The workers aren’t to be slaves any longer; they’re to have their world to themselves, to use entirely for their own benefit; not for the owners!
“And the owners — back there — they’re going to have their own world, too, just as they’ve always insisted! But from now on it’s to be their farm, too, and their factory; they’ve got to get along without Holl from now on.
“Mona — the commission wouldn’t allow evolution, and the workers wouldn’t listen to revolution! So I’ve given them — devolution!”
“What?” she cried.
“I’ve given them devolution. I’ve given the race of man — a fresh start.”
But Mona was scarcely listening.
“Turn back!” she screamed. “I want to go back to my home! I don’t want to live in Holl. Turn back, I tell you!”
Fort’s face went white. He looked up at her appealingly. “You don’t mean that, Mona! Say you don’t!”
“I do! I want to go back!” She glanced down at the ever-widening gap. “Hurry! Turn back, or I’ll do it myself!”
Fort gazed straight into her eyes for an instant; then, his face whiter than ever, he brought the craft to an abrupt halt in mid-air. He looked at his watch for the last time, and said, in a strangely hollow voice:
“Just as you wish, Mona. There’s plenty of time to get back before the air gets too thin in the gap.
“The point is, though, that if you go, you go alone!” They looked at one another unwaveringly. “So far as I’m concerned, I shall spend the rest of my life on Holl! No Hafen for mine! From now on I live with the workers. Come — what do you say, Mona?”
She answered instantly and stubbornly: “I go back. What about you?”
He took a parachute from a locker. “Holl is below.” He buckled the thing across his chest and stepped up on the edge of the cockpit.
“Do you mean it, dear?” said he softly.
She stared at him stonily. He turned away, his mouth shaking slightly, then held out his hand.
“Good-by, then, for the last time!”
Mona suddenly grasped his hand. For an instant hope flared in Fort’s eyes, then faded, leaving his face gray and drawn. He poised himself, letting go her hand reluctantly. Then he turned resolutely.
“It’s the only thing for a man to do, Mona! As for you — turn about and go as fast as you can! You’ve got just time enough. Good-bye!”
And with Mona unable to utter a single word, able only to watch and to feel, the athlete leaned to one side so as to clear the wing, pulled his cap down tightly, and jumped into space.
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”