By: Valery Bryusov
April 12, 2022

Valery Bryusov

HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize Valery Bryusov’s 1907 proto-sf story “The Republic of the Southern Cross” (“Respublika Iuzhnogo Kresta”) for HILOBROW’s readers.

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The epidemic character was taken by mania contradicens during the middle months of this year in Zvezdny. Up till this time the number of cases had never exceeded two per cent of the total number of patients in the hospitals. But this proportion suddenly rose to twenty-five per cent during the month of May (autumn month, as it is called in the Republic), and it continued to increase during the succeeding months with as great rapidity. By the middle of June there were already two per cent of the whole population, that is, about fifty thousand people, officially notified as suffering from “contradiction.” We have no statistical details of any later date. The hospitals overflowed. The doctors on the spot proved to be altogether insufficient. And, moreover, the doctors themselves, and the nurses in the hospitals, caught the disease also. There was very soon no one to whom to appeal for medical aid, and a correct register of patients became impossible. The evidence given by eyewitnesses, however, is in agreement on this point, that it was impossible to find a family in which someone was not suffering. The number of healthy people rapidly decreased as panic caused a wholesale exodus from the town, but the number of the stricken increased. It is probably true that in the month of August all who had remained in Zvezdny were down with this psychical malady.

It is possible to follow the first developments of the epidemic by the columns of the local newspapers, headed in ever larger type as the mania grew. Since the detection of the disease in its early stages was very difficult, the chronicle of the first days of the epidemic is full of comic episodes. A train conductor on the metropolitan railway, instead of receiving money from the passengers, himself pays them. A policeman, whose duty it was to regulate the traffic, confuses it all day long. A visitor to a gallery, walking from room to room, turns all the pictures with their faces to the wall. A newspaper page of proof, being corrected by the hand of a reader already overtaken by the disease, is printed next morning full of the most amusing absurdities. At a concert, a sick violinist suddenly interrupts the harmonious efforts of the orchestra with the most dreadful dissonances. A whole long series of such happenings gave plenty of scope for the wits of local journalists. But several instances of a different type of phenomenon caused the jokes to come to a sudden end. The first was that a doctor overtaken by the disease prescribed poison for a girl patient in his care and she perished. For three days the newspapers were taken up with this circumstance. Then two nurses walking in the town gardens were overtaken by “contradiction,” and cut the throats of forty-one children. This event staggered the whole city. But on the evening of the same day two victims fired the mitrailleuse from the quarters of the town militia and killed and injured some five hundred people.

At that, all the newspapers and the society of the town cried for prompt measures against the epidemic. At a special session of the combined Board and Legal Chamber it was decided to invite doctors from other towns and from abroad, to enlarge the existing hospitals, to build new ones, and to construct everywhere isolation barracks for the sufferers, to print and distribute five hundred thousand copies of a brochure on the disease, its symptoms and means of cure, to organise on all the streets of the town a special patrol of doctors and their helpers for the giving of first aid to those who had not been removed from private lodgings. It was also decided to run special trains daily on all the railways for the removal of the patients, as the doctors were of the opinion that change of air was one of the best remedies. Similar measures were undertaken at the same time by various associations, societies, and clubs. A “society for struggle with the epidemic” was even founded, and the members gave themselves to the work with remarkable self-devotion. But in spite of all these measures the epidemic gained ground each day, taking in its course old men and little children, working people and resting people, chaste and debauched. And soon the whole of society was enveloped in the unconquerable elemental terror of the unheard-of calamity.

The flight from Zvezdny commenced. At first only a few fled, and these were prominent dignitaries, directors, members of the Legal Chamber and of the Board, who hastened to send their families to the southern cities of Australia and Patagonia. Following them, the accidental elements of the population fled — those foreigners gladly sojourning in the “gayest city of the southern hemisphere,” theatrical artists, various business agents, women of light behaviour. When the epidemic showed no signs of abating the shopkeepers fled. They hurriedly sold off their goods and left their empty premises to the will of Fate. With them went the bankers, the owners of theatres and restaurants, the editors and the publishers. At last, even the established inhabitants were moved to go. According to Law the exit of workmen from the Republic without special sanction from the Government was forbidden on pain of loss of pension. Deserters began to increase. The employés of the town institutions fled, the militia fled, the hospital nurses fled, the chemists, the doctors. The desire to flee became in its turn a mania. Everyone fled who could.


RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF: “Radium Age” is Josh Glenn’s name for the nascent sf genre’s c. 1900–1935 era, a period which saw the discovery of radioactivity, i.e., 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. More info here.

SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: 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 | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Moon Men | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable | Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows | William Haggard’s The High Wire | Hammond Innes’s Air Bridge | James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen | John Buchan’s “No Man’s Land” | John Russell’s “The Fourth Man” | E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” | John Buchan’s Huntingtower | Arthur Conan Doyle’s When the World Screamed | Victor Bridges’ A Rogue By Compulsion | Jack London’s The Iron Heel | H. De Vere Stacpoole’s The Man Who Lost Himself | P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith | Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | Houdini and Lovecraft’s “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” | Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sussex Vampire” | Francis Stevens’s “Friend Island” | George C. Wallis’s “The Last Days of Earth” | Frank L. Pollock’s “Finis” | A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool | E. Nesbit’s “The Third Drug” | George Allan England’s “The Thing from — ‘Outside'” | Booth Tarkington’s “The Veiled Feminists of Atlantis” | H.G. Wells’s “The Land Ironclads” | J.D. Beresford’s The Hampdenshire Wonder | Valery Bryusov’s “The Republic of the Southern Cross” | Algernon Blackwood’s “A Victim of Higher Space” | A. Merritt’s “The People of the Pit”.