By: Algernon Blackwood
June 12, 2022

Images from The Fourth Dimension, a 1904 book about the “tesseract” — a four-dimensional analog of the cube — by Charles Howard Hinton, the British proto-sf writer who coined the term in 1888.

HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize Algernon Blackwood’s 1914 proto-sf story “A Victim of Higher Space” — featuring the occult investigator, mystic, and clairvoyant John Silence, about whom Blackwood would write five other stories — for HILOBROW’s readers. Here, Blackwood grapples playfully with the notion of a spatial fourth dimension — asking us to imagine how humans might experience or imagine a space extended in an extra dimensions they could not see.

ALL INSTALLMENTS: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9.


Then, like some one moving out of deep shadow into light, he saw the figure of a man come sliding sideways into view, a whitish face following the eye, and the perpendicular line he had first observed broadening out and developing into the complete figure of a human being. It was the patient. He had apparently been standing there in front of the fire all the time. A second eye had followed the first, and both of them stared steadily at the spy-hole, sharply concentrated, yet with a sly twinkle of humour and amusement that made it impossible for the doctor to maintain his position any longer.

He opened the door and went in quickly. As he did so he noticed for the first time the sound of a German band coming in gaily through the open ventilators. In some intuitive, unaccountable fashion the music connected itself with the patient he was about to interview. This sort of prevision was not unfamiliar to him. It always explained itself later.

The man, he saw, was of middle age and of very ordinary appearance; so ordinary, in fact, that he was difficult to describe — his only peculiarity being his extreme thinness. Pleasant — that is, good — vibrations issued from his atmosphere and met Dr. Silence as he advanced to greet him, yet vibrations alive with currents and discharges betraying the perturbed and disordered condition of his mind and brain. There was evidently something wholly out of the usual in the state of his thoughts. Yet, though strange, it was not altogether distressing; it was not the impression that the broken and violent atmosphere of the insane produces upon the mind. Dr. Silence realised in a flash that here was a case of absorbing interest that might require all his powers to handle properly.

“I was watching you through my little peep-hole — as you saw,” he began, with a pleasant smile, advancing to shake hands. “I find it of the greatest assistance sometimes —”

But the patient interrupted him at once. His voice was hurried and had odd, shrill changes in it, breaking from high to low in unexpected fashion. One moment it thundered, the next it almost squeaked.

“I understand without explanation,” he broke in rapidly. “You get the true note of a man in this way — when he thinks himself unobserved. I quite agree. Only, in my case, I fear, you saw very little. My case, as you of course grasp, Dr. Silence, is extremely peculiar, uncomfortably peculiar. Indeed, unless Sir William had positively assured me —”

“My friend has sent you to me,” the doctor interrupted gravely, with a gentle note of authority, “and that is quite sufficient. Pray, be seated, Mr. —”

“Mudge — Racine Mudge,” returned the other.

“Take this comfortable one, Mr. Mudge,” leading him to the fixed chair, “and tell me your condition in your own way and at your own pace. My whole day is at your service if you require it.”

Mr. Mudge moved towards the chair in question and then hesitated.

“You will promise me not to use the narcotic buttons,” he said, before sitting down. “I do not need them. Also I ought to mention that anything you think of vividly will reach my mind. That is apparently part of my peculiar case.” He sat down with a sigh and arranged his thin legs and body into a position of comfort. Evidently he was very sensitive to the thoughts of others, for the picture of the green buttons had only entered the doctor’s mind for a second, yet the other had instantly snapped it up. Dr. Silence noticed, too, that Mr. Mudge held on tightly with both hands to the arms of the chair.

“I’m rather glad the chair is nailed to the floor,” he remarked, as he settled himself more comfortably. “It suits me admirably. The fact is — and this is my case in a nutshell — which is all that a doctor of your marvellous development requires — the fact is, Dr. Silence, I am a victim of Higher Space. That’s what’s the matter with me — Higher Space!”

The two looked at each other for a space in silence, the little patient holding tightly to the arms of the chair which “suited him admirably,” and looking up with staring eyes, his atmosphere positively trembling with the waves of some unknown activity; while the doctor smiled kindly and sympathetically, and put his whole person as far as possible into the mental condition of the other.

“Higher Space,” repeated Mr. Mudge, “that’s what it is. Now, do you think you can help me with that?”

There was a pause during which the men’s eyes steadily searched down below the surface of their respective personalities. Then Dr. Silence spoke.

“I am quite sure I can help,” he answered quietly; “sympathy must always help, and suffering always owns my sympathy. I see you have suffered cruelly. You must tell me all about your case, and when I hear the gradual steps by which you reached this strange condition, I have no doubt I can be of assistance to you.”


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” | Max Brand’s The Untamed | Julian Huxley’s “The Tissue-Culture King” | Clare Winger Harris’s “A Runaway World” | Francis Stevens’s “Thomas Dunbar” | George Gurdjieff’s “Beelzebub’s Tales” | Robert W. Chambers’s “The Harbor-Master” | Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s “The Hall Bedroom” | Clare Winger Harris’s “The Fifth Dimension” | Francis Stevens’s “Behind the Curtain” | more to come.