A Tyrannosaurus Rex towers over a prehistoric landscape. Its status as apex predator is being challenged by a bizarre new species in the form of three insect-like creatures that stand on their hind legs. Two are equipped with guns, and one is firing a red beam at the dinosaur’s neck, drawing stalactites of blood. It was February 1929, and Amazing Stories was back for another month
Hugo Gernsback’s latest editorial is “Life, the Amazing Puzzle”. “A fish swimming in his natural element, water, perhaps never pays any attention to his surroundings, taking the water entirely for granted”, he begins. “As a matter of fact, he probably does not know of such a question, because, having been in the water always, he has become so accustomed to his life there, that he has accepted it as a matter of course and of no concern to him.”
Likewise, argues Gernsback, the human race tends to ignore just how remarkable life on Earth is: countless planets are uninhabitable, as Earth was in its distant past and will be again in the far future, the existence of humanity a mere speck on a cosmic scale. “No matter what we do on earth, and no matter how grandiose our handiwork, nothing will remain after the usual geological cataclysm”, concludes Gernsback. “It is probably certain that civilizations much higher than ours were present upon this globe, many times in the history of the earth. Yet nothing remains to show what went on before. And it will probably always be thus.”
The editorial may well have been inspired by the issue’s other contents, as this month’s stories feature an array of lifeforms – balloon-like Martians, fourth-dimensional urbanites, sapient blood cells and two separate races of antediluvian arthropods – all getting along fine with little or no knowledge of the human race. Indeed, two of the stories feature no human characters at all..
“The Captured Cross-Section” by Miles J. Breuer
There in front of them was a rapidly moving object; it bounced up and down off the floor to a height of three feet about once a second. It did not have the harmonic motion of a bouncing body, however; it stopped abruptly up in the air and shot downward at high speed, hit the floor, stopped a moment and shot back upward. Then it stopped suddenly and hung in the air. It was about the size of a large watermelon, and looked for all the world like human skin; smooth, uniform, unbroken all around. The two stared at it amazed. Heagey walked up and touched it with the tip of a finger. It grew smaller. And suddenly it decreased to about one-half its former size, retaining its surface smoothness and uniformity unchanged. It had felt soft and warm, like human flesh.
The object continues to bounce around and change in size, looking “for all the world like some huge tumor in a medical museum, or like some monstrosity of birth”, and even bleeds when pricked. Other fleshy balls then appear and gather around Sheila – at which point she suddenly disappears mid-scream. All that is left is the first ball, which later splits into two cylindrical pieces “Like a couple of legs without knees or feet”. Sheila’s father, Professor Mathers, enters the room and demands an explanation; Heagey reveals what happened when he performed his experiment:
“I rotated a portion of a fourth dimension, and left a hole in hyperspace for an instant. Just as if you rotate up a portion of this floor, there will be a hole left. As chance would have it, just at that moment some inhabitant of hyperspace came along and stumbled into it and I swung back on him and caught him.
“Here he is, stuck. What we see and feel is a cross-section of him, a solid cross-section of that part of him that is cut by our three-dimensional space. See! If I stick my finger through this sheet of paper, the two-dimensional inhabitants on its surface will perceive only a circle. At first the nail occupies a portion of its circumference; as I push my finger on through, the nail is gone, and folds and ridges appear and disappear. If my whole hand goes through, the circle increases greatly in size….”
In other words, the flesh-blob is to a fourth-dimensional man what a circle is to a sphere. Alas, during the struggle, the fourth-dimensional being was able to make off with Sheila. Professor Mathers, unconvinced, calls the police; but Heagley uses his invention to escape into the fourth dimension – and unlike Sheila he has a rope tied to his leg, allowing a means of return. Once he re=appears, Heagley describes his trip to the fourth-dimension. Still limited to three-dimensional sight, he could observe only “the spatial cross-section of some sort of buildings”:
“You’ve heard me jeer at the crazy, cubistic and futuristic designs on book wrappers and wall-paper. Well, those are pleasant and harmonious compared with the dizzy, jagged angles, the irregular, zig-zag shapes with peaks and slants, and everything out of sense and reason except perspective. Perspective was still correct. Just a long, straight row fading into the distance.
In this fragmented environment he witnessed flesh, clothing, concrete, plant life – but no sign of Sheila.
Heagley is hit by inspiration, although the details of his plan do little beyond bewildering those present. He contacts some sculptors and asks them to produce three models: one of himself, one of Sheila, and the other of a man with his foot caught in a hole. One these are procured, he uses the models as puppets to re-enact the recent events: the man with his foot stuck represents the fourth-dimensional being who tangled with Heagley and ended up carrying Sheila into the other dimension. An observing denizen of hyperspace (whose eye manifests as a floating iridescent sphere) sees and understands, handing back Sheila before vanishing.
A number of Amazing’s authors had tackled the theme of a fourth spatial dimension, with varying results: some used it merely as an excuse to dream up a fantastical never-never land, while others (most prominently Bob Olsen) imagined the effects, both positive and negative, that four-dimensional tools might have on three-dimensional people. With “The Captured-Cross Section”, Miles J. Breuer, meanwhile, appears to have been drawing upon Edwin Abbott Abbott’s Flatland from 1884 to imagine exactly what would happen if an extra-dimensional denizen was pulled into our plane. His depiction of four-dimensional life is too athropomorphised to be entirely convincing, but the story on a whole is imaginative and engaging.
“The Lord of the Dynamos” by H. G. Wells
Here, Amazing dips back into the pool of H. G. Wells reprints that served the magazine so well during its early months. The main character of this 1895 story is James Holroyd, chief attendant of the dynamos powering Camberwell’s electric railway. Bigoted, bullying and materialistic, he is contrasted with his assistant Azuma-zi, a man of nondescript (but clearly non-European) ethnicity and philosophy. Holroyd boasts that his biggest dynamo is greater than any deity (“where’s your ‘eathen idol to match ‘im?”) and Azuma-zi, an animist at heart, takes this comparison literally:
Scientific people tell us that savages give souls to rocks and trees – and a machine is a thousand times more alive than a rock or a tree. And Azuma-zi was practically a savage still; the veneer of civilisation lay no deeper than his slop suit, his bruises, and the coal grime on his face and hands. His father before him had worshipped a meteoric stone, kindred blood it may be had splashed the broad wheels of Juggernaut.
Azuma-zi decides that his new god requires an offering, and the story’s gruesome climax has Holroyd end up as a human sacrifice to Lord Dynamo.
The story reflects Wells at his more humorous, although the story’s satire of race relations has not aged well. The bigoted Holroyd is portrayed as unlikeable, granted, but his punishment – getting murdered by a racial stereotype – sends a mixed message.
The Sixth Glacier by Marius (part 2 of 2)
The conclusion to a story in which a “nebulous frigid ocean in space” has entered Earth’s solar system, leading to a new ice age. As disasters sweep the world, palaeontologist Stephen Dunraven (“the avatist of a Napoleon and a scientific Bedouin“) lists the five previous ice ages and posits that each one ultimately aided humanity:
Nature slew the giant beasts with whom the poor weaponless primitive man would never have been able to compete, thinned the air for his tenderer lungs, and destroyed the huge miasmatic plants to make room for his forests and plains. Then again, the last ice-age socialized him, the primordial and savage one, and made him gregarious.
It was around the fires built for warmth and in the caves sought for wind-breaks that home-life and clanlife began. In truth the glacier took the ape off the tree-tops and setting him on his hind legs made a man. On the ground, he had to use his brain and thus the brain developed, and in time the hunted one became the hunter and the master of the world. It was just another way that Nature had of keeping up the nobler race. That is just what the Grand Gardener is doing to-day.
Dunraven, of course, is the man who predicted the ice age, based on caculations he found inscribed in a Mexican ruin. A modern reader will be immediately reminded of the Mayan apocalypse that was supposed to occur in 2012; however, the original builders of the story’s ruined civilisation were not Mayans or even humans, but a race of sapient spiders contemporary to the Neanderthals of Europe:
Engraved on a huge plate of iron was the picture of a spider. He was performing some sort of rite on a low altar upon which lay a monkey-visaged man. He was not the kind of a spider that you or I would have expected to see. Imagine, if you can, a flat, oval body, almost human in its upright position, standing erect on four long, thin legs. A grotesque head was popped almost neckless upon this oval ball, a gargoyle head out of a hashish-eater’s dream. A series of huge eyes, Argus-like, a blunt nose, a cavernous, Gargantuan mouth, and a pair of long, delicate mandibles, were all parts of his head. Four long arms, as long and as slender as were the legs, protruding from the oval beneath the head. Judging by the sacrificed troglodyte, the spider must have been at least three feet tall, a smooth-skinned arachnid, at one time Nature’s highest creation on our little orb.
The author spends a sizeable chunk of this instalment detailing the history of the spider-people – a quite remarkable decision given that their existence is largely superfluous to the central story of Earth’s new ice age. Their main relevance to the wider narrative is as a reminder that humanity may be wiped out just as the civilisation of the arachnids was.
As the ice age continues, Dunraven initiates a plan to build sea walls along coasts of Africa and South America, thereby halting the oncoming glacier. Meanwhile, the protagonist Bender is reunited with his beloved Clara and proposes to her (“She did not redden. Girls like Clara never do”). Finally the glacier melts, causing mass floods, while the chaos brought about by the near-apocalypse remains: starving and isolated villagers have resorted to cannibalism; dogs, too, have become feral and wolf-like. But over the years, the Earth heals, with new cities built on the ruins of those destroyed (“The ghosts of Capetown, Kimberly, Melbourne and of Sydney arc to-day looking down from some municipal Paradise in the skies, upon the newer cities that have taken their earthly places”) and the survivors face an optimistic future.
The Sixth Glacier is a very odd story. A straightforward narrative of an Earth faced by a new ice age is set alongside the bizarre business of the antediluvian spider-people, all decorated with a flowery prose style. What it lacks in coherence it makes up for with a bristling imagination and some quite lovely turns of phrase.
“Phagocytes” by A. H. Johnson
These passages had a number of inhabitants. Most of them floated free in the stream but a few lived around the edges of the tunnels. I belonged to what I will call the White Race. Few or none of the other animals were as large as we. Our bodies were oval or round in shape and somewhat flat on the upper and lower sides giving us a disk-like appearance. The fluid in which we lived completely filled the tunnels and we lived in it somewhat as the fish of your world live in the sea. We had a number of very small and thin arms or limbs and by means of these we swam in the stream.
We could neither speak nor hear but by means of a sense, which you do not have, we were able to communicate with one another. For the sake of making my history clear to you, I will refer to our means of communication as speech. We were not the most numerous species in our world. The Red Race outnumbered us hundreds to one. They resembled us in appearance, except that they were even more disk-like and they were only from two-thirds to one-half as large as we. Also, while we were white in color; they were a brilliant red.
The story depicts a battle between the blood cells and germs, the latter referred to by the protagonist as Ancytes. The Ancytes come in multiple varieties: first we read of a conflict against the Bors (“The Bors were only about one-sixth of our size and bulk, but they were equipped with sharp teeth as well as the tentacles we had. They were shaped like a short squat rod with a knot on one end. This knot was their head and contained their teeth”). Our microscopic hero fights valiantly, enveloping and devouring the invaders; and the red and white races triumph despite heavy losses. But they are soon confronted with another threat, as “the most dreaded of the Ancytes, the Nars, were present”:
The Nars are egg-shaped with numerous arms or legs looking somewhat like an egg with a ragged fringe around it. The fringe is composed of their legs or tentacles. The Nars have powerful teeth and jaws and they were using them against our soldiers with deadly effect. The stream was filled with hits of the Red Race and pieces of our soldiers and of the Nars. It was apparent that our soldiers were practically beaten. But they still held the entrance!
The battle is close, but the Nars are finally defeated. “Phagocytes” is an amusing piece: while the novelty wears off by the end, it nonetheless adds a little variety to the magazine.
“The Death of the Moon” by Alexander Phillips
Opening with a quotation from James Russell Lowell (“Slowly the Bible of the race is writ, And not on paper leaves nor leaves of stone, Each age each kindred, adds a verse to it, Texts of despair or hope, of joy or moan”) this story takes us to the Cretaceous period, describing various creatures up to and including the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex. The narrative then moves to Earth’s moon, where an intelligent insect-like species has been prolonging its existence through artificial means; but with resources dwindling it has no hope for survival but to escape the moon altogether. A crowd gathers before a lunarian genius who has invented a means to reach Earth:
In one way only he resembled a human; he stood upright. In every other way he had progressed along different lines of development. His body was curiously like some of the lower terrestrial animals in that it was segmented though the segmentation ceased at a portion which could be called the thorax, as the head was immediately joined to this latter part. He possessed six limbs, all of whose extremities were equipped with elongations resembling digits, but which were much more flexible. Each so-called digit contained a number of strong sucking organs. The entire body was encased in a hard, horny substance which was jointed frequently. His head was, in contrast, covered with some growth resembling fur which completely encircled the large compound, eyes and side closing, horn-like jaws. He used only two limbs for walking. Dressed in thick, cold-resisting clothes and carrying a heavy helmet, he presented a peculiar figure.
Before the full migration can take place, the inventor decides to lead a research expedition to Earth. After he and his colleagues take their “sky car” to their destination, they are confronted by a Tyrannosaurus Rex. One of their number blasts the dinosaur with a lunarian weapon:
Then, with a peculiar, chattering cry, he sprang upright, seized a strangely formed apparatus from his middle and worked the tentacles on the end of his limb convulsively over it. With a rasping hiss, a dark red stream, which ceased almost as suddenly as it began, sprang from one end of the instrument and flickered lightly over a portion of the saurian’s throat, leaving behind it a deep gash from which the blood flowed sluggishly. At the sound of the cry the lunarians faced about just in time to see Tyranosaurus [sic], bleeding at the throat and hissing terribly, spring from behind the turn in the canyon some distance away.
The dinosaur succeeds in wiping out the band of lunarians. With the inventor dead, the people of the moon have no hope of reaching Earth and so remain on the satellite to face their extinction. However, as the narrative voice reminds us, the failure of the lunarian expedition allowed the human race to develop.
With no human characters nor even any dialogue (although the omniscient narrator does quote naturalist John Burroughs at one point) “The Death of the Moon” offers an interesting twist on the stock-standard lone-genius-builds-spacecraft premise. The story is imaginative, atmospheric and satisfyingly portentous, although it does rather underline why lone geniuses are probably not the best people to be test-driving their vehicles: the lunarian race might have survived had the inventor stayed behind to build more spacecraft.
“The Last Man” by Wallace G. West
…By that time, however, a significant precedent will have been established and a lesson learnt that will not easily be forgotten. The superfluousness of men above a certain essential minimum will have become recognized officially and unofficially as a social fact. The legislature will establish laws to guarantee that this minimum should not be surpassed, and in a very short while it will become a mere matter of routine to proceed to an annual slaughter of males who have either outlived their prime or else have failed to fulfill the promise of their youth in meekness, general emasculateness and stupidity.
The story depicts a future in which the male sex has indeed reached such a state, and women have taken over: “The enormous release of feminine energy in the twentieth to thirtieth centuries, due to the increased life span and the fact that the world had been populated to such an extent that women no longer were required to spend most of their time bearing children, had resulted in more and more usurpation by women of what had been considered purely masculine endeavors and the proper occupations of the male sex.”
For a period, the only places for men are in war and sports. But when world peace is achieved, while women come to dominate in sports, men become useless for anything other than reproduction. And so, fearing a drain on resources, the women who ruled the world set about the mass slaughter of males, leaving only the small amount necessary for fertilisation. Then, after the world discovered a method of artificial conception and incubation (“the same methods, which the ancient French physicians, Alexis Carrel, Ebleing and Fische, had used to produce fatherless frogs”) even the breeding-stock was wiped out. “In the ages which followed, great physiological, changes took place. Women, no longer having need of sex, dropped it, like a worn-out cloak, and became sexless, tall, angular, narrow-hipped, flat-breasted and unbeautiful.”
In the story’s present, only one man exists: he is named M-1 and kept caged in a museum, a throwback to “the dark ages when the human race was bi-sexual.” One night, M-1 encounters a person who is also a throwback: she is a woman, but a beautiful woman, unlike the unappealing androgynes that populate the world, with “Hair red as a slumberous fire—eyes blue as the heavens—a face fair as the dream faces which sometimes tortured him.” M-1 is so horrified by this otherworldly sight that he hides from her. Later, while out on a trip with his keeper WA 10 NA 56 (“whom in defiance of the rules he always called Wana”) M-1 meets the red-headed woman again. Like everyone else in this world she was given a number rather than a name, but she chose the name Eve for herself — and so naturally dubs M-1 Adam.
Eve tempts Adam towards freedom, and together the two visit the birth-factory where babies are created. This prompts the couple to ponder the two mistakes made by the human race in switching to artificial birth:
First, they forgot that the eternally growing germ plasm could not continue the development of the race. Every child produced in this manner was on the same intellectual, spiritual and physical level with every other child. With the development of artificial birth the long increase in human brain capacity had stopped short: in fact, a slow decay had set in, as the serum lost its original virility through the ages.
The second mistake was in creating one gigantic birth factory instead of a number of branches. This resulted in terrific congestion as millions of children yearly had to be started in their growth and then shipped to distant lands where their adolescence was to be spent. In the old days there always had been danger of an uprising among the males to smash the plant, but this had long since passed and the guard about the portal was merely a formality.
All of this fills Adam with despair – but Eve sees a ray of hope:
“We are doomed. I see it. all so clearly now. There can be no more progress. There can be no more supermen to drag mankind forward in spite of its blindness.”
“No,” Eve whispered, “but there are atavists to drag mankind backward to a point where it can get a fresh start.”
The idea dazzled him. “You mean—we—we could have children—and build a new, clean race?”
The intruders are then discovered by guards, one of whom accidentally shoots the crystal that forms a vital part of the birth-factory (“Shouts, shrieks, prayers, mingled to make a sound strangely like that of pigs squealing. For it must be understood that the people worshipped the crystal as their only god”). The factory is still operational, however, but Adam is now determined to escape it. After he escapes with Eve, the pair steal a canister of World War I-era TNT from a museum. Adam then returns to the factory and, with “a swift prayer to a forgotten God”, throws the explosive at the crystal. Although injured in the blast, Adam survives to be collected by Eve; the two then flee to the mountains in an air-car, ready to live up to their namesakes.
Rather like the David H. Keller story “Stenographer’s Hands” that had appeared in a recent issue of Amazing Stories Quarterly, “The Last Man” is a story in which the concept of eugenics – a recurring part of humanity’s sunny future in many Amazing stories from this period – receives a more critical treatment. The criticism goes only so far, however. The story casually describes the mass killings that brought about its future (“it was a universal rule that persons should enter the lethal gas chambers as soon as they had passed the limit of usefulness—that is. when they could no longer do their twelve hours of labor daily”) but its hostility is aimed at the ends rather than the means of this plan. Given the acknowledged debt to the writings of Anthony Ludovici, a committed eugenicist, it appears that the eugenic spectre had not yet been exorcised.
“Mernos” by L. C. Kellenberger
An astronomer sees an object fall from the sky. Taking it to be a meteorite, he digs it from the ground and is surprised to find that it is a metal cylinder containing a message in a German. His neighbour Professor Margehtes translates the document and reveals that it was written by one Professor von Altenberg, a name Margehtes recognises: prior to the Great War von Alternberg had snnounvrd a plan to fly a rocket to Mars, only to subsequently go missing.
Von Altenberg’s account begins with him constructing his rocket in the face of public ridicule. Equipped with an oxygen restorer he blasts off for Mars; there, he finds that the famed canals are naturally-formed canyons and the only life in sight is a species of yellow-leafed plant. But then, he is confronted with a member of an intelligent Martian race:
Suspended in the air about three feet of the ground was a spherical body about a foot in diameter. Without visible means of support the thing remained there, as steady as a rock. Surmounting the spherical body were five tentacles, each about eighteen inches in length. Four of them had fingers at the extremities while the fifth had an orifice.
The body was so nearly translucent that I could see the blood pulsating through the veins. Underneath was a rudder-like appendage that waved to and fro like the fin of a fish. There were also two of the appendages at the sides of the globe. It had one eye, set in the middle of the globe and very much like the eye of a human being, except for the fact that it was purple in color, with a red pupil. The globe itself was of a reddish yellow shade, approaching orange.
A few more creatures of this type appear. They communicate with Professor von Alternberg telepathically, referring to their race as Manos and the planet as Manova before inviting the Professor to visit “the great Samozar”. He follows them through a brightly-lit tunnel in the ground, arriving at a chamber where a larger member of the spherical race sits on a throne. Conversing with the Mano monarch, the Earthman learns that the species has no understanding of history and thinks only in terms of the present (“Truly a decadent brain”). He also finds that there are three tribes of Manos in all, but each is facing extinction from diseases “that they were too indolent to combat”. Exploring the planet further he finds ruins of a lost race, but very little life: the Manos, a few fish and a single species of plant are the only living things on Mars.
The Professor re-enters his rocket and launches once more, hoping to return to Earth, but a meteor strike sends him off-course and he lands on a different planet. This world is similar to Earth, with lush vegetation and a native species resembling a peacock. The professor then meets an intelligent inhabitant, looking “exactly like an earth man, except for the fact that his features were delicate, more spiritual, and his complexion rather pale.” Like the Martians, the man is able to communicate via telepathy and identifies the present planet as Mernos; he explains that it has not been discovered by terrestrial astronomers because the globe is surrounded by a “belt of unknown vapor” that absorbs sunlight. The Mernosian also reveals that he is a fellow space traveller who has visited the Earth – albeit by transmitting his mind there, rather than through physical transport.
What follows is a typical Gernsback-era science fiction travelogue,
with Professor von Alternberg passively wandering around a Mernosian city as his alien guide explains things to him:
“You no doubt know that our solar system traverses a regular orbit, but you do not know that it completes a circle of that orbit in a million years. At one end of the orbit there is a belt of warmth and at the other the intense cold of absolute zero. The earth and the solar system are now on the edge of the warm belt, which explains the rising temperature of the earth, already noticeable enough to cause discussion among your scientists. For ages the earth will swing through the warm belt and become a tropic earth, then again back to normal, and later to another glacial period, and so on.”
“How do you know all this?”
“We of Memos know the uttermost secrets of the universe. We traverse the boundless realms of space at will and naught is hidden from our prying minds.”
Professor von Alternberg, who is given the Mernosian name of Guros Jullo (meaning a visitor from Earth), learns much about the alien race. He finds that they live for 300 Earth years; obtain nutrients primarily through inhalation rather than ingestion; and convert solar rays into electricity at a power plant containing a vast crystal, a metal not found on Earth and a set of prisms.
Between their technological development and gift for telepathy, the Mernosians have achieved a communist utopia: “Whatever you want or need is furnished you by the government. No one abuses the power, however, for every mind is an open book… There is very little arduous labor, as radio energy takes the place of electricity.” The few hard jobs left are well-paying, prompting the Professor to remark that “things are different than on the earth, where the hardest workers get the smallest pay!” (he is assured that Earth will eventually catch up with Mernos). These space communists do not consider religion the opiate of the masses, though: “We worship Zerno, the same as your God, the creator of the Universe. But we do not see him as a personal being, sitting on a bank of clouds or on a golden throne. God is all good. We have no conception of hell as many teach it on your earth, for there is no hell, in our minds. Hell is of your own making.”
The Professor also learns of life on other worlds, as Earth is far from the only sphere to have been visited mentally by the Mernosians. Mercury is inhabited by reptiles, Neptune by giant insects, Venus by intelligent birds, and Saturn’s moons by “a race like you”, Saturn and Jupiter are both uninhabited, and there are no planets in the solar system beyond Neptune (Pluto, of course, would not be discovered until the following year; a more puzzling absence is that of Uranus, curiously unmentioned in this summary).
Although the Mernosians prefer to travel through space mentally, they do have spacecraft (utilising an alloy that destroys navigation, recalling Wells’ The First Men in the Moon). Indeed, they are currently preparing for a scientific mission to examine the mysterious belt of vapor that surrounds the planet. They offer the professor a way back home, but he decides to stay on Mernos and practice their mental techniques instead.
One of his early thought-destinations is naturally his home planet of Earth, which he finds embroiled in the Great War:
[A] feeling of sadness came over me as I watched the ghastly struggle. So many brave men were going to their deaths. For what? If only the peace of Mernos could be implanted upon this war-torn world. Yet there was one country at peace, and it was prosperous. In that country lay the salvation of the earth. That country was America, where the lowliest man had a chance to rise, where ability and not nobility ruled.
He contrasts this with Mernos, where a single war ended all war on the planet; the development of telepathy eliminated crime; and mental improvement ended poverty.
Continuing his mental journeys, the professor visits the Sun (“it is not a place of flames and fire; it is a ball of radium energy, with which the sun’s rays are filled”) and sees the inhabitants of an unspecified Jovian moon (“They were about five feet tall, with the bodies of lizards and the heads of frogs […] In mentality they were like the cave dwellers of the earth of ages ago. They spoke in a queer piping voice”) followed by the Moons of Saturn (“I found the peoples to be our kind but dressing and living as in the time of Julius Caesar”).
He eventually heads outside Earth’s solar system altogether and visits a planet with the Burroughsian name of Opar, which is inhabited by a race “like the people of the earth except that the ears were very small, almost gone.” He then prepares to send reports of his findings back to Earth – bringing the narrative full circle.
As 1920s science fiction travelogues go, “Mernos” is a solid enough but undistinguished specimen of its kind. By this point, the travelogues published by Gernsback were blurring together into one long monotonous slog, offering us starry-eyed visions of utopian worlds (in this case, one built using magic mental powers and non-existent labour-saving technology) with little to say about present society.
In an amusing mishap, “Mernos” is credited to Henry James. In reality, of course, the story was not written by the esteemed author of The Turn of the Screw: this mistake arose from the fictional astronomer who narrates the framing device being called Henry James. A later issue would correct this error and credit the story to L. C. Kellenberger, who appears to have had no other work published.
This month’s letters column offers more glimpses into the make-up of science fiction fandom circa 1929.
Ray E. Warner counts himself as one of Amazing‘s missionary readers, having had multiple successes in converting people who scoff at the magazine into devoted readers. Lain McHairn describes discovering Amazing Stories after moving from Scotland to Canada, and declares that even though he is the son of a librarian “never in all my experience of books, have I come across any literature in which one could find such a variance of food for thought.” John M. Sturm sends in a newspaper clipping about an English scientist achieving radio contact with Mars (“I am anxious to know if this is all a farce or if it is really fact”). Harold A. Lowes credits the magazine with inspiring him to make a telescope of his own.
P. H. Shepherd praises the magazine, but finds fault with one aspect – love interest:
Yours is a scientific magazine, and there are hundreds of magazines catering to the romantic type. Why do your writers write a perfectly fascinating interplanetary or futuristic story scientifically correct in every detail, and then throw in a girl usually named Oomlap or Poo-hah or Seek sook or some such juvenile name who falls in love with the earth hero and does most unconvincing things to show her love, usually getting killed at the end of your story. Cease the bloodshed, let the poor Oomlaps, Poo-hahs and Sook sooks stay out of the story altogether.
O. C. Bessen has a personal request: “Why has not some writer made an interesting story about the electro-magnetic semi-circle around the earth? Now if I could write, I would surely hop to it for I happen to have seen quite a bit of some mighty ‘queer’ things that ought to be good for stories.”
Harry H. Porcell muses about the fourth dimension and relativity theory, but reserves his strongest words for the magazine’s cover art: “I have repeatedly had people who had never seen the magazine before take one look at the name and cover design and immediately say “What do you read that imaginative trash and bunkum for – what good is it?” I have even seen people on the buses look at a copy under my arm and openly give me a pitying look.” P. A. Miller, on the other hand, defends house artist Frank R. Paul from criticism: “there are very few present-day artists who can combine technical perfection with artistic taste” (the letter cites the wildlife art of Charles Livingston Bull and Anton Otto Fischer’s paintings of ships as noteworthy examples of this combination).
“I have just read Bob Olsen’s great story, ‘The Fourth [sic] Dimensional Robberies,’ and the more I think over the matter the more I am convinced that it should be classed with Dr. Mentiroso” says James Philan, invoking a controversial story from some time ago. He closes with thoughts on a related matter: “Why should we take one mere theory (Einstein’s) as being correct? Doubtless he had a great intellect but still he is human and ‘to err is human.’ Does it not seem that everything can be explained perfectly with only three dimensions?”
N. R. Nothem admits to preferring shorter fiction, but demonstrates a fondness for the long-winded when pointing out scientific anomalies in various stories. Cecil B. White – himself a contributor to Amazing‘s fiction – takes aim at E. M. Scott’s “The Voyage to Kemptonia”, which posits that an undiscovered planetoid has been orbiting Earth at a distance close enough to exist within its atmosphere (“Had the author of this atrocity refrained from giving dimensions and figures, things would not have been so bad.”)
William S. Wensley comments on the theme of past-life memories in the December 1928 issue, offering a skeptical viewpoint: “I far from agree with you in your idea that we will retain enough memory cells in one place to have even a fraction of a thought that we had in a previous existence.” David Miles is another skeptical voice on this topic, while William Crocker writes in to cite J. W. Dunne’s book An Experiment with Time (1927) about precognitive dreams – a notion dismissed by the letter’s editorial response.
L. Cardenas delivers a verbose analysis of Clare Winger Harris’ “Menace of Mars”:
The story evidences a curious admixture of objective dispassionateness and a specious sophistry. I say this not with an arrogated omniscience but merely as a self-evident analysis. It is objectively analytic inasmuch as it excludes human prejudice, even in the story’s context, but paradoxically enough when the author is well within the outer fortifications of depersonalized synthesis, she foolishly falls a victim to a common error of the popular mind, that of anthropomorphism, investing the inhabitants of the Martian planet with the attributes of man, a highly emotional and malevolent one at that. The basic philosophy of the story, though probably not easily perceptible to a superficial scrutinizing, is the jaded husk of mechanism in its most rudimentary form. The story is thus an atavism to which the author has recourse for no apparent reason, when there are so many logical systems that could have been annexed with no extra expenditure of energy.
Samuel Gaspineel also comments on “The Menace of Mars”, and is unimpressed by the science behind it:
We (not the laymen) are all familiar with the electronic theory no doubt. But when one attempts to claim that the earth may be an electron of an atom of a gas, liquid, or solid that is another matter. It is known that the nucleus of an atom is composed of protons and electrons in varying degrees while the element is determined by the number of electrons that revolve about this nucleus. As far as I can see I cannot understand how one can consider our solar system as a larger atom. Surely, if we consider the sun as a proton and its planets as electrons, you cannot make me believe that protons have an orbital path around the nucleus, for the nucleus certainly counterbalance the proton within the nucleus. If it can be shown that the solar system can be considered as a cosmic atom then will I believe, until then, I’m from Missouri.
Before the letters column, the issue also has a short non-fiction piece on Soviet scientist Sergei Brukhonenko and his experiments with artificially reviving the severed head of a dog, which the magazine compares to the plots of Joe Kleier’s “The Head” and Joe Simmons’ “The Living Test Tube” (Brukhonenko’s work would later become the basis of a 1940 film, Experiments in the Revival of Organisms).