Wonder Histories, August 1929: Masterminds of the Air

Air Wonder Stories’ second issue features another round-up of aviation news and now includes a review column

A vast torpedo-shaped vessel soars through the sky, its exterior boasting rows of portholes and stripes of decorative colour. A handy cross-section allows us a clear view of its intricate interior, its rooms ranging from sleeping quarters to storage for various apparatus. This is more than just a diagram, however: as evidenced by the human figures plummeting to their deaths, the scene depicts a vessel that has been literally sliced in half. The presumed culprits are a pair of yellow beams that at first glance appear to be searchlights, but on closer inspection turn out to be emanating from a vessel that flies higher in the sky. It was August 1929, and Air Wonder Stories was back for its second issue.

The Hugo Awards will be handed out this weekend, but there is still time for one more trip back into the era when the awards’ namesake was an influential magazine editor known for his visions of things to come. In his editorial “Future Aviation Problems”, Hugo Gernsback takes aim at “those well-meaning but misguided individuals who believe that there isn’t much to invent, anymore, when it comes to airplanes.”

“Just as the original Wright motored airplane looks ludicrous to us to-day,” he argues, “so will the present-day airplanes look silly 25 years hence.” What follows is his prediction of aviation circa 1954-79:

In the first place, the gasoline motor will have given way to something far more efficient. The gasoline engine has entirely too many parts and there are too many things apt to go wrong with it. What sort of fuel and what sort of engine we will use 25 or 50 years hence, no one knows. We may have an electric motor-drive or some entirely new explosive engine, of a type unknown to-day. The commercial passenger airplane of the future most assuredly will be constructed entirely of metal. There is no good reason to suppose that it will be limited in size even to the size that we call “monster” to-day. We will probably see the 25,000-ton aircraft in the heavier-than-air type. Such machines will carry heavy freight as well as passengers, the same as ocean greyhounds are accustomed to do to-day. It is even possible that such flyers will make no stops, except between long-distance terminals.

Amongst other things, Gernsback predicts a variety of spinning aeroplane:

As long as an airplane cannot take-off from or come down on top of a city roof in all sorts of weather, the hovering flight has not been solved. We are certain, however, that within the next 50 years, this problem will have been solved and most likely in a rather simple manner. It would even be possible that the present-day airplane, with certain fundamental changes, could be turned into a helicopter by using the wings of the airplane itself as horizontally revolving blades. In other words, if some means could be found to spin the present airplane wings with some structural changes around their own axis in a horizontal plane, I believe a workable helicopter could be evolved. By means of extra propellers at the tips, of the wings, one revolving in one direction, the second one in the other direction, it is possible in this manner to actually spin the wings. Some means would of course be found to keep the fuselage from rotating as well so that the occupants would not become dizzy while the wings spin on their axis.

The near-future period envisioned by Gernsback has long since departed into history, of course. Now, we can see with clear eyes how accurately the authors assembled for Gernsback’s magazine predicted the future of flight – and the violent conflicts that would utilise airborne technology…

“The Silent Destroyer” by Henrick Dahl Juve

Thomas Addison is a time-traveller who has found a method of transporting himself into the future: “I have been living in the fourth and fifth dimensions and during my experiments discovered a means of changing consciousness and clothing myself with three-dimensional matter.” He arrives in the 28th century, a time in which “[a]ll of the white people have combined to form one nation called Occidental and the colored nations have united to form Orienta”. These two powers are at war; the technology used in the conflict seems strange and new even to the ingenious Addison, but he befriends some military officials who help to fill him in:

“During the centuries since you labored as an inventor, science has practically supplanted superstition. Denominational religion, as you knew it, has disappeared and science has taken its place. Our mathematicians have extended their theorems into the seventh dimension which we believe to be the highest in the particular universe in which we exist. The control of people through fear of the unknown has given way to the power of knowledge and it is through knowledge that science is now striving to control the behavior of people.”

The people of the new era refer to Addison’s time as the Steel Age, and their own period as the Age of Man “because man, through his scientific knowledge and his change of purpose has taken practically full control of the earth.” This is a future in which typewriters are operated by voice; once-rare elements can be created at the atomic level; urban living has been abolished, with humanity living in serene rural areas; and laboratory-grown food has become so commonplace that the cultivation of land and the killing of animals have both been eradicated. Another technological development is that a person’s aura can be photographed, thereby giving “an index to the mental and moral development of the person”: golden auras denote goodness, while darker or greyer auras denote failings. Individuals are made to wear clothes that match their auras. Still another innovation is anti-gravity technology:

“We have discovered a new force which we have harnessed for our needs. Immortal in our history is a Hindoo scientist of the Steel Age who conducted the first experiments which led to this development. It is the same force which bursts the seed pod and pushes the frail dandelion through the pavement, although, of course, we apply it on a much larger scale.”

Despite all of the social advances, however, weaponry still exists. Witness the anti-nullifier, a device that can bring down airships by countering their gravity-defying technology. When first developed this device “had been merely a precautionary measure to be used in controlling the colored races, especially the black race on the African Continent, until they had progressed to the stage when they grasp the idea of self-conquest and are selfregulating”. But then the anti-nullifier fell into the hands of an evildoer named Ghorski, who came up with the fiendish plan to use the weapon on white people:

“Through our educational system in the hands of scientists we are gradually bringing the people to a consciousness of world citizenship and have succeeded to the extent that all white nations have been consolidated into one indivisible and harmonious country. That is true also of the colored races. We were just getting to the place where we thought that we were civilized enough to enable us to unite the two nations and make a truly unified world with all military institutions delegated to the museum as relics of barbaric ages.

“But one man, in whom there has developed a collosal selfishness and a distorted ambition, has disrupted our cherished plans and thrown us into a frightful war. This man, Ghorski by name, was once a member of the experimental force working on the anti-nullifier which has been developed by the Occidental G-2 service and held as a secret. Ghorski, whose aura was good at the time of his admittance to the service, evidently changed, as may happen in rare instances. Taking advantage of the desire of the colored races for revenge after the suppressions and extortions by some of the white nations during the Steel Age, he has convinced them that, by their superior numbers, they can overrun the white race and subjugate them.”

Addison accompanies the heroic Occidental forces into battle against the dastardly Ghorski. The good guys are armed not only with anti-nullifiers but also with molecule disruptors capable of slicing whole chunks out of enemy craft (“Sometimes, if we catch an enemy ship unaware, we cut it completely in two before they can maneuver out of the danger”). The story climaxes with an attack on battle-scarred enemy territory:

As though some giant had gone over the mountains and valleys with a huge plow, cutting bottomless furrows promiscuously in every direction as far as the eye could reach, the territory was a riot of frightful destruction! Addison gasped in horror. He stared at the captain with blank amazement.

“This treatment is meant to be a trifle disconcerting to the enemy,” the officer smiled. “It is only the second time in history that any battle-ship has torn up the ground in this fashion. In fact, we are not permitted to do it except under exceptional circumstances. But go over and look into one of the furrows.” […] When the atoms had taken up energy to again form molecules, they had crystallized into fantastic shapes of metal and quartz that glistened and sparkled in the sunlight as though striving to atone for the frightful wounds. They explored farther down the canyon, jumping over the two foot gashes. They found the bodies of several unfortunate Orientals who had been caught in the flaming destruction, and around a turn, two fighting vessels similar to their own.

While on foot, the crew finally run into the megalomaniacal Ghorski. For a moment it looks as though he has the upper hand, and he threatens them with a particularly nasty fate (“We’ll question your men and then make all of you immortal. We haven’t decided what to transmute you into but have been thinking of a huge gold nugget for the museum at Singapore”). But Addison is able to surprise the villain with a shot from an antiquated weapon – a Colt .45 — and after that the heroes make short work of their opponents with a more advanced means of destruction:

A wave of frightful heat like the breath of an angry furnace rushed by, scorching his clothes and singeing his hair. Slowly and apprehensively he turned and there, not twenty-six men but fifty-two pieces of men lay in grotesque huddles on the ground, frozen solid.

The editorial introduction to “The Silent Destroyer” predicts that the story “is without a shadow of a doubt scheduled to become a classic in aviation fiction.” This estimation was clearly off — the story appears never to have been reprinted, for one — although author Henrik Dahl Juve did write a pair of sequel stories before moving on to other projects and finally disappearing from SF in the early thirties. Looking back, the story is enjoyable inventive, although its vision of a racially-segregated future (a common assumption in SF of this period) is embarrassingly dated and the conflict has much of its tension sapped by both the unconvincing villain and the overpowered heroes

“Beyond Gravity” by Ed Earl Repp

In this story of a future in which Denver has become “the hub city of western aero travel”, protagonist Holdon looks up and is surprised to see the skies above the city filled not with swarms of private jets, but with a single enormous craft: a Leviathan of the air. His friend Bob Allison reveals that this vessel is called the Annihilator, and explains why its existence has been kept under wraps:

“Well, you see, Mr. Holdon, the government does not want to be caught again unprepared as it was fifty years ago when the Eastern Powers swooped down on us. With this ship and five thousand others like it we have the supremacy of the air at last. By that supremacy we can force the entire world to maintain perfect harmony in peace and no more will they attempt to add rich old Uncle Samuel to their long lists of conquests. To gain superiority over anything absolute secrecy must be practiced. Of course, the government gave the public an insight into the construction of the craft, but so far as mechanical principles are concerned, only a few have been thus far permitted to know them. I don’t think it will revolutionize the aviation industry to any great extent, in view of the fact that the government will not permit ships of this type to be constructed for public use. At least not for the present.”

Holdon’s daughter Joan (“that death-defying young sprout of mine”) then turns up in her personal aerospeedster, From here on, much of the story becomes a mixture of romantic banter and nuts-and-bolts discussions of aeronautics, as when Robert explains the gravity-propulsion mechanism used by the Annihilator:

The Annihilator is constructed entirely of cobalt-steel with the interior structure of four-electron Beryllium, the strongest and lightest metal known. The cobalt-steel structure is highly magnetic and to a great extent conquers gravity through magnetic repulsion. This is the first vitally important step of science toward the expansion of phenomena of electromagnetism. To be perfectly frank, this ship can actually fly without the use of the exhaust drive or any other mediums of propulsion. Magnetized cobalt-steel, with its power to repulse the gravitational pull, can carry this craft through the air at an astounding velocity. But by adding the exhaust driving system, much has been added to the speed of this type of aircraft. The velocity is increased some six hundred miles per hour.

“You are probably aware, Mr. Holdon, that these equations of gravitational repulsion are not entirely new. The famous Einstein theories of the old days on relativity have just been developed. American scientists, working secretly in the Washington Laboratories of the government, have at last succeeded in insulating against gravity, proving the Einstein theory that electromagnetism and gravitation are actually the same thing. According to the theories of Dr. Bryce B. Sheldon, head of the Department of Physics at the Kitty Hawk Laboratories, we need not be surprised if interplanetary travel will shortly become a reality through the medium of electromagnetism.”

The Annihilator undergoes a dramatic lift-off — but then runs into a disaster so grave that all television broadcasts are cut off to announce it:

“Official government orders,” the voice said authoritatively, “All radios and television receivers and broadcasters are ordered off the air at once! Annihilator lost in terrific Rocky Mountain up-draft! Government demands all broadcast and reception right-of-ways at once for communication with the ship without interference! Anyone disregarding this official command will be dealt with accordingly. Off the air until further notice!”

The vessel’s operator manages to issue a report that Bob is doing well (“Hello, Washington!” the Annihilator operator called. “Dr. Banksley reports that Lieutenant Allison is doing nicely after a fourth dimensional operation. Atomic Argonite has been injected into his blood and he’s coming along fine.”) The air force attempts to give the Annihilator a safe landing by bombarding it with gravity-nullifying cobalt-steel projectiles, aimed at magnetised steel nets hanging from the craft, Unfortunately, one of the projectiles goes astray and causes serious damage, and the Annihilator begins losing both control and oxygen. Holdon is forced to watch footage of the grim scene aboard the vessel: “God, what a sight! Men and officers alike, naked except for their trousers, sprawled on the gyroscopic floor! They tore at their throats with frenzied hands. Several still, immobile forms lay at one side of the deck, hands across their rigid breasts, embraced by death!”

Things are looking dire — but as so often happens in Gernsbackian SF, a brilliant professor comes along with a plan:

“All twenty-four of the magnetic drums will be sent up to an elevation slightly below the atmospheric stream in which the Annihilator is held captive. I have figured that the magnetism in the twenty-four drums will exceed whatever gravity insulation that might exist in the ship. Consequently it will be attracted to the electro-magnets and be drawn down through the pocket into the earth’s heavier atmospheres. By slowly re-ducing the electro-magnetism from the drums, leaving the current flowing through the steel plates, they can be lowered with the Annihilator resting on them under the influence of magnetic attraction. We will anchor out the ground winches at fifty feet apart, and permit the drums to rise directly in the path of the ship!”

This plan is a success and Joan is reunited with her beloved Bob (the fates of the other crewmembers are left ambiguous, however, as they are seen being unloaded from the vessel either dead or unconscious).

While the dialogue and characterisation may not stand up to the closest inspection, “Beyond Gravity” is an inventive tale of futuristic air travel, one that finds a way of deriving conflict from the scenario without using the stock plots of aerial warfare or piracy. A famous observation — summarised by Frederik Pohl — is that a good science fiction story should predict not only the automobile but the traffic jam; here, Ed Earl Repp predicts the air jam. A sequel, “The Annihilator Comes”, would be published in 1930. Indeed, it is interesting to note that each of the stories in this issue of Air Wonder had a continuation: none were truly self-contained.

“The Ark of the Covenant” by Victor MacClure (part 2 of 4)

In the second instalment of this novel, protagonist Jimmy and his father continue to investigate a spate of mysterious bank (and ship) robberies. A new clue falls into their laps: traces of radioactivity in the tarnished gold found at the scenes of the crimes. While staying at a hotel, Jimmy learns from a racially-stereotyped bellboy that another robbery has taken place (“Them robbers is shoh the piratinest white men ah evah see”). The robberies are portrayed as just one symptom of the dire state that the world is in, as articulated by Jimmy’s father:

“Jimmy,” he said quietly, “Lord Almeric will agree with me that the world is ready to seethe over. Unless we can pull back in time, we will be in a world war again. Let me show you our situation here. Japan, over-populated in the most appalling fashion, is knocking at our door insistently, wanting some of our room. The British dominions are closed to the yellow immigrant, and Japan is prevented by the world from getting all she wants in Siberia and China. That pot is ready to boil over.
“Take the European situation. There is Germany snarling over new Russia like a dog with a bone, and — your pardon. Lord Almeric ”
“Not at all, Boon,” said Lord Almeric. “And Britain —ah—Jimmy, if I may take the privilege—Britain ready to fly at Germany’s throat because the bone is a particularly juicy one.”

The conversation turns to the object of blame:

“Why on earth can’t they all settle down with what they’ve got and do a bit of work?” I asked. “What’s at the root of it all?’’
“What is the root of all evil, Jimmy?” said Lord Almeric.
“That’s it,” said my father. “Money. Each nation thinks the other is making more than itself, and that without working for it. The great cry is ‘unfair competition’!
If one nation has the wit to think ahead, to take the right line of development to meet a coming need in commerce, its neighbor yells, ‘Unfair competition!’”

The father-son duo’s mutual acquaintance Lord Almeric is playing a significant role in avoiding conflict, representing an English group of financial firms and banks that are engaging in talks with an American group; and so Jimmy transports Almeric to London. The two arrive in time to find that the city has been hit by yet another enigmatic bank robbery, with the same weird traits as before. Jimmy is left confounded:

There seemed to be neither rhyme nor reason in the operations. Of several millions of pounds sterling in gold lying in the Bank of England, the raiders had abstracted merely one, so Lord Almeric told us, and all the trouble that had been involved in forcing the three joint stock banks had not yet been rewarded by the finding of any gold; but in each of these banks there had been the same insensate destruction by acid of thousands of pounds’ worth of bearer securities. It looked like the work of madmen, impish destructiveness and senseless expenditure of energy. Why trouble to force four banks when there was sufficient loot in the most important?

The heroes also learn that the House of Commons has been attacked: “every man jack on the Treasury Bench woke up with his face blackened! Blackened, by George! – with burnt cork!” The characters have a good laugh at this bizarre prank, including the knighted gent who revealed the news (“I hope it does wreck the Government. We may get the Die-Hards back again, thank God.”) Berlin is likewise attacked, as is Paris – but the latter case has an important development: this time, witnesses catch sight of the airship responsible. Another development is the bizarre detail that, after breaking into the Paris bank, the criminals actually deposit gold bars. As well as banks, more ships are attacked:

The method of attack was similar on each ship: a sudden descent from the sky by the airship, swift and unexpected, and almost immediately the anaesthetizing of every soul aboard, close on a brief period of terrible panic among the passengers and crew. This last was a ghastly feature which had been missing from the night raids.

Eventually, the culprits are traced to an airship, surrounded by a pink haze that turns out to be sleep-producing gas — hence the unconscious guard ats the sites of the robberies. The name of this mysterious vessel is revealed in a radio conversation with a British ship:

“His Britannic Majesty’s ship Brilliant to the damned pirate: Surrender!” came the voice. “The game’s up!”
Immediately came the calm reply.
“Airship Ark of the Covenant to H. M. S. Brilliant: On the contrary, the game has not yet begun. Don’t be absurd, Brilliant!”

The second instalment of the novel ends with Jimmy deciding to put his newfound knowledge to use:

“It’s my notion that the airship we attacked works from a base at the back of Morocco. I’m banking enough on the idea, anyhow, to advise Sir Thomas Basildon to get as many scouts concentrated round the coast as he can. If the airship comes out again, we may be able to crowd so many planes round her that the ray you imagine will have more to handle than it is able. In any case, the place wants going over thoroughly.”

“The Planet’s Air Master” by Edward E. Chappelow

In a future where magnetic beams are used to guide aircraft in flight, detective Albert Riel of Scotland Yard is assigned the job of investigating a series of robberies on the International Air Line’s New York-London Route. The crimes are peculiar: in each case, an airborne liner will suddenly start to coast downward until it rests on the sea, after which the bandit will drop down in a white plane and conduct a raid on the idle craft. The villains clearly have high-tech tools at their disposal, but so do the heroes. We get a glimpse of this when Riel – speaking with Frank Wallace, assistant manager of the airline – pulls out a compass-like device:

“Well, they’re using a vision ray on us, and this detects the ray.”
Wallace’s face paled. “Good God, man, you don’t mean that they have been watching every move I’ve made for months back?”
“And listening too, for the ray picks up sound waves. Now before we go any further put this on.”
The detective drew a second watch from his pocket and passed it over the table. “And when you see the needle freeze, remember that you are being watched as closely as I am watching you…”

After further incidents, including one in which Wallace is robbed on his own liner, the characters deduce that the magnetic beam has become accompanied by another, more dangerous beam, possibly one that drives the target mad.

Riel then reveals that he holds believes to be the item sought by the criminal: a set of plans detailing the Skubic Light Wave Receiver, a device that can record the oscillations of light waves. Riel details an elaborate anecdote in which he noticed the criminal tailing the inventor of the ray, and so substituted the plans with dummy papers. The plot grows thicker when Riel declares that the robber’s apparent suicide by jumping from a window was, in fact, murder. The same force that disrupts the navigation of air-liners was also used to control his mind, and a master criminal — referred to as the “wizard” — decided to kill him so as to ensure that the plans were not leaked. The wizard then found that the papers were worthless, hence his subsequent activities.

The wizard’s henchmen decide to kidnap Riel but inadvertently abduct Wallace instead. After being force-fed a sleeping pill, Wallace wakes up to find himself in the gadget-filled lair of the arch-villain. The wizard introduces himself as J. B. Jolson, and demonstrates his power over still another ray — this time, one that allows him to read Wallace’s mind. More than that, Jolson reveals that he has the ability to control minds on a large scale, and threatens to bring about a world war purely as a diversion while he obtains the plans for the Light Wave Receiver: “Once I have the plans of the Light Wave Receiver in my hands, I will be ruler of the earth… I will sit as ruler of the earth, while I prepare for my conquest of the solar system.”

Jolson forces Wallace to look on in horror as airships destroy one another, their crews under the influence of the wizard’s mind control: “What you have seen is but an infinitesimal part of what is to come, if this world forces me to declare war on it.” Then, police planes — now equipped with protective equipment, the result of research and development following earlier attacks — arrive at Jolson’s island headquarters. He tries to fight them of with his deadly beams, but the planes succeed in bombing his island. Wallace is rescued, and learns that the police knew more about the wizard’s plans than they had let on: they were merely keeping a few secrets from Wallace lest he fall under the wizard’s mind-reading ray. While the wizard escapes in a submarine, the authorities have already traced his second island and are confident that they can prevent him from resuming his plans.

“The Planet’s Air Master” is a good example of the intersection between gadget-focused Gernsbackian fiction and the more adventure-driven material that comes to mind when we think of pulp SF. The villain Jolson was likely based upon Jules Verne’s Jean Robur, but being a product of the 1920s, has an arsenal of rays and beams to draw upon. Notably, the heroes are similarly well-equipped and the makings of what would become the standard stuff of superhero comics are evident, particularly when visiting Riel’s Batcave-like headquarters:

Along the wall opposite, from the hall entrance, stood a well-filled book-case, and to the left at the far end of the room was a mass of electrical equipment, neatly mounted on mahogany-colored panels, forming a switchboard about six feet high and eight feet long. “My mechanical assistant,” smiled the host, noticing his guest’s interest in the apparatus. “Such equipment is necessary to fight modern crime. The scientific criminal employs all possible scientific methods to accomplish his work; and to fight them, the law must be equipped with suitable weapons. My secret radio equipment is mounted on that board and also my ray deflector.”

The story shows imagination in terms of gadgetry which – to more indulgent readers – makes up for the clunky writing and limited characterisation, and the megalomaniacal Jolson was deemed good enough by his author (end editors) to be re-used in the 1930 sequel “The Return of the Air Master”. To a modern reader, one of the most amusing elements is likely to be the story’s prefiguration of an iconic accessory associated with conspiracy theorists: “He forgot that there was a possibility of his power being checked by some little thing, say for instance, a little tin hat.”

Aviation News of the Month

Air Wonder Stories’ second issue features another round-up of aviation news. The central topics are construction (“That with the increasing science applied to airplane design, the plane of to-day will seem quite antiquated ten years hence, is the belief of John K. Northrop”), operation (“passengers are not as profitable as mail, declared Director Colsman, of the Graf Zeppelin organization”) and general news (“With experiments going forward in Germany with the towing of gliders by motored planes, the prospects of having ‘air trains’ seem to become opened”).

Like its sister title Science Wonder Stories, Air Wonder Stories now has a column for book reviews. The publications covered this month are Victor W. Pagé’s The ABC of Aviation (“Through the absorption of Major Pagé’s hearty enthusiasm for aviation, one becomes imperceptibly a convert”) and Everybody’s Aviation Guide (“Major Pagé has interestingly arranged the book in the form of some 600 questions and answers”); The Airplane and its Engine by Charles H. Chatfield and C. Fayette Taylor (“a book which is especially recommended to that great majority of readers who are more than mildly interested in the science and practice of aviation”) and A. Frederick Collins’ Aviation and All About It (“Regarding the question that must be uppermost in the minds of the average air enthusiast, ‘when will individual flying become general?’ the author has a very interesting statement”).

The Reader Airs his Views

The letters section has plenty of praise for Air Wonder Stories’ first issue. “I always thought that there was a place for a good magazine dealing with the air,” writes Bertrand Hickman, “and naturally it should have occurred to me that who but my good friend Mr. Gernsback should edit it”. Clearly, Albert Taylor is another longtime Gernsback reader, as he requests stories from a humorous writer who once contributed to some of the editor’s earlier publications: “I do not know if H. H. Simmons (author of the ‘Hicks’ Inventions With a Kick’ stories) writes air stories or not. If so, I think that one of his stories once in a white would put an extra kick into the magazine.”

Some of the readers seem interested more in real-world air science than in fiction. One example is Benjamin Jenkins, who has questions about aeronautics (“Since the plane is heavier than air, what keeps it in the air?”). Another is Anthony Samartino:

Why not use a page or so from month to month and give the readers a course in aviation so that the ones that are not up to the minute in aviation would understand just what happens when a plane flies. Also it would be a good start to anyone who Intended to take up aviation as a business or career and would make the thinkers think a little more deeply on the subject.

The editorial response takes the opportunity to announce an “Avation Forum” feature beginning next month.

Harvey Britt speaks favouably of most of the stories in issue 1, with a single exception: “Now I come to ‘Men With Wings.’ Although I liked the story as a story I can’t just realize the science of it. Just think, putting wings on men. It’s a little too much. 1 think that Miss Stone was piling it on too thick there. For even if it were possible at all (which I doubt) it would take thousands of years to do.”

George Willner also objects to “Men with Wings”, along with the anti-gravity technology of “Islands in the Air”: “It is one thing to deal with possibilities of the future, but it is quite another to attempt to palm off on readers, fantastic absurdities, concocted in the feverish brains of overimaginative writers.” The letter recieves an editorial response in defence of the two stories. First, the notion of men with wings:

[G]land secretions affect our lives vitally. They govern our height, and very often our mental capacity. And now comes a case in England in which through abnormal gland secretions a woman began to show masculine characteristics. It is therefore not at all far-fetched that a great scientist studying birds shall experiment with their gland secretions and discover which glands regulate the size of wings.

As for gravity, the magazine has this to say:

Gravity, Einstein says, is magnetism, and therefore, as such, is susceptible to the same laws. In a recent demonstration cobalt-steel was shown to have the faculty of acting as a gravitational shield. […] But we do state emphatically our belief that man will eventually learn enough about gravitation to control it for our uses in a manner outlined by Mr. Morrow.

Wallace Meeghan is another who comments on “Men with Wings”, although he sees it as operating on a more allegorical level: “I take it that Miss Stone meant the story to have not only a literal but also figurative meaning, the latter being the necessity of the ‘wings’ of aspiration to make our otherwise commonplace life worth while.”

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