Saturday, June 5, 2010

"He Who Shrank" by Henry Hasse, part 1

In my last post, I noted that of the 25 stories and 1 essay in Isaac Asimov's anthology of Gernsback Era science fiction, Before the Golden Age, only seven of the stories could be found online. Clearly, something must be done to correct this terrible lack, and what better place to provide a remedy than here at the Johnny Pez blog?

Thus, the Johnny Pez blog now presents Project Golden Age: an ambitious attempt to create online versions of the stories from Asimov's Before the Golden Age. With two exceptions, all of the stories had already entered the public domain when they appeared in the anthology. The two exceptions are Asimov's own "Big Game", which, although written in November 1941, remained unpublished until its appearance in Before the Golden Age, and Ross Rocklynne's "The Men and the Mirror", which served as the title story in a collection published the year before Asimov's anthology.

The first candidate for Project Golden Age is "He Who Shrank" by Henry Hasse (1913 - 1977). Originally from Indiana, Hasse moved to the west coast, where he co-wrote Ray Bradbury's first published story, "The Pendulum". "He Who Shrank" first appeared in the August 1936 issue of Amazing Stories, and was anthologized three times: in the 1946 anthology Adventures in Time and Space, edited by Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas; in Before the Golden Age; and in the 1985 anthology Isaac Asimov's Magical Worlds of Fantasy 5: Giants, edited by Asimov, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles W. Waugh. The story was also reprinted in the November 1968 issue of Amazing.

As always, the story will appear in a blog-friendly multipart format. And now, without further ado, here is the first installment of:


He Who Shrank
by Henry Hasse

I

Years, centuries, aeons, have fled past me in endless parade, leaving me unscathed: for I am deathless, and in all the universe alone of my kind. Universe? Strange how that convenient word leaps instantly to my mind from force of old habit. Universe? The merest expression of a puny idea in the minds of those who cannot possibly conceive whereof they speak. The word is a mockery. Yet how glibly men utter it! How little do they realize the artificiality of the word!

That night when the Professor called me to him he was standing close to the curved transparent wall of the astrono-laboratory looking out into the blackness. He heard me enter, but did not look around as he spoke. I do not know whether he was addressing me or not.

"They call me the greatest scientist the world has had in all time."

I had been his only assistant for years, and was accustomed to his moods, so I did not speak. Neither did he for several moments and then he continued:

"Only a half year ago I discovered a principle that will be the means of utterly annihilating every kind of disease germ. And only recently I turned over to others the principles of a new toxin which stimulates the worn-out protoplasmic life-cells, causing almost complete rejuvenation. The combined results should nearly double the ordinary life span. Yet these two things are only incidental in the long list of discoveries I have made to the great benefit of the race."

He turned then and faced me, and I was surprised at a new peculiar glow that lurked deep in his eyes.

"And for these things they call me great! For these puny discoveries they heap honors on me and call me the benefactor of the race. They disgust me, the fools! Do they think I did it for them? Do they think I care about the race, what it does or what happens to it or how long it lives? They do not suspect that all the things I have given them were but accidental discoveries on my part -- to which I gave hardly a thought. Oh, you seem amazed. Yet not even you, who have assisted me here for ten years, ever suspected that all my labors and experiments were pointed toward one end, and one end alone."

He went over to a locked compartment which in earlier years I had wondered about and then ceased to wonder about, as I became engrossed in my work. The Professor opened it now, and I glimpsed but the usual array of bottles and test-tubes and vials. One of these vials he lifted gingerly from a rack.

"And at last I have attained the end," he almost whispered, holding the tube aloft. A pale liquid scintillated eerily against the artificial light in the ceiling. "Thirty years, long years, of ceaseless experimenting, and now, here in my hand -- success!"

The Professor's manner, the glow deep in his dark eyes, the submerged enthusiasm that seemed at every instant about to leap out, all served to impress me deeply. It must indeed be an immense thing he had done, and I ventured to say as much.

"Immense!" he exclaimed. "Immense! Why -- why it's so immense that --. But wait. Wait. You shall see for yourself."

At that time how little did I suspect the significance of his words. I was indeed to see for myself.

* * *

Carefully he replaced the vial, then walked over to the transparent wall again.

"Look!" he gestured toward the night sky. "The unknown! Does it not fascinate you? The other fools dream of some day traveling out there among the stars. They think they will go out there and learn the secret of the universe. But as yet they have been baffled by the problem of a sufficiently powerful fuel or force for their ships. And they are blind. Within a month I could solve the puny difficulty that confronts them; could, but I won't. Let them search, let them experiment, let them waste their lives away, what do I care about them?"

I wondered what he was driving at, but realized that he would come to the point in his own way. He went on:

"And suppose they do solve the problem, suppose they do leave the planet, go to other worlds in their hollow ships, what will it profit them? Suppose that they travel with the speed of light for their own life time, and then land on a star at that point, the farthest point away from here that is possible for them? They would no doubt say: 'We can now realize as never before the truly staggering expanse of the universe. It is indeed a great structure, the universe. We have traveled a far distance; we must be on the fringe of it.'

"Thus they would believe. Only I ould know how wrong they were, for I can sit here and look through this telescope and see stars that are fifty and sixty times as distant as that upon which they landed. Comparatively, their star would be infinitely close to us. The poor deluded fools and their dreams of space travel!"

"But, Professor," I interposed, "just think --"

"Wait! Now listen. I, too, have long desired to fathom the universe, to determine what it is, the manner and purpose and the secret of its creation. Have you ever stopped to wonder what the universe is? For thirty years I have worked for the answer to those questions. Unknowing, you helped me with your efficiency on the strange experiments I assigned to you at various times. Now I have the answer in that vial, and you shall be the only one to share the secret with me."

Incredulous, I again tried to interrupt.

"Wait!" he said. "Let me finish. There was the time when I also looked to the stars for the answer. I built my telescope, on a new principle of my own. I searched the depths of the void. I made vast calculations. And I proved conclusively to my own mind what had theretofore been only a theory. I know now without doubt that this our planet, and other planets revolving about the sun, are but electrons of an atom, of which the sun is the nucleus. And our sun is but one of millions of others, each with its allotted number of planets, each system being an atom just as our own is in reality.

"And all these millions of solar systems, or atoms, taken together in one group, form a galaxy. As you know, there are countless numbers of these galaxies throughout space, with tremendous stretches of space between them. And what are these galaxies? Molecules! They extend through space even beyond the farthest range of my telescope! But having penetrated that far, it is not difficult to make the final step.

"All of these far-flung galaxies, or molecules, taken together as a whole, form -- what? Some indeterminable element or substance on a great, ultramacrocosmic world! Perhaps a minute drop of water, or a grain of sand, or wisp of smoke, or -- good God! -- an eyelash of some creature living on that world!"

* * *

I could not speak. I felt myself grow faint at the thought he had propounded. I tried to think it could not be -- yet what did I or anyone know about the infinite stretches of space that must exist beyond the ranges of our most powerful telescope?

"It can't be!" I burst out. "It's incredible, it's -- monstrous!"

"Monstrous? Carry it a step further. May not that ultra-world also be an electron whirling about the nucleus of an atom? And that atom only one of millions forming a molecule? And that molecule only one of millions forming --"

"For God's sake, stop!" I cried. "I refuse to believe that such a thing can be! Where would it all lead? Where would it end? It might go on -- forever! And besides," I added lamely, "what has all this to do with -- your discovery, the fluid you showed me?"

"Just this. I soon learned that it was useless to look to the infinitely large; so I turned to the infinitely small. For does it not follow that if such a state of creation exists in the stars above us, it must exist identically in the atoms below us?"

I saw his line of reasoning, but still did not understand. His next words fully enlightened me, but made me suspect that I was facing one who had gone insane from his theorizing. He went on eagerly, his voice the voice of a fanatic:

"If I could not pierce the stars above, that were so far, then I would pierce the atoms below, that were so near. They are everywhere. In every object I touch and in the very air I breathe. But they are minute, and to reach them I must find a way to make myself as minute as they are, and more so! This I have done. The solution I showed you will cause every individual atom in my body to contract, but each electron and proton will also decrease in size, or diameter, in direct proportion to my own shrinkage! Thus will I not only be able to become the size of an atom, but can go down, down into infinite smallness!"

(continue to part 2)

4 comments:

Mr. Philip Lynch said...

great story. In the early 80s I discovered this old fifties science fiction anthology and read all the stories. This one made a deep impression on me.

1oldkayaker said...

This story evokes great memories for me.
It is a late August night, it is cold and windy and there is a fire in the fireplace. My Mother, Father and two brothers are spending the month out on North Manitou Island in Michigan, and my Father is reading us this story.
Thanks for the memories!

robo37 said...

I first read this story in 1952, at age 15. The first few words of the book has stuck with me for all these years: "Years, centuries, aeons, have fled past me in endless parade, leaving me unscathed: for I am deathless" I am now 76 and have just found this story again. I'm exited to read it again.

James said...

Superb, haunting, unforgettable. Many, many thanks for putting this up.

Now to find the third to fifth books in Ray Cummings' "Girl in the The Golden Atom" series...