This week’s weird story is part of a tradition of higher mathematics and higher geometry being used by occultists to rationalize their speculations. According to the Science Fiction Encyclopedia, this goes back to at least 1865 with Johann Zöllner’s Transcendental Physics. The non-occult tradition of such stories goes back to at Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland from 1884. Blackwood himself used the idea many times. Fittingly, Blackwood first published this story in The Occult Review.
This is one of Blackwood’s John Silence stories. Actually, that’s Dr. John Silence since he’s also a medical doctor in addition to being an occult detective.
The story opens with Silence’s “new man” speaking about an “hexatraordinary” visitor, a very thin man who disturbs the servant. Barker is a bit abashed that he left the visitor in the hall rather than show him to the waiting room. Under questioning, Barker reveals the man makes him uneasy and “queer” feeling. Silence is actually pleased by the man’s uneasiness since he chooses his assistants based on some evidence they possess “psychic intuition” which he thinks Barker is now exhibiting. Barker hands him the man’s letter of introduction from an acquaintance of Silence’s. The letter writer asks Silence to help the man but isn’t sure even Silence will be able to.
Silence instructs Barker to show the man into the waiting room and to think generous, sympathetic, and affectionate thoughts toward the visitor.
I strongly recommend James Gunn’s six volume The Road to Science Fiction anthology series as a good look at the history of Anglophone science fiction. In the sixth volume, foreign language science fiction is covered.
However, I only reviewed this volume.
A retro review from September 2, 2003.
Review: The Road to Science Fiction, Volume 5: The British Way, ed. James Gunn, 1998.
Several novels are excerpted here. And one prominent one isn’t: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein which Gunn argues is a transition from the gothic but not yet fully in the camp of self-aware science fiction. Lt. Col. Sir George Tomkyns Chesney’s The Battle of Dorkingis the first of those future war novels written by politicians and military men determined to influence public policy. Edwin A. Abbott’s Flatland, still in print, is a charming tale of life and culture in a two-dimensional world. That incomparable giant of science fiction, Olaf Stapledon, is represented by a selection from Star Maker, narrated by a “cosmical mind” who views the life of the universe. (Though oddly, in this volume, Gunn barely mentions his importance to the genre. For that, you must consult volume two.) The title for the section on Richard Jeffries After London; Or, Wild Englandis “The Craving for Catastrophe”. It is a pastoral tale of a simpler life after an unexplained disaster has befallen the country.
That craving shows up in several more tales. Killer smog hits the city in Robert Barr’s 1892 story “The Doom of London.” “The Great Fog” of H. F. Heard wipes out worldwide civilization. Life gets extinguished on an alien planet in Arthur C. Clarke’s much anthologized “The Star”. “The Nature of the Catastrophe” in Michael Moorcock’s story of that name is never really explained. An amalgam of newspaper excerpts and fiction, this story unfortunately shares the oblique prose and loose setting of his Jerry Cornelius novels. Not readable in its own right, it still gives you some idea of Moorcock’s influence on the New Wave. Tanith Lee’s “Written in Water” is a last woman on Earth tale. The world that may be destroyed by an artist in J. D. Beresford “A Negligible Experiment” is our own. The disaster of John Wyndham’s “The Emptiness of Space” is a personal one. Its hero has survived a spell in cryonic suspension and fears his soul has left his body.