Sunday, September 20, 2009

Henry Hasse's "He Who Shrank" (novella, adventure)

Quote from short story titled He Who Shrank by Henry Hasse, from Amazing Stories, August 1936Stylistically & thematically, it's in the same class as Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" & Olaf Stapledon's "Star Maker": a man goes on an adventure, visiting many kinds of very alien people. Not as influential as these two, & certainly less entertaining than "Gulliver's Travels", but it does seem to have had quite an influence:

  1. Eric Frank Russell's "Mechanistria" is essentially a rehash of one of the episodes in this story.
  2. Very smart aliens in the form of gaseous balloons that float in the air occur in many stories - among them Eric Frank Russell's "Sinister Barrier" & Ray Bradbury's "The Fire Balloons". This is the oldest story I've seen such aliens in.
  3. Arthur Clarke has written at least 3 stories where aliens uplift (or try to uplift) primitive humans: "Encounter at Down", "First Encounter", & the first of the 4 stories in "2001 A Space Odyssey".

    I often used to get a feeling that there was a connection between these stories & ancient mythology: there are several Indian stories of helpful gods coming down from sky - some of them can change their size too, in at least one case to the size of a giant that covers whole earth under a foot. Other countries might have their own variations.

    One of the episodes in this story provides this link - between mythological gods & Clarke's helpful aliens.

Method of travel.

In Swift's version, the man is traveling the seas of earth in a ship & ends up at various islands with locals who might as well have been aliens. I've read only part of "Star Maker", & the adventurer here travels by magic, landing on many alien worlds & communicating with locals via some form of telepathy. Hasse's version is substantially more complicated:
  1. Professor has invented a serum called "Shrinx". Inject a dose into a person, & that person begins shrinking in size. He will shrink forever, will become immortal, will not feel hungry, can withstand extreme conditions of space, ... And by controlling the location where shrinking occurs & using a certain device, Professor can plug into the visual & auditory senses of the one who's shrinking.
  2. Idea is to make space travel possible! The thesis is: the "universe" is a recursive structure. This probably is a pre quantum mechanics story - so we have each atom as a complete (& real) solar system! It's nucleus is a sun, its electrons are planets. Galaxies are molecules; the entire perceivable universe is some block of matter. At one stage, we get explanation for why our universe is expanding: Sol happens to be an atom in an atmospheric gas cloud in the parent world!
  3. So if we can shrink enough, we begin seeing these low level universes! Shrinx also gives the person some space navigation capability - so he can land on a certain world in this smaller universe!
  4. The process repeats in every lower universe - indefinitely. So journey will never be over, since effect of Shrinx is irreversible.
  5. Each jump to a lower universe offers opportunity for adventure on a new world. For a limited time, till you shrink to even lower universe.
  6. Unwitting recipient of the dose is Professor's lab assistant, who's also the narrator.

Specific adventures.

Apart from description of adventures at the beginning - being hunted by bacteria of home world when he was small enough! - we are offered 4 adventure stories (I'm not sure my order for #2 & #3 is correct - might be reversed):
  1. On a world with technologically very advanced balloon beings.
  2. On a world of primitive humanoids where traveler helps some spear wielding locals while he's still of giant size.
  3. On a world of intelligent self replicating machines that seem to be driving local intelligent biological bird-beings farther & farther from their world.
  4. Eventually on earth. It was only at this stage that I realized the adventurer is not human. This part is mostly a satire of follies of humanity.

Collected in.

  1. Raymond J Healy & J Francis McComas (Eds)' "Adventures in Time and Space".

Fact sheet.

First published: Amazing Stories, August 1936.
Rating: A.

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