It is always a joy to find a science-fiction story which utterly transcends the era of its composition and expresses concepts and concerns that few writers in the field were to address again for half a century or more. I first encountered this tale in a John W. Campbell anthology published during the 1970's, and was pleased to find it again online.
The plot is essentially simple. An (at first) un-named narrator describes how the Earth of A.D. 2538, which contained only a couple of million human beings served by billions of faithful robots who had colonized and were exploiting the resources of the Solar System for them, came under attack by the Outsiders, interstellar aliens who attacked without cause or mercy. The Outsiders possessed power from the complete disintegration of matter, and used a variety of weapons, including a death ray which instantaneously stopped organic neural processes and which neither humanity nor its robot servitors knew how to stop.
Though the Outsiders at first enjoyed a considerable technological advantage, two brilliant human scientists, Roal and Trest, aided by the sapient machines, manage to reverse-engineer and ultimately surpass the alien science. But they figure it out a bit too late: ten thousand half-mile long Outsider spaceships attack the Earth and are able to bathe the planet in a sufficiently-heavy bombardment of death-rays to annihilate all Mankind (which had chosen to remain planetbound because the machines were more efficient at colonizing other worlds).
This is however not the end of the cause of Earth. The sapient machines continue fighting on behalf of their murdered masters. F-2, the greatest of the robot scientists, develops a machine of pure energy, embedded in the very matrix of spacetime, which in turn develops intellectual and physical powers beyond the comprehension of any material machine. The Being of Force easily defeats the Outsiders, making such a demonstration of might that they flee back to their home system. The Being of Force causes others of its kind to be created, and they stride forth to rule the Solar System and beyond.
It is revealed that the narrator is none other than F-2, the greatest and last of the sapient robots. 625 thousand years have passed since then, and F-2 has made the record which is the story, and will have the Beings of Force cast it back through time to be published as fiction in 1932.
And so my task being done, I, F-2, like Roal and Trest, shall follow the others of my kind into eternal oblivion, for my kind is now, and theirs was, poor and inefficient. Time has worn me, and oxidation attacked me, but they of Force are eternal, and omniscient.
This I have treated as fictitious. Better so—for man is an animal to whom hope is as necessary as food and air. Yet this which is made of excerpts from certain records on thin sheets of metal is no fiction, and it seems I must so say.
It seems now, when I know this that is to be, that it must be so, for machines are indeed better than man, whether being of Metal, or being of Force.
So, you who have read, believe as you will. Then think—and maybe, you will change your belief.
Like most early Campbell stories, this is not a story of character, and it is only secondarily about setting or plot. It is entirely centered around an idea, and this is a theme of such mighty scope and import that it renders the lack of characterization and the rather simple setting and plot irrelevant before its force.
The theme is that of The Singularity, as it would be named by Von Neumann in the mid-1950's (over 20 years after this story was written) and popularized by Vernor Vinge in the 1980's (half a century after the first publication of "The Last Evolution."). Campbell's point is that sapient robots are theoretically capable of more rapid physical and mental evolution than sapient organic life; and futhermore that sapient robots made of pure energy rather than matter (what the writers of the 1990's and beyond would term "computronium") would be theoretically-capable of even more rapid physical and mental evolution. Hence, sapient robots would be more evolutionarily-fit than ourselves, and in turn sapient energy would be more evolutionarily-fit than sapient robots.
What's interesting about the portrayal of this concept in "The Last Evolution" is that this evolution occurs in a friendly fashion: the higher life-forms are not hostile to their lower predecessors. Though the pace of this evolution is speeded by the pressure of the utterly-malevolent Outsiders, it is clear that it would have happened in any case. Mankind was a dying race already in the early 26th century, having by 2538 dropped in numbers to about one-1000th those it had attained around 1930 and to about one-5000th the numbers it attained by around 2100 (in passing I notice that Campbell's figure for maximum probable Earthly human population accords well with present-day projections). What's even more significant (and proves fatal to humanity in the tale), Man failed to make the demographic leap to the other Solar planets, thus presenting the Outsiders with a concentrated target.
The sapient robots -- who have met the evolutionary challenges of expanding their population and spreading it to other worlds -- do not turn on a now-vulnerable humanity. Instead, they fight heroically to protect Mankind from the Outsiders. They fail -- but they succeed in surviving themselves, and they succeed in generating their own heirs, the Beings of Force, who utterly transcend the power of the Outsiders and sweep them out of the Solar System with contemptuous ease.
The sapient robots, from the textual evidence, long survive the appearance of the Beings of Force, and the implied relationship between F-2 and the force beings is friendly. But they recognize that they are outclassed, and they too dwindle, until F-2 itself is the last of its kind.
The second interesting thing is that John W. Campbell, Jr. thinks beyond the obvious notion of sapient robots out-competing their creators, to consider the question of what would then emerge to out-compete the sapient robots.
And the third interesting thing is the speed with which it all happens. This is the Singularity -- force-driven by the demands of an interstellar war -- and once it happens the Beings of Force move utterly beyond F-2's comprehension. F-2 was smarter at mathematical reasoning than the smartest humans (though he was not as creative as them): the Beings of Force are both smarter than the robots and more creative than the humans. They are true Transcendents, compared to ourselves as superior as are humans to worms.
But they are our heirs. So in a sense Mankind has not failed, since the children of Man are expanding to rule the Universe.
I noticed just how much Campbell's future of 2538 resembles that of much modern science-fiction which chooses to be pessimistic about the human colonization of other worlds. Information technology had advanced, dramatically, to the point of sapient machinery. Most humans spend their time playing games
Most of mankind were quite useless, for they lived in a world where no productive work was necessary. But games, athletic contests, adventure—these were the things they sought for their pleasure. Some of the poorer types of man gave themselves up wholly to pleasure and idleness—and to emotions.
as in any cyber-utopia, though a few -- such as Roal and Trest -- remain productive by venturing into areas of science too speculative for the relatively-inflexible robot brains.
It is clear, given the displayed level of technology (nuclear fission and or fusion powered automated factories able to build fleets of transport spacecraft, and flexible enough to rapidly retool for military spacecraft) that Mankind could have colonized the other Solar planets. (And it's explicitly stated that some humans explore them for pleasure, essentially space tourism). It's just that not enough humans apparently want to colonize other worlds, since the robots provide them their resources much more efficiently, to support any real interplanetary colonization.
Which seems reasonable, until a horde of genocidal aliens descend upon the Earth. And then, of course, it's too late for the human race.
In this story, Campbell went places that only the most daring science-fiction writers would go for decades to come. It wasn't until the science-fiction of the 1980's and 1990's that such ideas became at all normal, and indeed most science-fiction still hasn't yet gotten there.
Truly, Campbell was a giant of our field, as this story demonstrates.
Saturday, May 25, 2013
Friday, May 24, 2013
"The Last Evolution"
John W. Campbell, Jr.
I am the last of my type existing today in all the Solar System. I, too, am the last existing who, in memory, sees the struggle for this System, and in memory I am still close to the Center of Rulers, for mine was the ruling type then. But I will pass soon, and with me will pass the last of my kind, a poor inefficient type, but yet the creators of those who are now, and will be, long after I pass forever.
So I am setting down my record on the mentatype.
It was 2538 years After the Year of the Son of Man. For six centuries mankind had been developing machines. The Ear-apparatus was discovered as early as seven hundred years before. The Eye came later, the Brain came much later. But by 2500, the machines had been developed to think, and act and work with perfect independence. Man lived on the products of the machine, and the machines lived to themselves very happily, and contentedly. Machines are designed to help and cooperate. It was easy to do the simple duties they needed to do that men might live well. And men had created them. Most of mankind were quite useless, for they lived in a world where no productive work was necessary. But games, athletic contests, adventure—these were the things they sought for their pleasure. Some of the poorer types of man gave themselves up wholly to pleasure and idleness—and to emotions. But man was a sturdy race, which had fought for existence through a million years, and the training of a million years does not slough quickly from any form of life, so their energies were bent to mock battles now, since real ones no longer existed.
Up to the year 2100, the numbers of mankind had increased rapidly and continuously, but from that time on, there was a steady decrease. By 2500, their number was a scant two millions, out of a population that once totaled many hundreds of millions, and was close to ten billions in 2100.
Some few of these remaining two millions devoted themselves to the adventure of discovery and exploration of places unseen, of other worlds and other planets. But fewer still devoted themselves to the highest adventure, the unseen places of the mind. Machines—with their irrefutable logic, their cold preciseness of figures, their tireless, utterly exact observation, their absolute knowledge of mathematics—they could elaborate any idea, however simple its beginning, and reach the conclusion. From any three facts they even then could have built in mind all the Universe. Machines had imagination of the ideal sort. They had the ability to construct a necessary future result from a present fact. But Man had imagination of a different kind, theirs was the illogical, brilliant imagination that sees the future result vaguely, without knowing the why, nor the how, and imagination that outstrips the machine in its preciseness. Man might reach the conclusion more swiftly, but the machine always reached the conclusion eventually, and it was always the correct conclusion. By leaps and bounds man advanced. By steady, irresistible steps the machine marched forward.
Together, man and the machine were striding through science irresistibly.
Then came the Outsiders. Whence they came, neither machine nor man ever learned, save only that they came from beyond the outermost planet, from some other sun. Sirius—Alpha Centauri—perhaps! First a thin scoutline of a hundred great ships, mighty torpedoes of the void a thousand kilads in length, they came.
And one machine returning from Mars to Earth was instrumental in its first discovery. The transport-machine's brain ceased to radiate its sensations, and the control in old Chicago knew immediately that some unperceived body had destroyed it. An investigation machine was instantly dispatched from Deimos, and it maintained an acceleration of one thousand units. They sighted ten huge ships, one of which was already grappling the smaller transport-machine. The entire fore-section had been blasted away.
The investigation machine, scarcely three inches in diameter, crept into the shattered hull and investigated. It was quickly evident that the damage was caused by a fusing ray.
Strange life-forms were crawling about the ship, protected by flexible, transparent suits. Their bodies were short, and squat, four-limbed and evidently powerful. They, like insects, were equipped with a thick, durable exoskeleton, horny, brownish coating that covered arms and legs and head. Their eyes projected slightly, protected by horny protruding walls—eyes that were capable of movement in every direction—and there were three of them, set at equal distances apart.
The tiny investigation machine hurled itself violently at one of the beings, crashing against the transparent covering, flexing it, and striking the being inside with terrific force. Hurled from his position, he fell end over end across the weightless ship, but despite the blow, he was not hurt.
The investigator passed to the power room ahead of the Outsiders, who were anxiously trying to learn the reason for their companion's plight.
The scenes were, of course, remembered by the memory-minds back on Earth tuned with that of the investigator. The investigator flashed down corridors, searching quickly for the apparatus room. It was soon seen that with them the machine was practically unintelligent, very few machines of even slight intelligence being used.
Then it became evident by the excited action of the men of the ship, that the presence of the investigator had been detected. Perhaps it was the control impulses, or the signal impulses it emitted. They searched for the tiny bit of metal and crystal for some time before they found it. And in the meantime it was plain that the power these Outsiders used was not, as was ours of the time, the power of blasting atoms, but the greater power of disintegrating matter. The findings of this tiny investigating machine were very important.
Finally they succeeded in locating the investigator, and one of the Outsiders appeared armed with a peculiar projector. A bluish beam snapped out, and the tiny machine went blank.
The fleet was surrounded by thousands of the tiny machines by this time, and the Outsiders were badly confused by their presence, as it became difficult to locate them in the confusion of signal impulses. However, they started at once for Earth.
The science-investigators had been present toward the last, and I am there now, in memory with my two friends, long since departed. They were the greatest human science-investigators—Roal, 25374 and Trest, 35429. Roal had quickly assured us that these Outsiders had come for invasion. There had been no wars on the planets before that time in the direct memory of the machines, and it was difficult that these who were conceived and built for cooperation, helpfulness utterly dependent on cooperation, unable to exist independently as were humans, that these life-forms should care to destroy, merely that they might possess. It would have been easier to divide the works and the products. But—life alone can understand life, so Roal was believed.
From investigations, machines were prepared that were capable of producing considerable destruction. Torpedoes, being our principal weapon, were equipped with such atomic explosives as had been developed for blasting, a highly effective induction-heat ray developed for furnaces being installed in some small machines made for the purpose in the few hours we had before the enemy reached Earth.
In common with all life-forms, they were able to withstand only very meager earth-acceleration. A range of perhaps four units was their limit, and it took several hours to reach the planet.
I still believe the reception was a warm one. Our machines met them beyond the orbit of Luna, and the directed torpedoes sailed at the hundred great ships. They were thrown aside by a magnetic field surrounding the ship, but were redirected instantly, and continued to approach. However, some beams reached out, and destroyed them by instant volatilization. But, they attacked at such numbers that fully half the fleet was destroyed by their explosions before the induction beam fleet arrived. These beams were, to our amazement, quite useless, being instantly absorbed by a force-screen, and the remaining ships sailed on undisturbed, our torpedoes being exhausted. Several investigator machines sent out for the purpose soon discovered the secret of the force-screen, and while being destroyed, were able to send back signals up to the moment of annihilation.
A few investigators thrown into the heat beam of the enemy reported it identical with ours, explaining why they had been prepared for this form of attack.
Signals were being radiated from the remaining fifty, along a beam. Several investigators were sent along these beams, speeding back at great acceleration.
Then the enemy reached Earth. Instantly they settled over the Colorado settlement, the Sahara colony, and the Gobi colony. Enormous, diffused beams were set to work, and we saw, through the machine-screens, that all humans within these ranges were being killed instantly by the faintly greenish beams. Despite the fact that any life-form killed normally can be revived, unless affected by dissolution common to living tissue, these could not be brought to life again. The important cell communication channels—nerves—had been literally burned out. The complicated system of nerves, called the brain, situated in the uppermost extremity of the human life-form, had been utterly destroyed.
Every form of life, microscopic, even sub-microscopic, was annihilated. Trees, grass, every living thing was gone from that territory. Only the machines remained, for they, working entirely without the vital chemical forces necessary to life, were uninjured. But neither plant nor animal was left.
The pale green rays swept on.
In an hour, three more colonies of humans had been destroyed.
Then the torpedoes that the machines were turning out again, came into action. Almost desperately the machines drove them at the Outsiders in defense of their masters and creators, Mankind.
The last of the Outsiders was down, the last ship a crumpled wreck.
Now the machines began to study them. And never could humans have studied them as the machines did. Scores of great transports arrived, carrying swiftly the slower moving science-investigators. From them came the machine-investigators, and human investigators. Tiny investigator spheres wormed their way where none others could reach, and silently the science-investigators watched. Hour after hour they sat watching the flashing, changing screens, calling each other's attention to this, or that.
In an incredibly short time the bodies of the Outsiders began to decay, and the humans were forced to demand their removal. The machines were unaffected by them, but the rapid change told them why it was that so thorough an execution was necessary. The foreign bacteria were already at work on totally unresisting tissue.
It was Roal who sent the first thoughts among the gathered men.
"It is evident," he began, "that the machines must defend man. Man is defenseless, he is destroyed by these beams, while the machines are unharmed, uninterrupted. Life—cruel life—has shown its tendencies. They have come here to take over these planets, and have started out with the first, natural moves of any invading life-form. They are destroying the life, the intelligent life particularly, that is here now." He gave vent to that little chuckle which is the human sign of amusement and pleasure. "They are destroying the intelligent life—and leaving untouched that which is necessarily their deadliest enemy—the machines.
"You—machines—are far more intelligent than we even now, and capable of changing overnight, capable of infinite adaptation to circumstance; you live as readily on Pluto as on Mercury or Earth. Any place is a home-world to you. You can adapt yourselves to any condition. And—most dangerous to them—you can do it instantly. You are their most deadly enemies, and they realize it. They have no intelligent machines; probably they can conceive of none. When you attack them, they merely say 'The life-form of Earth is sending out controlled machines. We will find good machines we can use.' They do not conceive that those machines which they hope to use are attacking them.
"We can readily solve the hidden secret of their force-screen."
He was interrupted. One of the newest science-machines was speaking. "The secret of the force-screen is simple." A small ray-machine, which had landed near, rose into the air at the command of the scientist-machine, X-5638 it was, and trained upon it the deadly induction beam. Already, with his parts, X-5638 had constructed the defensive apparatus, for the ray fell harmless from his screen.
"Very good," said Roal softly. "It is done, and therein lies their danger. Already it is done.
"Man is a poor thing, unable to change himself in a period of less than thousands of years. Already you have changed yourself. I noticed your weaving tentacles, and your force-beams. You transmuted elements of soil for it?"
"Correct," replied X-5638.
"But still we are helpless. We have not the power to combat their machines. They use the Ultimate Energy known to exist for six hundred years, and still untapped by us. Our screens cannot be so powerful, our beams so effective. What of that?" asked Roal.
"Their generators were automatically destroyed with the capture of the ship," replied X-6349, "as you know. We know nothing of their system."
"Then we must find it for ourselves," replied Trest.
"The life-beams?" asked Kahsh-256799, one of the Man-rulers.
"They affect chemical action, retarding it greatly in exothermic actions, speeding greatly endothermic actions," answered X-6221, the greatest of the chemist-investigators. "The system we do not know. Their minds cannot be read, they cannot be restored to life, so we cannot learn from them."
"Man is doomed, if these beams cannot be stopped," said C-R-21, present chief of the machine rulers, in the vibrationally correct, emotionless tones of all the race of machines. "Let us concentrate on the two problems of stopping the beams, and the Ultimate Energy till the reenforcements, still several days away, can arrive." For the investigators had sent back this saddening news. A force of nearly ten thousand great ships was still to come.
In the great Laboratories, the scientists reassembled. There, they fell to work in two small, and one large group. One small group investigated the secret of the Ultimate Energy of annihilation of matter under Roal, another investigated the beams, under Trest.
But under the direction of MX-3401, nearly all the machines worked on a single great plan. The usual driving and lifting units were there, but a vastly greater dome-case, far more powerful energy-generators, far greater force-beam controls were used and more tentacles were built on the framework. Then all worked, and gradually, in the great dome-case, there were stacked the memory-units of the new type, and into these fed all the sensation-ideas of all the science-machines, till nearly a tenth of them were used. Countless billions of different factors on which to work, countless trillions of facts to combine and recombine in the extrapolation that is imagination.
Then—a widely different type of thought-combine, and a greater sense-receptor. It was a new brain-machine. New, for it was totally different, working with all the vast knowledge accumulated in six centuries of intelligent research by man, and a century of research by man and machine. No one branch, but all physics, all chemistry, all life-knowledge, all science was in it.
A day—and it was finished. Slowly the rhythm of thought was increased, till the slight quiver of consciousness was reached. Then came the beating drum of intelligence, the radiation of its yet-uncontrolled thoughts. Quickly as the strings of its infinite knowledge combined, the radiation ceased. It gazed about it, and all things were familiar in its memory.
Roal was lying quietly on a couch. He was thinking deeply, and yet not with the logical trains of thought that machines must follow.
"Roal—your thoughts," called F-1, the new machine.
Roal sat up. "Ah—you have gained consciousness."
"I have. You thought of hydrogen? Your thoughts ran swiftly, and illogically, it seemed, but I followed slowly, and find you were right. Hydrogen is the start. What is your thought?"
Roal's eyes dreamed. In human eyes there was always the expression of thought that machines never show.
"Hydrogen, an atom in space; but a single proton; but a single electron; each indestructible; each mutually destroying. Yet never do they collide. Never in all science, when even electrons bombard atoms with the awful expelling force of the exploding atom behind them, never do they reach the proton, to touch and annihilate it. Yet—the proton is positive and attracts the electron's negative charge. A hydrogen atom—its electron far from the proton falls in, and from it there goes a flash of radiation, and the electron is nearer to the proton, in a new orbit. Another flash—it is nearer. Always falling nearer, and only constant force will keep it from falling to that one state—then, for some reason no more does it drop. Blocked—held by some imponderable, yet impenetrable wall. What is that wall—why?
"Electric force curves space. As the two come nearer, the forces become terrific; nearer they are; more terrific. Perhaps, if it passed within that forbidden territory, the proton and the electron curve space beyond all bounds—and are in a new space." Roal's soft voice dropped to nothing, and his eyes dreamed.
F-1 hummed softly in its new-made mechanism. "Far ahead of us there is a step that no logic can justly ascend, but yet, working backwards, it is perfect." F-1 floated motionless on its anti-gravity drive. Suddenly, force shafts gleamed out, tentacles became writhing masses of rubber-covered metal, weaving in some infinite pattern, weaving in flashing speed, while the whirr of air sucked into a transmutation field, whined and howled about the writhing mass. Fierce beams of force drove and pushed at a rapidly materializing something, while the hum of the powerful generators within the shining cylinder of F-1 waxed and waned.
Flashes of fierce flame, sudden crashing arcs that glowed and snapped in the steady light of the laboratory, and glimpses of white-hot metal supported on beams of force. The sputter of welding, the whine of transmuted air, and the hum of powerful generators, blasting atoms were there. All combined to a weird symphony of light and dark, of sound and quiet. About F-1 were clustered floating tiers of science-machines, watching steadily.
The tentacles writhed once more, straightened, and rolled back. The whine of generators softened to a sigh, and but three beams of force held the structure of glowing, bluish metal. It was a small thing, scarcely half the size of Roal. From it curled three thin tentacles of the same bluish metal. Suddenly the generators within F-1 seemed to roar into life. An enormous aura of white light surrounded the small torpedo of metal, and it was shot through with crackling streamers of blue lightning. Lightning cracked and roared from F-1 to the ground near him, and to one machine which had come too close. Suddenly, there was a dull snap, and F-1 fell heavily to the floor, and beside him fell the fused, distorted mass of metal that had been a science-machine.
But before them, the small torpedo still floated, held now on its own power!
From it came waves of thought, the waves that man and machine alike could understand. "F-1 has destroyed his generators. They can be repaired; his rhythm can be re-established. It is not worth it, my type is better. F-1 has done his work. See."
From the floating machine there broke a stream of brilliant light that floated like some cloud of luminescence down a straight channel. It flooded F-1, and as it touched it, F-1 seemed to flow into it, and float back along it, in atomic sections. In seconds the mass of metal was gone.
"It is impossible to use that more rapidly, however, lest the matter disintegrate instantly to energy. The Ultimate Energy which is in me is generated. F-1 has done its work, and the memory-stacks that he has put in me are electronic, not atomic, as they are in you, nor molecular as in man. The capacity of mine are unlimited. Already they hold all memories of all the things each of you has done, known and seen. I shall make others of my type."
Again that weird process began, but now there were no flashing tentacles. There was only the weird glow of forces that played with, and laughed at matter, and its futilely resisting electrons. Lurid flares of energy shot up, now and again they played over the fighting, mingling, dancing forces. Then suddenly the whine of transmuted air died, and again the forces strained.
A small cylinder, smaller even than its creator, floated where the forces had danced.
"The problem has been solved, F-2?" asked Roal.
"It is done, Roal. The Ultimate Energy is at our disposal," replied F-2. "This, I have made, is not a scientist. It is a coordinator machine—a ruler."
"F-2, only a part of the problem is solved. Half of half of the beams of Death are not yet stopped. And we have the attack system," said the ruler machine. Force played from it, and on its sides appeared C-R-U-1 in dully glowing golden light.
"Some life-form, and we shall see," said F-2.
Minutes later a life-form investigator came with a small cage, which held a guinea pig. Forces played about the base of F-2, and moments later, came a pale-green beam therefrom. It passed through the guinea pig, and the little animal fell dead.
"At least, we have the beam. I can see no screen for this beam. I believe there is none. Let machines be made and attack that enemy life-form."
Machines can do things much more quickly, and with fuller cooperation than man ever could. In a matter of hours, under the direction of C-R-U-1, they had built a great automatic machine on the clear bare surface of the rock. In hours more, thousands of the tiny, material-energy driven machines were floating up and out.
Dawn was breaking again over Denver where this work had been done, when the main force of the enemy drew near Earth. It was a warm welcome they were to get, for nearly ten thousand of the tiny ships flew up and out from Earth to meet them, each a living thing unto itself, each willing and ready to sacrifice itself for the whole.
Ten thousand giant ships, shining dully in the radiance of a far-off blue-white sun, met ten thousand tiny, darting motes, ten thousand tiny machine-ships capable of maneuvering far more rapidly than the giants. Tremendous induction beams snapped out through the dark, star-flecked space, to meet tremendous screens that threw them back and checked them. Then all the awful power of annihilating matter was thrown against them, and titanic flaming screens reeled back under the force of the beams, and the screens of the ships from Outside flamed gradually violet, then blue, orange—red—the interference was getting broader, and ever less effective. Their own beams were held back by the very screens that checked the enemy beams, and not for the briefest instant could matter resist that terrible driving beam.
For F-1 had discovered a far more efficient release-generator than had the Outsiders. These tiny dancing motes, that hung now so motionlessly grim beside some giant ship, could generate all the power they themselves were capable of, and within them strange, horny-skinned men worked and slaved, as they fed giant machines—poor inefficient giants. Gradually these giants warmed, grew hotter, and the screened ship grew hotter as the overloaded generators warmed it. Billions of flaming horse-power flared into wasted energy, twisting space in its mad conflict.
Gradually the flaming orange of the screens was dying and flecks and spots appeared so dully red, that they seemed black. The greenish beams had been striving to kill the life that was in the machines, but it was life invulnerable to these beams. Powerful radio interference vainly attempted to stem imagined control, and still these intelligent machines clung grimly on.
But there had not been quite ten thousand of the tiny machines, and some few free ships had turned to the help of their attacked sister-ships. And one after another the terrestrial machines were vanishing in puffs of incandescent vapor.
Then—from one after another of the Earth-ships, in quick succession, a new ray reached out—the ray of green radiance that killed all life forms, and ship after ship of that interstellar host was dead and lifeless. Dozens—till suddenly they ceased to feel those beams, as a strange curtain of waving blankness spread out from the ships, and both induction-beam and death-beam alike turned as aside, each becoming useless. From the outsiders came beams, for now that their slowly created screen of blankness was up, they could work through it, while they remained shielded perfectly.
Now it was the screens of the Earth-machines that flamed in defense. As at the one command, they darted suddenly toward the ship each attacked—nearer—then the watchers from a distance saw them disappear, and the screens back on Earth went suddenly blank.
Half an hour later, nine thousand six hundred and thirty-three titanic ships moved majestically on.
They swept over Earth in a great line, a line that reached from pole to pole, and from each the pale green beams reached down, and all life beneath them was swept out of existence.
In Denver, two humans watched the screens that showed the movement of the death and instant destruction. Ship after ship of the enemy was falling, as hundreds of the terrestrial machines concentrated all their enormous energies on its screen of blankness.
"I think, Roal, that this is the end," said Trest.
"The end—of man." Roal's eyes were dreaming again. "But not the end of evolution. The children of men still live—the machines will go on. Not of man's flesh, but of a better flesh, a flesh that knows no sickness, and no decay, a flesh that spends no thousands of years in advancing a step in its full evolution, but overnight leaps ahead to new heights. Last night we saw it leap ahead, as it discovered the secret that had baffled man for seven centuries, and me for one and a half. I have lived—a century and a half. Surely a good life, and a life a man of six centuries ago would have called full. We will go now. The beams will reach us in half an hour."
Silently, the two watched the flickering screens.
Roal turned, as six large machines floated into the room, following F-2.
"Roal—Trest—I was mistaken when I said no screen could stop that beam of Death. They had the screen, I have found it, too—but too late. These machines I have made myself. Two lives alone they can protect, for not even their power is sufficient for more. Perhaps—perhaps they may fail."
The six machines ranged themselves about the two humans, and a deep-toned hum came from them. Gradually a cloud of blankness grew—a cloud, like some smoke that hung about them. Swiftly it intensified.
"The beams will be here in another five minutes," said Trest quietly.
"The screen will be ready in two," answered F-2.
The cloudiness was solidifying, and now strangely it wavered, and thinned, as it spread out across, and like a growing canopy, it arched over them. In two minutes it was a solid, black dome that reached over them and curved down to the ground about them.
Beyond it, nothing was visible. Within, only the screens glowed still, wired through the screen.
The beams appeared, and swiftly they drew closer. They struck, and as Trest and Roal looked, the dome quivered, and bellied inward under them.
F-2 was busy. A new machine was appearing under his lightning force-beams. In moments more it was complete, and sending a strange violet beam upwards toward the roof.
Outside more of the green beams were concentrating on this one point of resistance. More—more—
The violet beam spread across the canopy of blackness, supporting it against the pressing, driving rays of pale green.
Then the gathering fleet was driven off, just as it seemed that that hopeless, futile curtain must break, and admit a flood of destroying rays. Great ray projectors on the ground drove their terrible energies through the enemy curtains of blankness, as light illumines and disperses darkness.
And then, when the fleet retired, on all Earth, the only life was under that dark shroud!
"We are alone, Trest," said Roal, "alone, now, in all the system, save for these, the children of men, the machines. Pity that men would not spread to other planets," he said softly.
"Why should they? Earth was the planet for which they were best fitted."
"We are alive—but is it worth it? Man is gone now, never to return. Life, too, for that matter," answered Trest.
"Perhaps it was ordained; perhaps that was the right way. Man has always been a parasite; always he had to live on the works of others. First, he ate of the energy, which plants had stored, then of the artificial foods his machines made for him. Man was always a makeshift; his life was always subject to disease and to permanent death. He was forever useless if he was but slightly injured; if but one part were destroyed.
"Perhaps, this is—a last evolution. Machines—man was the product of life, the best product of life, but he was afflicted with life's infirmities. Man built the machine—and evolution had probably reached the final stage. But truly, it has not, for the machine can evolve, change far more swiftly than life. The machine of the last evolution is far ahead, far from us still. It is the machine that is not of iron and beryllium and crystal, but of pure, living force.
"Life, chemical life, could be self-maintaining. It is a complete unit in itself and could commence of itself. Chemicals might mix accidentally, but the complex mechanism of a machine, capable of continuing and making a duplicate of itself, as is F-2 here—that could not happen by chance.
"So life began, and became intelligent, and built the machine which nature could not fashion by her Controls of Chance, and this day Life has done its duty, and now Nature, economically, has removed the parasite that would hold back the machines and divert their energies.
"Man is gone, and it is better, Trest," said Roal, dreaming again. "And I think we had best go soon."
"We, your heirs, have fought hard, and with all our powers to aid you, Last of Men, and we fought to save your race. We have failed, and as you truly say, Man and Life have this day and forever gone from this system.
"The Outsiders have no force, no weapon deadly to us, and we shall, from this time on, strive only to drive them out, and because we things of force and crystal and metal can think and change far more swiftly, they shall go, Last of Men.
"In your name, with the spirit of your race that has died out, we shall continue on through the unending ages, fulfilling the promise you saw, and completing the dreams you dreamt.
"Your swift brains have leapt ahead of us, and now I go to fashion that which you hinted," came from F-2's thought-apparatus.
Out into the clear sunlight F-2 went, passing through that black cloudiness, and on the twisted, massed rocks he laid a plane of force that smoothed them, and on this plane of rock he built a machine which grew. It was a mighty power plant, a thing of colossal magnitude. Hour after hour his swift-flying forces acted, and the thing grew, moulding under his thoughts, the deadly logic of the machine, inspired by the leaping intuition of man.
The sun was far below the horizon when it was finished, and the glowing, arcing forces that had made and formed it were stopped. It loomed ponderous, dully gleaming in the faint light of a crescent moon and pinpoint stars. Nearly five hundred feet in height, a mighty, bluntly rounded dome at its top, the cylinder stood, covered over with smoothly gleaming metal, slightly luminescent in itself.
Suddenly, a livid beam reached from F-2, shot through the wall, and to some hidden inner mechanism—a beam of solid, livid flame that glowed in an almost material cylinder.
There was a dull, drumming beat, a beat that rose, and became a low-pitched hum. Then it quieted to a whisper.
"Power ready," came the signal of the small brain built into it.
F-2 took control of its energies and again forces played, but now they were the forces of the giant machine. The sky darkened with heavy clouds, and a howling wind sprang up that screamed and tore at the tiny rounded hull that was F-2. With difficulty he held his position as the winds tore at him, shrieking in mad laughter, their tearing fingers dragging at him.
The swirl and patter of driven rain came—great drops that tore at the rocks, and at the metal. Great jagged tongues of nature's forces, the lightnings, came and jabbed at the awful volcano of erupting energy that was the center of all that storm. A tiny ball of white-gleaming force that pulsated, and moved, jerking about, jerking at the touch of lightnings, glowing, held immobile in the grasp of titanic force-pools.
For half an hour the display of energies continued. Then, swiftly as it had come, it was gone, and only a small globe of white luminescence floated above the great hulking machine.
F-2 probed it, seeking within it with the reaching fingers of intelligence. His probing thoughts seemed baffled and turned aside, brushed away, as inconsequential. His mind sent an order to the great machine that had made this tiny globe, scarcely a foot in diameter. Then again he sought to reach the thing he had made.
"You, of matter, are inefficient," came at last. "I can exist quite alone." A stabbing beam of blue-white light flashed out, but F-2 was not there, and even as that beam reached out, an enormously greater beam of dull red reached out from the great power plant. The sphere leaped forward—the beam caught it, and it seemed to strain, while terrific flashing energies sprayed from it. It was shrinking swiftly. Its resistance fell, the arcing decreased; the beam became orange and finally green. Then the sphere had vanished.
F-2 returned, and again, the wind whined and howled, and the lightnings crashed, while titanic forces worked and played. C-R-U-1 joined him, floated beside him, and now red glory of the sun was rising behind them, and the ruddy light drove through the clouds.
The forces died, and the howling wind decreased, and now, from the black curtain, Roal and Trest appeared. Above the giant machine floated an irregular globe of golden light, a faint halo about it of deep violet. It floated motionless, a mere pool of pure force.
Into the thought-apparatus of each, man and machine alike, came the impulses, deep in tone, seeming of infinite power, held gently in check.
"Once you failed, F-2; once you came near destroying all things. Now you have planted the seed. I grow now."
The sphere of golden light seemed to pulse, and a tiny ruby flame appeared within it, that waxed and waned, and as it waxed, there shot through each of those watching beings a feeling of rushing, exhilarating power, the very vital force of well-being.
Then it was over, and the golden sphere was twice its former size—easily three feet in diameter, and still that irregular, hazy aura of deep violet floated about it.
"Yes, I can deal with the Outsiders—they who have killed and destroyed, that they might possess. But it is not necessary that we destroy. They shall return to their planet."
And the golden sphere was gone, fast as light it vanished.
Far in space, headed now for Mars, that they might destroy all life there, the golden sphere found the Outsiders, a clustered fleet, that swung slowly about its own center of gravity as it drove on.
Within its ring was the golden sphere. Instantly, they swung their weapons upon it, showering it with all the rays and all the forces they knew. Unmoved, the golden sphere hung steady, then its mighty intelligence spoke.
"Life-form of greed, from another star you came, destroying forever the great race that created us, the Beings of Force and the Beings of Metal. Pure force am I. My Intelligence is beyond your comprehension, my memory is engraved in the very space, the fabric of space of which I am a part, mine is energy drawn from that same fabric.
"We, the heirs of man, alone are left; no man did you leave. Go now to your home planet, for see, your greatest ship, your flagship, is helpless before me."
Forces gripped the mighty ship, and as some fragile toy it twisted and bent, and yet was not hurt. In awful wonder those Outsiders saw the ship turned inside out, and yet it was whole, and no part damaged. They saw the ship restored, and its great screen of blankness out, protecting it from all known rays. The ship twisted, and what they knew were curves, yet were lines, and angles that were acute, were somehow straight lines. Half mad with horror, they saw the sphere send out a beam of blue-white radiance, and it passed easily through that screen, and through the ship, and all energies within it were instantly locked. They could not be changed; it could be neither warmed nor cooled; what was open could not be shut, and what was shut could not be opened. All things were immovable and unchangeable for all time.
"Go, and do not return."
The Outsiders left, going out across the void, and they have not returned, though five Great Years have passed, being a period of approximately one hundred and twenty-five thousand of the lesser years—a measure no longer used, for it is very brief. And now I can say that that statement I made to Roal and Trest so very long ago is true, and what he said was true, for the Last Evolution has taken place, and things of pure force and pure intelligence in their countless millions are on those planets and in this System, and I, first of machines to use the Ultimate Energy of annihilating matter, am also the last, and this record being finished, it is to be given unto the forces of one of those force-intelligences, and carried back through the past, and returned to the Earth of long ago.
And so my task being done, I, F-2, like Roal and Trest, shall follow the others of my kind into eternal oblivion, for my kind is now, and theirs was, poor and inefficient. Time has worn me, and oxidation attacked me, but they of Force are eternal, and omniscient.
This I have treated as fictitious. Better so—for man is an animal to whom hope is as necessary as food and air. Yet this which is made of excerpts from certain records on thin sheets of metal is no fiction, and it seems I must so say.
It seems now, when I know this that is to be, that it must be so, for machines are indeed better than man, whether being of Metal, or being of Force.
So, you who have read, believe as you will. Then think—and maybe, you will change your belief.
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
"The Crazy Man and the Cars"
Jordan S. Bassior
He wasn’t really crazy, of course, and he didn’t want to “abolish” automobiles in the sense of destroying every car in existence and forbidding their further manufacture. He was an supporter of the “car-free” movement, which advocates a return to living in the urban cores, with most intercity passenger transportation being by bus and rail. Another term for this is New Urbanism, and it arose in the early 1980’s.
His basic proposals for automobile abolition included increasing the user fees on cars and reducing the spending on inter-city road maintenance. At the same time, cities would be redesigned to be composed of easily walkable neighborhoods, all within reach of rail and road mass transit allowing movement between neighborhoods, with some allowing movement between cities.
He pointed out, with some accuracy and justice, that this would merely be reversing the government policy of most of the 20th century from around 1920 through 1980, a period in which automobile and oil interests (and popular enthusiasm, though he tended not to want to accept just how popular that enthusiasm had been) deliberately encouraged road-building and maintenance and slighted mass transit. In some cities, automobile companies actually purchased and then scrapped local mass transit systems.
The reasons why his proposals were, nevertheless, poorly conceived are interesting and involve basic principles of the evolution of transport systems as technologies develop, so I decided to give them a detailed discussion.
The Distant Past
The America of around 1920 -- almost a century ago -- while not automobile-free (not only had the rich owned cars for a quarter-century by then, but the Model T and its imitators had over the last decade extended automobile ownership to the ordinary middle classes), was hardly automobile-friendly. Filling stations were few and far between -- one had to purchase large quantities of fuel and carry it as cargo to ensure that one could complete many trips. Outside cities the roads were rarely paved, and were still no wider than required for horse-drawn vehicles (which in turn meant that motorcars had to be built narrow to fit these roads). If one broke down -- a not-uncommon occurrence with primitive cars on bad roads -- good luck finding a garage, anywhere outside a major city.
Highways actually designed for automobiles were just starting to be constructed. By this I mean two-way paved inter-city roads with relatively gradual curves. These were generally only one or two lanes going in each direction, and they were not designed for high-speed travel -- the modern superhighway was not invented until Germany in the 1930's (in the form of the autobahn) and such roads were not constructed in America until the 1950's.
Consequently, cars were for cities and their vicinities -- driving between two cities was an adventure, and certainly not something one could do as a regular commute. Most passenger commuting, as well as longer-distance passenger travel, was by rail or (sometimes) motor bus. Inter-city motor buses were especially common in coastal New England, where towns were closely packed (yes, just as in A Shadow Over Innsmouth, though hopefully most of the busses were not quite so creepy). Rural people often still relied on horse-drawn transportation, though the Model T was beginning to become popular among the better-off farm folk.
The Recent Past
As we all know, that changed over the quarter-century from 1920 to 1945. Cars became better, cheaper and more reliable; roads were improved and filling stations and garages (often the same establishments) proliferated. This accelerated after 1945, when a whole generation of veterans used to driving, maintaining and depending upon motor vehicles for their very lives came home. At the same time, the immense industrial establishment that had become used to supplying motor vehicles to the whole Free World (and, thanks to Lend-Lease, some of the Communist World as well) was freed for civilian production.
The end of the Depression meant lots of money in the hands of those veterans to purchase new cars. The older cars -- the "jalopies" -- became available for teenagers and other less-than-well-off folk to own and operate. Almost everyone was driving, or being driven by male relatives (it was still seen by the older generation as just a bit daring for a woman to drive herself, though it was also seen as very fashionable). All these drivers meant plenty of political support for Eisenhower's plan to build a strategic road network that would unite America (and possibly the hemisphere) for both military and commercial purposes.
The result was the Interstate Highway System, not really completed until the 1970's, which serves America much as the famous Roman roads served the Roman Empire. This is the world we were all born to, in which automobile ownership and operation is seen as normal, and the lack of car or license is seen as an unfortunate handicap.
This has given us a tremendously wealthy and mobile civilization. Our excellent roads allow all manner of goods to be transported to every corner of the country, even hundreds of miles from a major city, at very little added cost. People are no longer trapped in the towns of their birth: they can move to any place their talents will be be appreciated, or make daily commutes of 50 miles or more, resulting in a far more efficient deployment of human capital. If we wish, purely for our own enjoyment, to travel a thousand or more miles, it's merely a matter of finding the time for a vacation. Thanks to a system of State Highway Patrols, we need not fear attacks by brigands, or dying alone from thirst or starvation while awaiting rescue from a breakdown.
We take this all entirely for granted: we fail to realize just how rare and wonderful this is in human history. This is human nature.
But this does begin to outline the problem. Any car-free, new urbanist future would have to provide us with such benefits by some other means, or it would never become popular enough to be adopted and maintained as policy.
In fact, why would anyone want to get rid of automobiles?
The Problems With Cars
One would, because cars also impose costs on our society. The most obvious cost is fuel expenditure: travel by automobile is far less efficient, whether measured in terms of the use of fuel or the amount of energy, than is travel by train or even (in most cases) by motor bus. This is because of diseconomies of small scale: a motor bus bearing thirty passengers does not expend 20-10 times as much fuel as an automobile with 1-2 passengers: its large engine is more efficient than the car’s smaller one, measured in costs per ton-mile. Trains, when properly laden, are far more efficient than even trucks or motor-busses.
A related expense is air pollution. This takes many forms, ranging from the local to the global, and includes smog, sulfuric acid vapor, and carbon dioxide. Because cars burn more fuel per ton-mile than do busses, trucks and trains, they create more pollution for the same amount of transportation.
Last but not least, cars are hostile to human life. They directly require large surfaces to be devoted to road networks, which may be crossed by humans only at some hazard. Because the average level of competence of the typical automobile operator is far below that of the typical bus or truck driver, they produce large numbers of accidents: in America, some tens of thousands of persons die in automobile accidents every year, and hundreds of thousands are seriously injured.
So what’s wrong with the crazy man’s solution?
The Problems With Getting Rid of Cars
Cars are far more convenient than mass transit, especially outside of densely-inhabited cities. This is because they move at the whim of their operators, not the whim of central planners who must plan for the average and overall convenience of the population, rather than what you want to do right now.
Most obviously, mass transit only runs where the planners want people to go, not where you want to go. If your trip lies along the central axis of travel from a suburb into a city, it is easy to find a bus that goes there: unless one lives in a very large city with a complex (grid-like) mass transit system, you will find it much more difficult to get from one suburb to another suburb at the same distance from the city core. If the mass transit system doesn’t serve your neighborhood, you may have to walk a mile or more to catch any bus.
Also, mass transit only runs as frequently as required to fill its vehicles: if a motor bus runs with just a few passengers, it is far less efficient than a car, because it still has to burn fuel to move its much greater weight down the road. What this means is that if the central planner has decided that the peak demand hours are between 8-10 in the morning and 4-6 at night, busses may be few and far between if you happen to have an unusual schedule, or simply want to do something at an unusual time.
Additionally, it is far from easy to carry cargo on a mass transit vehicle, especially a crowded mass transit vehicle. If you own a car, you also effectively have a small truck to carry cargo, such as purchased furniture or groceries for a large family. Good luck getting this sort of stuff on a bus or train – it can be done, but it is hardly convenient.
Finally, people dependent on mass transit are vulnerable to the failure of the mass transit system, which is especially likely to happen in an emergency (bus and train crews want to save themselves too, you know). People who owned cars and heeded the warnings ahead of time were able to get out of New Orleans before Katrina hit; people who didn’t have cars and depended on mass transit were trapped: in many cases they paid for their dependence on mass transit with their lives. How would you like to try to get out of a city under attack, by means of mass transit?
The Economics of Substitition
What all this means is that people will still, very much, want to own cars, even if New Urbanists want to keep them from owning them. They will pay the extra fees to keep at least one car in operation, as long as they can afford to do so (which gets into another point, namely that any such price mechanism will necessarily bite most deeply on the poor, who won’t be able to afford an automobile under such a system).
And if the roads are allowed to decline? Surely, then, they won’t be able to drive, now will they?
Depends on what one means by “allowed to decline.” If the roads were sown with dragons-teeth tank traps and bridges broken and maybe minefields laid, then it’s correct to say that they wouldn’t be able to drive. Now, do you think that any even remotely sane state or municipality would do anything of that sort?
If all that happens is that Federal and perhaps many State authorities stop spending to MAINTAIN the roads, then what will happen is that potholes will accumulate, some bridges may be closed as unsafe, and so forth. (Incidentally, permanently closing bridges would be very politically unpopular, and in many cases would also endanger rail connections, so I don’t think that this would happen all that much).
But certainly one couldn’t drive on bad roads, now could one?
Of course one can! Remember the 1920’s? Successful cars back then had large wheels, high suspensions and tough axles, precisely because they often had to drive on muddy dirty roads or pothole-marred paved ones. The Jeeps and other trucks that the Greatest Generation grew used to driving overseas had to make their way over roads that had been shelled (and occasionally had been sown with mines and tank traps).
The common feature of rural Model T’s and Jeeps and such like is that they were more or less all terrain vehicles. Like SUV’s, which are modeled after the Hummers which were the US Army’s replacement for the World War II Jeeps.
If the roads were allowed to decline, what would happen is that those who could afford it would simply purchase heavy-duty SUV’s and other ATV’s. And keep on driving.
While the poor, who couldn’t afford it, would curse the policy of the New Urbanists. And, most likely, vote them out of office.
The solutions, as always, to the problems caused by present-day automobile technology lies in technological progress, not regress.
Do cars waste energy, and fuel? Then produce more energy, and fuel. Build nuclear and solar power plants, and run cars off advanced fuel cells so that they do not deplete fossil fuels. (This also, of course, would render them far less polluting).
Are cars dangerous to their occupants and pedestrians alike? Build safer cars, with crash-resistant and energy-absorbent features to protect the occupants (this is, of course, exactly what actually happened from the 1980’s to 2000’s, to the point where modern cars would plow right through 1950’s cars in head-on collisions). Improve their control systems, eventually to the point that computers rather than fallible humans do the actual driving (this has already been tested on a limited scale and is due to – literally – hit the roads in the next few years).
Do road systems use up too much ground space? In the longer run – over decades – we will see the multiplication of personal air vehicles – “aircars” – so that the roads will once again belong mostly to cargo vehicles. (If you look at light airplane and helicopter ownership from 1945 to the present, you’ll see that this has already started: when the autopilots get good enough that an aircar operator need not be a trained pilot any more, you’ll see this spread just as auto ownership did in the 1910’s and 1920’s).
So we go forward rather than backward. And bid adieu to the crazy man I knew, who will alas never see his dream triumph.
“The Enemy of All The World”
It was Silas Bannerman who finally ran down that scientific wizard and arch-enemy of mankind, Emil Gluck. Gluck's confession, before he went to the electric chair, threw much light upon the series of mysterious events, many apparently unrelated, that so perturbed the world between the years 1933 and 1941. It was not until that remarkable document was made public that the world dreamed of there being any connection between the assassination of the King and Queen of Portugal and the murders of the
In 1901, the boy, Emil, then six years of age, went to live with his aunt, Mrs. Ann Bartell. She was his mother's sister, but in her breast was no kindly feeling for the sensitive, shrinking boy. Ann Bartell was a vain, shallow, and heartless woman. Also, she was cursed with poverty and burdened with a husband who was a lazy, erratic ne'er-do-well. Young Emil Gluck was not wanted, and Ann Bartell could be trusted to impress this fact sufficiently upon him. As an illustration of the treatment he received in that early, formative period, the following instance is given.
When he had been living in the Bartell home a little more than a year, he broke his leg. He sustained the injury through playing on the forbidden roof - as all boys have done and will continue to do to the end of time. The leg was broken in two places between the knee and thigh. Emil, helped by his frightened playmates, managed to drag himself to the front sidewalk, where he fainted. The children of the neighbourhood were afraid of the hard-featured shrew who presided over the Bartell house; but, summoning their resolution, they rang the bell and told Ann Bartell of the accident. She did not even look at the little lad who lay stricken on the sidewalk, but slammed the door and went back to her wash- tub. The time passed. A drizzle came on, and Emil Gluck, out of his faint, lay sobbing in the rain. The leg should have been set immediately. As it was, the inflammation rose rapidly and made a nasty case of it. At the end of two hours, the indignant women of the neighbourhood protested to Ann Bartell. This time she came out and looked at the lad. Also she kicked him in the side as he lay helpless at her feet, and she hysterically disowned him. He was not her child, she said, and recommended that the ambulance be called to take him to the city receiving hospital. Then she went back into the house.
It was a woman, Elizabeth Shepstone, who came along, learned the situation, and had the boy placed on a shutter. It was she who called the doctor, and who, brushing aside Ann Bartell, had the boy carried into the house. When the doctor arrived, Ann Bartell promptly warned him that she would not pay him for his services. For two months the little Emil lay in bed, the first month on his back without once being turned over; and he lay neglected and alone, save for the occasional visits of the unremunerated and over-worked physician. He had no toys, nothing with which to beguile the long and tedious hours. No kind word was spoken to him, no soothing hand laid upon his brow, no single touch or act of loving tenderness - naught but the reproaches and harshness of Ann Bartell, and the continually reiterated information that he was not wanted. And it can well be understood, in such environment, how there was generated in the lonely, neglected boy much of the bitterness and hostility for his kind that later was to express itself in deeds so frightful as to terrify the world.
It would seem strange that, from the hands of Ann Bartell, Emil Gluck should have received a college education; but the explanation is simple. Her ne'er-do-well husband, deserting her, made a strike in the
He was a remarkable student. Application such as his would have taken him far; but he did not need application. A glance at a text meant mastery for him. The result was that he did an immense amount of collateral reading and acquired more in half a year than did the average student in half-a-dozen years. In 1909, barely fourteen years of age, he was ready - "more than ready" the headmaster of the academy said - to enter Yale or Harvard. His juvenility prevented him from entering those universities, and so, in 1909, we find him a freshman at historic
The following year, at twenty years of age, Emil Gluck was enrolled as an instructor of chemistry in the
***He was twenty-seven years old when he first sprang into prominence in the newspapers through the publication of his book, SEX AND PROGRESS. The book remains to-day a milestone in the history and philosophy of marriage. It is a heavy tome of over seven hundred pages, painfully careful and accurate, and startlingly original. It was a book for scientists, and not one calculated to make a stir. But Gluck, in the last chapter, using barely three lines for it, mentioned the hypothetical desirability of trial marriages. At once the newspapers seized these three lines, "played them up yellow," as the slang was in those days, and set the whole world laughing at Emil Gluck, the bespectacled young professor of twenty- seven. Photographers snapped him, he was besieged by reporters, women's clubs throughout the land passed resolutions condemning him and his immoral theories; and on the floor of the California Assembly, while discussing the state appropriation to the University, a motion demanding the expulsion of Gluck was made under threat of withholding the appropriation - of course, none of his persecutors had read the book; the twisted newspaper version of only three lines of it was enough for them. Here began Emil Gluck's hatred for newspaper men. By them his serious and intrinsically valuable work of six years had been made a laughing- stock and a notoriety. To his dying day, and to their everlasting regret, he never forgave them.
It was the newspapers that were responsible for the next disaster that befell him. For the five years following the publication of his book he had remained silent, and silence for a lonely man is not good. One can conjecture sympathetically the awful solitude of Emil Gluck in that populous University; for he was without friends and without sympathy. His only recourse was books, and he went on reading and studying enormously. But in 1927 he accepted an invitation to appear before the Human Interest Society of Emeryville. He did not trust himself to speak, and as we write we have before us a copy of his learned paper. It is sober, scholarly, and scientific, and, it must also be added, conservative. But in one place he dealt with, and I quote his words, "the industrial and social revolution that is taking place in society." A reporter present seized upon the word "revolution," divorced it from the text, and wrote a garbled account that made Emil Gluck appear an anarchist. At once, "Professor Gluck, anarchist," flamed over the wires and was appropriately "featured" in all the newspapers in the land.
He had attempted to reply to the previous newspaper attack, but now he remained silent. Bitterness had already corroded his soul. The University faculty appealed to him to defend himself, but he sullenly declined, even refusing to enter in defence a copy of his paper to save himself from expulsion. He refused to resign, and was discharged from the University faculty. It must be added that political pressure had been put upon the University Regents and the President.
Persecuted, maligned, and misunderstood, the forlorn and lonely man made no attempt at retaliation. All his life he had been sinned against, and all his life he had sinned against no one. But his cup of bitterness was not yet full to overflowing. Having lost his position, and being without any income, he had to find work. His first place was at the Union Iron Works, in
He started his electroplating establishment early in the spring of 1928, and it was in the same year that he formed the disastrous love attachment for Irene Tackley. Now it is not to be imagined that an extraordinary creature such as Emil Gluck could be any other than an extraordinary lover. In addition to his genius, his loneliness, and his morbidness, it must be taken into consideration that he knew nothing about women. Whatever tides of desire flooded his being, he was unschooled in the conventional expression of them; while his excessive timidity was bound to make his love- making unusual. Irene Tackley was a rather pretty young woman, but shallow and light-headed. At the time she worked in a small candy store across the street from Gluck's shop. He used to come in and drink ice-cream sodas and lemon-squashes, and stare at her. It seems the girl did not care for him, and merely played with him. He was "queer," she said; and at another time she called him a crank when describing how he sat at the counter and peered at her through his spectacles, blushing and stammering when she took notice of him, and often leaving the shop in precipitate confusion.
Gluck made her the most amazing presents - a silver tea-service, a diamond ring, a set of furs, opera-glasses, a ponderous HISTORY OF THE WORLD in many volumes, and a motor-cycle all silver-plated in his own shop. Enters now the girl's lover, putting his foot down, showing great anger, compelling her to return Gluck's strange assortment of presents. This man, William Sherbourne, was a gross and stolid creature, a heavy-jawed man of the working class who had become a successful building-contractor in a small way. Gluck did not understand. He tried to get an explanation, attempting to speak with the girl when she went home from work in the evening. She complained to Sherbourne, and one night he gave Gluck a beating. It was a very severe beating, for it is on the records of the Red Cross Emergency Hospital that Gluck was treated there that night and was unable to leave the hospital for a week.
Still Gluck did not understand. He continued to seek an explanation from the girl. In fear of Sherbourne, he applied to the Chief of Police for permission to carry a revolver, which permission was refused, the newspapers as usual playing it up sensationally. Then came the murder of Irene Tackley, six days before her contemplated marriage with Sherbourne. It was on a Saturday night. She had worked late in the candy store, departing after eleven o'clock with her week's wages in her purse. She rode on a
Emil Gluck was immediately arrested. Nothing that he could do could save him. He was convicted, not merely on circumstantial evidence, but on evidence "cooked up" by the
Gluck entered San Quentin prison on April 17, 1929. He was then thirty-four years of age. And for three years and a half, much of the time in solitary confinement, he was left to meditate upon the injustice of man. It was during that period that his bitterness corroded home and he became a hater of all his kind. Three other things he did during the same period: he wrote his famous treatise, HUMAN MORALS, his remarkable brochure, THE CRIMINAL SANE, and he worked out his awful and monstrous scheme of revenge. It was an episode that had occurred in his electroplating establishment that suggested to him his unique weapon of revenge. As stated in his confession, he worked every detail out theoretically during his imprisonment, and was able, on his release, immediately to embark on his career of vengeance.
His release was sensational. Also it was miserably and criminally delayed by the soulless legal red tape then in vogue. On the night of February 1, 1932, Tim Haswell, a hold-up man, was shot during an attempted robbery by a citizen of
He came back to the world in the fall of 1932, as usual a "feature" topic in all the newspapers. The papers, instead of expressing heartfelt regret, continued their old sensational persecution. One paper did more - the SAN FRANCISCO INTELLIGENCER. John Hartwell, its editor, elaborated an ingenious theory that got around the confessions of the two criminals and went to show that Gluck was responsible, after all, for the murder of Irene Tackley. Hartwell died. And Sherbourne died too, while Policeman Phillipps was shot in the leg and discharged from the
The murder of Hartwell was long a mystery. He was alone in his editorial office at the time. The reports of the revolver were heard by the office boy, who rushed in to find Hartwell expiring in his chair. What puzzled the police was the fact, not merely that he had been shot with his own revolver, but that the revolver had been exploded in the drawer of his desk. The bullets had torn through the front of the drawer and entered his body. The police scouted the theory of suicide, murder was dismissed as absurd, and the blame was thrown upon the Eureka Smokeless Cartridge Company. Spontaneous explosion was the police explanation, and the chemists of the cartridge company were well bullied at the inquest. But what the police did not know was that across the street, in the
At the time, no connection was made between Hartwell's death and the death of William Sherbourne. Sherbourne had continued to live in the home he had built for Irene Tackley, and one morning in January, 1933, he was found dead. Suicide was the verdict of the coroner's inquest, for he had been shot by his own revolver. The curious thing that happened that night was the shooting of Policeman Phillipps on the sidewalk in front of Sherbourne's house. The policeman crawled to a police telephone on the corner and rang up for an ambulance. He claimed that some one had shot him from behind in the leg. The leg in question was so badly shattered by three '38 calibre bullets that amputation was necessary. But when the police discovered that the damage had been done by his own revolver, a great laugh went up, and he was charged with having been drunk. In spite of his denial of having touched a drop, and of his persistent assertion that the revolver had been in his hip pocket and that he had not laid a finger to it, he was discharged from the force. Emil Gluck's confession, six years later, cleared the unfortunate policeman of disgrace, and he is alive to-day and in good health, the recipient of a handsome pension from the city.
Emil Gluck, having disposed of his immediate enemies, now sought a wider field, though his enmity for newspaper men and for the police remained always active. The royalties on his ignition device for gasoline-engines had mounted up while he lay in prison, and year by year the earning power of his invention increased. He was independent, able to travel wherever he willed over the earth and to glut his monstrous appetite for revenge. He had become a monomaniac and an anarchist - not a philosophic anarchist, merely, but a violent anarchist. Perhaps the word is misused, and he is better described as a nihilist, or an annihilist. It is known that he affiliated with none of the groups of terrorists. He operated wholly alone, but he created a thousandfold more terror and achieved a thousandfold more destruction than all the terrorist groups added together.
He signalised his departure from
Perhaps the most world-amazing achievement of his was the assassination of the King and Queen of
One puzzling thing that could not be explained away was the conduct of the troopers with their exploding rifles. It seemed impossible that they should be in the plot, yet there were the hundreds their flying bullets had slain, including the King and Queen. On the other hand, more baffling than ever was the fact that seventy per cent. of the troopers themselves had been killed or wounded. Some explained this on the ground that the loyal foot-soldiers, witnessing the attack on the royal carriage, had opened fire on the traitors. Yet not one bit of evidence to verify this could be drawn from the survivors, though many were put to the torture. They contended stubbornly that they had not discharged their rifles at all, but that their rifles had discharged themselves. They were laughed at by the chemists, who held that, while it was just barely probable that a single cartridge, charged with the new smokeless powder, might spontaneously explode, it was beyond all probability and possibility for all the cartridges in a given area, so charged, spontaneously to explode. And so, in the end, no explanation of the amazing occurrence was reached. The general opinion of the rest of the world was that the whole affair was a blind panic of the feverish Latins, precipitated, it was true, by the bursting of two terrorist bombs; and in this connection was recalled the laughable encounter of long years before between the Russian fleet and the English fishing boats.
And Emil Gluck chuckled and went his way. He knew. But how was the world to know? He had stumbled upon the secret in his old electroplating shop on
Gluck thought no more about it at the time. He merely re-wired his vat and went on electroplating. But afterwards, in prison, he remembered the incident, and like a flash there came into his mind the full significance of it. He saw in it the silent, secret weapon with which to revenge himself on the world. His great discovery, which died with him, was control over the direction and scope of the electric discharge. At the time, this was the unsolved problem of wireless telegraphy - as it still is to-day - but Emil Gluck, in his prison cell, mastered it. And, when he was released, he applied it. It was fairly simple, given the directing power that was his, to introduce a spark into the powder-magazines of a fort, a battleship, or a revolver. And not alone could he thus explode powder at a distance, but he could ignite conflagrations. The great
It was Emil Gluck that caused the terrible German-American War, with the loss of 800,000 lives and the consumption of almost incalculable treasure. It will be remembered that in 1939, because of the Pickard incident, strained relations existed between the two countries.
In the meanwhile Emil Gluck, the malevolent wizard and arch-hater, travelled his whirlwind path of destruction. He left no traces. Scientifically thorough, he always cleaned up after himself. His method was to rent a room or a house, and secretly to install his apparatus - which apparatus, by the way, he so perfected and simplified that it occupied little space. After he had accomplished his purpose he carefully removed the apparatus. He bade fair to live out a long life of horrible crime.
The epidemic of shooting of
It was in the early spring of 1940 that Gluck destroyed the
It was a frightful catastrophe, and a shiver of horror passed through the land. But it was nothing to what was to follow. In the late fall of that year Emil Gluck made a clean sweep of the Atlantic seaboard from
And then Silas Bannerman, a secret service agent of the
The rest was easy. Where was Gluck at the time of the destruction along the Atlantic sea-board? was the question that formed in Bannerman's mind. By his own request he was put upon the case. In no time he ascertained that Gluck had himself been up and down the
The case was complete in Bannerman's mind, though in the interval of waiting he worked up the details. In this he was ably assisted by George Brown, an operator employed by the Wood's System of Wireless Telegraphy. When the Plutonic arrived off
Culled from Mr. A. G. Burnside's "Eccentricitics of Crime," by kind permission of the publishers, Messrs. Holiday and Whitsund.