Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Scientifiction: Whispering Ether

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Here's the story from the March 1920 issue of Electrical Experimenter that I mentioned when I covered the issue in the last Four-Score Wednesday. It appeared on the newsstand 90 years ago last Monday (the 15th).

I seem to keep quoting Mike Ashley's The Gernsback Days, but what can I say, it's indispensable.

One of Gernsback's writers who started to corner this field [of scientific detective stories] was Charles S. Wolfe. Wolfe had been a contributor for a number of years, but it was not until the March 1920 Electrical Experimenter that he hit his stride. In "Whispering Ether," a safecracker, trying to steal Professor Proctor's explosives formula, is caught in the act by Proctor who has also invented a thought-reading machine. It's a short, effective story, marred as fiction only by the necessary explanation of how the device works.

It's interesting Ashley should say that, because before I looked this passage up, I was going to begin by saying that in this story, Wolfe comes up with an ingenious, unique explanation for thought transmission, although it really falls apart upon the slightest reflection. It's an amusing story, though.

Incidentally, this story has something to recommend it right now as a Sunday Scientifiction besides its anniversary. It's another story with a World War I connection. Which gives me yet another opportunity to mention our new edition of the 1919 novel Between Worlds, appearing in a book for the first time since 1929, and for the first time ever as a book in its complete text. The novel ties its story of Venusian travelers to Earth into several then-recent events from the war and its aftermath, as "Whispering Ether" ties into the war's prelude.

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