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Jan 2, 2017

Thrilling

New cover from old. Original cover
art by Edmund Emshwiller (1955),
Earle Bergey (1950) and see this.
Before today, the only story published in Thrilling Wonder Stories that I had read was "New Bodies for Old" by Jack Vance.

The Man Who Evolved
Evolution
Today I went back to April 1937 and read "A Million Years Ahead" by Edmond Hamilton.

It is fun to imagine the influence that such stories had on the young Isaac Asimov.

Related reading: "Cosmic Quest"
See also: "The Man Who Evolved"
and "Ten Million Years Ahead"

Future man!
Thankfully, "A Million Years Ahead" is short. Like many superscience adventure stories, we are "treated" to a brilliant scientist who has devised a fantastic new device in the back room of his house. Ross Sherill is a biologist, but he has created an electronic device of great power, a cosmic ray projector that can accelerate human evolution.

Lucky for Ross and the entire hapless human species, the cosmic ray projector has two modes, one of which can magically de-evolve an organism. This becomes important, because Ross soon discovers that our human descendants of a million years in our future will be telepathic supermen, able to exert hypnotic mind control.

In the Ekcolir Reality. Original
cover art by Howard V. Brown
and Lawrence Stevens and see this.
Hamilton's description of how such a superman from the far future can exercise telepathic mind control involves "glowing eyes" and reads rather like the account Asimov would later give for how the mutant Mule in his Foundation Saga was able to control the behavior of normal humans.

Audacity
In 1936, Max Delbrück published a note in Nature about the role of cosmic rays in causing mutations. In 1937, experiments were reported concerning mutations in fruit flies caused by cosmic rays. As early as 1934 it had been suggested that cosmic rays are mostly nuclei from exploding stars.

interior art by Frank Paul
I marvel at the audacity of Hamilton to imagine a machine that could bombard a human being with cosmic rays, first driving the person to evolve at an accelerated rate and then, upon bombardment with a second type of cosmic ray (antimatter?) de-evolve back to their original form. A biologist never would have suggested such a thing since most mutations are damaging. Evolution requires mutation AND selection. Hamilton certainly did not care that his story was scientific nonsense, nor did his readers.

Big brains, like cosmic
rays were "in the air".
For me, the interesting issue is this: if humanoid life forms could have evolved far beyond the level of we humans, what biological features might such highly evolved space aliens display? Sure, it is fun to imagine telepathic people, but could telepathy actually evolve by mutation and natural selection?

In the 1930s, bigger was better. For the Exode Saga, I have the luxury of imaging "small brains" and the transmission of telepathic signals by means of imaginary hierions.

Next: The Moon Woman
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