Star Maker, by Olaf Stapledon

Chapter 3

The Other Earth

1. On the Other Earth

AS I slowly descended toward the surface of the little planet, I found myself searching for a land which promised to be like England. But no sooner did I realize what I was doing than I reminded myself that conditions here would be entirely different from terrestrial conditions, and that it was very unlikely that I should find intelligent beings at all. If such beings existed, they would probably be quite incomprehensible to me. Perhaps they would be huge spiders or creeping jellies. How could I hope ever to make contact with such monsters?

After circling about at random for some time over the filmy clouds and the forests, over the dappled plains and prairies and the dazzling stretches of desert, I selected a maritime country in the temperate zone, a brilliantly green peninsula. When I had descended almost to the ground, I was amazed at the verdure of the country-side. Here unmistakably was vegetation, similar to ours in essential character, but quite unfamiliar in detail. The fat, or even bulbous, leaves reminded me of our desert-flora, but here the stems were lean and wiry. Perhaps the most striking character of this vegetation was its color, which was a vivid blue-green, like the color of vineyards that have been treated with copper salts. I was to discover later that the plants of this world had indeed learnt to protect themselves by means of copper sulphate from the microbes and the insect-like pests which formerly devastated this rather dry planet.

I skimmed over a brilliant prairie scattered with Prussian blue bushes. The sky also attained a depth of blue quite unknown on earth, save at great altitudes. There were a few low yet cirrus clouds, whose feathery character I took to be due to the tenuousness of the atmosphere. This was borne out by the fact that, though my descent had taken place in the forenoon of a summer’s day, several stars managed to pierce the almost nocturnal sky. All exposed surfaces were very intensely illuminated. The shadows of the nearer bushes were nearly black. Some distant objects, rather like buildings, but probably mere rocks, appeared to be blocked out in ebony and snow. Altogether the landscape was one of unearthly and fantastical beauty.

I glided with wingless flight over the surface of the planet, through glades, across tracts of fractured rock, along the banks of streams. Presently I came to a wide region covered by neat, parallel rows of fern-like plants, bearing masses of nuts on the lower surfaces of their leaves. It was almost impossible to believe that this vegetable regimentation had not been intelligently planned. Or could it after all be merely a natural phenomenon not known on my own planet? Such was my surprise that my power of locomotion, always subject to emotional interference, now began to fail me. I reeled in the air like a drunk man. Pulling myself together, I staggered on over the ranked crops toward a rather large object which lay some distance from me beside a strip of bare ground. Presently, to my amazement, my stupefaction, this object revealed itself as a plow. It was rather a queer instrument, but there was no mistaking the shape of the blade, which was rusty, and obviously made of iron. There were two iron handles, and chains for attachment to a beast of burden. It was difficult to believe that I was many light-years distant from England. Looking round, I saw an unmistakable cart track, and a bit of dirty ragged cloth hanging on a bush. Yet overhead was the unearthly sky, full noon with stars.

I followed the lane through a little wood of queer bushes, whose large fat drooping leaves had cherry-like fruits along their edges. Suddenly, round a bend in the lane, I came upon a man. Or so at first he seemed to my astounded and star-weary sight. I should not have been so surprised by the strangely human character of this creature had I at this early stage understood the forces that controlled my adventure. Influences which I shall later describe doomed me to discover first such worlds as were most akin to my own. Meanwhile the reader may well conceive my amazement at this strange encounter. I had always supposed that man was a unique being. An inconceivably complex conjunction of circumstances had produced him, and it was not to be supposed that such conditions would be repeated anywhere in the universe. Yet here, on the very first globe to be explored, was an obvious peasant. Approaching him, I saw that he was not quite so like terrestrial man as he seemed at a distance; but he was a man for all that. Had God, then, peopled the whole universe with our kind? Did he perhaps in very truth make us in his image? It was incredible. To ask such questions proved that I had lost my mental balance.

As I was a mere disembodied view-point, I was able to observe without being observed. I floated about him as he strode along the lane. He was an erect biped and in general plan definitely human. I had no means of judging his height, but he must have been approximately of normal terrestrial stature, or at least not smaller than a pigmy and not taller than a giant. He was of slender build. His legs were almost like a bird’s, and enclosed in rough narrow trousers. Above the waist he was naked, displaying a disproportionately large thorax, shaggy with greenish hair. He had two short but powerful arms, and huge shoulder muscles. His skin was dark and ruddy, and dusted plentifully with bright green down. All his contours were uncouth, for the details of muscles, sinews and joints were very plainly different from our own. His neck was curiously long and supple. His head I can best describe by saying that most of the brain-pan, covered with a green thatch, seemed to have slipped backwards and downwards over the nape. His two very human eyes peered from under the eaves of hair. An oddly projecting, almost spout-like mouth made him look as though he were whistling. Between the eyes, and rather above them, was a pair of great equine nostrils which were constantly in motion. The bridge of the nose was represented by an elevation in the thatch, reaching from the nostrils backwards over the top of the head. There were no visible ears. I discovered later that the auditory organs opened into the nostrils.

Clearly, although evolution on this Earth-like planet must have taken a course on the whole surprisingly like that which had produced my own kind, there must also have been many divergencies.

The stranger wore not only boots but gloves, seemingly of tough leather. His boots were extremely short. I was to discover later that the feet of this race, the “Other Men,” as I called them, were rather like the feet of an ostrich or a camel. The instep consisted of three great toes grown together. In place of the heel there was an additional broad, stumpy toe. The hands were without palms. Each was a bunch of three gristly fingers and a thumb.

The aim of this book is not to tell of my own adventures but to give some idea of the worlds which I visited. I shall therefore not recount in detail how I established myself among the Other Men. Of myself it is enough to say a few words. When I had studied this agriculturalist for a while, I began to be strangely oppressed by his complete unawareness, of myself. With painful clearness I realized that the purpose of my pilgrimage was not merely scientific observation, but also the need to effect some kind of mental and spiritual traffic with other worlds, for mutual enrichment and community. How should I ever be able to achieve this end unless I could find some means of communication? It was not until I had followed my companion to his home, and had spent many days in that little circular stone house with roof of mudded wicker, that I discovered the power of entering into his mind, of seeing through his eyes, sensing through all his sense organs, perceiving his world just as he perceived it, and following much of his thought and his emotional life. Not till very much later, when I had passively “inhabited” many individuals of the race, did I discover how to make my presence known, and even to converse inwardly with my host.

This kind of internal “telepathic” intercourse, which was to serve me in all my wanderings, was at first difficult, ineffective, and painful. But in time I came to be able to live through the experiences of my host with vividness and accuracy, while yet preserving my own individuality, my own critical intelligence, my own desires and fears. Only when the other had come to realize my presence within him could he, by a special act of volition, keep particular thoughts secret from me.

It can well be understood that at first I found these alien minds quite unintelligible. Their very sensations differed from my familiar sensations in important respects. Their thoughts and all their emotions and sentiments were strange to me. The traditional groundwork of these minds, their most familiar concepts, were derived from a strange history, and expressed in languages which to the terrestrial mind were subtly misleading.

I spent on the Other Earth many “other years,” wandering from mind to mind and country to country, but I did not gain any clear understanding of the psychology of the Other Men and the significance of their history till I had encountered one of their philosophers, an aging but still vigorous man whose eccentric and unpalatable views had prevented him from attaining eminence. Most of my hosts, when they became aware of ‘my presence within them, regarded me either as an evil spirit or as a divine messenger. The more sophisticated, however, assumed that I was a mere disease, a symptom of insanity in themselves. They therefore promptly applied to the local “Mental Sanitation Officer.” After I had spent, according to the local calendar, a year or so of bitter loneliness among minds who refused to treat me as a human being, I had the good fortune to come under the philosopher’s notice. One of my hosts, who complained of suffering from “voices,” and visions of “another world,” appealed to the old man for help. Bvalltu, for such approximately was the philosopher’s name, the “11” being pronounced more or less as in Welsh, Bvalltu effected a “cure” by merely inviting me to accept the hospitality of his own mind, where, he said, he would very gladly entertain me. It was with extravagant joy that I made contact at last with a being who recognized in me a human personality.

2. A Busy World

So many important characteristics of this world-society need to be described that I cannot spend much time on the more obvious features of the planet and its race. Civilization had reached a stage of growth much like that which was familiar to me. I was constantly surprised by the blend of similarity and difference. Traveling over the planet I found that cultivation had spread over most of the suitable areas, and that industrialism was already far advanced in many countries. On the prairies huge flocks of mammal-like creatures grazed and scampered. Larger mammals, or quasi-mammals, were farmed on all the best pasture land for food and leather. I say “quasi-mammal” because, though these creatures were viviparous, they did not suckle. The chewed cud, chemically treated in the maternal belly, was spat into the offspring’s mouth as a jet of predigested fluid. It was thus also that human mothers fed their young.

The most important means of locomotion on the Other Earth was the steam-train, but trains in this world were so bulky that they looked like whole terraces of houses on the move. This remarkable railway development was probably due to the great number and length of journeys across deserts. Occasionally I traveled on steam-ships on the few and small oceans, but marine transport was on the whole backward. The screw propeller was unknown, its place being taken by paddle wheels. Internal-combustion engines were used in road and desert transport. Flying, owing to the rarified atmosphere, had not been achieved; but rocket-propulsion was already used for long-distance transport of mails, and for long-range bombardment in war. Its application to aeronautics might come any day.

My first visit to the metropolis of one of the great empires of the Other Earth was an outstanding experience. Everything was at once so strange and so familiar. There were streets and many-windowed stores and offices. In this old city the streets were narrow, and so congested was the motor traffic that pedestrians were accommodated on special elevated tracks slung beside the first-story windows and across the streets.

The crowds that streamed along these footpaths were as variegated as our own. The men wore cloth tunics, and trousers surprisingly like the trousers of Europe, save that the crease affected by the respectable was at the side of the leg. The women, breastless and high-nostriled like the men, were to be distinguished by their more tubular lips, whose biological function it was to project food for the infant. In place of skirts they disported green and glossy silk tights and little gawdy knickers. To my unaccustomed vision the effect was inexpressibly vulgar. In summer both sexes often appeared in the streets naked to the waist; but they always wore gloves.

Here, then, was a host of persons who, in spite of their oddity, were as essentially human as Londoners. They went about their private affairs with complete assurance, ignorant that a spectator from another world found them one and all grotesque, with their lack of forehead, their great elevated quivering nostrils, their startlingly human eyes, their spout-like mouths. There they were, alive and busy, shopping, staring, talking. Children dragged at their mothers’ hands. Old men with white facial hair bowed over walking-stocks. Young men eyed young women. The prosperous were easily to be distinguished from the unfortunate by their newer and richer clothes, their confident and sometimes arrogant carriage.

How can I describe in a few pages the distinctive character of a whole teeming and storied world, so different from my own, yet so similar? Here, as on my own planet, infants were being born every hour. Here, as there, they clamored for food, and very soon for companionship. They discovered what pain was, and what fear, and what loneliness, and love. They grew up, molded by the harsh or kindly pressure of their fellows, to be either well nurtured, generous, sound, or mentally crippled, bitter, unwittingly vindictive. One and all they desperately craved the bliss of true community; and very few, fewer here, perhaps, than in my own world, found more than the vanishing flavor of it. They howled with the pack and hounded with the pack. Starved both physically and mentally, they brawled over the quarry and tore one another to pieces, mad with hunger, physical or mental. Sometimes some of them paused and asked what it was all for; and there followed a battle of words, but no clear answer. Suddenly they were old and finished. Then, the span from birth to death being an imperceptible instant of cosmical time, they vanished.

This planet, being essentially of the terrestrial type, had produced a race that was essentially human, though, so to speak, human in a different key from the terrestrial. These continents were as variegated as ours, and inhabited by a race as diversified as Homo sapiens. All the modes and facets of the spirit manifested in our history had their equivalents in the history of the Other Men. As with us, there had been dark ages and ages of brilliance, phases of advancement and of retreat, cultures predominantly material, and others in the main intellectual, aesthetic, or spiritual. There were “Eastern” races and “Western” races. There were empires, republics, dictatorships. Yet all was different from the terrestrial. Many of the differences, of course, were superficial; but there was also an underlying, deep-lying difference which I took long to understand and will not yet describe. I must begin by speaking of the biological equipment of the Other Men. Their animal nature was at bottom much like ours. They responded with anger, fear, hate, tenderness, curiosity, and so on, much as we respond. In sensory equipment they were not unlike ourselves, save that in vision they were less sensitive to color and more to form than is common with us. The violent colors of the Other Earth appeared to me through the eyes of its natives very subdued. In hearing also they were rather ill-equipped. Though their auditory organs were as sensitive as ours to faint sounds, they were poor discriminators. Music, such as we know, never developed in this world.

In compensation, scent and taste developed amazingly. These beings tasted not only with their mouths, but with then-moist black hands and with their feet. They were thus afforded an extraordinarily rich and intimate experience of their planet. Tastes of metals and woods, of sour and sweet earths, of the many rocks, and of the innumerable shy or bold flavors of plants crushed beneath the bare running feet, made up a whole world unknown to terrestrial man.

The genitals also were equipped with taste organs. There were several distinctive male and female patterns of chemical characteristics, each powerfully attractive to the opposite sex. These were savored faintly by contact of hands or feet with any part of the body, and with exquisite intensity in copulation.

This surprising richness of gustatory experience made it very difficult for me to enter fully into the thoughts of the Other Men. Taste played as important a part in their imagery and conception as sight in our own. Many ideas which terrestrial man has reached by way of sight, and which even in their most abstract form still bear traces of their visual origin, the Other Men conceived in terms of taste. For example, our “brilliant,” as applied to persons or ideas, they would translate by a word whose literal meaning was “tasty.” For “lucid” they would use a term which in primitive times was employed by hunters to signify an easily runnable taste-trail. To have “religious illumination” was to “taste the meadows of heaven.” Many of our non-visual concepts also were rendered by means of taste. “Complexity” was “many flavored,” a word applied originally to the confusion of tastes round a drinking pool frequented by many kinds of beasts. “Incompatibility” was derived from a word meaning the disgust which certain human types felt for one another on account of their flavors.

Differences of race, which in our world are chiefly conceived in terms of bodily appearance, were for the Other Men almost entirely differences of taste and smell. And as the races of the Other Men were much less sharply localized than our own races, the strife between groups whose flavors were repugnant to one another played a great part in history. Each race tended to believe that its own flavor was characteristic of all the finer mental qualities, was indeed an absolutely reliable label of spiritual worth. In former ages the gustatory and olfactory differences had, no doubt, been true signs of racial differences; but in modern times, and in the more developed lands, there had been great changes. Not only had the races ceased to be clearly localized, but also industrial civilization had produced a crop of genetic changes which rendered the old racial distinctions meaningless. The ancient flavors, however, though they had by now no racial significance at all, and indeed members of one family might have mutually repugnant flavors, continued to have the traditional emotional effects. In each country some particular flavor was considered the true hall-mark of the race of that country, and all other flavors were despised, if not actually condemned.

In the country which I came to know best the orthodox racial flavor was a kind of saltness inconceivable to terrestrial man. My hosts regarded themselves as the very salt of the earth. But as a matter of fact the peasant whom I first “inhabited” was the only genuine pure salt man of orthodox variety whom I ever encountered. The great majority of that country’s citizens attained their correct taste and smell by artificial means. Those who were at least approximately salt, with some variety of saltness, though not the ideal variety, were forever exposing the deceit of their sour, sweet, or bitter neighbors. Unfortunately, though the taste of the limbs could be fairly well disguised, no effective means had been found for changing the flavor of copulation. Consequently newly married couples were apt to make the most shattering discoveries about one another on the wedding night. Since in the great majority of unions neither party had the orthodox flavor, both were willing to pretend to the world that all was well. But often there would turn out to be a nauseating incompatibility between the two gustatory types. The whole population was rotten with neuroses bred of these secret tragedies of marriage. Occasionally, when one party was more or less of the orthodox flavor, this genuinely salt partner would indignantly denounce the impostor. The courts, the news bulletins, and the public would then join in self-righteous protests.

Some “racial” flavors were too obtrusive to be disguised. One in particular, a kind of bitter-sweet, exposed its possessor to extravagant persecution in all but the most tolerant countries. In past times the bitter-sweet race had earned a reputation of cunning and self-seeking, and had been periodically massacred by its less intelligent neighbors. But in the general biological ferment of modern times the bitter-sweet flavor might crop up in any family. Woe, then, to the accursed infant, and to all its relatives! Persecution was inevitable; unless indeed the family was wealthy enough to purchase from the state “an honorary salting” (or in the neighboring land, “an honorary sweetening”), which removed the stigma.

In the more enlightened countries the whole racial superstition was becoming suspect. There was a movement among the intelligentsia for conditioning infants to tolerate every kind of human flavor, and for discarding the deodorants and degustatants, and even the boots and gloves, which civilized convention imposed.

Unfortunately this movement of toleration was hampered by one of the consequences of industrialism. In the congested and unhealthy industrial centers a new gustatory and olfactory type had appeared, apparently as a biological mutation. In a couple of generations this sour, astringent, and undisguisable flavor dominated in all the most disreputable working-class quarters. To the fastidious palates of the well-to-do, it was overwhelmingly nauseating and terrifying. In fact it became for them an unconscious symbol, tapping all the secret guilt and fear and hate which the oppressors felt for the oppressed.

In this world, as in our own, nearly all the chief means of production, nearly all the land, mines, factories, railways, ships, were controlled for private profit by a small minority of the population. These privileged individuals were able to force the masses to work for them on pain of starvation. The tragic farce inherent in such a system was already approaching. The owners directed the energy of the workers increasingly toward the production of more means of production rather than to the fulfilment of the needs of individual life. For machinery might bring profit to the owners; bread would not. With the increasing competition of machine with machine, profits declined, and therefore wages, and therefore effective demand for goods. Marketless products were destroyed, though bellies were unfed and backs unclad. Unemployment, disorder, and stern repression increased as the economic system disintegrated. A familiar story!

As conditions deteriorated, and the movements of charity and state-charity became less and less able to cope with the increasing mass of unemployment and destitution, the new pariah-race became more and more psychologically useful to the hate-needs of the scared, but still powerful, prosperous. The theory was spread that these wretched beings were the result of secret systematic race-pollution by riff-raff immigrants, and that they deserved no consideration whatever. They were therefore allowed only the basest forms of employment and the harshest conditions of work. When unemployment had become a serious social problem, practically the whole pariah stock was workless and destitute. It was of course easily believed that unemployment, far from being due to the decline of capitalism, was due to the worthlessness of the pariahs.

At the time of my visit the working class had become tainted through and through by the pariah stock, and there was a vigorous movement afoot amongst the wealthy and the official classes to institute slavery for pariahs and half-pariahs, so that these might be openly treated as the cattle which in fact they were. In view of the danger of continued race-pollution, some politicians urged wholesale slaughter of the pariahs, or, at the least, universal sterilization. Others pointed out that, as a supply of cheap labor was necessary to society, it would be wiser merely to keep their numbers down by working them to an early death in occupations which those of “pure race” would never accept. This, at any rate, should be done in times of prosperity; but in times of decline, the excess population could be allowed to starve, or might be used up in the physiological laboratories.

The persons who first dared to suggest this policy were scourged by the whips of generous popular indignation. But their policy was in fact adopted; not explicitly but by tacit consent, and in the absence of any more constructive plan.

The first time that I was taken through the poorest quarter of the city I was surprised to see that, though there were large areas of slum property far more squalid than anything in England, there were also many great clean blocks of tenements worthy of Vienna. These were surrounded by gardens, which were crowded with wretched tents and shanties. The grass was worn away, the bushes damaged, the flowers trampled. Everywhere men, women, and children, all filthy and ragged, were idling.

I learned that these noble buildings had been erected before the world-economic-crisis (familiar phrase!) by a millionaire who had made his money in trading an opium-like drug. He presented the buildings to the City Council, and was gathered to heaven by way of the peerage. The more deserving and less unsavory poor were duly housed; but care was taken to fix the rent high enough to exclude the pariah-race. Then came the crisis. One by one the tenants failed to pay their rent, and were ejected. Within a year the buildings were almost empty.

There followed a very curious sequence of events, and one which, as I was to discover, was characteristic of this strange world. Respectable public opinion, though vindictive toward the unemployed, was passionately tender toward the sick. In falling ill, a man acquired a special sanctity, and exercised a claim over all healthy persons. Thus no sooner did any of the wretched campers succumb to a serious disease than he was carried off to be cared for by all the resources of medical science. The desperate paupers soon discovered how things stood, and did all in their power to fall sick. So successful were they, that the hospitals were soon filled. The empty tenements were therefore hastily fitted out to receive the increasing flood of patients.

Observing these and other farcical events, I was reminded of my own race. But though the Other Men were in many ways so like us, I suspected increasingly that some factor still hidden from me doomed them to a frustration which my own nobler species need never fear. Psychological mechanisms which in our case are tempered with common sense or moral sense stood out in this world in flagrant excess. Yet it was not true that Other Man was less intelligent or less moral than man of my own species. In abstract thought and practical invention he was at least our equal. Many of his most recent advances in physics and astronomy had passed beyond our present attainment. I noticed, however, that psychology was even more chaotic than with us, and that social thought was strangely perverted.

In radio and television, for instance, the Other Men were technically far ahead of us, but the use to which they put their astounding inventions was disastrous. In civilized countries everyone but the pariahs carried a pocket receiving set. As the Other Men had no music, this may seem odd; but since they lacked newspapers, radio was the only means by which the man in the street could learn the lottery and sporting results which were his staple mental diet. The place of music, moreover, was taken by taste — and smell-themes, which were translated into patterns of ethereal undulation, transmitted by all the great national stations, and restored to their original form in the pocket receivers and taste-batteries of the population. These instruments afforded intricate stimuli to the taste organs and scent organs of the hand. Such was the power of this kind of entertainment that both men and women were nearly always seen with one hand in a pocket. A special wave length had been allotted to the soothing of infants.

A sexual receiving set had been put upon the market, and programs were broadcast for it in many countries; but not in all. This extraordinary invention was a combination of radio — touch, taste, odor, and sound. It worked not through the sense organs, but direct stimulation of the appropriate brain-centers. The recipient wore a specially constructed skullcap, which transmitted to him from a remote studio the embraces of some delectable and responsive woman, as they were then actually being experienced by a male “love-broadcaster” or as electromagnetically recorded on a steel tape on some earlier occasion. Controversies had arisen about the morality of sexual broadcasting. Some countries permitted programs for males but not for females, wishing to preserve the innocence of the purer sex. Elsewhere the clerics had succeeded in crushing the whole project on the score that radio-sex, even for men alone, would be a diabolical substitute for a certain much desired and jealously guarded religious experience, called the immaculate union, of which I shall tell in the sequel. Well did the priests know that their power depended largely on their ability to induce this luscious ecstasy in their flock by means of ritual and other psychological techniques.

Militarists also were strongly opposed to the new invention; for in the cheap and efficient production of illusory sexual embraces they saw a danger even more serious than contraception. The supply of cannon-fodder would decline.

Since in all the more respectable countries broadcasting had been put under the control of retired soldiers or good churchmen, the new device was at first adopted only in the more commercial and the more disreputable states. From their broadcasting stations the embraces of popular “radio love-stars” and even of impecunious aristocrats were broadcast along with advertisements of patent medicines, taste-proof gloves, lottery results, savors, and degustatants.

The principle of radio-brain-stimulation was soon developed much further. Programs of all the most luscious or piquant experiences were broadcast in all countries, and could be picked up by simple receivers that were within the means of all save the pariahs. Thus even the laborer and the factory hand could have the pleasures of a banquet without expense and subsequent repletion, the delights of proficient dancing without the trouble of learning the art, the thrills of motor-racing without danger. In an ice-bound northern home he could bask on tropical beaches, and in the tropics indulge in winter sports. Governments soon discovered that the new invention gave them a cheap and effective kind of power over their subjects. Slum-conditions could be tolerated if there was an unfailing supply of illusory luxury. Reforms distasteful to the authorities could be shelved if they could be represented as inimical to the national radio-system. Strikes and riots could often be broken by the mere threat to close down the broadcasting studios, or alternatively by flooding the ether at a critical moment with some saccharine novelty.

The fact that the political Left Wing opposed the further development of radio amusements made Governments and the propertied classes the more ready to accept it. The Communists, for the dialectic of history on this curiously earth-like planet had produced a party deserving that name, strongly condemned the scheme. In their view it was pure Capitalist dope, calculated to prevent the otherwise inevitable dictatorship of the proletariat.

The increasing opposition of the Communists made it possible to buy off the opposition of their natural enemies, the priests and soldiers. It was arranged that religious services should in future occupy a larger proportion of broadcasting time, and that a tithe of all licensing fees should be allocated to the churches. The offer to broadcast the immaculate union, however, was rejected by the clerics. As an additional concession it was agreed that all married members of the staffs of Broadcasting Authorities must, on pain of dismissal, prove that they had never spent a night away from their wives (or husbands). It was also agreed to weed out all those B.A. employees who were suspected of sympathy with such disreputable ideals as pacifism and freedom of expression. The soldiers were further appeased by a state-subsidy for maternity, a tax on bachelors, and regular broadcasting of military propaganda.

During my last years on the Other Earth a system was invented by which a man could retire to bed for life and spend all his time receiving radio programs. His nourishment and all his bodily functions were attended to by doctors and nurses attached to the Broadcasting Authority. In place of exercise he received periodic massage. Participation in the scheme was at first an expensive luxury, but its inventors hoped to make it at no distant date available to all. It was even expected that in time medical and menial attendants would cease to be necessary. A vast system of automatic food-production, and distribution of liquid pabulum by means of pipes leading to the mouths of the recumbent subjects, would be complemented by an intricate sewage system. Electric massage could be applied at will by pressing a button. Medical supervision would be displaced by an automatic endocrine-compensation system. This would enable the condition of the patient’s blood to regulate itself automatically by tapping from the communal drug-pipes whatever chemicals were needed for correct physiological balance.

Even in the case of broadcasting itself the human element would no longer be needed, for all possible experiences would have been already recorded from the most exquisite living examples. These would be continuously broadcast in a great number of alternative programs.

A few technicians and organizers might still be needed to superintend the system; but, properly distributed, their work would entail for each member of the World Broadcasting Authority’s staff no more than a few hours of interesting activity each week.

Children, if future generations were required, would be produced ectogenetically. The World Director of Broadcasting would be requested to submit psychological and physiological specifications of the ideal “listening breed.” Infants produced in accordance with this pattern would then be educated by special radio programs to prepare them for adult radio life. They would never leave their cots, save to pass by stages to the full-sized beds of maturity. At the latter end of life, if medical science did not succeed in circumventing senility and death, the individual would at least be able to secure a painless end by pressing an appropriate button.

Enthusiasm for this astounding project spread rapidly in all civilized countries, but certain forces of reaction were bitterly opposed to it. The old-fashioned religious people and the militant nationalists both affirmed that it was man’s glory to be active. The religious held that only in self-discipline, mortification of the flesh, and constant prayer, could the soul be fitted for eternal life. The nationalists of each country declared that their own people had been given a sacred trust to rule the baser kinds, and that in any case only the martial virtues could ensure the spirit’s admittance to Valhalla.

Many of the great economic masters, though they had originally favored radio-bliss in moderation as an opiate for the discontented workers, now turned against it. Their craving was for power; and for power they needed slaves whose labor they could command for their great industrial ventures. They therefore devised an instrument which was at once an opiate and a spur. By every method of propaganda they sought to rouse the passions of nationalism and racial hatred. They created, in fact, the “Other Fascism,” complete with lies, with mystical cult of race and state, with scorn of reason, with praise of brutal mastery, with appeal at once to the vilest and to the generous motives of the deluded young.

Opposed to all these critics of radio-bliss, and equally opposed to radio-bliss itself, there was in each country a small and bewildered party which asserted that the true goal of human activity was the creation of a world-wide community of awakened and intelligently creative persons, related by mutual insight and respect, and by the common task of fulfilling the potentiality of the human spirit on earth. Much of their doctrine was a re-statement of the teachings of religious seers of a fine long past, but it had also been deeply influenced by contemporary science. This party, however, was misunderstood by the scientists, cursed by the clerics, ridiculed by the militarists, and ignored by the advocates of radio-bliss.

Now at this time economic confusion had been driving the great commercial empires of the Other Earth into more and more desperate competition for markets. These economic rivalries had combined with ancient tribal passions of fear and hate and pride to bring about an interminable series of war scares each of which threatened universal Armageddon.

In this situation the radio-enthusiasts pointed out that, if their policy were accepted, war would never occur, and on the other hand that, if a world-war broke out, their policy would be indefinitely postponed. They contrived a worldwide peace movement; and such was the passion for radio-bliss that the demand for peace swept all countries. An International Broadcasting Authority was at last founded, to propagate the radio gospel, compose the differences between the empires, and eventually to take over the sovereignty of the world.

Meanwhile the earnestly “religious” and the sincere militarists, rightly dismayed at the baseness of the motives behind the new internationalism, but in their own manner equally wrong-headed, determined to save the Other Men in spite of themselves by goading the peoples into war. All the forces of propaganda and financial corruption were heroically wielded to foment the passions of nationalism. Even so, the greed for radio-bliss was by now so general and so passionate, that the war party would never have succeeded had it not been for the wealth of the great armorers, and their experience in fomenting strife.

Trouble was successfully created between one of the older commercial empires and a certain state which had only recently adopted mechanical civilization, but was already a Great Power, and a Power in desperate need of markets. Radio, which formerly had been the main force making for cosmopolitanism, became suddenly in each country the main stimulus to nationalism. Morning, noon and night, every civilized people was assured that enemies, whose flavor was of course subhuman and foul, were plotting its destruction. Armament scares, spy stories, accounts of the barbarous and sadistic behavior of neighboring peoples, created in every country such uncritical suspicion and hate that war became inevitable. A dispute arose over the control of a frontier province. During those critical days Bvalltu and I happened to be in a large provincial town. I shall never forget how the populace plunged into almost maniacal hate. All thought of human brotherhood, and even of personal safety, was swept away by a savage blood-lust. Panic-stricken governments began projecting long-range rocket bombs at their dangerous neighbors. Within a few weeks several of the capitals of the Other Earth had been destroyed from the air. Each people now began straining every nerve to do more hurt than it received.

Of the horrors of this war, of the destruction of city after city, of the panic-stricken, starving hosts that swarmed into the open country, looting and killing, of the starvation and disease, of the disintegration of the social services, of the emergence of ruthless military dictatorships, of the steady or catastrophic decay of culture and of all decency and gentleness in personal relations, of this there is no need to speak in detail.

Instead, I shall try to account for the finality of the disaster which overtook the Other Men. My own human kind, in similar circumstances, would never, surely, have allowed itself to be so completely overwhelmed. No doubt, we ourselves are faced with the possibility of a scarcely less destructive war; but, whatever the agony that awaits us, we shall almost certainly recover. Foolish we may be, but we always manage to avoid falling into the abyss of downright madness. At the last moment sanity falteringly reasserts itself. Not so with the Other Men.

3. Prospects of the Race

The longer I stayed on the Other Earth, the more I suspected that there must be some important underlying difference between this human race and my own. In some sense the difference was obviously one of balance. Homo sapiens was on the whole better integrated, more gifted with common sense, less apt to fall into extravagance through mental dissociation.

Perhaps the most striking example of the extravagance of the Other Men was the part played by religion in their more advanced societies. Religion was a much greater power than on my own planet; and the religious teachings of the prophets of old were able to kindle even my alien and sluggish heart with fervor. Yet religion, as it occurred around me in contemporary society, was far from edifying.

I must begin by explaining that in the development of religion on the Other Earth gustatory sensation had played a very great part. Tribal gods had of course been endowed with the taste-characters most moving to the tribe’s own members. Later, when monotheisms arose, descriptions of God’s power, his wisdom, his justice, his benevolence, were accompanied by descriptions of his taste. In mystical literature God was often likened to an ancient and mellow wine; and some reports of religious experience suggested that this gustatory-ecstasy was in many ways akin to the reverent zest of our own wine-tasters, savoring some rare vintage.

Unfortunately, owing to the diversity of gustatory human types, there had seldom been any widespread agreement as to the taste of God. Religious wars had been waged to decide whether he was in the main sweet or salt, or whether his preponderant flavor was one of the many gustatory characters which my own race cannot conceive. Some teachers insisted that only the feet could taste him, others only the hands or the mouth, others that he could be experienced only in the subtle complex of gustatory flavors known as the immaculate union, which was a sensual, and mainly sexual, ecstasy induced by contemplation of intercourse with the deity.

Other teachers declared that, though God was indeed tasty, it was not through any bodily instrument but to the naked spirit that his essence was revealed; and that his was a flavor more subtle and delicious than the flavor of the beloved, since it included all that was most fragrant and spiritual in man, and infinitely more.

Some went so far as to declare that God should be thought of not as a person at all but as actually being this flavor. Bvalltu used to say, “Either God is the universe, or he is the flavor of creativity pervading all things.”

Some ten or fifteen centuries earlier, when religion, so far as I could tell, was most vital, there were no churches or priesthoods; but every man’s life was dominated by religious ideas to an extent which to me was almost incredible. Later, churches and priesthoods had returned, to play an important part in preserving what was now evidently a declining religious consciousness. Still later, a few centuries before the Industrial Revolution, institutional religion had gained such a hold on the most civilized peoples that three-quarters of their total income was spent on the upkeep of religious institutions. The working classes, indeed, who slaved for the owners in return for a mere pittance, gave much of their miserable earnings to the priests, and lived in more abject squalor than need have been.

Science and industry had brought one of those sudden and extreme revolutions of thought which were so characteristic of the Other Men. Nearly all the churches were destroyed or turned into temporary factories or industrial museums. Atheism, lately persecuted, became fashionable. All the best minds turned agnostic. More recently, however, apparently in horror at the effects of a materialistic culture which was far more cynical and blatant than our own, the most industrialized peoples began to turn once more to religion. A spiritistic foundation was provided for natural science. The old churches were re-sanctified, and so many new religious edifices were built that they were soon as plentiful as cinema houses with us. Indeed, the new churches gradually absorbed the cinema, and provided non-stop picture shows in which sensual orgies and ecclesiastical propaganda were skilfully blended.

At the time of my visit the churches had regained all their lost power. Radio had indeed at one time competed with them, but was successfully absorbed. They still refused to broadcast the immaculate union, which gained fresh prestige from the popular belief that it was too spiritual to be transmitted on the ether. The more advanced clerics, however, had agreed that if ever the universal system of “radio-bliss” was established, this difficulty might be overcome. Communism, meanwhile, still maintained its irreligious convention; but in the two great Communist countries the officially organized “irreligion” was becoming a religion in all but name. It had its institutions, its priesthood, its ritual, its morality, its system of absolution, its metaphysical doctrines, which, though devoutly materialistic, were none the less superstitious. And the flavor of deity had been displaced by the flavor of the proletariat.

Religion, then, was a very real force in the life of all these peoples. But there was something puzzling about their devoutness. In a sense it was sincere, and even beneficial; for in very small personal temptations and very obvious and stereotyped moral choices, the Other Men were far more conscientious than my own kind. But I discovered that the typical modern Other Man was conscientious only in conventional situations, and that in genuine moral sensibility he was strangely lacking. Thus, though practical generosity and superficial comradeship were more usual than with us, the most diabolic mental persecution was perpetrated with a clear conscience. The more sensitive had always to be on their guard. The deeper kinds of intimacy and mutual reliance were precarious and rare. In this passionately social world, loneliness dogged the spirit. People were constantly “getting together,” but they never really got there. Everyone was terrified of being alone with himself; yet in company, in spite of the universal assumption of comradeship, these strange beings remained as remote from one another as the stars. For everyone searched his neighbor’s eyes for the image of himself, and never saw anything else. Or if he did, he was outraged and terrified.

Another perplexing fact about the religious life of the Other Men at the time of my visit was this. Though all were devout, and blasphemy was regarded with horror, the general attitude to the deity was one of blasphemous commercialism. Men assumed that the flavor of deity could be bought for all eternity with money or with ritual. Further, the God whom they worshipped with the superb and heart-searching language of an earlier age was now conceived either as a just but jealous employer or as an indulgent parent, or else as sheer physical energy. The crowning vulgarity was the conviction that in no earlier age had religion been so widespread and so enlightened. It was almost universally agreed that the profound teachings of the prophetic era were only now being understood in the sense in which they had originally been intended by the prophets themselves. Contemporary writers and broadcasters claimed to be re-interpreting the scriptures to suit the enlightened religious needs of an age which called itself the Age of Scientific Religion. Now behind all the complacency which characterized the civilization of the Other Men before the outbreak of the war I had often detected a vague restlessness and anxiety. Of course for the most part people went about their affairs with the same absorbed and self-satisfied interest as on my own planet. They were far too busy making a living, marrying, rearing families, trying to get the better of one another, to spare time for conscious doubt about the aim of life. Yet they had often the air of one who has forgotten some very important thing and is racking his brains to recover it, or of an aging preacher who uses the old stirring phrases without clear apprehension of their significance. Increasingly I suspected that this race, in spite of all its triumphs, was now living on the great ideas of its past, mouthing concepts that it no longer had the sensibility to understand, paying verbal homage to ideals which it could no longer sincerely will, and behaving within a system of institutions many of which could only be worked successfully by minds of a slightly finer temper. These institutions, I suspected, must have been created by a race endowed not only with much greater intelligence, but with a much stronger and more comprehensive capacity for community than was now possible on the Other Earth. They seemed to be based on the assumption that men were on the whole kindly, reasonable and self-disciplined.

I had often questioned Bvalltu on this subject, but he had always turned my question aside. It will be remembered that, though I had access to all his thoughts so long as he did not positively wish to withhold them, he could always, if he made a special effort, think privately. I had long suspected that he was keeping something from me, when at last he told me the strange and tragic facts.

It was a few days after the bombardment of the metropolis of his country. Through Bvalltu’s eyes and the goggles of his gas-mask I saw the results of that bombardment. We had missed the horror itself, but had attempted to return to the city to play some part in the rescue work. Little could be done. So great was the heat still radiated from the city’s incandescent heart, that we could not penetrate beyond the first suburb. Even there, the streets were obliterated, choked with fallen buildings. Human bodies, crushed and charred, projected here and there from masses of tumbled masonry. Most of the population was hidden under the ruins. In the open spaces many lay gassed. Salvage parties impotently wandered. Between the smoke-clouds the Other Sun occasionally appeared, and even a daytime star.

After clambering among the ruins for some time, seeking vainly to give help, Bvalltu sat down. The devastation round about us seemed to “loosen his tongue,” if I may use such a phrase to express a sudden frankness in his thinking toward myself. I had said something to the effect that a future age would look back on all this madness and destruction with amazement. He sighed through his gas-mask, and said, “My unhappy race has probably now doomed itself irrevocably.” I expostulated; for though ours was about the fortieth city to be destroyed, there would surely some day be a recovery, and the race would at last pass through this crisis and go forward from strength to strength. Bvalltu then told me of the strange matters which, he said, he had often intended to tell me, but somehow he had always shunned doing so. Though many scientists and students of the contemporary world-society had now some vague suspicion of the truth, it was clearly known only to himself and a few others.

The species, he said, was apparently subject to strange and long-drawn-out fluctuations of nature, fluctuations which lasted for some twenty thousand years. All races in all climates seemed to manifest this vast rhythm of the spirit, and to suffer it simultaneously. Its cause was unknown. Though it seemed to be due to an influence affecting the whole planet at once, perhaps it actually radiated from a single starting point, but spread rapidly into all lands. Very recently an advanced scientist had suggested that it might be due to variations in the intensity of “cosmic rays.” Geological evidence had established that such a fluctuation of cosmical radiation did occur, caused perhaps by variations in a neighboring cluster of young stars. It was still doubtful whether the psychological rhythm and the astronomical rhythm coincided, but many facts pointed to the conclusion that when the rays were more violent the human spirit declined.

Bvalltu was not convinced by this story. On the whole he inclined to the opinion that the rhythmical waxing and waning of human mentality was due to causes nearer home. Whatever the true explanation, it was almost certain that a high degree of civilization had been attained many times in the past, and that some potent influence had over and over again damped down the mental vigor of the human race. In the troughs of these vast waves Other Man sank to a state of mental and spiritual dullness more abject than anything which my own race had ever known since it awoke from the subhuman. But at the wave’s crest man’s intellectual power, moral integrity, and spiritual insight seem to have risen to a pitch that we should regard as superhuman.

Again and again the race would emerge from savagery, and pass through barbarian culture into a phase of worldwide brilliance and sensibility. Whole populations would conceive simultaneously an ever-increasing capacity for generosity, self-knowledge, self-discipline, for dispassionate and penetrating thought and uncontaminated religious feeling.

Consequently within a few centuries the whole world would blossom with free and happy societies. Average human beings would attain an unprecedented clarity of mind, and by massed action do away with all grave social injustices and private cruelties. Subsequent generations, inherently sound, and blessed with a favorable environment, would create a world-wide Utopia of awakened beings.

Presently a general loosening of fiber would set in. The golden age would be followed by a silver age. Living on the achievements of the past, the leaders of thought would lose themselves in a jungle of subtlety, or fall exhausted into mere slovenliness. At the same time moral sensibility would decline. Men would become on the whole less sincere, less self-searching, less sensitive to the needs of others, in fact less capable of community. Social machinery, which had worked well so long as citizens attained a certain level of humanity, would be dislocated by injustice and corruption. Tyrants and tyrannical oligarchies would set about destroying liberty. Hate-mad submerged classes would give them good excuse. Little by little, though the material benefits of civilization might smolder on for centuries, the flame of the spirit would die down into a mere flicker in a few isolated individuals. Then would come sheer barbarism, followed by the trough of almost sub-human savagery.

On the whole there seemed to have been a higher achievement on the more recent crests of the wave than on those of the “geological” past. So at least some anthropologists persuaded themselves. It was confidently believed that the present apex of civilization was the most brilliant of all, that its best was as yet to come, and that by means of its unique scientific knowledge it would discover how to preserve the mentality of the race from a recurrence of deterioration.

The present condition of the species was certainly exceptional. In no earlier recorded cycle had science and mechanization advanced to such lengths. So far as could be inferred from the fragmentary relics of the previous cycle, mechanical invention had never passed beyond the crude machinery known in our own mid-nineteenth century. The still earlier cycles, it was believed, stagnated at even earlier stages in their industrial revolutions.

Now though it was generally assumed in intellectual circles that the best was yet to be, Bvalltu and his friends were convinced that the crest of the wave had already occurred many centuries ago. To most men, of course, the decade before the war had seemed better and more civilized than any earlier age. In their view civilization and mechanization were almost identical, and never before had there been such a triumph of mechanization. The benefits of a scientific civilization were obvious. For the fortunate class there was more comfort, better health, increased stature, a prolongation of youth, and a system of technical knowledge so vast and intricate that no man could know more than its outline or some tiny corner of its detail. Moreover, increased communications had brought all the peoples into contact. Local idiosyncrasies were fading out before the radio, the cinema, and the gramophone. In comparison with these hopeful signs it was easily overlooked that the human constitution, though strengthened by improved conditions, was intrinsically less stable than formerly. Certain disintegrative diseases were slowly but surely increasing. In particular, diseases of the nervous system were becoming more common and more pernicious. Cynics used to say that the mental hospitals would soon outnumber even the churches. But the cynics were only jesters. It was almost universally agreed that, in spite of wars and economic troubles and social upheavals, all was now well, and the future would be better.

The truth, said Bvalltu, was almost certainly otherwise. There was, as I had suspected, unmistakable evidence that the average of intelligence and of moral integrity throughout the world had declined; and they would probably continue to do so. Already the race was living on its past. All the great seminal ideas of the modern world had been conceived centuries ago. Since then, world-changing applications of these ideas had indeed been made; but none of these sensational inventions had depended on the extreme kind of penetrating the whole course of thought in an earlier age. Recently there had been, Bvalltu admitted, a spate of revolutionary scientific discoveries and theories, but not one of them, he said, contained any really novel principle. They were all re-combinations of familiar principles. Scientific method, invented some centuries ago, was so fertile a technique that it might well continue to yield rich fruit for centuries to come even in the hands of workers incapable of any high degree of originality.

But it was not in the field of science so much as in moral and practical activity that the deterioration of mental caliber was most evident. I myself, with Bvalltu’s aid, had learnt to appreciate to some extent the literature of that amazing period, many centuries earlier, when every country seemed to blossom with art, philosophy and religion; when people after people had changed its whole social and political order so as to secure a measure of freedom and prosperity to all men; when state after state had courageously disarmed, risking destruction but reaping peace and prosperity; when police forces were disbanded, prisons turned into libraries or colleges; when weapons and even locks and keys came to be known only as museum pieces; when the four great established priesthoods of the world had exposed their own mysteries, given their wealth to the poor, and led the triumphant campaign for community; or had taken to agriculture, handicrafts, teaching, as befitted humble supporters of the new priestless, faithless, Godless religion of world-wide community and inarticulate worship. After some five hundred years locks and keys, weapons and doctrines, began to return. The golden age left behind it only a lovely and incredible tradition, and a set of principles which, though now sadly misconceived, were still the best influences in a distraught world.

Those scientists who attributed mental deterioration to the increase of cosmic rays affirmed that if the race had discovered science many centuries earlier, when it had still before it the period of greatest vitality, all would have been well. It would soon have mastered the social problems which industrial civilization entails. It would have created not merely a “mediaeval” but a highly mechanized Utopia. It would almost certainly have discovered how to cope with the excess of cosmic rays and prevent deterioration. But science had come too late. Bvalltu, on the other hand, suspected that deterioration was due to some factor in human nature itself. He was inclined to believe that it was a consequence of civilization, that in changing the whole environment of the human species, seemingly for the better, science had unwittingly brought about a state of affairs hostile to spiritual vigor. He did not pretend to know whether the disaster was caused by the increase of artificial food, or the increased nervous strain of modern conditions, or interference with natural selection, or the softer upbringing of children, or to some other cause. Perhaps it should be attributed to none of these comparatively recent influences; for evidence did suggest that deterioration had set in at the very beginning of the scientific age, if not even earlier. It might be that some mysterious factor in the conditions of the golden age itself had started the rot. It might even be, he suggested, that genuine community generated its own poison, that the young human being, brought up in a perfected society, in a veritable “city of God” on earth, must inevitably revolt toward moral and intellectual laziness, toward romantic individualism and sheer devilment; and that once this disposition had taken root, science and a mechanized civilization had augmented the spiritual decay.

Shortly before I left the Other Earth a geologist discovered a fossil diagram of a very complicated radio set. It appeared to be a lithographic plate which had been made some ten million years earlier. The highly developed society which produced it had left no other trace. This find was a shock to the intelligent world; but the comforting view was spread abroad that some non-human and less hardy species had long ago attained a brief flicker of civilization. It was agreed that man, once he had reached such a height of culture, would never have fallen from it.

In Bvalltu’s view, man had climbed approximately to the same height time after time, only to be undone by some hidden consequence of his own achievement.

When Bvalltu propounded this theory, among the ruins of his native city, I suggested that some time, if not this time, man would successfully pass this critical point in his career. Bvalltu then spoke of another matter which seemed to indicate that we were witnessing the final act of this long-drawn-out and repetitive drama. It was known to scientists that, owing to the weak gravitational hold of their world, the atmosphere, already scant, was steadily deceasing. Sooner or later humanity would have to face the problem of stopping this constant leakage of precious oxygen. Hitherto life had successfully adapted itself to the progressive rarefaction of atmosphere, but the human physique had already reached the limit of adaptability in this respect. If the loss were not soon checked, the race would inevitably decline. The only hope was that some means to deal with the atmospheric problem would be discovered before the onset of the next age of barbarism. There had only been a slight possibility that this would be achieved. This slender hope the war had destroyed by setting the clock of scientific research back for a century just at the time when human nature itself was deteriorating and might never again be able to tackle so difficult a problem.

The thought of the disaster which almost certainly lay in wait for the Other Men threw me into a horror of doubt about the universe in which such a thing could happen. That a whole world of intelligent beings could be destroyed was not an unfamiliar idea to me; but there is a great difference between an abstract possibility and a concrete and inescapable danger. On my native planet, whenever I had been dismayed by the suffering and the futility of individuals, I had taken comfort in the thought that at least the massed effect of all our blind striving must be the slow but glorious awakening of the human spirit. This hope, this certainty, had been the one sure consolation. But now I saw that there was no guarantee of any such triumph. It seemed that the universe, or the maker of the universe, must be indifferent to the fate of worlds. That there should be endless struggle and suffering and waste must of course be accepted; and gladly, for these were the very soil in which the spirit grew. But that all struggle should be finally, absolutely vain, that a whole world of sensitive spirits fail and die, must be sheer evil. In my horror it seemed to me that Hate must be the Star Maker.

Not so to Bvalltu. “Even if the powers destroy us,” he said, “who are we, to condemn them? As well might a fleeting word judge the speaker that forms it. Perhaps they use us for their own high ends, use our strength and our weakness, our joy and our pain, in some theme inconceivable to us, and excellent.” But I protested, “What theme could justify such waste, such futility? And how can we help judging; and how otherwise can we judge than by the light of our own hearts, by which we judge ourselves? It would be base to praise the Star Maker, knowing that he was too insensitive to care about the fate of his worlds.” Bvalltu was silent in his mind for a moment. Then he looked up, searching among the smoke-clouds for a daytime star. And then he said to me in his mind, “If he saved all the worlds, but tormented just one man, would you forgive him? Or if he was a little harsh only to one stupid child? What has our pain to do with it, or our failure? Star Maker! It is a good word, though we can have no notion of its meaning. Oh, Star Maker, even if you destroy me, I must praise you. Even if you torture my dearest. Even if you torment and waste all your lovely worlds, the little figments of your imagination, yet I must praise you. For if you do so, it must be right. In me it would be wrong, but in you it must be right.”

He looked down once more upon the ruined city, then continued, “And if after all there is no Star Maker, if the great company of galaxies leapt into being of their own accord, and even if this little nasty world of ours is the only habitation of the spirit anywhere among the stars, and this world doomed, even so, even so, I must praise. But if there is no Star Maker, what can it be that I praise? I do not know. I will call it only the sharp tang and savor of existence. But to call it this is to say little.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00