THE planet on which we now descended after our long flight among the stars was the first of many to be visited. In some we stayed, according to the local calendar, only a few weeks, in others several years, housed together in the mind of some native. Often when the time came for our departure our host would accompany us for subsequent adventures. As we passed from world to world, as experience was piled upon experience like geological strata, it seemed that this strange tour of worlds was lasting for many lifetimes. Yet thoughts of our own home-planets were constantly with us. Indeed, in my case it was not till I found myself thus exiled that I came to realize fully the little jewel of personal union that I had left behind. I had to comprehend each world as best I could by reference to the remote world where my own life had happened, and above all by the touchstone of that common life that she and I had made together.
Before trying to describe, or rather suggest, the immense diversity of worlds which I entered, I must say a few words about the movement of the adventure itself. After the experiences which I have just recorded it was clear that the method of disembodied flight was of little use. It did indeed afford us extremely vivid perception of the visible features of our galaxy; and we often used it to orientate ourselves when we had made some fresh discovery by the method of psychological attraction. But since it gave us freedom only of space and not of time, and since, moreover, planetary systems were so very rare, the method of sheer random physical flight alone was almost infinitely unlikely to produce results. Physical attraction, however, once we had mastered it, proved very effective. This method depended on the imaginative reach of our own minds. At first, when our imaginative power was strictly limited by experience of our own worlds, we could make contact only with worlds closely akin to our own. Moreover, in this novitiate stage of our work we invariably came upon these worlds when they were passing through the same spiritual crisis as that which underlies the plight of Homo sapiens today. It appeared that, for to enter any world at all, there had to be a deep-lying likeness or identity in ourselves and our hosts.
As we passed on from world to world we greatly increased our understanding of the principles underlying our venture, and our powers of applying them. Further, in each world that we visited we sought out a new collaborator, to give us insight into his world and to extend our imaginative reach for further exploration of the galaxy. This “snowball” method by which our company was increased was of great importance, since it magnified our powers. In the final stages of the exploration we made discoveries which might well be regarded as infinitely beyond the range of any single and unaided human mind.
At the outset Bvalltu and I assumed that we were embarking on a purely private adventure; and later, as we gathered helpers, we still believed that we ourselves were the sole initiators of cosmical exploration. But after a while we came in psychical contact with another group of cosmical explorers, natives of worlds as yet unknown to us. With these adventurers, after difficult and often distressing experiments, we joined forces, entering first into intimate community, and later into that strange mental union which Bvalltu and I had already experienced together in some degree on our first voyage among the stars.
When we had encountered many more such groups, we realized that, though each little expedition had made a lonely start, all were destined sooner or later to come together. For, no matter now alien from one another at the outset, each group gradually acquired such far-reaching imaginative power that sooner or later it was sure to make contact with others.
In time it became clear that we, individual inhabitants of a host of other worlds, were playing a small part in one of the great movements by which the cosmos was seeking to know itself, and even see beyond itself.
In saying this I do not for a moment claim that, because I have shared in this vast process of cosmical self-discovery, the story which I have to tell is true in a fully literal sense. Plainly it does not deserve to be taken as part of the absolute objective truth about the cosmos. I, the human individual, can only in a most superficial and falsifying way participate in the superhuman experience of that communal “I” which was supported by the innumerable explorers. This book must needs be a ludicrously false caricature of our actual adventure. But further, though we were and are a multitude drawn from a multitude of spheres, we represent only a tiny fraction of the diversity of the whole cosmos. Thus even the supreme moment of our experience, when it seemed to us that we had penetrated to the very heart of reality, must in fact have given us no more than a few shreds of truth, and these not literal but symbolic.
My account of that part of my adventure which brought me into contact with worlds of more or less human type may be fairly accurate; but that which deals with more alien spheres must be far from the truth. The Other Earth I have probably described with little more falsehood than our historians commit in telling of the past ages of Homo sapiens. But of the less human worlds, and the many fantastic kinds of beings which we encountered up and down the galaxy and throughout the whole cosmos, and even beyond it, I shall perforce make statements which, literally regarded, must be almost wholly false. I can only hope that they have the kind of truth that we sometimes find in myths.
Since we were now free of space, we ranged with equal ease over the nearer and the remoter tracts of this galaxy. That we did not till much later make contact with minds in other galaxies was not due to any limitations imposed by space, but seemingly to our own inveterate parochialism, to a strange limitation of our own interest, which for long rendered us inhospitable to the influence of worlds lying beyond the confines of the Milky Way. I shall say more of this curious restriction when I come to describe how we did at last outgrow it.
Along with freedom of space we had freedom of time. Some of the worlds that we explored in this early phase of our adventure ceased to exist long before my native planet was formed; others were its contemporaries; others were not born till the old age of our galaxy, when the Earth had been destroyed, and a large number of the stars had already been extinguished.
As we searched up and down time and space, discovering more and more of the rare grains called planets, as we watched race after race struggle to a certain degree of lucid consciousness, only to succumb to some external accident or, more often, to some flaw in its own nature, we were increasingly oppressed by a sense of the futility, the planlessness of the cosmos. A few worlds did indeed wake to such lucidity that they passed beyond our ken. But several of the most brilliant of these occurred in the earliest epoch of the galactic story; and nothing that we could as yet discover in the later phases of the cosmos suggested that any galaxies, still less the cosmos as a whole, had at last come (or will at last come) more under the sway of the awakened spirit than they were during the epoch of those early brilliant worlds. Not till a much later stage of our inquiry were we fitted to discover the glorious but ironical and heart-rending climax for which this vast proliferation of worlds was but a prologue.
In the first phase of our adventure, when, as I have said, our powers of telepathic exploration were incomplete, every world that we entered turned out to be in the throes of the same spiritual crisis as that which we knew so well on our native planets. This crisis I came to regard as having two aspects. It was at once a moment in the spirit’s struggle to become capable of true community on a world-wide scale; and it was a stage in the age-long task of achieving the right, the finally appropriate, the spiritual attitude toward the universe.
In every one of these “chrysalis” worlds thousands of millions of persons were flashing into existence, one after the other, to drift gropingly about for a few instants of cosmical time before they were extinguished. Most were capable, at least in some humble degree, of the intimate kind of community which is personal affection; but for nearly all of them a stranger was ever a thing to fear and hate. And even their intimate loving was inconstant and lacking in insight. Nearly always they were intent merely on seeking for themselves respite from fatigue or boredom, fear or hunger. Like my own race, they never fully awoke from the primeval sleep of the subman. Only a few here and there, now and then, were solaced, goaded, or tortured by moments of true wakefulness. Still fewer attained a clear and constant vision, even of some partial aspect of truth; and their half-truths they nearly always took to be absolute. Propagating their little partial truths, they bewildered and misdirected their fellow mortals as much as they helped them.
Each individual spirit, in nearly all these worlds, attained at some point in life some lowly climax of awareness and of spiritual integrity, only to sink slowly or catastrophically back into nothingness. Or so it seemed. As in my own world, so in all these others, lives were spent in pursuit of shadowy ends that remained ever just round the corner. There were vast tracts of boredom and frustration, with here and there some rare bright joy. These were ecstasies of personal triumph, of mutual intercourse and love, of intellectual insight, of aesthetic creation. There were also religious ecstasies; but these, like all else in these worlds, were obscured by false interpretations. There were crazy ecstasies of hate and cruelty, felt against individuals and against groups. Sometimes during this early phase of our adventure we were so distressed by the incredible bulk of suffering and of cruelty up and down the worlds that our courage failed, our telepathic powers were disordered, and we slipped toward madness.
Yet most of these worlds were really no worse than our own. Like us, they had reached that stage when the spirit, half awakened from brutishness and very far from maturity, can suffer most desperately and behave most cruelly. And like us, these tragic but vital worlds, visited in our early adventures, were agonized by the inability of their minds to keep pace with changing circumstance. They were always behindhand, always applying old concepts and old ideals inappropriately to novel situations. Like us, they were constantly tortured by their hunger for a degree of community which their condition demanded but their poor, cowardly, selfish spirits could by no means attain. Only in couples and in little circles of companions could they support true community, the communion of mutual insight and respect and love. But in their tribes and nations they conceived all too easily the sham community of the pack, baying in unison of fear and hate.
Particularly in one respect these races were recognizably our kin. Each had risen by a strange mixture of violence and gentleness. The apostles of violence and the apostles of gentleness swayed them this way and that. At the time of our visit many of these worlds were in the throes of a crisis of this conflict. In the recent past, loud lip-service had been paid to gentleness and tolerance and freedom; but the policy had failed, because there was no sincere purpose in it, no conviction of the spirit, no true experience of respect for individual personality. All kinds of self-seeking and vindictiveness had nourished, secretly at first, then openly as shameless individualism. Then at last, in rage, the peoples turned away from individualism and plunged into the cult of the herd. At the same time, in disgust with the failure of gentleness, they began openly to praise violence, and the ruthlessness of the god-sent hero and of the armed tribe. Those who thought they believed in gentleness built up armaments for their tribes against those foreign tribes whom they accused of believing in violence. The highly developed technique of violence threatened to destroy civilization; year by year gentleness lost ground. Few could understand that their world must be saved, not by violence in the short run, but by gentleness in the long run. And still fewer could see that, to be effective, gentleness must be a religion; and that lasting peace can never come till the many have wakened to the lucidity of consciousness which, in all these worlds, only the few could as yet attain.
If I were to describe in detail every world that we explored, this book would develop into a world of libraries. I can give only a few pages to the many types of worlds encountered in this early stage of our adventure, up and down the whole breadth and length and the whole duration of our galaxy. Some of these types had apparently very few instances; other occurred in scores or hundreds.
The most numerous of all classes of intelligent worlds is that which includes the planet familiar to readers of this book. Homo sapiens has recently flattered and frightened himself by conceiving that, though perhaps he is not the sole intelligence in the cosmos, he is at least unique, and that worlds suited to intelligent life of any kind must be extremely rare. This view proves ludicrously false. In comparison with the unimaginable number of stars, intelligent worlds are indeed very rare; but we discovered some thousands of worlds much like the Earth and possessed by beings of essentially human kind, though superficially they were often unlike the type that we call human. The Other Men were amongst the most obviously human. But in a later stage of our adventure, when our research was no longer restricted to worlds that had reached the familiar spiritual crisis, we stumbled on a few planets inhabited by races almost identical with Homo sapiens, or rather with the creature that Homo sapiens was in the earliest phase of his existence. These most human worlds we had not encountered earlier because, by one accident or another, they were destroyed before reaching the stage of our own mentality.
Long after we had succeeded in extending our research from our peers among the worlds to our inferiors in mental rank we remained unable to make any sort of contact with beings who had passed wholly beyond the attainment of Homo sapiens. Consequently, though we traced the history of many worlds through many epochs, and saw many reach a catastrophic end, or sink into stagnation and inevitable decline, there were a few with which, do what we would, we lost touch just at that moment when they seemed ripe for a leap forward into some more developed mentality. Not till a much later stage of our adventure, when our corporate being had itself been enriched by the influx of many superior spirits, were we able to pick up once more the threads of these most exalted world-biographies.
Though all the worlds which we entered in the first phase of our adventure were in the throes of the crisis known so well in our own world, some were occupied by races biologically similar to man, others by very different types. The more obviously human races inhabited planets of much the same size and nature as the Earth and the Other Earth. All, whatever the vagaries of their biological history, had finally been molded by circumstance to the erect form which is evidently most suited to such worlds. Nearly always the two nether limbs were used for locomotion, the two upper limbs for manipulation. Generally there was some sort of head, containing the brain and the organs of remote perception, and perhaps the orifices for eating and breathing. In size these quasi-human types were seldom larger than our largest gorillas, seldom much smaller than monkeys; but we could not estimate their size with any accuracy, as we had no familiar standards of measurements.
Within this approximately human class there was great variety. We came upon feathered, penguin-like men, descended from true fliers, and on some small planets we found bird-men who retained the power of flight, yet were able to carry an adequate human brain. Even on some large planets, with exceptionally buoyant atmosphere, men flew with their own wings. Then there were men that had developed from a slug-like ancestor along a line which was not vertebrate, still less mammalian. Men of this type attained the necessary rigidity and flexibility of limb by means of a delicate internal “basket-work” of wiry bones.
On one very small but earthlike planet we discovered a quasi-human race which was probably unique. Here, though life had evolved much as on earth, all the higher animals differed remarkably from the familiar type in one obvious respect. They were without that far-reaching duplication of organs which characterizes all our vertebrates. Thus a man in this world was rather like half a terrestrial man. He hopped on one sturdy, splay-footed leg, balancing himself with a kangaroo tail. A single arm protruded from his chest, but branched into three forearms and prehensile fingers. Above his mouth was a single nostril, above that an ear, and on the top of his head a flexible three-pronged proboscis bearing three eyes.
A very different and fairly common quasi-human kind was sometimes produced by planets rather larger than the Earth. Owing to the greater strength of gravitation, there would first appear, in place of the familiar quadruped, a six-legged type. This would proliferate into little sextuped burrowers, swift and elegant sextuped grazers, a sextuped mammoth, complete with tusks, and many kinds of sextuped carnivora. Man in these worlds sprang usually from some small opposum-like creature which had come to use the first of its three pairs of limbs for nest-building or for climbing. In time, the forepart of its body thus became erect, and it gradually assumed a form not unlike that of a quadruped with a human torso in place of a neck. In fact it became a centaur, with four legs and two capable arms. It was very strange to find oneself in a world in which all the amenities and conveniences of civilization were fashioned to suit men of this form.
In one of these worlds, rather smaller than the rest; man was not a centaur, though centaurs were among his remote ancestors. In sub-human stages of evolution the pressure of the environment had telescoped the horizontal part of the centaur’s body, so that the forelegs and the hind-legs were drawn closer and closer together, till at last they became a single sturdy pair. Thus man and his nearer ancestors were bipeds with very large rumps, reminiscent of the Victorian bustle, and legs whose internal structure still showed their “centaur” origin.
One very common kind of quasi-human world I must describe in more detail, as it plays an important part in the history of our galaxy. In these worlds man, though varying greatly in form and fortune in particular worlds, had in every case developed from a sort of five-pronged marine animal, rather like a star-fish. This creature would in time specialize one prong for perceiving, four for locomotion. Later it would develop lungs, a complex digestive apparatus, and a well-integrated nervous system. Later still the perceiving limb would produce a brain, the others becoming adapted for running and climbing. The soft spines which covered the body of the ancestral star-fish often developed into a kind of spiky fur. In due season there would arise an erect, intelligent biped, equipped with eyes, nostrils, ears, taste-organs, and sometimes organs of electric perception. Save for the grotesqueness of their faces, and the fact that the mouth was generally upon the belly, these creatures were remarkably human. Their bodies, however, were usually covered with the soft spines or fat hairs characteristic of these worlds. Clothes were unknown, save as protection against cold in the arctic regions. Their faces, of course, were apt to be far from human. The tall head often bore a coronet of five eyes. Large single nostrils, used for breathing and smelling and also speaking, formed another circlet below the eyes.
The appearance of these “Human Echinoderms” belied their nature, for though their faces were inhuman, the basic pattern of their minds was not unlike our own. Their senses were much like ours, save that in some worlds they developed a far more varied color-sensitivity. Those races that had the electric sense gave us some difficulty; for, in order to understand their thought, we had to learn a whole new gamut of sense qualities and a vast system of unfamiliar symbolism. The electric organs detected very slight differences of electric charge in relation to the subject’s own body. Originally this sense had been used for revealing enemies equipped with electric organs of offense. But in man its significance was chiefly social. It gave information about the emotional state of one’s neighbors. Beyond this its function was meteorological.
One example of this kind of world, one which clearly illustrates the type, and at the same time presents interesting peculiarities must be described in more detail.
The key to the understanding of this race is, I believe, its strange method of reproduction, which was essentially communal. Every individual was capable of budding a new individual; but only at certain seasons, and only after stimulation by a kind of pollen emanating from the whole tribe and carried on the air. The grains of this ultra-microscopically fine pollen dust were not germ cells but “genes,” the elementary factors of inheritance. The precincts of the tribe were at all times faintly perfumed by the communal pollen; but on occasions of violent group emotion the pollen cloud became so intensified as to be actually visible as a haze. Only on these rare occasions was conception probable. Breathed out by every individual, the pollen was breathed in by those who were ripe for fertilization. By all it was experienced as a rich and subtle perfume, to which each individual contributed his peculiar odor. By means of a curious psychical and physiological mechanism the individual in heat was moved to crave stimulation by the full perfume of the tribe, or of the great majority of its members; and indeed, if the pollen clouds were insufficiently complex, conception would not occur. Cross-fertilization between tribes happened in inter-tribal warfare and in the ceaseless coming and going between tribes in the modern world.
In this race, then, every individual might bear children. Every child, though it had an individual as its mother, was fathered by the tribe as a whole. Expectant parents were sacred, and were tended communally. When the baby “Echinoderm” finally detached itself from the parental body, it also was tended communally along with the rest of the tribe’s juvenile population. In civilized societies it was handed over to professional nurses and teachers.
I must not pause to tell of the important psychological effects of this kind of reproduction. The delights and disgusts which we feel in contact with the flesh of our kind were unknown. On the other hand, individuals were profoundly moved by the ever-changing tribal perfume. It is impossible to describe the strange variant of romantic love which, each individual periodically felt for the tribe. The thwarting, the repression, the perversion of this passion was the source at once of the loftiest and most sordid achievements of the race. Communal parenthood gave to the tribe a unity and strength quite unknown in more individualistic races. The primitive tribes were groups of a few hundred or a few thousand individuals, but in modern times their size greatly increased. Always, however, the sentiment of tribal loyalty, if it was to remain healthy, had to be based on the personal acquaintance of its members. Even in the larger tribes, everyone was at least “the friend of a friend’s friend” to every other member. Telephone, radio, and television enabled tribes as large as our smaller cities to maintain a sufficient degree of personal intercourse among their members.
But always there was some point beyond which further growth of the tribe was unwholesome. Even in the smallest and most intelligent tribes there was a constant strain between the individual’s natural passion for the tribe and his respect for individuality in himself and his fellows. But whereas in the small tribes and healthy larger tribes the tribal spirit was kept sweet and sane by the mutual-respect and self-respect of the individuals, in the largest and imperfectly sane tribes the hypnotic influence of the tribe was all too apt to drown personality. The members might even lose all awareness of themselves and their fellows as persons, and become mere mindless organs of the tribe. Thus the community would degenerate into an instinctive animal herd.
Throughout history the finer minds of the race had realized that the supreme temptation was the surrender of individuality to the tribe. Prophets had over and over again exhorted men to be true to themselves, but their preaching had been almost wholly vain. The greatest religions of this strange world were not religions of love but religions of self. Whereas in our world men long for the Utopia in which all men shall love one another, the “Echinoderms” were apt to exalt the religious hunger for strength to “be oneself” without capitulation to the tribe. Just as we compensate for our inveterate selfishness by religious veneration of the community, so this race compensated for inveterate “gregism” by religious veneration of the individual.
In its purest and most developed form, of course, the religion of self is almost identical with the religion of love at its best. To love is to will the self-fulfilment of the beloved, and to find, in the very activity of loving, an incidental but vitalizing increase of oneself. On the other hand, to be true to oneself, to the full potentiality of the self, involves the activity of love. It demands the discipline of the private self in service of a greater self which embraces the community and the fulfilment of the spirit of the race.
But the religion of self was no more effective with the “Echinoderms” than the religion of love with us. The precept, “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” breeds in us most often the disposition to see one’s neighbor merely as a poor imitation of oneself, and to hate him if he proves different. With them the precept, “Be true to thyself,” bred the disposition merely to be true to the tribal fashion of mentality. Modern industrial civilization caused many tribes to swell beyond the wholesome limit. It also introduced artificial “super-tribes” or “tribes of tribes,” corresponding to our nations and social classes. Since the economic unit was the internally communistic tribe, not the individual, the employing class was a small group of small and prosperous tribes, and the working class was a large group of large and impoverished tribes. The ideologies of the super-tribes exercised absolute power over all individual minds under their sway.
In civilized regions the super-tribes and the overgrown natural tribes created an astounding mental tyranny. In relation to his natural tribe, at least if it was small and genuinely civilized, the individual might still behave with intelligence and imagination. Along with his actual tribal kinsmen he might support a degree of true community unknown on Earth. He might in fact be a critical, self-respecting and other-respecting person. But in all matters connected with the super-tribes, whether national or economic, he behaved in a very different manner. All ideas coming to him with the sanction of nation or class would be accepted uncritically and with fervor by himself and all his fellows. As soon as he encountered one of the symbols or slogans of his super-tribe he ceased to be a human personality and became a sort of decerebrate animal, capable only of stereotyped reactions. In extreme cases his mind was absolutely closed to influences opposed to the suggestion of the super-tribe. Criticism was either met with blind rage or actually not heard at all. Persons who in the intimate community of their small native tribe were capable of great mutual insight and sympathy might suddenly, in response to tribal symbols, be transformed into vessels of crazy intolerance and hate directed against national or class enemies. In this mood they would go to any extreme of self-sacrifice for the supposed glory of the super-tribe. Also they would show great ingenuity in contriving means to exercise their lustful vindictiveness upon enemies who in favorable circumstances could be quite as kindly and intelligent as themselves.
At the time of our visit to this world it seemed that mob passions would destroy civilization completely and irrevocably. The affairs of the world were increasingly conducted under the sway of the spreading mania of super-tribalism; conducted, in fact, not intelligently but according to the relative emotional compulsions of almost meaningless slogans. I must not stay to describe how, after a period of chaos, a new way of life at last began to spread over this distressed world. It could not do so till the super-tribes had been disintegrated by the economic forces of mechanized industry, and by their own frenzied conflict. Then at last the individual mind became once more free. The whole prospect of the race now changed.
It was in this world that we first experienced that tantalizing loss of contact with the natives just at that point where, having established something like a social Utopia throughout their planet, they were beset by the first painful stirrings of the spirit before advancement to some mental plane beyond our reach, or at least beyond such comprehension as we then had.
Of the other “Echinoderm” worlds in our galaxy, one, more promising than the average, rose early to brilliance, but was destroyed by astronomical collision. Its whole solar system encountered a tract of dense nebula. The surface of every planet was fused. In several other worlds of this type we saw the struggle for the more awakened mentality definitely fail. Vindictive and superstitious herd-cults exterminated the best minds of the race, and drugged the rest with customs and principles so damaging that the vital sources of sensitivity and adaptability on which all mental progress depends were destroyed forever.
Many thousands of other quasi-human worlds, besides those of the “Echinoderm” type, came to an untimely end. One, which succumbed to a curious disaster, perhaps deserves brief notice. Here we found a race of very human kind. When its civilization had reached a stage and character much like our own, a stage in which the ideals of the masses are without the guidance of any well-established tradition, and in which natural science is enslaved to individualistic industry, biologists discovered the technique of artificial insemination. Now at this time there happened to be a wide-spread cult of irrationalism, of instinct, of ruthlessness, and of the “divine” primitive “brute-man.” This figure was particularly admired when he combined brutishness with the power of the mob-controller. Several countries were subjected to tyrants of this type, and in the so-called democratic states the same type was much favored by popular taste.
In both kinds of country, women craved “brute-men” as lovers and as fathers for their children. Since in the “democratic” countries women had attained great economic independence, their demand for fertilization by “brute-men” caused the whole matter to be commercialized. Males of the desirable type were taken up by syndicates, and graded in five ranks of desirability. At a moderate charge, fixed in relation to the grade of the father, any woman could obtain “brute-man” fertilization. So cheap was the fifth grade that only the most abject paupers were debarred from its services. The charge for actual copulation with even the lowest grade of selected male was, of course, much higher, since perforce the supply was limited.
In the non-democratic countries events took a different turn. In each of these regions a tyrant of the fashionable type gathered upon his own person the adoration of the whole population. He was the god-sent hero. He was himself divine. Every woman longed passionately to have him, if not as a lover, at least as father of her children. In some lands artificial insemination from the Master was permitted only as a supreme distinction for women of perfect type. Ordinary women of every class, however, were entitled to insemination from the authorized aristocratic stud of “brute-men.” In other countries the Master himself condescended to be the father of the whole future population.
The result of this extraordinary custom, of artificial fatherhood by “brute-men,” which was carried on without remission in all countries for a generation, and in a less thorough manner for a very much longer period, was to alter the composition of the whole quasi-human race. In order to maintain continued adaptability to an ever-changing environment, a race must at all costs preserve in itself its slight but potent salting of sensibility and originality. In this world the precious factor now became so diluted as to be ineffective. Henceforth the desperately complex problems of the world were consistently bungled. Civilization decayed. The race entered on a phase of what might be called pseudo-civilized barbarism, which was in essence sub-human and incapable of change. This state of affairs continued for some millions of years, but at last the race was destroyed by the ravages of a small rat-like animal against which it could devise no protection.
I must not stay to notice the strange fortunes of all the many other quasi-human worlds. I will mention only that in some, though civilization was destroyed in a succession of savage wars, the germ of recovery precariously survived. In one, the agonizing balance of the old and the new seemed to prolong itself indefinitely. In another, where science had advanced too far for the safety of an immature species, man accidentally blew up his planet and his race. In several, the dialectical process of history was broken short by invasion and conquest on the part of inhabitants of another planet. These and other disaster, to be described in due course, decimated the galactic population of worlds.
In conclusion I will mention that in one or two of these quasi-human worlds a new and superior biological race emerged naturally during the typical world crisis, gained power by sheer intelligence and sympathy, took charge of the planet, persuaded the aborigines to cease breeding, peopled the whole planet with its own superior type, and created a human race which attained communal mentality, and rapidly advanced beyond the limits of our exploring and over-strained understanding. Before our contact failed, we were surprised to observe that, as the new species superseded the old and took over the vast political and economic activity of that world, it came to realize with laughter the futility of all this feverish and aimless living. Under our eyes the old order began to give place to a new and simpler order, in which the world was to be peopled by a small “aristocratic” population served by machines, freed alike from drudgery and luxury and intent on exploration of the cosmos and the mind.
This change-over to a simpler life happened in several other worlds not by the intervention of a new species, but simply by the victory of the new mentality in its battle against the old.
As our exploration advanced and we gathered more and more helpers from the many worlds that we entered, our imaginative insight into alien natures increased. Though our research was still restricted to races which were in the throes of the familiar spiritual crisis, we gradually acquired the power of making contact with beings whose minds were very far from human in texture. I must now try to give some idea of the main types of these “non-human” intelligent worlds. In some cases the difference from humanity, though physically striking, and even mentally very remarkable, was not nearly so far-reaching as the cases to be described in the next chapter.
In general the physical and mental form of conscious beings is an expression of the character of the planet on which they live. On certain very large and aqueous planets, for instance, we found that civilization had been achieved by marine organisms. On these huge globes no land-dwellers as large as a man could possibly thrive, for gravitation would have nailed them to the ground. But in the water there was no such limitation to bulk. One peculiarity of these big worlds was that, owing to the crushing action of gravitation, there were seldom any great elevations and depressions in their surface. Thus they were usually covered by a shallow ocean, broken here and there by archipelagos of small, low islands.
I shall describe one example of this kind of world, the greatest planet of a mighty sun. Situated, if I remember rightly, near the congested heart of the galaxy, this star was born late in galactic history, and it gave birth to planets when already many of the older stars were encrusted with smoldering lava. Owing to the violence of solar radiation its nearer planets had (or will have) stormy climates. On one of them a mollusc-like creature, living in the coastal shallows, acquired a propensity to drift in its boat-like shell on the sea’s surface, thus keeping in touch with its drifting vegetable food. As the ages passed, its shell became better adapted to navigation. Mere drifting was supplemented by means of a crude sail, a membrane extending from the creature’s back. In time this nautiloid type proliferated into a host of species. Some of these remained minute, but some found size advantageous, and developed into living ships. One of these became the intelligent master of this great world.
The hull was a rigid, stream-lined vessel, shaped much as the nineteenth-century clipper in her prime, and larger than our largest whale. At the rear a tentacle or fin developed into a rudder, which was sometimes used also as a propeller, like a fish’s tail. But though all these species could navigate under their own power to some extent, their normal means of long-distance locomotion was their great spread of sail. The simple membranes of the ancestral type had become a system of parchment-like sails and bony masts and spars, under voluntary muscular control. Similarity to a ship was increased by the downward-looking eyes, one on each side of the prow. The mainmast-head also bore eyes, for searching the horizon. An organ of magnetic sensitivity in the brain afforded a reliable means of orientation. At the fore end of the vessel were two long manipulatory tentacles, which during locomotion were folded snugly to the flanks. In use they formed a very serviceable pair of arms. It may seem strange that a species of this kind should have developed human intelligence. In more than one world of this type, however, a number of accidents combined to produce this result. The change from a vegetarian to a carnivorous habit caused a great increase of animal cunning in pursuit of the much speedier submarine creatures. The sense of hearing was wonderfully developed, for the movements of fish at great distances could be detected by the underwater ears. A line of taste-organs along either bilge responded to the ever-changing composition of the water, and enabled the hunter to track his prey. Delicacy of hearing and of taste combined with omnivorous habits, and with great diversity of behavior and strong sociality, to favor the growth of intelligence.
Speech, that essential medium of the developed mentality, had two distinct modes in this world. For short-range communication, rhythmic underwater emissions of gas from a vent in the rear of the organism were heard and analyzed by means of underwater ears. Long-distance communication was carried on by means of semaphore signals from a rapidly agitating tentacle at the mast head.
The organizing of communal fishing expeditions, the invention of traps, the making of lines and nets, the practice of agriculture, both in the sea and along the shores, the building of stone harbors and work-shops, the use of volcanic heat for smelting metals, and of wind for driving mills, the projection of canals into the low islands in search of minerals and fertile ground, the gradual exploration and mapping of a huge world, the harnessing of solar radiation for mechanical power, these and many other achievements were at once a product of intelligence and an opportunity for its advancement.
It was a strange experience to enter the mind of an intelligent ship to see the foam circling under one’s own nose as the vessel plunged through the waves, to taste the bitter or delicious currents streaming past one’s flanks, to feel the pressure of air on the sails as one beat up against the breeze, to hear beneath the water-line the rush and murmur of distant shoals of fishes, and indeed actually to hear the sea-bottom’s configuration by means of the echoes that it cast up to the under-water ears. It was strange and terrifying to be caught in a hurricane, to feel the masts straining and the sails threatening to split, while the hull was battered by the small but furious waves of that massive planet. It was strange, too, to watch other great living ships, as they plowed their way, heeled over, adjusted the set of their yellow or russet sails to the wind’s variations; and very strange it was to realize that these were not man-made objects but themselves conscious and purposeful.
Sometimes we saw two of the living ships fighting, tearing at one another’s sails with snake-like tentacles, stabbing at one another’s soft “decks” with metal knives, or at a distance firing at one another with cannon. Bewildering and delightful it was to feel in the presence of a slim female clipper the longing for contact, and to carry out with her on the high seas the tacking and yawing, the piratical pursuit and overhauling, the delicate, fleeting caress of tentacles, which formed the love-play of this race. Strange, to come up alongside, close-hauled, grapple her to one’s flank, and board her with sexual invasion. It was charming, too, to see a mother ship attended by her children. I should mention, by the way, that at birth the young were launched from the mother’s decks like little boats, one from the port side, one from the starboard. Thenceforth they were suckled at her flanks. In play they swam about her like ducklings, or spread their immature sails. In rough weather and for long voyaging they were taken aboard. At the time of our visit natural sails were beginning to be aided by a power unit and propeller which were fixed to the stern. Great cities of concrete docks had spread along many of the coasts, and were excavated out of the hinterlands. We were delighted by the broad water-ways that served as streets in these cities. They were thronged with sail and mechanized traffic, the children appearing as tugs and smacks among the gigantic elders.
It was in this world that we found in its most striking form a social disease which is perhaps the commonest of all world-diseases — namely, the splitting of the population into two mutually unintelligible castes through the influence of economic forces. So great was the difference between adults of the two castes that they seemed to us at first to be distinct species, and we supposed ourselves to be witnessing the victory of a new and superior biological mutation over its predecessor. But this was far from the truth.
In appearance the masters were very different from the workers, quite as different as queen ants and drones from the workers of their species. They were more elegantly and accurately stream-lined. They had a greater expanse of sail, and were faster in fair weather. In heavy seas they were less seaworthy, owing to their finer lines; but on the other hand they were the more skilful and venturesome navigators. Their manipulatory tentacles were less muscular, but capable of finer adjustments. Their perception was more delicate. While a small minority of them perhaps excelled the best of the workers in endurance and courage, most were much less hardy, both physically and mentally. They were subject to a number of disintegrative diseases which never affected the workers, chiefly diseases of the nervous system. On the other hand, if any of them contracted one of the infectious ailments which were endemic to the workers, but seldom fatal, he would almost certainly die. They were also very prone to mental disorders, and particularly to neurotic self-importance. The whole organization and control of the world was theirs. The workers, on the other hand, though racked by disease and neurosis bred of their cramping environment, were on the whole psychologically more robust. They had, however, a crippling sense of inferiority. Though in handicrafts and all small-scale operations they were capable of intelligence and skill, they were liable, when faced with tasks of wider scope, to a strange paralysis of mind.
The mentalities of the two castes were indeed strikingly different. The masters were more prone to individual initiative and to the vices of self-seeking. The workers were more addicted to collectivism and the vices of subservience to the herd’s hypnotic influence. The masters were on the whole more prudent, far-seeing, independent, self-reliant; the workers were more impetuous, more ready to sacrifice themselves in a social cause, often more clearly aware of the right aims of social activity, and incomparably more generous to individuals in distress.
At the time of our visit certain recent discoveries were throwing the world into confusion. Hitherto it had been supposed that the natures of the two castes were fixed unalterably, by divine law and by biological inheritance. But it was now certain that this was not the case, and that the physical and mental differences between the classes were due entirely to nurture. Since time immemorial, the castes had been recruited in a very curious manner. After weaning, all children born on the port side of the mother, no matter what the parental caste, were brought up to be members of the master caste; all those born on the starboard side were brought up to be workers. Since the master class had, of course, to be much smaller than the working class, this system gave an immense superfluity of potential masters. The difficulty was overcome as follows. The starboard-born children of workers and the port-born children of masters were brought up by their own respective parents; but the port-born, potentially aristocratic children of workers were mostly disposed of by infant sacrifice. A few only were exchanged with the starboard-born children of masters.
With the advance of industrialism, the increasing need for large supplies of cheap labor, the spread of scientific ideas and the weakening of religion, came the shocking discovery that port-born children, of both classes, if brought up as workers, became physically and mentally indistinguishable from workers. Industrial magnates in need of plentiful cheap labor now developed moral indignation against infant sacrifice, urging that the excess of port-born infants should be mercifully brought up as workers. Presently certain misguided scientists made the even more subversive discovery that starboard-born children brought up as masters developed the fine lines, the great sails, the delicate constitution, the aristocratic mentality of the master caste. An attempt was made by the masters to prevent this knowledge from spreading to the workers, but certain sentimentalists of their own caste bruited it abroad, and preached a new-fangled and inflammatory doctrine of social equality.
During our visit the world was in terrible confusion. In backward oceans the old system remained unquestioned, but in all the more advanced regions of the planet a desperate struggle was being waged. In one great archipelago a social revolution had put the workers in power, and a devoted though ruthless dictatorship was attempting so to plan the life of the community that the next generation should be homogeneous and of a new type, combining the most desirable characters of both workers and masters. Elsewhere the masters had persuaded their workers that the new ideas were false and base, and certain to lead to universal poverty and misery. A clever appeal was made to the vague but increasing suspicion that “materialistic science” was misleading and superficial, and that mechanized civilization was crushing out the more spiritual potentialities of the race. Skilled propaganda spread the ideal of a kind of corporate state with “port and starboard flanks” correlated by a popular dictator, who, it was said, would assume power “by divine right and the will of the people.”
I must not stay to tell of the desperate struggle which broke out between these two kinds of social organizations. In the worldwide campaigns many a harbor, many an ocean current, flowed red with slaughter. Under the pressure of a war to the death, all that was best, all that was most human and gentle on each side was crushed out by military necessity. On the one side, the passion for a unified world, where every individual should live a free and full life in service of the world community, was overcome by the passion to punish spies, traitors, and heretics. On the other, vague and sadly misguided yearnings for a nobler, less materialistic life were cleverly transformed by the reactionary leaders into vindictiveness against the revolutionaries.
Very rapidly the material fabric of civilization fell to pieces. Not till the race had reduced itself to an almost subhuman savagery, and all the crazy traditions of a diseased civilization had been purged away, along with true culture, could the spirit of these “ship-men” set out again on the great adventure of the spirit. Many thousands of years later it broke through on to that higher plane of being which I have still to suggest, as best I may.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00