Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Philip Wylie’s “An Epistle to the Thessalonians”

Philip Wylie (1902-1971) was a writer of novels, short stories and screenplays. He wrote the famous science fiction novels (with co-author Edwin Balmer), When Worlds Collide and its sequel, After Worlds Collide. As a youngster I read them both, and they gave me much food for thought about the possibility that one day we could wake up to find the planet under our feet is gone, and us along with it.

He wrote The Murderer Invisible, parts of which he incorporated into his screenplay of H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, and he also wrote Gladiator, about a superhuman, Hugo Danner, who does many of the things that Superman later did. While it has been alternately denied and acknowledged that Gladiator was an inspiration for Superman, Wylie believed it.

This short story, “An Epistle to the Thessalonians,” which appeared in the Damon Knight-edited science fiction digest, Worlds Beyond,  is given a copyright date of 1934 and called a reprint, although Wylie’s bibliography lists it as first appearing in this issue, Worlds Beyond Number One, in 1950.

“Epistle” is satire. A giant “one thousand miles tall” appears, standing in the ocean. Americans go to war with it. Scientists study it. They count how many times an hour the giant blinks, or how many miles his arm moves, or what his shoes are made of, but they cannot tell why he has appeared. The giant, by moving just his foot, causes major damage to the New York/New Jersey area. The story is also a shaggy dog story. It builds and builds until its ending, which is —

— well, read it for yourself.

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