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December 28, 2008

'Darker Than You Think' — by Jack Williamson


His 1948 novel "... originally saw print as a 40,000-word "complete novel" in the December 1940 issue of the legendary pulp magazine Unknown. Williamson revised and expanded the text in the fall of 1947 while working as wire editor for the Portales Daily News.... The book version, published by Fantasy Press in 1948, more than doubled the length of its prior incarnation...," wrote Douglas E. Winter in his 1999 introduction to the novel's republication.

Up top, the cover of the 1948 first edition.

Consider that Williamson employed Heisenberg's uncertainty principle and reality as a probability function not today — when such concepts are accepted and bandied about (oftimes erroneously, but that's another subject entirely) — but 68 years ago, when Philip K. Dick was a boy of 12.

    Excerpts from Williamson's book:

    "The theory joins it all together.... I don't know physics enough to explain all the technical ramifications, but my friend made the point seem simple enough. The link between mind and matter, he says, is probability."

    "Living things are more than matter alone.... The mind is an independent something — an energy complex, he called it — created by the vibrating atoms and electrons of the body, and yet controlling their vibrations through the linkage of atomic probability.... That web of living energy is fed by the body; it's part of the body — usually."

    "But that vital pattern, in us, is stronger than in true men.... More fluid, and less dependent on the material body. In this free state... we simply separate that living web from the body, and use the probability link to attach it to other atoms, wherever we please — the atoms of the air are easiest to control... because the oxygen and nitrogen and carbon are the same atoms that establish the linkage in our bodies."

    "No common matter is any real barrier to us in this free state.... Doors and walls still seem real enough, I know — but wood is mostly oxygen and carbon, and our mind webs can grasp the vibrating atoms and slip through them, nearly as easily as through the air."

    "My friend taught me how to smooth the random vibrations from the heavier elements in the wood and the paint that otherwise would be something of a barrier."

    Her greenish eyes fixed intently on the lower panels of the door — and Barbee remembered old Mondrick's lecture on probability. All matter was mostly empty space, he said; only the random collisions of vibrating atoms kept the little black lamp from falling through the seemingly insubstantial desk. Nothing in the universe was absolute; only probabilities were real. And the mind web, according to this theory of April's unknown friend, governed probability.

    Before her greenish stare, the bottom half of the study door melted into misty unreality. For an instant Barbee could see the dark screws that held the hinges, and all the mechanism of the lock, as if in an X-ray view. Then the metal faded also....

    For the way was closing. The dark screws and the metal of the lock appeared again, and then the ghostly outline of the wooden panels turned suddenly real. Weakly, he blundered against the door. It flung him back, solid as it seemed. He tried to remember old Mondrick's lecture and that theory of April's friend. All matter was mostly emptiness. Nothing was absolute; only probabilities were real. His mind was an energy web, and it could grasp the atoms and electrons of the door by the link of probability. It could smooth the random vibrations which made the door a barrier.

    Reeling, he stared at the solid-seeming panels. Gropingly, he tried to dissolve them again. Only probabilities were real, he remembered — those were merely words. The door remained solid.... Slowly, in a fumbling way, he got hold of a curious, novel sense of extension and control.

    A misty spot came in the wood. Uncertainly, he widened it.... He tried again.... The space came wider. He... stumbled at the door, and sprawled through it....

    Nothing anywhere was absolute, and only probabilities were real. His free mind was a moving pattern, an eternal complex of mental energy that grasped atoms and electrons by the linkage of probability to be its vehicle and its tools. That mental web could ride the wind, and slip through wood or common metal.

    "We're never quite so powerful as we feel in this free state.... Because our usual bodies are left behind, and our moving mind complexes can draw only upon the chance energies they happen to grasp from the atoms of the air or other substances we possess, by the linkage of probability. All our power lies in that control of probability....

    "This universe, to me, is strictly mechanistic. Every phenomenon that takes place in it — from the birth of suns to the tendency of men to live in fear of gods and devils — was implicit in the primal superatom from whose explosive cosmic energy it was formed. The efforts that some distinguished scientists make to find room for operation of a free human will and the creative function of supernatural divinity in such apparent defects of mechanistic determination as Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty — those futile efforts are as pathetic to me as the crudest attempt of a witch doctor to make it rain by sprinkling water on the ground. All the so-called supernatural, Mr. Barbee, is pure delusion, based on misdirected emotion and inaccurate observation and illogical thinking."

    The glass dissolved as his free mind reached out to find the linkage of probability and grasp the shivering atoms to be a part of himself as he passed. The embedded steel wire yielded more slowly....

    Barbee objected no more. In this glorious awakening from the long nightmare of life, all his values were changed.

    "Dead minds don't leave fossils in the ground, you know. Dr. Mondrick thought they did, however, in language and myth and superstition."



$13.45 if you want your own copy (of the republication — not the first edition, silly billy).

December 28, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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