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Harness, Charles L. – “The New Reality” (1950)

07/10/2012

A story that has one interesting idea stretched out to ~50 miserable pages. It’s around 1970, and Adrian Prentiss is a member of the Bureau of censors, a shadowy government organization dedicated to the “grim and hateful business” of controlling human knowledge – “unless a sane world-wide pattern of nucleonic investigation were followed, some one … might one day throw a switch and alter the shape of that reality.” The head Censor, a woman, initially seems like an actual capable human being annoyed and disinterested in Prentiss’s advances, but is quickly reduced to little more than an enthusiastically-described body and love interest.

Further problems set in with the development of the conflict, which sees Prentiss, in his own words, trying “[t]o prevent people like you from introducing sensoria that can’t be conformed to our present apperception mass. To keep reality as is.” The “you” in that sentence is one Dr. Luce, who, like most academics, is trying to blow the physical laws of the universe to smithereens in order to create a new reality that only he will understand, making him a God. In researching this threat, Prentiss finds that the present, complex world is the result of several similar human interventions in the original pure noumenon of the universe. In other words, the Earth was flat until people decided it made more sense for it to be round, the Sun was once much smaller and closer, etc etc. When he reports this threat and new research to the Bureau and the Censor (“whenever man grows disenchanted with his present reality, he starts elaborating it, and devil take the hindmost. Luce but symbolizes the evil genius of our race – and I mean both our species and the race toward intertwined godhead and destruction”), they all treat him like he’s crazy… even though this is a Bureau set up to combat exactly that threat.

Prentiss charms the Censor, whose name is revealed to be E, into sending him after Luce anyway (with much insistence that the two of them get married, also?), and the action cuts to his infiltration of Luce’s Snake-Eyes Estate, a famous zoo and wildlife sanctuary. You read that right. There is much discussion of physics and Luce’s scheme to force a proton to stop moving, breaking Einstein’s laws of physics, and the universe is reduced to noumenon once more. In this new reality, Luce is revealed to be some sort of snake spirit, and Adrian and E are left alone in a paradisaical garden.

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