Beyond the Vanishing Point by Ray Cummings
Ray Cummings was a name to be reckoned with during the early years of science fiction. He popularized the concept of "worlds within worlds" and his story "The Girl in the Golden Atom" remains a classic of that type even today. Although Cummings went to that well a number times -- including the book discussed here -- he produced a large body of work (over 750 stories) for the pulps in the science fiction, mystery, and weird fields, in addition to writing scripts for the forerunner of Marvel comics. In his early life he worked oil wells and mines in the Western U. S. and Canada before becoming an editor for some of Thomas Edison's publications.
Beyond the Vanishing Point was first published as a short novel in the March, 1931 issue of Astounding Stories, a dozen years after he wrote The Girl in the Golden Atom. Ace Books brought it out as a paperback double in 1958 (backed with Kenneth Bulmer's The Secret of Zi). It is now available online and in 2007 was released as a hardcover and as a trade paperback in 2008.
Reading this books requires you to abandon all hope of plausibility and scientific accuracy; you must also realize that logic and common sense fly out the window -- indeed, abandon all preconceptions and just enjoy the wild, thrilling pulpish ride. If nothing else, this book is an enjoyable, fast-paced tale.
George Randolph is a 21-year old assistant chemist who gets a strange telephone call from his best friend, 18-year old Alan Kent, urging George to meet him and his twin sister Babs in Canada, explanations to come.
Arriving in Canada, George finds a distraught Alan. His sister has vanished and Alan suspects Franz Polter (whom we know is a villain because he is a Balkan who speaks with a German accent and is a hunchback to boot -- in pulps, all Balkan hunchbacks are villainish.) Four years earlier, Polter had been an assistant to the Kents' father until he tried to force himself on (then 14-year old) Babs. He was fired that day and that evening Dr. Kent disappeared. The Kents had called George because they had seen Polter; the villain, who would have nearly 30 years old today, had the appearance of a man near fifty. Within the past four years Polter (under another name) had made himself extremely rich through a remote gold mine in an area where gold had never before been found.
Convinced that Polter holds the key to his sisters disappearance, Alan goes to Polter's isolated lair with George. Before gaining entrance however, they are knocked out by some type of gas. They waken, bound, in an enormous room. In the center of the room is a large microscope fixed on a tiny shard of quartz. Looking around, they see Polter; hanging from his neck is a tiny cage and in the cage is a shrunken Babs, apparently unhurt. A tiny voice next to the bound men caught their attention and they saw another teen-aged girl who was only an inch tall. The girl is Glora, from the microscopic world, who promises to release the pair. Polter, meanwhile begins to shrink, and with him the cage holding Babs. Glora suddenly grows somewhat bigger and is able to cut the prisoners bonds. She gives them a pill and suddenly they begin to grow, towering above the dozens of henchmen Polter had employed, who quickly scatter. With the aid of Glora and a supply of the miraculous pills, George and Alan soon enter microscopic world of an atom within the quartz shard.
Adventure follows adventure until Alan and Glora discover Alan's father, now almost eighty year's old and forced by Polter to manufacture the growth and shrinking pills. George, meanwhile, has managed to find Babs and is trapped in the tiny cage with her. Polter has conquered the atom world and plans to make Babs his queen after one final trip to Earth. His plans go awry when the growth drug is accidently released, creating monster-sized disease bacteria that begin to ravage the area. An urgent race to free Babs and a mighty battle ensue. Things end well while setting the scene for a possible sequel which never appeared.
I really enjoyed this one even though hints of possible pedaphelia with the 14-year old Babs disturbed me, even when coming from a Balkan hunchback pulp villain. The pace is frenetic and the writing of a much higher quality than much of the pulp science fiction from that era. Recommended for those willing to check their brains at the door.