Ray Cummings (1887-1957) was been viewed as "one of the founding fathers of the pulp science fiction genre". According to Wikipedia, Cummings "worked with Thomas Edison as a personal assistant and technical writer from 1914-1919...(h)is (writing)career resulted in some 750 novels and short stories ." Although most noted for his science fiction, Cummings was also a popular writer in the detective pulps. During the 1940s, Cummings wote for Timely Comics, contributing stories about Captain America, Submariner, and the Human Torch.
The Man Who Mastered Time falls into his rather loose Matter, Space and Time series, which postulates that matter, space and time are interlinked and that one cannet exist without the others. (His most famous work in the series was The Girl in the Golden Atom, in which the atoms themselves are individual worlds.) First published in Argosy as a five-part serial beginning in July, 1919, The Man Who Mastered Time suffers somewhat from the writing conventions of that time, but the story still pulses with adventure, romance, and invention. A willingness to suspend disbelief is all that is needed to enjoy this novel.
The story starts with exposition, as Loto, a man of twenty, explains to family friends that he and his father had been experimenting two years earlier with the fluorescene in a Crookes tube when they accidently created a ray that could see through time, showing them a distant ice age future where a figure was on a sled pulled by dog-like creatures that were as big as horses. The sled stopped at a low, oval building where Loto could also see a beautiful girl; it soon became obvious that the girl was a slave or a captive and Loto vowed to save her. It took Loto two years but the young man had perfected a space-time machine -- an airplane of sorts -- that could move through both space and time. He said goodbye to his friends, climbed into the plane, and vanished.
Loto returned about twenty-eight hours later. He had used his invention to travel over forty-five thousand years into the future. He had viewed many changes in the New York landscape, watching the city grow and die, viewing an alien invasion and occupation that lasted thousands of years, the contours of the land changing, winter overtaking everything as a new ice age formed, the planet being abandoned by the aliens and most of the human race, the sun turning into a small red ball. Loto realized he had traveled too far in the future. He retreated and searched until he finally found the dwelling he had been seeking. He refined his search to a point where the girl who had fascinated him was in the dwelling -- it was twenty-eight thousand years into his future.
Loto's attempts to recue the girl failed, and he was captured and placed under a type of house arrest. His captor was the brutal Toroh. Despite the decline in civilization, Toroh had a number of advanced weapons which kept Loto at bay. The girl was Azeela, the daughter of the leading Scientist of Anglese, a country covering what was left of the southeastern part of the United States and the northern part of the Caribbean Sea. The country had three rigid strata of society: the Arans, which were the hereditary rulers; the Bas, the manual workers who were viewed as serfs or chattel; and the Scientists, the intellectuals who keep things running and provided a balance between the other two groups. The Scientists, however, were not innovators --society had devolved to far for that; the Scientists spent their time trying to recreate inventions and science of long-past generations. Toroh had been an Anglese who was banished for trying to overturn the government. Exiled, he went to the frozen land of the Noths, gathering an army of barbarians for an eventual assault on Anglese. He had kidnapped Azeela in an attempt to force her father Fahn to cooperate with him.
Eventually Loto and Azeela escaped, find Loto's hidden plane, and go to Anglese, where Azeela is reunited with her family. Loto throws his lot with the Anglese, and returns to his own timeline for additional fuel and supplies and to let his family and friends know of his plans. Soon he is gone, leaving a note to the effect that if he does not return in thirty days, his friends can come look for him; he will leave a signal in the future so they will be able to find him. Loto does not return. His father and his friends must construct another space-time machine to search for him.
Some months later the plane is ready. Loto's father and George, Loto's best friend, set off to find him. They arrive in the future and find Loto safe, but the situation in Anglese is dire. Toroh has spies everywhere, urging the Bas to revolt, and the degenerate Arans refused to capitulate. Civil war is sure to begin soon, allowing Toroh a chance to invade with his Noth army and conquer the land. In the meantime, George has fallen in love with Dee, Azeela's younger sister. Toroh discovers Loto's secret -- that he is from the past and that he has his machine hidden. As civil war erupts, Fahn and his Scientists take control of the country in an attempt to halt hostilities. In the confusion, Azeela is once again kidnapped. George and Dee discover that Toroh wants Azeela to show him how to operate the space-time machine so that he can travel to the past and get invincible weapons. George and Dee race to the second space-time machine to stop them, but are too late.
The Man Who Mastered Time is a fast and enjoyable read. The fact that it creaks in some places is more than made up for with its convoluted plot and its sheer inventiveness. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I enjoyed it.
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