Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, April 13, 2021


 "Wings Against Time" by Frank Edward Arnold (first published in Science Fiction Quarterly, Winter 1942: reprinted in Arnold's 1946 paperback collection Wings Against Time)

Hold on to your hats, buckaroos.  This is going to be a wild ride.  Here's the blurb from the story's original magazine appearance:

"Across the veil of five thousand years he was taken. to aid the beautiful winged people of tomorrow in their struggle against the super-evolved heads."

"Wings Against Time" was written with all the naivete, imagination, pseudoscience, stereotypical tropes, and just plain wrong-headedness that marks such works as Edgar Rice Burroughs' Caspak or Amtor novels.  It reads as though the author was an enthusiastic teenager rather than the twenty-eight-year-old science fiction fan he was when the tale was published.

It opens with the disappearance of collegiate Jimmy Langley, a very promising chemistry student, jokester, and athlete.  Langley excelled in all types of sports, despite being barely over five feet tall, with short legs.  Langley is engaged to pretty Mary Parkes, "who was known to suffer from amnesia."  At a college meet, with over five thousand fans watching, Langley attempted a 13-foot pole vault...and disappeared in thin air halfway through the leap.  The narrator, a reporter and a friend of Langley's, is told by the college's board of governors that the disappearance must have been a trick of the sun and ordered him to write the incident as such .. "and as no one would bear me witness to the truth I had to."

Fast forward two years.  The narrator gets a strange message from Langley:  "I'm back in the world of the 1940's and I need advice badly."  H rushes to an out-of-the-way boarding house and finds his friend in bed, wrapped under heavy blankets.  Then Jimmy Langley tells him where he has been over the past two years.

In the midst of his pole vault, Langley was encircled by darkness and strange lights and visions and then unconsciousness.  He woke in a bed assuming he had fallen and hit his head during the jump.  But there was a beautiful seven-foot tall woman standing on the window sill of the strange room and she had white wings.  The wings had a twelve-foot span and started at he shoulders and ran all the way down to her ankles.  (How the heck could she then walk? I wondered.)  She was wearing a tunic.  (How the heck could she wear that with neck to ankle wings?  I wondered.)  She flew into the room by his bedside and Langley, being naked, quickly wrapped some sheets around his body.  Then a winged, tuniced, thin man entered; he was eight-foot tall.

The man was Brecon and the woman Laura.  They told Langley that he had been transported five thousand years in the future by Sarconis, a Head who controlled North America.  They were in New York in a strange building and in a room a thousand feet above ground level.  America had been reduced to four fantastically designed cities.  Everyone now had wings.

Way, way back in ancient times, the world became overpopulated.  For some reason space travel was impossible.  Mankind had reached its limits of science and imagination and was slowly devolving.  Then someone had the bright idea of evolution --- if man could continue to evolve, he could regain his ancient glory.  A scientist "analyzed light rays far beyond the ultra-violet and found at the uttermost end of the spectrum the black ray of evolution."  After a few false starts, mankind was back in business.  At first, man evolved into a magnificent physical specimen.  There was some pushback from those who felt the mind should evolve, rather than the body.  These dissenters separated from the others and began their own experiments, increasing their brains greatly, to the point that their heads grew so large they had to be physically supported.  Meanwhile the rest of humanity, now physically perfect, and "as strong in proportion as the ants who carry as much as seventy times their weight,"  began to increase their intelligence.  After some centuries, the "Heads" decided to come out of hiding and destroy the others, which they  mostly did with quick dispatch and with robots bearing super-science weapons.

The Heads then retreated to their various single lairs scattered across the world.  There are only a handful of Heads. Sarconis is the only Head in North America and his headquarters are in London.  (What?).  Sarconis is interested in time travel and, because "time was a transmitting force," you see, so he built a time machine to snatch people from the past for his experiments.  Langley was the latest victim.

By now the rest of humanity had "sworn a Code of Clans which bound all Supermen to save men from the Heads at any cost."  Hearing that Sarconis had snatched another person from the past, Brecon and Laura donned invisibility units (what?)and snatch the unconscious Langley from Sarconis' lair.  His two winged friends urged Langley to become a Calnsman and to work and fight with them.  Langley agrees, knowing full well that he could never return to his own time and his beloved, amnesia-prone Mary.

So much for setting the scene.

But now come to a bit of geography that a good copy editor should have resolved.  I mentioned that Langley woke up in New York.  Also that Sarconis ruled America.  Not only is Sarconis' headquarters are in London, but now it appears that what the author told us was New York is really Northumberland, and that one Superman whose invisibility unit failed him at the worst possible moment -- when he was attempting rescue another time traveler from Sarconis' lair -- was forced to run (How the heck is he supposed to run with wings attached all the way down his body to nhis ankles? I again wonder.) across Essex to get away from three killer Mecanicals [sic] robots sent after him.   (If he had taken to air for his escape he would have been destroyed by rays, you see, so he had to run, superfast.)  The robots chasing him are invincible to any weapons the Clansmen have developed,  But the robots didn't count on Langley, who rolled a giant rock off a cliff to crush all three Mecanicals.  The idea of crushing their enemies was never in the Clansmen's wheelhouse evidently.

Now that they know how to defeat them, the Clansmen start to gather rocks and make big, heavy things to drop on the enemy.  But let's add another improbable wrinkle to the mix.  The other time traveler whom Sarconis had captured was none other than Langley's beloved, amnesia-prone Mary Parkes!   What are the odds?  (Well, we readers knew that was going to happen, didn't we?)  Sarconis had planned to mate the two twentieth century prisoners and experiment on their offspring.  (Sarconis is a fat-headed -- literally -- cad.)

Let's rush through a lot of gobbledygook about the attack on Sarconis' lair and get to the part where Langley is reunited with his beloved, amnesia-prone Mary.  It turns out she is now seven feet tall and -- at least momentarily -- doesn't remember him.  Luckily, when you are prone to get amnesia, you are also prone to snap out of it, which Mary does.  They get away (kind of) and then they get captured again.  Langley has grown to Mary's height (don't ask) and both now have wings (please, please, don't ask).  Alas, they are still captives.

The Clansmen attack once again and Sarconis is slain, but Langley accidently falls into the time machine and is transported back to 1942, leaving his beloved, amnesia-prone, Titaness, winged Mary five thousand years in the future.  His one hope is that Mary may have told the Clansmen not to destroy the time machine and that they are working to bring him back to the future (which would be a good title for a movie).  

Langley's friend, the reporter who happens to be named Frank Edward Arnold, says that he knows the editor of Science Fiction Quarterly and that he will write up Langley's story as a fiction tale for him.

Langley spreads his wings and flies off.

The author (1914-1987) was a well-known British science fiction fan from the 1930s until his death.  From the 1940s on, Arnold oversaw the visitor's book for the "First Thursday" pub meetings of British fans.  He wrote only five science fiction stories from 1939 to 1942.  Three stories from the SF magazines and one original story were published in Wings Across Time, a 120-page paperback published by the short-lived Pendulum "Popular" Spacetime Series of which Arnold was the editor.  (I can't determine if this publisher issued any other book.)  He also wrote a few articles and book reviews; most --if not all -- were published in a 2017 e-book from David Langford's Ansible Press.

The Winter 1942 issue of Science Fiction Quarterly is available to read online.   In addition to "Wings Across Time" the issue contains stories by contains stories by Arthur J. Burks, Damon Knight, David H. Keller, "Millard Verne Gordon" (Donald A. Wollheim), Walter R. Preston (his only known story), "Hugh Raymond" (John B. Michel), "Arthur Lambert" (Arthur L. Widner, Jr.; a well-known SF fan of the 30s and 40s), "Richard Morrison" (Robert A. W. Lowndes). and J. Harvey Haggard.  The editor was Robert Lowndes, who relied mainly on SF fans to write the contents, including some fellow Futurians.  Futurian "Hans Bok" (Wayne Francis Woodward) provided a great illustration for "Wings Across Time."


  1. Amazingly complex imaginations, these writers have.

  2. This would've been tucked, by Knight, into his "Chuckleheads" chapters eventually, I suspect. Hannes Bok? Or did he spell it differently early on?

  3. This would've been tucked, by Knight, into his "Chuckleheads" chapters eventually, I suspect. Hannes Bok? Or did he spell it differently early on?

  4. This would've been tucked, by Knight, into his "Chuckleheads" chapters eventually, I suspect. Hannes Bok? Or did he spell it differently early on?

  5. Sorry, been mostly pretty dopey all day, see you are indicating that Bok's pseud was typo'd.