Hellhounds of the Cosmos by Clifford D. Simak appeared in the June 1932 issue of Astounding Stories.
After the first couple pages into Hellhounds of the Cosmos, I did not expect to be as completely blown away by weird the way I was in its second half.
Hellhounds starts out with what seems to be an otherwise typical setup – invincible aliens that look like shadowy amorphous blobs have been showing up and destroying major cities all over Earth. These shadowy monsters are known simply as the Horror. At this point, I’m yawning, expecting pseudo-Lovecraftian hackery but without the subversive winks (or gonzo pacing) of a Gardner F. Fox. The Scientist Dr. Silas White’s Flatlandesque explanation of the 4th dimensional nature of the invaders piques my interest a bit, as does the prospect of his sending one of the reporters with his volunteers to fight the threat on its own dimension, but things have dragged a bit up to the point where everyone is sent through the portal.
Then this happens:
[Henry Woods] felt solid ground under his feet, and his eyes, snapping open, saw an alien land. It was a land of somber color, with great gray moors, and beetling black cliffs. There was something queer about it, an intangible quality that baffled him.
He looked about him, expecting to see his companions. He saw no one. He was absolutely alone in that desolate brooding land. Something dreadful had happened! Was he the only one to be safely transported from the third dimension? Had some horrible accident occurred? Was he alone?
Sudden panic seized him. If something had happened, if the others were not here, might it not be possible that the machine would not be able to bring him back to his own dimension? Was he doomed to remain marooned forever in this terrible plane?
He looked down at his body and gasped in dismay. It was not his body!
It was a grotesque caricature of a body, a horrible profane mass of flesh, like a phantasmagoric beast snatched from the dreams of a lunatic.
It was real, however. He felt it with his hands, but they were not hands. They were something like hands; they served the same purpose that hands served in the third dimension. He was, he realized, a being of the fourth dimension, but in his fourth-dimensional brain still clung hard-fighting remnants of that faithful old third-dimensional brain. He could not, as yet, see with fourth-dimensional eyes, think purely fourth-dimensional thoughts. He had not oriented himself as yet to this new plane of existence. He was seeing the fourth dimension through the blurred lenses of millions of eons of third-dimensional existence. He was seeing it much more clearly than he had seen it in the half-globe atop the machine in Dr. White’s laboratory, but he would not see it clearly until every vestige of the third dimension was wiped from him. That, he knew, would come in time.
He felt his weird body with those things that served as hands, and he found, beneath his groping, unearthly fingers, great rolling muscles, powerful tendons, and hard, well-conditioned flesh. A sense of well-being surged through him and he growled like an animal, like an animal of that horrible fourth plane.
But the terrible sounds that came from between his slobbering lips were not those of his own voice, they were the voices of many men.
Then he knew. He was not alone. Here, in this one body were the bodies, the brains, the power, the spirit, of those other ninety-eight men. In the fourth dimension, all the millions of third-dimensional things were one. Perhaps that particular portion of the third dimension called the Earth had sprung from, or degenerated from, one single unit of a dissolving, worn-out fourth dimension. The third dimension, warped back to a higher plane, was automatically obeying the mystic laws of evolution by reforming in the shape of that old ancestor, unimaginably removed in time from the race he had begot. He was no longer Henry Woods, newspaperman; he was an entity that had given birth, in the dim ages when the Earth was born, to a third dimension. Nor was he alone. This body of his was composed of other sons of that ancient entity.
In something that Michael Moorcock would later swipe for his weirder Eternal Champion tales, Henry Woods finds himself to be a part of 4th dimensional superbeing Mal Shaff, nemesis of the cruel Ouglat. Unlike Sailor on the Seas of Fate, the threat to our world is real and immediate – Ouglat has been sending extensions of himself into the 3rd dimension and is behind the invasion!
These two cosmic horrors slug it out in a nightmarish otherworld as those back on Earth lend their support, sending more and more volunteers into the portal to become one with Mal Shaff so that it can overpower Ouglat.
I’ll admit, this was a story that really took me by surprise. While it is placed in a very “sciency” frame, with the scientist, his lab and machines and elaborate scientific explanations for the nature of the threat and how to combat it, it ends for Mal Shaff and the being once known as Henry Woods in “Great palaces of shining jewels, and weird nights of inhuman joy where hellish flames lit deep, black caverns.” An almost alchemical transformation has taken place where, through science, the world of science is left behind for a world of mysticism. Heady stuff and a fun read once you get past Dr. White’s longwinded explanations.
Check it here on Project Gutenberg.