Birthday Reviews: Homer Eon Flint’s “The Nth Man”

Birthday Reviews: Homer Eon Flint’s “The Nth Man”

Cover by Frank R. Paul
Cover by Frank R. Paul

Homer Eon Flint was born Homer Eon Flindt on September 9, 1889 and died on March 27, 1924 under suspicious circumstances.

Flint’s career as a speculative fiction author ran from 1918 until his death in 1924, during which time he collaborated with Austin Hall. The majority of his work appeared in All Story and Argosy All Story, which were published by Munsey. Flint’s death is a mystery that remains unsolved. He was killed when a car he was driving in ran over a cliff. Although there have been claims that Flint stole the car at gunpoint with the intent to commit a bank robbery, that charge was put forward by a gangster, E.L. Handley, several years later. There is no evidence that Flint was involved with anything illegal, and may have found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Although “The Nth Man” was originally sold to the Munsey Corporation in 1920, it didn’t appear until after Flint’s death when the rights had been re-sold to Hugo Gernsback and it was published in the April 1928 issue of Amazing Stories Quarterly. It disappeared and wasn’t reprinted until 2015 when it was included in the Wildside Press e-anthology The 26th Golden Age of Science Fiction Megapack.

Flint opens the story with six lengthy vignettes describing miracles that occurred between 1920 and 1933, promising that they were linked in some way, but not offering any explanation for how they occurred. These instances range from the rescue of a nine-year old girl drowning after falling off a cliff to the transportation of a freighter from the middle of a typhoon to the Australian desert, to the disappearance of a bank in Hamburg.

Once he relates all of these miracles, which takes about half of the story, he begins to refocus his tale on the specifics, which tie the various vignettes together. The key vignette to our understanding is the one set in 1920, in which a young Bert Forsburgh meets a young Florence Neil. Fosburgh is the son of a wealthy businessman, Daly Fosburgh, who by the time the main story is set is prepared to economically take over the United States with his son, now a young adult, set to be his figurehead governmental leader.

Just as Fosburgh is prepared to act, however, an enormous human figure shows up in San Francisco Bay and walks across the country in three hours, seemingly peaceful, but upon his arrival in Washington he demands laws to completely restructure the nation’s financial system to remove Fosburgh’s domination. The Nth Man disappears for six months, during which the majority of the American people want to accede to his demands, but the government and Fosburgh refuse, outlawing any consideration of the ultimatum until he returns and demonstrates his invulnerability.

Flint provides the giant’s backstory, which tends towards bad science and soap operatic connections, tying the Nth man directly to Fosburgh’s prior dealings with the Nth Man’s father. While the giant’s action is using the economic well-being of the United States as a mission to rally the people against Fosburgh, the entire story is a revenge story that never quite holds together.

Written around 1920, the story feels like an artifact from a different time. When the Nth Man stands in the Golden Gate, the famous bridge was still 13 years from commencement of construction. While the Nth Man is striding across the US and the military is using all of its weapons against him, it was in an era before missiles and nuclear weapons. Although Flint is depicting the world he knew and lived in (with the addition of an enormous man), his world seems completely alien by today’s standards.

Reviewed in its original appearance in the magazine Amazing Stories Quarterly, edited by Hugo Gernsback, Spring 1928.

Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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Thomas Parker

Somewhere on my shelves are some old Ace 40 cent Flint paperbacks that I’ve never read and likely never will get around to. Didn’t Damon Knight classify Flint as a “chucklehead”?

James Enge

That’s how I always think of Flint–as the co-author of THE LIFE SPOT that Knight made fun of. Now I kind of think I should go back and give him another chance.

The mystery of his death was new to me as of this afternoon. I searched around a bit on the Library of Congress newspaper site and found a contemporary press account that seems to vindicate Flint: it looks like he was robbed and murdered and one of the criminals tried to frame him for another crime.

Evening Star, Washington DC, 3/31/1924

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