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Published 08 December 2010
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The Project Gutenberg EBook of Aliens, by William McFee This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online at Title: Aliens Author: William McFee Release Date: February 9, 2010 [EBook #31241] Language: English Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1 *** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK ALIENS *** Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Woodie4 and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at ALIENS BY WILLIAM McFEE AUTHOR OF "CASUALS OF THE SEA" GARDEN CITY NEW YORK DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY 1918 Copyright, 1918, by Doubleday, Page & Company. All rights reserved, including that of translation into foreign languages, including the Scandinavian TO MARGERY ALLINGHAM [Pg vii] PREFACE [Publisher's Note: It should be explained that an earlier version of "Aliens" was published in London in 1914, and some copies were also distributed in the United States. After the issue of "Casuals of the Sea" the present publishers purchased the rights to "Aliens" and urged Mr. McFee to re-write the story. His account of the history of this book is here inserted, and will undoubtedly take its place among the most entertaining and interesting prefaces in modern literature.] So many people are unaware of the number of works of fiction which have been rewritten after publication. I was rather surprised myself when I came to recapitulate them. I wouldn't go so far as to say that second editions, like second thoughts, are the best, because I at once think of "The Light that Failed." But I do believe that under the very unusual circumstances of the genesis and first issue of Aliens I am justified in offering a maturer and more balanced representation of what that book stands for. The notion of a character like Mr. Carville came to me while I was busy finishing "Casuals of the Sea" during the late fall of 1912. A short story was the result. It went to many likely and unlikely publishers, for I knew very little of the field. I don't know whether the "Farm Journal" (of which I am a devoted reader) got it, but it is quite probable. A mad artist who lived near us, in an empty store along with a studio stove and three priceless [Pg viii] Kakemonos, told me he would "put me next" an editor of his acquaintance. I forget the name of the paper now, but I think it had some connection with women's clothes. I sent in my story, but unfortunately my friend forgot to put me next, for I got neither cash nor manuscript. The next time I passed the empty store, I stepped in to explain, but the artist had a black eye, and his own interest was so engrossed in Chinese lacquer-work and a stormy divorce case he had coming on shortly, that I was struck dumb. What was a short story in comparison with such issues? And I knew he had no more opinion of me as an author than I had of him as an artist. But when another typed copy came back from a round of visits to American magazines, I kept it. I had a strong conviction that, in making a book of what was then only a rather vague short story, I was not such a fool as the mad artist seemed to think. I reckoned his judgment had been warped by the highly eccentric environment in which he delighted. The empty store in which he lived, like a rat in a shipping-case, was new and blatant. It thrust its blind, lime-washed window-front out over the sidewalk. Over the lime-wash one could see the new pine shelving along the walls loaded with innumerable rolls of wall-paper. Who was responsible for this moribund stock I could never discover. Perhaps the mad artist imagined them to be priceless Kakemonos of such transcendent and blinding beauty that he did not dare unroll them. They resembled a [Pg ix] library of papyrus manuscripts. Here and there among them stood some exquisitely hideous dragon or bird of misfortune. He had a bench in the store too, I remember, and seemed to have some sort of business in mending such things for dealers. And he did a little dealing himself too, for his madness had not destroyed his appreciation of the value of money. He would exhibit some piece of Oriental rubbish, and when one had politely admired it, he would say pleasantly, "Take it!" One took it, and a week later he would borrow its full value as a loan. With his Kakemonos he was even more mystifying, for he would develop sudden and quite unnecessary bursts of rage, and announce his refusal of anything under a million for them. And then he would exhibit them, taking them from a broken Libby, McNeill and Libby milk case under his camp-bed, and holding the rolled splendours aloft. And then, with a grandiose gesture, as of some insane nobleman showing his interminable pedigree, he would let the thing unfold and one beheld a sad animal of unknown species sitting in a silver winter landscape, or a purple silk sunset. And over it glared the mad artist, a sallow fraud, yet watching with some impatience how the stranger regarded this secret preoccupation of his life. I knew nothing about such things and knew he scorned me for my ignorance. Like most artists, he was an unconscious liar. He strove also to give an impression of tremendous power. He had gestures which were supposed to register virility, irresistible force, abysmal contempt. And if the word had not been worked to death by people who don't know [Pg x] its meaning, I would have added that he was a votary of the kultur of his race. His ideal, I suppose, was more the Renaissance virtú than our milk-and-water virtue. He made me feel that I was a worm. In short, he was a very interesting, provocative and exasperating humbug, and his very existence seemed to me sufficient reason for turning Aliens into a book which would shed a flickering light upon the fascinating problem of human folly. For that is what it amounted to. I was obsessed with the problem of human folly, and he focussed that obsession. It often happens that the character which inspires a book never appears in it. In all sincere work I think it must be so. And, with the mad artist in my mind all the time, I got a good deal of fun out of writing the book, and that, after all, is the main reason one