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Hinton, C H

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1853-1907) UK author, in Japan from 1887 (subsequent to an 1886 conviction and three-day sentence for bigamy) and in the USA from 1892. He began publishing work of speculative interest with What Is the Fourth Dimension? (Michaelmas 1880 Dublin University Magazine; 1884 chap), which was assembled with eight further essays and stories about the fourth and other Dimensions in space and time: five altogether in the first series of Scientific Romances (coll 1884) and four in Scientific Romances: Second Series (coll 1896) [for details see Checklist]. Though the term Scientific Romance dates from earlier in the century, it is likely that H G Wells was influenced by Hinton's use of the label when he began to describe his own sf stories as Scientific Romances. The Persian King; Or, the Law of the Valley (in Scientific Romances coll 1884; 1885 chap) is a curious allegory whose protagonist creates a microcosm (see Great and Small), the inhabitants of which are paralysed unless he absorb some of the pain that oppresses them, applying in this fashion mathematical logic to Christian ideas of atonement. "Stella", from the second series [but see Checklist], is a short novel about an invisible girl (see Invisibility) which antedated Wells's The Invisible Man (1896); "An Unfinished Communication", also from the second series, is a posthumous fantasy which represents life after death as freedom to move in the fourth dimension (Time) through the moments of life, "unlearning" and re-evaluating. Tales like this successfully engaged the attention of many late nineteenth-century English occultists; Hinton himself was deeply interested in Theosophy. The Fourth Dimension (1904) continues the efforts embodied in the Scientific Romances, introducing an elaborate system of visual aids in the form of multicoloured cubes, in order to further an intuitive understanding of four-dimensional space.

For most of his career, Hinton expressed a continuing interest in the two-dimensional speculations contained in Edwin A Abbott's Flatland (1885), and wrote a novel of his own set on a circular two-dimensional world, An Episode of Flatland: Or, How a Plane Folk Discovered the Third Dimension; To Which is Added An Outline of the History of Unæa (1907). Combining elements of the sentimental romance and the Fantastic Voyage, it conveys a sense of almost surreal constriction into its storyline, oddly predictive in tone of many twentieth-century Pocket Universe tales; the ultimate Conceptual Breakthrough – as the inhabitants of Flatland discover third-dimensional worlds, just in time to guide their own plane planet Astria away from another planet – is emotionally powerful. Interest in Hinton's work has more recently been revived by virtue of the attention paid to it in stories and essays by A K Dewdney, Martin Gardner and Rudy Rucker. [BS/JC]

see also: Eschatology; Mathematics; Religion.

Charles Howard Hinton

born London: 6 June 1853

died Washington, District of Columbia: 30 April 1907



Scientific Romances

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