Relative Size

A moment of comparison that I would like to focus on is between Wertenbaker’s “The Man From the Atom” and Wells’ The Time Machine — specifically how each of these works addresses the unknown through the use of relative terminology.  In Wertenbaker’s story, Kirby chooses to increase in size, rather than shrink, under the pretense of seeing the world in such a way that there would be no “unknowns” (Amazing Stories, April 1926, p. 62). Theoretically, his argument makes sense regarding the importance of understanding how the universe works; but I love how Wertenbaker inverts Kirby’s logic by showing how everything that is large is at the same time small: “A coincidence suddenly struck me. Was not this system of a great ball effect with a nucleus within similar to what the atom was said to be?… [was] a huge electron composed of universes? The idea was terrible in its magnitude, something too huge for comprehension” (Amazing Stories, April 1926, p. 65). By portraying the size of the universe through a comparison to the smallest atom, Wertenbaker is giving us a glimpse at infinity; but I find it fascinating how the experience is told through relatively domestic size comparisons — be it inches, feet, centimeters. I feel that this packaging of the information in relative terms presents the story in an accessible way, since we are not distracted by any incongruences in the description. Wells’ Time Traveller portrays his tale using similar comparisons — one moment in particular is the very end where he is describing the crab as large as a table. At this concluding moment, even the smallest of creatures has become large, and we can begin to understand how science fiction works to defamiliarize the ordinary without totally rejecting the hold that reality has on our reasoning.

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