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Into the Fourth (1925)
Adam Hull Shirk

Contributed by Vijay Fafat

Here's another one of those flimsy "Fourth Dimension" dimension stories; standard fare: a mathematician breathlessly invokes the higher spatial dimension to conjure up a window into hyperspace. This time, a thief falls through it, comes back in a mirror-reversed form, manages to write a cogent note explaining some details and then goes back into the fourth, followed by the mathematician.

Nothing redeeming about the story but there it is, in pulp memory...

I am grateful to Vijay Fafat for sending me his comments and a copy of the story. (I had made some unsuccessful attempts to track down a copy for myself previously.) However, I disagree with his assessment that there is nothing redeeming in it. For one thing, I find it interesting that it seemingly identifies the poor treatment of math adjunct faculty as the thing which drove the thief in the story to a life of crime:

(quoted from Into the Fourth)

To the police, the clever crook operating under the name of "Professor" Parkes had been unusually successful...

Incidentally, the title "professor" was one to which Parkes had been entitled, as he had served on the faculty of a small university for a time as an assistant instructor in mathematics. But poor pay and small opportunity for advancement had evidently started him on a crooked course.

I also appreciate the fact it mentions some lesser-known but real researchers working on four-dimensional mathematics:

(quoted from Into the Fourth)

For years have I studied the problem of the fourth dimension. It is an acknowledged fact, by some profound mathematicians, that it exists, not as an entity, perhaps, but as a point in the science of mathematics. There is nothing absurd in the conception, even if it be only hypothesis. If we can conceive of a two or three dimensional space, we cannot deny the possibility of a fourth. Suppose the investigators are baffled in attempting to define it. Who can define electricity or energy? A few have almost reached the secret. Witness the experiments of the German Von Schlegel, and even our own Paul Heyl. They have constructed solid projections of fourth dimensional structures. But I have overtaken and passed them all.

Finally, I laughed just a bit when Parkes described what it was like to have been inverted and then specifically mentions eating, since (as Arthur C. Clarke pointed out in Technical Error) the chirality of many biological molecules would presumably keep him from being able to utilize the nutrients he ate (unless he thought to also put the food through the portal to flip it as well.)

"Into the Fourth" was published in the February 1925 issue of Weird Tales.

More information about this work can be found at
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Works Similar to Into the Fourth
According to my `secret formula', the following works of mathematical fiction are similar to this one:
  1. Technical Error by Arthur C. Clarke
  2. The Mobius Trail by George Smith
  3. Left or Right by Martin Gardner
  4. The Heart on the Other Side by George Gamow
  5. Plane People by Wallace West
  6. The Appendix and the Spectacles by Miles J. Breuer (M.D.)
  7. A Victim of Higher Space by Algernon Blackwood
  8. The Magic Staircase by Nelson Slade Bond
  9. The Dangerous Dimension by L. Ron Hubbard
  10. The Fifth-Dimension Catapult by Murray Leinster
Ratings for Into the Fourth:
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Mathematical Content:
2/5 (1 votes)
Literary Quality:
2/5 (1 votes)

GenreScience Fiction,
MotifHigher/Lower Dimensions,
MediumShort Stories,

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Exciting News: The total number of works of mathematical fiction listed in this database recently reached a milestone. The 1,500th entry is The Man of Forty Crowns by Voltaire. Thanks to Vijay Fafat for writing the summary of that work (and so many others). I am also grateful to everyone who has contributed to this website. Heck, I'm grateful to everyone who visited the site. Thank you!

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