“The Man With Six Senses” – Muriel Jaeger
A Radium Age reprint first published in 1927 by Virginia and Leonard Woolf, The Man With Six Senses was one of the first science fiction novels to explore ESP. It’s an enjoyable read, the characters frail and human enough to be recognizable, and as a mixed-up mutant story it predates Olaf Stapledon’s Odd John by about a decade.
The narrator, Ralph Standring, is an Edwardian gentleman whose hopes of marrying Hilda, his childhood sweetheart, are complicated when she becomes involved with Michael, the titular man with six senses. It’s a tragic story one where you feel as if you’re eavesdropping on a three-sided conversation where all the participants are equally misguided. But it’s also drily funny in places. The years since the book’s first publication have not been kind to the world’s Ralph Standrings. While I suspect that Jaeger meant for him to be somewhat satirical, he becomes an out and out caricature at times. Not everyone enjoys spending time with a snob, worse one that’s a whiny “nice guy”, but Ralph’s part of the story and he’ll tell it the way he’ll tell it. That he’s our POV character makes you want to reach into the narrative and slap him. The fact that he’s so superior makes his sense of threat from Michael more acute, and when he finally realizes that Michael is indeed what he claims, Ralph’s reaction is utterly believable. That Hilda and Michael are presented through his eyes makes him somewhat unreliable as a narrator. But that’s part of the book’s charm. Its characters aren’t much more than what they are. They’re not stand ins for any particular philosophy. They’re complicated, misguided, and frail.
I don’t know how much attention these HiLo Books are getting. Granted some are likely available free online at places like Project Gutenberg. I bought this one on a whim, since I’d never heard of either book or author before. Folks that like a good helping of realism in their speculative fiction should track it down. It might surprise you.