Would-be global mind-controller Stirner, in anti-mind-control
mesh-suit, confronts his Russian nemesis Kaczynski, seated.
This illustration is for the 1926 Russian novel The Lord of the World (Властелин мира) by Alexander Belyaev (also transliterated as Beliaev or Belyayev). I'm not sure what edition the image is actually from; it could be a later reprint. The story is about a man who tries to take over the world using mind control.
Although Belyaev is well-known in Russia, most of his work (see the end for more examples) doesn't appear to have been translated into English until recently, if at all. Someone named Maria K. has been releasing translations since 2012, including this one as Ruler of the World (I haven't read her version so I can't comment on the quality). Because it may not be that accessible to English speakers, here's a detailed synopsis based on a machine translation of the original (or skip below for my analysis):
Ludwig Stirner, a young German reflexologist, left academia for a more lucrative job as personal secretary to Carl Gottlieb, the wealthiest banker in Berlin. But Stirner continued his studies into animal thought-transference, keeping a menagerie of amazingly-trained dogs, bears, etc. on the second-floor of Gottlieb's combination bank/residence, where he and Gottlieb both reside.
Stirner falls in love with Gottlieb's stenographer, Elsa Gluck, but she rejects his advances (and his ugly, long face), preferring instead Gottlieb's lawyer, Otto Sauer. Stirner vows that he will become rich and powerful and thus win Elsa's affection.
One day Gottlieb dies in a freak train accident caused by Stirner's dog tripping him. At the reading of Gottlieb's will, it turns out there's two: the first distributing his immense estate mostly to his brother, Oscar, as expected; the second, written a month before his accident, nullifying the first and giving everything to Elsa. Everyone is shocked.
Sauer suspects Stirner, but he's more worried that the new-found wealth, and controversy surrounding it, will come between him and Elsa. Elsa agrees to renounce the inheritance and marry Sauer, but later completely -- and, of course, mysteriously -- changes her mind.
Oscar Gottlieb challenges the will in court, arguing that Carl suffered from psychosis. His lawyer calls witnesses to Carl's eccentricities, such as being obsessed with purified air and temperature control, having installed in his home an elaborate system of conveyor belts and mechanical table-setting devices to avoid interaction with servants, and having an elevator-chair that allowed him to move between desks on the three floors of the bank house.
Gottlie's lawyer seems to be winning, when Oscar unexpectedly approaches the judge, declares Carl was sane and that he (Oscar) had done something deserving of disinheritance. Elsa wins and Oscar goes missing, making it impossible for his family to appeal.
Elsa moves into Gottlieb's bank house, now the Elsa Gluck Bank, where Stirner still lives and manages the bank's affairs after Elsa signed over power-of-attorney to him. Elsa and Sauer's relationship is on the rocks as both start -- again, mysteriously -- acting coldly to each other. After Sauer has an affair with Emma, a co-worker, Stirner tries to convince Elsa to marry him (Stirner), saying that she can't trust any other suitors since they will just be after her money. His offer seems like her best option when Sauer and Emma show up and announce that they suddenly eloped and are leaving on their honeymoon.
When Stirner is away, Elsa experiences clarity of thought and realizes that he was somehow behind everyone's weird behavior. She escapes on a train, but has a dream about Stirner that compels her to return the next day. She and Stirner get married.
All this soapy opera illustrates the increase in Stirner's ability and willingness to control people with the thought-transference device he has created. He uses this control to orchestrate a crisis in the German economy, influencing other bankers to make bad deals or even commit suicide as needed, until all banks are ruined except Elsa's. As supervillains do, he monologues to himself: "Nobody in the world can no longer resist me, the whole world will soon be my property!"
While no one knows how he's doing all this, everyone recognizes that he's an "evil genius". The government tries to limit his actions, only they end up passing laws that help him instead. Stirner desires to remove the government and rule the country himself and eventually induce the public to wage war on countries that try to block his cheap goods with protective duties. To this end he works on increasing the range of his "weapons of mass suggestion".
His first experiment causes thousands of people in Berlin to start singing "Oh du lieber Augustin" in unison. Although harmless, the weirdness of this causes fear. A week later he creates a "dead zone" where everyone goes cataleptic for one minute, leading to car crashes and even more panic. After that he creates a five-minute wave of nationalistic bloodlust, causing everyone in an area, including women, children, and the elderly, to shout "War! Death to the enemies!" and mercilessly assault random people they suspect of being spies.
A Committee of Public Safety is formed in secret to investigate. Working on a hypothesis that radio waves are the cause, police detective Krantz maps the areas affected with mass psychosis and triangulates on a restaurant next to Elsa's bank. The Committee mounts a secret raid but finds nothing.
Stirner then causes a wave of mass bliss in a sector of the city: men hug lampposts, jewelers give away their goods, judges let criminals go, and slaughterhouse workers kiss their cows. This is even more troubling than the bloodlust psychosis since the victims retain their full memory afterward and actually miss the "lost paradise" they experienced; but, it allows Krantz to refine his triangulation to Elsa's bank, confirming everyone's suspicion that Stirner is behind it all.
The Committee intends to raid the bank house and kill Stirner, since any attempt to arrest him and "play justice" will likely result in Stirner manipulating the outcome. Krantz leads the sneak attack with two agents and Oscar Gottlieb's son, Rudolf, acting as a guide to the building. When they corner Stirner in his room, he uses mind control to make Rudolf give him a shave and Krantz dress him. They both leave peacefully and Krantz orders himself jailed.
All-out war on Stirner is declared. The "Iron General" leads a military attack, but he and his soldiers are made to flee in panic, along with the civilian population of Berlin. France and England are worried about what's going on and offer help, but the Iron General strongly opposes the indignity of foreign intervention and orders the bank shelled with long-range artillery. Stirner makes them turn their guns around and fire all their shells into the neighboring towns and villages instead.
Suddenly, America to the rescue! Without Germany's approval, a squadron of American drones fly from France to bomb the bank. Germany protests, but the U.S. promises to extend their debts if they allow it. The drones, blown slightly off course by a storm, hit everything in Berlin but the bank. In retaliation, Stirner extends his thought-rays ("мыслеизлучение") to cover all of France, causing a wave of panic. The other side has no choice but to cease hostilities.
Meanwhile, Sauer, Emma, and their newborn baby are living on the Mediterranean coast, oblivious to all that's going on. The love for Emma that Stirner induced in Sauer is wearing off, though Emma's was genuine. Rudolf shows up, seething for revenge against Stirner and seeking Sauer's help. They decide that they need to fight mind-control with mind-control and go to Moscow find an amateur scientist whom Rudolf had read about.
Kaczynski, a fastidious young Russian electrical engineer, reveals to them that he has been working on both the transmission of thoughts and means to protect people from it. Unlike Stirner, he wants to use mind control for good. He explains that brains act as radios which can receive electromagnetic waves tuned to their frequency but need a transmission device to amplify sent thoughts. He promises them he can make a thought-transference "gun" to stop Stirner, but they will need to get close to him using protective suits made of metal mesh.
Later back in Berlin, Sauer, Rudolf, and Kaczynski use a thought-transmitter-equipped truck to compel Stirner to leave the bank house. Stirner feels the urge, but quickly realizes what's going on and covers himself in a silk curtain (which apparently can delay the effect of thought-transference) until he can get a servant to fetch his metal-mesh gear. Stirner retaliates by incapacitating Kaczynski (who had to remove his mesh suit to operate the transmitter) with a total loss of balance. They retreat to a hospital where Kaczynski is able to cure himself using mind-control "homeopathy" -- treating like with like.
They return to battle and apply this same theory against Stirner, sending countermands to nullify Stirner's control and make his servants flee the bank house. Stirner countermands those countermands and retaliates by making the remaining people in Berlin attack Kaczynski's mind-control devices. Kaczynski counters that, causing the controlled people to vacillate confusedly between the two competing commands. This goes on for a few days.
Eventually Stirner is able to get at Kaczynski when he's unprotected, making him run from the transmitter truck to an office in the bank house, where Stirner confronts him wearing a full mesh-suit (as seen in the lede illustration). Kaczynski, now clear of mind, asks to see Stirner's equipment, out of professional curiosity and since he's been captured anyway. Stirner agrees if Kaczynski orders a few hours of truce, which he does by sending a signal to Sauer using Stirner's thought-beam ("мыслеизлучающая") station in his private room.
After that, Stirner spends fifteen minutes alone with the device, then comes out and hands a bunch of documents to Kaczynski. He admits he has lost the battle, not because of any failure of his art, but because his will is drained and his reserve of nervous energy exhausted. He locks Kaczynski in the office, guarded by three mind-controlled dogs, to have a "fun night" studying his papers, including a diary.
Stirner goes to Elsa, who returns to her old self as the clock strikes midnight. He admits everything he did to her, Sauer, and everyone else. She's horrified. He has realized that he was wrong and all the fame and adulation from his mind-control would be merely self-congratulation and self-deception, especially Elsa's love. He's tired and wants it all over, so he has decided to "end Stirner" by using thought-transference to kill his consciousness and replace it with that of a new person, "Stern", who will have no memory of any of this.
He set a time-delay on his identity death so he could explain this all to her, as well as adding a few subconscious commands to Stern to get him out of the bank and into the general public undetected. (No one had seen his newly bearded face since the start of the battle and the mesh helmet kept Kaczynski from seeing him.) He escapes as planned and the good guys take the bank, ending the war.
An epilogue takes place three years later. Elsa, Emma, and Emma's son are living together in a cottage by the sea somewhere in the tropics, incommunicado with the outside world. One day a yacht visits with both Stern and Kaczynski on it, but Kaczynski is unaware who Stern really is. They met when Stern sought help for his amnesia, but he refused Kaczynski's mind-control treatment (because Stirner's consciousness-wipe-preserving commands are still in effect). So now they're on a safari together! It's just a coincidence they and Elsa all meet here. Elsa of course recognizes Stern/Stirner.
Kaczynski explains to Elsa how Moscow has changed now that thought-transmission has become a commonly used technology: music, chess, painting, school, etc. are all broadcast mentally; labor is done in harmony using mental songs; and criminals are reprogrammed so they don't reoffend. The city is silent since everyone now communicates via thought exchange. Kaczynski demonstrates this by putting a small box to his forehead and thinking to someone in Moscow. He explains that you can turn off your receiver and not get thoughts, if you wish.
Elsa reveals Stern's true identity to Kaczynski and asks if he can return Stirner's consciousness. He agrees, but Stirner can only return for fifteen minutes. Elsa uses the time to grill him about the Gottlieb affair that started everything. It turns out that Carl Gottlieb's death really was an accident, and that the second will was because Gottlieb just learned he had terminal heart disease. His brother Oscar had forged bills, which Carl had learned about via a discover by Elsa, of which she was unaware. This is why he disinherited Oscar and left everything to Elsa, not Stirner's mind-control. Sauer later found evidence of all this and was shot dead by Rudolph. Also Oscar died.
Stern's consciousness returns, and later he, Kaczynski, and Dugov -- the head of the Moscow zoological gardens who was also on the yacht -- go "hunting" in the jungle. Their "gun" is Kaczynski's thought-transference device, which he uses to tame lions and scare off jaguars (Belyaev might be a bit confused about the natural distribution of large cats). Moscow now has a large glass-enclosed tropical conservatory/zoo in which mind-controlled animals are friendly and walk freely among visitors. Kids can even ride the tigers! Dugov et al. are here to get more animals for franchise zoos in other cities.
Eventually it's time for the hunting party to leave Elsa's place. In the final scene, Stern and a lion sit peacefully together on the yacht's deck as they sail into the sunset, both violent and dangerous creatures tamed by the wonders of mind control.
The existence of psychotronic mind control has always been an open secret in Russian society, going as far back as Rasputin at least.
Unlike the West, where the aspirational concept of Individualism was, and is, used to distract people from their induced conformities, the Soviet faction of the New World Order tried a different approach: an explicit call for collective thought. As a result they felt less of a need than their Western Bloc rivals to suppress paranoid samizdat exposing the psychotronic means of collectivism. "Of course, Comrade Paranoidsky, psychotronics exists! Is not glorious that which helps the workers unite?"
Consequently, even as the word "psychotronic" is still rarely mentioned in the West outside of paranoid circles, in Russia there are public demonstrations against the technology and officials flagrantly show off mind-control pistols at trade shows. For Russians today, it isn't a question of whether psychotronics are real, it's a question of "should my apartment be a psychotronic gulag?" Paranoids say "Долой квартирные психотронные ГУЛАГИ!", orthonoids say whatever the landlord wants them to say.
That one of the earliest and most influential popular accounts of psychotronics in Soviet Russia ends with a utopian vision of it being used throughout the world for social good (and tiger rides for the kids!) shows the naive acceptance of mind control that the Soviet psychotronic elite hoped would take hold of the Russian population once they were given the free choice to give up freedom of choice. They believed such a psychotronic utopia was possible.
Belyaev had insight into the problem of this dream. The part where Stirner and Kaczynski send countermands back and forth resulting in a stalemate for their respective goals, and dithering uselessness in their targets, exposes the flaw of psychotronic utopianism: everyone has a different idea of utopia and the ready availability of mind control technology ensures that no unitary utopia can ever exist.
As I explained in my book on deflector beanies, contradictory commands by agents of mind-control with competing agendas leads not to any singular system of world control but to mass confusion. None of the players in the game of mind-control make any real, lasting progress, and none can stop playing (or refuse to play, at certain secret-societal echelons), lest they lose everything, including their very self, like Stirner.
This was the fatal miscalculation of the Soviets: even as they convinced their people to embrace conformity, factions in the elite created disconformity through their own private psychotronic agendas, which lead to the break-up of their Union and the current Putinian regime of every mind-controller for themselves, be they governmental or gangster (if there's even any difference anymore).
Despite some technical inaccuracies (real psychotronics are not radio-based and the mesh suits wouldn't work -- Stirner and Kaczynski would need proper AFDBs), and an ending that parrots the psychotronic utopianism of the establishment (which he may have been forced by censors to add, as it's an entirely unnecessary epilogue to the main plot), Belyaev does a good job presenting the concepts and pitfalls of psychotronic warfare.
Along the way he also makes some interesting predictions, such as America's love affair with drone warfare and the unintended collateral damage it causes, as well as the omnipresence of small, hand-held boxes used to communicate speech, entertainment, and education over great distances and organize workers (albeit via cellular phone networks, not thought-transmission).
Most eerily prescient though is the subplot about a mysterious rash of banker suicides which seems ripped from recent headlines. Could our own "trail of dead bankers" lead to some modern-day Stirner of Wall Street using cheap Russian psychotrons to eliminate his rivals or rig the markets in subtle ways? Fortunately, as Belyaev shows, there's too much psychotronic competition for this would-be "Lord of the World" to do much damage beyond his own little Gekkonian fiefdom, and will himself eventually end up suicided or mindwiped.
Sic semper psyrannis.
[UPDATE]: The character of Kaczynski was actually closely based on Bernard Bernardovich Kazhinsky, a pioneer Russian researcher in the field of biological and radio telepathy.
More by Belyaev
Belyaev's Russian Wikipedia bio (Александр Беляев) has a complete list of his other works (I haven't read any others, so excuse any incorrect details below). He's popular enough in Russia that some of his stories have been made into movies (all in Russian, naturally):
- Professor Dowell's Head (Голова профессора Доуэля, 1925) is about a surgeon who learns how to reanimate dead people's heads. A 1985 adaptation is available on YouTube.
- Isle of Lost Ships (Остров погибших кораблей, 1926-7) is about people shipwrecked on an island in the Sargasso Sea. It was loosely adapted twice, as some sort of gritty '90s love-triangle thing (watch it here) and as an uber-'80s synth-rock musical (watch it here or enjoy this Thriller-esque sample:)
- Amphibian Man (Челове́к-амфи́бия, 1928) is about a boy with defective lungs whose father implants shark-gills in him and he grows up underwater. The successful and rather beautifully shot 1961 adaptation can be watched here in high quality or here with English subtitles.
- The Air Seller (Продавец воздуха, 1929) is about a supervillain in Siberia who tries to steal the world's oxygen and sell it back. A 1967 film is set on an artificial island in the north Pacific (watch it here).
- Ariel (Ариэль, 1941) is about a young man who learns to fly at an Indian school for supernatural powers. A 1990 adaptation is called Satellite of Uranus (Спутник планеты Уран, watch it here).