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Looking for the author and title of an older sci-fi short story read online.

It involved the first men flying in planes encountering sky monsters who eat them. These were first aviators but they found creatures who lived in the sky and were killed by them.

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3 Answers 3

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This is "The Horror of the Heights" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was first published in the November 1913 edition of The Strand Magazine.

Image of a biplane flying amongst floating, pink, jellyfish-like monsters.

From Wikipedia:

The story is told through a blood-stained notebook discovered on the edge of a farm in Withyham. The notebook is written by a Mr. Joyce-Armstrong, and the first two and last pages are missing; the notebook is thus dubbed the "Joyce-Armstrong Fragment".

Joyce-Armstrong, a brave aviator, had been curious over the deaths of certain pilots who tried to break the current height record of 30,000 feet. Recent casualties involve some strange deaths – one, Hay Connor, died after landing while he was still in his plane, while another, Myrtle, was discovered with his head missing. Joyce-Armstrong speculates that the answer to these deaths may be the result of what he calls "air-jungles":

"There are jungles of the upper air […] One of them lies over the Pau-Biarritz district of France. Another is just over my head as I write here in my house in Wiltshire. I rather think there is a third in the Homburg-Wiesbaden district."

Joyce-Armstrong takes his monoplane to a height of 40,000 feet and is nearly hit by three meteors. It is then that he learns that his speculations are right: entire ecosystems (air-jungles) exist high in the atmosphere, and are inhabited by huge, gelatinous, semi-solid creatures. After going through a flock of animals superficially resembling jellyfish and snakes, Joyce-Armstrong is attacked by a more solid-looking but amorphous creature with a beak and tentacles, from which he narrowly escapes. He then returns to the ground.

The aviator writes he will be going up again to the air-jungle to bring back proof of his discoveries, but here the fragment ends, save for one last sentence which reads:

"Forty-three thousand feet. I shall never see earth again. They are beneath me, three of them. God help me; it is a dreadful death to die!"

The narrative outside the notebook then explains that Joyce-Armstrong has been missing and that his monoplane was discovered in a wreck on the border of Kent and Sussex.

You can read the full story here.

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    Thank you so much! Feb 29 at 3:51
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    @Laura Little - If this answer is correct, please consider marking it as accepted by clicking on the grey check mark near the top-left corner of the answer. It's this site's way of formally indicating that a query has been solved to the querent's satisfaction. Feb 29 at 3:55
  • There is another story, by a different author - I disremember his name - with the same plot. In this tale, two men are in the airplane, and the creature that eats one of them is described as a giant serpent with wings along its length, differing from Doyle's jellyfish-like horrors in the heights. The other story is from approximately the same time period as Doyle's tale. Feb 29 at 15:45
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    One must admire Joyce-Armstrong.... though death was nigh he took time off of avoiding it in order to write about it in his journal...
    – Questor
    Feb 29 at 17:53
  • This is almost certainly the right one. (I'll point out though that they are not technically the first to fly - airplanes were already around when it was written - just reaching higher altitudes than before; and IIRC it's speculated that earlier aviators who disappeared had run into the same creatures.) Mar 1 at 6:04
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This question may refer to the short story "The Air Serpent", by Will A. Page. This story was published in The Red Book Magazine in April of 1911, relating the adventure of two men who take an early airplane on a high altitude flight, and encounter a monster in the upper atmosphere.

As described by the narrator, the monster is dragon-like: "The monster-or air serpent, for so I must call it-seemed to be about ninety or a hundred feet in length. Its physical structure seemed a cross between a bat and a snake. There were undulating movements as it slowly drifted, together with flapping of the twenty or thirty batlike wings which projected from its sides. The head was enormous, and it was not the head of a bird. Two great eyes, approximately a foot in diameter each, glared and blinked over a cavernous maw which opened and closed spasmodically as the creature breathed. This much we saw, and then as the swift tri-plane shot by almost under the creature’s startled eyes, I felt a sudden blast of hot air which made the tri-plane quiver and tremble for a moment. Then we had passed the creature and had sped forth into the darkness, for the moonlight was very faint."

One of the men falls from the aircraft and is devoured, while the pilot survives.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's similar story, "The Horror of the Heights", was published in 1913.

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There is also a brief mention of high altitude beings hostile to flyers in H.P. Lovecraft's At the mountains of Madness (1936).

Lovecraft mention of fate of pilots who flew too high

Short story with monsters in the stratosphere who attack a biplane

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