THE SPEEDY JOURNEY (1744) by Eberhard Christian Kindermann. This work of proto-science fiction begins with the fictitious discovery of a moon orbiting the planet Mars over a century before Phobos and Deimos were observed in real life. From there it features a journey through space to reach this celestial body.
The Speedy Journey represents an odd but entertaining fusion of scientific speculation and elements of Christian mythology. Fama (“Fame”), an actual angel from Heaven heralds the discovery of the fictitious moon of Mars and even sings the public praises of the team of scientists who set out to explore the satellite. In the peculiar fictional world presented by Kindermann in this book the general public takes in stride these visitations from angels who serve as virtual P.R. flacks for men of science.
Like a few other writers of the period Kindermann might have been trying for that odd blend of the rational and the fantastic as presented in the Rosicrucian works of the 1600’s. (And yes, I know that our angel Fama can be looked at with new eyes if that is the case.) Whatever his actual motives I found it to be a charming way of trying to say to Christian religious fanatics that scientific inquiry need not be viewed as an affront to their “God” but a celebration of it and its creations. Hell, even the angels of Heaven are singing the praises of the expedition so God can’t be angry about any of this, now can he?
The members of the crew are just as much an assembly of symbols as Fama herself. Their names are Auditus, Visus, Gustus, Tactus and Odor (“Beam us up, Odor!”) – obviously representing the Five Senses. These men, clad in 1740’s fashions, set out in their craft, called the Air Ship, which is just a traditional sailing ship but which flies via multiple hot-air balloons attached to its masts. Even this was sci-fi for the time since the first recorded balloon flights were decades away!
Per theories of the time period the men lose all hunger for food upon reaching space and are able to breathe by periodically pressing wet sponges to their noses and inhaling deeply. A bit of tension was added by our Astronauts having to navigate through a thunderstorm before leaving the upper atmosphere.
The Five Neat Guys (SCTV fans will get it) continue their journey, passing by our Moon and having to row – yes, ROW – like crazy to avoid being sucked in by its gravitational pull. Next they encounter another recurring element of these “ancient” works of Science Fiction – an actual human soul, long since freed from its dead body and flying around space at will. Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog will remember how frequently this quaint concept is put forth in these old works.
Our explorers at last reach their destination as Fama flies around the Earth keeping humanity updated about the status of their journey. Carefully steering clear of the gravity of Mars itself the Astronauts land their Air Ship on the moon. Led by Visus the travellers strap on pistols and set forth to explore this new-found world with Mars itself shining overhead like a moon at night. All five go in the Away Team, leaving nobody to guard their vessel.
For the rest of the overnight hours our heroes travel through a forest with trees, leaves and grass colored blue, gold, green and white . At daybreak they marvel at flowers which stayed shut in the dark but which now open up to reveal blooms that glow like many-colored candles. Enroute back to the Air Ship the explorers spot humanoid creatures in the far distance and scare off a monkey-like creature.
The five begin arguing among themselves because of the evidence of life-forms on this moon, with Auditus and Gustus pushing for an immediate departure. Visus calms them down and they all resume taking in their surroundings. They find unusual melons to eat as they listen to the singing of hundreds of odd-shaped birds flying overhead.
Eventually they climb a high hill and see below them a city full of buildings that are clearly of intelligent design. Again an argument erupts about leaving for Earth but this time Fama pops up out of nowhere and tells our heroes to board their ship and fly slightly over the city below so that they’ll have an advantage if the inhabitants are hostile.
The five return to their Air Ship and begin to prepare for another liftoff but are surrounded by an enormous crowd of the moon’s denizens before they can take to the air. These humanoid beings have crystalline flesh and outrightly glow in the sunlight (insert your own Twilight joke here). To the surprise of our heroes a translator comes forward who understands German and initiates a dialogue between the explorers and the native inhabitants.
Foolishly the five Earthlings try to bluff their way through by grandly declaring themselves to be “gods of the air” but the natives are suspicious of this, ultimately resulting in a gunfight and killing. The terrified natives flee in the wake of the bloodshed and return later bearing offerings of fruit for the Astronauts.
The explorers next accept an invitation to visit the city they spotted from the hilltop. Surrounded by the crowd of natives they journey through the city, amazed at the way the moon people cultivate trees and other vegetation to form “natural” buildings and archways and walls. The drinking water tastes like whiskey from back home to the Earthlings.
During their extended stay in the city our heroes learn about the moon people’s culture. All citizens are equal and when any sort of crime occurs the person found guilty is immediately slain. (?) The name of the city turns out to be Fiat, as in Lux Fiat (“Let there be light”) because, in a surprise twist it turns out the Martian moon was the very first thing created by God when the universe was made! The natives were told by the God of Christian mythology to select this name.
Ridiculously the moon people converse with God regularly, thus their translator’s familiarity with Earth languages. He gave them Two Commandments – 1. Fear and love God and 2. Love each other. God also told them about Earth and about Christianity’s mythical history of humanity from Adam and Eve on up through Jesus.
Rounding out the visit for our Astronauts the moon people take them to a beautiful lake filled with giant blue and gold fish creatures who shoot fire from their eyes and make with loud howls from their mouths. The surrounding countryside is filled with all manner of odd vegetation and with man-horse creatures that are like Earthly centaurs.
At long last the five Astronauts depart the Martian moon (still unnamed even this late in the story), taking seeds of the many odd fruits and vegetables with them to study back on Earth. The return trip winds up being filled with the greatest of dangers as it turns out.
The Air Ship barely avoids being struck by an enormous flaming meteor, but is dragged along behind it by its gravitational pull. The crew – through heavy rowing – break free of that pull just in time to escape the meteor’s collision with – and destruction of – an unnamed but inhabited planet. The Astronauts are privileged to witness the souls of all of the mystery planet’s slain inhabitants being transfigured into astral form like the individual “soul” they had encountered on their initial trip.
After watching those millions upon millions of freed souls scatter throughout the cosmos the Astronouts set about trying to find their way back to the spot where they first encountered the meteor and from there – home, hopefully. After surviving a brush with a literal “space whirlpool” (Who knew rowing was so crucial to space travel?) the Five Neat Guys at long last return to Earth just before their meager remaining water runs out.
We’re told they expand on what Fama told the public and share all the fine details of their journey with their fellow Earthlings. However the story ends before any wider societal, theological or scientific repercussions can be addressed. All in all this was another fun example of VERY early science fiction and would – with some modifications – make a nice animated Sailpunk story, since it’s too early for Steampunk.
FOR TEN MORE EXAMPLES OF ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2014/03/03/ten-neglected-examples-of-ancient-science-fiction/
FOR WASHINGTON IRVING’S 1809 depiction of an invasion from the moon click here: https://glitternight.com/2014/05/05/ancient-science-fiction-the-men-of-the-moon-1809-by-washington-irving/
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