THE UNPRETENTIOUS PHILOSOPHER (1775) – By Louis-Guillaume de La Follie. The original French title of this work of proto-science fiction was Le Philosophe sans Pretention ou l’Homme Rare, but in the 21st Century it’s more generally known by the slightly shorter title.
One of the central characters of this story is an Earth scholar named Nadir, and I have no idea if it’s a coincidence or if the people behind the 1960s film Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster were paying sly homage to de La Follie by naming one of the characters Nadir. At any rate Nadir is visited by Ormisais, a space traveler from the planet Mercury.
Ormisais regales Nadir with details about life on Mercury and also informs him that he has crash-landed on Earth and needs rare elements to repair his electrically -powered craft so that he can return to his home planet. The Mercurians had a planetary version of the British Royal Society and the French Academy, but it had a much more limited membership.
That august body was called the Luminacie and was composed of just twelve members. Recently a vacancy had opened up and Ormisais was one of sixteen applicants to be considered. The space ship that brought Ormisais to Earth was really created by a Mercurian named Scintilla, a fellow applicant. Ormisais had ridiculed Scintilla’s invention and vowed that if it actually flew he would personally risk the journey to the inhabited planet Earth, called Hermione by the Mercurians.
Scintilla deftly piloted his seemingly awkward craft through the skies above Mercury, earning the open spot on the Luminacie. Ormisais was held to his insulting bargain and had undertaken the dangerous flight to the Earth, culminating in his crash-landing.
Nadir’s guest was kind enough to share the scientific observations he had made about interplanetary space and the heavenly bodies as viewed from space. In return Nadir helps Ormisais on his quest to obtain the materials needed to repair the ship constructed by Scintilla so that he can return home. Along the way Ormisais makes the kind of wry and perplexed observations about humanity that countless other aliens in science fiction have since gone on to make.
In the end the spacecraft is repaired and Ormisais says farewell to Nadir then flies off to Mercury. Fans of science fiction should appreciate La Follie’s statement directed to his staid contemporaries, a statement in which he defends the use of a fanciful narrative to put forth scientific and philosophical speculation.
La Follie stated entertainment made an ideal vehicle for making such academic exercises more palatable to a mass audience. A Frenchman to the core, he compared science to ” a beautiful woman whose inherent charms are not noticed until she is dressed up attractively enough to excite the curiousity of onlookers.”
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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