THE AURORAPHONE (1890) – Written by Cyrus Cole. This fun piece of vintage or “ancient” science fiction features the character Gaston Lesage, an eccentric genius who moves to the mountains of Colorado to continue his pet experiments. Lesage is obsessed with perfecting transmission and reception of radio signals, especially regarding potential contact with other planets.
The altitude of the Rocky Mountains made Colorado the ideal location for Lesage’s experiments and, together with his assistant – a freed black man named Pete King – he perfects a device he called the Auroraphone.
One day when Gaston and Pete are entertaining a pair of men prospecting for gold the Auroraphone picks up the first of a series of transmissions from intelligent life on the planet Saturn. In the days ahead Lesage learns a great deal about Saturnian history and science courtesy of his fellow “ham radio operator” Rulph Bozar, a denizen of the ringed planet.
The Saturnians are much more advanced than Earth and already have flying machines, electric automobiles and powerful sensors which let them watch and record events on Earth and other planets. They also have been using metal robots crafted to look just like the Saturnians themselves, who resemble Terrans in general physiology.
Those robots have long been used for labor but are now rebelling against their virtual slave state. Developments from Saturn get uglier and uglier as the robot rebellion intensifies.
Pete King’s Christian superstitions prompt him to decide that the communications from Saturn have actually been from Devils deceptively tempting Gaston Lesage into tampering where no mortals should. Many hypersensitive critics of today obediently cite this as horrible racism since King is black, but it isn’t the character’s race which prompts this reaction. It could just as easily have been a superstitious white Christian acting the same way.
At any rate Pete tells off Rulph Bozar and threatens him about having any further contact with his friend Gaston. Bozar responds by forcibly overloading the Auroraphone to the point where it is destroyed.
It takes Lesage ten years to build a new Auroraphone. When he reestablishes contact with Saturn he learns from another Saturnian that Rulph Bozar was slain during the war between the robots and their creators. The war ended with the defeat and destruction of the robots, meaning the people of Saturn have had to resume doing their own work. It’s possible the author Cyrus Cole was trying to make a statement about slavery but if so it’s not very clearly or cleverly put forth.
In a nicely prescient bit this new Saturnian friend – named Smith, oddly enough – sends Gaston what we would today call “radio images” of previous events on Earth, like the devastation at Pompeii, etc.
When Smith begins to relate details of how Saturn and other inhabited worlds are forming a League of Planets the governmental authorities of the ringed planet forbid further communication with the “primitive” Earthlings and they overload the Auroraphone again, causing its final destruction.
This story isn’t bad at all as long as you accept going in how outdated the science will be. ++
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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