BEYOND THE ETHER (1898) – Written by W. Cairns Johnston. This little honey is so jam-packed with enjoyable weirdness that it’s sort of like “If Ed Wood wrote Steam-Punk.”
Two friends from Harvard reunite on a camping and mountain-climbing trip. In Maine they discover a mysterious new gas which erupts from the ground. The pair study the gas and decide to use its lighter than air properties to visit other planets in our solar system.
In a cosmic-level coincidence our heroes later stumble upon a previously unknown plant here on Earth. The plant can be used to induce suspended animation for space travel and to heal grievous injuries. The incredibly lucky explorers leave the Earth on board their balloon propelled by their new gas.
At 30,000 feet they use their newly-discovered plant to put themselves into suspended animation for their trip to Mars. More than three years later they wake up as they enter the atmosphere of the Red Planet. Clumsily, our space pioneers fall out of their balloon’s basket and land in the nest of a gigantic Martian eagle.
The bizarre luck of the two nim-nulls continues as they ride the nest down to the ground below, like the rubber raft at the beginning of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. A gigantic spirit greets them and tells them they are in the Martian version of the Garden of Eden. The spirit himself is one of the dead patriarchs from the Old Testament.
Exotic plants and precious gems are as plentiful here as grass and rocks back on Earth. The spirit lays down the rules of dwelling on Mars, where plenty other spirits of dead Earthlings congregate with no real purpose. (Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog will remember that many works of “ancient” science fiction likewise depict the souls of the dead living on other planets. Dante’s Paradiso may be the inspiration behind them all.)
In a very odd parallel to the original Garden of Eden tale the two men violate the rules, but not by eating forbidden fruit. (Unless there’s a Brokeback Mountain Goes To Mars subtext that I’m missing.) Instead our heroes go on a killing spree, wiping out many of the Martian animals.
The patriarchal spirit insists the trouble-makers be expelled from Mars and so he has them pursued by demons. Yes, demons. Even stranger, angels now show up, rescuing our protagonists from the demons and transporting them to Jupiter.
On Jupiter the space explorers are subjected to rehabilitation in a sort of science-fiction version of Purgatory. (I want some of what this author was smoking.) As our lads are purified they learn that their errant nature means they are banned from Saturn, where righteous souls dwell.
Meanwhile back on Earth we get a Jules Verne ripoff as the asteroid Ceres (today designated as a dwarf planet) comes close enough to our home planet to carry several humans off with her. The castaways on Ceres pioneer interplanetary communication because of course they do and our main characters at last return to the Earth.
After adventuring across millions of miles one of our heroes dies with his fiancée in a mere house fire. Makes ya think, doesn’t it? (I have no idea what I mean by that.) Oh, well, “They tampered in God’s domain” and all that. +++
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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