THE QUEER SIDE OF THINGS: ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

StrandTHE QUEER SIDE OF THINGS (1890s) – Written by James Frank Sullivan.  Straight from the Gay Nineties, it’s a selection of Sullivan’s contributions to the Strand magazine’s short fiction column The Queer Side of Things.

So, before we all find ourselves on Queer Street just because some Dick wants to arrest us for seeming as queer as a clockwork orange, here’s a snatch of J.F.’s work from The Queer Side of Things column. 

OLD PROFESSOR WILLETT (December 1892) – Professor Willett announces to his family that his latest invention is going to make all of them rich but refuses to elaborate. Willett disappears after a few days without revealing any more details.

Foul play is suspected and the story’s narrator investigates. It turns out the Professor had devised a highly advanced explosive made from natural fibers. The explosive goes off with no sound and is so rapid its victims seem to simply vanish.

Willett was the first to go during an accident with his invention. Other family members have been perishing/ vanishing, too and the narrator is desperate to save his fiancée – one of the Professor’s daughters – from meeting the same fate.

SPOILER: He is too late and in despair lets himself die from the super-explosive, too.   

THE DWINDLING HOUR (January 1893) – Pre-Einsteinian look at Relativity. A relic in the form of a water clock made from rare stone around 5000 B.C. gets passed down from civilization to civilization. Odd changes in the size of the water hole in the bowl of the water clock seem harmless at first but eventually are understood to be ominous. 

The relic is still being preserved in the far future. By chance the original stone craftsman is reincarnated as a scientist fully aware of his past life. He explains that the bowl has been serving as a tangible example of the theoretical measuring instrument capable of marking relative changes in time, length and acceleration through space.  

THE N.P.M.C. (March 1893) – Sort of a sideways forerunner of Soylent Green. In the future, overpopulation is an enormous problem. The Natural Products Manufacturing Corporation (N.P.M.C.) of Sinking Springs, New Jersey has seemingly licked the problem of keeping the trillions of people in the world fed.

Despite the word “natural” in their name the N.P.M.C. creates artificial versions of foods, all designed to look like real eggs, vegetables, meats, etc. Secretly the organization is run by the powerful elite.

Some of the foods they distribute get intentionally poisoned and – hinted at in Victorian Age euphemisms – it seems the dead victims are “recycled” to provide the organic raw material that the artificial foodstuffs are made from. Two problems solved at once. Insert your own Charlton Heston joke here.   

MISTER HAY (May, 1894) – An actual, bonafide Centaur shows up in England, proclaiming himself to be the last of his kind. When the ancient world converted to Christianity the Centaurs became shunned and hated so those who survived a general purge settled on a secret island.

The main character – Centaur Philippos Chortophagus – left his lonely existence to live in England under the name Andrew P Hay. Mister Hay cooperates with the scientific community, which – despite a few clashes with pompous fools who dismiss Hay as a hoax – makes him welcome.

Rather than show scientists caging, studying and dissecting the Centaur the story stays light and Mister Hay writes monographs on ancient Greek history and becomes a hit on the lecture circuit. Today he’d get a Reality Show.

THE MAN WITH A MALADY (July 1894) – A man who is LITERALLY “breaking the bank at Monte Carlo” turns out to be a tragic figure. Through a rare disease/ mutation he has the natural ability to see the near and far future.

The slender professional gambler has made his fortune off of “knowing” how games of chance will end up. However, his wealth does little to distract him from his melancholy thoughts.

He is cursed with foreseeing natural disasters, accidents, crimes and with seeing the future of everyone he meets. Sometimes the Englishman takes his chronic unhappiness out on others, like when he warns another man that he will meet a horrible fate but spitefully does not explain.

As the years go by the Gambler puts on a great deal of weight and apparently “grows out of” his prophetic abilities. Naturally it happens just when his former curse might come in very handy. 

IMPOSSIBILITY: A STUDY OF REASON AND SCIENCE (March 1892) – Two spirits of deceased Earth men are floating around in space. Regular readers of my Ancient Science Fiction items are familiar with how frequently used that concept was in the 1800s and earlier.

William, the older spirit, offers relentlessly downbeat speculation about the future, always foreseeing humanity destroying itself or forming a permanent dictatorship. James, the younger spirit, tries to be more upbeat about progress but eventually William’s pessimistic outlook exhausts James into silence.     

THE END OF WAR (June 1892) – William and James are back. This time James’ reflections are more along William’s despondent lines as he ponders the history of warfare among the living.

A time is foreseen when humanity will have developed psychic abilities with which they will wage war and will no longer need weaponry. Psychic mind-to-mind combat could be waged with the loser either being rendered unconscious or dead. William prefers dead, since he feels war will always be needed as a brake on over-population.  

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/

© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

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