THE DOOM OF LONDON (1892) – Written by Robert Barr. In the “far future” of the mid-Twentieth Century the narrator of this tale looks back at the catastrophe that hit London in the 1890s.
The premise is that our narrator is outraged by a piece written by a Professor Mowberry in which the professor ventures the opinion that the destruction of London was an overall beneficial event. His reasoning is that it got rid of millions of unnecessary people. Pretty callous attitude, unless you’re talking about getting rid of the Kardashians.
At any rate we readers are informed that in the mid-Twentieth Century fog has been completely done away with (?), preventing what happened to London in the 1890s from ever happening again. It turns out that what started out seeming to be nothing but the usual London fog was actually deadly gases unleashed from deep in the Earth by careless mining.
A bit before the deadly gases entered the London air mixed in with fog an American inventor had visited our narrator in the latter’s office at Fulton, Brixton & Company. FB&C dealt in chemicals and chemical equipment and the typically enterprising American wanted to work with the firm to market and distribute his newly-devised breathing apparatus for use in mining.
The narrator has one of the American’s oxygen respirators on hand a few days later when everyone in the office begins dropping dead from the poisoned air from beneath the Earth’s surface. He uses the device to survive and flee the building.
He finds nothing but dead and dying Londoners everywhere he goes and we get memorable descriptions of the grotesquely contorted corpses that fill the streets, trolleys and are seen hanging out of windows.
Our protagonist knows he needs to get far away as quickly as possible before his device’s oxygen supply runs out so he races for the railroad station. After a frantic effort he overtakes a departing train whose engineer is still just barely alive.
The engineer was trying to flee London before he too succumbed to the killer gas/ fog. The narrator and the engineer take turns breathing from the American’s invention until they at least reach breathable air.
In the aftermath of the disaster more environmentally conscious methods of mining and dispersing subterranean gases are developed, lending a kind of Doomwatch Goes to the 1890s feel to the proceedings.
Most importantly London’s millions did not die in vain. And as a bonus that ol’ demon FOG was licked for good decades later, too. I know, right? I’ll bet it was really fog that wiped out the dinosaurs, come to think of it. (I’m kidding!)
Overall the story spends waaaaay too much time telling us about office politics at Fulton, Brixton & Company and not enough time telling us if the American inventor survived. Anyway, once the bodies start dropping this becomes a very riveting and reasonably unique short story, especially for its time period.
The Doom of London no doubt outraged the same kind of people who would go on to complain about “graphic” episodes of Doctor Who in the 1970s.
FOR EIGHT ADDITIONAL EXAMPLES OF ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION CLICK HERE
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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