THE WRECK OF A WORLD (1889) – Written by W. Grove. (No other name available) This novel is the sequel to Grove’s A Mexican Mystery, an ahead-of-its-time work about a train engine devised to have artificial intelligence. The machine – called only The Engine in that story – rebelled and took to preying on human beings in horrific fashion. For Balladeer’s Blog’s review of that novel click HERE
The Wreck of a World is not a direct sequel to A Mexican Mystery but does use one of that novel’s elements as its springboard: the deliciously frightening notion that the Engine’s artificial intelligence might have included the capacity to design and build others of its kind. Though A Mexican Mystery never explored that concept, Grove deals with it in much more detail in this second novel.
Our story begins in what was to Grove “the far future” of 1949. After a fairly superficial depiction of the world’s political and scientific situation in this imaginary future the meat of the tale begins. All in all the author did not present 1940s technology as being much more advanced than what was available in the 1880s. Grove might have done better to set his tale in 1899 or just into the 1900s to detract from his lack of vision on this particular element.
The revolt of the machines begins with train engines, presumably as a nod to the memorably malevolent Engine from Grove’s previous novel. The engines begin constructing others of their kind with the same robotic arms and with each new edition flaunting deadlier and deadlier weaponry to boot.
The engines soon modify themselves beyond the need for train tracks and become more like tanks, so kudos to this neglected author for nicely predicting the advent of such mobile death-machines.
The A.I. rebellion spreads to any and all motorized devices with some of those devices being clever enough to “play possum” – pretending to be non-intelligent, pre-rebellion machines to lure desperate humans into their grasp. Grove’s handling of all this is much better than the overrated Stephen King in his story involving trucks.
The machines’ war against humanity unfolds like a Steam-Punk version of the dystopic future that is featured in the Terminator movies. In fact, if filmmakers ever lose their obsession with bringing comic book stories to the big screen and decide to give Steam-Punk blockbusters a try this story and its prequel might be a nice place to start.
Though Groves centers this tale around citizens of a town in the American West the narrative does give us a nice take on humanity fleeing their machine conquerors. The set pieces in abandoned cities with murderous A.I. potentially lurking around every corner play well.
The narrative describes large-scale battles between mobile machine armies and human armies using non-motorized weaponry like cannons, Gatling Guns, etc. After humanity’s armies are routed and slaughtered by the rebelling machines those new masters of the Earth begin hunting down the survivors.
Whether for verisimilitude or because Grove had no clue or because Grove was hoping to launch an entire series of novels about future humans struggling to retake the world, the narrative never reveals the exact state of the rest of the Earth. Our main characters encounter a few surviving members of the armed forces who were at sea when the machine revolt began but nothing is ever learned about possible surviving governmental forces.
The story is told as a memoir written by the leader of our main group of human fugitives. They eventually reach a deserted New Orleans and cobble together a makeshift fleet of non-intelligent ships. With that fleet they set out to find safety and/or other survivors only to run afoul of now-intelligent warships modified by humanity’s mechanized enemy.
There was unrealized potential here for a series of follow-up novels, which is especially irritating when you consider how many less-imaginative novels of the late 1800s got literally scores of sequels.
Instead our last glimpse of this intriguing post-apocalypse world is of our main characters launching a new human colony in the Hawaiian Islands while sending out exploratory naval missions. There’s also a wedding that results after the story gets bogged down in an unneeded romantic triangle sub-plot. +++
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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14 responses to “THE WRECK OF A WORLD (1889): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION”
Thanks so much for the post. Great review!
No problem! Thanks!
So ahead of its time!
I agree. “Artificial Intelligence” wasn’t even a term yet but this author anticipated it.
I surprised by how many stories like this are so old.
I know how you feel.
No more Terminator sequels! They should do this story instead!
This sounds better than the Terminator Salvation.
In a lot of ways, yes.
JOSEPH DEL VALLE RECOMMENDED BALLADEER’S BLOG AT GLITTERNIGHT.COM AND I’M GLAD HE DID!