BABYLON ELECTRIFIED (1888): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

Babylon ElectrifiedBABYLON ELECTRIFIED (1888) – Written by Albert Bleunard. In the tradition of his fellow Frenchman, Jules Verne, Bleunard crafted this work of science fiction with an international cast.

British magnate Sir James Badger wants to reestablish old trade routes leading from Europe eastward through Mesopotamia and the Persian Gulf. He and his associates plan a railroad but lack of coal in sufficient quantities seems to be a project-killer.

Jack Adams, one of Badger’s colleagues, recommends the new invention of a French electrical engineer and inventor named Cornille. This inventor has designed a method of generating electricity from sunlight aka solar power. He agrees to let his technology be used to construct an electric train for the railroad project. 

Things get underway, with hydroelectric dams built in the mountains of Kurdistan and wind plus tidal power-stations set up in the Persian Gulf. Cornille’s solar tech will be used for the overwhelming majority of the territory to be covered.

Portions of the book are like travelogues, again in the style of Verne, as the massive engineering project heads East through Syria and Mesopotamia. Our main characters on this expedition are Sir James, his daughter Nelly, Cornille himself and Jack Adams.

Not content with finishing the electrical railroad project, Sir James develops the grandiose plan to erect a futuristic, all-electric city on the site of ancient Babylon. This, too, is accomplished with the help of our other main characters.

The new city is called Liberty and not only produces enough electricity for itself but also enough to power half of Europe once an enormous cable can be constructed to reach from Liberty back to Europe. Sort of an electrical version of an oil pipeline.

Sir James and Cornille proceed with this project as well. Though the Westerners have negotiated with the supposed political powers in the regions they have traveled through, the superstitious locals grow increasingly troubled over the seemingly devilish power of the electrical city.

Eventually the locals outside Liberty also fear that more and more Europeans will migrate to the area and they plan to stop that. An uprising breaks out and in the chaos the city is destroyed. Adams is killed in an explosion but the other main characters make their escape, albeit with injuries.

Once back in London, Sir James ponders where things went wrong. He vows that in any future projects of this kind he will emphasize staying on good terms with the local population, not just their political masters who are often hundreds of miles away.

Babylon Electrified is pretty entertaining with exotic adventure, science fiction and romance (between guess who and guess who). Nobody is depicted as a true villain, not the locals who destroy the electrical city nor the Westerners with their grand designs.

Like much later science fiction this story presents the events with a message that both sides will have hopefully learned from this disaster as they move forward.     

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