MEMOIRS FROM A JOURNEY WITH THE FLYING FISH “PROMETHEUS” (1870) – Written by Danish author Vilhelm Bergsoe. I shortened the title in the heading for this blog post. Some editions shorten it even more, to just Flying Fish Prometheus.
This story was originally serialized in three issues of Illustreret Tidende from January 9th to January 23rd of 1870. Memoirs … Prometheus is a piece of speculative science fiction set in the “far off year” 1969. William Stone is the main character and narrator of the tale.
Stone is Danish and works for a company digging an underwater tunnel connecting Sweden and Denmark. Our main character receives an invitation (as a professional courtesy) to fly to Panama to witness the opening of the Panama Canal. You have to smile when speculative sci-fi is actually pessimistic about how long certain accomplishments will take. Remember the Russian sci-fi story setting the first moon landing in the year 2017?
William’s American colleagues send the new airship Prometheus to fetch him. The Prometheus is cigar-shaped (like so many UFOs would be described decades later) and sports wings plus propellors. Our man Stone boards the airship in Koege, along with other passengers including his love interest Anna Blue.
The airship’s captain treats William to a tour of the Prometheus. Like many other early sci-fi works about flying machines, this one’s vessel is laid out like a seaship.
Absurdly, the airship flies by submerging itself, then uses its buoyant rise to boost it into flight, sort of like real spacecraft would later use gravity sling-shot effects for a boost. Even more absurdly, the Prometheus flies by flapping its mechanical wings. No, I’m serious. We’re told that all previous aircraft designs failed until American inventors fixed on using flying fish as their engineering inspiration.
For me most of the fun came not from the aircraft itself but from the speculative bits of future history and other tech. We readers learn that London was destroyed in a war between the Brits and the U.S. The Prometheus flies over the still-devastated city.
Explosives technology has advanced to the point where the Earth could be knocked from its orbit AND hurled off into space if that technology falls into the wrong hands.
By this tale’s version of 1969 America is the most powerful nation in the world and has defeated not just Great Britain in war, but also the nations of South America. Denmark is the lone prosperous nation in continental Europe. The other countries are mired in poverty.
While flying across the Atlantic the Prometheus is severely damaged in an electrical storm. Captain Bird and his crew struggle to keep the ship airborne but parts of it are collapsing. Passengers are given parachutes and many choose to jump, hoping for a safe landing. Others fall from the craft.
William Stone and Anna Blue are separated in the chaos, but both survive and plan to get married at story’s end.
Overall this story is quaint and the speculative history is fun to read. The total effect though is like a lesser Jules Verne story. +++
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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