THE LOG OF THE FLYING FISH: A STORY OF AERIAL AND SUBMARINE PERIL AND ADVENTURE (1887) – Written by Harry Collingwood (William J.C. Lancaster).
Professor Heinrich von Schalckenburg, a brilliant German scientist, is speaking at the Migrants’ Club, an organization of explorers and scientific pioneers. Von Schalckenburg dismisses lighter than air vessels and claims he will prove the success of heavier than air vessels with two of his most recent inventions.
One of those inventions is a crystal powder which can be used as an explosive and as a source of electricity and gas. The other is a new metal alloy that the professor has dubbed “aethereum”, a light but strong substance.
Von Schalckenburg says he is 100,000 British pounds short of being able to construct a craft capable of flying AND serving as a submarine. Mighty Jack, eat your heart out! Sir Reginald Elphinstone, a member of the Migrants’ Club, finances the professor’s project.
After British laborers prove too lazy and strike-prone, Heinrich imports Germans to complete construction of the vessel, which von Schalckenburg christens The Flying Fish (No relation to the Prometheus, also called “the flying fish Prometheus” from an 1870 story.)
The Flying Fish is 600 feet long and 60 feet wide. It can fly at 120 miles per hour and can move beneath the sea at 150 miles per hour. The vessel also boasts small launches or “shuttle craft.”
Von Schalckenburg has packed the Flying Fish with weaponry, too, like torpedoes, cannons and Maxim guns. There are armored diving suits made of the same aethereum as the craft itself. Those suits come complete with daggers that deliver electrical shocks thanks to battery packs built into the armor.
Heinrich and Sir Reginald are joined on the vessel’s maiden voyage by engineer (and fortune-hunter) Cyril Lethbridge and Royal Navy Lieutenant Edward Mildmay plus George the cook and another manservant. Our adventurers fly to a height of 6 miles and then go nearly a hundred fathoms underwater as they probe the Hurd Deep.
While salvaging assorted sunken ships the Flying Fish crew battle dozens of conger eels and other subaquatic beasts. After surfacing, the vessel is mistaken for a sea monster but Heinrich and company prove their altruistic intentions by rescuing the crew of a barque trapped in ice.
From there our heroes discover the remains of an ancient Viking ship and go on to discover the North Pole, which is surrounded by a warm-water sea. In that sea is an island with plenty of plant and animal life, some thought extinct, like woolly mammoths.
In the “crazed hunter” mode typical of the time period von Schalckenburg and friends hunt and kill several of the woolly mammoths. They also take time to round up a fortune in diamonds, then return to London and become toasts of the town.
The professor is all business, of course, and donates a woolly mammoth hide to science and submits to the Royal Society a paper on the Polar Sea.
Next it’s off to Africa in search of unicorns AND King Solomon’s long-lost Opir. The explorers do find and catalogue multiple specimens of wildlife – usually after shooting them – but do not bag any of the sought-after unicorns, they just glimpse them.
Opir is discovered, leading to an adventure in which the Flying Fish crew must rescue several European women from being added to the harem of an African ruler. The ladies are dropped off in Bombay while the lads fly on to the top of Mount Everest (“because it’s there” we can assume).
Ultimately our heroes return to England, submerge the Flying Fish in the English Channel and celebrate their escapades at the Migrants’ Club.
Obviously, The Log of the Flying Fish is very, shall we say, “derivative” of Jules Verne but I feel most critics are too rough on it, given the sheer number of submarine stories from the 19th Century. And even though some of the science on display is nonsense there’s certainly enough that was ahead of its time to let readers take it all seriously.
The author is a bit less monotonous than Verne with the travelogue portions of the narrative but piles on the technical explanations to the Nth degree. And the professor’s comic-opera German accent gets annoying by the middle of the book.
This novel is definitely worth at least one read for any science fiction fan or for anyone looking for their next Steam-Punk fix. +++
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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