A ROUND TRIP TO THE YEAR 2000 aka A FLIGHT THROUGH TIME (1903) – Written by THE William Wallace Cook, this story was originally serialized in Argosy magazine from July through November of 1903.
A Round Trip to the Year 2000 has the same light-hearted, jocular approach that we associate with the Back to the Future movies. The fact that the time travel device is a reconfigured automobile adds another similarity.
In the year 1900, New York author Emerson Lumley has written a book about the possible uses of the subconscious mind. A criminal took advantage of Lumley’s methods in the book to hypnotize the author into robbing a bank and Emerson is now on the run from the law, with his most dogged pursuer being police detective Jasper Klinch.
Lumley is contemplating suicide when he receives help from the midget scientist named Dr Alonso Kelpie. The good doctor takes Emerson to the laboratory on his estate. He offers Lumley the chance to drive Kelpie’s newly-invented time-coupe into the future, specifically the year 2000. In return Alonso wants his chrononaut to bring back assorted information when the coast is clear.
Since Lumley was already on the verge of ending his life anyway, he agrees to be the human guinea pig for Dr Kelpie’s time-car. Just as he’s driving off to the future, however, the relentless Detective Klinch shows up and leaps into the vehicle beside our hero.
The pair grapple as the car drives through the time-stream and Lumley knocks Klinch off the car and into the year 1950 while he continues the trip to the year 2000.
In 2000 New York, Emerson Lumley learns he is far from unique as a man from the distant past. In a hilarious nod to the many, many “sleepers” who followed in the wake of Edward Bellamy’s writings, it turns out there is an entire section of the city inhabited ONLY by people from long ago. Those figures all emerged in the future after being put into suspended animation through various means in the past.
Totalitarian Trusts rule the world of the future and behave as ruthlessly as our time’s Google, Facebook, Twitter and other techno-fascists. Citizens must even pay a registration fee to the Trusts just to be “permitted” to breathe the air in their locale, since the Trusts are deemed to “own” the air like they own other natural resources.
In a particularly foresighted touch, differences between men and women have faded and both sexes wear light, lacy unisex outfits and are both demure and fairly passive. There are equal rights and women often pursue men and propose marriage.
Airplanes with ridiculous flapping wings fill the skies, electrically-charged cars and other vehicles fill the streets and Thunderbolt Guns which fire lightning bolts are used by the authorities. There are also teletype machines, weather control technology and a travel tube which runs through the center of the planet.
Food is consumed purely in vapor form and is breathed in at mealtime. Robotic metal servants called Muglugs do manual labor, serve as police and as household staff.
The robot Muglugs are more “leased” than “owned” since they are ultimately under the control of subconscious waves from the mind of a man with the title Head Center. This Muglug technology was made possible by theories offered up in Emerson Lumley’s 1900 book on uses of the subconscious mind.
There are statues and other monuments to Lumley around the city since he is hailed as an inventive genius. When New Yorkers realize they have the actual inventor himself on hand, freshly arrived from the past, Emerson is celebrated and becomes a hit on the social circuit.
After enjoying his celebrity status for a time, Lumley is in town for the scientific “awakening” of a figure known only as “the Unknown.” That person is a man put into suspended animation in the year 1950.
When the Unknown is awakened, he turns out to be the time-lost Detective Jasper Klinch, who, you’ll recall, landed in 1950 when thrown from the time-car. Klinch resumes treating Lumley like his personal Jean Valjean and pursues him through 200o New York.
Emerson flees in a commandeered aircraft and Klinch grabs an aircraft of his own and follows. The vessels collide in mid-air, with Klinch disappearing and Lumley winding up in the home of the exalted Explainer-General Tiburos Ny Twenty-Six.
Our main character is treated as an honored guest because of his celebrity and ultimately becomes a target of the ravenous affections of the Explainer-General’s daughter, Tibijul Ny Three Hundred Thirty-Three.
When the couple take a romantic night drive in an aircraft they are attacked and captured by Sky Pirates, whose newest crew member turns out to be Jasper Klinch himself.
Eventually the grudge match between Lumley and Klinch is resolved when the former unearths proof that he was hypnotized into commiting the robbery back in 1900, thus satisfying Klinch.
All of that takes place against the backdrop of the man occupying the office of Head Center beginning to lose mental concentration and therefore losing control of the Muglugs. A new Head Center must be chosen.
The procedure for choosing a new Head Center involves candidates animating a Muglug each through mind control and having the robots fight each other, Rock ’em Sock ’em Robots-style. The Muglug controled by Lumley’s friend Tiburos Ny Twenty-Six emerges as the winner.
As the new Head Center, Tiburos reveals his plans to bring down the Trust-dominated society and turn control over to independent agrarian “rebels” who withdrew to the American Midwest years earlier. Tiburos sets the Muglugs to destroying the city in a reign of terror.
In the resulting chaos, Lumley, Klinch and all the other Sleepers from the past are hysterically blamed for the revolt of the Muglugs. Not even the eventual capture and execution of the power-mad Tiburos calms down the angry mobs, however.
Emerson Lumley proposes that he, Klinch and the other Sleepers can all return to 1900 in Dr Kelpie’s time-car. They’ll have to do it in multiple trips of small groups of passengers each time, and get started with the bloodthirsty mobs still after them.
Lumley drives the first set of passengers back to 1900, where they arrive at Kelpie’s estate. The time-car is struck by lightning and destroyed. Dr Kelpie states it cannot be repaired and since he perfected it by a fluke, he cannot build another.
The others are unfortunately left in the year 2000 to face whatever fate the mob has in mind for them. Rather grim ending to an otherwise light tale.
A Round Trip to the Year 2000 is plenty of fun with a few knowing pokes at concepts that had already become science fiction tropes by 1903. If studios ever get tired of adapting endless superhero stories they should move on to some of these vintage sci-fi tales. +++
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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