DAYBREAK: A ROMANCE OF AN OLD WORLD (1896) – Written by James Cowan. Since we’re now in Easter Week what better time for a look at this work of “ancient” science fiction which features – among other things – an interplanetary visit by Jesus Christ.
This 1896 novel is set in the “future” of 1899 and introduces us to Walter and Margaret, a dreary young couple who are beginning to question their plans for marriage after having spent more time together than usual. They visited parts of Europe and are on board a steam ship bound for America as the story opens.
After reading their stilted conversations the reader may wonder how anybody can stand being around this pair but larger events interrupt their reassessment of their relationship. The moon has been drawing closer to the Earth by the day and is expected to ultimately collide with our planet.
Walter makes a reasonably witty joke about the moon wanting to be annexed by the United States while around the world the human race becomes gripped with fear over the approaching collision. At length our former satellite makes impact, scraping down mountain ranges from the Himalayas to the Andes, before coming to a rest in the Pacific Ocean.
Obviously this would not be possible but hey, it’s an 1896 book. The moon sits in the Pacific, having displaced enough water to submerge multiple islands and alter the shorelines of every continent.
Countless lives have been lost and untold damage inflicted but in the aftermath some of Earth’s survivors decide to take advantage of the moon’s new location and explore it.
Most attempts to scale the moon failed until some enterprising advertisers managed to climb up and pettily carve some ads for their clients into the lunar geography. Talk about a monumental waste of time and opportunity!
Eventually, Dr Schwartz, a noted scientist, announces his plans to explore the moon in a lighter than air craft and calls for a volunteer to accompany him. Walter volunteers, since he has always dreamed about visiting the moon.
The pair set off from what is left of South America in their airship with its enclosed glass gondola. They have food and other supplies plus “futuristic” devices like air condensors which make the air inside their ship breathable no matter how high up they go along the sides of the crash-landed satellite. The air condensors produce moisture as a side-effect so the explorers have plenty of water, too.
After roaming around the moon, Walter and Dr Schwartz are ultimately forced to hole up back in their ship’s glass gondola because of an intense wind-storm. Soon the cause of the storm becomes clear – the moon is disengaging from the Earth and has begun drifting into space.
Impossibly, the pair hear beautiful singing from a female voice. The source is a gorgeous woman who uses gestures to convince Walter and the Doctor to follow her. She leads them deep inside the moon through a system of caverns in which there is breathable air.
Walter, who has often spoken of his susceptibility to music and song, falls in love with the woman, Mona. As she learns English she is able to sing her story to our heroes. She is the last living person on the moon. As the moon lost its atmosphere her race sought refuge in deeper and deeper caverns, ultimately dying off.
Meanwhile, the vagabond moon has been approaching Mars and at length crashes into it like it did with the Earth. Walter gets temporary amnesia from the impact and forgets about Mona, even denying to Dr Schwartz that she existed.
That’s just a pointless cul de sac, however, as Walter regains his memories of the woman but now falls in love with another beautiful songstress – the Martian woman Avis. The people of the Red Planet speak English, conveniently enough, and a Martian named Thorwald is assigned to mentor Walter in the ways of Mars.
The planet is mostly Earth-like but with red vegetation instead of green. The inhabitants are larger than Earthlings and are much more scientifically advanced.
Hydroelectricity powers a network of underground subway tubes which travel at 400 miles per hour. Individual aircraft and motorcars are also available.
It turns out all Martians are Christians, since the planet had its own Christlike visitation. The people of Mars took to Christian teachings more faithfully than Earthlings, however, and their selflessness and compassion enable their world to function with no government: just mutual cooperation in all things.
The novel turns into a real snooze from that point on, since descriptions of a perfect, harmonious society lack the conflict which is the essence of drama. The jerkish Walter loses interest in Mona when she loses her voice, so Avis wins out by default, but our main character’s inconstant nature is the closest thing to a story development once the religious philosophizing starts.
Daybreak: A Romance of an Old World starts out promisingly enough but against all the odds it manages to make a travelling moon and the concept of Martian Christianity boring beyond belief.
If you ever do read it, consider stopping after they get to Mars the minute you start getting bored. It does NOT get better, so don’t waste your time hoping. +++
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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