UTOPIA or THE HISTORY OF AN EXTINCT PLANET, PSYCHOMETRICALLY OBTAINED (1884) – Written by Alfred Denton Cridge. An unnamed narrator comes across the remains of a meteor that entered Earth’s atmosphere. This narrator has the gift of psychometry (the author’s uncle was THE William Denton) and after he picks up the tangerine-sized chunk of black rock from another planet he begins getting impressions from it.
At first it seems a separate entity calling itself Psycho appears to the narrator but it gradually becomes clear that his psychometric abilities have actually plugged him into a figurative Worldmind from which he learns the history of the destroyed planet of which the meteor is a fragment.
Our narrator places the meteor against his forehead to facilitate his “readings” from it. He and we readers learn that the fragment’s planet of origin, Utopia, was roughly the same distance from Earth as Saturn, but in an oblong orbital plane.
The planet was just 2,500 miles across and was home to a race of roughly 5 1/2 feet tall humanoids, some with yellow skin, some with brown skin and others with gray skin. All the races had long, black hair. Utopia sported Earthlike plains, mountains, lakes and rivers with just one huge ocean.
A day on the planet lasted approximately 30 Earth hours, and it took the world nearly 31 Earth years to complete one orbit around the Sun. The lifespan of the Utopians was similar to that of Earthlings but obviously was measured differently. For instance a Utopian who was 62 of our years old would have lived through just two revolutions around the Sun.
The Utopian humanoids had foreheads which jutted out from their skulls far more than ours and possessed larger chests and torsos to accommodate their larger lungs. Those larger lungs were needed to breathe the much thinner atmosphere of their planet.
Utopia’s equivalent of birds had similarly large torsos as well as wings that stretched out much longer than Earth birds’ wings. (Think of U2 spyplane wings but obviously the author would have known nothing about such aircraft.)
Our narrator witnesses Utopia’s similar Stone Age and Iron Age with an intermediate era centered around a softer white metal unknown on Earth.
Eventually the humanoids’ use of fire and metal weaponry made them masters over the planet’s beasts. Saurian creatures were hunted to extinction as were all wolf-like and dog-like species. Wild felines, roughly the size of our cougars, enjoyed the tight bond that humanity formed with dogs here on Earth.
As civilizations were launched around Utopia that bond continued, to the point that those large cats became household pets and herders like our dogs.
Over time the history of these ancient humanoids paralleled our own later path – wars came, empires rose and fell, the human curse of slavery was instituted and then abolished. A one-world language was settled upon but conflicts continued. Weapons technology kept pace with other scientific advancements until, at length, the Utopian race had bombs capable of unleashing unimaginable destruction.
Finally, after many models of government were tried, from communism and capitalism to theocracy and technocracy, the Utopians realized that ultimately a privileged few wound up holding sway over the suffering many no matter what form of rule was instituted.
Even when peace was established between separate nations, pompous elites inevitably abused their positions and internal revolutions would occur. A nation weakened by internal discord would fall to rival nations that were currently unimpeded by such civil strife and the constant cycle of rising and falling empires and civilizations would repeat itself.
This aspect of The History of an Extinct Planet makes it stand out from much 19th Century Utopian science fiction. Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog will be familiar with the way most of these speculative stories featured peace coming to the world through socialism or capitalism or through technological advances which eliminate hunger, poverty and other causes of war.
Obviously, this story element plays right to my disgust with both left-wing AND right-wing solutions for societal problems. Unfortunately, we Earthlings don’t have access to the solution which the Utopians ultimately settled upon.
That solution? Limited government with an emphasis on “fairness.” WHOSE definition of fairness, you would reasonably ask. Why, past generations of course … by asking them directly.
Yes, I’m afraid Cridge cheats by having the Utopians reach a level of spiritual advancement which lets them interact with the dead and get rulings from them like a Supreme Court full of Force Ghosts. These undead authorities of last resort are supposedly as impartial, far-sighted and selfless as Plato’s Philosopher Kings would have been.
Despite that cop-out from the political angle the story does give readers some fun sci-fi depictions of technology. The Utopians have electrically-powered land, sea and air vessels plus advanced photography. They are even capable of photographing other planets from our solar system and beyond. (This was so long ago Earth had no life yet.)
In the spirit of Star Trek‘s transparent aluminum the Utopians have crafted a firm form of paper which is as strong and durable as stone once covered in a light coat of bronze. That “hard paper” is used to manufacture furniture and building materials which can last for centuries without wear.
Oddly, clothing is old-fashioned and is made from the fur, feathers and silk-like secretions of the planet’s animal life plus a few vegetable fibers.
With no war, hunger, poverty or large-scale political strife the population explodes over the centuries. Eventually, subterranean networks of caves are used for additional housing. When those are exhausted, the planet’s bodies of water are drained to provide more land area for constructing homes.
Over time the atmosphere thins, Utopia grows unnaturally cold and the population shrinks. After centuries of increasingly harsh existence the humanoids go extinct. With the passage of more time on a cosmic scale the planet itself crumbles apart, its pieces scattering across the universe.
Some of those pieces ultimately wound up striking Earth and other planets as meteorites over thousands of years, including the chunk being held to our narrator’s forehead to supply his psychometric “visions.”
The History of an Extinct Planet is shorter than many similar works from the 19th Century, especially considering the way it covers an entire planet’s history from its Stone Age to the end of the world.
As usual, much of the science is faulty, such as when we’re told that the smaller the planet the more quickly evolution occurs on it. Overall, though, this work is fun enough for a quiet afternoon’s read. +++
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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