PHARAOH’S BROKER: BEING THE VERY REMARKABLE EXPERIENCES IN ANOTHER WORLD OF ISIDOR WERNER WRITTEN BY HIMSELF (1899) – Written by Elmer Dwiggins under the name Ellsworth Douglass. For obvious reasons I shortened the title for the blog post headline.
Isidor Werner is a successful wheeling and dealing speculator on the grain market in Chicago. His old teacher from Heidelberg, Professor Anderwelt, comes to him seeking financial backing for an antigravity device he is working on. In exchange for 90% of the profits from the device (seems reasonable), Werner agrees.
Anderwelt uses the funding not only on the antigravity technology but for the construction of a spaceship. The professor convinces his former student Isidor to ride along with him on a trip to Mars.
Dwiggins/ Douglass wrote a surprisingly low-key and rational take on space travel, depicting such practical issues as weightlessness and space sickness. He also paid more attention than most of his contemporaries to details like the oxygen supply of his interplanetary explorers and coping with radiation.
After six months, our heroes arrive on Mars and find it to be fairly similar to Earth in terms of its topographical features, but is mostly desert. The Martians are humanoids who are very pale because their planet is further from the sun than ours. Werner and Anderwelt are far stronger than the inhabitants of Mars due to the Red Planet’s lower gravity.
At first the Earthlings are feared and hated. The technologically backward Martians attack them with catapults, bows and arrows plus lances. The armies of Mars ride large birds into battle and also use them for transport. Our main characters fight them off.
Isidor and the professor decide to try establishing peaceful communication by flying right into the middle of the nearest city and passing out gifts to the women and children. This charms the Martians and the Earth men are amazed to learn that one of the languages of the Red Planet is Hebrew.
Yes, the careful attention to scientific plausibility now goes out the window. It turns out that every planet in the solar system progresses in the exact same way, with Mars currently at the equivalent of the Hyksos Dynasty in Egypt.
From this point onward, Dwiggins’ novel more closely resembles a time travel story. Absurdly, each planet doesn’t just follow the same historical path, but even the exact same events, languages, etc. Like in a time travel tale, Werner and Anderwelt are in the position of knowing what will happen on Mars in the years ahead as history repeats itself.
Isidor, ignoring the professor’s warnings, decides to cash in on that knowledge. First, since gold is incredibly rare on Mars, where abundant iron is used for coins, Werner uses gold coins he brought with him to raise some money for himself. Going by what history tells him will happen in the years ahead, he invests that money and amasses a fortune.
The pharaoh has the professor’s spaceship stolen and concealed, then claims that one of his people tampered with it and sent it off into space. Believing they are stranded on Mars, Isidor and Professor Anderwelt settle in to prominent roles in the pharaoh’s government.
Again, like in a time travel story, our heroes have screwed up the course of history by altering too many events with their presence. Ultimately they wind up installed as the new pharaohs following a successful revolution. That revolution is short-lived, however, and the tables are turned.
Werner is captured and sentenced to death but before the sentence can be carried out, Professor Anderwelt finds the concealed spaceship, rescues Isidor and sets course back to Earth. Once there, the professor churns out scientific monographs about the three years he and his former student spent on Mars. Werner returns to making a tidy fortune in the market.
In the end, Anderwelt recruits Werner for a trip to Venus, which the professor reasons must be thousands of years ahead of the Earth in technology since Mars is thousands of years behind us. There was no sequel novel, however, but presumably Isidor would have tried to cash in on what he learned on Venus to play the stock market or finance anachronistic technology once he returned to Earth.
In real life, Elmer Dwiggins apparently played things as fast and loose as his fictional Isidor Werner. He even wound up in prison from 1919-1920 over his schemes.
This novel was just barely okay. After the promisingly detail-oriented start it collapsed into improbable nonsense with the notion that each successive planet in the solar system will follow the exact same path.
On top of which Dwiggins was pretty inconsistent with just how exactly each planet progressed. The gigantic birds used by the Martians apparently don’t alter Martian history too much since Werner is able to accurately invest his money based on his knowledge of ancient Egyptian events.
I’m glad to have read it just to mark it off my list, but I would not recommend this one to other readers.
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/
© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.