THE YEAR 4338, LETTERS FROM PETERSBURG (1835) – Written by Vladimir Fedorovich Odoevski. Set in the year 4338 A.D. this novel is told through correspondence from Hyppolitus Tsungiev, a Chinese college student in Saint Petersburg to Chinese friends in Peking. In that far future year Saint Petersburg has grown to be a megalopolis so large that it extends all the way to Moscow.
Russia and China are the two dominant world powers in this fictional future. China itself had fallen into a long period of stagnation which ended only with a revival during the reign of Hin Gin during the 3800s.
Looming over the exchange of scientific talk is the impending return of Biela’s Comet. That object was last seen in 1838 and is set to return in 4339, but its course this time will cause it to collide with and destroy the Earth.
The nations of the world are working on methods of averting that catastrophe. Through the course of the Chinese student’s exchanges with his fellows we readers learn various “facts” about life in the 44th Century.
Hydrophones, a water-based form of telephone communication, are used for most conversations. Aircraft provide regular transportation across entire continents and space travel is also available.
The climate can be controlled through artificial means and automatic copiers like those used in many offices now are still in use. Psychotropic drug use is fairly common and is seen as a therapeutic necessity.
The Animal Magnetism theories of Franz Anton Mesmer have been revived and proven valid, with magnetic baths now a regular feature of life. The accompanying psychological side-effects, convulsions, episodes and trance-like states are accepted as just part of the cost of overall emotional health for the human organism by exorcising negative behaviors.
Tsungiev himself frequently puts himself in trance-like states during which he claims to travel through time and change identities. (In fact, Hyppolitus Tsungiev may not be his real name.) All of this makes for an interesting blend of quasi-mysticism mixed in with science fiction.
But as some might say, you can’t achieve a technological wonderland without breaking a few eggs, and most species of animals have been driven to extinction by 4338. The most popular household pets of the future are roughly terrier-sized horses (yes, horses) which serve as outlets for all the physical affection that human beings used to lavish on dogs and cats.
Snobbery is still alive and well in the 44th Century and only those people from a suitable class are permitted to pursue higher education. The working class is disdained and used for all menial tasks. Periodically, mobs of them besiege the gated entrances to universities aka Main Schools but are driven away.
Unfortunately the novel was unfinished so the ultimate fate that Odoevski intended for Earth of the future is not known.
As always with these works of “ancient” science fiction I find it fascinating to see what people of the past speculated was in store for humanity going forward. The Year 4338 is entertaining but not a science fiction classic by any means. +++
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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