A JOURNEY IN THE TWENTY-NINTH CENTURY (1824) – Written by Faddei Bulgarin, who had served in the Polish Legion of Napoleon’s Grand Army in his youth before going on to work for the Czars of Russia. In this fascinating tale an unnamed narrator gets swept overboard in the Gulf of Finland in 1824. The cold water and another element somehow put him in suspended animation and when he comes to he is all the way over in Siberia, where his body was recovered in the waters of Cape Shelagski centuries after he was lost at sea.
The year in which the narrator finds himself is 2824 A.D. and Siberia is by then a warm and comfortable place due to environmental engineering and climatic changes. Homes are all like virtual palaces and the citizens drive around in large wheeled chairs which are powered by steam and travel along rail lines like trains do. The walkways for pedestrians are all covered in order to protect them from precipitation.
Scattered police officers in feathered hats walk the streets, all of them wielding futuristic staffs which combine the firepower of 12 pistols and a large musket. The staffs are made of lightweight materials which make them easy to carry and aim.
A servant in the home where the narrator awoke introduces him to his employer, a professor of archaeology and history at the university in the city – called Hope City. The professor explains to our protagonist that his body was found just a day ago, and by sheer chance while it was underwater long ago it became tangled and enwrapped within seaweed fortified with Radix Vitalis – the “root of life.” This preserved him.
The pair work out an agreement – since the narrator will be able to provide the scholars of the 29th Century with much factual information about the world of the 1800s the professor will serve as his guide to familiarize him with his new time period.
The professor explains how, over time, Russians and others cleared forests, drained marshes and then used engineering to divert the planet’s internal heat to reach near the surface in Siberia and elsewhere. All of this made the North the warm paradise that it is in 2824. Africa and India are now the globe’s cold regions.
Another switch came about as humanity mined deeper and deeper into the Earth, finding so many huge deposits of gold, silver and the like that such riches became common enough to use as building material for every home. In contrast, the forests were used up to such a degree that wood is as valuable in 2824 as precious metals and gems were in 1824.
Most mammals have been driven to extinction, and clothing of the 29th Century is made from fish tendons, fish scales, seaweed and bird feathers. In addition, women carry literal shields on their left arms the way women of the past often carried parasols. Bulgarin tells readers that is done to defend themselves against the hungry eyes of undesirable men. Ladies also carry telescopic spectacles to let them observe people and items from a distance.
Arabic has become the language of diplomacy in 2824, just as French was in the narrator’s own era. A typical breakfast in this fictional future consists of cabbage soup, pickles and buckwheat. (?) Because the professor is moderately wealthy, he, the narrator and the professor’s wife, daughters and son eat and drink from expensive wooden containers. Poorer people dine from bowls made of common gold and silver.
Machines now write poetry and prose based on parameters and themes “programmed” into them by the operator. Lotions can be applied to the eyes, mouth, nose and ears to magnify one’s vision, taste buds, sense of smell and hearing. Supertelescopes focused on the moon have discovered life there, complete with their rough homes.
Most of the buildings in great metropolises like Hope City are made purely from iron, with elaborate adornments built onto them. Each commercial and governmental building, no matter how large, is made from modules which can be unscrewed, moved and refitted to adjust to whatever other design is desired as fashions change. Lightning rods on every building help protect against damage from the elements.
Public utilities which provide heat and light to residences and businesses exist, and are able to draw fuel from the air. The narrator is told that this process was discovered by a Samoyed scientist named Shamuromai … in 1946.
Technology in the 29th Century is such that individual workers can use steam-powered machinery to let each of them move a few tons if need be. Larger steam-driven machinery can literally move mountains or carry battleships like toys.
At length the professor takes our narrator with him to get his mail at a Hope City Airdock (airport to us). Airships which are a combination of lighter-than-air vessels and planes fill the airways, with the wings flapping like those of birds. These, too, are powered by steam.
To satisfy the narrator’s curiosity about aircraft, the professor takes him to a military station to observe some maneuvers. The soldiers and crew of the air vessels all wield lightweight futuristic weapons which, however, still fire projectiles and not energy beams. No gunpowder is needed. The ammunition is propelled by air-blasts. This applies even to the cannons on the aircraft.
In lieu of gunpowder the soldiers carry powderized meals like our bouillon cubes, with each individual cube being sufficient to feed a soldier for over a month. Soldiers are also issued devices which let them draw moisture from the air to supply an ever-ready amount of drinking water. Portable hydrogen heaters (!) are carried as well for warmth or to cook wild game when necessary. (I don’t think Bulgarin thought that one through all the way. Each soldier would be a potential small-scale Hindenburg.)
Parachutes are so perfected by this point that paratroopers leap from the flying ships by the hundreds and perform infantry tactics after they reach the ground. In a silly bit of business, companies of archers can fire individual Congreve Rockets from their bows like arrows. Enough hits of these explosives can bring down an airship.
All ships at sea in 2824 can be converted into submarines at the touch of a few buttons. Long before Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, this author even depicted the subaquatic vessels drawing oxygen from the water and netting enough seafood to feed the entire crew. Drinking water is made by filters which clean out the seawaters.
Even more, diving outfits are sleek and lightweight. Entire UNDERWATER PLANTATIONS abound on the ocean floors, with the sea bottom being used to plant all manner of specially designed fruits and vegetables. International treaties govern the sea and the air alike.
Next the narrator accompanies the professor to the University of Hope City. There he sees the plush, futuristic lecture halls, zoos, laboratories and botanical gardens. The School of Law has departments for Jurisprudence, Judicial Procedures, Good Conscience (LMAO), Impartiality and Pro Bono works. Common Sense is an entire school of philosophical thought in the Philosophy Department and each one of the other disciplines includes new categories for the 29th Century.
Humor is provided in a section where our narrator corrects the professor and his associates about their erroneous ideas about 1800s history and their over-thinking of figures in portraits. They mistook mere actors for actual national leaders, militiamen for fully equipped soldiers in the field, etc. The colorful names of Inns were mistaken by 2824 scholars to be triumphal decorations to commemorate special events.
Libraries of the future are a disappointment. Much like in Mercier’s 1771 sci-fi work The Year 2440, it turns out literature is held to very, very strict standards in the future. Very little reading material from the distant past has been preserved and most books were recycled because of the scarcity of trees.
The story ends with the narrator looking forward to whatever other wonders await him in 2824.
A Journey in the 29th Century is one of the most enjoyable of the many, many ancient sci-fi works I’ve reviewed which speculate on the world of the future. Bulgarin showed impressive imagination in the wonders he depicted and it’s a shame his work is STILL so little known in the west.
The author was Russian, but you would have thought that the fact that the Soviet government condemned him and banned his books might have given him a certain chic among White Russians after the Russian Civil War. Or even among certain academics during the Cold War era.
This is a terrific work and is short enough that it doesn’t wear out its welcome. A purely expositional piece is always in danger of doing that as the pattern of “Oh, what’s that?” followed by an explanation gets a bit tired very quickly.
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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