THE YEAR 2440 (1771) – Written by Louis-Sebastien Mercier, this French novel was at first published anonymously in Holland because of its criticism of the French aristocracy and of religion. Also for its bold rejection of societal norms of the time period. It was years before Mercier dared to take public credit for the work, and even then he did so largely because some were crediting The Year 2440 to Rousseau or Voltaire.
The novel was wildly popular for such an underground work and had to be smuggled into a country and then sold by merchants who dealt in “illicit reading material.” The Spanish Inquisition put it on its list of prohibited books. Here in the U.S. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington are known to have owned First Editions of The Year 2440. Continue reading
SWALLOWED BY AN EARTHQUAKE (1894) – Written by Edward Douglas Fawcett. The Rinaldi family in Naples invite a group of friends, consisting of young Charlie, his uncle, his friend Jack and Dr Ruggieri, to pay them a visit. An earthquake of record intensity rips open deep chasms in the countryside, with the four travelers sliding down into one.
The foursome are cut off from the surface world but find a subterranean river which they explore in a rough boat they construct out of the ruins of a villa which collapsed into the chasm with them. They take along guns and plenty of ammunition from the aforementioned villa. Typical of these hollow Earth/ underground civilization stories, phosphorescent rocks provide plenty of light in many areas. There is abundant vegetation.
Eventually our main characters survive encounters with an exhaustive number of dinosaur species and make a temporary home for themselves on an island in the middle of the underground waterway. While there they build a much larger boat, gather vegetables and catch plenty of fish to be smoked so that they have food for the seemingly long journey ahead. Continue reading
Insert your own “Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?” joke here.
IN THE YEAR TEN THOUSAND (1890) – Written by Edgar Fawcett, this odd little work first appeared in the political and literary publication The Arena in February 1890. Fawcett authored some eccentric pieces like The New King Arthur: An Opera Without Music in 1885. In The Year Ten Thousand is written in verse and is in the form of dialogues. Some sources maintain the work was intended as a short play.
The story opens in 10,000 AD in the sprawling megalopolis called Manattia, where New York City and most of the surrounding area used to be. A pair of citizens in that future location discuss assorted aspects of history and the scientific changes which led to the state of their almost ideal society.
Electric airboats fill the skies and in the year 10,000 a typical family outing would include a weekend flight over the North Pole and back. Massive libraries like the one in Manattia contain 12 million books or more. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
THE SCARLET PLAGUE (1912) – Written by THE Jack London. Years ago Balladeer’s Blog reviewed London’s mad scientist horror tale A Thousand Deaths, now I’ll examine The Scarlet Plague, London’s post-apocalypse plague story set in the year 2073.
Jack London opens up this novella with a grim look at what life is like in the aftermath of the Scarlet Plague which swept the planet in the year 2013. Many recent reviews of this book focus purely on the disease angle because of the world’s ongoing Covid experience, but I think they overlook a lot of London’s political and class commentary.
I’ll take a look at the way in which London presented the pre-plague America of 2013 as a dystopia even before the first victim of the Scarlet Plague passed away. The elderly survivor recounting the tale to his grandchildren in 2073 doesn’t describe it that way because he was in a privileged class as an “educator”.
James Howard Smith is that elderly survivor in a world returned largely to hunting and gathering. He is cared for by his three grandsons, Edwin and two others whose absurd names probably contribute to keeping The Scarlet Plague so underappreciated – Hoo-Hoo and Harelip. (?) They get by as well as they can in northern California, raising dogs to help them herd the goats that they raise for meat and milk, and relying on the ocean for much of the rest of their food supply. Primitive weapons like bows and arrows are all they have on hand to use against wild bears and other menaces. Continue reading
THE CAVERN OF FIRE (1888) – Written by Francis W Doughty. This novel was originally serialized in The Boys of New York from September 15th to November 3rd of 1888. The main character is Professor Hardcastle, head of Merton College in Illinois. Hardcastle’s pet theory over the years has been that America’s mound builders were really from ancient Greece.
At long last he gets some proof of his belief when a tornado not only slams Merton College but also tears open one of the aged mounds in question. Hardcastle, his student Jack Merton and their Chinese aide John Foo discover an iron chest in the opened mound. The chest contains leather pages which, when translated by the professor, are revealed to feature the account of an ancient Greek adventurer named Polyxaphanes.
Polyxaphanes explored far northern caverns leading deep into the Earth, past the realm of the Hyperboreans and ultimately surfacing amid the Toltecs of what is now Mexico. From there the resourceful Greek eventually found his way to America. Hardcastle, Merton and Foo set off in a lighter than air balloon to search for the Mexican end of the vast subterranean cavern system described by Polyxaphanes. Continue reading
ARE THE PLANETS INHABITED? (1913) – Written by Edward Walter Maunder, this book began with ridicule of the outdated belief that the sun and moon might be inhabited, but it doesn’t exactly embody scientific accuracy itself. Therefore I’m classifying it as science fiction even though in 1913 it was considered to be a series of observations adhering to rigid scientific principles.
MARS – Maunder hilariously refers over and over again to “independent confirmations” that Mars had canals. It was believed that these canals provided water from the planet’s polar ice caps to the rest of the desert planet. The author proceeds to cite observations from no less an authority than Percival Lowell, who in 1894 added “oases” at the “junctions” of Schiaparelli’s Martian canals.
The supposed regularity and precision of those oases (reservoirs might have been a better term, even though it, too, would be in error) “proved” to scientists of the time that they could NOT be mere natural formations. This book explains that the Martians are apparently mounting a monumental engineering project in a losing battle to keep their population alive. Continue reading
THE STEAM MAN OF THE PRAIRIES (1868) – Written by Edward Sylvester Ellis. Before the Frank Reade stories came this work that is often hailed as the first Dime Novel with a science fiction theme.
Ellis seems to have been inspired by the REAL and well-known Newark Steam Man built by Zadoc P Dederick in January of 1868. That Steam Man was built strictly to pull carts and wagonloads up and down the street. Its human appearance was just a novelty.
Back to Ellis’ novel: In Saint Louis lives Johnny Brainerd, a 15 year old dwarf with a hunchback, who has a brilliant mind in his misshapen body. After a long line of somewhat modest inventions Johnny constructs a human-shaped Steam Man that stands 9 feet tall. It has long legs with spiked feet, has the boilers in its chest, the firepot in its stomach and lets excess steam vent from its hat. (Dederick’s Newark Steam Man also wore a top hat.) The creation’s nose serves as its whistle, like on a tea kettle. Continue reading
THE NEW HUMANS (1909) – Written by B Vallance. No other name has come to light for the author of this thought-provoking work. Explorer Montgomery Merrick is roaming around the wilds of 1909 Uganda when he falls down a mountainside and into a concealed valley.
Merrick’s injuries are such that he does not expect to survive but he wakes up on an operating table in fine condition. Looking down at him are amoeboid humans who don barrel-shaped exo-skeletons whenever they need to keep their forms stable, as in during the surgery they were performing on Merrick.
One of the beings speaks English and introduces himself to the recovering patient as the Chief Adaptor, who takes credit for “repairing” our hero. Merrick gradually becomes aware that his ultimate fate is still being debated by his odd saviors. Continue reading
Thank you to all of you who have expressed condolences over recent family events. You people are the greatest!
MY COUSIN’S AIRSHIP, A TALE OF 1950 (1902) – Written by W.F. Alexander. Though written in 1902 this story is set in a fictional 1950 which has seen incredible scientific advances.
The action begins in England, where our narrator lives with his true love Margaret. His cousin Stephen Rankin – a former rival for Margaret’s affections – is a nasty mean-spirited mad scientist figure.
Stephen has invented a new type of aerocar which can travel 45 miles per hour, which we readers are told makes it the fastest aircraft of 1950. (!) As a peace-making gesture the inventor invites our narrator along for a joyride in the airship. Continue reading