THE EMPEROR OF THE AIR (1910) – Written by George Glendon, this is a story about two visionaries – the German-American tycoon Hans Kreutzer and the Italian inventor Anatole Lonari.
The inventor has been finagled out of profiting from many revolutionary creations and feels very embittered. The tycoon, despite his comfortable existence, has become a dedicated anarchist and longs to lay low the “oppressor nations.”
Kreutzer and Lonari join forces and settle in a remote area of Spain to pursue their dream project. The inventor perfects a very advanced rotary engine while the tycoon/ entrepreneur produces a vacuum-lifted aircraft that requires no helium or hydrogen to rise into the sky.
Throw in solid fuel and futuristic explosives and the two masterminds complete their airship called the Zara. It can fly up to 100 miles per hour and remain airborne for extended periods of time. Continue reading
THE WARSTOCK: A TALE OF TOMORROW (1898) – Written by the British William Oliver Greener under the pen name Wirt Gerrare. Despite this book’s Great Britain origins, the two lead characters are American inventors from Plainfield, New Jersey – Robert Sterry and Willie Redhead.
In the near future (from 1898), the pair have discovered a new energy source and use it to power their wireless telegraphy system called the Sterrygraph. Sterry and Redhead seek investors in England and on the Continent without success.
While hitting the social circuit in London, our heroes meet Madeline Winship, who connects them with backers who are part of an exclusive Royal Society-inspired group of scientific minds. The group are called the Isocrats, and they devote themselves to science and similar intellectual pursuits, like elevating dancing to what we might call performance art. Continue reading
BELLONA’S HUSBAND (1887) – This book was written by West Point graduate (Class of 1867) William James Roe under the pen name Hudor Genone.
The novel’s main character, named Archibald Holt, invests in Professor Ratzinez Garrett’s project which centers on hydrogenium, the professor’s metallic form of hydrogen. This substance may be lighter than air but it is also very, very resilient.
Garrett constructs a disc-shaped spaceship that uses hydrogenium as its anti-gravity agent. Holt and Professor Garrett are joined by Trip, a shady friend of Garrett’s, who travels with them on a flight to the planet Mars.
As they approach the Red Planet, the trio discover that what Earthlings have named Phobos and Deimos are not really moons but are instead enormous abandoned spaceships which once transported large aliens from Jupiter and Saturn. Continue reading
MARS REVEALED (1880) – Written by Henry A. Gaston, this is another work that combines science fiction with religious and spiritual concepts.
The novel’s narrator, while walking in the hills of northern California during springtime, is approached by a Celestial Spirit. The spirit interrogates him about his lack of knowledge regarding the arcane secrets of the other planets in our solar system.
Our narrator expresses a willingness to be tutored in those secrets and the spirit offers to show him any planet of his choice. He selects Mars and the Celestial Spirit flies off with him toward the Red Planet. The voyager is awed by the sight of Earth far below and by the hills and valleys of the moon as they fly past it.
Approaching Mars, the Earthman sees that the planet has a pink atmosphere and, rather than be all red like it appears from Earth, the Martian surface is red mixed with silver and green. After circling Mars a few times, the Celestial Spirit and the Narrator land atop the highest mountain peak on the planet.
Mountaintops on Mars are covered in snows that have a pink tinge to them because of the pink atmosphere. Trees larger and taller than any on Earth grow far down from the peaks and those trees give off a perfumed scent. Continue reading
THE RAINBOW OF ADAMANT (1897) – Written by Charles Kelsey Gaines, this short story is an excellent example of how slowly word of scientific discoveries was spread in the 19th Century compared to our lightning-fast communications of today. The Rainbow of Adamant was written during the period when most of the world was still going by assumptions and theories about helium.
That element had been officially detected in 1868 and subsequently confirmed but its exact properties were unknown for decades. In 1895 a trio of scientists – Per Teodor Cleve, Nils Abraham Langlet and Sir William Ramsay – found helium emanating from “cleveite” (now known as a variety of uraninite) and documented its properties.
As word of the trio’s work was slowly disseminating among the rest of the scientific community and the general public, the April 1897 issue of The Pocket Magazine published Charles Kelsey Gaines’ short story The Rainbow of Adamant. That tale, reviewed below, presented a much more fanciful and exciting version of helium’s properties. Continue reading
THE SICKLE OF FIRE (1896) – Written by Charles Kelsey Gaines, an American author who set this particular short story in British Columbia. The main characters are our narrator and a scientist named O.D. McKazy.
Hydropyrogen, a newly discovered element, is theorized to be a lost element that was used by the ancient Greeks for their never-recreated Liquid Fire. The element is the lightest element known (in this fictional context). Hydropyrogen is derived by burning a certain seaweed under an electric current.
When put under pressure and extreme cold, the element solidifies into sharp, slender crystals colored red. Those crystals can be stored in glass containers but if they come into contact with water they burst into flame. Continue reading
THE ARTIFICIAL MOTHER (1894) – This short story was written by George H. Putnam, who served in the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War and was also a Prisoner of War. He was part of the Putnam publishing empire and in 1901 authored the children’s story The Little Gingerbread Man.
With tongue obviously in cheek, Putnam dedicated the tale to “The oppressed husbands and fathers of the land and to the unknowing young men who may be contemplating matrimony.” George claimed he had actually written The Artificial Mother nearly twenty-five years earlier but did not publish it until 1894.
An upstart inventor, already feeling overwhelmed with his and his wife’s seven children, is shocked when she now gives birth to twins. The couple are not rich and they cannot afford to hire help, so they find themselves exhausted trying to take care of nine children, two of them infants. (“Red-faced tyrants” the inventor jokingly calls the twins.)
Our central character develops plans to construct a robot in order to ease the workload for himself and his wife. Continue reading
A.D. 2000 (1890) – Written by Alvarado M. Fuller, this was one of the earliest imitations of Edward Bellamy’s 1888 work Looking Backward. The main character is a Cavalry Lieutenant named Junius Cobb.
Lieutenant Cobb has invented a powerful explosive that the Army has contracted for use. Cobb has also befriended a scientist named Jean Colchis and fallen in love with the man’s daughter Marie. Colchis has invented a means of “crystallizing ozone” and Cobb uses that process to induce a state of suspended animation on himself.
With the cooperation of friends, Lt. Cobb seals himself away in a San Francisco replica of the Statue of Liberty with an alarm set to revive him in the year 1987. Due to a mathematical error, however, our main character is not awakened from suspended animation until the year 2000 A.D.
One of the friends who helped seal Junius Cobb away back in 1887 has a grandson who is president of the United States in the year 2000, and the president has a party sent to San Francisco to revive Cobb lest his state of suspended animation continue indefinitely. Cobb recovers slowly, but within months he is ready to become acquainted with the world of 2000 A.D. Continue reading
THE PLANET JUGGLER (1908) – Written by J. George Frederick. An early space opera set in an undesignated future year. Absurdly enough, Esperanto has become the global language in a reflection of the high hopes held by Esperanto speakers at the time this book was written.
An alien from the planet Canopus broadcasts a message to the entire Earth, in Esperanto of course. The extraterrestrial demands 500 million tons of gold or else it will send the Earth hurtling into the sun.
The Planet Juggler claims to have monitored Earth people for a decade, thus accounting for their fluency in Esperanto, but world leaders are skeptical that it’s all a hoax perpetrated by someone on our own planet. To disabuse Earthlings of that notion, the alien entity shuts down all of the electricity in and around New York.
Later, to convince any remaining doubters, the Canopian throws the Earth out of its orbit just enough to make their point. World leaders surrender and claim to be mining enough gold to meet the demanded 500 million tons. Secretly, the scientist Elverson and a network of other brilliant minds desperately struggle to devise a solution to this crisis.
CAPTAIN GARDINER OF THE INTERNATIONAL POLICE (1916) – Robert Allen Dodd wrote this story over one hundred years ago under the name Robert Allen. Narration informs us that the story is set 60 years after the conclusion of the then-raging World War. Since we know it ended in 1918 we can look forward to visiting the “far-off future” of 1978.
A multi-national entity called the International Federation is one of the major world powers along with the Chinese-Japanese Alliance and the Muslim Confederation. The International Police have been the Federation’s military and intelligence service but after decades of peace there is emerging pressure to disband the I.P. Amid the ongoing political and bureaucratic wrangling over that prospect our hero Captain Gardiner and his colleague Major Wilkie undertake a dangerous mission. Continue reading