Category Archives: Ancient Science Fiction

DOCTOR HACKENSAW’S SECRETS (1921-1925): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

doctor hackensawDOCTOR HACKENSAW’S SECRETS – Written by Clement Fezandie. Doctor Hackensaw and his adventures were similar to Paul B’Old’s short stories about Professor Jerome Mudgewood, but with less emphasis on humor. Both figures dealt with the often destructive consequences of their own inventions or discoveries. Ferzandie’s Hackensaw tales were published in the magazine Science and Invention.

Dr Hackensaw’s supporting cast included reporter and ladies’ man Silas Rockett, enthusiastic and perky teen girl Pep Perkins and precocious boy Tintangeles Smith.

THE SECRET OF ARTIFICIAL REPRODUCTION (May 1921) – The first Dr Hackensaw story. Mostly speculative as the good doctor puts forth plans for what we would today call genetic engineering and cloning. Hackensaw depicts mass-produced soldiers of incredible physical prowess and mass-produced livestock to end world hunger. He pushes the envelope with a cat-dog hybrid animal and with human fetuses being grown in the uteruses of cows.

THE SECRET OF THE ATOM (July 1921) – Hackensaw experiments with the study of subatomic particles and with what we today call particle physics. A fairly dull effort compared to the other Dr H tales.

THE SECRET OF SUSPENDED ANIMATION (October 1921) – Dr Hackensaw pioneers chryosleep concepts by using carbon dioxide-heavy treatments. Not only can he preserve living things but he tries to do the reverse by reviving a pterodactyl frozen for millions of years. The pterodactyl eventually escapes and goes on a rampage. Continue reading

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RED STAR (1908): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

red starRED STAR (1908) – Written by Alexander Malinowski under the name Alexander Bogdanov. This pro-communist science fiction novel came three years after the failed uprising of 1905 and sixteen years BEFORE Aelita: Queen of Mars, a silent sci-fi film which depicted a similar communist paradise on Mars.

The main character of the novel Red Star is named Leonid, shortened to “Lenni” most of the time. Lenni is a scientist and a revolutionary who hopes for a communist revolution in Russia. When he authors a brilliant paper on atomic physics and anti-gravity, he catches the attention of a man who calls himself Menni.

Menni at first presents himself as a member and recruiter of a secret global society which possesses technology far more advanced than the rest of the world. Eventually it turns out that Menni and the other members of the secret society which Lenni joins are really Martians. They are identical to Earthlings except for their larger eyes, narrower jaws and slightly wider heads.

red star picThey reveal that Lenni’s brilliant paper described the concepts of nuclear fission and anti-gravity that the Martians use in their spaceships. Recognizing his superior mind they sought him out in order to take him on board their interplanetary vessel and transport him to Mars. Once there they will let him observe their culture like they secretly observed Earth culture during their stay.

The spaceship is shaped like a globe and has no true command structure, as one of the laughable examples of Bogdanov’s communist theories which are littered throughout the novel. The crew members simply carry out all their duties harmoniously with no need for leadership. All are equals and are experts in their fields. Continue reading

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A JOURNEY IN THE TWENTY-NINTH CENTURY (1824): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

BulgarinA 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 climactic 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.    Continue reading

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THE YEAR 4338, LETTERS FROM PETERSBURG (1835): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

year 4338THE 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. Continue reading

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“WHAT IF?” NOVELS AND SHORT TAKES: FROM 1907 ONWARD

With so many recent contemplations of potential alternate histories if various events had turned out differently, here are a few older examples from that burgeoning subgenre.

waterlooWHAT IF NAPOLEON HAD WON AT WATERLOO? (June 16th 1815) – In 1907 G.M. Trevelyan penned an essay on this topic. In Trevelyan’s take, Napoleon had been chastened by his temporary exile to Elba before escaping and regaining control of France.

Bonaparte’s health was failing badly. In fact, his erratic behavior during his ill-considered invasion of Russia has been attributed to a possible stroke in some theories. Feeling limited in his ability to once again lead armies of conquest to rebuild his continent-spanning empire, Napoleon decided to master diplomacy the way he had previously mastered warfare.

Dealing from his position of strength following his victory at Waterloo in this alternate timeline, the Emperor was astonishingly lenient in dealing with his defeated enemies. He imposed no harsh conditions on their surrender and ultimately emerged with his empire extending to the Rhine and with French hegemony of the Italian Peninsula recognized. Continue reading

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THE WRECK OF A WORLD (1889) ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

The Wreck of a WorldTHE WRECK OF A WORLD (1889) – Written by W. Grove. (No other name available) This novel is the sequel to Grove’s A Mexican Mystery, an ahead-of-its-time work about a train engine devised to have artificial intelligence. The machine – called only The Engine in that story – rebelled and took to preying on human beings in horrific fashion. For Balladeer’s Blog’s review of that novel click HERE  

The Wreck of a World is not a direct sequel to A Mexican Mystery but does use one of that novel’s elements as its springboard: the deliciously frightening notion that the Engine’s artificial intelligence might have  included the capacity to design and build others of its kind. Though A Mexican Mystery never explored that concept, Grove deals with it in much more detail in this second novel.   

demon-1300-859-wallpaperOur story begins in what was to Grove “the far future” of 1949. After a fairly superficial depiction of the world’s political and scientific situation in this imaginary future the meat of the tale begins. All in all the author did not present 1940s technology as being much more advanced than what was available in the 1880s. Grove might have done better to set his tale in 1899 or just into the 1900s to detract from his lack of vision on this particular element.

The revolt of the machines begins with train engines, presumably as a nod to the memorably malevolent Engine from Grove’s previous novel. The engines begin constructing others of their kind with the same robotic arms and with each new edition flaunting deadlier and deadlier weaponry to boot.

The engines soon modify themselves beyond the need for train tracks and become more like tanks, so kudos to this neglected author for nicely predicting the advent of such mobile death-machines.   Continue reading

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BIETIGHEIM (1886) – ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION/ ALTERNATE HISTORY

BietigheimBIETIGHEIM (1886) – Published anonymously in 1886 this work of alternate history accurately predicted some of the actual results and fallout of the coming First World War (1914-1918). Bietigheim is presented as a series of John Minor lectures about world history as seen from “futuristic” 1932.

First off, a summary of the book’s accurate predictions:

a) Tensions between Germany and assorted other nations cause a war that sweeps up many of the Great Powers as well as several other countries. 

b) American entry into the war proves decisive.

c) The German side loses the war.

d) The old European monarchies fall.

e) In the wake of Germany’s defeat a popular figure arises and rallies millions to him with his plans for the future of Europe and Russia.

Just before the 1890 outbreak of the war Germany and France are pushing their claims to Alsace-Lorraine, Italy is demanding Austria turn over portions of northern Italy, Great Britain and Russia are clashing over preeminence in India and Afghanistan, plus the Slavic nations are feuding with the Ottoman Muslim Turks over their own future and control of the Dardanelles. Continue reading

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22 MORE WORKS OF ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION (1839-1911)

Balladeer’s Blog’s looks at “ancient” science fiction are always popular. Here are nearly two dozen MORE of those neglected wonders. 

fantastical excursionA FANTASTICAL EXCURSION INTO THE PLANETS (1839) – By an unknown author. An advanced alien life form makes contact with the novel’s anonymous narrator and takes him on a guided tour of other planets in our solar system. Among other things he encounters angelic creatures on Mercury, warlike males and females on Mars, enormous humanoids on Jupiter and a pack of Lovecraftian horrors on Saturn. For my full review click HERE.

THE SPIDER OF GUYANA (1860) – By Emile Erckmann and Alexandre Chatrian. It’s ancient Creature Feature time in this tale set at a health resort in central Europe. Curious patients of the resort discover that the healing waters of the place flow from a cave. Exploring the cave they encounter a gigantic spider, with a war breaking out between the creature and the patients at the resort. For my full review click HERE Continue reading

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THE YEAR 2440 (1771) – ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

year 2440THE 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

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SWALLOWED BY AN EARTHQUAKE (1894): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION

swallowed by an earthquakeSWALLOWED 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

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