THE CAPTIVITY OF THE PROFESSOR (1901) – Written by A. Lincoln Green, a presumed pen name, this story was first published in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in the February 1901 isssue.
Years before H.G. Wells’ short story The Empire of the Ants came this tale for which that might have been a more appropriate title. The Captivity of the Professor is set in the jungles of Brazil. Our narrator is an entomologist from Scotland who is so intent on studying rare ant species that he ignores warnings of an indigenous tribe and travels into a forbidden region of the vast rainforest.
Before long the professor discovers an unusual ant of unknown species, possessing an oversized head and huge mandibles. The rest of the ant’s fellows fall upon our narrator and, proving to be incredibly intelligent, manage to herd him to their colony using painful bites to spur him along. Continue reading
THE NEW NORTHLAND (1915) – Written by Louis Pope Gratacap. The main character is explorer Alfred Erickson, who recruited a few associates of varied backgrounds to join him in a search to prove the existence of an isolated warm weather land mass in the far north.
They have a ship take them to Point Barrow, then proceed on a launch from there. Eventually they reach a northern polar sea and upon crossing it, find the geographical pocket they theorized about. Mountain ranges shield the area from arctic winds and they will soon discover a more important factor in warming the region – which they name Krocker Land.
Erickson and company clash with a wild boar and a huge animal that is part crocodile and part python. They survive the encounter but grow wary about what may lie ahead.
Proceeding further, the explorers come across coins and other signs of an intelligent civilization. Soon, they catch sight of a race of very short people part Inuit and part Semitic. The three feet tall people are traveling by floating through the air on lighter than air balloon devices worn on their shoulders. Continue reading
THE SCIENTIFIC ADVENTURES OF BARON MUENCHHAUSEN (1915-1917) – Written by the iconic Hugo Gernsback in the years before he launched his own publication, these sci-fi tales presented the 1700s Baron being alive and having wild adventures. (The cover spelling does not match the one Gernsback used.)
Like most people I know, I just roll my eyes at the Baron Muenchhausen tall tales, so that’s why I used Hugo’s name in the blog post title. Hugo as the writer of this series of short stories is the REAL draw. The following items first appeared in the magazine Electrical Experimenter.
I MAKE A WIRELESS ACQUAINTANCE (May 1915) – Gernsback’s fictional counterpart I.M. Alier is a radio enthusiast and one day picks up transmissions from THE Baron Muenchhausen. The Baron tells him that in the 1700s he was injected with special embalming fluid which actually put him in suspended animation.
He emerged from that state a few years back and, forced to flee Germany over past offenses, has been having amazing scientific adventures. Alier is skeptical, but the Baron proves his claim by using some of the advanced science he has discovered to change the color of part of the moon. This convinces the narrator.
HOW MUENCHHAUSEN AND THE ALLIES TOOK BERLIN (June 1915) – Alier learns that the Baron has been helping the French in the World War. Among his inventions was a tunneling device for launching sneak attacks but the Central Powers were able to reverse-engineer the technology, resulting in another deadlock.
The Baron and his friend Professor Flitternix have devised anti-gravity screens for a spaceship. They plan to fly the vessel – called the Interstellar – to the moon. Continue reading
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