NAVIS AERIA (1768) – By Bernardo Zamagna. Written in 1768 Navis Aeria (“Ship of the Air”) was the Italian Zamagna’s attempt to take concepts we of today would associate with science fiction and present them in the old, quaint format of Epic Poetry.
The verse story detailed a flight around the world in a flying machine which was basically a sailing ship with four huge balloons around the sails and connected to a main mast. Zamagna presciently observed that one day aircraft would constitute “other Argos to carry chosen heroes” on their adventures.
The entire First Canto (Or “Canto the First” as some of the more pompous translations put it) is a poetic glorification of science, mathematics and what we now call aeronautics. As poetry it’s as lame as poetry by the Wright Brothers might have been but as a very early work of science fiction that opening Canto is very moving and ground-breaking, especially the end which excitedly predicts vessels that will one day take human beings to the moon.
THE INCUBATED GIRL (1896) – Written by F.T. Jane, as in THE Jane who originated the Jane’s Guides.
It would be overly glib to describe this novel as just a sci-fi version of Alraune because it definitely goes in some unexpected directions. Plus Alraune itself borrowed heavily from Homunculus, Mandrake and Mandragore folklore. There’s a touch of The Great God Pan as well.
The Incubated Girl begins with British Egyptologist Blackburn Zadara discovering an ancient coffin of a Priest of Isis. There is no corpse inside but rather a manuscript and assorted chemical concoctions. Zadara returns to England with the discovery and translates the manuscript – it is a guide to creating human life by using the chemical substances that were buried with the manuscript.
Blackburn closely follows the instructions and months later he invites his friend Meredyth Wilson Sr over to witness the initial results of the experiment. Wilson watches as Zadara opens a large egg-shaped pod from which he removes a little baby girl.
Blackburn Zadara names the child Stella and tells Meredyth that according to the Egyptian manuscript Stella will be supernaturally healthy and will never experience death as long as she never drinks human milk nor eats any meat.
Over the years as Stella grows, Zadara tries to create additional humanoids but those efforts always fail. The Egyptologist has been using specifically deaf-mute servants to attend to Stella to limit involved interaction with other humans.
By her 18th year Stella is beautiful and highly intelligent but is as selfish as a newborn and enjoys enacting revenge against anyone who gets on her bad side. Blackburn takes the incubated girl to London with him, but she abandons him there, since she finds him ugly and unpleasant. Continue reading
THE ARTIFICIAL MAN: A SEMI-SCIENTIFIC STORY (1884) – Written by an unknown figure under the pseudonym Don Quichotte.
This short story from the August 16th issue of The Argonaut is an early example of trans-humanism. The title figure, bearing a malformed head and short limbs, encounters the tale’s narrator. At first the artificial man seems to be very old but suprisingly, he claims to be just 18 years of age.
The artificial human says his scientist creator “grew” him in a bell jar and that he does not eat like normal people do. Instead, he was given a synthetic stomach into which nutrients are injected and his stomach contains gastric juices from a calf which enable him to digest the nutrients. Continue reading
The Air Ship departs the Earth as Fama and the Astral Body look on.
THE SPEEDY JOURNEY (1744) by Eberhard Christian Kindermann. This work of proto-science fiction begins with the fictitious discovery of a moon orbiting the planet Mars over a century before Phobos and Deimos were observed in real life. From there it features a journey through space to reach this celestial body.
The Speedy Journey represents an odd but entertaining fusion of scientific speculation and elements of Christian beliefs. Fama (“Fame”), an actual angel from Heaven heralds the discovery of the fictitious moon of Mars and even sings the public praises of the team of scientists who set out to explore the satellite. In the peculiar fictional world presented by Kindermann in this book the general public takes in stride these visitations from angels who serve as virtual P.R. flacks for men of science. Continue reading
AROUND A DISTANT STAR (1904) – Written by Mrs Muirson Blake under the alias Jean Delaire.
This British novel features the brilliant Royal “Roy” Staunton and his old school friend Delafield. The latter returns to Great Britain after 7 years in India and renews his acquaintance with the scientific genius.
In the intervening years Roy studied the works of Tesla, Kelvin, Roentgen and other giants of science and developed plans for several futuristic inventions of his own. He has been sitting on the plans for awhile because he wants to secretly carry out a project with Delafield at his side.
Staunton has perfected a means of electronically-powered space travel which will propel his two-man vessel at a speed of TWO THOUSAND TIMES THE SPEED OF LIGHT. Previously he used another of his inventions, a “super-telescope” to discover a distant planet capable of sustaining human life. Continue reading
THE DEATH-TRAP (1908) – Written by George Daulton, this story was published in the March, 1908 issue of Pearson’s Magazine. It’s once again Ancient Creature Feature time with this story about a monster from Lake Michigan which sometimes enters the Chicago sewer system to prey on unsuspecting denizens of the Windy City.
The tale’s unnamed main character leaves his Chicago gentleman’s club at 2 in the morning after a night of drinking, card-playing and cigar smoking. He refrains from taking a horse-drawn cab since he feels that walking will do him good.
He comes to regret that decision when, on a poorly-lit street, he sees a drunken sailor get dragged down into the sewer and devoured by a slimy, half-glimpsed creature. Our hero flees for his life and doesn’t stop running until he’s reached one of Chicago’s bridges.
It is there that he encounters Hood, an eccentric but courageous Chicagoan who had his own encounter with the sewer monster weeks earlier and has been looking for it every night since. Hood spotted our main character’s headlong flight and figured he had just found another witness to the creature’s existence. Continue reading
CONSOLATIONS IN TRAVEL or THE LAST DAYS OF A PHILOSOPHER (1830) – Written by THE Sir Humphrey Davy, this is largely a work of philosophical discourse but with one section devoted to a science fiction tale: The Vision.
In that section of the book Sir Humphrey relates a first-person story in which he is taking in the Colosseum in Rome. An extra-terrestrial being calling itself a Genius and claiming to be from the Sun appears to him.
First this honey-voiced being fills him with a series of visions regarding humanity’s history, from prehistoric times to the recent past. After that the visitor from the Sun takes him on a tour of our solar system.
The first planet they travel to is Saturn, where Davy is awestruck by the alien landscape. Strange clouds fill the skies and among the oddest planetary features are large columns of liquid which flow from the ground upward. Saturn is inhabited by intelligent beings with three pairs of wings and organs like elephant trunks dangling from their bodies. Continue reading
One of the most popular topics here at Balladeer’s Blog is “Ancient” Science Fiction. That category covers science fiction stories – often very primitive – from the 1st Century A.D. up through about a hundred years ago. Here’s another list of twenty items for 2020.
THE Nth MAN (1920?)
Author: Homer Eon Flint
“Ancient” Kaiju! An enormous humanoid being with skin like turtle shells rises from the depths to rampage across the United States. The entity is intelligent and lays down political and economic ultimatums to the career politicians of Washington DC and to the plutocrats who pull their strings. Though the enormous Nth Man is told that his demands will be met, the tycoons betray him. They construct a high-tech army to try to kill the giant when he returns and the battle is on.
FOR MY REVIEW CLICK HERE
A MEXICAN MYSTERY (1888)
Author: W. Grove
An inventor in 1860s Mexico seeks favor with Emperor Maximilian by devising an actual “thinking” train engine complete with mechanical arms which allow it to function without humans manning it. The intelligent construct develops a predatory mentality, then goes on a wild killing spree throughout the country while outfighting its human foes at nearly every turn.
FOR MY REVIEW CLICK HERE Continue reading
THE MONSTER OF LAKE LA METRIE (1899) – This short story was written by Wardon Allan Curtis and was first published in the August of 1899 issue of Pearson’s Magazine.
Dr James McLennegan and his deeply depressed friend Edward Framingham travel to Wyoming to investigate oddities surrounding Lake La Metrie. Soundings make the lake seem to be bottomless and periodically fossils and extinct plant life show up in its waters.
The pair of researchers begin to theorize that the lake reaches down to the Earth’s “hollow interior.” (Yes, it’s one of THOSE notions again.) They suspect that plant and animal species long extinct on the surface are still alive deep within the planet and occasionally wash up in the lake’s waters.
One day during McLennegan and Framingham’s stay a full-grown elasmosaurus dinosaur emerges from the depths of Lake La Metrie. Continue reading
A PLUNGE INTO SPACE (1890) – Written by THE Robert Cromie, later editions of this novel came with a preface by Jules Verne himself. Scientist Henry Barnett, after 20 years of labor, has mastered “the ethereal force which permeates all things,” a combination of electricity and gravity. This mastery will allow for interplanetary space travel.
Barnett and a select group of colleagues establish a secret base in Alaska, where they construct a spherical fifty-foot black metal Flying Ball. The craft includes air tanks, a huge telescope, sophisticated instruments and more.
In anticipation of encounters with hostile life-forms on other planets, the clique has also manufactured disintegrator weapons, with which they fight off curious parties of indigenous tribes in order to preserve their secret.
At last the vessel is ready for a flight to Mars. The crew will consist of Barnett as the Science Officer, plus MacGregor, a famous explorer and other presumed specialists in various fields, even politics, finance and literature. (Think of Napoleon’s military expedition to Egypt which took along scholars in many disciplines.)
The black spaceship heads for Mars at a speed of 50,000 miles per minute and arrives after roughly 12 hours. The crew learn that the so-called “canals” of Mars are really prolonged simooms (fast-moving wind-storms) and not canals at all. The planet has an atmosphere in which the Earthlings can breathe normally but is largely a desert. Continue reading