July 19, 2022 · 10:39 pm
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 →
July 6, 2022 · 2:36 am
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 →
June 24, 2022 · 3:57 pm
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 →
June 7, 2022 · 12:58 am
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.
Continue reading →
May 24, 2022 · 7:42 am
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 →
May 17, 2022 · 8:16 pm
From 1898 it’s Garrett P Serviss’ work of science fiction.
PART ONE – After the Martian invaders from H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds and Serviss’ own Fighters From Mars died from exposure to Earth germs, astronomers around the world realized the ordeal wasn’t over yet. All indications were that the Martians were readying another fleet of spaceships to attack the Earth. CLICK HERE
PART TWO – Thomas Alva Edison reverse-engineered the Martian space craft. The nations of the Earth then banded together to build an entire fleet of similar vessels and take the war to the Red Planet. President McKinley, Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm and other heads of state from around the world attend the global summit. CLICK HERE
PART THREE – After a monumental effort the Earth has a space-fleet of its own, equipped with Edison’s Disintegrator Rays as weaponry. With Edison commanding the flagship and with military men and scientific geniuses from around the world as an officer corps the Earth Fleet departs the Earth. CLICK HERE Continue reading →
May 10, 2022 · 12:01 am
DR. CUNLIFFE, INVESTIGATOR (1913) – Written by Harold Frankish. This book was a collection of short stories centered around Frankish’s fictional “scientific detective” Dr. Theodore Cunliffe.
A brilliant man, the British Cunliffe has granted himself enough strength to lift just over a ton and he is such a man of action that he wrestles with an ape in one story. A definite forerunner of later Pulp heroes, Dr. Cunliffe is a physician, scientist and criminologist who is often called in by Scotland Yard. Theodore is also a cosmopolitan world traveler and is well-versed in a variety of esoteric subjects.
The stories featuring his adventures:
THE ADVENTURE OF THE ATOMIC RAYS – The Adonis-like Dr. Cunliffe is called in by Scotland Yard when high-profile scientists begin to disappear. Cunliffe traces the disappearances to the mad scientist Dr. Burton, who has created a disintegration weapon powered by atomic rays. Our hero must prove Burton’s culpability in the evidence-free disintegration deaths of the missing scientists while making sure that he himself survives. Continue reading →
May 5, 2022 · 9:29 am
THROUGH THE HORN OR THE IVORY GATE (1905) – Written by Anatole France. In this story a Frenchman, the tale’s narrator, finds himself in the year 2270 A.D. The large buildings that used to fill Paris have been replaced by small cottages inhabited by people whose tastes run to fine art and statuary.
There is no more pollution and no more honking of automobile horns. No vehicles or horse-drawn carriages use the curving streets. Trains apparently no longer run through Paris as well. Instead, people travel via all manner of aircraft in the skies above.
The vessels move through motors and lighter than air technology. The shapes of the aircraft are based on birds and fish, and our narrator describes the sight of that traffic by saying the sky now “seemed to be a combination of heaven and ocean.” Continue reading →
April 27, 2022 · 12:01 am
ACCOUNT OF AN EXPEDITION TO THE INTERIOR OF NEW HOLLAND (1837) – Written by multiple parties, with Lady Mary Fox, Richard Whateley and Lord Holland the likeliest authors. “New Holland” was an old name for Australia. In 1860 the novel was reissued under the title preface The Southlanders.
The story centers around an expedition that travels hundreds of miles into the interior of Australia, where the off-course explorers find a fictional chain of lakes and rivers with a Lost Civilization founded by English Dissenters during the Protestant Reformation.
This Lost Civilization is called Southland by its mixed-race inhabitants. The major language is English as it was in the 1500s when Southland was established, so some words and expressions differ from the English spoken by our expedition members. Otherwise, they can communicate with each other just fine.
Southland boasts a population of roughly four million and is divided into eleven distinct regions which, though under one overall parliamentary government, enjoy a large amount of internal sovereignty. Some regions are republics and others live under a hereditary monarchy. In several of the republics, however, their chief executive figure is still called a king despite being elected.
The citizens are nearly all mixed-race now after three centuries of intermarrying among the white population and the aborigines. Continue reading →
April 15, 2022 · 2:49 pm
THE STOLEN PLANET (1906) – Written by John Mastin. Jervis Meredith, a wealthy young British man and his equally wealthy friend Fraser Burnley are so brilliant they invent anti-gravity. Next the young tycoons have a spaceship built so they can use their anti-gravity device to tour outer space.
The battleship-sized craft is named The Regina and combines propellers with Meredith and Burnley’s anti-gravity invention. The friends set off with a ten-man crew and – oddly enough – they are so paranoid about people stealing their secrets they have rigged an elaborate bugging system throughout the Regina so they can know what the crew members talk about.
The explorers make the eccentric decision to explore the region around Sirius first, rather than our own solar system. Enroute the Regina accidentally pulls an uncharted planet out of its orbit (?) and causes it to collide with another uncharted planet. This collision causes a new sun to be born. (Regular readers of Balladeer’s Blog will remember that this was apparently a big idea for a time since a lot of these old stories feature suns forming from colliding planets.)
Eventually our heroes decide to explore some planets on their way to the star Sirius. On the first planet they visit the explorers find enormous ruins obviously built by a gigantic race that is now extinct. The structures were beautiful from what can be made out and are made of materials unknown on Earth. Continue reading →