As always, December is the ideal time for retrospectives of the past 12 months:
2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS – January 1st of this year saw the publication of the movie review I’d been planning since I started Balladeer’s Blog back in 2010! My favorite bad/ weird post-apocalypse movie reviewed on New Year’s Day of the year in which it was set. How close to reality were its predictions for the future? Nowhere NEAR close but that’s part of the fun of course.
This Italian ripoff of Mad Max delivers futuristic Texas Rangers, mutants, evil villains, deadly mercenaries and Italian extras as fake Native Americans who live in absurd post-nuke teepees. It’s ideal if you love legendarily bad movies. HERE.
TWENTY GREAT ITEMS FOR THE POOR AND WORKING CLASS – A score of terrific news items for the poor and the working class to kick off 2020. HERE.
KILLRAVEN, SABRE AND THE SLOW FADE OF AN ENDANGERED SPECIES – My review of the post-apocalyptic adventures of Killraven and Sabre in the year 2020 as told from the 1970s.
I also examined the way writer Don McGregor incorporated unused elements of his canceled Killraven series into his independent Sabre graphic novel. Killraven fought for freedom from Earth’s alien conquerors. Sabre fought for freedom from a human dictatorship which arose in the aftermath of disasters involving poverty, disease, terrorist attacks and nuclear catastrophes. Read it HERE.
TWENTY MORE FAILED PREDICTIONS FROM PSYCHICS – Remember when the Battle of Armageddon was fought in the year 2000? Or the way a woman was elected U.S. President in 1990? Or the way we eliminated air pollution? You don’t? Well that’s because none of those things happened. To laugh at similar predictions click HERE.
THE LOG OF THE FLYING FISH (1887): ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION – My review of the 1887 novel about The Flying Fish, a craft capable of flying and serving as a submarine.
The vessel’s inventor and crew have adventures around the world including discovering a prehistoric oasis at the North Pole, hunting unicorns and a variety of other escapades. Click HERE. Continue reading
GULLIVAR JONES ON MARS (1905) – Written by Edwin L Arnold. In Part One of this review I explored this novel’s alternate titles and its cult reputation, plus the controversy which used to rage over whether or not Edgar Rice Burroughs may have read this work and gained inspiration for certain elements of his John Carter of Mars series. I also dealt with the end of that controversy when it became better known that BOTH Arnold and Burroughs may have been inspired by Gustavus Pope’s 1894 novel Journey to Mars.
Here in Part Two is the review proper, including revisions I would have made to Edwin Arnold’s incredibly flawed story.
Gullivar Jones on Mars starts out in the late 1860s or early 1870s with U.S. Navy Lieutenant Gullivar Jones, a veteran of the Union forces in the Civil War, in New York City on shore leave. He comes into possession of a Turkish rug with unexplained mystical powers. While standing on the unrolled rug he wishes he was on Mars and the flying carpet transports him there. (?)
REVISION: I would keep all of Gullivar Jones’ background info the same, but instead of the Turkish rug I would have him be one of many New Yorkers drawn to a strange spacecraft which lands near the docks. The daring Jones would climb into the remote-controlled vessel, which would trap him inside, sedate him with gas and then fly off back to Mars. Continue reading
GULLIVAR JONES ON MARS (1905) – Written by Edwin L Arnold, this novel was originally published under the title Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation. Years later, with the spelling of the lead character’s first name altered, it was published as Gulliver of Mars. Over the years it was revived under a variety of titles. I’m using the title that I prefer – Gullivar Jones On Mars.
This will be a simultaneous review and a running tally of the revisions I would have made to the story. This very oddly written novel BEGS to be rewritten because of the long line of self-defeating creative choices that Edwin L Arnold made throughout the tale.
If Arnold had written this story decades later it could have been said that he was intentionally subverting the tropes of heroic sword & science epics. Unfortunately, this novel instead seems to be the victim of ineptitude on the author’s part.
Like when you’re watching a bad movie, a reader’s jaw drops at the way Arnold never failed to let a brilliant concept die on the vine, or the way he repeatedly sets up potentially action-packed or highly dramatic story developments only to let them culminate in unsatisfying cul de sacs or peter out into lame anticlimax. There’s almost a perverse genius to the way that the narrative constantly works against itself. Continue reading
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