NORDENHOLT’S MILLION (1923) – Written by J.J. Connington (Pen name for Alfred Walter Stewart). This is a riveting but downbeat Future History novel with many story elements which were ahead of their time.
The tale begins in England in “the near future” but no precise year was given. Airplanes are much more advanced than they were in the 1920s however. Jack Flint, an automobile manufacturer, was visiting his scientist friend Professor Witherspoon when ball lightning struck an experimental bacteria culture, mutating it.
The mutant strain spreads worldwide very quickly owing to the everyday nature of air travel in the alternate future of this story. The bacterium wipes out crops across the globe, and destroys the soil, making regrowth of vegetation impossible for years. Food shortages are becoming commonplace with the expected riots and accompanying breakdown of the social order that such a calamity would bring. Continue reading
A MEXICAN MYSTERY (1888) – Written by W. Grove. (No other name available) This is the first of two novels by Grove. This one features a sentient and evil train referred to only as The Engine.
In 1864 Mexico the Emperor Maximillian holds a contest for the best design of a new locomotive. The winner or winners will be awarded a lucrative contract to build trains to run all across Mexico on rail lines already laid – a project overseen by a Scottish engineer named John Brown.
Brown meets Pedro da Luz, the wealthy descendant of Montezuma AND Spanish Conquistadors. The brilliant but mysterious da Luz works out of the Mexican town of Xiqipu and his train engine is a marvel of technology, capable of automatically handling many duties that other trains require human workers for.
One of those duties is piloting the train and another is the feeding of wood into the Engine’s furnace to keep it running. At the contest before Emperor Maximillian da Luz’s creation outshines all the other entrants, but then things begin to go wrong. The Engine has depleted its on-board supply of wood and, in its hunger, uses its mechanical arms to uproot telegraph poles, chop them up and feed them into its furnace.
The furious Emperor disqualifies Pedro’s Engine and awards the prize to another designer. Da Luz rants and raves to such a bloodthirsty degree that his fiancee Inez dumps him, adding to his anger. Meanwhile, the Mexican people begin regarding the Engine with superstitious awe and claim it is possessed by the Devil.
Pedro da Luz pretends to be repairing the technical glitch in the Engine in order to remove it from the vicinity but in reality he makes further “refinements” to its programming. The next day da Luz feigns surprise when daybreak reveals that the Engine has apparently left on its own and is nowhere to be found.
The story unfolds as diary entries by the Scottish engineer John Brown, mentioned earlier. Da Luz turns up dead days later, a victim of a stabbing in Mestra. Mysterious events start happening at train stations throughout Mexico, like fatal accidents and the disappearance of wood for train engines. Water towers are drained in the dead of night as well. The missing Engine, apparently acting on its own, is sighted around the country. Continue reading
A MODERN DAEDALUS (1887) – By Tom Greer. No, the title’s not referring to James Joyce’s character Stephen Dedalus (sic) but this tale IS about Ireland. The main character is a young man named Jack O’Halloran, a recent college graduate who returns to his native Ireland.
Jack has dreamed about flying since he was a child and now he uses his genius to create a winged apparatus that can be worn by a single person to take to the skies. Our modern Daedalus flies around at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour with his new invention. Jack is thrilled but complications arise when he shares the news with his father.
Old Man O’Halloran wants to use his son’s winged apparatus to wage aerial warfare against the hated British and thereby win independence for Ireland. Our protagonist doesn’t want his invention used for such a blood-soaked purpose and in the ensuing argument his father throws him out of the house. Continue reading
THE ULTIMATE INHERITORS (1914) – Written by Berg Bellair. This is a very entertaining work of vintage or “ancient” science fiction and is especially noteworthy for the way it anticipates the many “big bug” movies of the 1950s and later.
In the California desert, where the Golden State borders Arizona and Mexico, a pair of investment miners named Big Ike Pemberton and Joe Kinzie save an older man from dying of exposure. The man turns out to be Doctor Bauer, a scientist who was investigating uranium deposits in the vicinity.
Dr Bauer is the sole survivor of an expedition whose exploratory blasting work accidentally freed dozens of giant, horse-sized spiders from subterranean caverns. Bauer has photographic proof of this claim and theorizes that radiation from the uranium deposits mutated the spiders into their current enormous state. Continue reading
IN SEARCH OF THE UNKNOWN (1904) by Robert W Chambers. Previously Balladeer’s Blog examined Chambers’ underrated horror classic The King in Yellow. The work we’re looking at this time around is a collection of short stories about Gilland the Zoologist. Gilland was a forerunner of the real-life Frank “Bring ’em Back Alive” Buck and the fictional Indiana Jones.
Our daring hero worked for the Bronx Zoological Gardens and was frequently dispatched by Professor Farrago to try to bring in dangerous crypto-zoological specimens or disprove their existence if they were hoaxes. The stories in this volume:
I. THE HARBOR MASTER – Gilland is sent north to Hudson Bay where a Harbor Master has reported capturing a pair of Great Auks, flightless birds which went extinct in the mid-1800s. The two-fisted scholar finds the Great Auks are for real but the Harbor Master harbors (see what I did there) a sinister secret.
This story also features the Harbor Master’s beautiful secretary, who naturally catches Gilland’s eye, and a gilled merman (shades of Creature From The Black Lagoon), who wants to mate with the lovely lady himself. Gilland’s not having it, of course, and must do battle with the creature.
II. IN QUEST OF THE DINGUE – The Graham Glacier melts, unleashing a number of animals from species that were long thought extinct. Among the crowd of academics converging on the unexplored area are Gilland and Professor Smawl. The Professor is a sexy, strong-willed female scholar that our hero has been forced to accompany into the region.
The battle of the sexes bickering flies like shrapnel as the pair encounter Woolly Mammoths and other creatures, find a primitive bell called a dingue and run afoul of a gigantic super-powered woman who calls herself the Spirit of the North. Continue reading
THE AURORAPHONE (1890) – Written by Cyrus Cole. This fun piece of vintage or “ancient” science fiction features the character Gaston Lesage, an eccentric genius who moves to the mountains of Colorado to continue his pet experiments. Lesage is obsessed with perfecting transmission and reception of radio signals, especially regarding potential contact with other planets.
The altitude of the Rocky Mountains made Colorado the ideal location for Lesage’s experiments and, together with his assistant – a freed black man named Pete King – he perfects a device he called the Auroraphone.
One day when Gaston and Pete are entertaining a pair of men prospecting for gold the Auroraphone picks up the first of a series of transmissions from intelligent life on the planet Saturn. In the days ahead Lesage learns a great deal about Saturnian history and science courtesy of his fellow “ham radio operator” Rulph Bozar, a denizen of the ringed planet.
The Saturnians are much more advanced than Earth and already have flying machines, electric automobiles and powerful sensors which let them watch and record events on Earth and other planets. They also have been using metal robots crafted to look just like the Saturnians themselves, who resemble Terrans in general physiology. Continue reading
CASANOVA’S ICOSAMERON OR THE STORY OF EDWARD AND ELIZABETH WHO SPENT EIGHTY-ONE YEARS IN THE LAND OF THE MEGA-MICRES, ORIGINAL INHABITANTS OF PROTOCOSMOS IN THE INTERIOR OF OUR GLOBE (1788) – Yes, that IS the actual, complete title of this obscure item and yes, it was written by THE Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, the legendary ladies’ man and adventurer.
This work of vintage science fiction begins with a prologue in which Casanova fuses Biblical mythology with his fictional inner-Earth realm Protocosmos. The author pretended that God – on the 6th Day – created the inner world, which was the paradise that Adam and Eve were supposedly banished from. On the 8th day God created the “lesser” surface world of the Earth in Casanova’s cosmology.
In 1615 England a young couple – Elizabeth and Edward – claim to be the long-lost children of a VERY elderly couple named Wilhelmina and James. The young couple were presumed dead in their teens due to a shipwreck 81 years earlier but reveal that they have spent that time in the land of the Mega-Micres, where the aging process is slowed down considerably.
The pair of twenty-somethings prove their identity through that beloved fictional trope of birthmarks and scars, then proceed to tell their tale. When the ship that Elizabeth and Edward were aboard sank at sea the then-children climbed into an empty, water-tight coffin in the cargo hold.
The air-bubble within said coffin kept the pair alive long enough for the coffin to drift away from the submerged ship and happened to cross a “reverse-gravity stream” on the ocean floor. When Elizabeth and Edward emerged from the coffin they were surrounded by 18-inch tall hairless humanoids with skin colored blue or red or green or some combination of those colors. Continue reading