November 15, 2017 · 3:41 am
THE QUEER SIDE OF THINGS (1890s) – Written by James Frank Sullivan. Straight from the Gay Nineties, it’s a selection of Sullivan’s contributions to the Strand magazine’s short fiction column The Queer Side of Things.
So, before we all find ourselves on Queer Street just because some Dick wants to arrest us for seeming as queer as a clockwork orange, here’s a snatch of J.F.’s work from The Queer Side of Things column.
OLD PROFESSOR WILLETT (December 1892) – Professor Willett announces to his family that his latest invention is going to make all of them rich but refuses to elaborate. Willett disappears after a few days without revealing any more details.
Foul play is suspected and the story’s narrator investigates. It turns out the Professor had devised a highly advanced explosive made from natural fibers. The explosive goes off with no sound and is so rapid its victims seem to simply vanish.
Willett was the first to go during an accident with his invention. Other family members have been perishing/ vanishing, too and the narrator is desperate to save his fiancée – one of the Professor’s daughters – from meeting the same fate.
SPOILER: He is too late and in despair lets himself die from the super-explosive, too.
THE DWINDLING HOUR (January 1893) – Pre-Einsteinian look at Relativity. A relic in the form of a water clock made from rare stone around 5000 B.C. gets passed down from civilization to civilization. Odd changes in the size of the water hole in the bowl of the water clock seem harmless at first but eventually are understood to be ominous. Continue reading →
September 25, 2017 · 11:36 pm
AN INTER-PLANETARY RUPTURE (1906) – Written by Frank L Packard. This work of Science Fiction is set in the far-off year 3102 A.D. Since the year 2532 all of the Earth has been united under one single government, which is headquartered in America’s Washington, D.C. (Yet this was written by a Canadian.)
The global parliamentary body was called the Assembly of the World and met in an enormous billion-dollar building called the Edifice of Deliberations. Former sovereign nations of the Earth are represented there like States or Provinces were in countries during the past.
The executive body of the world government is called the Supreme Council of Earth and meets in the same building as the Assembly but in the opposite wing. This Supreme Council consists of 12 members who are appointed based on their brilliance and accomplishments in global law and governance.
In an interesting touch the flag of the United Earth is red and white: a blood-red field with a white dove in the center.
To the people of the 32nd Century space travel is as easy as train or ship travel to the people of 1906. Multiple inhabited planets interact with each other and periodic wars are as common between these planets as wars between nations were in the past.
An asteroid called Mizar has been under Earth’s political jurisdiction since the Treaty of 2970. The people living on Mizar declare their independence from the Earth and strongly request that the people of the planet Mercury annex the asteroid. Mercury’s government hungers for Mizar because of its strategic orbital path. Continue reading →
August 23, 2017 · 11:54 pm
Full Title: A NARRATIVE OF THE LIFE AND ASTONISHING ADVENTURES OF JOHN DANIEL, A SMITH AT ROYSTON IN HERTFORDSHIRE, FOR A COURSE OF SEVENTY YEARS. (1751) – Written by Ralph Morris, supposedly a pseudonym used by an unknown man.
Around the year 1650 John Daniel, a smith in Royston, is subjected to the relentless advances of his sultry stepmother. To avoid a situation which would hurt his father, John goes off to sea on a ship bound for the Moluccas. Enroute the ship goes under, with the only survivors being John Daniel and a young man who turns out to really be a woman in disguise.
John and this woman – named Ruth – are castaways on an uncharted and uninhabited island somewhere near Java. Food, shelter, fresh water and game animals are in huge supply, so John and Ruth name the place the Isle of Providence. The couple perform a do-it-yourself wedding ceremony and begin having children.
As the years go by our main characters have six sons and five daughters. Any other ships that draw near the island always wreck, leaving no survivors so the family abandons hope of rescue. Five of the sons and five of the daughters are married to each other when they reach their teen years. (All together now: “Eeewww!”)
The unmarried son, Daniel (yes his name is Daniel Daniel) has a knack for inventing things and builds a flying machine. Its general shape is like one of our modern-day airplanes but the wings are leather over metal rod frames and in order to fly the wings must “flap,” which they do, powered by a pump.
John insists on accompanying his son Daniel (I’ll call him “Dan-Dan” from this point on) on the “mechanical eagle’s” test-flight. The flying machine performs even better than Dan-Dan hoped, but is so strong and fast that it winds up taking the inventor and his father to the moon. Continue reading →
June 12, 2017 · 12:00 am
THE Nth MAN (1920 – 1924?) – Written by Homer Eon Flint, who died in 1924. Though this short novel was not published until 1928 many fans of the author argue that it was actually written in 1920.
The story is set in what was then the near future of the 1930s. The Nth Man is an enormous humanoid figure with hardened skin like the shells of certain species of animals. He is supposedly 2 miles tall, but that would make many of the events in the novel impractical if not impossible.
The mysterious giant is at first regarded as half rumor and half Tall Tale as he sets the world talking with some incredible actions. He tears apart some of the Great Wall of China, he removes the head of the Sphinx and places it on top of one of the pyramids and he picks up a ship bound for Australia and carries it for thousands of miles.
Showing more cognitive purpose the Nth Man also makes off with an entire building to thwart a plot by anarchists and saves a little girl from drowning. All of the preceding deeds have been accomplished under cover of darkness but now the colossus comes out into the open, emerging from San Francisco Bay to tower over the city.
The Nth Man walks from coast to coast, easily defeating the aerial and land forces that attempt to stop him. You would think this proto-Kaiju sequence would have inspired a film adaptation long ago. The gigantic figure goes to Washington D.C. and lays down some demands from on-high. Continue reading →
June 5, 2017 · 12:00 am
FUNGUS ISLE (1923) – Written by Philip M Fisher. Fungus Isle has the same proto-Creature Feature feel to it that The True Inheritors (qv) had. In the case of the previously reviewed story it was a forerunner of various giant spider flicks. In the case of Fungus Isle it seems like the inspiration for Attack of the Mushroom People, aka Matango, the Fungus of Terror.
A handful of friends find themselves shipwrecked on an uncharted island near New Guinea. The island is crawling with various types of fungus and our protagonists eventually encounter some fungi that are nearly humanoid and can walk.
The spores shot out by the fungi cling to human flesh, eventually accumulating to the point where they completely cover the body. Salt water serves as an effective remedy to clean off the spores but there is no food on the island except mushrooms. Continue reading →
June 2, 2017 · 8:00 am
Picture by Doneplay at Deviant Art
THE SEA DEMONS (1916) by Victor Rousseau Emanuel aka H.M. Egbert. Set in contemporary times this story features Lt Donald Paget of the Royal Navy battling sea creatures. World War One is raging but Paget’s scientist friend Masterman warns him about invisible humanoid sea beings who are mutating into air-breathers.
That development means the Sea Demons are looking to conquer the surface world and with their respectable intelligence they just might succeed. Paget dismisses the story as lunacy even after the Sea Demons kill Masterman to prevent him from rallying the surface world against them.
Lt Paget remains skeptical even after he encounters Sea Demons going through the late Masterman’s papers to find out how much he knew about them. Not even Agent Scully would still be doubting the existence of the sea creatures by this point but Donald remains skeptical until he goes back on duty at sea where he and his crew encounter the Sea Demons in action. Continue reading →
May 15, 2017 · 10:02 pm
PSI CASSIOPEIA, or STAR: A MARVELOUS HISTORY OF WORLDS IN OUTER SPACE (1854) – Written by Dr Charlemagne Ischer Defontenay, a French M.D. and author. Long before J.R.R. Tolkien churned out obsessive amounts of fine detail about his fictional Middle Earth, Defontenay produced this volume of history, poetry and drama from his fictional planets in the star system Psi Cassiopeia.
The narrator of the story is supposedly translating alien documents which he discovered in an artificial meteor that crashed in the Himalayas. The documents were from a planet called (incongruously enough) “Star.”
The system where that planet is located is a three-star system. Ruliel is the large, white star at the center, around which orbit the two lesser stars Altether (green) and Erragror (blue). The planet called Star is orbited by large planetoids/ moons named Tassul, Lessur, Rudar and Elier. Throwing all science to the winds the planet is also orbited by a small red star called Urrias.
Star and its satellites are inhabited except, of course, for Urrias. The translated documents cover a roughly 1,000 year period of events regarding these worlds. The ancient Starian humanoids formed a united world-wide culture which started as an Empire before becoming a socialist planet economically and politically. The documents also claim that their culture boasted beautiful architecture, incredible feats of engineering and awe-inspiring works of art.
At one point a plague swept the globe, reducing the proud Starian civilization to chaos. A Nihilist Cult formed as the plague kept whittling away at the population over the course of years. In the post-apocalyptic ruins the Nihilists formed a fanatical religion devoted to ending all life on Star. The zealots formed armies which exterminated millions of Starians with the intention of taking their own lives when all non-members of their cult had been wiped out. Continue reading →
May 10, 2017 · 9:05 pm
THE MAN FROM SATURN (1890) – By an unknown author. This work also appeared under the title Willmoth the Wanderer, a cutesy reference to the classic Melmoth the Wanderer. A young, unnamed American encounters Willmoth, a male humanoid who states he is from the planet Saturn and is hundreds of thousands of years old.
Willmoth begins the tale of how he came to be stranded on Earth long ago. He was born and raised in the Saturnian city called Eathman, which he describes as a happy socialist state which survives due to the absolute honesty of its citizens. Eathman is an isolated city-state and its perfection has meant that the inhabitants have never undertaken expeditions to see what the rest of Saturn is like, despite their futuristic technology. (Odd.)
The women outnumber the men 20 to 1 in Eathman so all of the men have multiple mates, which I’m guessing explains the lack of interest in exploration, though the author never goes there. Willmoth’s tutor back then was a famous astronomer named Elwer. One day Elwer shows Willmoth a flying machine he has invented, a device which uses hot-air to rise and propellers for directional flight.
Using the flying machine Elwer and Willmoth set out to address their civilization’s deficiency of knowledge about the rest of Saturn. The pair encounter and catalogue many and varied life-forms, ending with their extended stay with the Ground-Dwellers, humanoids who live in networks of underground caverns. Willmoth falls in love with Zea, a beautiful female Ground-Dweller who befriends the explorers. Continue reading →
April 29, 2017 · 4:55 pm
THE WAR UNDER THE SEA (1892) – Written by Georges Le Faure. This sci-fi work was intended as an escapist societal salve to a French public still smarting from their loss to Germanic forces during the Franco-Prussian War just over two decades earlier.
One of the main characters in The War Under The Sea is Count Andre Petersen, a French military man who saw service in the Franco-Prussian War. The Count was appalled at France’s humiliation and since then has been running a secret intelligence organization to ensure that his homeland will be much better prepared the next time they must face Germans in war. And that’s not the only outrageous science fiction concept put forth in this novel. (I’m kidding.)
Unfortunately for Count Andre the Germans have been outmaneuvering his organization at the arts of spycraft and know the names of every member of his secret organization – even the Danish, Austrian and Alsation operatives. Unless the Count agrees to a political marriage to the daughter of a German Consul followed by the disbanding of his spy network the Germans will kill every one of his agents.
Interestingly enough, despite this threat the Germans are not depicted as being any more bloodthirsty than the alleged “heroes” of this story as we will see. Though the Count and his allies prove equally callous about large-scale killing (and worse) their attitude is romanticized and approved of by the narrative since Andre and the others are fighting France’s traditional Continental foes the Germans. Instead of Film Noir think of this novel’s approach as callous enough to be called World Noir. Or at least Politics Noir.
The Count is rescued from his dilemma by Jacobus Delborg, a Dutch scientist who has created an incredibly advanced submarine and has been running an anti-German spy network of his own. Andre falls in love with Delborg’s sister Ellen and the conspirators fake the Count’s death, freeing him to join Jacobus in his sub-aquatic war against the Germans. Continue reading →
April 27, 2017 · 8:54 pm
THE WRECK OF A WORLD (1889) – Written by W. Grove. (No other name available) This novel is the sequel to Grove’s A Mexican Mystery, an ahead-of-its-time work about a train engine devised to have artificial intelligence. The machine – called only The Engine in that story – rebelled and took to preying on human beings in horrific fashion. For Balladeer’s Blog’s review of that novel click HERE
The Wreck of a World is not a direct sequel to A Mexican Mystery but does use one of that novel’s elements as its springboard: the deliciously frightening notion that the Engine’s artificial intelligence might have included the capacity to design and build others of its kind. Though A Mexican Mystery never explored that concept, Grove deals with it in much more detail in this second novel.
Our story begins in what was to Grove “the far future” of 1949. After a fairly superficial depiction of the world’s political and scientific situation in this imaginary future the meat of the tale begins. All in all the author did not present 1940s technology as being much more advanced than what was available in the 1880s. Grove might have done better to set his tale in 1899 or just into the 1900s to detract from his lack of vision on this particular element.
The revolt of the machines begins with train engines, presumably as a nod to the memorably malevolent Engine from Grove’s previous novel. The engines begin constructing others of their kind with the same robotic arms and with each new edition flaunting deadlier and deadlier weaponry to boot.
The engines soon modify themselves beyond the need for train tracks and become more like tanks, so kudos to this neglected author for nicely predicting the advent of such mobile death-machines. Continue reading →
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Tagged as A.I. rebelling, Ancient Science fiction, artificial intelligence, Balladeer's Blog, book reviews, glitternight.com, machines rebelling, proto-science fiction, Science fiction, Steam-Punk, The Wreck of a World