Tag Archives: proto-science fiction


TrainA 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.

train 2The 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


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casanovas-icosameronCASANOVA’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.

casanovaThe 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


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adventures-of-a-micro-manTHE ADVENTURES OF A MICRO-MAN (1902) – This work of vintage or “ancient” science fiction was authored by Lancelot Bayly under the pen name Edwin Pallender. The central character of the story was Doctor Geoffrey Hassler, a wealthy eccentric scientist who has discovered “microgen” a gas which shrinks objects down to a very small size.  

Dr Hassler’s demonstrations of the procedure in a diving-bell shaped chamber convinces even the skeptics and he rakes in even more money plus scientific recognition. One day when he, his daughter Muriel, her fiancee Gerald and a family friend named Reverend Eden are all inside the chamber a fluke accident causes them all to be shrunk down to a fraction of an inch.

Nobody was around to witness the accident so the quartet are trapped at tiny size for approximately 10 days, when the microgen treatment will wear off and they will return to normal. In their struggle to survive they manage to escape the chamber and make their way to Dr Hassler’s garden which – at their current size – is like a vast, dangerous jungle to them. Knowing they need food and water the group has no alternative but to venture forth. Continue reading


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Speedy JourneyOne of the most popular posts here at Balladeer’s Blog was my 2014 list about “ancient” science fiction from 1634-1909. Here is a followup list of sci fi tales that were way ahead of their time. FOR THE ORIGINAL LIST CLICK HERE     

THE SPEEDY JOURNEY (1744) – Written by Eberhard Christian Kindermann. A five-man crew from Earth pilot a spacecraft to a moon of Mars, where they encounter alien life-forms of all kinds as well as secrets tying the inhabitants to Earth people by way of odd religious parallels. The space travelers also encounter a world-destroying meteor and a “space whirlpool.” CLICK HERE   Continue reading


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venus-landscapeA NARRATIVE OF THE TRAVELS AND ADVENTURES OF PAUL AERMONT AMONG THE PLANETS (1873) – I shortened the title when naming this blog post. Paul Aermont was the pseudonym of an unknown author, so full credit cannot be officially given.  

Paul Aermont, an American descendant of fallen French aristocrats, is living in Albany, NY with his parents. After running off to sea years earlier Paul has sown some wild oats and now seems willing to settle down. In his travels he has learned how to be a pharmacist but while pursuing this stable profession by day the still-adventurous young man spends his free time experimenting with gases and balloons.  

In the early 1820s Aermont discovers a fictional gas which enables his aeronautical balloon & cart vehicle to escape the Earth’s gravitational field and explore our solar system. Like other vintage science fiction that Balladeer’s Blog has reviewed this story presents space travel being possible without breathing equipment. Once in space Paul is rendered inert and is unaware of the “space currents” (sic) blowing him toward Jupiter.   Continue reading


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The spacecraft departs from Mercury.

The spacecraft departs from Mercury.

THE UNPRETENTIOUS PHILOSOPHER (1775) – By Louis-Guillaume de La Follie. The original French title of this work of proto-science fiction was Le Philosophe sans Pretention ou l’Homme Rare, but in the 21st Century it’s more generally known by the slightly shorter title. 

One of the central characters of this story is an Earth scholar named Nadir, and I have no idea if it’s a coincidence or if the people behind the 1960s film Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster were paying sly homage to de La Follie by naming one of the characters Nadir. At any rate Nadir is visited by Ormisais, a space traveler from the planet Mercury.

Ormisais regales Nadir with details about life on Mercury and also informs him that he has crash-landed on Earth and needs rare elements to repair his electrically -powered craft so that he can return to his home planet. The Mercurians had a planetary version of the British Royal Society and the French Academy, but it had a much more limited membership. Continue reading


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Forget the stories written by the usual science fiction pioneers like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. This list will examine some of the nascent works of science fiction going back to before the world at large even used those words to describe this emerging genre. Though technically this examination could begin as far back as 150 C.E. with the Greek philosopher Lucian’s works like Icaromenippus and True History – both involving journeys to the moon via man-made craft – I will instead begin in the 1600s and move on to the early 20th Century.

Somnium10. SOMNIUM (1634) – Written by Johannes Kepler. Yes, this is THE Johannes Kepler the famed astronomer so this may be the earliest work of proto-science fiction written by a figure with a grounding in something approaching our own notions of rational science.

Somnium depicted a fictional visit to the moon with story details based very loosely on observations Kepler had made while observing Earth’s natural satellite through a telescope – a fairly new device at the time.  

Kepler’s work depicted the moon as a celestial body of extremes which was bisected into two regions of blazing heat and freezing cold. Nights on the moon were very mild on the side facing Earth because of the amount of reflected sunlight that our planet sends its way. Believe it or not life existed in this world of extremes – reptilian creatures which lived in caves and breathed in the lunar atmosphere. Kepler also depicted plant life – cone-shaped vegetation which went through its entire life-cycle within two weeks.

Fearing the type of persecution that Galileo had faced Kepler never published Somnium during his lifetime and even wrote it in Latin accompanied by copious technical footnotes, possibly to try to disguise it as a thesis. Even though Kepler’s story came out posthumously he might have been spared any persecution for his Copernican views even if he had published it earlier since he took the precaution of explaining the lunar journey away as a mere dream (the meaning of the word “somnium”).   

Man in the Moone9. THE MAN IN THE MOONE (1638) – Written by Bishop Francis Godwin. The Man in the Moone depicted Godwin’s fictional hero Domingo Gonsales who trained a huge flock of specially-bred swans to transport him to the moon. The book was written in the style of the accounts that the great nautical explorers of the age wrote of their travels and is often considered the first science fiction story written in English. 

Despite the tale’s thoroughly unscientific method of reaching the moon Gonsales dealt with sensations of weightlessness on his space journey in a nicely prescient bit. Godwin came very close to stating a theory of gravity even before Isaac Newton! In a nod to Dante’s Divine Comedy from centuries earlier the story also featured some of the spirits of deceased humans inhabiting the space between worlds.

Godwin depicted the moon itself as fairly Earth-like and inhabited by a race of Continue reading


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MARSBalladeer’s Blog concludes its examination of Garrett P Serviss’ odd sequel to Fighters From Mars, his blatant imitation of War of the Worlds.


Soon the freed Earthwoman Aina (ah-EEE-nuh) was fluent enough in English and the High Command of the Terran fleet were well-versed enough in the ancient tongue of Aina’s people AND the Martians’ own language. In the present state of affairs Aina could understand and be understood enough that Edison, Serviss, Colonel Smith and the others could make clear to the former slave-girl their strategic needs.

When Aina gave the Earthmen a breakdown on all that she and her people had learned during their servitude on the Red Planet a plan came to mind. Thomas Edison’s strategy took the shape of the soon-to-be- formula “unstoppable army who can be defeated by a single quick blow inflicted at a ridiculously obvious point of weakness.” Continue reading


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The Martian moon Deimos

The Martian moon Deimos

Balladeer’s Blog continues its examination of Garrett P Serviss’ odd sequel to Fighters From Mars, his blatant imitation of War of the Worlds.


The 20 spaceships in the detachment commanded by Garrett Serviss and Colonel Alonzo Jefferson Smith rejoined the main fleet commanded by Thomas Edison. That main fleet was continuing its bombardment of the Martian forts and cities below with their disintegrator guns while trying to remain just outside of the range of the Martians’ lightning cannons. (I know “cannon” can also be plural but many people don’t so to avoid confusion I use “cannons” instead) 

Serviss and Smith informed Edison about the success of their raid to obtain supplies for the entire fleet and then revealed the other find from their raid: the captive Earth woman whom the Martians had been using as a slave. 

With the dire supply problem solved Edison decided to have the Terran fleet withdraw to the Martian moon of Deimos. The remaining 60-plus Earth ships landed on the side of that moon that was always faced away from the Red Planet. Patrols in camouflaged space suits were posted on the far horizon to keep a watch on Mars with telescopes to prevent any surprise attacks.     Continue reading


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Edison's Conquest of MarsBalladeer’s Blog continues its examination of Garrett P Serviss’ odd sequel to Fighters From Mars, his blatant imitation of War of the Worlds.


The Earth fleet remained far enough away from the Red Planet to be out of the range of the Martians’ heat rays and lightning cannons. Just over 60 spaceships were left of the 100 that had set out from Earth.

The Terrans regrouped after their defeat at the Battle of the Lake of the Sun. Because of the earlier disaster regarding their food and water barely 9 days’ worth of provisions remained to them and that was not even enough to last for the long trip back to Earth.  Continue reading


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