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
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
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
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
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
Thank you to all the Balladeer’s Blog readers who let me know where to lay my hands on a French copy of The Cross of Blood (1941), one of the Nyctalope novels I had not yet been able to track down.
I have ordered it and will post a review after I get a chance to read it.
For my take on many of the other adventures of France’s cyborg Pulp Hero the Nyctalope CLICK HERE Continue reading