THE ARTIFICIAL MOTHER (1894) – This short story was written by George H. Putnam, who served in the Union Army during the U.S. Civil War and was also a Prisoner of War. He was part of the Putnam publishing empire and in 1901 authored the children’s story The Little Gingerbread Man.
With tongue obviously in cheek, Putnam dedicated the tale to “The oppressed husbands and fathers of the land and to the unknowing young men who may be contemplating matrimony.” George claimed he had actually written The Artificial Mother nearly twenty-five years earlier but did not publish it until 1894.
An upstart inventor, already feeling overwhelmed with his and his wife’s seven children, is shocked when she now gives birth to twins. The couple are not rich and they cannot afford to hire help, so they find themselves exhausted trying to take care of nine children, two of them infants. (“Red-faced tyrants” the inventor jokingly calls the twins.)
Our central character develops plans to construct a robot in order to ease the workload for himself and his wife. Continue reading
A JOURNEY IN THE TWENTY-NINTH CENTURY (1824) – Written by Faddei Bulgarin, who had served in the Polish Legion of Napoleon’s Grand Army in his youth before going on to work for the Czars of Russia. In this fascinating tale an unnamed narrator gets swept overboard in the Gulf of Finland in 1824. The cold water and another element somehow put him in suspended animation and when he comes to he is all the way over in Siberia, where his body was recovered in the waters of Cape Shelagski centuries after he was lost at sea.
The year in which the narrator finds himself is 2824 A.D. and Siberia is by then a warm and comfortable place due to environmental engineering and climatic changes. Homes are all like virtual palaces and the citizens drive around in large wheeled chairs which are powered by steam and travel along rail lines like trains do. The walkways for pedestrians are all covered in order to protect them from precipitation.
Scattered police officers in feathered hats walk the streets, all of them wielding futuristic staffs which combine the firepower of 12 pistols and a large musket. The staffs are made of lightweight materials which make them easy to carry and aim. 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
THE LUNARIAN PROFESSOR AND HIS REMARKABLE REVELATIONS CONCERNING THE EARTH, THE MOON AND MARS TOGETHER WITH AN ACCOUNT OF THE CRUISE OF THE SALLY ANN (1909) – Written by James B Alexander back in the glory days of titles so long they might not fit in a 140 character limit.
The story is set in 1892, when James Alexander pretends that, while on a fishing trip he encountered a humanoid with a head like a globe, six limbs, large eyes and six wings. The being claims to be a “Lunarian,” a man from our moon.
He is a professor and informs Alexander that he and his fellow Lunarians travel from planet to planet by manipulating gravity. They live in vast underground caverns on the moon, caverns with a breathable atmosphere. Their mastery of gravity is the key to their advanced technology.
The professor’s people have been observing Earth for an untold amount of time. James Alexander even learns that in the distant past humans had to fight intelligently evolving reptiles for planetary supremacy. The cavemen won.
The Lunarians grow vegetation in hydroponic trays and dispose of their dead through a disintegration process that breaks the bodies down into their base elements, thus nothing gets wasted. Though their own culture is socialistic the Lunarians have no shyness about earning profits by selling their advanced technology to other inhabited planets.
The Lunarians have even developed methods of predicting the future. Alexander asks about Earth’s future and the professor from the moon is happy to lay it all out for the Earthling. Continue reading
THE PURPLE DEATH (1895) – Written by William Livingston Alden. Presented in the first person this story is narrated by a British gentleman staying in Italy. He becomes friendly with his neighbor, a German M.D. and bacteriologist named Dr Schmidt.
Subsequent conversations reveal that Schmidt is a good old-fashioned mad scientist who has some very odd sympathies. The German doctor sides with Anarchists (among the biggest bogey-men of the 1890s) and his only objection to the occasional assassinations that Anarchists commit is how impractical those crimes are. Continue reading
THE LAND OF THE CENTRAL SUN (1903) – Written by Park Winthrop. The Wintons – Jack and Louise – plus the Livingstons – Bert and Lily – are among the passengers on the ship Golden City when it gets blown off course. The ship winds up near Antarctica and gets trapped in ice.
Damages cause the vessel to start sinking, but some passengers are rescued by the arrival of a (literal) CIGAR-SHAPED aircraft made of metal. The crew members of this mysterious ship are all dwarves and they are captained by Baron Montavo.
The Baron explains to his guests that the ship is called the Meteor and is run by anti-gravity devices in the center and by magnetic devices at the front and back. Montavo pilots the Meteor under the sea and into a subaquatic tunnel which goes on for miles. Continue reading
One of the most popular posts here at Balladeer’s Blog was my 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
THE VOYAGE OF LORD CETON TO THE SEVEN PLANETS (1765) – Written by female author Marie-Anne de Roumier. Set in the 1640s this story features an angel named Zachiel who transports a man and his sister to the planets of our solar system. Continue reading
THE FALLEN RACE (1892) – Written by Austyn Granville. If you’ve ever thought to yourself “How come nobody ever combined science fiction, H. Rider Haggard-style Lost Race tales AND kangaroo rapists” then THIS is the story for you. (And please stay away from children.)
This novel is presented as if it is the real-life journal of the adventures of Dr Paul Gifford in the Great Australian Desert from 1874-1888. An ill-fated expedition into Australia’s desert is nearly wiped out by dysentery, thirst and spoiled food. The only two survivors are the aforementioned Dr Gifford and Jacky-Jacky, which may sound like the name of a Hip-Hop Artist but is really the name of an Australian Aborigine member of the expedition.
Just in time this unlikely pair comes across a huge lake, which event saves their lives. Adjacent to the lake is the lush, green land of the Anonos, a species which is a cross between humans and kangaroos and resulted from a long-ago mass rape of Australian Aborigine women by kangaroos. No, I’m serious.
Finally, the lyrics of that Men at Work song make sense:
“I come from a land Down Un-derrr/ Where kangaroos rape and men plun- derrr”
The Anonos have the fur and the short, stubby arms of kangaroos along with their long tongues but are otherwise human. Their intelligence is below average, so I’m guessing it never occurred to them to refer to themselves as “Man-supials.” But I kid … Anyway this hybrid species lives in a crudely constructed city of sorts. 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
One 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