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
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