1800’s Science Fiction Part I

Jonathan Hutchins, Rachel Ellyn, and I had the great pleasure presenting a panel at Planet Comicon Kansas City on the science fiction of the 19th Century. Anyone who didn’t  make it, or anyone who did and is curious about our list of works and authors and a few other fun facts, here it is! At least as much as I have time, space, and stamina to put down.

For the purposes of this panel, the 1800’s included 1800 to 1899. Some of the authors wrote into the 20th century, but we did not include these. Also, we excluded for the most part, fantasy and gothic novels. Science fiction we defined (as did Mary Shelley) stories where the action is based on scientific possibility whereas fantasy usually has some magical element. Also please not, many of these stories have elements of misogyny, racism, nationalism, and other things that were current to the time and should be read with that in mind.

1805 Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville publishes The Last Man, a novel about the end of humanity (and the world). Includes balloon flight from Europe to Brasil. The planet has lost fertility from overuse, and only one man and one woman remain fertile. Apocalyptic and futuristic.

1818 Mary Shelley publishes Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, considered proto-science fiction. Published in three volumes, sometimes called a three-decker or triple decker, this was a standard form of publishing for British fiction during the nineteenth century.

The 1831 “popular” edition was heavily revised by Mary Shelley to make the story less radical. The one most widely published and read although a few editions follow the 1818 text. Some scholars prefer the original version, arguing that it preserves the spirit of Mary Shelley’s vision (see Anne K. Mellor’s “Choosing a Text of Frankenstein to Teach” in the W. W. Norton Critical edition).

1826 Mary Shelley publishes The Last Man, an apocalyptic and dystopian novel set in the 21st Century after a global plague, one of the first pieces of dystopian fiction published. It was critically savaged and remained largely obscure at the time of its publication. It followed several other last-man themed works including a French narrative (Le Dernier Homme de Grainville’s book[1805)]), Byron’s poem “Darkness” (1816), and Thomas Campbell’s poem “The Last Man” (1824).

Receiving the worst reviews of all of Mary Shelley’s novels, but she later spoke of The Last Man as one of her favorite works.

1827 Jane Webb The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century Published anonymously in 1827 by Henry Colburn in three volumes. It drew many favourable reviews. In 1830, a 46-year-old reviewer, John Claudius Loudon tracked down the 22-year-old author and married her. She filled her world with foreseeable changes in technology, society, and even fashion. England is Catholic and ruled by Queen Claudia. Her court ladies wear trousers and hair ornaments of controlled flame. Surgeons and lawyers may be steam-powered automatons. Air travel, by balloon, is commonplace. A kind of Internet is predicted in it. Besides trying to account for the revivification of the mummy in scientific terms—galvanic shock rather than incantations—”she embodied ideas of scientific progress and discovery, that now read like prophecies” to those later in the 19th century.

1830 First intercity passenger railroad, Manchester to Liverpool

1833 Edgar Allan Poe publishes “MS Found in a Bottle”, a hollow earth story, submitted as an entry to a writing contest offered by a weekly magazine. The judges unanimously chose “MS. Found in a Bottle” as the contest’s winner, earning Poe a $50 prize. The story was then published in the October 19, 1833, issue of the Visiter.

1834 Cambridge University historian and philosopher of science William Whewell coined the term “scientist” to replace such terms as “cultivators of science” or “natural philosopher”. It was used to describe Mary Somerville, astronomical mathematician whose calculations, among other things, led to the discovery of Neptune.

1835 Poe publishes “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall“, a short story published in the June issue of a monthly magazine as “Hans Phaall — A Tale”, intended by Poe to be a hoax. He uses meticulous technical descriptions. The story traces the journey of a voyage to the moon. Poe planned to continue the hoax in further installments, but was pre-empted by the Great Moon Hoax which started in the August 25, 1835 issue of the New York Sun daily newspaper.

The “Great Moon Hoax“, also known as the “Great Moon Hoax of 1835“, was a series of six articles published in The Sun beginning on August 25, 1835, about the supposed discovery of life and even civilization on the Moon. The discoveries were falsely attributed to Sir John Herschel, one of the best-known astronomers of that time. Authorship of the article has been attributed to Richard Adams Locke (1800–1871), a reporter who, in August 1835, was working for The Sun. Locke publicly admitted to being the author in 1840, in a letter to the weekly paper New World.

1836 First long distance balloon free flight

1838 Poe publishes the novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket first as a few serialized installments, though never completed. The full novel was published in July 1838 in two volumes. Some critics panned the work for being too gruesome and for cribbing heavily from other works, while others praised its exciting adventures. Some hollow earth elements. Considered an influence on Melville and Verne.

1839 Poe publishes “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion” an apocalyptic story first published in December 1839, and was included that same month in the collection Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. Inspired by comets and religious end of the world predictions (1842 was proposed).

1844 Nathaniel Hawthorne “Rappaccini’s Daughter” is a Gothic short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne first published in the December 1844, and later in the 1846 collection Mosses from an Old Manse. Giacomo Rappaccini, a medical researcher, grows a garden of poisonous plants. He brings up his daughter to tend the plants, and she becomes resistant to the poisons, but in the process she herself becomes poisonous to others. Scientist who experiemnts on his own daughter, her lover tries to “detox” her but she is a poison herself and dies.

1851 Jules Verne A Voyage in a Balloon has been described as a techno thriller. Verne uses the devise of the balloon travel to describe the then fairly unknown (to Europeans) areas of Africa. The first of Verne’s stories to appear in English. His works were widely plagerized largely due to the lack of copyright laws at the time.

1859 Hermann Lang The Air Battle: A Vision of the Future Ostensibly Lang is a German professor, but, there is no German edition of his novel and Lang is likely a pseudonym of a UK author. The novel presents a world several millennia in the future, long after European civilization has been destroyed by floods, earthquakes and other disasters. Peace-loving Black rulers of the country of Sahara dominate Africa, and in a final battle with other powers using their great heavier-than-air machine weapons establish a beneficial worldwide Pax Aeronautica, possibly the first use of air power in science fiction. Remarkably for this period, mixed race marriage is strongly approved of.

1864 Jules Verne Journey to the Center of the Earth Subterranean world. This is not strictly a hollow Earth story as the travelers only go a few miles underground but they encounter a lost world. A great adventure story.

Arthur B. Evans is regarded as the best translation of Jules Verne. Recognizing that there were so many bad and abridged and redacted versions, new translations are available including by Walter James Miller and Frederick Paul Walter. The translations available on Project Gutenburg are considered quite good.

1865 Verne From Earth to the Moon Space travel by means of a “gun”. Detailed technical descritions are included in this story. Suggests the use of a solar sail.

1865 Lewis Carroll Alice’s Adventures Underground Subterranean adventure

1868 Edward S. Ellis The Steam Man of the Prairies Possibly the first science fiction “dime novel”, preqels to pulp fiction. The Steam Man is based on a real invention, built by and patented by Zadoc P. Dederick and Isaac Grass (U. S. patent no. 75874). A fur trapper, two gold miners and a teenaged boy who is a brilliant inventor as well as a hunchbacked dwarf, use the steam man to aid them on their adventures to mine for gold. Many steam powered, robot-like mechanisms appear later in the Frank Reade series 1876-1893. Indians are encountered (during the 1800’s there were continuous Indian wars until 1891) as well as a gigantic trapper who wants to rob them.

1869 Edward Everett Hale “The Brick Moon”, a novella. Friends discuss the need for something akin to the North Star to navigate by but allowing east to west not just north to south; they propose building a brick moon. They build a huge satellite of hollow bricks, and a fly wheel, powered by a dam, to fling it into the air. A storm causes the families of the builders and others to shelter in the nearly finished moon when an accident causes it to launch prematurely. The narrator, with the help of an incredibly strong telescope, discovers the people are still alive and getting along just fine. They communicate with Earth by jumping up and down to send Morse code. The Earth people figure out how to send messages by huge sheets (reminiscent of how The Martian communicated in the film). They send some things by the flinging fly wheel (the ladies insist on sending baby clothes). In the end, they decide to just live and let live like letting a grown child go.

1869 Verne Around the Moon The sequel to From Earth to the Moon. Again, many detailed technical descriptions.

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