1800’s Science Fiction Part II

Part II of notes from the panel Jonathan Hutchins, Rachel Ellyn, and I had the great pleasure presenting a panel at Planet Comicon Kansas City. 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! 

Again, let me say, 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.

1870 Verne Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas. Another adventure story using advanced technologies including an electric submarine, gas-discharge lamp and a taser. It contains detailed descriptions of undersea life which would have been unknown to the readers of the day.

1870 Annie Denton Cridge “Man’s Rights; Or, How Would You Like It? Comprising Dreams”

Man’s Rights, a work of Utopian science fiction and satire, is the first known feminist utopian novel written by a woman.

In a series of dreams, the female narrator visits the planet Mars, finding a society where traditional sex roles and stereotypes are reversed. The narrator witnesses the oppression of the men and their struggle for equality. They start working towards their liberation after technological advancements free them from some of their grueling domestic chores. In the last two dreams, the narrator visits a future United States, ruled by a woman president and with an equal balance of men and women in the House and Senate. Legislators have begun to stop fining and imprisoning female prostitutes, and it is now the male clients who get arrested and sent to reformatories. A large number of women have taken up farming, and the nation has a promising economic future. The narrator concludes by asking whether this dream might not, after all, be a prophecy?

1871 George T. Chesney The Battle of Dorking First published as a magazine serial. Future war with the British navy defeated by a wonder weapon. The enemy wins and breaks up the British empire (US gets Canada). Futurism and advanced technologies.

1871Edward Bulwer-Lytton The Coming Race Subterranean super race is discovered by accident by a young traveler while visiting a deep mine. The Vril-ya use the force called Vril for destruction or healing (due to the popularity of the book, any health food or elixir was called Vril, i.e. Bovril). In the end the narrator returns to Earth and warns of the coming of this superior race.

This is the Bulwer-Lytton that the bad writing contest is named after.

1872 Samual Butler Erewhon; or, Over the Range A satire describing what at first seems a utopia, but on further examination is more like a distopia. “The Book of Machines”, a three chapter section warns that machines might become sentient and dangerous. In Erewhon, machines are not used for fear of this. This is one of the pastoral utopian stories.

1877 Verne Off on a Comet Another space travel adventure.

1880 James De Mille A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder Published and serialized posthuously and anonymously, its writing predated She and King Solomons Mines but is often compared to them. A lost world story with satire civilization in opposition to culture of the day. In a copper cylinder is the account of a man who, after being separated from his ship in a little row boat with boat mate, finds himself in a tropical paradise in the Anarctic.

1880 Percy Gregg Across the Zodiac; The Story of a Wrecked Record The first sword and planet fiction. Centering around the creation of a substance called “apergy”, a form of anti-gravitational energy, this details a flight to Mars taken in 1830. The planet is inhabited by small beings who, convinced that life couldn’t exist any where else apart from on their world, refuse to believe that the narrator is actually from Earth, deciding instead he is an unusually tall Martian from a remote corner of their planet. The book contains what is probably the first alien language in any work of fiction to be described with linguistic and grammatical terminology, and likely the first instance in the English language of the word “Astronaut”, the name of the narrator’s spacecraft. In 2010 a crater on Mars was named Greg in recognition of his contribution to the lore of Mars. Not an easy read for writing style, sexism and racism, not much plot, lots of political nonsense.

1883 Albert Robida The 20th Century (This and two other novels were combined into one book, including in 1887 War in the 20th Century, and in 1890 The 20th Century, the Life Electric) These are fun for checking against the predicted and the real. Takes place in 1952. Predictions include the world-wide media saturation, news and entertainment merging, and advertising dominating broadcasts; the English Channel tunnel; merging and homogenizing of cultures; the dominance of multinational corporations. Unlike Verne, he proposed inventions integrated into everyday life (like Mary Webb did), and the social developments that arose from them like the social advancement of women, mass tourism, and pollution. He describes modern warfare with robotic missiles and poison gas, a flat screen television display that delivers news 24-hours a day, plays, educational courses, and teleconferences.

1886 Verne Robur the Conqueror. The Clipper of the Clouds Robur develops a heavier than air ship, the Albatross. Screw driven by electrical energy. A bit like a helicopter, downward rotors and two for push, pull actions.

1886 Robert Lewis Stevenson The Strange Cast of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Scientist experiments with splitting out his baser self with whom he has struggled all his life. When Hyde appears without the serum, large and more frequent doses are needed to remain Jekyll. Finally, a salt that is essential to the potion runs out and new batches don’t work, apparently because the original had an impurity that allowed the reaction. A “mad scientist” story.

1887 Flammarion Stories Of Infinity: Lumen; History Of A Comet; In Infinity Conversation between a spirit who travels through the universe and a man. One of the earliest works to consider the matters of relativity, alien life, and the advancement of mankind. Flammarion tended touse elaborate explanations of scientific principles and even included mathematical calculations in some of his stories

1887 W. H. Hudson A Crystal Age Pastoral utopian novel (like News from Nowhere), published anonymously originally. Man wakes up more than 100 centuries in the future. (Author also wrote the more famous Green Mansions). The people of his imagined future possess only one piece of technology, a system of “brass globes” that produces a form of ambient music. Otherwise they have no machines and only simple devices. Only the “father” and “Mother” of the commune breed; everyone else lives like siblings.

1888 Edward Bellamy Looking Backward Time travel novel with strong socialism and anti-captalism themes. Julian West, a young American, who towards the end of the 19th century, falls into a deep, hypnosis-induced sleep and wakes up 113 years later. He finds himself in the year 2000, and the United States has been transformed into a socialist utopia with nationalization of all industry, and the use of an “industrial army” to organize production and distribution, as well as how to ensure free cultural production under such conditions.

1889 Mark Twain A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court Time travel. Use of future technology (1880’s) in a past time.

1890 Mary E. Bradley Lane Mizora: A Prophecy: A Mss. Found Among the Private Papers of Princess Vera Zarovitch: Being a True and Faithful Account of her Journey to the Interior of the Earth, with a Careful Description of the Country and its Inhabitants, their Customs, Manners, and Government. A hollow Earth and utopian story. First serialized then published as a book, “the first portrait of an all-female, self-sufficient society,” and “the first feminist technological Utopia.” The narrator Vera is sent to Siberia and goes over a waterfall to the center of the Earth where she finds a women only culture that practice eugenics. They are Aryan and abhor dark colored skin. The futuristic technology includes “videophones” and making rain by discharging electricity into the air. Though Mizora has no domestic animals, its women eat chemically-prepared artificial meat.

1890 William Morris News From Nowhere; or, An Epic of Rest Being Some Chapters From a Utopian Romance Pastoral utopian novel with utopian socialism. William Guest falls asleep and finds himself in a future society.

1891 Milton Ramsey Six Thousand Years Hence Includes space travel, hollow Earth and futurism. Proposes machine translators.

1893 George Griffith The Angel or the Revolution: A Tale of the Coming Terror Aerial battleships and surface to air missles are predicted.

1894 Flammarion Omega: The Last Days of the World Another apocalyptic story in a future with international telephone service and the European Union.

1894 John Jacob Astor IV A Journey in Other Worlds Two interesting ideas in this: Earth axis straightening to end seasons, and a voyager to Jupiter and Saturn via a vehicle powered by “apergy” (fictious anti-gravity energy seen in a previous novel) and assisted by gravity (gravity assisted acceleration). Huge dams are used to power shifting the Earth, one at Niagra Falls (actually built 23 years later) and a tidal energy plant in the Bay of Fundy (built in 1980). Also proposes using Earth’s mantle heat for power.

A portion of the story involves looking back to the year 2000. Electricity does all the work including solar energy. (First solar cell 1883, ~1% efficient, in 2000 ~11% and today greater than 32 %). An explosive no power can resist causes people to abandon war; the Great War never happens. US ends up with most of the Western hemisphere (Canada, Central America).

Description of space craft is surprisingly close in some aspects. Today, beryllium is used and the dimensions of the interior are not off much those of the Apollo modules. But the story also includes packing fishing tackle, guns and canned food cooked on an electric stove in the space craft. The space travelers collect samples by shooting them; they have explosive bullets in guns. They describe strange and unique plants and animals including dinosaur-like creatures, pneumatic powered snakes and flowers that attract pollenators by sound. The travelers eat and drink from Jupiter’s animals and streams. On Saturn, spirits of the dead dwell.

(Astor died on the Titanic and was at the time, the richest man in the world.)

1895 Robert Comie The Crack of Doom A strange group proposes blowing up the world with what might be described as an atomic bomb.

1895 H.G. Wells The Time Machine Time travel, futurism, dystopia. A future where passive race of humans serve as “livestock” for a subterranean race of humans. In one version of the novel, the traveler goes to see the time near the end of the world when all life is gone and the atmosphere barely breathable.

1895 H.G. Wells “Argonauts of the Air” Men successfully fly but die when they can’t control the plane. Omitted from collections of the author’s works after the Wright brothers’ success.

1896 H.G. Wells “The Plattner Story” An alternate universe experienced.

1896 H.G. Wells “Under the Knife” An astral trip through the solar system and universe.

1896 H.G. Wells “In the Abyss” Bathospheric encounter with deep sea bipeds and their city.

1896 Wells The Island of Doctor Moreau Organ transplantation and human and animal hybridization.

1897 H.G. Wells “The Crystal Egg” Television-like method of viewing life on Mars.

1897 Wells The Invisible Man Originally serialized then in a book. An evil genius uses alterations in optical properties of tissues through chemical and electrical means. First he makes white cloth then a white cat invisible. Griffin is an albino. Issue of retinas needing to be able to absorb light to see explained away. He is the worst of the evil geniuses in literature.

1897 Kurd Lasswitz Two Planets Describes an encounter between humans and a Martian civilization that is older and more advanced. Martians are running out of water, eating synthetic foods, traveling by rolling roads, and using space stations. The spaceships use anti-gravity, but travel realistic orbital trajectories, and use occasional mid-course corrections in traveling between Mars and the Earth; the book depicted the technically correct transit between the orbits of two planets, something poorly understood by other early science fiction writers. It influenced Walter Hohmann and Wernher von Braun. The book was not translated into English until 1971 (as Two Planets), and the translation is incomplete. Auf zwei Planeten was his most successful novel.

1898 Wells The War of the Worlds First serialised in 1897. The novel’s first appearance in hardcover was in 1898. Alien invasion. Descritions of technology that accomodates a non-bipedal alien. Poison gas and death ray.

1899 Wells When the Sleeper Wakes Originally published as a serial. Reworked and rereleased in 1910 as The Sleeper Awakes. Dystopia future; a man sleeps for two hundred and three years, waking up in a completely transformed London in which he has become the richest man in the world. The main character awakes to see his dreams realised, and the future revealed to him in all its horrors and malformities.

Also, two stories by Rudyard Kipling, “.007” and “The Ship that Found Herself” suggesting machines that are self aware.

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.

Getting It Right, Getting It Wrong

“Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.” Popular Mechanics (1949).

The wonderful actor, Rutger Hauer, died recently. I’ve loved him in so many movies, but Lady Hawke and Blade Runner are two my friends have been talking about a lot. In Blade Runner (made in 1982), Mr. Hauer plays Roy Batty, a replicant or bio-engineered being. The film takes place in 2019 Los Angeles. Some people are noting Rutger and his character, Roy, died in the same year. The film has flying cars, bio-engineered people and animals, and references to mining operations in outer space. Here in the real 2019, we don’t much have those things. Blade Runner was based on Phillip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, first published in 1968. Dick’s version of Los Angeles was post nuclear war, and the story takes place in 1992, then in later editions, in 2021. So far, we’ve avoided nuclear war, and we still don’t have replicant pets, although cloning is making strides.

Sometimes stories of the future get it wrong, sometimes they get it right. Sinclair Lewis, in his 1938 novel It Can’t Happen Here, was probably thinking about Huey Long when he wrote his story of a potential totalitarian regime in America, but the satire bears an uncanny resemblance to the rise and rule of Donald Trump.  Orwell, Huxley, Wells, and Verne got some things right, perhaps more right than most other science fiction and futurist writers, but predicting the future and how we will live in it is hard. Some things we think will change don’t or do so very slowly, other things change at an unimaginable pace. Dick Tracy’s two way wrist radio, introduced in 1946, is a more accurate description of today’s technology than many science fiction stories of a similar era.

Even near future predictions can be tricky. Throughout the 1950’s, we all expected nuclear war, nuclear accidents, and the results these things would bring. We weren’t expecting global climate change. Now that we’re experiencing it, we may still get things wrong. In my novella, Wasting Water, I was expecting massive droughts throughout the United States. Instead, we seem to be having floods, followed by droughts followed by severe storms, excessive heat, excessive cold, and who knows what next? The droughts may come and stay yet, but it’s hard to predict. It would be nice to be right, but I wouldn’t wish that on my planet.

In 1949, it was hard to predict that computing would become what it is today, not a 1.5 ton machine, but portable, readily available, and ubiquitous. I often wonder what breakthrough will make the next unpredictable leap in technology, the next science fiction moment. It may be decades in the future, or maybe just around the corner. Perhaps we’ll get those flying cars yet. After all, we got our Star Trek communicators.

Image: Even with Abby standing on them, none of my computers weighs 1.5 tons. By Marilyn Evans.