We regard all men as our friends and brethren. The Indian and the Chinese are our countrymen, when they once set foot in this land. We teach our children to regard all mankind as composing one and the same family, assembled under the eye of one common father.[i]
“This land” is France – the land of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Louis Sebastien Mercier (1740-1814), a playwright (notably The House of Molière, 1788), historian and journalist of some note in his time, is hardly remembered today, and he didn’t invent that motto in Memoirs of the Year 2500 (1771), later revised and expanded, with the chapter count growing from 44 to 82 by 1784. But what he did invent, and what secured his place in literary history, was the utopian vision of progress.
Memoirs – L’An 2440 in the original French; W. Hooper, who translated the book in 1772, changed the year – was the first utopian work set, not on an imaginary island or a fantasy world, but in the future. It was so revolutionary when it first appeared that it had to be published anonymously in the Netherlands, and Mercier didn’t own up to it as the author until 1791, after the French Revolution. As literature, it hardly rates; like previous utopias, it is lecture rather than story, with seemingly endless footnotes contrasting the imagined future with Mercier’s present. Yet the impact of its shift in locale was profound, for Mercier regarded his utopia as a latent possibility in the society of his own time. He believed in social evolution.
L’An 2440, to be sure, was not the first work of fiction set in the future. There was a stirring of futuristic fiction as early as 1644, in an alarmist pamphlet by Francis Cheynel called “Aulicus, His Dream of the King’s Sudden Coming to London,” published during the English civil war that led five years later to the execution of Charles I.
With Epigone: Story of the Future Century (1659), French romancer Michel de Pure, aka Jacques Guttin, not only set the action of his adventure story in the future, but told it straight, as if it were being read in the future. What we now call the “ostensible reader” was thus his invention, but he made little use of it in a science fictional manner. What he had in mind was a variation on the medieval romance, with the action displaced forward in time. But as Paul K. Alkon notes in Origins of Futuristic Fiction (1987), the setting actually has little connection to any time.
France has expanded to cover most of Europe in Guttin’s tale, but it is a mythical France called Clodovie that has a different past than the France known to his readers; one that, as Alkon observes, “seems to have come from a Europe that has never known Christianity, never heard of the Roman Empire, never experienced any of the landmark events of medieval and renaissance history apart from unification of Franks and Gauls in one country.”[ii] Most of the action takes place in Agnotie, an imaginary land typical of previous travel tales, and the only scientific invention is a translation device. Except for the ostensible future setting, the story of a young heir to the French throne and his true love follows the tradition of a dying genre rather than creating a new one.
Samuel Madden’s Memoirs of the Twentieth Century (1733) was the first work to put a time stamp on its imagined future. But, as conveyed in a series of letters by English diplomats in 1997-98, it is mainly a labored satire about how dreary life is in Europe under Catholic rule as compared to in England under the Protestants. Madden’s book, like Guttin’s, inspired nobody and left no literary progeny – Madden even tried to suppress it soon after its publication.
Alkon, in Origins of Futuristic Fiction, argues that Madden created a model for futuristic fiction in terms of narrative strategies, and that this model grew out of the literary experimentation of his time rather than from a changing social environment. Yet while both the literary and the social environment may have been necessary to the birth of science fiction, neither was in itself sufficient.
Alkon observes that Madden was aware of the potential of a tale about the future that would seem incredible in his time – just as a forecast of the fall of the Roman Empire would have seemed incredible to ancient Romans. Madden was also aware of advances in fields ranging from astronomy to medicine (“new drugs and specifics”[iii]), but the only medical novelty is a comical cure for unrequited love. Less comically, the seeming progress only presages “the last days of the world,”[iv] as in the Bible. Memoirs of the Twentieth Century is of more interest as a freak literary fossil than as a harbinger of things to come.
Brian Stableford cites a chapter of Daniel Jost de Villeneuve’s The Philosophical Voyager (1761, as by “M. de Listonai”), in which a visitor to a utopian city on the Moon is treated to a brief account of technological advances to be achieved on Earth by the 24th Century, including medical use of electricity, fireproofing, and desalinization of seawater. But that too is only a historical footnote today.
In 1763 there appeared in Britain The Reign of George VI, 1900-1925. As the title suggests, it follows the career of that future monarch, and offers the first detailed vision of what seemed – at the time – a plausible future. It is even written as if from a future point of view, without any framing device like the letters in Madden’s book or (a later gimmick) prophetic dreams of the shape of things to come.
Yet to our eyes, the anonymous narrative, in which Britain achieves world hegemony by defeating in turn the forces of Russia, France, and Spain (the last with aid from the still loyal American colonies!) creates its future out of its dates alone. A Tory in his sympathies, the author can’t imagine any significant social changes, nor any major scientific or technological innovations; the only signs of progress are more highways and canals!
I.F. Clarke’s Tale of the Future (1979) cites such anonymous alarmist near-future pieces as Private Letters from an American in England to His Friends in America (1769), which imagines England brought low by Scottish immigrants, idle bishops and fanatical Methodists; and Great Britain in 1841; or, the results of the Reform Bill (1831), which warns against the horrors to follow from… you guessed it! Like The Reign of George VI, they anticipate not science fiction, but “tomorrow fiction” of the kind popularized by Allen Drury and others in the 1960s, and revived in recent years by the likes of Glenn Beck and in TV series like Designated Survivor (2016-). The only difference is that, in 1763, “tomorrow” could be set 250 years in the future.
In Mercier’s L’An 2440, by contrast, positive social change does occur. Some of the changes are so conservative as to seem unintentionally funny today, but that conservatism was dictated by Mercier’s new medium. He had to make his future a plausible outgrowth of his present; he was the first utopian writer to extrapolate. Mercier’s narrator, in a dream of the future, thus finds himself not on an island of inhuman perfection created by fiat, but in the Paris of his own land and his own future, among men like himself.
Taken in hand by his tour guide, our dreamer learns that France, a constitutional monarchy under Louis XXXVI, has indeed become a better place. Social changes are modest by Platonic utopian standards: measures such as price controls are the only concession to egalitarianism, while meritocracy reigns in the arts and sciences. Other marvels seem mundane to our eyes. Traffic on city streets keeps to the right, the slums have been cleared, and water is supplied by neighborhood fountains. A police force has replaced government spies, and the Bastille is no more. Divorce has been legalized. Fashions are more comfortable and, yes, men apply only a “slight tinge of powder”[v] to their hair.
Less amusing are the ethical contradictions, seeming carryovers from the authoritarian tradition of Platonic utopias. Freedom of the press is guaranteed; but allegedly useless or immoral works, even many of the classics – among them “Herodotus, Sappho, Anacreon and the vile Aristophanes,”[vi] – are burned. Laws have been simplified, and justice humanized; but lawyers are forbidden to defend the “guilty.” Women are relegated to domestic roles and raising children, although Mercier contrasts this with their treatment as “beasts of burden”[vii] in the France he knew.
While there aren’t any signs of the Industrial Revolution, scientific advances figure in Memoirs. Inoculation for a number of diseases is common, and cures have been found for syphilis and tuberculosis. Eugenics has improved livestock, and there are even hints of motion pictures and phonographs. Moreover, Mercier imagines social progress on a global scale. North and South America have become independent empires, as has Greece. Italy has been united, and China and Japan are being westernized. Slavery in the Americas and serfdom in Russia have been abolished.
Most important of all, Memoirs was a literary mutation that bred true, and also inspired further mutations. The first fruits of adaptive radiation appeared in the Netherlands (where Memoirs itself had first been published) with Holland in the Year 2440 (1777), attributed to novelist and poet Betje Wolff-Bekker (1738-1804); and The Coming Year 3000 (1792) by Arend Fokke-Simonsz.
The very mention of the year 2440 in the title of the first is a dead giveaway; Holland in the Year 2440 is characterized as a “pale reflection” of Mercier’s utopia by Dutch scholars Marjolein Degenaar and Gert-Jan Lokhorst. Whether or not she actually wrote the first Dutch futuristic work, they note, Wolff-Bekker was an admirer of Mercier’s. The only significant difference between the two works is that the Netherlands is still a Christian country.[viii]
Fokke-Simonsz (1755-1812) takes an entirely different approach, although he embraces Mercier’s narrative strategy of a dreamer being led around by an inhabitant of the future. While The Coming Year 3000 touches on novelties like balloon travel and medical use of electricity, its focus, as explained by Degenaar and Lokhorst, is a theory of history derived from Deslandes’ Histoire Critique de la Philosophie – and its ideal is a rustic, almost Roussellian utopia.
In Fokke-Simonsz’ imagined future, a growing demand for and scarcity of exotic luxuries leads to social violence and wars. But eventually, humanity turns away from materialism; by the year 3000, people lead a simple life on self-sufficient farms – in the Netherlands, these are situated on huge mounds. The future Dutch not only grow their own food, but make their own clothing and even find their own medicines in the fields. All men are equal, addressing each other as “Friend” – and animals are no longer eaten, out of a reverence for nature.[ix]
In Child of the Enlightenment: Revolutionary Europe Reflected in a Boyhood Diary (2009; the diary is that of Otto van Eck from 1791 to 1797), Arianne Baggerman and Rudolf Dekker refer passingly to other Dutch futuristic utopias, including Gerrit de Paape’s Revolutionary Dream (1798), in which equality of the sexes has been achieved by 1998; and Willem de Goede’s A Prophetic Dream (1807), imagining a future Rotterdam as an “international air balloon port” from which airships travel to China, Australia and Africa.[x]
But there were already futuristic works that weren’t meant to be taken seriously. Johan Herman Wessel (1742-85), a Norwegian-Danish writer, penned a stage burlesque (never performed), Anno 7603 (1781). Young lovers Leander and Julia ask a fairy to make them “softer” and more “martial,” respectively, but the fairy decides to show them what they’d be getting into, transporting them to a future where gender roles are reversed: women fight as soldiers, flirt with the boys, drink, gamble and sing bawdy songs.[xi] Men can be nothing but poets or judges of their own petty quarrels.
Leander and Julia learn their lesson: at the end of the play, they join the fairy in a chorus: “Let us stay as we are, always faithful, loving each other!” While Anno 7603 may be the first time travel story, the scenery and culture, except for the gender role satire, are strictly 18th Century; it can’t be taken seriously as sf.[xii] Yet it shows that the idea of futuristic fiction was in the air – a generation earlier, the same farce would no doubt have been set on an imaginary island or the Moon rather than forward in time.
One bibliography, compiled by Denis Brukmans and Laurent Portes,[xiii] cites an anonymous work in German from 1777, The Year 1850; this was actually by a Swiss, Walther Merian – WorldCat.org gives its subtitle as “thoughts about the institutions for the poor, public worship and the jubilee of Swiss Cantons,” a rather narrow focus. Futuristic utopias soon did appear in Germany, where Mercier’s had been translated in 1772. Another bibliography by Michel Antony[xiv] lists K.A. Dyrhn’s Supplement to The Year 2440 (1781), and The Year 2440 (1783) by H.H. Witzel, aka K.H. Wachsmuth. Both reveal their debt to Mercier in their titles.
Daniel Gottlieb Mehring’s The Year 2500 (1794), cited by Antony, purports to be a dream of the future by an Arab. Ludwig Tieck’s The Future Court: A Vision (1800) is also in Antony’s compilation. These may be minor variations on L’An 2440, but their sheer number is significant: W.W. Pusey, in Louis Sébastien Mercier in Germany (1939), writes that Mercier had a wide following in Germany as a novelist and playwright as well as a utopian philosopher, and influenced the likes of Goethe and Schiller.[xv] But Mercier wasn’t embraced by some utopian writers back home in France, Baron Jean-Baptiste Mosneron de Launay disdained material progress in The Aerial Valley (1810), set in an isolated theocratic commune of herdsmen who live a simple but highly regulated life.
Other writers in Germany also rejected radical utopian ideas. Johann Paul Friedrich Richter (1763-1825), who wrote as Jean Paul, took a jaundiced look at the future mechanization of human existence in “The Machine Man” (1789), where “a being is the more perfect the more it works by machines.”[xvi] Richter was reacting to the Cartesian idea that men are no more than machines to begin with. It’s hardly a surprise that he admired Jean Jacques Rousseau, who inspired his novel The Invisible Lodge (1793).[xvii] And he was seen in a 1907 essay by Robert H. Fife for the Modern Language Association as an uncredited influence on E.T.A. Hoffmann, who pioneered a variant of gothic sf.[xviii]
Johannes Daniel Falk poked fun at technological utopias in Elektropolis, or The Sun City (1803) – written as a play, albeit it’s hard to imagine how it could have been staged. It has a group of air travelers parachute into a city where everything is electrical: “they eat by electricity, they drink by electricity, they sleep by electricity; and it is even said that the sun will be removed and an enormous electrophor put in its place.”[xix] This was just three years after Alessandro Volta invented the battery. Only, Falk (1768-1826) was a poet and satirist rather than a futurist; he ended up getting religion – composing hymns and Christmas carols.
The first futuristic utopia to appear in Russia was “A Dream” (1819), a short story by Aleksandr Dmitrievich Ulybyshev that imagined St. Petersburg in 2119 with the monarchy gone and replaced by a progressive republic: “All kinds of public schools, academies and libraries had taken the place of the innumerable [military] barracks that used to crowd the city,” and public monuments honor only those distinguished by “their talents and services to the country.”[xx]
Ulybyshev (1794-1858) was part of the Decembrist movement that tried to overthrow the tsar in 1825, but his role in that was small enough for him to escape execution. Richard Stites, in Revolutionary Dreams (1989), stresses the Russian roots of “A Dream,” with its emphasis on national pride and even national dress to balance social advances like women’s emancipation.[xxi] But Marc Raeff’s translation, in his The Decembrist Movement (1966), shows how much Ulybyshev’s narrative form owed to Mercier.
Faddei Bulgarin (1789-1859), a Russian writer of Polish extraction, credits “the famous French writer Mercier”[xxii] as one of his models in a footnote to A Journey in the 29th Century (1824). Climate change has come to warm the Earth, and most of its land has been populated by humans – animals are mostly extinct. There are also numerous cities on the seabed, along with gardens to feed them.
Siberia is a utopia, and technology has evolved as well: advances include steam-powered winged balloons, which travel on regular routes, there are also steam-powered automobiles that ply iron highways. Use of natural gas for heating and illumination in cities is universal, and prefabricated housing is common. Tapping the Earth’s internal heat to warm Siberia, first imagined by Bulgarin, recurred as a popular theme in later Soviet sf.
Bulgarin, a conservative, eschews revolutionary change – if he were familiar with Ulybyshev’s “A Dream,” he would surely have disdained it. Yet his society of the 29th century has clearly become more humane. Significantly, he reverts to a variation of Mercier’s fictionalized essay format: the narrator wakes up the future after a boating accident – his body preserved by some sort of miraculous herb – in order to be lectured about the wonders of Novaya Zemlya.
Aleksandr Veltman (1800-1870), better known for travel and adventure tales, contributed to the futuristic utopia with The Year 3448 (1833). Billed as a prophecy by Martin Zadek – a Russian counterpart to the notorious Nostradamus – it is set in an imaginary Balkan country Bosphorania, ruled by a benevolent monarch, Ioann, who promotes social and technological progress. He is overthrown by his evil brother Eol, but Ioann restores peace and order after the Eol’s death.
Prince Vladimir Odoyevsky (1803-63), who frames his similarly titled The Year 4338 (1835-40) as letters received from a Chinese student in the St. Petersburg of the future, focuses more on social reform. Meritocracy has succeeded aristocracy, with government leaders trained at a school for state officials. Among future ministries are those of philosophy, fine arts, air forces, and conciliation (devoted to settling all manner of disputes). Odoyevsky also offers technological wonders: dirigibles, electric trains, electric lights, fiberglass clothing, teleprinting, photocopies, and (again!) warming of the Arctic. And there’s even an apocalyptic menace: a comet is about to strike Earth.
The most startling innovation in The Year 4338 must be “magnetic baths.” Although no doubt inspired by early experiments with hypnotism, they bear an uncanny resemblance to modern encounter therapy. Besides improving one’s own psychological well-being, they are aimed at preventing “hypocrisy” in public affairs. Yet The Year 4338 also marks a trend towards insularity in Russian utopian thinking. St. Petersburg is connected to Beijing by an electric railroad, and Russia has become the only global power – having annexed the overseas colonies of a bankrupted Britain. France and Germany have disappeared entirely, and there aren’t any rail connections to Western Europe.
Odoyevsky’s utopia appeared in only fragmentary form in his lifetime, and what is said to have been a definitive version was published only in 1926.[xxiii] An English translation, based on what is apparently a 1959 reprint of that version as part of a collection of Odoyevsky’s works, was posted online in 2013.[xxiv] Anindita Banerjee, in We Modern People: Science Fiction and the Making of Russian Modernity (2012), cites the same version in extensive commentary on its place in the evolution of Russian sf.
But with Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s What Is To Be Done (1863), utopian thought in Russia took an entirely new direction. Chernyshevsky (1828-89) was a revolutionary socialist who called for the violent overthrow of the monarchy and its replacement by a system based on peasant communes but transformed into industrial cooperatives. Yet his novel, written while he was in prison, isn’t utopian sf, and he may not have been familiar with previous futuristic utopias even in Russia – Michael R. Katz cites as key influences Rousseau, George Sand, Charles Dickens and Ivan Turgenev, but doesn’t allude to any sf.[xxv]
Vera Pavlovna, Chernyshevsky’s heroine, is what would later be called a “new woman” – devoted to self-discovery and self-realization. In her struggle to escape her conventional life, she has the support of progressive friends and women of a sewing cooperative she establishes – both of whom engage in furtive revolutionary discussions. But she also has an inner life of inspirational dreams – in the last of these she sees a future socialist paradise, centered on a crystal palace like that in London in her own time, only built with aluminum; cities are lit by electricity, but most of the world is a garden.
While the plot centers on Vera, however, What Is to Be Done? is best remembered for Rakhmetov, an inspired revolutionary who leads a life of ascetic dedication in pursuit of the cause, but helps Vera deal with a personal crisis that threatens her own commitment. Katz cites a parallel with Russian hagiographic works,[xxvi] and agrees with Irina Paperno’s thesis in Chernyshevsky and the Age of Realism (1988) that the novel can be seen as a “new gospel,” nothing less than a “New Testament of the late nineteenth century.”[xxvii]
In The Paradise Myth in Eighteenth Century Russia (1991), Stephen Lessing Baehr recounts how poetry and prose in Russia were devoted to panegyrics about the tsarist autocracy, which was supposedly blessed by God, the true heir to Roman civilization, the world leader in science, and so on. There were even a few utopias that projected such an idealized Russia onto distant islands or other worlds. Chernyshevsky turned that sort of panegyric on its head, making it the basis of a mythology of the radical intelligentsia as the true hope of mankind.
What Is To Be Done almost certainly inspired Sergei Nechayev’s “Catechism of a Revolutionary” (1869), which became the fountainhead of revolutionary terrorist thought and may, ironically, have been adopted by prophets for other causes like Islamic fundamentalism in modern times:
Tyrannical toward himself, [a Revolutionary] must be tyrannical toward others. All the gentle and enervating sentiments of kinship, love, friendship, gratitude, and even honor, must be suppressed in him and give place to the cold and single-minded passion for revolution. For him, there exists only one pleasure, one consolation, one reward, one satisfaction – the success of the revolution. Night and day he must have but one thought, one aim – merciless destruction.[xxviii]
What Is To Be Done was an inspiration to Vladimir Lenin,[xxix] and it was popular in Soviet times. But in its own time, it appalled Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who condemned Chernyshevsky’s ideology in “Notes from the Underground” (1864). In Dostoyevsky’s Demons (1872), the chief villain is based on Nechayev. And in his Crime and Punishment (1867), Raskolnikov has a prophetic dream of a future world gone mad from a plague that drives people to murder and mayhem out of ideological fanaticism – but it is a curiously blind fanaticism:
They … could not agree on what to consider evil, what good. They did not know whom to condemn or whom to acquit. People killed each other in a senseless rage.[xxx]
In Valeri Bryusov’s “The Republic of the Southern Cross” (1907), a future socialist utopia is brought down by an outbreak of “mania contradicens” that sets its people against one another in an orgy of destruction. The scenario is clearly influenced by Raskolnikov’s dream, and it can hardly be doubted that Bryusov was also familiar with Chernyshevsky. But neither seems to have had any influence on utopian or anti-utopian sf outside Russia in the 19th Century.
A 1795 American translation of Mercier’s L’An 2440 was presumably the inspiration for Mary Griffith (1779-1846), who wrote Three Hundred Years Hence (1836), first futuristic utopia in the United States. Griffith was surely also familiar with “Rip Van Winkle;” Edgar Hastings, her viewpoint character, sleeps his way into the future – or so he believes; it turns out at the end that he’s only been dreaming.
A new source of energy, never explained, has replaced steam and drives the ships, automobiles (“curious vehicles that moved by some internal machinery”[xxxi]) and farm equipment of the 22nd century. Slavery has been abolished, railroads nationalized, and a single tax adopted. Women are emancipated, and their leadership is credited with attainment of world peace – and also with sanitizing literature. Educational reforms have stressed vocational and technical training. Fireproof homes and air-conditioned markets with out-of-season produce are common.
Most descendants of former slaves have opted to relocate to Africa – after making their fortunes in freedom at home. They have shunned intermarriage with whites, but only out of black pride: “They are a prosperous and happy people, respected by all nations, for their trade extends over the whole world.”[xxxii] Indians, alas, have not been as fortunate: “What demon closed up the springs of tender mercy when Indian rights were in question I know not,”[xxxiii] Hastings’ descendant/informant laments.
Yet by the time Three Hundred Years Hence was published, futuristic utopias in the direct line of Mercier appear to have petered out in Europe – the last example from France seems to have been Turrault de Rochecorbon’s brief “The Year 2800, or the Dream of a Recluse” (1829). It was devoted only to social and political reform and rather than science or technology – and didn’t make either the Brukmans-Portes or the Antony bibliographies. Brian Stableford cites a handful of anonymous cases in Britain, one of them A Hundred Years Hence; or, The Memoirs of Charles, Lord Moresby, Written by Himself (1828), which has a few advances like “gas-carriages” and “kite-carriages” as well as greater use of steam power; Stableford observes, however, that “Utopian speculation of all kinds was in the doldrums.”[xxxiv]
Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, for as mostly reactions to or commentaries of one kind or another on L’An 2440 and its imitators, they probably attracted less and less interest as the memory of their model faded. The last gasp may have been Joaquim Felício dos Santos’ Pages from the History of Brazil Written in the Year 2000 (1868-72, published only as a series in a newspaper), which Rachel Haywood Ferreira has found includes a paraphrase inspired by L’An 2440.[xxxv]
Mercier’s futuristic utopia had been a best-seller in its time, going through several reprintings in France as well as translations abroad. But none of the futuristic utopias inspired by it seem to have had much of an impact, and most of them are known today only to catalogers – and those catalogers find slim pickings of utopias after a few decades.
In Spain, Antonio Neira de Mosquera’s “Madrid in the 21st Century” (1847) was more a parody than a serious forecast: the dreamer awakens in a future where the capital is divided into an old Madrid and a new Madrid; the new Madrid is full of factories, and people hate physical labor – they all have degrees and engage in literature and journalism. But they are also forced to work with their hands.[xxxvi]
A bibliography compiled by Lyman Tower Sargent and Roland Schaer for their Utopie: La Quète de la Societé Idéale en Occident (2000), lists only a handful of futuristic utopias between 1840 and 1888, but there are seemingly countless manifestoes and tracts – not only Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ The Communist Manifesto (1848), but works by Charles Fourier, Robert Owen, Claude Henri de Saint Simon, Pierre Joseph Proudhon and others.
Dutch naturalist Pieter Harting, writing as “Dr. Dioscorides,” ventured into the futuristic utopia with Anno 2065 (1865). Greater London (population 12 million) is a vast climate-controlled arcade of glass and aluminum, water and wind power have replaced coal, and super batteries power vehicles, homes and businesses. Universal suffrage and equality for women have been achieved, and education is compulsory, while war is a thing of the past, and free trade is universal. The world is united by dirigible balloons as well as global railway and telegraph networks, and there are telephones – credited by as having been invented in 1861 by [Phillip] Reis (one of several claimants from before Alexander Graham Bell).[xxxvii]
The latest news is about a project to develop tin mines on the Moon, where deposits have been discovered by spectral analysis by an observatory. An abridged translation by Dr. Alex V.W. Bikkers was published in London in 1871, and retitled Anno Domini 2071; but, like de Rochecorbon’s “The Year 2800” 42 years earlier, it is so obscure that it doesn’t appear in the Brukmans-Portes or Antony bibliographies.
Imaginary utopian futures had gone out of fashion, with projects for evolutionary or revolutionary change taking their place. Blueprints, not dreams were what Marx and the other theorists of socialism had to offer. The ideas of Mercier and his imitators doubtless seemed timid to these new theorists, and their form of expression trivial. Actions would speak louder than words; the millennium was at hand.
One of the few popular utopias was Journey to Icaria (1840) by Étienne Cabet (1788-1856), a Fourier-school socialist who tried to found a commune based on its principles. Icaria, a throwback to the voyage imaginaire rather than a futuristic work, reads like a parody of itself today in its enthusiasm for a regimented society. As Hugo Gernsback was later wont to do with technological wonders, Cabet doesn’t miss a chance to rhapsodize in italics about Icaria’s beautiful model city, refreshing public fountains, convenient sidewalks, and standardized food and clothing chosen by a committee of scientists.
Also influenced by Saint Simon and Fourier was “The Distant Future” (1862), which appeared in Mexico as the end-piece to Juan Nepomuceno Adorno’s Harmony of the Universe by (1807-80) devoted to promoting his philosophy of Providentiality. Although set in the future, it dispenses with even a guided tour in favor of pompous hosannas about how beautiful the Earth has become, how advanced its technology and how happy everyone is – including women, who are raised in pure innocence until “the enchanting Festival of the Virgins, where they are presented to society and declared ready for marriage.”[xxxviii]
Quite aside from the off-putting bombastic style of writers like Cabet and Adorno, the eclipse of futuristic utopias also reflected a backlash against utopian ideas, and the perception of a conflict between science and human values – a preview of C.P. Snow’s Two Cultures debate – in the 19th Century romantic movement. This had little or nothing to do with gothic attitude towards science as a sort of black magic, but rather of technological progress as inevitably dehumanizing.
Victor Hugo, greatest of the French romantics, could have Enjolras rhapsodize about technological and social progress in Les Misérables (1863) – “Citizens, do you imagine the future? The streets of the cities flooded with light, green branches on the thresholds, the nations sisters, men just…”[xxxix] But he never wrote any fiction set in the future – the closest he came was an introduction to a tour guide for the 1867 Paris Exposition Universelle that briefly recycled the ideas of Mercier’s L’An 2440 and other futuristic utopias – and his fellow romantics didn’t necessarily agree that it would be such a wonderful place.
Émile Souvestre (1806-54) was one of the skeptics. In The World As It Shall Be (1846), his newlyweds Maurice and Marthe who dream of a bright future – “that promised land for those who have no clear view of the present.”[xl] – are invited to visit the year 3000 by John Progrès, a demon riding a flying time-traveling locomotive like an evil twin of Doc Brown from Back to the Future III.
For some reason John Progrès puts the lovers to sleep for 2,000 years, rather than carrying them off on his machine, although he’s there to give them a brief welcome when they awaken. Only this “brave new world” – as I.F. Clarke mockingly calls it in his introduction to the 2004 translation by his wife Margaret [xli]– turns out to be a nightmare of Satanic technology.
Babies are placed in steam-powered crèches resembling henhouses, and fed a formula called supra-lacto-gune; older children are raised under glass like vegetables, and taught a materialist catechism. Beyond that, education is strictly vocational. Adults have only one newspaper to read, Le Grand Pan; it unrolls like toilet paper in an endless feed.
Everything else is ultra-mechanized but far from safe: deaths and injuries are common in the subways and submarines are attacked by whales. Industry is compartmentalized; each state of the Republic of United Interests produces only one product; people work at only one trade and hardly speak or think of anything else. The government is formally headed by an empty chair.
Consumerism reigns: women wear seductive rubber corsets and wildlife is exploited for beauty products like hippopotamus oil and turtledove marrow; but the poor have been left to starve – charity is proscribed – and workers bred for their tasks lead a hellish existence much like that in Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis (1927). Non-conformists of any kind are adjudged insane.
Because it mocks the utopian dream of progress, The World As It Shall Be should be considered the first true anti-utopia. But some of Souvestre’s satirical targets, such as feminism – Mlle. Spartacus, a women’s rights leader, is a man-hating harpy – wouldn’t win him any plaudits today. Indeed, his novel ends with God striking down the perverse world of the future: in a way, he was a forerunner of the religious Right.
Although he despised capitalism, personified by villains like M. Omnivore, Souvestre didn’t think much of the prophets of utopian socialism, either – he thought the likes of Saint Simon and Fourier were “idiots.”[xlii] Yet Souvestre had one thing in common with the authors of futuristic utopias: the message was everything. All he had to say could be said in a single book. No more than to Mercier would it have occurred to him to write different stories set in his imagined future, still less to imagine alternative futures.
Another skeptic of utopia – astonishingly, none other than Jules Verne – may have read The World As It Shall Be. Verne’s Paris in the 20th Century, written in 1863 but never published until 1994, tells the depressing tale of Michel Dufrénoy – a Bohemian would-be artist type trapped in a materialistic future of automobiles, metros, giant cruise ships, computers and fax machines. The family has broken down and single-parent households are the rule; cities are overcrowded, skies polluted, homelessness endemic, and illiteracy widespread. Worst of all, from his point of view, literature and art have been forgotten.
Unpublished as it was, Verne’s novel had no influence whatever, and even if it had been published it might only have ended Verne’s career prematurely. Nobody else seems to have picked up on Souvestre’s dystopian theme, but visionary elements of his imaginary future may have inspired Albert Robida, the true iconic figure of futuristic social science fiction with The Twentieth Century (1882) as Verne was the father of adventurous science fiction.
During the reign of Napoleon III, there was a vogue for visions of Paris and France of the future. Although he was in exile, Victor Hugo contributed to a pamphlet for visitors to the Exposition Universelle of 1867. Brian Stableford cites a number of others, such as Théophile Gautier’s “Future Paris” (1851) and Jacque Fabien’s “Paris in Dream” (1863). An actual project for redesign of the capital, cut short by the war with Prussia, was the inspiration for this sort of thing. Harder to explain is that the real-life experience of the Paris Commune in 1871 after the war and the end of the Empire had little literary impact.
René du Mesnil de Maricourt weighed in with “All the Way! The Commune in 2073” (1873), in which a future Paris suffers from severe overpopulation as well as absolute egalitarianism. Tropes that later became common in anti-utopian fiction appear: people have numbers as well as names, dress alike and are enjoined to look as much alike as possible; children are raised communally; anyone can be assigned to any job, and so on. Translator Brian Stableford suggests that Maricourt failed to attract attention because he had envisaged a longer story but “chickened out;”[xliii] a more likely explanation is that the Paris Commune was short-lived – and overshadowed in France’s collective memory by its humiliation in the Franco-Prussian War, which found expression in vengeful future war fiction.
A few years later, George Pellerin’s The World in 2000 Years (1878) anticipated something akin to the Swedish welfare state or the Social Credit concept in Canada: making money is still a private affair, but society redistributes it so that none suffer want or hardship. Emile Calvet’s In a Thousand Years (1884), on the other hand, stresses strictly technological progress – the boons of global electrification and aerial transport, and the telephone and the phonograph.
But Pellerin’s and Calvet’s utopias attracted little attention even in France, and utopias generally remained obscure – and sometimes repellant to modern sensibilities. William Delisle Hay’s Three Hundred Years Hence (1881) imagined a Confederate States of Australasia – a high-tech and seemingly progressive society of underground wonder cities powered by a “Basilistic Force.” But women are kept strictly in their place, and Australasia no longer includes any Asiatic peoples – they have all been exterminated. As I.F. Clarke put it, “William Delisle Hay and Adolf Hitler had this much in common: the one wrote and the other acted in keeping with certain ideas.”[xliv]
It was left to Edward Bellamy (1850-98) to revive the futuristic utopia in the United States, and transform it into a global popular phenomenon, with Looking Backward (1888). A best-seller in its time, its admirers included such reformers and socialists as John Dewey, Thorstein Veblen, and Eugene V. Debs.[xlv] It could be called the Bible of the welfare state. Looking Backward has also strongly influenced science fiction writers, from H.G. Wells to Mack Reynolds.
Debit cards are the most startling prophecy in the future society into which Bellamy’s hero, Julian West, awakens after his Rip Van Winkle slumber. Poverty and unemployment have been eliminated by the conscription of all adults into an “industrial army,” with the fruits of their labor distributed equally. After three years of common labor, people may choose any trade or profession they are qualified for, and early retirement (at age 45) is universal except in professional/administrative jobs that call for long experience. Production and distribution are all state monopolies. In a sequel, Equality (1897), we learn, among other things, that women wear pantsuits.
Of course, there are technological marvels as well – pneumatic tubes that deliver packages from central warehouses and music piped into homes – but what gave Looking Backwards its immediate popular appeal was its evolutionary thesis that a socialist utopia could arise naturally through processes already at work in 1888. “Industrial evolution” would transform the trusts of capitalism into components of a fully nationalized economy. Those who founded Bellamy Clubs and a Nationalist Party believed the millennium was at hand.
Just as Mercier’s L’An 2440 inspired a wave of futuristic utopias for several decades, Bellamy’s Looking Backward inspired a new wave in its time. Just as in the case of Mercier, moreover, the new futuristic utopias can often be seen as examples of further mutations and adaptive radiation, their brave new worlds tailored to suit alternative ideals or national cultures – not only in details but in concept.
In Russia, the first response in kind to Looking Backward (which had received bad reviews[xlvi]) was Nikolai Shelonsky’s In the World of the Future (1892), an alternative utopia said to have gone through several printings. Shelonsky rejected Bellamy’s socialism, but had nothing against technological progress – including television and anti-gravity devices. Indeed, with abundant solar power and rapid communication, cities have been abandoned and Russians live in self-sufficient family estates in the country. In the tradition of Mercier, Shelonsky anticipates global changes: China has modernized, and India is independent – but America and England have become social and economic backwaters. Yet the affairs of his future Russia as a whole are governed by an elite of bearded religious elders of the Temple of All Rus.[xlvii]
In China, where Looking Backward had been translated in 1891, Liang Qichao’s The Future of New China (1902) is set in 1962, when China has become a world power. But Liang (1873-1929), exiled to Japan after the failure of the Hundred Days Reform Movement he helped spearhead in 1898, didn’t finish his novel. Scholar David Der-wei Wang, who credits Bellamy with inspiring him, notes that “as a scientific fiction [it] was quite superficial, using only temporal projection to illustrate his ideal for the future.”[xlviii]
More impressive as an example of adaptive radiation is Wu Jianren’s The New Story of the Stone (1908). It is ostensibly a sequel to Cao Xueqin’s The Story of the Stone, better known as The Dream of the Red Chamber (1792), in which the hero Jia Baoyu was meant to “mend Heaven” but was distracted by romance. Wu has him awaken from a long sleep, in a parallel with Bellamy, to pursue his original mission. He even provides a tour guide for Baoyu, Lao Shaonian (“Old Youth”).
Baoyu finds himself in the Barbarous World of late Qing China, where is attacked by bandits – only to make his way to the futuristic utopian Civilized World by simply walking through an arch. Like other utopian writers, Wu is impatient with storytelling; at one point, he has Baoyu go instantly from a seaport to a bullet train bound for Shanghai, in order to learn how far China has come:
In the blink of an eye the ship had arrived at Hankou. He did not know how, but his body was now on a train, a train that was moving as quickly as the wind. On both sides mulberry woods, tea tree forests, rice and wheat fields all seemed to be flying swiftly by. Everybody got off of the train one after the other, as did Baoyu. He raised his head and saw an enormous building to the side of the road with an empty plaza in front. A flagpole as high as the heavens was erected on the plaza on which a yellow flying-dragon flag fluttered in the wind. There was also a long rope extending from the tip of the flagpole to the roof of the building from which the flags of all the nations of the five continents hung in a row. When he looked at the doorway of the building he saw the three words, ‘World Peace Summit’ carved there and decorated in gold leaf.[xlix]
Yes, China is now the leading nation, devoted to the cause of peace and progress. Technological advances in Wu’s global utopia include weather control that enables farmers to raise four crops a year, robots to perform routine tasks, wonder drugs that improve brain function, aerial cars and long-distance subways, and more. Baoyu even takes an aerial car to a safari in Africa and travels by submarine to the poles – adventure elements surely inspired by the works of Jules Verne, which had also been translated.
But the novel’s reformed Confucian ideology, outlined in a speech by the Civilized World’s monarch, Dongfang Qiang (“Eastern Strength”), who turns out to be Jia Bayou’s doppelganger Zhen, is as much at odds with Bellamy’s as Shelonsky’s Slavophile quasi-theocracy.[l] Contemporary Chinese sf and fantasy writer Xia Jia cites another example by Lu Shi’e: New China (1910), which borrows its sleeper but not its ideology from Bellamy. Dr. Su Hanmin, it seems, invented two technologies “the spiritual medicine” and “the awakening technique:”
With these technologies ... The Chinese nation has not only been revived, but is even able to overcome abuses that the West could not overcome on its own. In the author’s view, “European entrepreneurs were purely selfish and cared not one whit for the suffering of others. That was why they had stimulated the growth of the Communist parties.” However, with the invention of Dr. Su’s spiritual medicine, every Chinese has become altruistic and “everyone views everyone else’s welfare as their responsibility; it is practically socialism already, and so of course we’re not plagued by Communists.”[li]
Suehiro Tetcho’s Plum Blossoms in the Snow (1886), a pre-Bellamy Japanese utopian novel set in 2040, has been credited, along with Bellamy, by David Der-Wei Wang as an inspiration for Liang’s The Future of New China.[lii] Tetcho’s novel imagines Japan as a world power in the 21st Century, but its focus is on the discovery of a lost manuscript from 1890 about a revolutionary couple, Kunino Motoi and Tominaga Oharu, and their movement for freedom and human rights. In turn, the inspiration for Plum Blossoms may have been Pieter Harting’s Dutch futuristic utopia, Anno 2065 (1865, as by “Dr. Dioscorides”), which had been translated into Japanese in 1868, the year of the Meiji Restoration.[liii]
Yet another case of nationalistic adaptation of Bellamy’s model is Godofredo Emerson Barnsley’s São Paulo in the Year 2000 (1909), which imagines a distinctly Brazilian political and cultural identity – and technological progress. “Airplanes are as common today as automobiles were in the past,” Jeremias Serapiåo (a counterpart of Julian West) is told by his guide – only their invention is credited to Brazil’s own Santos Dumont.[liv]
Såo Paulo’s population has grown from 320,000 to 1.5 million. Miscegenation has produced a racially and culturally homogenous population, but it seems it was the Afro-Brazilian element that needed improving. That was par for the course in early Brazilian sf, according to Rachel Haywood Ferreira’s The Emergence of Latin American Science Fiction (2011). But Barnsley (1874-1935) was born to Confederate exiles from the United States, for whom race mixing must have been anathema. Women – although they lead healthier lives (No corsets!) – aren’t suffered to work outside the home. Nor is there any classless society: “If nature has made men unequally intelligent, if their education has given them diverse qualifications and different inclinations, it is natural that they do not enjoy the same happiness and well being.”[lv] Still, the assumption seems to be that a rising tide of progress will lift all boats.
In Germany, where Bellamy may have aroused more critical sound and fury than anywhere else besides the United States, the first variation on Looking Backward was Phillip Laicus’ Something Later! A Continuation of Bellamy’s Looking Backward from the Year 2000 (1891). Laicus, whose real name was Wasserburg, was a devout Catholic, so he transports Julian West to a future Germany that is a blend of Catholic and socialist ideas: major industries have been nationalized and land belongs to the state, but traditional marriage, family and morality are sacrosanct.[lvi] Yet in the very same year appeared a German translation of Richard Michaelis’ Looking Further Forward (1890), first published in the United States, in which Bellamy’s utopia degenerates into a corrupt bureaucracy, with favoritism in work assignments, loss of personal freedom, stagnation of the economy and endemic public apathy.
Michaelis was a German-American, and his response to Looking Backward was one of the first, but far from the last, example of alarmist critiques from writers who saw Bellamy’s utopia as a blueprint for Hell rather than Heaven. It was the very credibility of utopia that led to the first stirrings of modern anti-utopias. Demoralization and random violence are the price of too much “security” in J.W. Roberts’ Looking Within (1893). In Arthur D. Vinton’s Looking Further Backward (1890), socialism destroys the economy and makes the West fair game for Chinese conquest. And fundamentalist W.W. Satterlee foresees an orgy of BabyIonian debauchery in Looking Backward and What I Saw (1890). [lvii]
In England, Looking Backward inspired a few hostile responses such as the anonymous Looking Ahead … Not by the Author of Looking Backward. (1892). Bellamy’s novel was also the obvious target of a parody by Jerome K. Jerome, “The New Utopia” (1891). A man who has been up late at a socialist bull session dreams that he has awakened in the Heaven of equality he imagines – and is greeted by an elderly man who knows what’s expected of him:
“I take it you are going to do the usual thing,” said the old gentleman to me, as I proceeded to put on my clothes, which had been lying beside me in the case. “You’ll want me to walk round the city with you, and explain all the changes to you, while you ask questions and make silly remarks?”
“Yes,” I replied, “I suppose that’s what I ought to do.”[lviii]
Most critiques of Bellamy were as pedantic as the original, but Jerome’s has a biting satirical edge from the first paragraph – that bull session takes place over dinner at a National Socialist Club where the would-be revolutionaries dine on “pheasant, stuffed with truffles.”[lix] But the commitment to equality in the future is for real, not just an intellectual pose. Everyone has to look alike, he is told:
By causing all men to be clean shaven and all men and women to have black hair cut the same length, we obviate, to a certain extent, the errors of Nature.[lx]
Women as well as men dress in identical gray trousers and tunics; the only way to tell them apart is that women have even numbers as opposed to odd for the men (Personal names have been banned). They live in barracks, and are bred like animals: “Love, we saw, was our enemy at every turn. He made equality impossible.”[lxi] If men are above average in strength, they have arms or legs lopped off, and if they are too smart, “we perform a surgical operation on the head, which softens the brain down to the average level,” and literature and art are banned – “They made men think.”[lxii]
The idea of numbers replacing names, a common trope in anti-utopias, may have first been picked up by Charles H. Palmer in “Citizen 504” (1896), which was certainly part of the reaction to Bellamy, and in which marriages are assigned by the State.[lxiii] In Russia, where Jerome’s spoof was popular, Nikolai Fyodorov, a Christian anti-socialist,[lxiv] came up with the same idea in “One Evening in 2217” (1906). Both stories turn on state suppression of romance: in Palmer’s, the protagonists object to assigned marriage; in Fyodorov’s Aglaya (Citizen 4372221) throws herself under an airship – an obvious parallel with Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina – after confessing to the man who loves her that she has given in to her “duty” by taking her “turn” with another. Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1920), in which “numbers” treat each other as sexual commodities, may have been inspired by Fyodorov and Jerome (the brain operations) – but we can’t know for certain.[lxv]
The modern anti-utopian subgenre must be addressed at length in another volume. Other futuristic utopias works of the late 19th Century offer startling alternatives to the model of Looking Backwards. From a science fiction standpoint, four of the most significant are W. H. Hudson’s A Crystal Age (1887), William Morris’ News from Nowhere (1890), Theodor Hertzka’s Freeland (1890) and Paolo Mantegazza’s The Year 3000: A Dream (1897).
Hudson (1861-1922), best known for Green Mansions (1904), didn’t know the first thing about what was then called scientific fiction, and certainly didn’t think he was writing it. Yet he knew the second and third things, and thus comes surprisingly close to the spirit of modern sf, despite the clumsy mechanics that set up his story.
In A Crystal Age, his botanist hero Smith stumbles without explanation into the future, but it is an utterly strange future without referents to Victorian society or any familiar ideology. Once there, he is never lectured about the workings of the culture in which he finds himself; he must discover them – slowly and painfully – for himself. Hudson creates a utopia that is pastoral, without our science or technology, but far from primitive. The extended matriarchal families, which live in a sort of telepathic symbiosis with animals and have such ancient roots that their forest homes seem as eternal as the mountains, are truly alien. It is a tragic misunderstanding of sexual customs, in fact, that leads to Smith’s death.
Morris (1834-96), best known as the father of modern epic fantasy in works like The Well at the World’s End (1896), kept the lecture-tour format in News from Nowhere. But his utopia can claim two important innovations. First, it includes a detailed account of the revolution that brings down capitalism and ushers in Morris’ bucolic paradise. Second, the anarchist basis of utopian society is refreshing, against the bureaucratic states idealized in most utopias. Morris’ values are humane, and life in his future seems pleasant – but one does wonder how a population scarcely less than that of industrial England feeds itself and finds so much leisure in the absence of high technology.
Hertzka (1845-1924), an Austrian economist without any literary pretensions, deserves attention for having accidentally brought a sense of sf story to the futuristic utopia. Although Freeland is weighted with preachments and collections of imaginary statistics, it actually does show us how an International Free Society buys land in Africa, transports the first settlers, and establishes self-governing, profit-sharing utopian communities. The colonists face real problems: clearing land, planting crops, laying out towns. They must later defend their settlements against predators, animal and human – but the natives are eventually brought into the system on an equal basis.
Most ambitious of the new futuristic utopias was The Year 3000: a Dream. Mantegazza (1831-1910), a physician and anthropologist, touches every utopian base, from science and medicine to politics, economics and even religion. In an introduction to a belated 2010 translation, Nicoletto Pireddu finds parallels and contrasts with Mercier, Bellamy and even Souvestre – not to mention Agostino Della Sala Spada’s In 2073 (1874), which is hardly known outside Italy.
In The Year 3000, Paolo and Maria are about to marry after living together for the mandatory five years. That they are born to a utopian existence, unlike Julian West, might seem a major innovation. But Mantegazza can’t think of anything for them to do but tour the United Planetary States, with Paolo lecturing Maria about its wonders – with which one would expect her to be familiar even if she has led a relatively sheltered life.
These include clean energy plants, private aircraft, pre-fab homes, drugs to boost happiness and strength, even a “Voluptuary Theater” where people wear brain-stimulating caps enabling them to “enjoy the harmonies of music, perfume, artificial flavors and hedonistic vibrations.”[lxvi] A global meritocracy has succeeded a socialist dictatorship that emerged from a world war, but individualism is honored in everyday life. There is universal education, women have the vote, and all live longer and healthier lives. Criminal justice is more humane, and the poor are exempt from taxation. One major political debate is about whether to preserve tropical forests or give the tropics over to agriculture. Yet specter of Malthus remains; for that reason and out of a Spartan concern for eugenics, life itself is not a right. Paolo and Maria witness the execution (with the grieving mother’s consent) of a newborn deemed “unfit for life:”
And in fact an attendant took the baby, opened a small black portal in the wall of the room, and put it in there, closing the small door. A spring was released, a cry was heard, accompanied by a little explosion. The baby, enveloped by a flare of hot, 2,000-degree air, had disappeared, and only a bit of ash remained.[lxvii]
That would surely have shocked Italian readers in 1897, and they can’t have approved of pre-marital sex or performance drugs, either. Yet Mantegazza was committed to science as the answer to all problems; Paolo himself is honored with the equivalent of a Nobel for inventing a mind-reading device called the psychoscope that is certain to enhance harmony and understanding – by eliminating privacy. The Year 3000 concludes with Paolo and Maria’s marriage being approved by the Health Council, they “having won, by consent of science, the highest of rights, which once in barbaric times had been granted to all – that is, the right to transmit life to future generations.”[lxviii]
Although Mantegazza can’t have realized it, he was wrestling with the kind of paradoxes of contending human values that have haunted science fiction ever since, despite the fact that his utopia was never translated into English or French in its own time and thus had limited impact. With A Modern Utopia (1905), for example, H.G. Wells would propose similar trade-offs in an attempt to reconcile meritocracy, eugenics and the need for all-seeing state with personal freedom.
In When the Sleeper Wakes (1899), Wells had already turned Bellamy’s utopian narrative strategy on its head in a dystopian tale that was the foundation of what we now call sociological sf. While there had been futuristic novels long before Wells, however, they were few and far between in the early 19th Century, and had little impact compared to two other schools of embryonic sf: the gothic morality tale of science gone wrong, and the scientific hoax.
SCIENCE, SIN AND RETRIBUTION
Everyone thinks they know the story of Frankenstein, even if they may confuse the monster with its creator Victor Frankenstein. It’s hard to have missed the 1931 James Whale screen version (set at the time it was filmed), which unleashed Boris Karloff as a horror icon, or its endless sequels and pastiches, including Mel Brooks’ parody, Young Frankenstein (1974).
The images of Whale’s movie are part of popular mythology. Who could forget the gloomy tower on a lonely mountain? The laboratory full of super-scientific apparatus that sparks and crackles? The mad scientist and his moronic assistant, robbing graves by night for their fiendish experiments? The awakening of the monster (before witnesses) by a lightning bolt during the height of a thunderstorm? (“It’s alive! It’s alive!”) The mob of townsmen pursuing the creature after it has killed a child, and setting fire to a windmill where it has tried to hide?
Mary Shelley (1797-1851) wouldn’t recognize these scenes, for none appear in her Frankenstein (1818). Shelley’s novel is familiar to sf readers and critics; Brian W. Aldiss called it the first true work of science fiction and constructed an entire theory of the genre around it in his Billion Year Spree (1973). It would be more accurate to call it the first well-known work of sf, having gone through numerous editions and adaptations, and perhaps been the subject of more scholarship than any other single sf novel; but even that doesn’t clarify its place or significance.
The tale of how Frankenstein came to be written is an oft-told one. As related by Shelley herself, it happened in 1816 when she was spending a dismal and rainy summer in Switzerland with her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and their friends John Polidori and Lord Byron. Although they didn’t know it, pure fluke played a role: the miserable weather that drove them indoors had been occasioned by the ash from an eruption the year before of Mt. Tabora in the East Indies.[lxix]
To kill time, they took to reading horror stories and were so affected by their reading that Byron suggested a contest to write their own. Subsequent scholarship (see James Rieger’s introduction to a critical edition of the novel) has challenged details of the story, and particularly the chronology.[lxx] But of the contest itself, there is no doubt.
Shelley offers examples of the stories she had read: “The History of the Inconstant Lover,” in which a bridegroom find himself embracing, not his wife, but the spectre of a woman he had deserted; a tale (identified by Rieger as “Les Portraits de Famille”[lxxi]) in which the sinful founder of a family is doomed to give the kiss of death to the younger sons of his line as they reach the age of promise. These were brooding tales of sin and retribution laid, as Shelley recalls of the second, in gloomily romantic settings. They were, in fact, part of a broader genre known as the gothic romance, usually identified by a medieval setting but more properly defined by its moralistic theme, with the retribution usually the work of some supernatural agency.
Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), in which the shade of the murdered Prince Alfonso returns from the grave to wreak vengeance on his usurper, was the fountainhead of a genre that had a recognized set of conventions. Significantly, Walpole would later complain that balloons were likely to “be converted to new engines of destruction – as is so often the case of refinements or discoveries in Science.”[lxxii] Even so, how did gothic romance manage to spawn a subspecies of science fiction?
Shelley’s account is that she had been at a loss for an idea to motivate her ghost story until she overheard her husband and Byron discussing alleged experiments by Erasmus Darwin in creating life. A sudden inspiration came to her for a tale about a “student of unhallowed arts,”[lxxiii] who creates an artificial being and is haunted by his creation. Artificial life was hardly a new idea; there was the Jewish tradition of the golem, and Francis Bacon had touched on creation of new life forms in New Atlantis. Once sorcery had been thought capable of such works; perhaps science could now accomplish what the black arts had sought in vain – “galvanism had given token of such things.”[lxxiv]
Yet Shelley must have drawn some of her inspiration from closer to home. Her father, William Godwin, was the author of St. Leon (1799), in which the hero is given the secret of eternal life and learns its price: immortality alienates him from friends and loved ones, none of whom can benefit from his gift, and he spreads misery wherever he goes. In the end he must realize that “magic dissolves the whole principle and arrangement of human action, subverts all generous enthusiasm and dignity, and renders life itself loathsome and intolerable.”[lxxv]
Substitute “science” for “magic” and you have the basis of gothic sf. Shelley even makes this explicit. Young Frankenstein is enamored with Paracelsus, Albertus Magnus and Cornelius Agrippa, all of whom believed in some sort of magic. But when he enrolls at the University of Ingolstadt, a professor there takes him to task, advising him that he needs to study real science. Frankenstein takes that to heart and finds in science “continual food for wonder and discovery;”[lxxvi] he even makes a few discoveries himself. But that is just the beginning: “After days and nights of incredible toil and fatigue I succeeded in discovering the cause of generation & life.”[lxxvii]
It all goes to his head; he imagines that he will be “the first to break and pour a torrent of light into our dark world” by defeating death; that the new life he creates will “bless me as its creator and source.”[lxxviii] Only when the creature he fashions from body parts pilfered from charnel houses comes to life, it is such a “miserable monster”[lxxix] that Frankenstein panics, flees the scene – and suffers a nervous breakdown. Once he recovers, he imagines that he can put the whole business behind him, but his hubris brings its inevitable nemesis.
Some modern critics, notably Charlotte Gordon in Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley (2015), argue that Shelley meant Frankenstein’s sin to be shirking his duty to his Creature rather than having brought it into being. But authors influenced by her, as well as the reading public, made up their minds otherwise from the outset. Gothic sf has sometimes been given other names; Isaac Asimov called it “Faustian,” after the figure of legend who dealt with the Devil for forbidden knowledge and power. But the thematic essentials have never changed.
Antipathy towards science was already common; lightning rods had been considered blasphemous not long before; anesthesia was similarly condemned not long after. But even those who weren’t fearful of science in general were surely uncomfortable with the idea of creating life – which is controversial even today. While “science” replaced magic as the basis for the gothic theme of sin and retribution, however the atmosphere of Frankenstein remains one not of science, but of sorcery – the action even takes place in the 18th Century, the ancestral home of the gothic novel.
One can hardly imagine Frankenstein as a member of a counterpart to the Royal Society, the open fellowship of science in Britain. Nor is there any castle full of scientific apparatus; in fact, we learn nothing about the “instruments of life,”[lxxx] as a chastened Frankenstein later calls them. He had practiced his black arts in secret, and knows them afterwards for what they are; he does not mean the world to learn what it is not meant to know. “I am reserved on that subject,” he addresses any reader eager for details. “I will not lead you, unguarded and ardent as I was then, to your destruction and infallible misery.”[lxxxi]
“I meddled in things that Man must leave alone,”[lxxxii] declares Claude Rains at the end of the film version of The Invisible Man (1933), directed by the very James Whale who had brought Frankenstein to the screen. How often has that line been repeated or paraphrased in Hollywood visions of “scientific” experiments gone wrong!
Yet Hollywood never honors another thematic essential of pure gothic sf: the personal nature of sin and retribution. Frankenstein’s monster is never a threat to the world, or even the local peasantry: when he is driven out of one village, he never attacks the villagers. The Creature’s rage is directed rather only at his creator and those dear to him: his younger brother, closest friend and his bride – who is murdered on their wedding night after he balks at providing a mate for his creation.
By this time, the Creature has acquired language and even culture, in order to tell his side of the story. And now Frankenstein’s own story becomes one of revenge, as he pursues his nemesis to the ends of the Earth – finally to the Arctic, where he tells all to a polar explorer who is himself obsessed with finding the source of Earth’s magnetism. In the end, as in a Shakespeare tragedy, both the creator and his creation are doomed as hubris meets nemesis.
Shelley went on to write an apocalyptic novel, The Last Man (1826), in which mankind meets its nemesis in the form of a worldwide plague; we shall return to that in due course. “The Mortal Immortal” (1834) is her variation of Godwin’s St. Leon: the hero is offered the elixir of life by Cornelius Agrippa (already referenced in Frankenstein), like Goethe’s Faust, a legendary alchemist. His doom is to watch his wife grow old and die, while he himself remains forever young. Yet neither that story nor The Last Man had anywhere near the impact of Frankenstein, which remains the fountainhead of the gothic school of sf.
But what if the weather in Switzerland had been more clement in 1816, and Frankenstein had thus never been conceived? A variation of gothic sf appeared in Germany, where E.T.A. Hoffmann (1776-1822) toyed with the idea of transgressing morality by creating an artificial being in “The Sand-Man” (1817). In “Automata” (1814), he had already had one of his characters express his revulsion at the kind of human-like automatons built by Jacques de Vaucanson and others in the late 18th Century to amuse the public:
“All figures of this sort,” said Lewis, “which can scarcely be said to counterfeit humanity as to travesty it—mere images of living death or inanimate life—are most distasteful for me.”[lxxxiii]
As E.F. Bleiler points out in his introduction to The Best Tales of Hoffmann (1967), “The Sand-Man” has been interpreted as either “real” or the delusions of a young man slipping into insanity. But it has been generally read, and adapted for the stage and screen, as a “true” story.
Physics professor Spalanzani conspires with Coppelius, a lawyer and also a mechanician going by the alias Coppola, to create a life-like doll, Olimpia, who is passed off as Spalanzani’s daughter. Seeing her from afar, Nathaniel falls for her madly and throws over his girlfriend Clara. But while Olimpia can sing and dance, she seems stupid and can barely speak a word. That should be a tip-off, but Nathaniel remains clueless – until Spalanzani and Coppelius get into a fight over credit for her creation and for possession – and Coppelius (who hates him for having apparently murdered his father during a previous fight) makes off with her.
Nathaniel was stupefied—he had seen only too distinctly that in Olimpia’s pallid waxed face there were no eyes, merely black holes in their stead; she was an inanimate puppet.[lxxxiv]
At first, normalcy seems restored; Nathaniel and Clara get back together. Only he later goes off the deep end, hallucinating that she too is a wooden doll and trying to murder her. Her brother Lothair has to save her, and Nathaniel commits suicide. Coppelius makes another appearance, then vanishes.
Hoffmann is credited by Wikipedia as an influence on other writers as varied as Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire and Nikolai Gogol. As for the “The Sand-Man,” it was the basis of the ballet Coppélia (1870), and was also included in Jacque Offenbach’s opera The Tales of Hoffmann (1881) – brought to the screen by Michael Powell in 1951. Both adaptations play up the role of Coppelius – Spalanzani doesm’t even appear in the movie – and both follow the literal interpretation of the story.
It was certainly the view of Villiers de L’Isle Adam (1838-89), the aristocratic Bohemian author who took his inspiration from Hoffmann in Tomorrow’s Eve (1886). The role of Coppelius is taken by a fictionalized Thomas Edison – the second chapter, in which “Edison” is introduced, is even headed by an epigraph from “The Sand-Man.”
In place of a young student is a bored aristocrat, Lord Ewald, who has been disappointed in love with one Alicia Clary – he has found her to be too self-absorbed. No problem, Edison tells him; he has created Hadaly, an artificial woman who can be made to look just like Alicia, only she will always be and do whatever Ewald wants. Villiers calls her an “andréide,” or android – a term actually coined in 1626 for a human-like automaton (what we would call a robot) and popularized by a 1737 encyclopedia by Ephraim Chambers.[lxxxv] As might be expected from his background as the impoverished son of an old family seeking to make a mark in the arts, Villiers knew little or nothing about science; to him, Edison was a “symbolic legend” like Faust. When he explains his project to Ewald, the lord is a bit slow on the uptake:
—But without soul, will she have any consciousness?
Edison stared at Lord Ewald in amazement.
—I beg your pardon. Isn’t that exactly what you asked for when you cried out, WHO WILL TAKE AWAY THIS SOUL FROM THIS BODY FOR ME? … Hadaly has come in answer to your call; that’s all there is to it.[lxxxvi]
Villiers goes into extraordinary detail about the pseudo-science involved in her creation, almost like Hugo Gernsback and the first generation of writers for Amazing Stories decades later. He also devotes a chapter to how a friend of Edison’s was ruined by a loose woman, a misogynistic exercise that would hardly endear him to modern readers.
Programmed with Alicia’s speech and mannerisms, Hadaly is such a perfect mimic that Ewald at first mistakes her for the real thing – but after the shock wears off, he is so taken with her that he heads back home to begin a new life with her. Unfortunately, he keeps her in a coffin (Shades of Dracula!) for the voyage; a fire breaks out on the ship and it sinks – nobody can understand why he has to be physically restrained from trying to plunge into the flames to save his treasured object, or offers 100,000 guineas to anyone else who will do so.
Tomorrow’s Eve, or perhaps “The Sand-Man” itself, may have been the inspiration for Rotwang and his creation of the false Maria in Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis (1927) and the 1926 Thea von Harbou novel from which it was taken. It may also be a remote ancestor of the female android theme embodied by Rachel in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), as opposed to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968), the Philip K. Dick novel on which the film was loosely based. And the whole idea has become grist for satire, as witness Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives (1972), and screeds by feminist critics.
An example of gothic sf that was little known until a 2006 English translation is The Centenarian (1822) by Honoré de Balzac. Yes, that Balzac (1799-1850), renowned for his Comédie Humaine cycle. But his Faustian tale of a 400-year old mad scientist who extracts the essence of life from a series of victims to prolong his years and magnify his powers, was serialized under a pseudonym, Horace de Saint-Aubin.
Balzac was inspired by Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), a late entry in the gothic romance genre and still best known of the early tales about bargains with the Devil for immortality. But unlike Maturin, Balzac made science the basis of the story. And unlike Shelley, he didn’t hesitate to let his readers in on the technology for distilling vital fluid from the blood of his victims – criminals and outcasts, dying enemy soldiers, women pining for lost lovers.
The Centenarian’s laboratory, as one might expect, is situated in the catacombs beneath Paris. A repellant figure who looks like a walking corpse despite his treatments, he works in isolation on the fringes of society. Yet he considers himself a benefactor – he uses his medical knowledge to save lives, as with sick and wounded French soldiers left behind by Napoleon in the Middle East, even though he takes other lives without remorse.
Balzac begins his tale in the present, as General Tullius Beringheld returns to France from the Spanish campaign and witnesses the sacrifice of a young woman to the Centenarian – who has been treating her father, a progressive factory owner beloved by his workers. When they hear what happened, the workers form a mob intent on lynching him – rather like the mob in the movie version of Frankenstein, although there can’t have been any influence, and he may not even have read Shelley’s novel.
Tullius, it turns out, is actually the son of the Centenarian, and his nth great grandson – for the man who got his mother pregnant is a remote ancestor thought to have died hundreds of years before. The story centers on Tullius and his love for Marianne, their years of separation during the Napoleonic wars, and a race to rescue her from the Centenarian at the end. Yet through it all, as George Slusser suggests in his introduction, there is a sense of real science becoming part of human existence.
By sheer coincidence, the central idea of The Centenarian has since been reinvented for movies – first Ralph Murphy’s The Man in Half Moon Street (1945) and then the grislier Hammer Films version, Terence Fisher’s The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959). The villains in both versions prolong their lives with gland transplants, but others have to give up their glands – and lives – to that end. In Bug Jack Barron (1969), Norman Spinrad’s evil billionaire prolongs his life with irradiated glands from kidnapped and murdered black children. If nothing else, such works are evidence of the fascination gothic sf continues to hold on the popular imagination generations after Frankenstein.
But the best known gothic sf tales of the generation after Shelley all came from American hands. Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64), better known for The Scarlet Letter (1850), was one of the stars of the gothic school, even though it occupied his attention for only a few years.
In “The Birthmark” (1843), Hawthorne’s man of science is obsessed with removing the birthmark which is the only flaw in his wife’s almost perfect beauty. One formula after another fails, but at last his efforts are crowned with success. The price, however, is her death – Nature’s retribution for his prideful attempt to improve on her handiwork. “The Artist of the Beautiful” (1844) tells of an inventor, equally obsessed, who sacrifices the fulfillment of marriage and family in pursuit of his creation of an automaton more perfect than any living thing. Hardly has he succeeded in contriving his mechanical butterfly than it is crushed to pieces by a child – symbol of the natural life to which his vanity has blinded him.
Hawthorne’s most famous gothic sf story is “Rappacini’s Daughter” (1844), in which a medieval alchemist has raised his only daughter in such intimate contact with the poisonous plants of his garden that, although herself immune, she is death to any who touch her – including the young man who seeks her love. Learning her secret, the youth implores another alchemist to devise an antidote without knowing that her father has been adapting him to share her life in the garden of death. Cursing her father’s “fatal science,” the woman swallows the “antidote,” which, of course, can “cure” her only by killing her. And it is left to the rival alchemist to deliver the moral verdict: “Rappacini! Rappacini! And is this the upshot of your experiment?”[lxxxvii]
Herman Melville (1819-91), whose reputation fortunately rests on Moby Dick (1851) and other classic novels, was even more melodramatic in his only excursion into gothic sf. Melville’s setting for “The Bell-Tower” (1855) is a medieval town. His protagonist is an architect whose obsession with construction of a bell-tower unlike any other known, with clockwork automatons of unmatched perfection, leads to his destruction. Slain by one of his own automatons, he is held to have earned his seemingly divine judgment because “pride went before the fall.”[lxxxviii]
It is fashionable now to see this sort of thing as social criticism of the misuse of science – as if Shelley, Hawthorne, and Melville were somehow anticipating Hiroshima or Chernobyl. But this is about as credible as reading the Oracles of Nostradamus for “prophecies” of current events that, somehow never become evident until after the fact. Gothic science fiction is a literary form; its rules are as strict as those of classical tragedy: the scientist must sin, he must suffer retribution – the details are irrelevant. Asking why Frankenstein could not have better built his monster is like asking why Hamlet could not have better planned his revenge.
This becomes even more evident in Shelley’s The Last Man. One of the earliest sf disaster novels, it tells of a plague that sweeps the world towards the end of the 22nd century, leaving (apparently) only the narrator, Lionel Verney, alive. His account is supposedly from one of the Sibylline books found in a cave near Naples.
What is odd is that the world of The Last Man also incorporates the motifs of the futuristic utopia, with many of the ideals of the Enlightenment being realized. By the late 21st Century, England is a republic, the last king having abdicated although his son Adrian has been granted Windsor Castle and the title Earl of Windsor. Social and technological progress – balloon flights are already routine – are being fostered by the country’s elected Protector, Lord Raymond. Canals, aqueducts and other public works abound; disease has seemingly been banished, as have poverty and hard labor. There has even been an agricultural revolution; “machines existed to supply with facility every want of the population.”[lxxxix]
Only a renewed war between Greece and Turkey seems to trouble the waters. Raymond gives up the Protectorate to join the struggle there, and Adrian goes with him – but returns wounded. When Adrian reflects that Greece has triumphed, he and his intimates take it as a sign that the millennium is at hand:
Delight awoke in every heart, delight and exultation; for there was peace through all the world; the temple of Universal Janus was shut, and man died not that year by the hand of man.
“Let this last but twelve months,” said Adrian; “and earth will become a Paradise. The energies of man were before directed to the destruction of his species: they now aim at its liberation and preservation. Man cannot repose, and his restless aspirations will now bring forth good instead of evil. The favoured countries of the south will throw off the iron yoke of servitude; poverty will quit us, and with that, sickness. What may not the forces, never before united, of liberty and peace achieve in this dwelling of man?”[xc]
But hardly are the words out of Adrian’s mouth than Verney shares a newspaper account of a new plague that has depopulated Constantinople and is spreading rapidly. Mankind appears to be undergoing collective retribution, yet its only collective sin seems to be social progress. Pride, even in good works, goeth before a fall.
Yet the novel’s pessimism was also a reflection of Shelley’s despondency over the deaths of her husband and three of her children: in a 1824 journal entry, she had described herself as feeling like the Last Man, “as the last relic of a beloved race, my companions extinct before me.”[xci] The Last Man is read today as a roman à clef, with Adrian representing Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Raymond standing in for Lord Byron.[xcii] Still, Verney may speak for Shelley, in faulting the arrogance of mankind in face of the infinite – “we call ourselves lords of the creation, wielders of the elements, masters of life and death.” Now, in face of the plague, “he feels his tenure of life insecure, his inheritance on earth cut off.”[xciii]
Shelley may well have read Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville’s The Last Man (1805), which had appeared in a mangled English translation in 1806. The framing device – a manuscript from the future – is similar, in any case. And her novel may have in turn set the pattern for subsequent Last Man novels, most notably M.P. Shiel’s The Purple Cloud (1901), in which the sole survivor of a global holocaust goes around raving and ravaging.
Gothic sf retained a distinct identity even after the birth of the scientific romance with Jules Verne and his imitators, remaining wedded to its thematic essentials over the decades. In The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), for example, Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94) follows Shelley’s rules: the isolated scientist, motivated by the sin of pride, pursuing his forbidden experiments in secret, and suffering the inevitable retribution.
H.G. Wells follows the very same prescription in The Invisible Man (1897). “An invisible man is a man of power,”[xciv] his protagonist proclaims early on, and we can be assured that his pride will lead to his comeuppance. It is the same again with Curt Siodmak in Donovan’s Brain (1943), the tale of a doctor who takes the brain of ruthless businessman killed in a plane crash and keeps it alive in am oxygenated nutrient tank. Naturally, the brain takes over Dr. Cory’s own mind. Even Julian Huxley, prophet of evolutionary humanism and biological engineering, contributed to the school with “The Tissue Culture King” (1926): An African tribe employs a British scientist to produce cell cultures in the service of the tribal king, with monstrous results.
Gothic attitudes are even more recurrent. Shelley’s The Last Man, even if it was not so intended, fostered a school of disaster sf in which mankind is clearly deserving of apocalyptic wars, plagues, and other dooms. What might be called the apocalyptic gothic has been especially prevalent in France and Britain; prominent examples range from René Barjavel’s Ashes, Ashes (1943) and D.G. Compton’s The Silent Multitude (1968). One could also include Michael Crichton sf novels like Jurassic Park (1990), in which scientists are always Frankenstein wannabes and their projects invariably go wrong,
But there were transitional works between gothic sf and sf proper. Some leapt a wider gap, as with “What Was It?” (1859). Fitz-James O’Brien seems at first to be telling a pure haunted-house story; one expects a ghost and an explanation of the sin which led to the haunting. Instead, we get an invisible alien, which may be horrific in appearance (when a cast is made of it), but is an entirely natural phenomenon. Even more significant as a precursor to modern sociological sf, anthologized (like “What Was It?”) by H. Bruce Franklin in Future Perfect, is J.D. Whelpley’s “The Atoms of Chladni” (1859).
Mohler, the obligatory mad scientist, is insanely jealous of his wife, and he is encouraged in his suspicions by the unscrupulous lawyer Bonsall, who has designs on her himself. Mohler has squandered his wealth and has made his wife’s life miserable in his obsession with his experiments. But it is not until Bonsall claims to have proof of her alleged infidelities, in the form of recordings of “conversations” with a “lover,” that she turns to a friend for help.
After much investigation, it develops that Mohler had set up a recording device of his invention over his wife’s room. But Bonsall, having learned of its existence, has recorded false conversations (the device reproduces words, not actual voices). Bonsall, his perfidy exposed, commits suicide – electrocuting himself with the powerful battery that operates the device. Mohler, his guilt more than he can bear, suffers a nervous breakdown and spends the rest of his life as an apparent imbecile.
All the requirements of gothic sf are fulfilled. Justice triumphs; sin brings its retribution. But here the sin and retribution are clearly related to a believable invention and a believable misuse of it. Realism overcomes the pure gothic theme. Chance plays a role in literary as well as biological evolution; Whelpley himself may have had no idea that he was inventing a form of sociological sf.
THE SCIENTIFIC HOAXSTERS
In the year 1835, readers of the New York Sun were treated to the astonishing news of “Great Astronomical Discoveries” made by Sir John Herschel at the Cape of Good Hope. Taken, the Sun assured them, from a supplement to the Edinburgh Journal of Science, the account created such a sensation that it sent the paper’s circulation soaring.
No wonder, based on what Herschel had supposedly discovered with a powerful telescope, able to pick up the smallest details of the lunar surface. For the moon, according to the Sun, was teeming with life. There were fields of red, poppy-like flowers, forests of strange trees, plains grazed by unicorns and miniature bison with hairy veils to protect their eyes from the sun. Even more astounding, there were rational beings: humanoid creatures with bat-like wings and evidences of a high culture, including temples of exquisite beauty.
No one was more amazed by this “news” than Herschel himself. For, of course, the Sun’s story was a hoax by Richard Adams Locke (1800-71). Now known as The Moon Hoax, it may have finally taken in millions. And how they were taken in: a group of religiously bent ladies is said to have begun taking up a collection to send missionaries to the moon![xcv] Nothing like it had ever happened before, and nothing on quite its scale ever again. The nationwide panic supposedly set off by Orson Welles’ broadcast of The War of the Worlds in 1938, which was never intended as a hoax, turns out to have been an urban legend.[xcvi]
The scientific hoax of the 19th Century was a game. Although it would probably be impossible to prove at this late date, one senses that it had to do with the mind set of intellectuals (Locke was educated at Cambridge) working for the penny press. The masses would believe anything, and their betters could share a private joke. Yet, perhaps the masses were ahead of the intellectual establishment after all. Was it really unreasonable to believe in giant telescopes and life on other worlds in an age which had already brought forth steamships and railroads?
Despite such a seemingly cynical motivation, The Moon Hoax was taken seriously as a literary exercise by no less than James Gordon Bennett, editor of the rival New York Herald. “Locke may be said to be the inventor of an entire new species of literature which we may call the ‘scientific novel,’”[xcvii] Bennett editorialized shortly afterwards. That now seems a misnomer on two counts; “The Moon Hoax” wasn’t a novel even by courtesy, and its “science” was absurd. Still, Bennett may have invented a term that came into common use a few decades later.
If the scientific hoax wasn’t truly science fiction, it was nevertheless another key literary mutation in the evolution towards sf. Indeed, its transformation into straight sf was at once more direct and more thorough than that of either the futuristic utopia or the gothic sf tale. Unlike them, it never maintained a distinct existence as a genre once its basic elements had been assimilated. A “scientific hoax” would later come mean a case of fraudulent science, like the Piltdown Man.
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49) was among those to exploit the hoax; indeed, he had anticipated Locke by three weeks, and was annoyed that The Moon Hoax had upstaged “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall,” which had just appeared in the Southern Literary Messenger. At first, he suspected plagiarism and, even after Locke set his mind to rest on that score, complained that a projected sequel to his own story had been forestalled. Only in noting the scientific errors in Locke’s hoax could he find satisfaction.[xcviii]
Although “Hans Pfaall” wasn’t conceived as a hoax, Poe was willing to characterize it as such for the sake of argument. What he insisted on, however, was its emphasis on scientific plausibility, in contrast with both The Moon Hoax and the traditional interplanetary travel tales:
In these various brochures the aim is always satirical; the theme being a description of Lunarian customs as compared with our own. In “Hans Pfaall” the design is original, inasmuch as regards an attempt at verisimilitude, in the application of scientific principles (so far as the whimsical nature of the subject would permit).[xcix]
Poe cites Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moone as an example, but he must have been at least indirectly aware of another closer to home. George Tucker (1775-1861), professor of moral philosophy at the University of Virginia (which Poe had attended), published A Voyage to the Moon (1827) under the pseudonym of Joseph Atterley. Poe refers disparagingly to a review of it and, while not admitting to having read the book itself, dismisses the means of the voyage therein as “more deplorably ill-conceived than are even the ganzas of our friend the Signor Gonzales.”[c]
Tucker’s heroes – “Atterley” and a Brahmin holy man – reach the moon in a spacecraft made from a metal that repels gravity, like the later “cavorite” in H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon. As soon as they arrive, however, it is clear that their only function is to tour the contrary societies of Morosofia and Okalbia – one a satiric mirror of our own, the other a utopia. As for science, Tucker anticipates a sort of internal combustion engine – but only to make fun of it.
Poe, by contrast, takes science seriously. If the idea of traveling to the moon by balloon seems quaint today, Pfaall’s experiences during the journey still ring true, even if the ultra-light gas for his balloon is pure fancy. The earth beneath him, seemingly concave, gradually reveals its true convexity. There is the rarefaction of the air, against which he has prepared by installing a condenser to maintain a breathable pressure in his cabin. There is the intense cold of the upper atmosphere as he approaches space. Pfaall keeps a log of the journey; here is a typical entry:
April 4th. Arose in good health and spirits, and was astonished at the singular change which had taken place in the appearance of the sea. It had lost, in a great measure, the deep tint of blue it had hitherto worn, being now of a grayish-white, and of a lustre dazzling to the eye. The convexity of the ocean had become so evident, that the entire mass of the distant water seemed to be tumbling headlong over the abyss of the horizon, and I found myself listening on tiptoe for the echoes of the mighty cataract. The islands were no longer visible; whether they had passed down the horizon to the south-east, or whether my increasing elevation had left them out of sight, it is impossible to say. I was inclined, however, to the latter opinion. The rim of ice to the northward was growing more and more apparent. Cold by no means so intense.[ci]
Yet when Pfaall reaches the Moon, the tone turns to farce, as he finds a “fantastical-looking city” where he soon encounters a “vast crowd of ugly little people, who none of them uttered a single syllable, or gave themselves the least trouble to render me assistance, but stood, like a parcel of idiots, grinning in a ludicrous manner.”[cii] In a frame that introduces and concludes the story, Pfaall’s account is delivered to the citizens of Rotterdam by a dwarfish “selenite” in a balloon made from old Dutch newspapers. The case, investigated by astronomers named Underduk and Rubadub, seems intended to be taken no more seriously than their names; in fact, evidence suggests Pfaall may have gone off on a drunk, rather than to the Moon.
A decade later John Leonard Riddell based his similar Orrin Lindsay’s Plan of Aerial Navigation with a Narrative of his Explorations in the Higher Regions of the Atmosphere and his Wonderful Voyage Round the Moon! (1847) on a mock lecture to members of the New Orleans Lyceum. Riddell (1807-65) was well known as a science lecturer and invented the compound microscope, his one venture into sf touches on the recycling of air and water, and like Poe, offers vivid descriptions of the Earth as seen from a bleak and lifeless Moon:
She looked like an enormous moon, almost in her first quarter. …A delicate blue ring mottled with flakes of white… The prevailing green of fertile islands and continents, the pale sands of arid deserts, the naked rocks of mountain ranges, the glistening ramifications of rivers, and the polished convexity of the oceans all were clearly to be discriminated. … Brilliant beyond description were the icy regions about the South Pole, illuminated as they were by the sun.[ciii]
Having criticized Locke’s hoax, Poe essayed the same form in “The Balloon Hoax” (1844), also published in the Sun. Less inventive than “Hans Pfaall,” it reports the first balloon trip from England to America by Monck Mason, who was blown off course trying to cross the English Channel. More notable is “Mellonta Tauta” (1849), in which a balloon journey across the Atlantic in 2848 occasions facetious banter poking fun at the ancient faith in logical deduction and making absurd errors in pretended knowledge of the past. Poe himself believed in great leaps of faith, as expressed in his essay “Eureka” (1848) – which can be taken as either profound revelation or pretentious delusion.
In his 1836 review for the Southern Literary Messenger of Mary Griffith’s Three Hundred Years Hence, Poe had recognized it as an “imitation of Mercier’s ‘L’an deux mille quatre cent quarante,’ the uncredited parent of a great many similar things,”[civ] It is significant that Poe was familiar with the futuristic utopia, but apparently didn’t consider writing serious fiction in that vein, although he characterized details of Griffith’s utopia as “well conceived — some are sufficiently outré.”[cv] His only story set in the future besides “Mellonta Tauta” is “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion” (1839), a slight piece in which two ghosts talk about how Earth has been destroyed by a comet. Perhaps he considered the idea of tales of the future, like that of stories of travel to other worlds, to be inherently whimsical.
Although Hugo Gernsback credited him as the “father of ‘scientifiction,’”[cvi] apparently because he had been an influence on Jules Verne, Poe was actually more of a dabbler in the embryonic genre. He toyed with the idea of a hollow earth in “Ms. Found in a Bottle” (1833) and (possibly) The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838). He did the same with hypnotism in “A Mesmeric Revelation” (1844). In “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” (1845), a tuberculosis victim is put in a hypnotic trance, which seemingly keeps him alive and able to communicate for seven months – but when he shouts that he is dead and is awakened from his trance, his body instantly turns into a “nearly liquid mass of loathsome — of detestable putrescence.”[cvii] That story was presented as a true medical case, and took in a number of readers, until Poe admitted to one of his friends that it “was a hoax, of course.”[cviii]
That Poe considered his horror story to be part of the same genre as “The Balloon Hoax” may be illuminating. He put real and fanciful science into his stories, some comic and others gruesome, but never gave what we now consider science fiction a name of its own or developed a rationale for sf as he had for the detective story in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841) – the direct ancestor of a genre that now honors its writers with Edgar awards. His other fiction covered a wide range; what is now widely seen as sf accounted for only a small part of it – none as well known today as, say, “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839) or “The Gold Bug” (1843). Yet that small part has inspired a wide range of interpretations, some truly odd. A Poe bibliography at Wikipedia, for example, classes “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” as “horror/science fiction/hoax,” yet categorizes “Hans Pfaal” as just an “adventure,” and “The Balloon Hoax” as an “essay.”[cix] It gets even odder with works that at least border on the occult, as with the Hollow Earth theory of John Cleve Symmes, Jr.
What to make of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym? It starts off as a grim sea novel in which the hero stows away aboard a whaling ship that is taken over by mutineers. That ship sinks in a storm, and the few starving survivors in a small boat resort to cannibalism before being rescued by another ship, the crewmen of which are later massacred by a strange savage black people – even their teeth are black – on a mysterious island. Pym and one fellow survivor escape the lost race and make their way further south to what may be a portal to the inner Earth – at which the last thing they see is a huge “shrouded human figure … of the perfect whiteness of the snow.”[cx]
Jules Verne came out with a sequel, An Antarctic Mystery (1897), that puts a rationalistic spin on Poe’s story as a lost race-lost world adventure: the mysterious white figure turns out to be only a mountain resembling a Sphinx, charged with magnetism. But supernatural horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, who saw Poe as a pioneer of that genre, admired him for his “elevation of disease, perversity and decay,”[cxi] taken up by the Decadents and Symbolists in France. Lovecraft wrote At The Mountains of Madness (1936), a sequel set in his own Chthulhu mythos of the monstrous Great Old Ones who once ruled Earth – but also signaled the connection with Pym’s story by borrowing the black islanders’ cry “Tekeli-li.”
Verne was a fan of Poe from childhood, but had a different take on him than the Decadents and Symbolists. The year before Five Weeks in a Balloon (1865), his first scientific novel appeared, he came out with an essay, “Edgar Poe and His Works.” That first novel was inspired by “The Balloon Hoax,” and in From the Earth to the Moon (1865), Verne even has Impey Barbicane, president of the Baltimore Gun Club, offer a tribute to Poe, reminding members of how “a certain Hans Pfaall from Rotterdam took off in a balloon filed with nitrogen [sic] gas—which is thirty-seven times lighter than hydrogen—and reached the moon after a trip lasting nineteen days, Like all the earlier attempts, this was just an imaginary one, but it was the work of a popular American author, a strange dreamy genius. I mean Poe!”[cxii]
Only, the Poe Verne admired didn’t have that much direct influence in France. True, there were at least three examples of scientific hoaxes there: Joseph Méry’s “The Lunarians” and Victor Considerant’s “The Complete News from the Moon” (1836), both inspired by Locke’s The Moon Hoax; and Henri de Parville’s An Inhabitant of the Planet Mars (1865), expanded from an 1864 “news” item for publication by J. Hetzel – also publisher of Verne. It purports to be the true story of the discovery of a mummified Martian in a meteorite. But these hoaxes never really caught on, never led anywhere – whereas the hoax genre flourished in the land of its birth.
Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909), perhaps still best known for “The Man Without a Country” (1863), might have received credit as the father of science fiction if he hadn’t procrastinated. He claimed to have had the idea for the first artificial satellite story as early as 1838, but didn’t actually write “The Brick Moon” (1869) until decades later.[cxiii]
Although it didn’t appear in a newspaper, “The Brick Moon” follows the hoax format closely. It is told as if it were an account of a recent true event, and its tone is facetious. Hale goes into some detail regarding the construction of the Brick Moon itself and the gigantic flywheel used to hurl it into orbit as a navigation beacon. Some of the builders are accidentally carried off with it, and a sequel, “Life on the Brick Moon” (1870), continues their adventures. Both stories make rather dull reading today, and Hale’s only other ventures into imaginative fiction were a satirical utopia, My Visit to Sybaris (1860) and an early but little known story of a time traveler altering history, “Hands Off” (1881).
The work of William Henry Rhodes (1822-76) is quite a different case. Rhodes was the author of a series of scientific hoaxes which appeared in the Sacramento Union and other California newspapers in the 1870s, and he seems to have been the inspiration for a school of sf that grew up in San Francisco.
According to his friend William H. L. Barnes, in an introduction to Caxton’s Book (1876), a memorial volume of his writing, Rhodes had toyed at “weaving the problems of science with fiction”[cxiv] as early as 1844-6 at Harvard Law School.
It was with “The Case of Summerfield” (1871), which caused a minor panic in California, that Rhodes began his brief career as a scientific hoaxster. The story of a mad scientist who had discovered a potassium-like substance that could set the ocean on fire, it was given wide credence and even picked up by another newspaper, the Sacramento Reporter.
When doubts were raised, Rhodes tried to quell them with a sequel, “The Summerfield Case” (also 1871). Here it was reported that the notorious outlaw Black Bart had stolen the deadly chemical—with “court records,” a “reward notice,” and even an alleged note from the outlaw himself to bolster the story’s credibility.
Rhodes must have delighted in terrifying readers; in “The Earth’s Hot Center” (1873), “diplomatic dispatches” from Belgium tell of a disaster there. An international scientific project to bore a hole in the earth’s crust sets off a volcanic eruption that threatens to engulf the whole country in lava. Yet in “The Telescopic Eye” (1876), he goes Locke one better in the account of a boy so farsighted he can see life on the moon: aliens shaped like chariot wheels, with four spokes and four eyes in their “hubs,” living amidst such other wildlife as metallic vegetation and pools and cataracts of mercury. Rhodes’ feel for alien life has a touch of that created 60 years later by Olaf Stapledon.
An element of gothic horror creeps into “Phases in the Life of John Pollexfen” (1875). The title character is a scientist who invents color photography by forcing two desperately poor young lovers to sacrifice their eyes to the cause. Indeed, Rhodes takes a jaundiced view of science in one of his essays, “Science, Literature and Art During the First Half of the Nineteenth Century:” “Deficient in literature and art, our age surpasses all others in science,” he complains. Modern culture questions the existence of God, but fully believes in gunpowder; Saints Paul, John, and James have given way to Saints Fulton, Colt, and Morse.”[cxv]
Rhodes took the scientific hoax as far as it could go, but could go no further. The whole point of a hoax was that it had to look like a newspaper story. There wasn’t any room for literary plot, style, or characterization. And the hoax was locked in the immediate past; how could there possibly be a “news” story set in the future? Yet, it was the hoax, strangely, that evolved into straight science fiction even as the futuristic utopia and gothic sf stubbornly retained their identities.
Two men were responsible for the metamorphosis. One was Edward Page Mitchell (1852-1927) who, like Locke, worked for the Sun and eventually became its editor. The other was Robert Duncan Milne (1844-99), father of the San Francisco school of science fiction.
Both had been practically forgotten until sf historian Sam Moskowitz rediscovered them. With Moskowitz’s publication of Mitchell’s collected fiction in The Crystal Man (1973), and of a two-volume history and anthology of the San Francisco movement in Science Fiction in Old San Francisco (1980), we can appreciate what would otherwise have remained missing links in the evolution of sf.
Mitchell’s works were published anonymously in the Sun. “The Soul Spectroscope” (1875), his first, takes the form of an “interview” with one Professor Dumbkopf, whose inventions include devices for photographing smells, bottling sounds, and even taking “spectrograms” of souls. The last isn’t as silly as it might seem for, in principle, it is a lie detector. And while Mitchell treats it with tongue in cheek, he is fully aware of the implications of such a device – for employers, police, and politicians. Mitchell’s imagination already went beyond the usual parameters of the scientific hoax.
It took a few years for him to find his own mode of expression. “The Story of the Deluge” (1875) and “The Inside of the Earth” (1876) are slight satires of Noah and the Flood and the hollow earth theory. Professor Dumbkopf returns in “The Man without a Body” (1877) as a disembodied head – the result of an experiment with a matter transmitter gone wrong. Facetiously treated, it nevertheless anticipates George Langelaan’s horror classic “The Fly” (1955). In these and other works, Mitchell was gradually stretching the limits of the hoax. Its transformation into the short story was complete with “The Ablest Man in the World” (1879).
The “ablest man” of the title is a Russian diplomatic genius whose accomplishments put Bismarck to shame. No one can account for his record in international affairs until it is discovered he isn’t human. The real Russian baron had been a hopeless idiot, so a surgeon replaced his organic brain with a mini-computer. What is most striking in Mitchell’s story – and what, indeed, became a hallmark of his science fiction – is the casual manner in which he introduces such an idea. Even in our own times, the idea of artificial intelligence improving on human intelligence is unsettling; it must surely have been more so in 1879.
Unlike Rhodes, Mitchell doesn’t seem to have left any testimony as to how he felt about the scientific and social revolution of his time. But one gets the impression that he was a freethinker in the best sense, unfettered by either Victorian conventions or political ideologies of any shade. He seems to have been as free of contemporary prejudices as his science fiction was free in its range.
“The Senator’s Daughter” (1879) offers startling evidence of this. Set in the year 1937, it is a remarkable example of sociological science fiction, especially considering the fact that it was published nearly a decade before Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward popularized the futuristic utopia. Even more remarkable is the attitude of the story. At a time when racism was endemic in American culture, Mitchell takes the side of Clara Newton, a senator’s daughter who falls in love with Daniel Webster Wanlee, leader of the Mongol Vegetarian Party – a powerful force in America thanks to a wave of Chinese immigration. When her father forbids their marriage, Clara defies him by going into suspended animation until she comes of age and can marry without his permission.
“The Balloon Tree” (1883) was another breakthrough for Mitchell. Fifty years before Stanley G. Weinbaum and Raymond Z. Gallun popularized the idea in American sf, he introduced a sympathetically treated alien in the tale of a hopelessly lost and dying explorer who is rescued by an intelligent tree with natural balloon-like growths that enable it to move about its South Sea island habitat.
In “Old Squids and Little Speller” (1885), Mitchell anticipates France’s J.H. Rosny ainé by a decade with a sympathetic mutant story. Only a child, the mutant learns to read and do arithmetic with remarkable speed and proceeds to revolutionize the woolen industry by inventing a new kind of loom. Physically frail, he works himself to death trying to devise a new power transmission system.
Mitchell also dealt with brainwashing, in “The Professor’s Experiment” (1880); invisibility, in “The Crystal Man” (1881); and time travel in “The Clock That Went Backward” (1881). Moskowitz felt that the last two influenced H.G. Wells; that seems doubtful, but there was a foreshadowing of the Wellsian sense of time in “The Devil’s Funeral” (1879), an end-of-the-world fantasy.
Milne was perhaps less original in his concept of science fiction than Mitchell, for Mitchell’s works as well as Jules Verne’s were available in San Francisco by this time. But some of the sf ideas he pioneered were decades ahead of their time. Like Mitchell, he began writing in the style of the hoax, for a San Francisco journal, the Argonaut – and went on from there.
Presented as “interviews” were “The Great Electric Diaphragm” (1879), reporting a remarkable advance in telecommunications; “Philip Hall’s Air Ship” (1879), an anticipation of heavier-than-air flight on the helicopter principle; and “A Flight to the Pole” (1879), using the same airship.
With “Into the Sun” (1882), however, Milne went beyond the hoax in a cosmic disaster story. A huge solar flare, set off by the impact of a comet, threatens to destroy all life on Earth; the manner of its telling bears an eerie resemblance to Larry Niven’s “Inconstant Moon” (1971). In “A New Palingenesis” (1883), Milne comes close to Philip Jose Farmer’s concept of scientific resurrection of the dead, basis for the classic Riverworld series. Matter transmission figures in “Professor Vehr’s Electrical Experiment” (1885), while “A Question of Reciprocity” (1891) deals with the threat of aerial warfare and terrorism in an almost Wellsian realism – a pirate ship blackmails San Francisco with “Vampire bombs” that remind us of World War II German buzz bombs.
Milne was at or near the center of a movement that attracted such known writers as Ambrose Bierce and William C. Morrow, who also wrote sf for the Argonaut and other San Francisco periodicals. Both Milne and Mitchell represented the evolution of the scientific hoax into straight science fiction, an evolution encouraged as much by the cultural environment of the times as by the inclinations of the writers themselves. In their works, we can see that evolution before our very eyes.
They were aware of Jules Verne, of course, but they didn’t imitate Verne – they went beyond him. In a world where Verne had never lived, they and others of their like elsewhere might now be regarded as the fathers of science fiction.
Yet in that alternate literary world, historians and critics would still find the forefathers of sf in utopian and gothic horror works as well as hoaxes – but also in a number of examples of futuristic novels by writers who attracted little notice in their own time, and usually weren’t aware of one another. They were part of a hidden history of the genre uncovered only later by scholars.
FUTURISTIC FALSE STARTS
One learns of the past and present in thousands upon thousands of other books; it was at least my intention, even I may have achieved little otherwise, for once to serve a somewhat different dish. Sometimes one dares cast a glance further ahead, and I am adequately rewarded when now and then a friendly smile says to me: “Your little volume is not at all some tired ghost story or fairy-taleish novel of knights and derring-do. In one small book you have told what someone else would have taken three alphabets to accomplish.”[cxvi]
A.K. Ruh, author of Garlands Around the Urns of the Future (1800), certainly thought he was writing a new kind of novel. Or was he a she? The plot is a family saga/romance, and even in recent times women sf writers have used initials rather than first names. Ruh’s imagined future technology is marked by odd contrasts: there are “sun globes” for illumination, but no mention of steam power – rather, windmills have been improved. Dirigible balloons are used in warfare – boys even play war games with what appear to be aerial sailboats – but there is little detail; we see an airfield at a military base but never aerial combat.
The conquest of the air had already figured in what is often called proto-science fiction. In a 1786 expanded version of L’An 2440, Mercier incorporated balloon travel into his vision of the shape of things to come. Three years before that, Dr. Charles Burney, a friend of Samuel Johnson, had imagined the same: “I tell my grandchildren they will live to see a regular balloon Stage [coach] established to all parts of the Universe that have ever been heard of.”[cxvii]
Yet even with balloons in common use, people in Garlands still travel on the ground by horseback or in horse-drawn conveyances. Five hundred years have gone by with little other technological change. The author and the characters alike compare their future with the 18th century. Nothing is said about the world at large, save that Germany is now a united empire – but we don’t even get the name of its capital.
As for social changes, Ruh’s major advance is allowing commoners to be elevated to the nobility for services rendered to the state, rather than getting rid of the nobility entirely. Salassin, the hero, is the son of Welly, Count of Wallingau, himself son of a farmer who achieved wealth through hard work. Welly took to science, and invented several “useful machines” – Ruh doesn’t offer a clue as to what they were – but also went out of his way to help the poor.
Other changes are rather trivial, such as fines for journalists who knowingly print falsehoods (with a wry comment that journalists in “our time” – circa 1800 – would have had to shell out a lot of money). Women of the future are free to court men who strike their fancy. Unfortunately, the only example ends badly: a young woman smitten with Salassin is so ashamed of her clumsy and self-absorbed advances that she feels her only way out is to commit suicide – which she does right before his eyes.
England is the only country besides Germany mentioned, and only because a couple of characters are from there. The only location recognizable in both the author’s time and ours is Ostend, a port city serving as a jumping-off point for England. When Salassin’s sister Jadilla is accidentally separated from her family at age four, she is found by an English lady traveling in Germany. Rather than inform the local authorities, she takes the child to England to raise as her own – only she is subsequently killed in a balloon accident at Ostend and Jadilla is passed on to other hands. At least Ruh does recognize that air travel could be risky, even in a world where it is relatively common – but only to provide a plot twist!
In a tale loaded with coincidences, Salassin is in love with a young woman named Lolly, but when he thinks he sees her in the arms of his best friend Sebald, he gives her up rather than spoil their happiness and goes off to war to drown his sorrows. It seems the Northmen are invading Germany – does that mean Norway or Sweden? Ruh doesn’t tell us. The war takes place entirely offstage, and we learn of Salassin’s heroics only in a news account read at the wedding of an unnamed fellow soldier severely wounded in the conflict. It comes out that the woman he’d seen with Sebald was actually his long-lost sister, who for no reason but plot convenience could be Lolly’s identical twin. She was raised as “Jilla” by her adoptive parents because she couldn’t pronounce her given name – which Salassin would have instantly recognized. All ends happily with a double wedding in prospect for Salassin and Sebald. The last line is a really tasteless remark by a guest advising the men not to get their wives mixed up on the way to the bedroom.
Garlands appears to have been the first adventure-romance set in a future that is clearly different from the author’s present, even if the details are scant and the atmosphere more medieval than futuristic. Farah Mendlesohn, author of “Toward a Taxonomy of Fantasy” (2002) and Rhetorics of Fantasy (2008), might call it an “immersive fantasy,”[cxviii] in contrast to the “portal fantasy”[cxix] of the voyage imaginaire and the “intrusion fantasy”[cxx] – a term that could be applied to gothic sf and the hoax.
Today we might call Ruh’s novel a “futuristic romance,” akin to a current subgenre of romance fiction in which an sf background offers a variation on the conventional love story. But the author may have been discouraged from any further such efforts by a scathing review in Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung: Die Ergänzungsblätter:
A novel that has been given this fantastic — or rather, unintelligible — title because the author has supposedly been allowed to read it in the book of the future; and which the reviewer of his unnatural writing style, often mixed with clumsy expressions, not to mention contrived situations and highly unbelievable characters, would like to term unenjoyable. Some places have fire, however, and individual incidents are not entirely without literary merit. The author, whose name is said to be an anagram, can perhaps deliver better products after six or eight years if he in the meantime first continues to study and does not care to crank out books mechanically; if he continues to produce works of this sort, then it may be said that soon all hope of anything worthwhile will be lost.[cxxi]
The “anagram” may have been for ruakh – Hebrew for spirit,[cxxii] but that doesn’t seem to be any help in identifying Ruh, and may be irrelevant in any case. Independent scholar Dwight R. Decker, who had read Garlands in 2011 as a researcher for Imagination and Evolution, delved into the third volume of Heinrich Zschokke’s The Black Brothers (1795) two years later – and realized that “Ruh” might have been a ruse when he came across a number of parallels between them too close to be mere coincidence:
Same airboat travel in the sky but horse-drawn carriages on the ground, same interior lighting device (“crystal suns”), same vaguely if at all described world, same unclearly defined “Northmen” always invading Germany, same social change of nobility still existing but based on individual merit rather than heredity, same author devices like shifting from quotation marked dialogue to play-script form for extended discussions, or characters playing a musical device called a “euphone” and bursting into song at times...[cxxiii]
Zschokke (1771-1848), a German academic who later settled in Switzerland and became active in political reform there, published the first two volumes of The Black Brothers, which centers on members of a secret society involved in political reform in one country and revolutionary intrigue in another, in 1791 and 1793. Both are set in the recent past and present, but Zschokke already had his eye on the future, for in Volume I, Ludwig Holder, a man he has just met and about whom he knows nothing, tells Florentin Duur that “in 500 years, you will see me again in Germany.”[cxxiv]
Holder, who later initiates him and also becomes his brother-in-law, reminds him of that at the end of Volume II, in which the Black Brothers have succeeded in leading a peoples’ revolution against the tyrant of the fictional Kanella. but suffered personal heartbreaks. He then reveals that he has discovered a formula that will allow them to sleep for 500 years. Anticipating Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” (1819), Zschokke has Holder, Florentin and Florentin’s son Karl awaken in the 2222, rather than just dreaming about it, and even find new lives there, although they mostly serve as viewpoint characters for lectures about the future – which is more advanced in many ways than the past, but no happier.
The idea of a secret society – the kind that is now a staple of Dan Brown novels, only dedicated to bringing about a utopia – was perhaps inspired by notoriety of the supposed Bavarian Illuminati. It was a first for science fiction, and its descendants include H.G. Wells’ Open Conspiracy. But Zschokke’s trilogy was published only as by “M.J.R.” In a letter to a friend in 1794, before the third volume was published (although it may have been written), he owned up to authorship, but confessed to being embarrassed by the series:
I regret having written much therein. I wish the book didn’t exist at all or at least not its bad half. But what the great misfortune probably is, is that the book pleases a multitude of its readers for its bad parts. Among all sinners, writers will have the most to answer for on Judgment Day.[cxxv]
A revolutionary romantic, he preferred to be remembered for his novel Abbalino the Great Bandit (1793), a variation on Friedrich Schiller’s play The Robbers (1781), which created a sensation. Over the years he became a more sober republican, and wrote off his radical ideas as youthful excesses – he doesn’t even mention The Black Brothers in his autobiography.[cxxvi]
Was “Ruh” actually Zschokke? Not necessarily. In an afterword to that third volume of The Black Brothers, Zschokke as “M.J.R.” declared that he “could have of course provided many — many more scenes from the twenty-third century; the field was large; some other may pick up the threads and spin the narrative further; myself, I am silent and listening.”[cxxvii] Not only that, but Swedish fan Jens Sadowski notes that, “having now read Garlands as well, I find that one even less sophisticated in plot and style than the BB’s. Even the spelling, grammar and use of language are significantly worse than in the BB’s.”[cxxviii] His transcription for Project Gutenberg makes note of a number of obvious mistakes.
It seems unlikely that Zschokke would have gone downhill as a writer, so chances are that Ruh was somebody who took him up on his offer, and mimicked his mannerisms as well as his social and technical details. If so, that would make Garlands a precursor to shared world science fiction – indeed, one German bibliography found by Sadowski even refers to it as “Aus dem Archive der schwarzen Brueder:” “From the archive of the Black Brothers.”[cxxix] Yet, why wouldn’t the author have openly accepted an offer so openly made?
There isn’t any mention of the Black Brothers in Garlands – characterized by Decker as “pretty much a sequel to Black Brothers III, though taking place maybe 80 years later and with none of the same characters.”[cxxx] There isn’t any mention of global progress, either. That could be Zschokke’s doing, covering his own tracks – or Ruh’s, covering his or hers. Whichever the case, however, Garlands could arguably still be called the first true futuristic novel. What there is of a plot in The Black Brothers III centers on members of the brotherhood from the 18th Century rather than the people of the 23rd. That makes it a portal fantasy in Mendlesohn’s taxonomy, except that it isn’t a mere dream from which they can awaken.
Holder, Florentin and Karl find shelter in the Alps with a woman named Idalla. They don’t even try to learn anything about their new world, let alone explore it, for half a year. Zschokke seems to realize this is counterintuitive: “‘Is it possible?’” exclaim the lady readers. “‘That they slept for half a millennium on hard straw, only to dally with a pretty girl without concerning themselves with the new world?’”[cxxxi] And they don’t tell her anything about themselves. But eventually, she opens up about the state of affairs in Germany: the Northmen are invading, and her father died after fleeing with her from the war zone.
But Florentin, wandering in the forest, spots another woman who’s the spitting image of Louise, whom he had loved and lost in the first two volumes. Only in Chapter Nine do he and the others encounter another informant: Mattias, an air-gondolier drafted for the war (weapons include “silent gunpowder”); he was taken prisoner, but escaped with a woman named Imada – the Louise look-alike. It’s love at second sight for Florentin, but now that the war is over; it’s time for the Black Brothers to venture forth. A retired commandant in the first town they come to explains how the old nobility has yielded to the new:
“Perform a great deed for the Fatherland, by saving the life of the Monarch, by elevating and visibly improving science and art, by great and beneficial inventions that mankind finds welcome, and then you will be added to the ranks of the nobles of the people, all of Germany will recognize you, and both at home and abroad you will find friendship and honors as though you were the son of a lord.”[cxxxii]
At the commandant’s home, Florentin is awed by the crystal sun that descends from the ceiling at night to “to flood the entire hall with the brightness of daylight.”[cxxxiii] He and the Commandant’s daughter Rosalia take to the air in “gondolas with sails of red silk and whalebone rudders that resembled the fins of whales;” [cxxxiv] she finds it heavenly. They are treated to the flight by Gobby, a 23rd Century philosopher, who has already led an expedition to the South Pole with 20 such gondolas.
But Florentin also arouses suspicion – especially when Gobby spots an engraving of him in a 500-year old book. After getting an information dump from Gobby about Kantians and their future rivals, and a lot of small talk, he finally encounters a black-robed Black Brother of the 23rd Century, who enlightens him and the others about the world at large: as in Mercier’s L’An 2440, there has been global progress, and Asia and Africa as well as Europe and America share in this. And yet suffering remains eternal:
“We have become more perfect and more wretched. We have made a thousand new inventions but discovered a thousand new mysteries of nature; we have new sciences, theorems, and facts, but also just as many new errors; we have countless new products of the fine and practical arts, but just as many new necessities; we have many formerly unknown foods and drinks and conveniences, but also many formerly unknown diseases — you see, that is all we can tell you about the progress of mankind.”[cxxxv]
Florentin, at least finds personal happiness with Imada – but only after she teases him mercilessly about her upcoming marriage until revealing at the last moment that he is her intended. He is so distraught over her seeming rejection that he sets off on a walking tour, in the course of which he is lectured on things like the education of peasants and current funeral customs (chemically-induced decomposition of bodies has replaced cremation because deforestation has reduced the amount of wood available for funeral pyres!). They even pass by the last remaining gallows – no longer used. There’s a double wedding for Florentin and Imada and Rosalia and Josselin (a rather alienated intellectual type, part of Gobby’s circle).
Overall, The Black Brothers III is a transitional work, more than just a portal fantasy utopia but less than an immersive sf novel. In modern times it became so obscure and little read that a legend grew up about it having to do with Earth being conquered by aliens – a factoid picked up by the second edition of Peter Nicholls’ Science Fiction Encyclopedia (1993),[cxxxvi] perhaps from a 1988 East German encyclopedia of science fiction by Erik Simon and Olaf R. Spittel:
Interessant ist, dass bereits Heinrich Zschokke den dritten Band der Geheimbund-Trilogie “Die schwarzen Brueder” … im 24. Jahrhundert spielen liess und die Menschheit in der Rolle eines kosmischen Nutzviehs in der Hand hoeherer ausserirdischer Maechte sah. (Interestingly, Heinrich Zschokke had already set the third volume of the secret society trilogy “The Black Brothers” … in the 24th century and saw humanity in the role of a cosmic livestock in the hands of higher extra-terrestrial powers.). [cxxxvii]
Decker theorizes that this may have been based on a misreading of a scene in which Florentin encounters a solipsist philosopher at a madhouse who believes he is the only living being in the world and that everyone and everything else he encounters are illusions. But Manfred Nagl’s Science Fiction in Deutschland (1972), traces it to a conversation in Volume I, in which Holder speaks to his uncle about “higher powers who have used mankind for their own purposes.”
Nagl then introduces the word “Haustiere” (“livestock”), which Zschokke himself never uses, although he has Holder and his uncle use other analogies for idea of men lacking free will – “Schauspieler” (actors) or “Marionetten” (puppets). Nagl somehow conflates that with the description of the future in Volume III and comes up with the idea that Zschokke invented the sf theme of mankind enslaved by aliens long before today’s writers and critics.[cxxxviii]
Whatever its authorship, it seems likely that Garlands was known to Julius van Voss, whose Ini: a Novel from the Twenty-first Century (1810) also has an immersive romantic story line but takes place in a more richly imagined future. Its title page features an aerial postal van drawn by eagles. To modern eyes, that seems unintentionally funny, but to readers of 1810 it must have seemed as fantastic as the rockets in the covers of the early sf pulp magazines. As in The Black Brothers III and Garlands, its climax turns on a romantic tease.
Voss (1768-1832) was a Prussian soldier and military historian who lived through the upheavals of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. He was hardly a radical or even a liberal; in one of his drawing room comedies, he even made fun of a Jewish intellectual lady, Rahel Varnhagen, and stereotypes of Jews appeared in another of his plays. [cxxxix] And yet be believed in the future.
“As assuredly as the present is an improvement on the past… so with equal certainty a better future is coming,”[cxl] Voss declared in his preface to Ini. A prolific writer, he was also the author of a futuristic play, Berlin in the Year 1924 (1824). That may have been inspired by August van Kotzebue’s The Century-Old Oaks; or, The Year 1914. Produced in 1814, it was published in 1821 – after the assassination of Kotzebue (1761-1819), a prolific but controversial playwright who scorned both Napoleon and German nationalists and was targeted for death by one of the latter.
Besides balloons drawn by eagles (French naturalist Georges Cuvier once wrote that a German professor named Reisner had already seriously entertained the idea some time before 1804.[cxli]), new modes of transportation include ships with mechanical oars and headlights, even floating islands towed by whales (seen in another engraving). Horseways are roads dedicated to carriages with house-high wheels; they loop around major cities like today’s beltways. Voss somehow overlooked the industrial revolution – there are no steamships or railways, nor any hint of electricity, as in Daniel Falk’s earlier satire Elektropolis (1802). Yet he was uncannily prophetic in foreseeing a method to determine the composition of stars and extrasolar planets, considered impossible at the time. Alas, he also took phrenology seriously (But so, decades later, did Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman.), and even squaring the circle.
As in Mercier’s L’An 2440, there are global political changes. Not only is Europe united, but all of Asia except China is ruled by a new Persian empire, and Australia has been settled by emigrés from India. In Europe, there are also progressive measures such as old-age pensions, health insurance and inheritance taxes. Religion has morphed into secular philosophy with temples to a new trinity: Christ (brotherhood), Moses (military and justice) and Mary (peace, love, home, family and women’s affairs).
Yet Voss’ future is less than utopian in the traditional sense. There are still empires in America, Africa, New Persia and China – and there are still wars among the new global powers, fought with weapons like airships that firebomb surface warships, naval artillery with incendiary shells, submarine troops that attack naval vessels with mines, and even poison gas and artificial plagues.
Unlike the schoolmaster Mercier, Voss skips the preliminaries and gets right into the picaresque story of young Guido and the woman he romances, Ini. Both are seemingly orphans of mysterious origins, living in Italy – center of a European realm that stretches from the Atlantic to the Urals. Guido is a youth of great physical and mental prowess; indeed, he seems to anticipate 20th Century pulp superheroes like Lester Dent’s Doc Savage:
He leaped into the sea when a hurricane raised its waves, and then fought smiling against the raging waters. In running, he could overtake the fleeing deer and climb like the goats of the high mountains. He was also a diligent mathematician and had made a map of the sea bottom between Sicily and Calabria that won acclaim. The arts of war occupied his imagination, and having learned chemistry, he envisioned the formation of a thick storm cloud that would be driven by an artificial wind over an enemy army, where it would strike down in as many lightning discharges as the army had heads.[cxlii]
Guido even manages to survive being marooned at the North Pole for a year when he becomes separated from his expedition – the climax of a lecture-filled (perhaps on the model of L’An 2440) world tour with his guardian. When war breaks out between Europe and Africa Guido is placed in command of the European forces after the Africans have scored signal victories and occupied Sicily. Only then does he learn that he is actually the son of the emperor, and only then does it become clear that Voss has taken an idea from Mercier and turned it into a story. In L’An 2440, princes are given over to guardians who take a solemn oath “never to reveal to the prince that he will one day be king,” for:
Many kings have become tyrants, not because they had bad hearts but because they never knew the real state of the common people of their country. If we were to abandon a young prince to the flattering idea of a certain power, perhaps, even with a virtuous mind, considering the unhappy disposition of the human heart, he would at least endeavour to extend the limits of his authority.[cxliii]
Guido turns the tide of battle, and the Empress of Africa sues for peace. It should be made clear that by this time, Africa is heavily populated by Europeans, so that neither the war nor what follows has anything to do with race – although Voss mentions elsewhere that slavery for blacks has been abolished. One of the terms of the peace treaty is that Titus (Guido’s real name) marry her daughter Ottona. Oh, the sacrifices a crown prince must make for reasons of state! But duty-bound in a world still fraught with danger, he goes through with the marriage. Only, when the bride lifts her veil, it is Ini. Love conquers all, and Voss himself conquers the essence of a new kind of fiction.
“Voss apparently thought long and hard about a lot of things, and understood that every angle of society had to be reconsidered in the light of how it might conceivably change over the course of centuries,” Decker wrote in the first English-language review of the novel. “After a while, Voss’s world starts to take on a plausibility of its own, with an internal substance and consistency.”[cxliv]
For all its invention and romantic plot, Ini never seems to have caught on with German readers of its own time, and was never reprinted until 1966 in a crude typescript edition – a true new edition finally appeared in 2010. Nor does it seem to have had any influence on other sf apart from Faddei Bulgarin’s A Journey in the 29th Century: a footnote by Bulgarin complains that Voss’ balloons drawn by eagles are “totally impossible,” so his own are equipped with wings and steam engines.[cxlv]
Futuristic fiction in Germany – any kind of science fiction, for that matter – appears to have vanished for decades after Voss’ own Berlin in the Year 1924, a blend of comedy and utopia and part of a trilogy about the past, present and future of the city. Perhaps something in the literary culture of Germany favored the more fanciful marchen (fables) over other forms of fantastic fiction, including what would now be considered sf.
Simon and Spittel attribute this to Germany having been behind Western Europe economically and politically at that time, and to an intellectual atmosphere of mysticism, occultism, and science aversion. In addition, they cite Germany’s delay in taking notice of the most important sf works from elsewhere, such as those of Shelley and Poe – with the exception of Jules Verne, who was a popular success right from the start.[cxlvi]
Cultural factors aside, historical accidents do matter. Nicholas-Edme Restif de la Bretonne (1734-1806), a close friend of Mercier – they were members of the same literary salon[cxlvii] – was a prolific author, and Brian Stableford ranks his Posthumous Correspondence (1802) as one of the most original works of the French scientific romance, but few have even heard about it today.
Restif had hinted at the idea of evolution in The Discovery of the Austral Continent by a Flying Man (1781). But there’s little sign of that in the Part One of Posthumous Correspondence, which starts off with letters between one Fontlhète and his wife Hortense, but turns to contact with spirits of two deceased lovers, who in turn share conversations with the souls of Louis XIV, Moliére and other notables awaiting reincarnation. The next world, it seems, isn’t all heavenly; Verbal sparring and court battles rage among the departed, and there are even butcher souls preying on ewe souls. Restif throws in a torrent of topical references to French history and culture, while Fontlhète’s pearls of wisdom include: “Souls that are still terrestrial have a life almost parallel with the one they will have in God when God has absorbed everything, Earths and Suns, which God nourishes and is nourished by.”[cxlviii] Only towards the end does he become a flying superhero like Victorin in Restif’s previous novel – before introducing the Duc Multipliandre.
In later parts, written in fits and starts over 1787-89 and augmented in 1796 but published only six years later, Multipliandre acquires the power to take over other people’s bodies. At first, he devotes himself to playing sexual games with the nobles and their women, but then turns to reforming the European order (France conquers England!) and the world order in what amounts to an alternate history. But his travels later take him far afield in space and time, to other planets (in our solar system and beyond) to find strange forms of life, and to a future France (now called Virginie): Paris is only a village, and there are two new capitals – one for summer, one for winter. Yet that is only the beginning of his odyssey, which continues to a far-future Earth with a second moon and new forms of life, including winged men called angels, whom Multipliandre helps breed. Some 100,000 years hence, Earth is ruled by wise men with life spans of 700 years.
Restif might have become an inspiration for other tales of deep space and deep time, but his epic is carelessly written (from Fentlhéte’s viewpoint, and it’s hard to tell which realm he’s writing from), with any number of internal inconsistencies – and marred by trivial escapades, pretentious pronouncements on “spiritual” matters, and pet peeves. His aliens are more in the utopian/satirical tradition than that of Kepler’s Somnium: Jovian natives have just two words, for eating and fucking, while one comet is home to amorous fleas. Venusians are pure socialists. Oh, and Jesus was from Io.[cxlix] The erotic banter (Restif coined the term “pornography.”[cl]), although tame by today’s standards, scandalized French readers of his time, Posthumous Correspondence was thus little read and had little impact – falling into such utter obscurity that it was hard to even find, until Stableford managed to dig up the text for his 2016 translation.
One of the ironies of science fiction history, which the case of Restif highlights. is that researchers of our time often know more about proto sf of the 19th Century than people of that time did. As Austrian sf scholar Franz Rottensteiner put it, “Before the establishment of a genre, there were only writers creating in isolation, and it was mostly by chance when they happened to know what others did before them in a similar vein.”[cli] Even after what we now call science fiction was recognized as a genre, subgenres and narrative forms like alternate history and post-holocaust quest stories were repeatedly reinvented by writers unfamiliar with earlier examples.
I.F. Clarke catalogued dozens of early futuristic works in Tale of the Future (1961, revised and expanded 1978), and American scholar Paul Alkon has examined a number of them in Origins of Futuristic Fiction (1987). Clarke and Alkon show that there was a ferment of proto-sf as sundry authors experimented with different ideas and narrative approaches to the tale of the future. Many of the ideas that are familiar today – including future warfare, dystopian visions and even alternate history – first appeared in works that attracted few readers in their time and, for one reason or another, had little or no impact on the emergence of science fiction as a genre.
Félix Bodin (1795-1837), historian and author of The Novel of the Future (1834), even formulated a critical approach and poetics for what he recognized as a new genre. Yet that genre never materialized. Bodin’s own novel, which featured flying fortresses (with flapping wings!), a Jewish state in Palestine, the breakup of the Russian Empire and a Panama canal, was soon forgotten – but after being rediscovered by Alkon, it was finally translated by Stableford in 2008.
For the most part, The Novel of the Future is less interesting than the theory behind it. The story, centering on an impending conflict between progressive and reactionary forces, is told only in fragmentary fashion from the point of view of the author, to whom the future has been revealed by a psychic. There are seemingly endless descriptions of scenery, but little action – even in a scene where Mirzala, beloved of the hero Philirène, is kidnapped by an evil warlord. Over and over, Bodin apologizes for boring the reader – only to keep on doing so. Some of his inventions, moreover, like using tame lions to pull carriages, are even sillier than Voss’ trained eagles.
It’s a shame, because Bodin does have some novel ideas. In his imagined 20th Century, the state has pretty much withered away. There is a Universal Congress, which has abolished slavery and polygamy, but its authority is more moral than political. It doesn’t even have a capital, but holds sessions in different cities each year. Taxes have been virtually abolished, and even the military is supported only through public subscription from voluntary groups like the Association for Civilization. At a time when socialism was coming into intellectual fashion, Bodin was an ardent capitalist, as witness the words of a grandmother to her grandson:
How glorious it is for you to have for your great-grandfather the celebrated engineer who, born a simple working man and without overmuch education, has aided maritime commerce so greatly with his canals, who invented such a simpler and powerful instrument for excavating ports and clearing river-beds, and, by virtue of his achievements, has changed the face of oceanic navigation! How glorious it is to have for your grandfather the wealthy capitalist who undertook the commercial conquest of Timbuktu and began its civilization...[clii]
Bodin himself, in a preface to The Novel of the Future, realized the central importance of attitudes towards the future:
In times dominated by belief in the progressive degeneration of humankind, imaginations only launched themselves into the future fearfully, painting it in the darkest colors. Under the empire of that belief, which I shall call pejorativist, the Golden Age was placed in the cradle of humanity and the Iron Age upon its deathbed; people dreamed about ends of the world and the last man.
When progress towards improvement, the striking result of the comparison of several phases in our history, had been accepted in its turn, as a belief that I shall call ameliorist – which seems to be gradually supplanting the former – the future offers itself to the imagination resplendent with light. Progress, conceived as a law of human life, became both a clear demonstration and a holy manifestation of providence.[cliii]
Although Bodin was aware of Mercier’s L’An 2440, it isn’t clear what other futuristic works he had read. Enough, apparently, to find fault with those in which “the author only seeks to find a frame in which to exhibit a political, moral or religious system,” or, contrariwise, “preoccupied with the increasing degeneration of the world,” without taking the trouble in either case to create either characters or a story.
Alkon, who makes Bodin the centerpiece of his treatise, argues that the emergence of futuristic fiction had been retarded from the beginning by the common belief that the future was a topic reserved only for prophets and astrologers.[cliv] Indeed, some early futuristic works carry at least the emotional baggage of End Times. One example, of which Bodin was only vaguely aware – he thought it was a poem – was Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville’s The Last Man (1805).
Although it reflects a traditional pejorativist attitude towards the future, it is actually a transitional work between the religious and the secular. On one hand, Cousin de Grainville seeks to justify God’s ways to the last man on Earth and to the reader. Omegarus and his love Syderia are led to final acceptance of the divine plan for ending time as we know it. On the other, there are surprisingly modern elements, such as a warning against deforestation and exhaustion of natural resources.
Still, the emphasis is on the spiritual journey of the lovers – with some kibitzing from the original Adam, released from the Gates of Hell for that purpose. Cousin (1746-1805) had been a priest – he had to give that up with the Revolution – and it shows. Yet, strangely, there is no mention of the Second Coming of Christ or other familiar elements of the Book of Revelation.
Alkon argues that the secular elements of the novel are juxtaposed uneasily with the theological, as if the author were trying to have it both ways.[clv] Yet perhaps it was the very syncretic nature of the narrative that gave The Last Man its appeal to other writers (if not to the general public), and may thus have inspired Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826) in the short run as well as Camille Flammarion’s Omega: The Last Days of the World (1894) in the long run.
Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier cite such transitional French works as an expanded version of The Last Man (1831) by Auguste-Françoise Creuzé de Lesser, who added aerial cities and a failed attempt to colonize another planet. Other variations cited by the Lofficiers include Paulin Gagne’s The Unieide, or the Woman Messiah (1858) and his wife Elise’s Omegar, or the Last Man (1859).[clvi] But none of these are remembered as much as either Cousin’s or Flammarion’s.
Flammarion (1842-1925) was an astronomer and a popularizer of astronomy, but also a mystic, whose Lumen (1872) touched on reincarnation and eternal recurrence – while rejecting the Garden of Eden and the Last Judgment. Lumen was framed as a series of dialogues, but by the time Omega appeared, “scientific fiction” was a going concern, so Flammarion developed a narrative that incorporates a good deal of the technology of Jules Verne and Albert Robida, such as electric airships and telephonoscopes. Yet the essence of the novel is ruminations by fictional scientists and Flammarion himself about the ways the world might end, and the denouement offers a whiff of the reincarnation and eternal recurrence.
The end of the world sf tale was eventually secularized by H.G. Wells with The Time Machine (1895) and J.H. Rosny ainé with The Death of the Earth (1910). But other forms of proto-sf failed to gain a foothold, much less a following. One factor retarding development of futuristic fiction generally – not just the utopia – lay, as noted by Alkon, in the simple mechanics of setting a story in the future.
Contemporary sf fans are used to tales of the future being addressed to ostensible readers of the time of the action or a later time. Even movies set on distant worlds and in distant times are commonplace – when George Lucas posited on screen that the Star Wars saga takes place “long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” sf fans knew how to take it. The narrative strategy he adopted from literary science fiction dates back more than 300 years, but it took almost that long for it to become established.
Michel de Pure, aka Jacques Guttin, in Epigone: History of the Future Century (1659), hadn’t seen any problem: he simply told his immersive story in the past tense from a future viewpoint as if it were the most natural thing in the world. It was the same, ironically, with the otherwise unimaginative The Reign of George VI in England a century later. But later writers nearly always seemed to feel a need for some sort of framing device – Mercier’s dream, Cousin’s Celestial Spirit, even Bodin’s notes taken from a psychic.
Origins of Futuristic Fiction chronicles the struggles of a number of authors, some as obscure in their own time as in ours, to come to grips with the problems of narrative strategy as well as content in their futuristic sf. Most apparently labored in ignorance of one another, and scholars like Alkon can appreciate their successes and failures better than the original readers of their works – or the authors themselves.
One work Alkon sees as a variation of futuristic fiction is Napoleon and the Conquest of the World (1836), an alternate history by Louis Geoffroy (1803-58) in which Napoleon defeats Russia and goes on to establish a world empire of rapid social and technological progress (from flying cars to writing machines). Revised as The Apocryphal Napoleon (1841), Geoffroy’s epic was a literary mutation of the first order, but it was more important for its concept than for its utopian content.
That concept was embraced by Charles Renouvier (1815-1903), a revisionist Kantian philosopher of note – he influenced William James – whose Uchronia (1857, revised and expanded 1876) imagines that Christianity failed to take hold in the West in the fourth century, due to a minor change of events after the reign of Marcus Aurelius. Europe thus enjoys a millennium of classical culture, and when Christianity finally does spread westwards, it is absorbed harmlessly into a multi-religious society.
Renouvier’s term “uchronia” been adopted by French critics for what Americans call alternate or alternative history. Alkon argues that uchronias and futuristic fiction are practically the same thing, as tales of the future become alternative histories as soon as their imagined futures are overtaken by real events, as with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four (1949).[clvii]
Éric B. Henriet, whose L’Histoire Revisitée (2004) is the most comprehensive study of uchronias, references a number of works besides Geoffroy’s and Renouvier’s from the 19th Century, and not just in French – it includes stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edward Everett Hale. But he makes a distinction between alternative histories and futuristic works like Mercier’s L’An 2440, and cites Renouvier himself as having made the same distinction.[clviii] An 1842 commentary in The Apocryphal Napoleon in The Monthly Chronicle, a New England magazine, shows a familiarity with the idea of “imaginary history” – what if the dauphin of France who married Mary Stuart had lived to found a dynasty? – while noting that there had been “but very few instances” of the genre.[clix] Everett was the son of Nathan Hale, who was editor of that journal, and also of Boston Miscellany, for which Everett Hale also reviewed Geoffroy’s book.[clx]
Yet in terms of structure, tales of the future as opposed to alternative histories are rarely obsessed with Great Men or historical forks, but rather extrapolate the general direction of social evolution or the consequences of specific discoveries or inventions. Moreover, history overtakes the science and technology as well as the events of futuristic sf: the future depicted in H.G. Wells’ When the Sleeper Wakes (1899), to give just one example, not only never happened but never could have happened. Once futuristic works that can now be imagined as alternative histories are only those such as Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here (1935) and Katherine Burdekin’s Swastika Nights (1937) that avoid scientific and technological invention.
Although it doesn’t bear on Alkon’s argument, which centers on a time when other planets were generally used in embryonic sf for utopian or satirical purposes, history also overtakes our understanding of cosmology. We can no longer believe in the Martians of Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1898), because of what we have since learned about Mars. It is the same with such later interplanetary tales as Stanley G. Weinbaum’s “A Martian Odyssey” (1934). Nobody today thinks of these as alternative history.
Most 19th Century historians of the future and 20th Century alternate historians were not acquainted with Webb and Bodin, or Geoffroy and Renouvier; they were reinventing the wheel. Verne was likewise reinventing it in 1863 when he told Paris in the 20th Century in the past tense from a future viewpoint, and Robida would reinvent the technique once again in The Twentieth Century (1882). Since the first was never published in its time, and the second never in English, British and American writers would have to reinvent futuristic sf. Yet it had already been invented in Britain, with Jane Webb’s The Mummy! (1827).
Webb’s novel appeared a year after The Last Man, and may have been inspired by it – although Shelley’s novel had suffered from bad reviews and poor sales, and its sf content was limited compared to that of futuristic utopias. Yet the ideas essential to science fiction were out there. Mike Ashley’s Out of This World: Science Fiction But Not As You Know It (2011), a tie-in book for an sf exhibition of the same name at the British Library in 2011, calls attention to the role visual arts might have played in shaping, or at least anticipating, the imagination of sf.
A two-page spread is devoted to posters by William Heath called “The March of Intellect” that appeared between 1825 and 1829 under the alias Paul Fry. Ashley explains that the March of Intellect was a movement devoted to the quest for knowledge and to scientific research that was embraced by luminaries as diverse as Robert Owen and Queen Caroline. Heath’s posters were a spoof of that movement – which must have gotten a lot of attention to be worth spoofing.
The posters Ashley reprints depict automatons, balloons and steam-powered transport, which all figure in Webb’s novel. But one also depictss a “Direct to Bengal” express of the Grand Vacuum Tube Company. Even so, apart from The Mummy! there is little if any sign that Heath influenced sf, although there might have been some connection – direct or indirect – between his poster and a trans-oceanic express tube in Verne’s Paris in the 20th Century (not published until 1994), and even the express tubes in Albert Robida’s The Twentieth Century.[clxi]
The Mummy! is, at any rate, is a sort of post-gothic sf novel in which Webb’s future England suffers from corruption and despotism, and is in need of moral rebirth. The gothic element is the mummy Cheops – revived by the kind of technological mummery that Shelley left out of Frankenstein. At first only a menace, he turns out to have a guilty conscience, and is moved to expiate the sins of his old life in his new one.
The book isn’t as silly as that makes it seem, because Webb (1807-58) works hard to give her future an everyday reality. The usual sort of framing device, in which she is visited by a spirit who reveals the future to her, is left for a mercifully brief introduction that can safely be ignored. The novel itself begins with a brief summary of England’s future history, and it would seem that Webb had read, or at least heard of, futuristic utopias. But she works the inventions into her story, as in this exchange between Davis, steward of a country estate, and his master Lord Ambrose:
“It is a fine evening,” said Davis, bowing low, “and if your honour pleases, I think we had better get the steam-mowing apparatus in motion to-morrow. If the sun should be as hot to-morrow as it has been to-day, I am sure the hay will make without using the burning glass at all.”
“Do as you like, Davis,” returned his master, puffing the smoke violently from his pipe, “I leave it entirely to you.”
“And does not your honour think I had better give the barley a little rain? It will be all burnt up, if this weather should continue; and if your honour approve, it may be done immediately, for I saw a nice black-looking cloud sailing by just now, and I can get the electrical machine out in five minutes to draw it down…”[clxii]
This is one of the earliest examples of immersing everyday technical details into the story, instead of shoehorning them in as what are now called information dumps. It was part of the narrative strategy that H.G. Wells, a century later, would call an essential of scientific romance: to “domesticate the impossible hypothesis.”[clxiii] Another startlingly imaginative touch comes at a festival in London welcoming home Lord Ambrose’s son Edmund, who has led a triumphant British military campaign in Germany: a crowd of balloonists and amateur flyers seeking a better view touches off a chain-reaction aerial traffic accident:
The throng of balloons thus became every instant more dense, whilst some young city apprentices having hired each a pair of wings for the day, and not exactly knowing how to manage them, a dreadful tumult ensued, and the balloons became entangled with the winged heroes and each other in inextricable confusion.
The noise now became tremendous; the conductors of the balloons swearing at each other the most refined oaths, and the ladies screaming in concert. Several balloons were rent in the scuffle and fell with tremendous force upon the earth; whilst some cars were torn from their supporting ropes, and others roughly overset.[clxiv]
The Queen herself is among the injured, and later dies. What may have shocked readers of 1827 as much as her death is that she was a Catholic, for Catholicism has been restored as the established religion. All this, however, sets off a tedious political and romantic intrigue over the fate of England that dominates the plot and overwhelms such sf elements as an optical telegraph service, illuminated ladies’ hats, railroads that carry summer homes to the country, steam-powered doctors and even robot judges and lawyers – one lawyer’s battery runs down in the middle of a summation.
Through it all, the Mummy keeps popping up to scare people and act as an agent provocateur – greasing the skids for evildoers while pretending to aid them – before returning whence he came. For all its faults, The Mummy! stands out as a prototype for the science fiction novel – and it was a novel that then 20-year old Jane Webb aspired to, not a tract.
Alkon would have it that the worst thing that ever happened to Webb was to marry John Loudoun, her first fan, for she never wrote any science fiction after that.[clxv] But chances are that she wouldn’t have done so anyway. Moreover, her one sf tale could have been better told as straight sf, without recourse to the mummy. The excess baggage of gothic sf may have hobbled her without her realizing it. Although The Mummy! foreshadows some essentials of later sf, it was in its own time only another false start, and there are other examples that seem prescient today.
In The Air Battle, A Vision of the Future (1859), Herrmann Lang (possibly a pseudonym) imagines tectonic cataclysms having destroyed the British Empire and ended white domination of the world. By the year 6900, the great powers are the black and mixed-race empires of Sahara, Madeira and Brazilia, which all have flying machines, submarines and super explosives – and one of the issues of a climactic world war is the abolition of white slavery!
Nothing is known about “Lang;” scholar-encyclopedist Everett F. Bleiler, in Science Fiction: The Early Years (1990), dismisses an attempted identification with 19th German chemist Hermann Lang as “not convincing,” adding: “In several places, the author speaks of himself as a black man, but it is not clear whether this is a statement of present fact or a future literary device.”[clxvi] What is clear is that “Lang” could imagine radical change in futuristic fiction, pioneering the long view that has since become fundamental to science fiction:
It appears probable, that as dark-skinned men have founded great empires in olden times, their example may be followed in future periods. Nor is it unreasonable to presume, that as Asia was once the predominant quarter of the globe, as Europe is now, and as America apparently will be, so Africa may in turn possess many powerful nations, and the people of that continent have their turn in the government of the world.[clxvii]
Yet Lang shared the prejudice of his time against Jews, who had “denied their Saviour,”[clxviii] the chief villain is a Shylock on steroids. And the whole point of the story, in which two white men and a white woman manage to gain an influential positions in the future empires, is that after the final conflict, “blacks and whites are united in one brotherhood, are free, and are Christians.”[clxix]
By sheer coincidence, the first sf work known for certain to have been from a black author, Martin R. Delany’s Blake, or the Huts of America, was serialized beginning in 1859. Delany (1812-85) was an American abolitionist, but his serial appeared only in a British journal, the Anglo-African – and the issue that carried the last installment has been lost. Book publication (still missing the last chapters) didn’t come until 1970, before which few can have read it; but it has attracted critical attention in recent years as a manifesto of black nationalism.[clxx] Delany believed that the only hope for blacks lay in emigration, and even tried to bring about a free state for liberated slaves in what is now northern Nigeria, but the British were already moving in and scotched the deal.
Delany’s novel was written and even set in the 1850’s, making it technically an alternate history rather than a futurist novel; but the message was his point, not the medium. Hero Henry Blake is born a free black in the West Indies, but is lured onto a slave ship and ends up auctioned to a planter in Mississippi. He turns to revolution after his wife Maggie is sold off by the planter, and becomes a Moses-like figure, traveling across the South to preach his black liberation gospel, eluding capture and leading escaped slaves to Canada. In the war to come, as in the real-life Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831, there can be no mercy:
From plantation to plantation did he go, sowing the seeds of future devastation and ruin to the master and redemption to the slave, an antecedent more terrible in its anticipation than the warning voice of the destroying Angel in commanding the slaughter of the firstborn of Egypt.[clxxi]
Blake’s ambition is to establish a black utopia in Cuba, where he has found Maggie and bought her freedom. At the time, white Southerners were pushing for U.S. annexation of Cuba to expand their slave empire. The missing chapters would have apparently been devoted to a successful black revolution there – never mind that most of the Cuban population hardly matched the pure blacks admired by Delany, who tended to disdain American mulattoes as often collaborators with white oppressors.
Alfred Bonnardot, whose “Archeopolis” was collected in book form in 1859 but according to translator Brian Stableford probably first appeared a couple of years earlier in some French magazine,[clxxii] can’t have been aware of Lang or Delany, but he may have read Poe’s “Mellonta Tauta.” The tale is a slight piece that, coincidentally, imagines a future empire in Africa by 9997, ruled by the “worthy sovereign Matoupah IX.”[clxxiii] Intellectuals there have bulging heads (a dig at phrenology), but are comically confused about their distant past. The narrator, who travels to the future only in a dream – pretty standard stuff – notices that French has evolved but can still be understood; it is still spoken in the Empire. Yet in an old history of the downfall of our civilization, Bonnardot shows an uncanny sense of the kind of anti-utopian angst that later became common in sf:
Dispossessed of the benefit of manual labor, entire populations lived inactively from day to day, ennui and the cold sentiment of realism in their souls. Everywhere, idleness, having become chronic, had engendered a disgust for life that was translated into thousands of suicides. A fatal inertia of the body and the heart! Among the masses, only brains, and no longer arms, worked; it was a reversal of natural law. Never had a more ardent thirst for the superfluous, the marvelous and unrealizable projects changed the human imagination for the worse.[clxxiv]
Some futuristic fiction remained obscure because it appeared in countries too isolated culturally for it to have any international impact. “Mexico in the Year 1970” (1844), a vignette by the pseudonymous Fósforos Cerillos, was forgotten even in its own country until it drew the attention of scholars of Spanish-language sf in recent decades. It imagines the future Mexico City as a cultural Mecca, balloon travel as routine, and news events and photographs of same communicated almost instantly.[clxxv] In Antonio Flores’ Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (1863-64), the third story line envisions a future Spain of technological wonders (artificial sunlight, electric power for underground offices generated by pedestrians walking on a special pavement) and social progress – including feminism. Yet Flores pulls back at the end; as the hero and heroine retire to a rural refuge of traditional values.[clxxvi]
Even in cosmopolitan northern and central Europe, there were later futuristic works that didn’t travel well, innovative as they were. Vilhelm Bergsøe’s “Flying Fish Prometheus” (1870) in Denmark and Mor Jokai’s A Novel of the Next Century (1872-74) in Hungary, both of which antedate the international ascendancy of Jules Verne and the French success of Robida, are cases in point.
“Flying Fish” may have been the first sf to imagine something resembling an airplane – an aircraft with retractable wings. Modeled on the principle of an actual flying fish, it takes off and lands at sea. Huge bladder tanks take on water at landing, and in a sort of jet-assisted takeoff the water is expelled under high pressure to launch the craft – with enough being dissociated in the process to provide hydrogen for fuel. To minimize weight, the Prometheus is made from aluminum – which couldn’t be produced on a commercial scale until 1886.
But Bergsøe goes far beyond the kind of invention later popularized by Jules Verne and American dime novels, for the Prometheus is just the latest advance in an imagined 1969 that has already gone past balloon travel, albeit with heavier-than-air craft that require cumbersome launching stations. There are all sorts of new explosives, but also air beds, inflatable rafts, a new material for windows called Crystalline, and a “needle telegraph” that displays text messages with tiny pinheads – sort of a pre-electronic version of a computer screen (The same term had been used for an early form of telegraph in the 1830s, but that only had needles pointing at printed letters on a board.[clxxvii]).
The story takes the form of a letter to a friend by William Stone, an engineer involved in a project to dig a tunnel between Denmark and Sweden (actually realized only in 2000) with new super-explosives, who books a flight on the Prometheus in Denmark for a trip to the dedication of the new Panama Canal. Because the Prometheus is new to his world, it makes sense for him to describe it in detail, whereas the technologies already familiar to that world are mentioned only in passing.
In a letter, Stone can indulge in personal and humorous asides – as with his reactions to “jumping boots,” a “steam orchestra,” sensational newspapers like The Kinetic News-Pump and current philosophical debates on Being and Non-Being (Denmark’s Soren Kirkegaard, who died in 1855, is widely regarded as the first existentialist philosopher, and was admired generations later by Jean Paul Sartre, author of “Being and Nothingness.”). In a half-satiric, half-serious nod to what is now called feminism, most journalists are women – and Stone thinks women would make better pilots because can keep their heads better in face of danger. But as the Flying Fish sends a launch to shore, we get a hint that the world order has changed:
Soon the airboat was ready, its propeller was set to spinning, and it sped towards the docks, bearing Captain Bird and his crew while the new American flag with its shining sun and 69 stars proudly flew over its wake.[clxxviii]
During his flight aboard the Prometheus, Stone can see the ruins of London – destroyed by “air torpedoes” during an Anglo-American War. The United States has annexed Latin America, and what was once Britain, to become the dominant world power. But our hero never makes it to Panama, for what had promised to be an uneventful journey turns to disaster when the airship encounters a severe thunderstorm. Stone survives, of course, or his letter couldn’t have been written. Somehow his parachute lands him in Madagascar, thousands of miles from where the Prometheus came to grief; he and his girlfriend Anna end up in India – where they spend their honeymoon hunting tigers together.
“Flying Fish” is neither utopian nor dystopian, and thus avoids the narrative pitfalls of both The Mummy and The Novel of the Future – perhaps its very brevity is a virtue. Yet it packs a lot of imagination into its 13,000-odd words; with a blend of the serious and facetious, it reads like contemporary steampunk, and as such it was picked up for Steampunk II (2010), an anthology edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer – translator Dwight Decker later self-published it at Amazon. In its own time, however, Bergsøe’s story drew little if any attention outside his own country.
It was much the same with Jokai’s A Novel of the Next Century, in which David Tatrangi pioneers aviation, using a glass-like metal called Ichor, to manufacture electrically-powered bird-like aircraft (called aerodromes) that can be armed with super weapons.
Severus, who underwrites research and development for the new aircraft, is a “Negro Rothschild” from America, and Tatrangi’s fiancée Rozali is also his co-pilot – as capable and daring as he, she joins him on the first test flight when the men serving under him chicken out.
Despite that nod towards women’s liberation, political empowerment for women is taking only baby steps in the first volume: just one woman serves in Parliament, supposedly because more than one might split on issues. Parliamentary procedures include serious ideas, such as electronic recording of votes, discouraging long-winded speeches, and basing members’ pay on how much time they spend in sessions.
Under Emperor Arpad, Hungary has become dominant partner in the Habsburg monarchy. Britain, France and Germany are major powers at the outset, but Europe has by 1950 become largely secularized – even the Pope has had to take refuge in Hungary. More than ten Christian denominations, and a few Jewish sects are described as nationally or regionally prominent in the country – there are also sundry other faiths like spiritualism.
Other futuristic details include newspapers printed in stenotype for fast reading, and high-tech art forgeries that can’t be told from the originals. But satirical newspapers, the equivalent of the online National Onion in our time, offer facetious accounts of proposals like recycling the carbon dioxide from long-winded speeches into soda water.
Yet there’s nothing facetious about the main story. Come 1952 the Habsburg empire is threatened by Russia, which has embraced a nihilist ideology. But it isn’t the nihilism we know – a violent expression of revolutionary socialism. Rather, it proclaims that “for every man only his own 'self' ought to be an object of worship, while everything else: God, homeland, fellow man, family, lover is nothing.”[clxxix] This was long before Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed his philosophy of egoism, but Jokai might have picked up the idea from Max Stirner’s The Ego and His Own (1844), or even Russian revolutionary Nikolai Chernyshevsky.
Russian forces led by Aleksandra Petrovna (commonly known as Shasa) capture Vienna. But in an incredibly contrived scenario, they stay only long enough to loot the national bank – replacing the cash with counterfeit money and gold and silver bars with base metals. The bullion is melted down and recast as cannon barrels (!) – which are spirited out of the country. Nobody on the Austrian side witnesses any of this, and nobody checks out the vaults afterwards. Even more implausibly, after Tatrangi’s forces triumph over Shasa’s, the Russians spread false accounts of Hungarian defeats; Arpad is taken in, and signs an onerous peace treaty which, among other things, exiles Tatrangi and 200,000 former Hungarian soldiers for ten years to a swampland in the Danube delta, which is Russian territory. Only once there, he seizes the opportunity to create a utopian city state called Otthon, whose workers are shareholders:
"We shall found a state, whose constitution is freedom, and whose social foundation is labor. … A state, which, helped by its new methods of transport, shall become the centre of trade between European and Asian economies, and will spread its connections throughout the five continents and all its islands. … A state wherein nobody can be poor, wretched, oppressed; and where all can be happy, wealthy, and free.”[clxxx]
Otthon becomes an international trading power, thanks to its monopoly on aerodromes, arousing the jealousy of nation states that deny it credit, won’t accept its currency, and refuse to grant landing rights to its cargo aircraft. Only when Austria tries to draw on its bullion reserves during the ensuing financial crisis does it finally discover they have been looted. That touches off an economic meltdown that worsens when the bullion can’t be found in a lake where retreating Russians had dumped it. Only, in yet another magical plot twist, Tatrangi reveals that he himself had secretly recovered the gold and silver and squirreled it away in his own vaults – after which he returns it to Austria.
But time is running out for him in more ways than one. Russia is about to foreclose on Otthon – his people will have to either leave or accept Russian rule. The city state has also run short of ichor, and the only other source he can find is in Unalaska – somehow still part of Russia in Jokai’s imagined future. So he dispatches Severus to with an offer to buy Otthon’s independence – and also acquire Unalaska. By this time, Shasa has renounced nihilism and crowned herself tsarina. But she manages to turn Severus, who as a partner with Tatrangi and a Hungarian general in the Otthon inner circle, had known where the bullion was all along – and planned make a killing by buying up stocks and bonds at rock-bottom prices, then selling them after the truth came out; Tatrangi’s revelation has scotched that.
The stage is thus set for another war. But despite the treachery of Severus, which enables Russia to create its own air force, Otthon has the edge because Tatrangi has mastered better tactics of aerial warfare. But he himself ends up in to a one-on-one duel with the Russian flagship; when he wins, Sasha jumps to her death. World peace and order are assured, and Tatrangi is magnanimous to a fault – Severus is only exiled to Africa. A few other loose ends are tied up, and there are other silly bits like the discovery of a lost tribe of Hungarians in western China.
But then Jokai suddenly cuts from the terrestrial to the cosmic: a comet appears, that seemingly threatens Earth. Only after the initial panic, it turns out to be a blessing in disguise: it comes close enough to the Moon to provide it with an atmosphere before going into orbit around the Sun as a new planet – christened Pax – and opens the way to colonization of the Moon. For some reason, this finale was cut from the 1879 German translation of the novel.
In their native countries Bergsøe (1835-1911) and Jokai (1825-1904) are revered figures whose mainstream novels are widely known. Some of Jokai’s other works, including the borderline sf novel Black Diamonds (1870), were translated a century or more ago. Yet their futuristc science fiction has heretofore been known beyond their homelands only through secondary references like Jess Nevins Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana (2005).
Bergsøe called his story a Fremtidsfantasi (future fantasy). Jokai, who was evidently unaware of it, didn’t put a genre name to A Novel of the Next Century. In a foreword, however, he contrasted his approach – based on what we now call extrapolation – with that of the “state novels” of Thomas More, Tommaso Campanella and Étienne Cabet:
Other novels are called to present a tale, born only of the imagination, in a way that convinces the reader that it could really have happened; this novel will present a historical event that has not “yet” happened, and will grapple with the difficult task, to present the facts and the characters, the future age’s inner and outer world, in such a way so as to make the reader say: this might yet happen!
There will not be in this novel utopian states, Icarian people; its scenes will not be on yet to be discovered islands; the story, throughout, takes place in the known world, and develops from situations that exist today, from notions that impact the world today.[clxxxi]
Jokai knew what he was trying to do; he simply didn’t know it had been done before. Had he been familiar with earlier examples, he might learned something from them to his profit. In any case, his novel was apparently translated only into German, and never had any recognition beyond the Austrian Empire and Germany.
Some sf fans and scholars looking for prestigious roots have long cited Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Locksley Hall” (1842), with its vision of aerial commerce and world government – “the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world” – to demonstrate that science fiction was in the air.[clxxxii] John Brunner even got the title of The Long Result (1965) from Tennyson’s “the long result of time.”
But that vision comes only in a brief section from a poem that otherwise has nothing to do with science or the future. Nobody in 1842 would have associated Tennyson with Webb or Bodin, had they even known about them. People didn’t read that way, people didn’t think that way. There had to be a climate for the emergence of sf. But there also had to be a triggering event, and that event did not take place in Britain.
Lois McMaster Bujold defined a genre as “any group of works in close conversation with one another,” and there was never such conversation among the works of Voss, Bodin, Webb or other authors of futuristic novels that some now call proto-sf. Conversations did occur among futuristic utopias, gothic sf tales and scientific hoaxes, but those conversations were limited to their respective proto-sf genres.
What was necessary for genre consciousness of what we now call science fiction to arise was a stimulus for a new conversation, one that began with yet another subgenre, the scientific adventure story of Jules Verne, but that eventually came to embrace all forms of embryonic or proto sf.
[i] Mercier, Louis Sebastien, Memoirs of the Year 2500 (Gregg Press facsimile reprint, 1977), pp. 155-56.
[ii] Alkon, Paul K., Origins of Futuristic Fiction (University of Georgia Press, 1987), p. 41
[iii] Madden, Samuel, Memoirs of the Twentieth Century (London, 1733), p. 55
[iv] Mercier, op. cit., p. 20
[v] Ibid., p. 16
[vi] Ibid., p. 172
[vii] Ibid., p. 19
[viii] M.J.L. Lokhorst-Degenaar & G.J.E. Lokhorst. The Coming Year 3000: the first Dutch uchronia. In G. Groot, H. Oosterling, & A.W. Prins, eds., From agora to market: Proceedings of the 18th Dutch-Flemish Philosophy Conference, vol. 21 of Rotterdam Philosophical Studies, pp. 299-303. Philosophy Faculty, Erasmus University of Rotterdam, Rotterdam, 1996. ISBN 90-5677-191-4.
[x] Baggerman, Arianne, and Rudolf Dekker, Child of the Enlightenment: Revolutionary Europe Reflected in a Boyhood Diary (Koninklijke Brill, Leiden, 2009), pp. 320, 429
[xi] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3ATime_travel_in_fiction#Earliest_time_travel_fiction.3F, retrieved Sept. 1, 2006.
[xii] Jens Sadowski, e-mail, April 13, 2015
[xiii] www.ecole-alsacienne.org/CDI/pdf/1301/130131_BRU.pdf, downloaded Aug. 1, 2006
[xiv] www.ecole-alsacienne.org/CDI/pdf/1301/130102_ANT.pdf, downloaded Aug. 1, 2006
[xv] Pusey. W.W., Louis Sebastien Mercier in Germany (Columbia University Press, 1939); pp. 73-76, 107-58.
[xvi] Hoffmeister, Gerhart, European Romanticism: Literary Cross-Currents, Modes and Models (Wayne State University Press, 1990), p. 290.
[xvii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Paul, retrieved Dec. 20, 2013
[xviii] https://archive.org/stream/jstor-456660/456660_djvu.txt, retrieved March 14, 2016
[xix] quoted in, Clarke, I.F., The Pattern of Expectation (Jonathan Cape, 1979), p. 47
[xx] Raeff, Marc, The Decembrist Movement (Prentice Hall, 1966), pp. 60-66
[xxi] Stites, Richard, Revolutionary Dreams (Oxford Press, 1989), p. 25
[xxii] Fetzer, Leland, ed. and trans, Pre-Revolutionary Russian Science Fiction: An Anthology (Ardis, 1982), p. 5
[xxiii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Year_4338:_Petersburg_Letters, retrieved March 24, 2013
[xxiv] http://www.feeldothink.org/the-year-4338-translation-from-russian/, retrieved March 24, 2013
[xxv] Chernyshevsky, Nikolai, What Is to Be Done, trans. Michael R. Katz (Cornell University Press, 1989),
[xxvi] Cheryshevsky, What Is to Be Done, pp. 28, 271
[xxvii] Ibid., p. 30
[xxviii] https://www.marxists.org/subject/anarchism/nechayev/catechism.htm, retrieved July 25, 2015
[xxix] Chernyshevsky, What Is to Be Done?, p. 32
[xxx] Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, Crime and Punishment, trans. Sidney Monas (Signet Classics, 2006), p. 519
[xxxi] Griffith, Mary, Three Hundred Years Hence (Gregg Press, 1975), p. 54
[xxxii] Ibid., p. 127-8
[xxxiii] Ibid., p. 128-9
[xxxiv] Stableford, Brian, “The Prospect of the Future in the Wake of Queen Mab’s Vision,” New York Review
of Science Fiction 308, April 2014, pp. 24-25
[xxxv] Ferreira, Rachel Haywood, The Emergence of Latin American Science Fiction (Wesleyan University Press, 2001), p. 28; note 10, pp. 235-6.
[xxxvi] Martin Rodriguez, Mariano, e-mail July 28, 2016
[xxxvii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invention_of_the_telephone, retrieved Aug. 9, 2015
[xxxviii] Bell, Andrea L., and Yolanda Molina Gavilán, eds., Cosmos Latinos (Wesleyan University Press, 2003), p. 33
[xxxix] Hugo, Victor, Les Misérables, trans. Charles E. Wilbour (Penguin 1987), p. 1189
[xl] Souvestre, Emile, The World As It Shall Be, trans, Margaret Clarke (Wesleyan University Press, 2004), p. 3
[xli] Ibid., p, xx
[xlii] Ibid, p. xv
[xliii] Stableford, Brian, trans. and ed., Nemoville (Black Coat Press, 2012), p. 9
[xliv] Clarke, Pattern of Expectation, p. 28, note 10, p.
[xlv] Fromm, Erich, foreword to Bellamy, Edward, Looking Backward (New American Library, 1960), p. v.
[xlvi] Bannerjee, Anindita, We Modern People: Science Fiction and the Making of Russian Modernity (Wesleyan University Press, 2012), p. 66
[xlvii] Stites, Revolutionary Dreams, p. 34
[xlviii] http://www.chinesescifi.org/475.html, retrieved Aug. 5, 2015
[xlix] New Story of the Stone Excerpts, trans. Sterling Swallow, pdf, p. 20
[l] Wang, David Der-wei, Fin de Siècle Splendor, Repressed Modernities of Late Qing Fiction, 1849-1911 (Stanford University Press, 1997), pp. 271-84.
[li] http://www.tor.com/blogs/2014/07/what-makes-chinese-science-fiction-chinese, retrieved July 23, 2014
[lii] Pollard, David E., ed., Translation and Creation: Readings of Western Literature in Early Modern China, 1840-1918 (John Benjamins, 1998), pp. 309-11
[liii] http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/japan, retrieved Jan. 30, 2013
[liv] quoted in Ferreira, The Emergence of Latin American Science Fiction, p. 57
[lv] Ibid., p. 65
[lvi] Riderer, Franz X., “The German Acceptance and Rejection,” in Brown, Sylvia E., ed., Edward Bellamy Abroad (Twayne, 1962), pp. 176-7
[lxiii] Moskowitz, Sam, ed., Science Fiction by Gaslight (World Publishing, 1968), p. 353
[lxiv] Howell, Yvonne, ed., Red Star Tales: A Century of Russian and Soviet Science Fiction (Russian Life Books, 2015), p. 23
[lxv] Stites, Revolutionary Dreams, p. 35
[lxvi] Mantegazza, Paolo, The Year 3000: A Dream, trans. David Jacobson (Bison Books, 2010), p. 159
[lxvii] Ibid., p. 143.
[lxviii] Ibid., p. 191
[lxix] http://mary-shelley.wikia.com/wiki/Summer_of_1816, retrieved Jan. 11, 2015
[lxx] Shelley, Mary, Frankenstein, ed. James Rieger (Bobbs-Merrill, 1974,) pp. 222-9
[lxxi] Ibid, p. 224
[lxxii] Holmes, Richard, Age of Wonder (Pantheon, 2008), p. 135.
[lxxiii] Shelley, Frankenstein, p. 228
[lxxiv] Ibid., p. 227
[lxxv] Godwin, William, St. Leon: A Tale of the Sixteenth Century (London, Henry Colburn & Richard Bentley, 1831), p. 474.
[lxxvi] Shelley, Frankenstein, p. 46
[lxxvii] Ibid., p. 47
[lxxviii] Ibid., . 49
[lxxix] Ibid., 53
[lxxx] Ibid., p. 52
[lxxxi] Ibid., p. 48
[lxxxii] The Invisible Man, Universal, 1933
[lxxxiii] Hoffmann, E.T.A, ed. E.F. Bleiler, The Best Tales of Hoffmann (Dover, 1967), p. 81
[lxxxiv] Ibid., p. 210
[lxxxv] Riskin, Jessica, The Restless Clock, A History of the Centuries-Long Argument over What Makes Living Things Tick (University of Chicago Press, 2015), pp. 115-16
[lxxxvi] Villiers de L’Isle Adam, Tomorrow’s Eve, trans. Robert Martin Adams (University of Illinois Press, 2001), p. 85
[lxxxvii] Franklin, H. Bruce, ed., Future Perfect (Oxford University Press, 1966), p. 52.
[lxxxviii] Ibid., p. 165
[lxxxix] Shelley, The Last Man (Oxford University Press, 1994), p.106
[xc] Ibid, p. 219
[xci] Ibid., p. vii
[xcii] Ibid., p. ix
[xciii] Ibid., p. 230
[xciv] Wells, H.G., Seven Famous Novels (Alfred A. Knopf, 1934), p. 191
[xcv] Locke, Richard Adams, The Moon Hoax, ed. William N. Griggs (Bunnell & Price, 1852), p. vi
[xcvi] Campbell, W. Joseph, Getting it wrong: ten of the greatest misreported stories in American Journalism (University of California Press, 2010), pp. 26–44
[xcvii] Locke, The Moon Hoax, (Gregg, 1975), p. xx
[xcviii] Ibid., p. xxxii
[xcix] Poe, Edgar Allan, “Note” to “Hans Pfaal,” in Locke, The Moon Hoax (Gregg), p. 74
[ci] The Collected Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe (Modern Library, 1992), pp. 28-29
[cii] Ibid., p, 36
[ciii] http://necessaryfacts.blogspot.com/2012/12/from-texas-to-moon-with-john-leonard.html, retrieved Feb. 29, 2016
[civ] Poe, The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe, ed. James A. Harrison, (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1902)
Volume 9, Page 71
[cvi] Amazing Stories, April 1926, p. 3
[cvii] Collected Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, p, 103
[cviii] Quinn, Arthur Hobson. Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), p. 529
[cix] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgar_Allan_Poe_bibliography, retrieved March 1, 2016
[cx] Collected Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, p. 882
[cxi] Lovecraft, Howard Phillips, Supernatural Horror in Literature (Dover, 1973), p. 54
[cxii] Verne, Jules, Amazing Journeys: Five Visionary Classics, trans. Frederick Paul Walter, Excelsior Editions, 2010, p. 140
[cxiii] Moskowitz, Sam, Explorers of the Infinite (World, 1963), pp. 90-91)
[cxiv] “In Memoriam,” by W.H/L.B. (William H.L. Barnes), in Rhodes, W.H., Caxton’s Book (Hyperion, 1974), p. 6
[cxv] Rhodes, Caxton’s Book, p. 274
[cxvi] Ruh, A.K., Guirlanden um die Urnen die Zukunft, Prag und Leipzig, In Verlag der Jos. Politischen Buchhandlung, 1800, pp. 403-4, trans. Dwight R. Decker
[cxvii] Holmes, op. cit., The Age of Wonder, p. 136
[cxviii] Mendlesohn, Farah, Rhetorics of Fantasy (Wesleyan University Press, 2008) p. 59ff
[cxix] Ibid, p. 1ff
[cxx] Ibid, p, 114ff
[cxxi] Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, Revision der Literatur für die Jahre 1785-1800, Jena und Leipzig, 1803, p. 474, trans. Dwight R. Decker
[cxxii] Decker, e-mail, June 27, 2011
[cxxiii] Decker, e-mail, Aug. 3. 2013
[cxxiv] M.J.R. (Heinrich Zschokke), Die Schwärzen Brüder [I] (PDF conversion of Project Gutenberg html download, 2013), trans. Jens Sadowski, p. 16
[cxxv] Neumann, W(illiam)., Heinrich Zschokke (Cassel, Ernst Balbe, 1853), p. 72; trans. Decker
[cxxvi] Autobiography of Heinrich Zschokke, London, Chapman and Hall, 1945
[cxxvii] Project Gutenberg text of Die Schwärzen Brüder (Leipzig, Christian Ludw. Friedr. Apitz. 1795), from “Epilog an die Leser,” trans. Decker
[cxxviii] Jens Sadowski, e-mail, April 28, 2014
[cxxix] Allgemeines Reportorium Der Literatur, Drittes Qunquennium, für die Jahre von 1996 bis 1800 (Weimar, Verlages des Landes – Industrie – Comptoirs, 1807), Section XIV, item 1389 (no page numbering)
[cxxx] Decker, e-mail, Aug. 3, 2013
[cxxxi] M.J.R. (Heinrich Zschokke), Die Schwärzen Brüder [III] (PDF conversion of Project Gutenberg html download, 2013), trans. Dwight R. Decker, p. 14
[cxxxii] Ibid., p. 41
[cxxxiii] Ibid., p. 37
[cxxxiv] Ibid., p. 45
[cxxxv] Ibid., p. 70
[cxxxvi] http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/alpers_hans_joachim, retrieved Aug. 24, 2013
[cxxxvii] Simon, Erik, and Olaf R. Spittel, eds., Die Science-fiction der DDR (Verlag Das Bueue Berlin., 1988). P. 14
[cxxxviii] Nagl, Manfred, Science fiction in Deutschland (Tübingen Vereinigung für Volkskunde,1972),
[cxxxix] Robertson, Ritchie, The ‘Jewish Question’ in German Literature, Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 66, 205-8
[cxl] Voss, Julius von, Ini, Project Gutenberg 2011, p. 6, trans. Dwight R. Decker
[cxli] Cuvier, Fréderic Georges, Dictionnaire des Sciences Naturelles, Tome Premier, Paris, Chez Levrault, Schoell et Cie., 1804, p. 339,
[cxlii] Ibid., p 8, trans. Decker
[cxliii] Mercier, op. cit., pp. 273-74
[cxliv] Decker, Dwight R., “Proto-SF Before Frankenstein: Julius von Voss’ Ini.” New York Review of Science Fiction, September 2009, p. 8
[cxlv] Fetzer, Pre-Revolutionary Russian Science Fiction, p. 14
[cxlvi] Simon and Spittel, op. cit, pp. 14-15
[cxlvii] Restif de la Bretonne, Posthumous Correspondence, Volume 1, trans. Brian Stableford (Black Coat Press, 2016), p. 12
[cxlviii] Ibid., p. 195
[cxlix] Restif de la Bretonne, Posthumous Correspondence, Volume 3, trans. Brian Stableford (Black Coat Press, 2016), pp. 14, 42, 80, 174
[cl] Restif, Posthumous Correspondence, Volume 1., p. 11
[cli] Rottensteiner, Franz, ed., The Black Mirror & Other Stories, Wesleyan University Press, 2008, pp. xi-xii.
[clii] Bodin, Felix, The Novel of the Future, trans, Brian Stableford, Black Coat Press, 2008, p. 71
[cliii] Ibid., p. 31
[cliv] Alkon, Paul K., Origins of Futuristic Fiction, p. 59ff
[clv] Ibid, pp 164ff
[clvi] Lofficier, Jean Marc and Randy, French Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Pulp Fiction, McFarland & Company, 2000, pp. 335-6
[clvii] Alkon, Origins of Futuristic Fiction, p. 156,
[clviii] Henriet, Éric B., L’Histoire Revisitée, Panorama de L’Uchronie Sous Toutes Ses Formers (Encrage, 2004),
[clix] The Monthly Review, Vol. III, No. 5, May 1842, p. 225
[clx] Boston Miscellany, May 1842, p. 231-36.
[clxi] Ashley, Mike, Out of This World, Science Fiction But Not as You Know It, British Library, 2011,
[clxii] Loudoun, Jane Webb, The Mummy, University of Michigan Press, 1994, p. 13
[clxiii] Wells, H.G., preface to Seven Famous Novels, Knopf, 1934, p. viii
[clxiv] Ibid., p. 86
[clxv] Alkon, Origins of Futuristic Fiction, p. 231
[clxvi] Bleiler, Everett F., Science Fiction, The Early Years, p. 420
[clxvii] Lang, Herrmann, The Air Battle; a Vision of the Future, British Library, n.d., preface
[clxviii] Ibid., p. 9
[clxix] Ibid., p. 112
[clxx] For example, Traore Moussa’s “Teaching Martin R. Delany’s Blake or the Huts of America,” African Diaspora Archaeology Newsletter, March 2007
[clxxi] Delany. Martin R., Blake or the Huts of America (Beacon Press, 1970), p. 83
[clxxii] Stableford, Brian, trans. and ed., Nemoville, Black Coat Press, 2012, p. 8
[clxxiii] Ibid., p. 36
[clxxiv] Ibid., p. 44
[clxxv] Ferreira, op. cit., pp. 18-22
[clxxvi] Lawless, Geraldine, “Unknown Futures: Nineteenth Century Science Fiction in Spain,” Science Fiction Studies, July 2011, pp. 258-260.
[clxxvii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cooke_and_Wheatstone_telegraph, retrieved April 3, 2015
[clxxviii] Bergsøe, Vilhelm, “Flying Fish Prometheus,” trans. Dwight R. Decker (Vesper Press, 2015), p. 14
[clxxix] Jokai, Mors, Jövo Szazad Regénye (Mercator Studio pdf, 2006), p. 139, trans. Istvan Aggott Honsch
[clxxx] Ibid., p, 368, trans, Honsch
[clxxxi] Ibid., p. 5, trans. Honsch
[clxxxii] e.g., Gunn, James, The Road to Science Fiction, Vol. 1, from Gilgamesh to Wells (Scarecrow Press, 2002), p, 106