Proto Science Fiction

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Proto Science Fiction

1baswood
Nov 24, 2019, 6:01pm

Science Fiction and Proto science Fiction
The term science fiction was first established as a literary genre in 1926 when Hugo Gernsback published the first American Science Fiction magazine Amazing stories. There had of course been much literature published before that date that would have been labelled science fiction if the term had been established and these books are now referred to as Proto Science Fiction.

Here is my list of proto science fiction books I have read over the last ten years :

AD 130 Lucian Of Samosata - Trips to the moon (translated 1781)

1516 Thomas More - Utopia

1623 Tommaso Campanella - The city of the sun

1627 Sir Francis Bacon - The New Atlantis

1638 Francis Goodwin - The Man in the Moone

1638 John Wilkins - The Discovery of a world in the Moone

1670 Margaret Cavendish - The Blazing World, Margaret Cavendish

1727 Captain Samuel Brunt - A voyage to Cacklogallinia

1737 Murtagh McDermot - A Trip to the Moon

1741 Ludvig Holberg -Neils Klim's Journey Underground

1752 Voltaire - Micromegas

1790 Erasmus Darwin - The Temple of Nature, or the origin of Society

1818 Mary Shelley - Frankenstein

1819 John William Polidori - The Vampyre

1820 Seaborn Adam - Symzonia: A Voyage of Discovery

1826 Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley - The last Man

1827 George Tucker - A Voyage to the Moon

1838 Edgar Alan Poe - The narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket

1854 nathaniel Hawthorne - Mosses from an old manse

1842 Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton - Zanoni: A Rosicrucian tale

1848 Charles Rowcroft - The Triumph of Woman: A Christmas Story

1851 Elbert Perce - Gulliver Joi

1858 George MacDonald - Phantastes

1871 Edward Bulwer Lytton - The Coming race

1877 Jules Verne - Journey to the Centre of the Earth

1865 Jules Verne - From the Earth to the Moon

1869 Edward Everett Hale - The Brick moon and other stories.

1886 H Rider Haggard - She

1895 H G Wells - The Time machine

1895 H G Wells - The Wonderful visit

1896 H G Wells - The Island of doctor Moreau

1897 H G Wells - The Invisible Man

1898 H G Wells - The War of the worlds

1899 H G Wells - When The Sleeper Wakes

1901 H G Wells - The First Men in the Moon

1902 H G Wells - The Sea lady

1904 H G Well - The Food of the Gods and how it came to Earth

1905 H Rider Haggard - Ayesha: The Return of She

1905 H G Wells - A Modern Utopia

1906 H G Wells - In the Days of the Comet

1908 H G Wells - The War in the Air

1913 J D Beresford - Goslings

1914 Edgar Rice Burroughs - At the earth's Core

1914 Bram Stoker - Dracula's Guest and other Weird tales

1914 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - The Poison Belt

1914 Anatole France - The Revolt of the Angels

1920 Karel capek - RUR

1924 yevgeny zamyatin - We

2baswood
Nov 25, 2019, 9:29am

And these are on the to read list

1871 Sir George Chesney - The Battle of Dorking

1872 Samuel Butler - Erewhon

1874 Jules Verne - Doctor Ox

1874 Jules Verne - The Mysterious Island

1876 W H Rhodes - Caxton’s book

1877 Jules Verne - Hector Servadac

1879 Edward Page Mitchell - The Crystal Man

1880 P W Dooner - Last days of the Republic

1880 Percy Greg - Across the Zodiac

1880 Jules Verne - The Steam House

1882 Robert Duncan Milne - Into the sun and other stories

1885 Richard Jeffries - After London or Wild England

1886 R L Stevenson - The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

1886 Jules Verne - Robur the conqueror

1887 W H Hudson - A Crystal Age

1887 Jules Verne - North against South

1888 Edward Bellamy - Looking backward AD 2000 - 1887

1888 Frank Cowan - Revi Loma - a Romance of love in Marelors Land

1889 Edgar Fawcett - Solorion; a Romance

1889 J Mitchell - The last American

1889 Frank Stockton - The Great stone of Sardis & The Great War Syndicate

1889 Mark Twain - A Connecticut Yankee on King Arthurs Court

1889 Jules Verne - The purchase of the North Pole

1890 Ignatius Donnelly - Ceasars Column

1890 Mary E Bradley Lane - Mizowa a prophecy

1890 William Morris - News from nowhere

1891 Ambrose Bierce - In the midst of life & Ban such things Be

1892 Jules Verne - The Carpathian Castle

1892 William Richard Bradshaw - The Godless of Atvatabar

1893 Rear Admiral Colomb - The Great War of 189-

1894 George Griffith - The Angel of the revolution

1894 George Griffith - Olga Romanoff and the syren of the skies

1894 John Jacob Astor - a Journey in other worlds

1894 Gustavus Pope - Journey to Mars

1897 Edward Bellamy - Equality

1897 William Le Queux - The Great War in England

1900 Cutliffe Hyne - The Lost Continent

1903 Erskine Childers - The Riddle of the Sands

1904 G K Chesterton - The Napoleon of Nottinghill

1905 Gabriel De Tarde - Underground Man

1906 jack London - Before Adam & The Iron Heel

1907 Robert Hugh Benson - Lord of the World

1907 Stewart Edward White - The Mystery

1908 David G Hartwell - The Battle of the Monsters and other stories

1909 Frank Aubrey - A trip to Mars

1909 E M Forster - The Machine stops

1911 J D Beresford - The Hampendenshire Wonder

1912 George Randolph Chester - The Jingo

1912 Arthur Reeve - The Silent bullet

1912 Garrett Serviss - Edison’s conquest of Mars & The Second Deluge

1912 Stewart Edward White - The Sign of six

1912 Arthur Conan Doyle - The Lost World

1914 George Allan England - Darkness and Dawn

1914 Stanley Waterloo - A Son of the ages & The Story of Af

1915 J S Barney L P M - The end of the great war

1915 Douglas Manville - Ancestral voices

1915 Charlotte Perkins Gilmay - Herland

1916 Cleveland Moffett - The Conquest of America

1920 Sam Moskowitz - Under the Moons of Mars

1925 Hugo Gernsback - Ralph 12c41

3Macumbeira
Nov 25, 2019, 3:38pm

Jezus Bas. The work...

4Macumbeira
Edited: Nov 25, 2019, 3:41pm

How can the riddle of the sands be a sf work ?

I read Jack London's Utopian stories.
Most of the Jules Verne's too. In French, even North against South and Robber le conquering !

5Macumbeira
Nov 25, 2019, 3:42pm

>1 baswood: Glad that I read a few of the too.

6RickHarsch
Nov 26, 2019, 6:27am

>3 Macumbeira: And he does it all while playing the saxophone.

7RickHarsch
Nov 26, 2019, 6:27am

and drinking scotch whiskey all night long

8Macumbeira
Nov 26, 2019, 1:57pm

Why are there so many typos in what I write ? Is there an effing autocorrector at work behind my back ? Yes there is !

9baswood
Dec 14, 2019, 8:57am

>2 baswood: Number 1 off the list



The Battle of Dorking - George Tomkyns Chesney
This novella written in 1871 is on most lists of must read proto-science fiction, because it was one of the first books that had a theme of an alternative reality. In this case it imagined a successful German Invasion of England. This description is a little misleading because there is very little about what life would have been like in England under an occupation: nine tenths of the book is about a significant battle between two armies on the North Downs of England; after all Chesney called his book The Battle of Dorking and so this should not come as any surprise.

Sir George Tomkyns Chesney was a British Army General, politician, and writer of fiction, (there are no other works of his still in print although they can be found online) and I am sure he would have been surprised by the relative success of this novella (60 pages). Sir George writes well about what he knows and this is a land battle in the late nineteenth century. He imagines the British army being ill prepared and suffering because of a better equipped and better trained enemy. The book does serve as a warning to Britain as Chesney sketches the political situation as he saw it in 1870's England: an economy dependent on trade and raw materials supplied by its commonwealth, with an army that was being scaled down in deference to a more powerful navy. He imagines a situation where troubles in Ireland and in India have stretched the army to a point where it is not able to defend its homeland. Although the invading country is not named it is obviously Germany. The alternate history serves as an introduction to the real meat of the book which a disastrous defensive action against the invasion.

Chesney writes from the point of view of a reservist called up with a couple of days notice to fight for his country. The description of the logistics of an overstretched transport system and the battle itself seems quite realistic. It was particularly relevant for me because I know the countryside around Dorking very well and could easily relate to the protagonist who does his best to do his bit in a situation that is confused and difficult. The battle scene itself is vividly described both from the point of view of the soldiers and the civilians inevitably caught up in the conflict. It is not an anti-war book, nor a book of heroic action it is rather a blow by blow account of a few days of military action and its consequences.

A political and strategic battle story whose realistic well written style holds the attention, the later addition of its significance to a genre still over 40 years away from its creation makes this well worth a look. I would not be averse to reading one of Chesney's other works of fiction if I came across them in a second hand bookshop. 3.5 stars.

10RickHarsch
Dec 14, 2019, 11:50am

What about Maldoror?

11baswood
Feb 4, 2020, 7:10am

12baswood
Feb 4, 2020, 8:33am

Erewhon - Samuel Butler
"My publisher wishes me to say a few words about the genesis of the work, a revised and enlarged edition of which he is herewith laying before the public.Having now, I fear, at too great length done what I was asked to do, I should like to add a few words on my own account. I am still fairly well satisfied with those parts of “Erewhon” that were repeatedly rewritten, but from those that had only a single writing I would gladly cut out some forty or fifty pages if I could."

This is from Butler's preface from the 1901 edition of a book that was originally published in 1872 and I wish he had cut out some of those pages as I found much of the writing quite laboured. It all starts well enough with the narrator (Higgs) describing a journey over a mountain range to discover the hidden world of Erewhon. He travels with a native (Chowbok) but finds himself abandoned when Chowbok heads back to the sheep railhead in fear of his life. The journey across the mountains is exciting and well told as is the initial meeting with the beautiful race of Erewhonians. However the meat of the book is the description of the culture and society that Higgs has discovered. The format of the book is very similar to Edward Bulwer-Lytton's The Coming Race which had been published a year previously (1871) and like that book the author seems to forget that he is telling a story and launches into a description of an imaginary culture, while leaving his narrator as little more than a fly on the wall role.

The most striking differences in the culture of Erewhon that Higgs finds is their belief in an outward show of beauty and bodily health and an absence of machines. Illness is treated as a crime and so people go to great lengths to hide their illnesses or disabilities. The people as a whole are skilled in the art of sophistry as is the author Samuel Butler who is able to draw out false conclusions from laboured descriptions of events. I found the explanations of the reasons why the Erewhonians do what they do tedious and uninspired. The book has been described as a satire on Victorian society, but for me the satire was neither comic enough nor sharp enough to hit its targets.

A good example of the sophistic nature of Butler's arguments is near the start of his three chapters on the use of machines:

"Assume for the sake of argument that conscious beings have existed for some twenty million years: see what strides machines have made in the last thousand!"

An interesting thought but from this premise Butler goes on to show why the Erewhonians finally came to the conclusion that machines should be destroyed to stop them from taking over. Back in 1872 when this book was first published this may have been a new line of thought and might have stirred up worries about the future, but Butlers three chapters of overstretched theories would not convince anyone. Before he picks up the narrative of Higgs' escape there is time for two chapters which might seem prophetic when read today: The Rights of animals and the rights of vegetables, but as previously it is difficult to understand whether the satire is directed at the Erewhonians or Victorian England especially when Butler starts his chapters with:

"It will be seen from the foregoing chapters that the Erewhonians are a meek and long-suffering people, easily led by the nose, and quick to offer up common sense at the shrine of logic"

Butler continues to make the point that the Erewhonian society was based on faddism, they had developed dissembling into an art form, but even after the authors many chapters I could not see how it could possibly work. Higgs only interests seems to have been how he could prove that they were one of the 12 lost tribes of Israel and how he could convert them to Christianity. When he finally escaped he launched a scheme where they could be invaded and used for slave labour. He says:

I will guarantee that I convert the Erewhonians not only into good Christians but into a source of considerable profit to the shareholders.

I understand that Butler's targets were religion, use of machinery, appearance, dishonesty and illogicality, even exploitation and colonialism, perhaps capitalism, but the reader has to work very hard wading through Butler's prose to piece together his arguments, which can be contradictory.
Very dry and I couldn't get in tune with Butler's prose and I had this nagging suspicion that I was missing something, but I could not summon up the enthusiasm to go back over and find out what that was. Offensive to the LGTB community? depends if you think it is satire. 3 stars.

13baswood
Mar 10, 2020, 6:24pm

Caxton's Book - W H Rhodes
Reading books cited as having an influence on early science fiction before the genre was invented can lead to some interesting curiosities and some good writing; it can also lead the reader to wonder just why he bothered to unearth the book in the first place . W H Rhodes collection of short stories, poems sketches and essays published in 1876 does not quite fall into the second category, but his poetry comes mighty close.

W H Rhodes was an American lawyer based in Galveston and wrote stories and essays some of which were published in the newspaper under the name of Caxton. His 'The Case of Summerfield' was his most talked about story and it appears in this posthumous collection. Summerfield had invented a chemical based on potassium which he demonstrated could burn water by separating hydrogen and oxygen. He threatened to set fire to the ocean unless he was paid a huge ransom. It is a rather pedestrian story and far better is 'Phases in the Life of John Pollexfen' which is genuinely macabre. Pollexfen wanted to push the boundaries of science by the invention of a process to make colour photographs. He became convinced that the living eye of his attractive assistant would enable him to discover the secret and he offered her a substantial sum of money to allow him to cut out her eye. The adventure story entitled The Aztec Princess also has it's moments with ideas of overcoming gravity and of creating a language based on musical notes, however the story fizzles out after an interesting beginning. The tenor of these stories is that nothing should stand in the way of science, which may well have been a popular theme when Rhodes was writing in the 1870's

This collection was published by Rhode's admirers after his death and they would have done him more of a service if they had not included his poetry. As for the three or four stories that have attracted the attention of the science fiction community: they are mildly curious at best and tainted with too much of the spirit of onwards and upwards in the cause of science. 2 stars.

14baswood
Edited: Jul 6, 2020, 10:49am



The Last Days of the Republic, P W Dooner - P W Dooner
This book has been listed in a genre of anti-enlightenment invasion fiction. Published in 1880 it foretold the invasion of America by China from the vantage point of a historian looking back from the early years of the 20th century. Neither Pierton W Dooner or his book has a page on wikipedia, but he can be tracked down in 1870 when he was the editor of a weekly newspaper: the Arizonian based is Tuscon. Described as a pioneer editor Dooner certainly had run-ins with local politicians which resulted in him having to close down his paper and leave the territory. He moved on to California where he later practiced law. His altercations with politicians may have been responsible for his views of the state of America in 1880 which take up the first four chapters of his book. According to him it is a country riven with political controversy and greed and therefore ripe for invasion.

It was probably the fears of Asian invasions sparked off by the employment of Chinese labour on the Central Pacific Railroad in the 1860's leading to the Californian State Legislature passing an Anti-Coolie Act that gave Dooner the idea for his book. He describes California as a state where the rich were getting richer by hiring Chinese labourers and undercutting the American workers. This resulted in racial tensions and politicians needed to agree on how to deal with the issues, but owing to individual self interest no consensus could be achieved. It has to be said that Dooner is deeply prejudiced against the Chinese workers and saw them as an advanced force for an invasion by the mother country:

‘This unwholesome spirit (a servile attitude), seconded by a consuming avarice and directed by a most incredible cunning; laid the foundations of a scheme of conquest, unparalleled in the human race.'

The Chinese took the place of the negro workers in the Southern States, because they would work hard in worse conditions, however they were organised amongst themselves and the advanced guard of Chinese coolies became militarised as more and more of them flooded into America. They formed their own army and quick local victories were supported by mainland China. They were more ruthless than their American counterparts and better organised and although the American fought bravely they were overcome in a matter of a few years, mainly because of the numbers of Chinese on the battlefield and their ability to put up with atrocious conditions and needing only a bowl full of rice for sustenance. The American resistance was fractured by disagreements and the old divisions between the North and the South reappeared.

This is a political diatribe rather than a novel. A diatribe that would play on the fears of its english readership. Populist fiction dressed up to look like a well thought out road map of the future. Reprehensible of course, but it has ben considered as an example of invasion literature. It all sounds half-baked today and I hope it did when it was published. 2 stars.

15baswood
Aug 25, 2020, 9:56am

Across the Zodiac - Percy Greg
A science fiction novel published in 1880, which has been cited for being the first such novel to attempt to give the nuts and bolts of an alien language: unfortunately Percy Greg did not stop there, but supplied the nuts and bolts of many other things as well, making his novel a bit of a trial to read. It was published in two volumes and while it might have kept Victorian audiences entertained it only sparked occasionally into life for me. There is also the depiction of the child-like women, which just about stays the right side of being creepy.

It is a story of one man's solo flight to the planet Mars which was discovered from papers found in a crater on a Pacific island. It is told in the first person and seems to be dated 1830. The hero of this tale finds a Martian civilisation more advanced than that on earth, but he has the advantage of being a foot taller than the average and also posses strength and agility because of gravitational differences. The interest shown in his space flight makes him welcome as a guest in a rich man's house, he learns the language, marries one of the daughters and then discovers there is an underground movement to re-introduce religion into society. He becomes a leading member of the new movement, who are planning some sort of coup. Mars has a monarch who becomes fascinated with the spaceman and grants him a palace and a harem of his own.

Percy Greg spends many words creating a Martian society, based around women being virtual slaves to the men. Because of his size the spaceman sees the women as child-like creatures and treats them accordingly, trying to control their petulant and wilful behaviour, even his favourite wife he refers to as "child." My issues with this novel were the prosaic descriptions and the sometimes turgid explanations of Martian speech and manners. In their original form each of these volumes ran to nearly 300 pages and I found it hard work to keep my eyes on the page. There is an interesting story and it is an early example of world building, but two stars from me.

16baswood
Edited: Sep 13, 2020, 4:38am



Jules Verne - Autour de La Lune
Around the moon published in 1869 is the sequel to Verne's From the Earth to the Moon published four years earlier. It qualifies as the first real hard science fiction novel containing at one point an algebraic equation as proof of the speed necessary for the three adventures to leave the earths atmosphere. This sequel takes up the story of the earlier novel where the three adventurers (they cant really be called astronauts) are waiting for the enormous cannon to be fired that will launch their hollowed out bullet like capsule towards the moon. Two Americans: Barbican the President of the gun club and Nicholl the scientist along with the Frenchman the bon viveur Michael Ardan are resting on their water filled couches and awaiting the explosion. The cannon is successfully fired and the three men gradually regain consciousness and check their calculations to ensure that they will hit the moon.

On the journey to the moon they are knocked off course by a tiny asteroid and find themselves in orbit around the moon with their hopes dashed of making a landing and resigned to being entombed in a satellite that will forever circle the moon. It is at this point when the three men particularly the scientists have considered all their options that the Frenchman says 'There is only one thing that we can do - we must sit down and have lunch' and he cracks open a bottle of good quality french wine.

It is of course a preposterous story from the vantage of our 21st century knowledge of a journey to the moon, but Verne spends a large part of this novel bombarding the reader with factual detail, which includes a potted history of the use of telescopes and calculations of distances and speeds needed for a trip to the moon, much of this would appear to be accurate, but don't ask me as my eyes started to glaze over when I came across that equation. Perhaps Verne was trying to convince his readers in 1869 that such a trip under the circumstances that he imagined was possible, but all that will be lost on todays readers and all that is left for us to do is to verify what he got right. The devil may care attitude of the characters also rings hollow, although there are some amusing moments. This is a story where scientific detail gets in the way of a good story line - sounds like hard science fiction to me and so 3 stars.

17Macumbeira
Sep 13, 2020, 11:05am

Once more a nice review Bas and a reminder of Jules Verne's important place in the world of SF. I think your remark "This is a story where scientific detail gets in the way of a good story line " is very pertinent and could be said about several of Verne books. I had the same reaction towards his 20.000 miles..., although the novel contains fantastic chapters.

But most of the time it is the brilliant illustrations of Riou, de Neuville and Bayard that we remember, not Verne's lines.

thumbed

19baswood
Sep 14, 2020, 4:59am

>17 Macumbeira: I buy the books for the illustrations.

20baswood
Nov 24, 2020, 3:56pm



Richard Jeffries - After London or Wild England
There have been plenty of Utopia novels through the ages starting in Europe with Utopia by Thomas More in 1516, but there have been far fewer dystopians; the first was probably The Last Man by Mary Shelly in 1826 which featured a devastating pandemic, there was nothing else that threatened the whole of mankind until Jeffries book published in 1885. This might be the first book to describe the earth in a scenario that is familiar to many science fiction readers today: an old civilisation has died out, because of a catastrophic event and any survivors must start almost from scratch to build a new society, without the help of the science and engineering that died with the old race.

In Jeffries' After London an event similar to the extinction of the dinosaurs has taken place, but it is the human civilisation that has been destroyed. Nobody knows what happened exactly; there are theories of the earth passing through a cloud of darkness or a tilting of the axis, but this does not concern the humans who now inhabit a very different England. Nature has destroyed much of the evidence of the previous civilisation and the geography of England is now very different; an enormous lake of clear sweet water occupies the centre of the country with humans living around the shores reduced to a stone age like existence, The science of mining and smelting metals has been lost and the only metal that exists is that which has been found. It is a feudal society where the most powerful nobles are those that have kept or found items from the past. Jeffries novel has two parts: the first and much shorter section tells how nature has reclaimed the earth after the demise of humankind. Jeffries had made his living as an essayist and novelist based on his writing about nature and natural history and so he was well equipped to describe a developing world minus human beings. The second part tells the story of Felix the son of one of the nobles who has become impoverished. Felix is a dreamer and builds a canoe to explore the uncharted waters of the enormous lake. The second part reads like an adventure story.

Richard Jeffries had also been successful with children's books and his writing has an easy flow that seems totally absent of the more stilted writing that can be found in some Victorian fiction. His description of the inefficient sieges and battles that occur between the fighting warlords and Felix's journey across the lake are convincing, but the best moments are when Felix enters the bad lands where the city of London used to be. It is an area that is totally poisoned with gasses and inflammable material, like something that could be imagined after a nuclear explosion or a volcanic eruption.

As one of the first books of it's kind it is an essential read for anybody interested in the genre of proto science fiction. The innocence of the natural world does battle with the rapaciousness of man's needs in a charming novel, a bit of a find and 3.5 stars

21Macumbeira
Nov 26, 2020, 12:53am

Thumbs up, thanks Bas !

22baswood
Jan 14, 2021, 2:03pm



The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mister Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson
First published in 1886 as a penny dreadful and subsequently filmed many times Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde will be familiar to many readers. The idea of a dual personality: one inherently good and one inherently evil inhabiting one body and the battle between the two certainly fired the publics imagination and it was an immediate success. I came to read as part of my progress through victorian novels that contain the seeds of science fiction. This book does more than contain the seeds it gave vent to a sub-genre all of its own; the crazy scientist working in secret on a potion that will enhance his life in some drastic faction, but has unfortunate side effects. Jules Verne's Doctor Ox published in 1872 had a comparable theme and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Doran Grey published in 1891 arguably developed the idea, but these both had elements of humour to lighten the reading: Stevenson's book has about as much humour as Scottish bagpipes. It is dark and gothic in a way that gives a nod to the literature of Edgar Allan Poe.

It is a novella in length with the final third being epistolary in form and although it is Victorian and gothic there is a tightness to the writing. The mystery moves smartly forward with Stevensons characterisation's adding to the feeling of unease that the author generates. It is a story revelling in its maleness, the only female character in an unnamed maid who witnesses a murder. It is written as a mystery and so the insights into the characters of Jekyll and Hyde are only revealed in the fairly long denouement. Mr Utterson the protagonist is by his own admission dull, but trustworthy and he is aided by his cousin Richard Enfield said to be a man about town but gives little evidence of it. The focus of the story is on the mystery of Jekyll and Hyde and I think this is why it succeeds so well along with its exploration into the murky dualities of Victorian men.

It is little more than an afternoons read and it might surprise people who have only seen the movie versions. I enjoyed it and so 4 stars.

23baswood
Apr 12, 2021, 5:52am



W H Hudson - A Crystal Age
Listed as a proto - science fiction novel; A Crystal Age published in 1887 has all the charm of a Victorian fantasy novel tinged with an echo of erotism that permeates the tale. William Henry Hudson was an Argentinian author, naturalist and Ornithologist who emigrated to London in 1874 and became a British citizen some time later. He was the author of nearly fifty books a mixture of novels, ornithological works and books about the English countryside. He was an acquaintance of George Gissing. His most famous novel was Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest.

Told in the first person Smith; a keen English amateur naturalist exploring rough terrain falls some 40 feet into a deep hollow and loses consciousness. He awakes to find himself in a different country. Exploring he comes across a curious burial party and after witnessing a short service he is invited by a father figure back to the house for refreshment. He discovers a small community living in a large old house who are in tune with their natural surroundings. They know nothing of England or modern civilisation and are easily upset by Smiths rough city ways. Their clothing fits like the skin of a snake in sumptuous colours and Smith falls in love with one of the bright young girls. Their written language is different and Smith finds himself on a steep learning curve if he wants to stay in the community. He makes a contract with the father figure for a years work in exchange for bed and board and a suit of their wonderful attire.

Smith finds a self contained community perfectly in tune with each other and with their natural surroundings, they have an intense relationship with the fauna and flora and of course are vegetarian. Yoletta the girl of his dreams pays some attention to Smith and when he declares his love for her, she says she loves him too as she does all the bright young things in the community. Their relationship develops, but when Smith says he wants to possess her body and soul, she has no understanding of his meaning. Smiths need for physical love is something beyond the groups comprehension:

Ah, no! that was a vain dream, I could not be deceived by it; for who can say to the demon of passion in him, thus far shalt thou go and no further?

Some time later Smith learns that it is a matriarchal society and there is a Mother figure whom he has not met. The community have been deeply offended that Smith has not asked for an audience with Chastel. This has only been because of his ignorance and when he meets Chastel a sick woman he must undertake a whole new learning experience.

Hudson's main character is the natural world, the beauty of the countryside the gentleness of the communities existence, there seems no clouds on their horizon and the idyllic surroundings are almost worshipped by the group. It seems to be almost a fairy land, but there is a twist to the tale and Hudson cleverly builds up his story to a satisfying conclusion. I enjoyed the atmosphere created by the author, slow moving at first, but the mystery and the wonder expressed in the natural world held my interest. Of its kind this story has its own little notes of pleasure and so a four star read.

24baswood
Jun 5, 2021, 4:38pm



Looking Backward: 2000-1887 - Edward Bellamy
"In 1889, a new political magazine in Boston described plans for an American Revolution of 1950.” Denouncing the “wage slavery” of the Gilded Age, the writers proposed to abolish capitalism and turn the economy over to the people. But this magazine had no connection to the Communist Second International which convened that summer in Paris, and its contributors were hardly members of the industrial proletariat. Rather, they were middle-class reformers who had been radicalized by a work of fiction: Edward Bellamy’s utopian novel Looking Backward, published the previous year.

Probably no cultural work was more responsible for pushing public opinion to the left in the Progressive Era. Decades later, Erich Fromm called Looking Backward “one of the most remarkable books ever published in America,” and William Dean Howells observed that it “virtually founded the Populist Party.” In 1935, when the philosopher John Dewey, the essayist Edward Weeks, and the historian Charles Beard were asked to list the most influential works of the previous half century, they all put Bellamy’s novel in second place, just after Karl Marx’s Kapital. And it was not just appreciated by an intellectual elite — Looking Backward was the third best-selling American book of its time."
(Internet site placesjournal.org)

Bellamy's novel and I suppose it can just about claim to be a novel: there is a love story within, was a success. In the United Stead alone over 162 "Bellamy Clubs" sprang up to propagate the books ideas. In the novel Julian West a young entrepreneur suffers from insomnia and after a succession of sleepless nights he turns to a doctor friend to put him in a trance to help him sleep. The year is 1897 and when he wakes up it is 2000 and the world is a different place. The United States has become one large socialist state, one of many in the world. He finds himself under the protection of Doctor Leete and his family and the good Doctor takes it upon himself to ease Julian into his new life in the year 2000. Boston has become a beautiful city in an Utopia based on Marxist principles. Much of the book is taken up with Doctor Leete showing Julian around the city paying particular attention to how the new industrial society functions. Doctor Leete does not spare his opprobrium for the society from which Julian sprang and sets out to educate his new charge. Here is an example:

"I suppose," observed Dr. Leete, as we strolled homeward from the dining hall, "that no reflection would have cut the men of your wealth-worshiping century more keenly than the suggestion that they did not know how to make money. Nevertheless, that is just the verdict history has passed on them. Their system of unorganized and antagonistic industries was as absurd economically as it was morally abominable. Selfishness was their only science, and in industrial production selfishness is suicide. Competition, which is the instinct of selfishness, is another word for dissipation of energy, while combination is the secret of efficient production; and not till the idea of increasing the individual hoard gives place to the idea of increasing the common stock can industrial combination be realized, and the acquisition of wealth really begin."

Doctor Leete goes into some detail as to how the new wealth creation system works and the biggest divergence from Marxist thought is as to how the world finally came to its senses and how it got there. There was no revolution, no struggle; under the old capitalist system the companies and organisation had become so large that the only way that they could increase wealth was to morph into one large socialist state. Once this process started there was a snowball effect and everyone embraced the concepts of egality and fraternity.

Unlike many other Utopian novels I have read this one is based on logical thought and there is no fly in the ointment. Julian's worst nightmare is that he would return to the Boston of 1897 especially as he falls in love with Doctor Leete's daughter. It is really not much of a novel more a book of ideas, but ideas explained with practical examples that are easy to grasp. Some readers might find it over long at more than 300 pages and of course confirmed subscribers to our capitalist society will not be swayed by what they read. The fact that Bellamy's predictions were so totally wide of the mark did not stop me thinking "if only he could have been right" I would have been more than happy to live in Bellamy's utopia and so 5 stars.

25baswood
Nov 11, 2021, 5:36pm



Edgar Fawcett - Solarion
Published in 1889 in Lipincott's monthly magazine, this is a proto science fiction story. Edgar Fawcett was a fairly prolific novelist and poet: Wiki describe him as being successful in his time, but his works are mainly forgotten today. He tried his hand with several stories that today would be classified as science fiction and Solarion reads pretty well today. Fawcett's Solarion may well have been the first story about a super intelligent dog, certainly Olaf Stapledon scored a success with Sirius in 1944 and that novel owes something to Solarion apart from the fact that the name of the animals have some similarities and are the titles of the novels.

The novel is set in Switzerland where an American is pleased to have escaped the busy city life and his countrymen. While eating in a local restaurant he notices a man whose face is appallingly disfigured, almost half of it is missing; he discovers that he is a fellow American and Hugh Brookstayne is intrigued. Stafford the disfigured man finally agrees to tell his story. He was a keen scientist looking to find a connection between electricity and its possible effect on the mind. He tracked down a German scientist whose work was never published and used his theories to enhance the mind power of a specially selected breed of dog. Stafford succeeds beyond his expectations with Solarion, but encounters moral and philosophical problems that he had not foreseen. He is also in love with Celia who rejects his marriage proposal and life gets more complicated when Celia becomes besotted with Solarian.

The book describes itself as a Romance and there is a love story that holds it all together. Developments in electrical engineering in the late 19th century were quickly coming on stream and the story would hold some fascination for the imaginative reader. This together with the unexpected issues thrown up by questions of love and loyalty, by metaphysics and spiritualism takes this story along many avenues. In his conversations with Solarian (yes the dog can talk) Stafford tries to instruct him about love:

"It is a power that impulses incessantly through mankind. To some hearts it is a benign blessing; to others it is a frightful curse. Now while you and I speak together, there are men and women pale and tortured with the throews of its ungratified passion. Men when they feel it, cannot explain it, women can explain it still less.................... It is a perpetual comedy, a perpetual tragedy. It is always crowning mortals with roses, it is always dooming them to bottomless pits of torment........ "

The story has some mystery some imagination and it examines again the tropes of a man made monster; Solarion is doomed to a life of loneliness. Fawcett tells a good story and he examines themes that take it out of the well trodden paths of romance and adventure. Characterisation is also good and so 3.5 stars.

26Macumbeira
Nov 18, 2021, 2:16pm

Nice reviews Bas, especially the Bellamy.
How do you pick your books ? What's your next read ?

27baswood
Nov 19, 2021, 4:30pm

The list for my proto-science fiction reads has been cobbled together from various other lists of early science fiction. It is in chronological order and I find myself now in 1889 and the next book is The last American, J Mitchell. I have no idea what this is about, but perhaps the clue is in the title.

28baswood
Mar 25, 7:19am



The Last American, John Ames Mitchell - John Ames Mitchell
Back to proto science fiction this week and a novella published in 1889 by John Ames Mitchell, who was a publisher, architect, artist and novelist. He was co-founder, editor and publisher of the original Life magazine.

Aboard the Zlotuhb in the year 2951 is the title page to this future history novella. It is a diary by the captain of the Persian exploratory ship which has been sent to search for the lost continent of Mehrika. They are sent on their way by Hedful the curator of the Imperial museum at Shiraz:

He holds the opinion with many other historians that the Mehrikans were a mongrel race, with little or no patriotism, and were purely imitative; simply an enlarged copy of other nationalities extant at the time. He pronounces them a shallow, nervous, extravagant people, and accords them but few redeeming virtues.

The wealth, luxury, and gradual decline of the native population; the frightful climatic changes which swept the country like a mower's scythe; the rapid conversion of a vast continent, alive with millions of pleasure-loving people, into a silent wilderness, where the sun and moon look down in turn upon hundreds of weed-grown cities,


They do of course find Mehrika and succeed in accidentally finishing off the last living Mehrikans . This is a satirical novel/novella/magazine article which can be read for free at project Gutenberg. It was republished in 1893 as a small hardcover book of 78 pages illustrated with half page etchings inserted into the text. Today it is a half an hours light reading with the main interest of working out the satirical names of the crew members:
Grip-til-lah, Nofuhl, Lev-el-Hedyd, Ja-khaz and the rest.

However Mitchell might have been prescient in predicting the dystopia of climate change. 2.5 stars.