Long before 1961, when Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shephard became the first humans to journey beyond Earth's atmosphere, writers envisioned spaceflight and life on other planets. These authors, all born before 1900, took their readers to the moon ... beyond ... and into our future.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Edward Bellamy (1850-1898)

Edward Bellamy, son of Rufus King Bellamy and Maria Louisa Putnam, was born in Chicopee, MA on 26 Mar 1850. In 1882 he married Emma Augusta Sanderson, with whom he had two children: Paul and Marion. At the age of 25, he developed tuberculosis and suffered with its effects throughout his adult life. He died as a result of the disease in Chicopee on 22 May 1898. 

Bellamy's early novels, including "Six to One" (1877), "Dr. Heidenhoff's Process" (1880) and "Miss Ludington's Sister" (1884) were unremarkable works, making use of standard psychological plots. A turn to utopian science fiction with "Looking Backward, 2000–1887," published in January 1888, captured the public imagination and catapulted him to literary fame. The publisher of the book could scarcely keep up with demand. Within a year the book had sold some 200,000 copies and by the end of the 19th century it had sold more copies than any other book published in America outside of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Looking Backward

The book tells the story of Julian West, a young American who, towards the end of the 19th century, falls into a deep, hypnosis-induced sleep and wakes up one hundred and thirteen years later. He finds himself in the same location (Boston, Massachusetts), but in a totally changed world: It is the year 2000 and, while he was sleeping, the United States has been transformed into a socialist utopia. The remainder of the book outlines Bellamy's thoughts about improving the future. The major themes include problems associated with capitalism, a proposed socialist solution of a nationalisation of all industry, the use of an "industrial army" to organize production and distribution, as well as how to ensure free cultural production under such conditions.

The young man readily finds a guide, Doctor Leete, who shows him around and explains all the advances of this new age; including drastically reduced working hours for people performing menial jobs and almost instantaneous, Internet-like delivery of goods. Everyone retires with full benefits at age 45, and may eat in any of the public kitchens. The productive capacity of America is nationally owned, and the goods of society are equally distributed to its citizens. A considerable portion of the book is dialogue between Leete and West wherein West expresses his confusion about how the future society works and Leete explains the answers using various methods, such as metaphors or direct comparisons with 19th-century society.

Although Bellamy's novel did not discuss technology or the economy in detail, commentators frequently compare Looking Backward with actual economic and technological developments. For example, Julian West is taken to a store which (with its descriptions of cutting out the middleman to cut down on waste in a similar way to the consumers' cooperatives of his own day based on the Rochdale Principles of 1844) somewhat resembles a modern warehouse club like BJ's, Costco, or Sam's Club. He additionally introduces a concept of "credit" cards in chapters 9, 10, 11, 13, 25, and 26, but these actually function like modern debit cards. All citizens receive an equal amount of "credit." Those with more difficult, specialized, dangerous or unpleasant jobs work fewer hours (in contrast to the real-world practice of paying them more for their efforts of, presumably, the same hours). Bellamy also predicts both sermons and music being available in the home through cable "telephone". Bellamy labeled the philosophy behind the vision "nationalism", and his work inspired the formation of more than 160 Nationalist Clubs to propagate his ideas.

Although Bellamy claimed he did not write "Looking Backward" as a blueprint for political action, but rather sought to write "a literary fantasy, a fairy tale of social felicity," the book inspired legions of inspired readers to establish so-called Nationalist Clubs, beginning in Boston late in 1888. Bellamy's vision of a country relieved of its social ills through abandonment of the principle of competition and establishment of state ownership of industry proved an appealing panacea to a generation of intellectuals alienated from the dark side of Gilded Age America. By 1891 it was reported that no fewer than 162 Nationalist Clubs were in existence.

Edwin Balmer (1883-1959)

Edwin Balmer, son of Thomas Balmer and Helen Clark, was born in Chicago, IL on 26 Jul 1883. He died on 21 Mar 1959. In 1909 he married Katharine MacHarg, sister of writer William McHarg. After her death he married Grace A. Kee.

Together with author Philip Wylie, Balmer wrote the catastrophe novels "When Worlds Collide" (1933) and "After Worlds Collide" (1934). The former was made into an award winning movie in 1951. With artist Marvin Bradley, Balmer also helped create the syndicated comic strip "Speed Spaulding", partiall based on the Worlds Collide series, which ran from 1938-1941 in the commic book Famous Funnies.

When Worlds Collide (1951) - Theatrical Trailer

Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950)

Edgar Rice Burroughs, son of Maj. George Tyler Burroughs and Mary Evaline Zieger, was born in Chicago, IL on 1 Sep 1875. 

In January 1900 he married Emma Hulbert with whom he had three children: Joan, Hulbert and John Coleman. Joan Burroughs married Tarzan actor James Pierce. From 1932-1936 they were the voices of Tarzan and Jane on national radio show Tarzan. They remained married until Joan's death in 1972. Both are buried in Shelbyville, IN and their tombstones bear the inscriptions Tarzan and Jane.

Burroughs divorced Emma in 1934 and married actress Florence Gilbert Dearholt the following year. They divorced in 1942 and died in Encino, CA on 19, Mar 1950.

Aiming his work at the pulps. Burroughs wrote popular science fiction and fantasy stories involving Earth adventurers who were transported to lost islands, the earth's hollow interior (in his Pellucidar stories) and various planets — notably Barsoom (Burroughs's fictional name for Mars) and Amtor (his fictional name for Venus). Much of his work was published in the Argosy and All Story magazines.

Burroughs first story, Under the Moons of Mars, was serialized by Frank Munsey in the February-July 1912 issues of The All-Story. It was written under the name Norman Bean to protect his reputation. It inaugurated the Barsoom series. A Princess of Mars was published as a book by A.C. McClurg of Chicago in 1917.

Burroughs soon took up writing full-time and by the time the run of Under the Moons of Mars finished he had completed two novels, including Tarzan of the Apes published in October 1912.

Tarzan was a cultural sensation when introduced and Burroughs was determined to capitalize on Tarzan's popularity in every way possible. He planned to exploit Tarzan through several different media including a syndicated Tarzan comic strip, movies and merchandise. Experts in the field advised against this course of action, stating that the different media would just end up competing against each other. Burroughs went ahead, however, and proved the experts wrong — the public wanted Tarzan in whatever fashion he was offered. Tarzan remains one of the most successful fictional characters to this day and is a cultural icon.

In either 1915 or 1919, Burroughs purchased a large ranch north of Los Angeles, California, which he named "Tarzana." The citizens of the community that sprang up around the ranch voted to adopt that name when Tarzana, California was formed in 1927. Also, the unincorporated community of Tarzan, Texas, was formally named in 1927 when the U.S. Postal Service accepted the name, reputedly coming from the popularity of an early Tarzan comic strip and the silent film Tarzan of the Apes (1918), starring Elmo Lincoln.

Tarzan of the Apes (1918)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Ray Cummings (1887-1957)

"Time is what keeps everything from happening at once." ~Ray Cummings

Raymond King Cummings was born in New York on 30 Aug 1887. He died in Mount Vernon, NY on 23 Jan 1957. An American author of science fiction, Cummings was rated one of the "founding fathers of the science fiction pulp genre".  Educated at Princeton University, he served as an assistant to Thomas Edison for five years, before embarking on a career in writing.

His debut novelette, “The Girl in the Golden Atom”, was originally published in Argosy in 1919. His first novel, "The Shadow Girl" appeared in 1921. In 1923, they were combined into the novel “The Girl in the Golden Atom” which has been reprinted numerous times, often in an abridged version.

The Girl in the Golden Atom

Hear it HERE
The original novelette finds five men at their club: The Chemist, The Doctor, The Banker, The Big Business Man and The Very Young Man (this is how Cummings refers to them throughout, though he eventually does reveal their names). By sing a super-high-powered microscope, The Chemist has discovered that there are worlds within worlds and habitated universes within the very atoms of everything that makes up our world. He has also developed chemicals that will allow him to shrink and enlarge, so he can visit the universe he has discovered within the atoms of his mother’s golden wedding ring. In other words, Cummings was there first with the idea that sparked the plots for countless comic books and movies later on.

In the first part of the original novelette, The Chemist visits the Golden Atom, falls in love with the beautiful girl he spied on there and assists her people in a war with an enemy city-state. He does this by growing to giant size and stomping on the enemy army. Since The Chemist decides not to return to his world, The Doctor, The Big Business Man and The Very Young Man eventually use the chemicals he left behind to follow him into the Golden Atom. There they find The Chemist, a revolution, excitement, danger and romance, along with a lot of shrinking to hide from enemies and growing to giant size to stomp them. (There’s a lot of stomping, both deliberate and accidental, which at times provides some rather bizarre humor.)

The first half of the book is pretty slow, where the characters walk around, look at things and talk about the history, geography and social customs of the world in which they’ve found themselves. There’s also a lot of pseudo-scientific discussion about the whole shrinking process. In the second half of the book, the revolution gets underway and the whole thing turns into a colorful, violent, fast-paced adventure that fits pretty well into the sword-and-planet sub-genre of science fiction.

As a writer of primarily science-fiction, Cummings produced some 750 novels and short stories using the pen names Ray King, Gabrielle Cummings and Gabriel Wilson. Most of his stories appeared in the pulp science-fiction magazines such as Amazing Stories and Astonishing Stories during the 1930s and 1940s. He is perhaps best remembered for his novel "The Girl in the Golden Atom" (1922), which has become a science-fiction classic. His other works include "The Man Who Mastered Time" (1924), "Explorers Into Infinity" (1927), "Beyond the Stars" (1928), "The Snow Girl" (1929), "The Sea Girl" (1930), "The Exile of Time" (1931) and "The Insect Invasion" (1932).

During the 1940s, with his fiction career in eclipse, Cummings anonymously scripted comic book stories for Timely Comics, the predecessor to Marvel Comics. He recycled the plot of "The Girl in the Golden Atom" for a two-part Captain America tale, "Princess of the Atom." (Captain America #25 & 26). He also contributed to the "Human Torch" and "Sub-Mariner," which his daughter Betty Cummings also wrote.

Erle Cox (1873-1950)

Erle Cox, son of Ross Cox and Mary Haskell, was born at Emerald Hill, Melbourne, Australia on 15 Aug 1873. In 1901 he married Mary Ellen Kilbourn with whom he had one son and two daughters. He retired due to ill health in Aug 1950 and died the following 20 Nov at his home in Elsternwick.

Cox's first published stories appeared in the Lone Hand in 1908 and 1909. In 1918 he won a Bulletin competition for a four-line epitaph on a fallen soldier. Regular contributions to The Passing Show column in the Melbourne Argus led in 1921 to a post on the editorial staff.

His main claim to fame is his novel "Out of the Silence," a classic work of science fiction. Set in rural Australia, it tells the story of a young vigneron who discovers, buried beneath his land, a huge sphere containing the culture and technology of a past civilization. Cox began to write the book about 1916 but had shaped the idea for it earlier—'pacing up and down the St. Kilda sands'. At first he was unable to find a publisher, but in 1919 the Argus printed the story in weekly installments between 19 April and 25 October. It created extraordinary interest: 'No more successful serial story has been published in Australia' claimed the Australasian in 1925, heralding its appearance in Melbourne in book form. That year it was also published in London and, in 1928, in New York. American reviewers placed it alongside the works of Jules Verne and Rider Haggard. A new edition appeared in 1932; in 1934 the Argus published a picture-strip version and 3DB broadcast the story as a 25-part serial. Two more editions were published: one in 1947 with a prologue added, and in 1974 a French translation entitled "La sphére d'or."

Frona Eunice Wait Colburn (1859-1946)

Eunice Sophronia "Frona" Smith was born in Midland, CA on 19 Aug 1859. She died in Washington, DC in 1946.

In 1875 she married John Courtland Waite with whom she had two children: Myraetta & Bessie After the death of their son Sylvester in 1880, she left her husband and began to work, getting her first job with the Santa Rosa Republican newspaper and learning the writing and publishing trade.

In 1887 she went to work for the San Francisco Examiner as one of the two female staff journalists. She soon rose to associate editor for the Overland Monthly. (Before editing for the Overland Monthly, she wrote articles for it.) 

Although most of her books fall firmly into non-fiction areas like wine tasting and history, Eunice wrote one book that is often sold as an early work of science fiction. "Yermah the Dorado" is an adventure story about a lost race, in a place that will become San Francisco 11,000 years later. She published the book originally in 1897. After seeing the effects of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake she made changes to the book. In her reprint of the book, the author called her book "Yermah the Dorado - pre-vision of what is to be".

Though sold as science fiction, there has been an argument about whether many Victorian era books meet its definition. Darko Suvin argues that the book is not science fiction because it lacks a distinct science-fiction narrative throughout the book.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Camille Flammarion (1842-1925)

Nicolas Camille Flammarion, son of x and x, was born in Montigny-le-Roi, Haute-Marne, France on 26 Feb 1842. He died in x on 3 Jun 1925. He married twice: To Sylvie Petiaux-Hugo and Gabrielle Renaudot (also a noted stronomer). with whom he had x children:

Flammarion was a prolific author of more than 50 titles, including popular science works about astronomy, several notable early science fiction novels and works on psychical research and related topics. He also published the magazine L'Astronomie starting in 1882 and maintained a private observatory at Juvisy-sur-Orge, France.

In "Real and Imaginary Worlds" (1864) and "Lumen" (1887), he describes a range of exotic species, including sentient plants which combine the processes of digestion and respiration. His psychical studies also influenced some of his science fiction, where he would write about his beliefs in a cosmic version of metempsychosis. In "Lumen", a human character meets the soul of an alien, able to cross the universe faster than light, that has been reincarnated on many different worlds, each with their own gallery of organisms and their evolutionary history. Other than that, his writing about other worlds adhered fairly closely to then current ideas in evolutionary theory and astronomy. Among other things, he believed that all planets went through more or less the same stages of development, but at different rates depending on their sizes.

The Flammarion Engraving

The Flammarion Engraving is a wood engraving by an unknown artist, so named because its first documented appearance is in Flammarion's 1888 book "L'atmosphère: météorologie populaire (The Atmosphere Popular Meteorology)." 

In 1907, he wrote that he believed dwellers on Mars had tried to communicate with the Earth in the past. He also believed in 1907 that a seven-tailed comet was heading toward Earth. In 1910, for the appearance of Halley's Comet, he believed the gas from the comet’s tail "would impregnate [the Earth’s] atmosphere and possibly snuff out all life on the planet."


"What intelligent being, what being capable of responding emotionally to a beautiful sight, can look at the jagged, silvery lunar crescent trembling in the azure sky, even through the weakest of telescopes, and not be struck by it in an intensely pleasurable way, not feel cut off from everyday life here on earth and transported toward that first stop on the celestial journeys? What thoughtful soul could look at brilliant Jupiter with its four attendant satellites, or splendid Saturn encircled by its mysterious ring, or a double star glowing scarlet and sapphire in the infinity of night, and not be filled with a sense of wonder? Yes, indeed, if humankind — from humble farmers in the fields and toiling workers in the cities to teachers, people of independent means, those who have reached the pinnacle of fame or fortune, even the most frivolous of society women — if they knew what profound inner pleasure await those who gaze at the heavens, then France, nay, the whole of Europe, would be covered with telescopes instead of bayonets, thereby promoting universal happiness and peace." ~ Camille Flammarion (1880)

"This end of the world will occur without noise, without revolution, without cataclysm. Just as a tree loses leaves in the autumn wind, so the earth will see in succession the falling and perishing all its children, and in this eternal winter, which will envelop it from then on, she can no longer hope for either a new sun or a new spring. She will purge herself of the history of the worlds. The millions or billions of centuries that she had seen will be like a day. It will be only a detail completely insignificant in the whole of the universe. Presently the earth is only an invisible point among all the stars, because, at this distance, it is lost through its infinite smallness in the vicinity of the sun, which itself is by far only a small star. In the future, when the end of things will arrive on this earth, the event will then pass completely unperceived in the universe. The stars will continue to shine after the extinction of our sun, as they already shone before our existence. When there will no longer be on the earth a sole concern to contemplate, the constellations will reign again in the noise as they reigned before the appearance of man on this tiny globule. There are stars whose light shone some millions of years before we arrived … The luminous rays that we receive actually then departed from their bosom before the time of the appearance of man on the earth. The universe is so immense that it appears immutable, and that the duration of a planet such as that of the earth is only a chapter, less than that, a phrase, less still, only a word of the universe’s history." ~ Camille Flammarion, La Fin du Monde (The End of the World)

Monday, February 18, 2013

Hugo Gernsback (1884-1967)

Hugo Gernsbacher was born in Bonnevoie, Luxembourg on 16 Aug 1884 and died in New York City on 19 Aug 1967. The son of a vintner, he married three times: Rose Harvey (1906) with whom he had two children: Madelon and Marcellus Harvey; Dorothy Kantrowitz (1921) with whom he had three children: Bernett, Bertina and Jocelyn; and Mary Hancher (1951).

In 1925, Hugo founded radio station WRNY which broadcast from the 18th floor of The Roosevelt Hotel in New York City and was involved in the first television broadcasts. He is also considered a pioneer in amateur radio.

Before helping to create science fiction, Gernsback was an entrepreneur in the electronics industry, importing radio parts from Europe to the United States and helping to popularize amateur "wireless." In April 1908 he founded Modern Electrics, the world's first magazine about both electronics and radio, called "wireless" at the time. While the cover of the magazine itself contends it was a catalog, most historians note that it contained articles, features and plotlines, qualifying it as a magazine. Under its auspices, in January 1909, he founded the Wireless Association of America, which had 10,000 members within a year.

In 1912, Gernsback said that he estimated 400,000 people in the U.S. were involved in amateur radio. In 1913, he founded a similar magazine, The Electrical Experimenter, which became Science and Invention in 1920. It was in these magazines that he began including scientific fiction stories alongside science journalism—including his own novel "Ralph 124C 41+" which he ran for 12 months from April 1911 in Modern Electrics.

His contributions to the genre were so significant that, along with H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, he is sometimes called "The Father of Science Fiction."

Found at http://arstechnica.com

The man who foresaw science fiction

The first centennial of one of the worst science fiction novels in history is ...

Hugo Gernsback wearing his TV Glasses in 1963 Life magazine shoot.
It is September 1, 2660, and a genius sits in his study, resting up prior to a remarkable display of his scientific prowess. Tomorrow he will demonstrate to scientists that a dog three years technically dead, but preserved with rare elements, can be resuscitated back to life by a simple blood transfusion. He stretches, revealing a huge frame, much taller than the average human, his height approaching that of extraterrestrials.

"His physical superiority, however, was as nothing compared to his gigantic mind," explained his biographer. "He was Ralph 124C 41+, one of the greatest living scientists and one of the ten men on the whole planet earth permitted to use the Plus sign after his name."

So begins Hugo Gernsback's nearly century-old novel, “Ralph 124C 41+”: A Romance of the Year 2660. First published in serial form in April 1911 in his magazine Modern Electrics, it was the magnum opus of the man who popularized the term "science fiction," and in whose name the Hugo Awards are given to writers to this day.

And romantic it is. No sooner does Gernsback introduce us to Ralph than he has his hero rescuing the girl of his dreams, Alice 212B423 of Switzerland, from a snow avalanche via high powered radio signals—she pleading for his help over a wireless video screen from 4,000 miles away. The novel ends (spoiler alert) with the scientist jetting around the solar system to save her from a lovesick Martian named Llysanohr' (that apostrophe is not a typo). She revives following the application of his blood transfusion technique to her traumatized body.

"Dearest," Alice declares upon awakening. "I have just found out what your name really means... ONE TO FORESEE FOR ONE."

Indeed, Ralph's creator took it upon himself to foresee for everyone. Gernsback's novel is a gradually exhausting cavalcade of canny technological predictions—among them video conferencing, social networking, electrical cars, radar, solar power and microfilm. Add to the list some that thankfully haven't been attempted, the "subatlantic tube" among them: "a 3,470-mile underground train system that connects New York and Brest, France, in a direct line through the earth's crust."

Despite all this, few sci-fi fans take “Ralph 124C 41+” seriously today. "Thoroughly deficient as fiction," Gernsback's entry in American National Biography categorically declares. And that is one of the kinder remembrances. "One of the worst disasters ever to hit the science fiction field," acclaimed novelist Brian W. Aldiss wrote of Gernsback in 1973. "He created dangerous precedents which many later editors in the field followed."

But as the scholar Gary Westfahl points out, Gernsback, for all his flaws, was one of, if not the first writer to pointedly ponder a question relevant to this day. What is science fiction for?

Smitten by Mars

He was born Hugo Gernsbacher in 1884, the son of a Luxembourg wine wholesaler who hired private tutors to educate the boy. At the age of nine, somebody gave Hugo a copy of the American astronomer Percival Lowell's controversial book “Mars as the Abode of Life.” Apparently it made quite an impression. "He was immediately sent home, where he lapsed into delirium," writes science fiction historian Sam Moskowitz, "raving about strange creatures, fantastic cities and masterly engineered canals of Mars for two full days and nights while a doctor remained in almost constant attendance."

No surprise then that, upon recovery, the boy glommed onto the burgeoning field of electronics. By his late teens he was applying for patents on his own inventions, most notably a battery for electrical devices. When government offices in Germany and France turned his applications down, he migrated to the United States, where Hugo now-Gernsback blundered through a series of engineering jobs and startups, all of which quickly collapsed.

Finally he made a splash with what Moskowitz calls "the first home radio set in history." Gernsback's Telimco Wireless didn't receive the signals of any broadcast radio stations,  since there were almost none before 1920. But it did ring a bell in an adjacent room without any connecting wires. Such was the sensation the device made that local police demanded a demonstration, following up on a fraud complaint. Satisfied that it worked, the Telimco was subsequently sold in many department stores—that is, until the first World War, when the government banned amateur wireless transmission. This reduced its inventor to marketing the gadget as a kit for electrical experiments.

In the end, none of Gernsback's mechanical innovations got very far. But the magazines he launched to promote them did. The first of these was Modern Electrics, begun as a catalogue of his products in 1908. This was followed by Amazing Stories in 1926, and a slew of others that came and went, among them Air Wonder StoriesScience Wonder Stories and Scientific Detective Monthly.

Cold facts

It was in Amazing Stories that Gernsback first tried to nail down the science fiction idea. "Scientifiction" he initially called it—"charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision." The magazine's masthead went further: "Extravagant Fiction Today—Cold Fact Tomorrow." Gernsback even boasted that he had researchers fact check the technical validity of the stories he published. So many readers wrote into Amazing Stories that he reserved a large "discussions" section of his magazine for comments—the first of the many thousands of forums that empower the science fiction community to this day.

But the notion that sci-fi's purpose was to predict the technological future eventually drew passionate opposition from some of the genre's greatest pens. Six years after Gernsback's death in 1967, Brian Aldiss went after the entrepreneur's emphasis on scientism with a vengeance. "Science fiction is no more written for scientists than ghost stories are written for ghosts," remains one of Aldiss' most famous quotes. As for Gernsback's philosophy, it had "the effect of introducing a deadening literalism into the fiction," he charged in his history of the genre, Billion Year Spree. "As long as the stories were built like diagrams, and made clear like diagrams, and stripped of atmosphere and sensibility, then it did not seem to matter how silly the 'science' or the psychology was."

Hugo Gernsback watching a 1.5 inch square television in August 1928.
Image from his magazine, Radio News.
This seems a little unfair to the author of “Ralph 124C 41+,” but taking Gernsback more seriously as a philosopher also has its risks. There's something a bit scary about Ralph's future, with its world government, scientist-as-god overtones. It's unclear why, in Gernsback's vision, Martians and humans are forbidden to marry. But the notion fits in with one of the less attractive aspects of the Progressive Era: its faith in segregation and "scientific" racism. As late as 1963, one of Gernsback's last publications, Forecast, argued that "chemi-geneticists" could alter the enzymes of African-Americans, allowing them to have white children.

Of course anyone wanting contemporary assumptions from a writer who was born in 1884 is asking for a lot. But the public today expects a very different kind of science fiction than the kind that Gernsback delivered. We're less interested in fiction writers who can augur what's looming over the technological horizon—there's a veritable army of nonfiction "futurists" who do that now. We're much more interested in sci-fi as literature, offering compelling visions of imaginary times and places as metaphors for our own, or just as fun cosmologies to enjoy.

Still, our greatest contemporary writers pay homage to Gernsback's vision. An early William Gibson story titled "The Gernsback Continuum" remembers the substance and style of his world, albeit with irony.

"...as I made the stations of her convoluted socioarchitectural cross in my red Toyota as I gradually tuned in to her image of a shadowy America-that-wasn't, of Coca-Cola plants like beached submarines, and fifth-run movie houses like the temples of some lost sect that had worshiped blue mirrors and geometry. And as I moved among these secret ruins, I found myself wondering what the inhabitants of that lost future would think of the world I lived in. The Thirties dreamed white marble and slipstream chrome, immortal crystal and burnished bronze, but the rockets on the covers of the Gernsback pulps had fallen on London in the dead of night, screaming. After the war, everyone had a car—no wings for it—and the promised superhighway to drive it down, so that the sky itself darkened, and the fumes ate the marble and pitted the miracle crystal."

In Gibson's novels, the perfect technological future which Gernsback foresaw is long abandoned. Yet as the first centennial of “Ralph 124C 41+” approaches, the literary form that its author championed thrives, perhaps even beyond Gernsback's own dreams. Hugo Gernsback "originated the idea" of sci-fi, Gary Westfahl writes. "He uniquely realized that various and present works were in fact part of a single genre." He named that genre, Westfahl adds, and persuaded the world to accept its existence. "It is for those accomplishments, not any innovative qualities in the stories he published, that Gernsback should be celebrated as the founder of science fiction."

George Griffith (1857-1906)

George Griffith, son of a vicar, was born in 1857 and died in 1906. He was a prolific British explorer who wrote during the late Victorian and Edwardian age. His son, Alan Arnold Griffith, was the inventor of the Rolls-Royce Avon jet engine.

Many of his visionary tales appeared in magazines such as Pearson's Magazine and Pearson's Weekly before being published as novels. Griffith was extremely popular in the United Kingdom, though he failed to find similar acclaim in the United States, in part due to his revolutionary and socialist views. A journalist, rather than scientist, by background, what his stories lack in scientific rigour and literary grace they make up for in sheer exuberance of execution.

Although overshadowed by H. G. Wells in the United States, Griffith's epic fantasies of romantic utopians in a future world of war, dominated by airship battle fleets, and grandiose engineering provided a template for steampunk novels a century before the term was coined. Michael Moorcock claims that the works of George Griffith had a dramatic impact on his own writing. The concept of revolutionaries imposing "a pax aeronautica over the earth", at the center of "Angel of the Revolution," was taken up by Wells many years later, in "The Shape of Things to Come." Wells himself once wrote that Griffith's "Outlaws of the Air" was an "aeronautical masterpiece."

Though a less accomplished writer than Upton Sinclair, George Bernard Shaw, and H.G. Wells, his novels were extremely popular in their day, seeing many printings. Griffith's stories foreshadowed World War I and foretold a utopian communist revolution in the United States [which ones?]. It also predicted that Great Britain would ally itself with Germany against a Franco-Russian-Italian alliance, almost the exact opposite of what actually happened when World War I started. Griffith also employed the concepts of the air to surface missile and VTOL aircraft. He wrote several tales of adventure set on contemporary earth, while The Outlaws of the Air depicted a future of aerial warfare and the creation of a Pacific island utopia. Sam Moskowitz described him as "undeniably the most popular science fiction writer in England between 1893 and 1895." Some of his books (especially "The Gold Finder") reflected a belief in the undesirability of racial mixing, due to a supposed deficiency in the black race. These beliefs were similar to those of some other socialists of the time, such as Jack London.

His science fiction depicted grand and unlikely voyages through our solar system in the spirit of Wells or Jules Verne, though his explorers donned space suits remarkably prescient in their design. "Honeymoon in Space" saw his newly married adventurers exploring planets in different stages of geological and Darwinian evolution on an educational odyssey which drew heavily on earlier cosmic voyages by Camille Flammarion, W. S. Lach-Szyrma and Edgar Fawcett. Its illustrations by Stanley L. Wood have proved more significant, providing the first depictions of slender, super intelligent aliens with large, bald heads — the archetype of the famous Greys of modern science fiction. His short story The Great Crellin Comet, published in 1897, was the first story to not only include a ten second countdown for a space launch, but also the first story to suggest that a comet's collision with the earth could be stopped by human intervention.

As an explorer of the real world he shattered the existing record for voyaging around the world at the behest of Sir Arthur Pearson, completing his journey in just 65 days. He also helped discover the source of the Amazon river. This was documented in Pearson's Magazine before being published as a book, "Around the World in 65 Days". 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Thea von Harbou (1888-1954)

Thea Babriele von Harbou, daughter of a Prussian family of minor nobility, was born in Tauperlitz, Germany on 27 Dec 1888. She died in Berlin, Germany on 1 Jul 1954. 

After her writing debut in 1906, von Harbou met Rudolf Klein-Rogge, and later married him in 1914. By 1917, they moved to Berlin where she was devoted, full-time, to building her career as a writer; she was drawn to writing epic myths and legends with an overtly nationalistic tone. In the words of Patrick McGilligan, a Fritz Lang historian, "Her novels became patriotic and morale-boosting, urging women to sacrifice and duty while promoting the eternal glory of the fatherland". 

Thea's first close interaction with cinema came when German director Joe May chose to adapt one of her writings, "Die heilige Simplizia." From that moment on, "Her fiction output slowed down. In short order she would become one of Germany's most celebrated film writers, not only because of her partnership with Fritz Lang, but also for writing scripts for F. W. Murnau, Carl Dreyer, E. A. Dupont, and other German luminaries".

Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou in
their Berlin flat, 1923 or 1924
Her first collaboration with Fritz Lang was marked by a common interest in the exotic foreign land of India. As von Harbou worked on an adaptation of her 1917 novel "Das indische Grabmal" (The Indian Tomb), Joe May assigned Fritz Lang to aid her in the writing of the screenplay and the details regarding production. Her marriage to him came in 1922 with the success of "Dr. Mabuse der Spielr" and the death of Lang's first wife. The two went to work on a script that would echo pride for German nationality, "Die Nibelungen" and further raise von Harbou's esteem as a writer for the screen. 

Thea would often take her screenplays and make them into full length novels to coincide with the release of the film, however this was not the case with Metropolis, one of her most famous works. She was an incredibly active player in producing Metropolis, and this epic film became not only one of Fritz Lang's best known films, but one of significance to German cinema. Besides writing the novel, the screenplay, and developing the distinct moral ending of Metropolis, she is credited with discovering Gustav Fröhlich, who plays the lead role of Freder Fredersen.

Click HERE for the
Metropolis Clock Scene
Metropolis takes place in the future, and mirrors the meticulously regimented day of the underground workers. In the clock scene, we see Freder, the protagonist, taking on an arduous and monotonous 10 hour shift working on the clock.

This film had so many intertwining messages for future decades that it's almost on par now with the predictions of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. While many of the themes in the film also refer to the dangers of repeating the past (a new Tower of Babel gets built and subsequently destroyed due to a war of the social classes), the bizarre technology predicted in its vision of the future is quite startling.

Her next big production with Fritz Lang would be M, a film about a child murderer, and would be written with incredible attention to accuracy. They had been enthralled with news coverage of Peter Kürten, known as the Monster of Düsseldorf, during the late 1920s. Not only did von Harbou use newspaper articles for the script, but she "maintained regular contact with the police headquarters on Alexanderplatz and was permitted access to the communications and secret publications of Berlin's force".

Recalling the script, von Harbou's secretary, Hilde Guttmann, claims, "I saw many other film manuscripts, but never one which could compare with the manuscript for M. Two typewriter ribbons were stuck together to give us three colors: one black and red, and the other blue. The camera work and the action were typed in black, the dialogue blue, and the sound , where synchronized, was typed in red". Unfortunately, she is uncredited as the script writer for M

Thea's ability to write for the screen propelled silent German cinema into the spot light. Furthermore, behind the most well-known German directors sat Thea von Harbou writing the action. As Hitler rose to power, the German film industry became more influenced by propaganda-based ideology and Thea remained loyal to new political power. Around 1934, a year after the Nazi Party began leading the nation, Thea took the initiative to write and direct two films, Hanneles Himmelfahrt and Elisabeth und der Narr. However, she did not find the experience of directing to be satisfactory and remained a prolific scenarist during this time. 

"Under a regime where every film was a 'state film,' Thea von Harbou amassed writing credits on some 26 films, while giving uncredited assistance on countless others-including a handful with an indisputable National Socialist worldview".

After Thea's marriage to Lang ended in 1933, she married Ayi Tendulkar.

Metropolis (1927)

Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909)

Edward Everett Hale, son of Nathan Hale and Sarah Preston, was born in Boston, MA on 3 Apr 1822. 

In 1852 he married Emily Baldwin Perkins with whom he had nine children: Alexander, Ellen Day, Arthur, Charles Alexander, Edward Everett, Jr., Philip Leslie, Herbert Dudley, Henry Kidder and Robert Beverly. Hale died in Roxbury, MA on 10 Jun 1909.

Hale was the grandnephew of Revolutionary War patriot Nathan Hale, and is best known for his patriotic prose and poetry, including the story "The Man without a Country" (1863). Prolific writer, contributing editor to Atlantic Monthly and almost certainly the only science-fiction writer to serve as chaplain to the U.S. senate, Hale also appears to have been the first to describe an artificial Earth satellite.

His  short story "The Brick Moon" (1869) and its sequel "Life on the Brick Moon", both published in Atlantic Monthly, tell of a 200-foot diameter sphere (built of bricks to "stand fire, very, very well") that is due to be launched into an orbit 4,000 miles high. Since its purpose is to provide a longitude fix for navigators who will see it from the ground as a bright star, Hale reasons correctly that a polar orbit is needed. In effect, the Brick Moon will move around a giant Greenwich meridian in the sky, fulfilling the same role for the measurement of longitude as the Pole Star does for latitude. Two huge, spinning flywheels are set up to throw the artificial moon into its correct orbital path. But something goes wrong. The brick sphere rolls prematurely down "upon those angry flywheels, and in an instant, with all our friends [those building the moon and their visiting families], it had been hurled into the sky!"

Later, a German astronomer spots the new moon in orbit, complete with its marooned and unscheduled inhabitants – apparently adapting well to their new life. Hale therefore manages to portray not only the first artificial satellite but also the first space colony.

Hale also wrote one of the first stories of alternate worlds, "Hands off" (Harpers, 1881), which was reprinted in Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1952. "The Good-Natured Pendulum" was reprinted in Amazing Stories in 1933.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

Aldous Leonard Huxley, son of Leonard Huxley and Julia Arnold, was born in Godalming, Surrey, England on 26 Jul 1894. A prominent member of the Huxley family, he is best known for his novels including "Brave New World" (1931), set in a systopian London.

In 1937, Huxley moved to Hollywood, CA with his wife Maria and their son Matthew and earned some income as a writer. In March 1938, his friend Anita Loos, a novelist and screenwriter, put him in touch with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer who hired Huxley for Madame Curie which was originally to star Greta Garbo and be directed by George Cukor. (The film was eventually completed by MGM in 1943 with a different director and cast.) Huxley received screen credit for Pride and Prejudice (1940) and was paid for his work on a number of other films, including Jane Eyre (1944).
Watch it HERE on BBC

However, his success in Hollywood was minimal. When he wrote a synopsis of Alice in Wonderland, Walt Disney rejected it on the grounds that "he could only understand every third word". Huxley's leisurely development of ideas, it seemed, was not suitable for the movie moguls, who demanded fast, dynamic dialogue above all else. For Dick Huemer, during the 1940s, Huxley went to the first of a five meetings' session to elaborate the script of Alice in Wonderland but never came again. For author John Grant, although the movie's character the Caterpillar displays some characteristics familiar from Huxley's discussion of his experiments with hallucinogens, Huxley's contribution to the movie is nonexistent.

Huxley lived in the U.S., mainly in southern California, until his death on 22 Nov 1963.

Clare Winger Harris (1891-1968)

Clare Winger Harris, daughter of x and x, was born in freeport, IL on 18 Jan 1891. She died in October 1968 in Pasadena, CA. In 1912 she married Frank Clyde Harris with whom she had three sons: Clyde, Donald and Lynn.

Harris was an early science fiction writer whose short stories were published during the 1920s. She is credited as the first woman to publish stories under her own name in science fiction magazines. Her stories often dealt with characters on the "borders of humanity" such as cyborgs. Her stories often dealt with characters on the borders of humanity, such as cyborgs and also featured strong female characters. They have received positive critical response, including recognition of her pioneering role as a woman writer in a male-dominated field.

December 1926
The July 1926 issue of Weird Tales included a short story entitled “A Runaway World,” by Clare Winger Harris. Although the issue also contained a story by Elizabeth Adt Wenzler and earlier issues had also included supernatural tales written by women, Harris’s story was different because it was a tale of science fiction rather than the occult.

In December of that year, Hugo Gernsback ran a contest in his new science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, asking his readers to provide a story that explained the cover of that month’s issue.  The cover depicted several nearly naked figure on a cliff watching an ocean liner floating over a strange city. Gernsback was surprised to receive an entry from an author with a woman’s name.  Although her story, “The Fate of the Poseidonia” only took third prize in the contest, when Harris’s name appeared next to it in the June 1927 issue, hers was the only female name in the table of contents and was the first female name to have a story appear in Amazing Stories. In fact, in breaking the gender barrier, she caused Gernsback to write, “That the third prize winner should prove to be a woman was one of the surprises of the contest, for, as a rule, women do not make good scientification writers, because their education and general tendencies on scientific matters are usually limited. But the exception, as usual, proves the rule, the exception in this case being extraordinarily impressive.”

Harris eventually published 11 short stories in pulp magazines, most of them in Amazing Stories (although she also published in other places such as Science Wonder Quarterly). In 1947 her short stories were collected under the title "Away from the Here and Now." Her stories have also been reprinted in anthologies such as "Daughters of Earth: Feminist Science Fiction in the 20th Century" (with a critical essay)," Sci-Fi Womanthology," "Amazing Science Fiction Anthology: The Wonder Years 1926-1935," and" Gosh Wow! Sense of Wonder Science Fiction." She wrote one novel, "Persephone of Eleusis: A Romance of Ancient Greece" (1923).

She also wrote one of the first attempts to classify science fiction when, in the August 1931 issue of Wonder Stories, she listed 16 basic science fiction themes, including, interplanetary space travel, adventures on other worlds and the creation of synthetic life.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lilith Lorraine (1894-1967)

Mary Maud Wright, daughter of John Beamon Dunn and Lelia Nias, was born in Corpus Christi, TX on 19 Mar 1894. She died in Corpus Christi on 9 Nov  1967. In 1912 she married Cleveland Lamar Wright, a cowboy, with whom she had x children.

Lorraine was most acclaimed as a poet, but she also contributed short stories to popular science fiction periodicals such as Amazing Stories, Astounding Stories of Super Science, Science WonderThrilling Wonder and Wonder Stories.

She wrote one novelette, "The Brain of the Planet" in 1929. Her account of surface-effect vehicles was some 30 years in advance of their commercial development, and in one of her stories, "Into the 28th Century," she imagined the distant future for her hometown of Corpus Christi. It was during this time that she also began contributing to fanzines.

In the 1950s, she also published Challenge, credited as the first poetry periodical devoted to the science fiction and weird fiction genre. After her death, there was a revival of interest in her work. Her poetry was reprinted in literary zines such as Fantasy Macabre. Poetry editor Steve Sneyd (Data Dump) wrote "Lilith Lorraine: Postscript" for Fantasy Commentator (1999 #51) where he urged a reappraisal of her work. He also reported to It Goes On The Shelf #19 that he had received the file the F.B.I. had kept on Lilith Lorraine while she was alive.