…SF addict …

Monday, September 20, 2010

The wonderful naiveté of early SF

Anyone coming to vintage SF for the first time, that is stories from way before golden age, may get a few surprises! With the odd exception of works like Wells's The War of the Worlds one may appear to see bad science or incredible naivete! For example it seems everyone in 1900 expects to find water and vegetation on the Moon-and Mars of course is quite breathable, just a bit cold! Reading these stories today raises a chuckle or two- I mean just how could they imagine such 'silly' scenarios? But then one must realise that back then science was in its infancy-especially astrophysics! They didn't know what the moon was made of-even Clarke in his 1961 book A Fall of Moondust had to make an educated guess and got it slightly wrong! (great book by the way!) Of course I've always maintained that its not SF's job to predict the future!

But even so when you read these really early works set in space you can't help smiling!
The book I'm reading now, George Griffith's A Honeymoon in Space (1901) is a joyous romp into outer space aboard the ingeniously powered Astronef, first landing on the moon for breakfast. They have spacesuits (called 'breathing dresses'-how wonderful!) But to check for air the captain lights a match!

Later, when approaching Mars they make ready their revolvers, while still in space, just in case! And once on the red planet  the captain removes his helmet for a sniff! Going by what we know today I have to stop myself thinking that surely, if they had the technology to venture into space, and are aware of celestial mechanics,orbits and such, as indeed many of the authors were, then surely they would also have an inkling of the atmospheric conditions  of at least the moon!

Garrett P Serviss follows up Wells's book by visiting a lushly vegetated Mars peopled by 15 foot giant humanoids-totally in contrast to Wells's original concept! And a little later we have Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom books which presents an image of Mars which is even further from the truth! The funny thing is that at the time they were seen as SF-but nowadays they read as fantasy-like Conan on another world!

Its fascinating how time, and progress, changes our perception of SF! (Incidentally, reading these early works does prepare you for their modern equivalent-Steampunk!)
Enjoy these books and stories, but keep the salt pot handy

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