Wednesday, December 31, 2008

SF authors born 1844-53: 1851

1. Garrett P. Serviss


Garrett P. Serviss (1851-1929)

Editor, author, popular public lecturer, world traveler, and cofounder of the American Astronomical Society, Garrett Putnam Serviss was one of the most important science fiction novelists in America before World War I.

— James L. Campbell Sr., Science Fiction Writers, 2d ed., ed. Bleiler.

Serviss's elaborate public lectures (mid-1890s on) on astronomy, geology, cosmology, and archaeology — sponsored by Andrew Carnegie — were called the Urania Lectures. His popular-science books include: Astronomy with an Opera-Glass (1888), Wonders of the Lunar World (1892), Other Worlds (1901), The Moon (1907), and Einstein's Theory of Relativity (ca. 1923 -- it grew out of his assignment to write captions and to edit the 1923 silent film of that title).

* Edison's Conquest of Mars (Los Angeles: Carcosa House, 1947). Not technically a Radium-Age SF novel: serialized in the New York Evening Journal, January 12 — February 10, 1898. To capitalize on the success of H.G. Wells's The War of the Worlds, which was serialized in Pearson's Magazine late in 1897, Serviss — whose Urania Lectures were popular with the public — was commissioned to write a realistic space-story thriller. Edison's Conquest is a kind of sequel to War of the Worlds, in which America leads a preemptive strike on Mars, to forestall a predicted second invasion. Though episodic and poorly written, its verisimilitude — the ever-practical and inventive Thomas Edison, an exemplar of turn-of-the-century American technological know-how and organizational genius, equips the invasion with 100 spaceships powered by electrical attraction and repulsion; thousands of pistol- and cannon-like "disintegrator" guns (which destroy an object by increasing its molecular vibration); and sealed space suits (a literary first?) to enable American scientists- and technicians-turned-soldier to survive in an atmospheric vacuum — was impressive. The novel, perhaps the first to depict a battle waged by spaceships flying in an airless void, "introduced many of the rituals, set pieces [e.g., a World Congress bickers about the invasion's details; Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany is particularly childish] and expected actions [exploration, fighting] now common to the interplanetary war subgenre," according to Science Fiction Writers. Also: We discover that the Moon was formerly inhabited by giants; Martians are bred as soldiers, scientists, and scholars; Percival Lowell was right about the polar ice caps and canals; and (SPOILER) it was Martians who built Egypt's pyramids (and the Sphinx, a likeness of a Martian) 9,000 years ago!

* The Moon Metal (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1900). Not considered one of Serviss's major novels. Nor is it a Radium-Age novel, so forget it.

* "The Sky Pirate." Serialized in Scrap Book, 7-8, April-September 1909. (No book edition.) TK

* A Columbus of Space (New York: D. Appleton, 1911). Serialized in All-Story Weekly, January to June 1909. Serviss's second major novel, which (like Edison's Conquest) lacks in characterization and (unlike Edison's Conquest) verisimilitude. Also an interplanetary voyage — set in New York and on Venus at the turn of the century. Edmund Stonewall and three companions travel to Venus in a homemade spacecraft powered by atomic energy. A Stone Age humanoid [resembles a Wampa, from George Lucas's ice planet of Hoth] society lives underground on the dark side of Venus, and an advanced human society (sun-worshipping, blond-haired, blue-eyed Aryan types) lives on its light side. Both races of Venusians communicate via telepathy. When a cloud shield protecting the light side of the planet from ultraviolet rays parts, the advanced civilization goes mad and destroys itself.

* The Second Deluge (New York: McBride, Nast, 1912). Serialized in Cavalier Magazine, July 1911 to January 1912. Serviss's last important novel, and his best, is an updated version of Noah and the flood. From 1876-92, Serviss was an editor at the New York Sun, where he worked with E.P. Mitchell, and early American SF writer whose 4/28/75 story "The Story of the Deluge" influenced the planning and conception of this novel. (Mark Twain's Letters from Earth also an influence.) A thrilling adventure story about an apocalyptic flood, followed by a post-apocalyptic tale describing a new human beginning based on scientific planning, eugenics, and reason — except it doesn't work out that way, exactly. Cosmo Versal braves ridicule in building an ark, survives, the flood, and searches for survivors. Complacent scientists, scheming public officials, and capitalist robber barons are satirized.

* "The Moon Maiden." Serialized in Argosy, 79, May 1915. (No book edition.) TK

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