Wednesday, December 31, 2008

SF authors born 1854-63: 1856

1. L. Frank Baum
2. H. Rider Haggard
3. Frank Harris
4. George Bernard Shaw


L. (Lyman) Frank Baum (1856-1919)

American author of the Oz stories and many other children's books. More info TK.

* The Master Key: An Electric Fairy Tale (Bowen-Merrill: Indianapolis, 1901). A fantastical allegory of technology and its dangers. Rob, a scientifically minded boy, is experimenting with electric circuits when he accidentally presses the Master Key (i.e., creates a master circuit) and summons up the benevolent Demon of Electricity. ("I have often thought my existence uncalled for, since you Earth people are so stupid and ignorant that you seem unlikely ever to master the secret of electrical power.") Amusing meta-SF moment:

"It's generally thought," [Rob] resumed, in an annoyed tone, "that Mars has inhabitants who are far in advance of ourselves in civilization. Many scientific men think the people of Mars have been trying to signal us for years, only we don`t understand their signals. And great novelists have written about the Martians and their wonderful civilization, and--"

"And they all know as much about that little planet as you do yourself," interrupted the Demon, impatiently. "The trouble with you Earth people is that you delight in guessing about what you can not know. Now I happen to know all about Mars, because I can traverse all space and have had ample leisure to investigate the different planets. Mars is not peopled at all, nor is any other of the planets you recognize in the heavens. Some contain low orders of beasts, to be sure, but Earth alone has an intelligent, thinking, reasoning population, and your scientists and novelists would do better trying to comprehend their own planet than in groping through space to unravel the mysteries of barren and unimportant worlds."

The Demon gives Rob various science-fictional devices — flight by anti-gravity, a food pill, a stun gun, an event recorder and playback mechanism (digital movie camera?), spectacles for discerning character, and a repulsion defense garment — from which worldwide civilization will hopefully benefit. Neither Rob nor the world is ready for these device, however, as Rob discovers in dime-novel-esque encounters with pirates, savage Africans, Turks, and Tartars. When the Demon offers him the best technology yet — an Electro-Magnetic Restorer, the wearer of which "will instantly become free from any bodily disease or pain and will enjoy perfect health and vigor"; and an Illimitable Communicator — Rob refuses them.

"I'm NOT wise enough," he concludes. "Nor is the majority of mankind wise enough to use such inventions as yours unselfishly and for the good of the world. If people were better, and every one had an equal show, it would be different."

* Ozma of Oz (Chicago: Reilly & Britton, 1907). The third Oz book, and the first in which we meet one of Baum's most delightful characters: "He was only about as tall as Dorothy herself, and his body was round as a ball and made out of burnished copper. Also his head and limbs were copper, and these were jointed or hinged to his body in a peculiar way, with metal caps over the joints, like the armor worn by knights in days of old." From a printed card attached to its neck, Dorothy learns that Tiktok is a "Patent Double-Action, Extra-Responsive, Thought-Creating, Perfect-Talking Mechanical Man Fitted with out Special Clock-Work Attachment. Things, Speaks, Acts, and Does Everything but Live." Though one of the earliest fictional appearances of true machine intelligence, Tiktok is not a free agent like his equally metallic yet nevertheless living new friend, the Tin Man, to whom he confides that "When I am wound up I do my du-ty by go-ing just as my ma-chin-er-y is made to go." NB: Baum revisited this story for the plot of his 1913 musical, The Tik-Tok Man of Oz. The 8th Oz book, titled Tik-Tok of Oz, was published in 1914.

* Tik-Tok of Oz (TK, 1914).


H. Rider Haggard (TK)

TK -- see Richard Bleiler, ed., Science Fiction Writers


Frank Harris (TK)



George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

Important Anglo-Irish playwright, essayist. Born in Dublin. Achieved fame with controversial plays that broadened English comedy considerably. Nobel Prize in 1926. Leading member of Fabian society (cofounded by E. Nesbit, who also wrote about supermen), author of works on socialism. Advocate of vegetarianism, spelling reform, unorthodox medicine. Widelty accepted during his lifetime as a remarkable wit, eccentric, crank, and egotist. Now remembered mostly for Pygmalion (1912).

More Shaw bio TK

* Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch (Constable: London, 1921). A very long, seldom performed play based on Shaw's belief in a personal form of creative evolution, which is not so much Emile Bergson's philosophical thesis, as an intruitive neo-Lamarckianism. More TK 2003

Play in 5 parts
treating creative evolution. Part I has Lilith tear
herself in two: Adam and Eve. Part II has the biologist
Conrad Barnabas explain why people should live 300 years.
Part III has England governed by Chinese and African women
in 2170 A.D., and communicate by visual switchboard. Part
IV in in 3000 A.D., with people classified as primaries,
secondaries, or tertiaries according to how many centuries
they've lived. Part V is set in 32,920 A.D., and in an
epilogue, Adam, Eve, Cain and Lilith judge this future.

* The Apple Cart: A Political Extravaganza (TK)

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