Monday, January 5, 2009

SF authors born 1834-43: 1837

Note: Influential SF authors born in the Thirties are included on this blog, but they're rarely, if ever, Radium-Age authors themselves.

1. William Livingston Alden
2. William Dean Howells


William Livingston Alden (1837-1908)

American writer. From 1893 resident in Great Britain. Author of humorous and general fiction. Historically important for establishing canoeing as a popular sport. He was in his mid-60s when he wrote a couple of Radium-Age SF stories.

* "'Wagnerium'" (London Magazine, November 1906). The 7th story about Professor Van Wagener, an eccentric scientist who invents improbable devices that cause problems once manufactured. Like L. Frank Baum's The Master Key (1901), these stories indicate an unease with the accelerated pace of technological change. In "Professor Van Wagener's Eye" (1895), the protagonist attaches electric lights to his maid, his cat, and finally inserts one into his eye; in "The Fatal Fishing Line" (1895), he devises a method for shocking fish when they are hooked, but ends up hooking himself to the wife of a neighbor; in "A Scientific Balloon," he invents an aluminum balloon [almost a lead zeppelin!] that doesn't release gas, ever, and so almost transports himself to his death in the upper atmosphere; in "A Flying March" (1896) and "Van Wagener's Flying Cat" he attaches small personal zeppelins to himself and his cat. In this story, the last of the series, we learn that radium and radioactivity were discovered not by Marie Curie — who was awarded a joint Nobel Prize in 1903 for her theory of radioactivity (a term coined by her), and the discovery of two new elements, polonium and radium) — but by Van Wagener. Nearly 30 years earlier, it seems, he showed the narrator a glowing substance that he kept in a leaden bowl — wagnerium, or what would later be named radium. Poor Van Wagener glowed in the dark, emitted abnormal heat, and finally exploded along with his laboratory, in what may be the first atomic explosion in SF.

* "The Earthquake" (Pearson's Magazine, October 1907). The eccentric inventor Collins has built a 45-foot-high conical structure in his backyward that permits him to store gravity, like electricity. While attempting to draw the moon itself down from the sky, he may or may not cause the San Francisco earthquake of '07. Black humor, same conceit as Alden's 1897 story "A Volcanic Valve," in which Krakatoa's deadly eruption is caused by the tinkering of an unnamed scientist who thinks he can create the world's largest steam-power plant.


William Dean Howells (TK)

Note among other things that Howells was a Bellamyite. TK

* Through the Eye of the Needle: A Romance (Harper: New York and London, 1907). Some authorities consider it SF.

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