the first time machine
the first time traveller
if he had written nothing else, H. G. Wells still gets credit as a progenitor of science-fiction for The Time Machine
The Time Machine by H. G. Wells
a gentleman scientist/inventor devises a time machine that allows him to travel to specified points in Earth’s timeline. our time traveller makes a journey to the year 802,701 C.E. where he finds the human race has evolved/devolved into two separate races: the elite and useless Eloi and the servient underground dwellers Morlocks. the leisure life of the Eloi is maintained by the continued hard labor of the Morlocks.
a rogue planet is heading towards Earth!
whatever shall we do?
When Worlds Collide by Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer
luckily (f0r some) the rogue planet Alpha is traveling with a smaller rogue planet, Beta; and there is a chance that when Alpha collides with and pulverizes Earth, Beta may stabilize into a solar orbit near the former Earth.
the game is on: spaceships must be built, and passenger lists determined – very few Earthlings will get passage, what about the rest? and will the would-be-colonists be able to leave Earth before the Collision?
When Worlds Collide was written in 1933 and it has been a major influence in sci-fi writing, in comic books, in movies, to this day.
it took me several attempts but eventually I read the entirety of Moby Dick. it is one of my favorite books and I’ve reread it several times since.
The Wind Whales of Ishmael by Philip Jose Farmer
how could I not like a *sequel* to Moby Dick, set ~one billion years in the future? where there were no oceans but whales (flying whales, natch) abounded and a good whaleman was always in demand?
Philip Jose Farmer invented the mashup before there was a term for it.
There was a wall.
The Dispossessed by Ursula K LeGuin
so begins The Dispossessed, Ursula K. LeGuin‘s utopian/dystopian novel. the wall is not much as far as walls go – no Berlin Wall here. it is simply the wall enclosing the (mostly unused) spaceport in Anarres, the moon of Urras; Anarres was settled almost two hundred years ago by revolutionaries from Urras.
the revolutionaries have made Anarres into an anarchists’ paradise: there is no private property, no government per se; but an anarchist society can become as rigid as other societies, which drives the physicist Shevek to leave Anarres for Urras.
a timeline of two billion years
covering 18 human species, of which we are but the first –
Last and First Men by Olaf Stapledon
Olaf Stapledon‘s Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future is science-fiction, science-fiction of a type not seen before Stapledon and unlikely to be seen again: science-fiction as a backdrop for a philosophical treatise on the reasons of Man.
’tis not an easy read – worth going through for the originality and breadth of Stapledon‘s vision: mankind waxes and wanes, comes to the brink of extinction and back again, renders Earth uninhabitable and takes over Venus and then Jupiter, changes matter and form at every step yet remains essentially human.
The first question, of course, is whether there ever was such a creature as Man. At the moment, in the absence of positive evidence, the sober concensus must be that there was not, that Man, as presented in the legend is a figment of folklore invention.
CITY by Clifford D. Simak
the legend is a compendium of eight tales that are told as Dogs keep up the oral history of a far far away time and place before the time of Dog, a time of Man.
through the tales we are taken from the time when Man ruled the Earth, builds robots and Dog is man companion. later Man is able to communicate with Dog, colonizes Jupiter and abandons Earth to the peaceful and pacifist Dog.
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
William Shakespeare, Sonnet 73
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm
Kate Wilhelm‘s novel, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, is about how as doomsday approached the Sumners family built a fortified citadel in the Shenandoah valley and prepared to wait it out. as deadly winds swept and polluted destroying plant and animal life, the Sumners were left sterile – so they turned to cloning in the hope that after a number of generations the ability to reproduce would return.
governments are so weak as to be irrelevant. megacorporations rule the world. consumption is a virtue and advertising is a higher calling. major shortages of water, clean air, natural resources.
The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth
The Space Merchants satirizes the beginnings of consumer culture; written in 1952, the authors would be amazed to see so many of their “300-years-from-now” concepts be commonplace by the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21th centuries.
the main character is Mitch, a “Copysmith Star Class” who has been given an almost-impossible assignment: make volunteering to be a colonist to Venus (nasty, brutish, unbearable, short lifespan) an appealing option to the teeming masses of the overpopulated Earth.
everything is bigger in Texas, right?
A Spectre is Haunting Texas by Fritz Leiber
well, Texans sure are thanks to hormonal treatments, in A Spectre is Haunting Texas, Fritz Leiber‘s post-nuclear war story. unlike most after-the-nuclear-disaster novels, which tend to be somber dystopias, A Spectre… is a funny romp throughout a North American landscape where Texans are among the few survivors, thanks to the Houston Carlsbad Caverns-Denver-Kansas City-Little Rock Pentagram bunker, secretly built by Lyndon the First.
Ward Moore‘s alternative history of the US, Bring the Jubilee, begins with a contemporary America (1953) with a twist: the Confederate States of America had won the War Between the States and seceded from the U.S.
Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore
the aftermath of the war had not been kind to the U.S.; impoverished and backwards it stands counter to the prosperous CSA that had expanded past Mexico and whose major cities were rivals to London and Paris. slavery had been abolished thanks to the efforts of former President Robert E. Lee.
but what happens when a time machine allows a citizen of the U.S. to go back to, say, the battle of Gettysburg?