A while back I downloaded several science fiction stories and books from Project Gutenberg. Here are some thoughts on a couple of them that I read recently.
City of Endless Night by Milo M. Hastings was actually pretty interesting in spite of being outdated. It was written shortly after the end of World War I and it has WWII not happening until the 1980’s. The story takes place many years after that. It is easy enough to read it as an alternate time-line story and you can almost forget how old it is.
The world is united under a single government, except for Berlin, which is enclosed in a single armored structure with no windows. An American manages to sneak into this city and takes the identity of a dead scientist. He is accepted without suspicion because no one even imagines that it is possible for an outsider to get in. The government of this alternate Berlin is totalitarian and the society is very structured and rigid. The people have been bred to be perfect for their jobs. A laborer is born to be a laborer and can’t imagine doing anything else. A scientist is born to be a scientist and so on. Our American hero makes friends with a group of people who are not happy with the way things are but, aside from sharing a few banned books, have not tried to rebel because they felt that it would be impossible.
A Trip to Venus by John Munro was first published in 1897. It is not only scientifically outdated, it seems extremely naive by today’s standards but it is a charming and delightful tale if you are able to put yourself in the right frame of mind. Three men and a young woman, the daughter of one the men, build a spaceship and travel in it to Venus where they find a tropical paradise populated by humans who are as too good to be true as the planet. In a modern story you would expect the dark side of these saintly people to come out but this is the 1890’s so they are genuinely as good as they seem – the perfect example of what humanity should be.
For chapter after chapter the book mostly goes on and on about the wonders and beauty of Venus and its people. I can’t resist an excerpt:
Most of the highest peaks and ridges, as well as the deepest valleys and
ravines, were covered with the embowering forest; but here and there a
huge boss of granite or porphyry reared its bare scalp out of the
verdure like the head and shoulders of some antediluvian monster. The
gigantic palms and foliage trees, all tufted with air-plants or
strangled with climbers, were literally buried in flowers of every hue,
and the crown of the forest rolled under us like a sea of blossoms.
Every moment one enchanting prospect after another opened to our
wondering eyes. Now it was a waterfall, gleaming like a vein of silver
on the brow of a lofty precipice, and descending into a lakelet bordered
with red, blue, and yellow lilies. Again it was a natural bridge,
spanning a deep chasm or tunnel in the rock, through which a river
boiled and roared in a series of cascades and rapids. Ever and anon we
passed over glades and prairies, carpeted with orchids, and dotted with
clumps of shrubbery, a mass of golden bloom, or tremendous blocks of
basalt hung with crimson creepers. Butterflies with azure wings of a
surprising spread and lustre, alighted on the flowers, and great birds
of resplendent plumage flashed from grove to grove. A sun, twice the
diameter of ours, blazed in the northern sky, but the intensity of his
rays was tempered by a thin veil of cloud. The atmosphere although warm
and moist, was not oppressive like that of a forcing-house, and the
breeze was balmy with delicious perfume.
There’s little in the way of adventure until near the end when a mechanical failure threatens to strand the travellers. And there is a bit of romance of course – sweet, old-fashioned romance. It’s the Victorian era you know.
I fear that most readers would quickly become impatient with all this beauty and sweetness but I enjoyed it. It’s a “happy place” kind of book – the perfect escape from the stressful real world and I think it’s a bit sad that so few people are able to let themselves enjoy this sort of thing. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you know I like violent adventures and weirdness but there’s room for sweetness and light too.