The Fantastic Mirror by Benjamin Appel (book review).

April 1, 2022 | By | Reply More

Paying attention to bibliographies came up with this book, ‘The Fantastic Mirror’ by Benjamin Appel. As a 1969 book, I doubt if you’ll get a mint copy and I pulled an ex-library copy, so there are copies still out there.

Appel was looking for the earliest SF stories with extracts and loads of black and white illustrations and photos to give an interesting visual accompaniment. He starts off with the Greeks with Lucian of Samosata giving a trip to the Moon. When you bear in mind that the astronomer Ptolemy in 140AD declared the universe revolved around the Earth, the trip had to pass other planets to get there. Jules Verne doesn’t get a mention until the fifth chapter.

What makes Appel interesting is his presentation of evidence, using extracts from the stories to back things up. It isn’t just with Lucian, but different very early authors doing trips to the Moon which means SF existed long before Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, which doesn’t get a mention here. Appel does say a lot of these early lunar travels are more fantasy than SF, more so by the means to get there but who would have thought rockets could do such things when they didn’t even contemplate aircraft. He does place Kepler’s ‘Somnium’ from 1634 as the first SF novel.

I haven’t read Mark Twain’s ‘A Connecticut Yankee At King Arthur’s Court’ from 1889 and although it is actually a time travel story, the traveller isn’t aware he actually did such a thing at first.

It’s only with chapter 5 that he looks at that French chap, Jules Verne. What is more significant is in the next chapter and Frank R. Stockton’s story, ‘The Instantaneous Motor’ from 1889. Although nuclear missiles or even the thought of atomic power did not exist, Appel’s description is so close to the real thing you would have to classify it as its first use.

I have been wondering recently where the bug-eyed salivating aliens came from and Appel’s extraction from HG Wells’ ‘War Of The Worlds’ would certainly qualify as that. Interestingly, Appel thinks that Orson Wells radio adaptation influenced people seeing UFOs in the skies and that I’ll less sure about as UAPs have been cited in countries that have never heard of the play. When you consider the Martians landed in a meteor storm and we do have plenty of examples of that, no one goes screaming that the aliens have landed.

I wasn’t sure what to make when I looked at this thin book but there’s enough here to make you think of early Science Fiction to prove it wasn’t started a couple centuries ago. Future historians please take note.

GF Willmetts

March 2022

(pub: Pantheon Books, 1969. 144 page illustrated hardback. Price: ISBN: 77-77426)

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Category: Books, Scifi


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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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