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The Space Annihilator And Other Early Science Fiction From The Argosy (book review).

June 19, 2021 | By | Reply More

David Kyle mentioned that the first story using teleportation was ‘The Space Annihilator’ by Harlie Oren Cummins back in 1901, so I had a look on-line and found ‘The Space Annihilator And Other Early Science Fiction From The Argosy’ where editor Gene Christie brought stories together eleven years ago. This book will then serve two purposes, a chance to read some of the books from ‘The Argosy’ and see how many firsts there where. There are 16 stories here so will pick out the highlights.

Then I had a problem, Cummins’ story ‘The Space Annihilator’ doesn’t sound like teleportation. It’s described as a form of telephone system called Semaphore, which is really flag waving, so there is a mish-mash. The receiver, Randolph Churchill, and sender Martin Bradley have different elements and the traveler appears to use conventional travel around the world and uses the device to send messages back to his colleague. Alas, Bradley gets caught in China, accused of being a spy and about to be executed, although still gets a chance to send out a final message. Surely, if he could use it as a teleportation channel, he could have escaped?

With the likes of ‘The Obliteration Of No. 13’ by William Forster Brown when a con trick is used to free a prisoner, it becomes obvious that ‘The Argosy’s choice of stories is based on good writing far more than subject matter. Oh, the SF element is invisibility but as a fudge factor, not how it was done. Not that you have to explain in detail but if invisibility is something that exists in a reality then it would be widely known.

It was when I got to William Warren’s ‘The Nemesis Of Vibratory Theory’, written in 1904 that I found the description more in line with teleportation. Don’t forget, ‘teleportation’ as a term didn’t come about until the mid-1950s. The description Warren uses to send animals and finally people down a telephone wire to places of work sounds far more like teleportation. The fact that there was a thunderstorm when its creator finally used it on himself and was lost is a more telling tale as well.

I should point out that you really have to concentrate when reading these stories. This is way before ‘Science Fiction’ was even a genre and with none of the usual tropes, let alone have many of the identifiable tropes we give them today. A plague from Mars in ‘The Blue Death’ by Masters B. Stevens depends on sentient life on the red planet but also a tad of proper science with how close our two planets have to get to pass the infection.

One of the bigger surprises was how certain ethnic problems are discussed with story solutions but you have to keep reminding your this was the turn of the last century and SF hasn’t really got going so there was a lot more diversity.

Now here’s a twist, ‘Professor Jonkin’s Cannibal Plant’ by Howard R. Garis in 1905 is practically the forerunner for the 1960/1985 film ‘Little Shop Of Horrors’. There’s a little matter of Jonkin being upside down in a giant pitcher plant and would surely have drowned before being rescued but it will make you think.

Finally, ‘The Silent Witness’ by William Blakiston Douglas has a woman who applies a liquid to a mirror and witnesses a previous crime done in front of it and her actions, let alone being able to prove it. I can see elements of the story ‘The Haunted Mirror’ in the 1945 film ‘Dead Of Night’ although with some changes to the plot with a touch of ’Slowglass’.

I think I was surprised most by the quality of the material here. Don’t forget, Science Fiction was still nascent and any fantastic ideas were allowed to breath and used for morality or plot device. No one seemed surprised or, in some cases, frightened by the revelations and just saw it as part of the lives they led. I doubt if ‘The Argosy’ readers had anything to compare the stories to pass judgement but I can see why the magazine was popular if this was the quality of their material.

GF Willmetts

June 2021

(pub: Black Dog Books, 2010. 158 page enlarged paperback. Price: I pulled my copy for under £10.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-928619-87-1. Be warned Amazon call it: The Space Annihilator: Early Science Fiction From Argosy)

check out website: www.blackdogbooks.net

Category: Books, Scifi

About the Author ()

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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