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Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Journey in Other Worlds

by John Jacob Astor

Snippets from the Gutenberg Collection: free downloads 2012

"The Signals from the Arctic Circle"

I have to call this a fantasy rather than science fiction. There is no recorded date of publication but it's clearly around 1900. 

What I find interesting is how much it reflects the character of its age. As the reference to a jolly good hunting trip on Jupiter indicates, it's more like a safari to Africa than to another planet: the Darkest Africa so beloved of the glory days of European colonialism and imperialism. The idea of the 'draining of the swamps' to make the land 'productive' is in the best late Victorian mercantilist tradition.

At the same time, its illustrations also indicate the influence of Darwin's The Origin of Species - or perhaps The Voyage of the Beagle even more so.

It's a fascinating snapshot of an age of romance, self-assurance, and pride in inventive science. I hope you enjoy the design of the spaceship. Clearly the concept of the bullet fired into space was the best way (the only way imaginable at the time) to escape from earth.

"A Battle Royal"

Here's the tiny excerpt:

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Until the Callisto entered the planet's atmosphere, its five moons appeared like silver shields against the black sky, but now things were looking more terrestrial, and they began to feel at home.  Bearwarden put down his note-book, and Ayrault returned a photograph to his pocket, while all three gazed at their new abode. 

Beneath them was a vast continent variegated by chains of lakes and rivers stretching away in all directions except toward the equator, where lay a placid ocean as far as their telescopes could pierce.  To the eastward were towering and massive mountains, and along the southern border of the continent smoking volcanoes, while toward the west they saw forests, gently rolling plains, and table-lands that would have satisfied a poet or set an agriculturist's heart at rest. 

"How I should like to mine those hills for copper, or drain the swamps to the south!" exclaimed Col. Bearwarden.  "The Lake Superior mines and the reclamation of the Florida Everglades would be nothing to this."

"Any inhabitants we may find here have so much land at their disposal that they will not need to drain swamps on account of pressure of population for some time," put in the doctor.

"The Combat with the Dragons"

"I hope we may find some four-legged inhabitants," said Ayrault, thinking of their explosive magazine rifles.  "If Jupiter is passing through its Jurassic or Mesozoic period, there must be any amount of some kind of game."

"The Journey Home"

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A Journey in Other Worlds by John Jacob Astor

Downloadable free in various formats from


  1. How exciting! Fantastic illustrations. It's interesting when Ayrault wants to find some game, keen to use their 'explosive magazine rifles'. He shows the eager, go ahead, manly and scientific bent of the period, all in one sentence.

    Heavens! Whatever is happening in 'the journey home' -LOTS, by the look of it. A definite precursor to DR Who. (And many others)

    Julie M

  2. Yeah! Can't wait to get down there and start changing everything! Such a pity they didn't have some foxes and rabbits to drop in as well. And drain those useless swamps and make that big old planet work for its living!

    I must admit I found that somewhat depressing. But I did like the idea of just hopping out on Jupiter with its earth-like atmosphere and gravity and having fun with things that went bang.

  3. Your story about attitudes towards other planets around a century ago - reminded me of something I recently read in a contemporary novel. In it, the eco-friendly slogan of a business/mining conference was 'Earth First'. Then the keynote speaker opened with: "That's right folks, Earth first. Then we'll start mining the planets." Laughter all round.

    Back to Gutenberg. I discovered this wonderful resource a few years ago, first downloading audio books to my MP3, and later to a USB stick to play in the car on long journeys. Then, a year ago, we got eReaders and I began to download the books of my schooldays and youth - Rider Haggard, Conan Doyle, the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, the poems of Kipling, Banjo Paterson ... and many others.

    Also on to my eReader - from the Internet generally, I have downloaded some of my own poetry, the rules of snooker, table tennis and darts, our community bylaws and many other things for daily reference.

    Currently I am reading Jane Eyre with more pleasure than I read most contemporary novels and I have before me thousands of similar treats. So far I have used about 10% of my $99 eReader ... and that includes War and Peace!

    If only we were as clever in our planet and human management as we are in our technology. We have brought so much information, access, culture and beauty to the masses through our gadgets. We have also produced weapons of mass destruction, including 16 free-to-air television channels of which (TV Guide and red pen at Sunday breakfast) I have marked up just two shows to watch this week. We are definitely not installing Foxtel!

    1. The wonderful wealth of reading available free is breathtaking. Only this month, some great classics have been added to Gutenberg. You can choose just text versions of many for the Kindle itself, or the richly illustrated versions for the computer.

      Would that I had more time.... If I did, I'd become a proof-reader for Gutenberg, and give something back. One thing I do have is high quality editorial skill for proofing text.


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