Archive for April, 2012

Jupiter — the magnificent planet with a diameter of 86,500 miles, having 119 times the surface and 1,300 times the volume of the earth — lay beneath them.

They had often seen it in the terrestrial sky, emitting its strong, steady ray, and had thought of that far-away planet, about which till recently so little had been known, and a burning desire had possessed them to go to it and explore its mysteries.  Now, thanks to APERGY, the force whose existence the ancients suspected, but of which they knew so little, all things were possible.

Ayrault manipulated the silk-covered glass handles, and the Callisto moved on slowly in comparison with its recent speed, and all remained glued to their telescopes as they peered through the rushing clouds, now forming and now dissolving before their eyes.  What transports of delight, what ecstatic bliss, was theirs!  Men had discovered and mastered the secret of apergy, and now, “little lower than the angels,” they could soar through space, leaving even planets and comets behind.

– John Jacob Astor IV, A Journey in Other Worlds

A Journey in Other Worlds: A Romance of the Future (1894) is a science fiction novel by American property tycoon and inventor John Jacob Astor IV (1864-1912), who died 100 years ago today.

Astor was born into the wealthy Astor family; his great grandfather, John Jacob Astor (1763-1848), had made the family fortune trading fur, opium and real estate.

A Journey in Other Worlds is set in the year 2000, over a century after the book was written, and speculates on several vast engineering projects, including the damming of the Arctic Ocean and adjusting the Earth’s axial tilt (by the Terrestrial Axis Straightening Company, no less). More modest advances include the tapping of solar and geothermal energy. Astor himself was an inventor of a pneumatic walkway, a bicycle brake, a flying machine and an internal combustion engine.

The novel includes travel to the jungle planet Jupiter and the mystical Saturn using the anti-gravitational energy apergy, a form of unobtainium which first appeared in Percy Greg‘s interplanetary romance Across the Zodiac (1880), and later in a New York Journal article “Some Truths About Keely” (1888) by Clara Jessup Bloomfield Moore. Astor was one of many taken in by the ‘Keely Motor Hoax‘, John Worrell Keely‘s claim to have invented a Perpetual Motion Machine.

Apergy is a clear forerunner to H.G. Wells‘ equally miraculous ‘Cavorite‘ in The First Men in the Moon (1901).

Roger Lancelyn Green (1976) has cited Astor’s jungle planet Jupiter as a possible inspiration for the Mars of Edwin Lester Arnold‘s Lieutenant Gullivar Jones: His Vacation (1905).

According to Jeff Prucher’s Brave New Words (2009) Astor’s novel was the first to use the term ‘space-ship‘.

Astor died on April 12, 1912, when the RMS Titanic collided with an iceberg.

Because of the circumstances of his death, Astor has frequently been portrayed on film and television: he was played by Karl Schönböck in the Nazi propaganda film Titanic (1943), William Johnstone in Titanic (1953), David Janssen in S.O.S. Titanic (1979), Scott Hylands in Titanic (mini-series, 1996), Eric Braeden in James Cameron‘s Titanic (1997), and most recently by Miles Richardson in Nigel Stafford-Clark and Julian FellowesTitanic (min-series, 2012).

Astor was one of four science fiction authors who died on the Titanic: the others were Jacques Futrelle (1875-1912), author of the Professor Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen stories, collected in The Thinking Machine (coll, 1907) and The Thinking Machine on the Case (coll, 1908); Francis Davis Millet (1846-1912), author of Capillary Crime and Other Stories (coll, 1892); and William Thomas Stead (1849-1912), social reformer, editor of Borderland, and author of the utopian If Christ Came to Chicago! (1894), Blastus the King’s Chamberlain (1898), and The Despised Sex (1903).

Sources
  • Arnold, Edwin Lester (1905) Lieut Gullivar Jones: His Vacation
  • Astor, John Jacob (1894) A Journey in Other Worlds: A Romance of the Future
  • Bloomfield-Moore, Clara Jessup (1888) ”Some Truths about Keely” in New York Home Journal, Volume II, January, 1896
  • Clute, John (1979) ”John Jacob Astor” at  in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (online edition)
  • Futrelle, Jacques (coll 1907) The Thinking Machine: Being a True and Complete Statement of Several Intricate Mysteries Which Came under the Observation of Professor Augustus Van Dusen, Ph D, Ll D, F RS, M D, etc
  • (1908) The Thinking Machine on the Case
  • Green, Roger Lancelyn (1976) ”Introduction” to Arnold, Edwin Lester (1905, New English Library SF Master Series edition)
  • Greg, Percy (1880) Across the Zodiac: The Story of a Wrecked Record
  • Herring, Daniel W. (1924) Foibles and Fallacies of Science, An account of Celebrated Scientific Vagaries
  • John Jacob Astor IV (undated) at TitanicPassengers.com
  • Prucher, Jeff (ed. 2009) Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction
  • Stead, W.T. (1894) If Christ Came to Chicago!: A Plea for the Union of All Who Love in the Service of All Who Suffer
  • (1898) Blastus the King’s Chamberlain: A Political Romance
  • (1903) The Despised Sex: The Letters of Callicrates to Dione, Queen of the Xanthians, Concerning England and the English, Anno Domini 1902
  • Stirling, S.M. (2003) ”Introduction” to Astor (1894)
  • Wells, H.G. (1901) The First Men in the Moon
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