Assignment: Lecture 4 and Proto-SF

This week, we discussed Proto-SF and the two assigned readings: H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops.” Below, I’m embedding a video of the lecture for your review:

Also, here’s a link to the Science Fiction at City Tech site, which includes information about SF-related goings-on at City Tech, the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, and other valuable SF-focused resources.

Before our next class, please remember to write at least 250 words summarizing the lecture and your reading. Save that writing some place safe. Then, copy-and-paste it into a comment to this post.

If you need to turn in an assignment late, please do so, but remember to email me (jellis at Be sure to include information about which lecture/reading your late assignment is for so that I can find your work and check it off for you.

Next week, we will talk about the SF Pulps combined with readings by Edgar Rice Burroughs and C.L. Moore. See the syllabus for links to the readings.

17 thoughts on “Assignment: Lecture 4 and Proto-SF”

  1. In our 2/26 lecture, topics discussed included Frankenstein (a brief recap), a continued discussion of the origins of SF, “proto-SF” and its seminal authors, and finally E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops and H.G. Well’s The Time Machine. From the 17th century and into the 19th century, the Age of Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution influenced story-telling. The American and French Revolutions were movements that might not have happened had the freedom of thought spawned by that period not developed as it did. Science Fiction arose from that freedom of thought via fusions of aspects of other genres, including “Fantastic Voyages,” “Utopias,” the “conte philosophique” (as developed by Voltaire), and Gothic Literature. The genres lent to Science Fiction their tales of distant worlds, their imagined ideal futures, their use of humor, satire and metaphor to critique the present world, and also their reactions to the rapidly changing thought trends of the time – including reflections on and critiques of the milieus of the Age of Enlightenment and Scientific Revolution. This period, which gave birth to “proto-SF,” heralded greater technological and social anticipations as people’s lives began to change more rapidly than ever due to advances in technology. These advances were concurrent with (or in part allowed for) the advent of the “dime novel” (pulp), which led to even more people being aware of technological change by way of reading about it.
    Three major writers highlighted during the time of “proto-SF” were Edgar Allen Poe (who wrote Arthur Gordan Pym of Nantucket, a fantastic adventure story, and Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, an exploration of the possibility of a dying person being mesmerized); Nathanial Hawthorne (author of the classic The Scarlett Letter); and Jules Verne (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Around the World in Eighty Days). These authors blend into the period contemporary with Wells’s The Time Machine and Forster’s The Machine Stops.
    In The Time Machine, written in 1895, Wells introduces the idea of a machine capable of moving forward or backward in time. This concept launched many other stories that involved a mechanical contraption that would allow its user to time-travel (e.g. Back to the Future, 90 years later). A major theme in the book was the extrapolation of evolutionary behaviors, physical traits and motivations of the descendents of human beings. In the Time Machine, Wells saw a helpless future for those who were unchallenged, and therefore without need of developing physical strength, cunning or motivation. He envisioned a future wherein, without the need to struggle, people would focus on “art and eroticism” and “then to decay,” like a society in decline after its residents grew satisfied (Rome, Britain?). At the end of the story, with his narrator deep into the future, Wells also interestingly predicts the effects on earth by the expansion of the universe and the aging of the solar system. The sun becomes enormous and weak, the moon no longer orbits the earth, everything grows dim and spreads farther apart in the solar system, and our planet is ultimately overrun with various forms of imagined future life (e.g. massive and desperately ravenous crustaceans). He envisions the inevitable future for our earth to be a “permanent twilight.”
    In E.M. Forster’s The Machine Stops (his only work of proto-SF, published in 1909), he leans on Wells for some inspiration, but, unlike Wells, Forster thought that technology and not natural human evolution was to be the driving force of change in the societies of our future descendents. Forster had a deep skepticism of human dependence on technology, whereas Wells believed that our dependence on technology could lead to better social arrangements. Forster viewed technology as a potential threat to humanity, our rationalism and our development. It is no surprise then that Forster’s vision of the future was a nightmare, while Wells’s was less pessimistic and more evenhanded.
    Some interesting themes in The Machine Stops included: the value placed on “ideas,” which became like a currency and a sign of worth in people that had them; the idea of “bringing the world to you” instead of being out in the world experiencing it directly; the idea that globalization would make all places the same and therefore somehow less valuable (“What was the good of going to Peking, when it was just like Shrewsbury?”); the ideas of dependence and the absence of free thought (the descriptions of scenes and social interactions were reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984); and the complete control over the destinies of human beings and their purposes by a central committee, which answered to, or controlled the “Machine” itself (there were themes overlapping with the film The Matrix; the “Machine” executed its own form of eugenics, deleting you if you were born too strong and permitting you to breed if it decided you were worthy of passing on genetics; it protected you from the real world with a projection of what it felt you needed). Forster’s book presented this future as a death sentence for our way of life.

  2. In our last meeting (2/26) we discussed genre, notable SF authors and tales, the spike in technology and how it influenced SF literature. During class we took note of the many different genres including horror, comedy, drama, fantasy, SF, NF, and many more. Personally for me it was important to highlight the different types of genres because I find that it affects my approach to the literature. For example, I may find myself more excited about a comedy rather than a drama. As we explored different genres we transitioned to speaking about Utopian and Dystopian works. Immediately I thought of 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and the film Equilibrium. It also made me think of X-Men during the Sentinel saga. We also took note of Cante philosopiqueit also known as satire. In HS we were shown a satire film of Frankenstein shortly after reading the novel to explore different adaptations. Satires are fun and perhaps the most exciting satire today is South Park. We spoke about some significant SF authors such as Nathaneil Hawthor, the french writer Jules Venn and his fan fiction, H.G wells and his caution towards technology. All authors were foreign to me at first I had no idea who they were and what they did. However I learned to appreciate their contribution to SF we know and love today. Edgar Rice Burroughs “A Princess of Mars” was an adventurous and mysterious tale that follows John Carter a war veteran from Virgina, USA. We were asked only to read specific chapters but I think I was able to put the pieces together to understand the narrative. The work is very dynamic and the details are rich and are easy to paint in my head. Once again, a work of literature that was well ahead of its time. Although the work contains much sexism, racism and real world issues of its time, it is also what probably makes the world so believable. I explored more of A Princess of Mars on youtube to learn more about the story after completing the assigned reading. Shambleau is a story that also takes place on Mars. It is quite creepy… and I was puzzled at first on whether this was horror or not. I came to the conclusion that it was very light horror, maybe it was the narration that made it creepy who knows. At first it seems Northwest Smith is being a protector and a hero and although he may be committing an act of kindness he is the victim of this tale. The Shambleau is an attractive figure who feeds off the life of others. Unaware Northwest eventually becomes a victim and falls for the Shambleau’s trap. Suddenly his partner Yarol arrives just in time to save him. He kills the creature using the reflection of the mirror to target it. He saves Northwest and makes him swear that he would kill a Shambleau if he is to come across one ever again. This story was a shorter read but it was full of mystery and anticipation. Here is a short film based on our last reading “The Machine Stops”

  3. I did not attend class on this day, but luckily I remembered that the entire lecture was uploaded onto Openlab, so I was able to watch the lecture and write down what I felt was much needed. During the lecture, we spoke about the different genres that may or may not have inspired Science Fiction. All of the genres said are found inside of science fiction books, or movies, which shows everything can be used as inspiration or as a way of kicking off an original concept or idea. We also talked about the origins of specific types of Science Fiction, like “Proto- S.F” which relies on using greater technology in it’s stories about regular people living out their everyday lives, surrounded by these advanced pieces of technology. H.G “The Time Machine” relies on this concept, as the story from my understanding revolves around a time traveler returning from his adventure and recapping what had happened to him to his group of friends. He talks about the 4th dimension a lot and how a type of cube not only floats around in space, but in time as well. All this is not believed by the people being told, and that’s where I left off during my reading. So far, it seems as if the story is going to be a lot of retelling from one characters point of view.

  4. In our last lecture class we discussed the genres that play a role in Science Fiction, such as fantastic voyages, and utopias. Outopia – being in the no place, Eutopia – being in the good place, and dystopia – being in the bad place. A Science Fiction barrow from the gothic literatures, Science Fiction is a reaction to the scientific revolution. Great change came with the age of enlightenment. Voltaire, a French writer, conte philosophique. Edward S. Ellis, steam man of the prairie. We also talked about a few Proto Science Fiction writers like Edger Allen Poe 1804-1849, who did horror stories and great detective stories. Nathaniel Hawthorne 1804 -1864 wrote the scarlet letter. Jules Verne 1828 – 1905, Herbert George Wells 1806 – 1946, normal school of science in London. The readings for this week began with “Shamleau”, written by C. L. Moore in 1933. It takes place on mars, Northwest Smith encounters a young women being chased by a mob. He tries to protect her, the one they call Shamleau, Smith takes her back to his home, and let her stay there. While she is staying there he sees that she is not human, she feeds on the life of others, she uses worm like tentacles that looks like her hair. Smith partner Yarol finds him before shamleau kills him. Yarol knows exactly what Shamleau is, he manages to avert her gaze, and he manages to use her reflection against her and kills her. “A Princess of Mars” John Carter goes to Arizona after the Civil War, he happens to strike gold, while attempting to evade pursuit of some men who are after him, he hides in a cave, he is mysteriously transported to Mars called Barsoom. There he acquires superhuman abilities and strength; he joins a nomadic tribe of green Martians the tars Tarkas.

  5. We began the lecture by talking about the precursors to science fiction, also known as “Proto-SF”. Different literary genres were listed that relates to the early forms of science fiction. We talked about how different stories had a strong influence on the science aspect. Some stories used physics, others used time and theory of relativity. We learned how some of these stories have influenced many revelations, some good and some bad. One example of this is the publication of “Deadline” written by Cleve Cartmill in 1944. His science fiction story describes an atomic bomb in some detail while the real atomic bomb was still under secret development in the Manhattan Project which was then revealed later in 1945. Another example is how accurate writer Jules Verne was in his novel, “From Earth to The Moon” in 1865. He was able to portray how astronauts became weightless in space, in a time where he had no way of knowing if this was true or not. Along with Jules Verne, we learned about other Proto-SF writers, such as Edgar Allen Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Between the two reading that were given for this week, I chose to talk about “A Princess of Mars” by Edgar Rice. This book is considered to be an original intergalactic romance novel. It follows a man named John Carter, a confederate veteran who was transported to Mars from a cave in Arizona. A group of Martians known as Tharks finds John Carter and take him in as a member after observing his strength and combat skills. One of the commanders of the Tharks leads an attack on another group called Heliumite Tribe. Among the tribe, there is a human Princess Dejah, who was captured by the Tharks. She gave a speech that explains how she and her tribe are trying to help all Martians, and it’s this speech made John Carter fall in love with her. The ruler of the Tharks final decision was to sacrifice her, but John refused to let that happen, and so he took her and they both went into hiding.

  6. Some of the key points noted from the lecture began with four characteristics associated with science fiction. They are the Fantastic Voyages, Utopias, Conte Philosphque by Voltaire, and the Gothic literature. Continuing on in the lecture there was discussion of three proto-science fiction writers that contributed to this genre of literature. The first of these writers was Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849) who was the originator of the “Horror”, and the “Great Detective” genre. Poe also was an innovator of “Physiological Realism” which involved mysticism and mesmerizing. The next writer noted was Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) who was famous for his novel “The Scarlet Letter.” Hawthorne’s writing also involved mesmerism and biology. He also touched on the creative and destructive aspects of science through his writing. Finally, Jules Verne (1828-1905) who was a French writer that was a huge fan of Edgar Allen Poe. Verne wrote a continuation of one of Poe’s writings.
    Continuing on with the lecture there was a discussion of the writer “The Time Machine,” Herbert George Wells (1866-1946). The lecture explained the context and surrounding influences on H.G. Wells writings. He was considered the “Bulldog of Darwin” due to it his studies of biology. Wells studied biology with T.H. Hucksley and was an advocate in Darwin’s studies on evolution. This influence is apparent in our reading of the “Time Machine” where he depicts an evolving of the human species in the far future. Then the lecture carries on with Edward Morgan Forester (1879-1907) short story “The Machine Stops.” Forester literature usually focused on topics of humanism, class differences, sexuality, and symbolism. In “The Machin Stops” he focuses on the negative aspects’ technology can have on society. This story impressed upon me the accuracy Forester had for his time. A lot of Forester’s predictions are very similar to technology and it’s influences today. The blue disk that Vashti talks on with Kuno can be linked to our need of cell phones to interact with people. This example also correlates to impacts social media has on our generation. Our current age allows us the ability to have an entire friend group without the use of leaving our homes. Another astonishing description he writes in the story is the environment they live in. The hexagonal pods are a prefabricated modular architectural design used today for construction. Both writings are impressive perspective on how society could break down.

  7. In last weeks lecture we spoke about St Thomas Moore’s Utopia (1515) as well as Voltaire’s conte philosophy which was a satire to expose and criticize stupidity. Important people such as Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) inventing many important stories like horror and detective as well as influencing French symbolism and melded together science and mysticism. Later on we had discussions on the stories we read previously being the Time Machine written by H.G Wells, a story about a man who invented a time machine an discovers the shift in the way of human evolution The humans he meets initially are significantly different from us and are considerably dumber. “The machine Stops” is another story we spoke about involving humanities over dependency on technology. Afterwards we were to read two stories being “A Princess of Mars” and Shombleu. A princess of mars is about a man mysteriously teleported to mars after striking gold inn a mysterious cave. He rises to power within this community of Martians. As I was reading, I was immediately reminded of the movie John Carter. The other story we were to read was Shambleu which was about a bounty hunter who comes in contact with a girl who sucks the life force out of people.

  8. Last week we discussed Proto-SF writers: Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1869), Jules Verne (1828-1905), Herbert George Wells (1866-1946), and Edward Morgan Forster (1879-1970), as well as readings of Wells, “The Time Machine” (1895), and of Forster, “The Machine Stops” (1909). Of these writers we heard some of the works they had done, briefly summarizing each story. Their works possess a strong incorporation of the science aspect of “Science-Fiction,” along with key characteristics of Fantastic Voyages, Utopias, Gothic Literature, and Voltaire’s Conte Philosophique.
    Of the readings for this week, C.L. Moore’s (1911-1987) “Shambleau” was a tale of a particular Martian horror. This woman, a Shambleau, was on the run from a mob, only to be spared by the noble Northwest Smith. Whom was unwittingly falling prey to the woman he had saved, evidently not human, she possessed worm-like tentacles disguised as hair and fed on the life of others. His kindness had almost cost him his life had it not been for the character Yarol who had arrived in time to save Northwest from his guest. Yarol uses her reflection to kill her while avoiding her gaze, which solidifies the feeling that this story is reminiscent of Greek mythology’s Medusa.
    Edgar Rice Burroughs’ (1875-1950) “A Princess Of Mars” tells the tale of a Civil War veteran, John Carter (aka Captain Jack Carter of Virginia), and his tale of his elongated life and encounters with death. His journey brings him to Mars by some mysterious means, but nonetheless this event allows him to gain influence and power on the planet as an experienced soldier. Under the Thark Martian tribe, it is under their siege of another tribe (Heliumite) that another human is discovered to be their princess. This adventure varies in suspense from “Shambleau” as it possesses a charm of finding love and experiences in an entirely new world, whereas the latter brings the thrill into a protagonist home, thus creating a new world in a confined space that had been so familiar to Northwest until his chance encounter with the Shambleau.

  9. In our last lecture, we discussed literary genres that relate to science fiction. Some of them are Fantastic Voyages, Utopias and Conte Philosophique. We learned that Utopia originated from Sir Thomas More. Utopia means no place and Eutopia means of a good place. Dystopia, which is my favorite genre out of all of them means a bad place. The purpose of Voltaire’s Conte Philosophique was to show satire. Also, we learn Gothic Literature is important to science fiction because SF borrows from the genre. The Age of Enlightenment was brought up as well because it accelerated society with the advancement of technology. We talked about a couple of Proto SF writers and their impact on the genre. The first one is, Edgar Allen Poe(1809-1849) who is widely known for his horror and detective stories. In High school, I was assigned to read The Raven and I enjoyed it. Other famous stories of his consist of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym and The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar. Furthermore, another Proto SF writer is Nathanial Hawthorne(1804-1864). Well known for his 1850 novel “The Scarlet Letter”. His writing included mesmerizing, biological science and responses to the scientific elite. We discussed the author of our assigned reading “Time Machine” who is H.G. Wells(1866-1946). Wells is a crucial figure in the development of Science Fiction. His writing was about evolution, technology, etc. He was so important to science fiction that his Proto SF writing is called “Scientific Romances”. Characteristics of his stories involved long evolutionary perspectives, faceless heroes and pessimistic views about the future.

  10. During our last lecture we went over some literary genres and stories that SF draws inspiration from:

    1. Fantastic Voyages. Such as the Odyssey, Other World, and Gulliver’s Travel
    2. Utopias (Sir Thomas Moore’s Utopia)
    3. Coute Philosopique (developed by French writer Voltaire)
    4. Gothic Literature

    We also went over a number of “Proto-SF” writers: Edgar Allen Poe, (whose name I was both surprised and delighted to hear), Nathienal Hawthorne, and Jules Verne. All of whom contributed fantastic works from the late 1800s to the early 1900s that have elements of what we define as Science Fiction today. In addition, background information was given on Herbert George Wells and Edward Morgan Forester. Who both play a huge role in Science Fiction.

    Moving on to our reading assignment…Shambleau…what can I say…It’s definitely my least favorite story out of what we’ve had to read so far this semester. I know it’s accredited to be such a great short and is apart of well-known series about the protagonist, NW Smith (weird name btw) and his adventures through space/on mars. But I can’t help but feel like it was lacking SO much…Storyline?..depth? Something is definitely missing from this story. It’s possible, had I not known the tale would be based on Medusa it would’ve had more shock value when things got heated but even still.

    I guess the point of the story was to describe the relationship between the main character and the creature that he encounters (or the effect that Shambleau as a species has on others) – which it most successfully did. Male character attracted and seduced by female-creature character – well done.

    On the other hand, I can see that given the story was written in the 1930s (and written by a woman) this was an extremely racy tale. CL Moore was bold to have it published under her name. And it may be possible the story is giving light to how sexuality was seen back then. People were probably more likely to be closed off to talking about and sharing experiences – it was such a taboo subject even though everyone knew everyone else was doing it! Which is kind of what Smith struggled with Shambleau, he was both drawn in and repulsed by this creature. But he remained torn in feeling until the very end when he can’t even promise to kill a Shambleau the next time he runs into one! Crazy.

  11. I perviously referred to Science Ficton as a culture, a kind of hub for many different genres and mediums to connect from many different interpretations. This lecture helped further that thought process to me by discussing authors like Edgar Allen Poe and Jules Verne, names who show up in many literature and history class. The influence the Science Fiction genre had on historical movements like the Age of Enlightenment shows the ability of the writers of each generation to adapt the genre into their modern times. We also learned of Proto-SF, the style many of those writers used, which integrated a theme within the genre. Creating a story with the romantic or gothic theme helps capture a point in time and even helped create the horror genre.

  12. Ahmad Abuameir

    Our last lecture (2/6/20) is possibly my favorite one yet. We dove deep into the genres that have had an influence or some sort of inspiration for SF media. One thing that I love about SF and sadly seems to fly over people’s heads is diverse and complex SF can get. We Discussed on the inspirations SF has on one another how a idea can kick off an entire franchise and expand the genre to another level kinda like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which took inspiration from Gothic Literature and Greek Mythology and formed the bases of SF storytelling as we know it. We also went into how SF is more than “entertainment”. The breakdown of a dystopia is what really caught my eye. A Dystopia really isn’t just a imagined future where oppression rules and all. Being maintained by corporations and an uncivilized government. But it’s more of a propaganda that keeps citizens in check and society held down to a certain extent. We also discussed Phroto SF which is a style many SF writers used in their writings its one of the earliest forms of SF writings basically “the really old stuff before Science fiction was even a genre”. Used by many legendary writers including the one and only Mary Shelley, Thomas More and the one and only Edger Allen Poe 1806-1905 who did phenomenal detective stories but was renowned for his excellent and inspiring horror stories. “The machine stops” was briefly mentioned which is a short story by E.M Froster which is a story,set entirely underground and how humanity’s only hope of survival is a reliance’s on a giant machine.

  13. The class started with an amazing concept that I recall from a movie call Mission Impossible, where there is a character who has an impeccable memory. Thanks to the class now I know there is a concept to call this kind of person. The eidetic memory is what those people have, they are capable to recall everything they see, they can recall where they read a specific paragraph from a book, they can recite word by word the paragraph. This can be a blessing and a curse at the time. They never forget anything, and they can be a very reliable fountain of knowledge, they can be an excellent witness of an event. The curse is because there are unable to process all the information they receive. They don’t have control over the information, and they keep them randomly in their minds, it is like the internet without google or any other similar software. You can find the information. However, the task is vastly the most difficult.
    Joe Haldeman’s book called forever war is about a futuristic war. where humans travel through space and they are affected by the time dilation explained by the special relativity theory. They travel close to light velocity, and the time runs at a different pace to those who stayed on Earth. Here is where the author started to use the disassociation effect that the real soldiers suffer after they return from the war and they fill that those belong in their home, family, neighborhood, and city. The soldiers in the book after the war, they return the to earth many years later for the dilation effect. They return to an unknown world where everything and everybody is already gone.
    In the class, we have the last recount of the last part of Frankenstein. We can call this part of the creature’s vengeance. Where the creature convinces the mad doctor to build for him a female creature. But, when he was about to finish the female creature, he thing how this new creature will have her own will. She can decide to stay or not with the male creature. Definitively, the uncertainty of her future decision can open different paths where the situation can be worse. Then, if they are capable to breed a new generation. It means will be the born a new specie that is superior to humans. He diced to destroy his new creature before giving life to the corpse. The creature curses him and letter that curse ends with the death of victor’s brother and his spouse Elizabeth.
    Finally, the last part of the class was about 3 of the greatest authors who were part of what we call proto-science fiction. They are Edgard Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Jules Verne. They established many rules that modern science fiction still holds as primordial to sustain the genre.

  14. The lecture on 2/26 began with a discussion on literary genres which are names used to describe different types of stories. Some of the names we discussed are SF, Drama, Romance, Fantasy, Comedy, Non-fiction, Detective Fiction, and Westerns. The word amorphous was introduced which is defined as, without a clearly defined shape or form, and can be used to describe literary genres because they lack clear lines and are ever-changing. SF, for instance, takes shapes as a result of a combination of other literary genres such as Fantastic Voyages, which includes The Epic of Gilgamesh, Homer’s Odyssey, Other Worlds, and Gulliver’s Travels, Utopias including Utopia by Sir Thomas More, and Conte Philosophique by Voltaire in which humor, irony or exaggeration is used to expose or criticize the defects of those in positions of authority. Science Fiction, specifically, is influenced by Gothic Romanticism, and as a result, the mysterious or supernatural is present within the genre. We also discussed the reasons that led to the creation and success of SF as a genre. Some of the most significant of these are the technological and social advancements of the time, the acceleration in the speed of progress, the constant anticipation of change, and the increased availability of opportunities and access to education.

    We then touched on the notable Proto-SF writers Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), Jules Verne (1828-1905), H.G. Wells (1866-1946), and E.M. Forster (1879-1970). Edgar Allan Poe the originator of the Horror and Great Detective genres combined science and mysticism in his works. One of Poe’s well-known works is The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), a story about a man that stows away on a ship and as a result experiences several adventures. Another story by Poe is The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar (1845) in which a man is mesmerized just as he is about to die. Nathaniel Hawthorne well-known for his stories The Scarlet Letter (1850), a story about a young woman that is ostracized as a result of having an affair, The Birthmark (1843), about a man that kills his beautiful wife while attempting to remove a birthmark that is located on her face, and Rapaccini’s Daughter (1844), a story about a maiden that becomes poisonous and loses her life after taking an antidote that was meant to cure her, was critical of mesmerism and in his writing expressed the advantages, disadvantages and the unintended consequences of science. Jules Verne (1828-1905) known for his Voyage Extraordinaires which translates to Extraordinary Voyages or Journeys wrote the well-known stories Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) a work of fiction in which explorers navigate from Iceland to Italy utilizing volcanic tubes, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1869-1870), a story about a man that spends a vast amount of time under the seas as he travels a distance that approximates twice the circumference of the Earth, and Around the World in 80 Days (1872), a story about traveling around the world in a short period of time, a great feat for the time it was written. Various works by H.G. Wells and E.M. Forster were also discussed, specifically The Time Machine (1895) by Wells, and The Machine Stops (1909) by Forster, both assigned readings. Wells was the first writer to write about a time travel machine. The protagonist in the story referred to only as the Time Traveller travels to the future where he discovers two species inhabit the planet. He originally believes the species to be masters and slaves but soon discovers that the relation is more like that of ranchers and livestock. The Machine Stops is a story about a future world where technologically advanced humans “live” underground. In the story, humans are completely dependent on a machine to fulfill all of their needs. They forget how to fend for themselves and lack the desire to do so. Eventually, the machine fails and mankind is extinguished. In their stories, both authors share a pessimistic view of the future, as a result of the negative effect of technology on mankind.

  15. After a brief recap of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. We then discussed literary genre and the origins of science fiction or “proto- SF”. We also discussed E. M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” and H. G. Wells’ “The Time Machine” (Abridged).
    In the 17th centry there were previous works that help make SF what it is today. The literary genre did not have clear define boundaries, everyone has their own opinion on the subject. Some works were: Fantastic Voyages, like “The Epic of Gilgamesh”, “Other Worlds”, and “Homer’s Odyssey”. Utopias, dystopias, and eutopia. Voltaire, a satire used to expose what the writer disagrees with via a thought process. And finally, Gothic, similar to romanticism, which has a strong element of the unknown to be discovered.
    Some origins of SF were Edgar Allen Poe who originated horror and detective stories, Nathaniel Hawthorne whose work include biology and hypnotism, and Jules Verm whose works include opinion and culture. Today’s proto SF are Herbert George Wells and Edward Morgan Forster. Wells is the original figure in the development of science fiction. HIs theme was called scientific romances that has 4 characteristics: Long evolutionary perceptive, absents of a frontier, faceless/nameless hero who’s powerless to natural causes, and less hopeful views about the future. Wells works include, The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, Island of Dr. Monroe, The War of the Worlds, and The First Man on the Moon. Forster more known works have humanism, issues of class, symbolism, and issues of sexuality. His works include Howard’s End, A Room with a View, and A Passage to India.

  16. “It sounds plausible enough tonight, but wait until tomorrow. Wait for the common sense of the morning” (p. 23).

    Herbert George Wells (1866 – 1946) was one of the seminal figures in the development of Science Fiction. H. G. Wells studied biology with T. H. Huxley, a scientific humanist who had earned the nickname Darwin’s Bulldog. Huxley ferociously fought for the evolutionary ideas of Charles Darwin to be listened to and sought the proof required to change those theories into facts. The influences of studying with T. H. Huxley led Wells to think about the effects of future technology through the lens of biological evolution. Evidently, this caused Wells to write some of the most groundbreaking fiction about evolution, inventions, the prophecies of change, social extrapolation, and the promises and perils of science and technology. Wells’ stories celebrate science and technology as well as cautions us to the dangers that come through their misuse.

    H. G. Wells specialized in writing Scientific Romances. He wrote Science Fiction adventure stories that had four defining characteristics. The first defining characteristic involved a long evolutionary perspective. Wells was imagining the changes that may happen to our species and our world over long periods of time. The second characteristic is an absence of a frontier, his stories took place in our world. The third characteristic was a faceless or nameless hero. Wells did not offer much depth or description when it came to his protagonists. He did this to show how small and insignificant one human is in reference to the ever-expanding scale of our universe and the never-ending span of the fourth dimension which is of course, time. Time has existed forever before us and will exist forever after we die and decay into the dirt of the earth. The fourth and final characteristic of Wells’ stories was a pessimistic view of the future. He imagined the worlds of our future with a less than hopeful outlook.

    In 1891, Wells presented an essay titled The Universe Rigid to the publishers of Fortnightly Review, a prestigious journal of the time. In his essay, Wells attempts to describe the fourth dimension of the universe. He discusses how objects in the universe have three dimensions to locate where they are in space, and a fourth dimension, to locate where they are in time. Unfortunately, for Wells his essay was too ahead of his own time (after all, Einstein had yet to even publish his special theory of relativity) and the Fortnightly Review refused to publish his work.

    Wells decides to take the unprecedented scientific ideas from his essay and apply them to fiction. Four years later, he published his debut novel, The Time Machine. In this ingenious novella, Wells creates the idea of a scientific machine that is capable of transporting its passenger forward or backward in time. This was the first time in history that the concept of time travel was envisioned, written about, and read by the masses. Through his story, Wells’ is responsible for the countless other novels and films that explore this Science Fiction concept. Some scientists today are still trying to crack the code to time travel and when this inevitably happens it will change H. G. Wells’ Science Fiction story to a prophetic document.

    Wells opens his novel by saying that time and space are one in the same. “There are really four dimensions… length, breadth, thickness, and duration [time]… There is no difference between time and any of the three dimensions of space” (p. 1). The protagonist of the novel has no name and is simply referred to as the “Time Traveler.” He builds a machine that can travel through time and uses it to venture far forward to the year 802,701 A. D. Here he discovers that humans have evolved into two distinct species, the Eloi and the Morlocks.

    The first species are the idle Eloi who live a carefree and basic existence. They have no technology and are extremely unadvanced and simple. The Time Traveler compares their intellectual level to that of a five-year-old child. The Eloi are all small, soft, and weak, yet somehow, live their lives with no fear. The Time Traveler deduces that as human beings used science to find ways to prevent dangers, cure diseases, and solve all of their problems, they unknowingly caused the evolution of human beings to change by making weakness a genetic trait that was passed down every generation. Since strength was no longer needed for survival, it slowly evolved out of the human genome. The Time Traveler says, “We are kept keen on the grindstone of pain and necessity” (p. 9) Pain and necessity keep human beings striving for greatness. Without this, human beings lose their drive.

    The Time Traveler noticed that the Eloi wear clothes and sandals but did not understand where they came from. The Eloi showed no signs of craftsmanship and he had seen no machines, technologies, or workshops. The Elois existence consisted of playing, eating, bathing, having sex, and sleeping. The Time Traveler is perplexed. “I could not see how things were kept going” (p.10) He observes that the Eloi do indeed have one fear, the dark. One day upon exploring some dark areas, the Time Traveler stumbles upon a creature that looks different than the Eloi. He pursues the creature and sees it climb down a shaft. Two days later, he ventures down the shaft and finds the underground civilization of the Morlocks.

    The subterranean Morlocks are the second species that humans have evolved into. They have light grey to white skin and large red eyes that can reflect light which helps them to see in the dark. They also possess technology and machines. The Time Traveler observes that the Morlocks fear the light and eat flesh. He deduces that the poor working-class ancestors of the Morlocks had been forced to live underground by the rich upper-class ancestors of the Eloi. As they spent many generations evolving underground they developed traits that made the “daylit surface intolerable” (p. 15) The Morlocks made the Eloi clothes and upkept their society during the dark times of the night while the Eloi lay huddled in fear awaiting for the dawn. The Morlocks provided these services so that they could breed the Eloi as cattle for their own consumption.

    The two distinct species that humanity evolves into is reflected by the widening gap between the social classes in Britain during the time that Wells was writing. The Eloi represent Britain’s upper class who were usually not required to perform any type of physical labor and The Morlocks represent the working class that consisted of laborers who usually worked in unsanitary conditions and more often than not for the upper class. Wells’ novel The Time Machine explores the possibilities that evolution can have on different social classes. The novel also opened the door for Science Fiction authors and enthusiasts to imagine themselves in worlds far beyond their current time and place in space.

    “Humanity, in its desire for comfort, had over-reached itself” (p. 63).

    Edward Morgan Forster (1879 – 1970) credits H. G. Wells as the inspiration for his 1909 short Science Fiction story titled, The Machine Stops. However, Forster believed that Wells’ insistence on evolution, and not technology, being the driving force in historical development was misguided. Instead, Forster uses technological evolution as the starting point for his story and extrapolates forward from there. Forster did not discredit evolution, he merely believed that when it came to change, the main force propelling humanity was technology and the effects that it had on human beings. Forster extrapolates from the technology available at the turn of the century and imagines how this technology may advance and what effects they would have on humanity in the far future.

    The story takes place in a future dystopian world where humanity lives underground and relies on giant machines to provide them with anything and everything that they may need. Every individual lives in their own isolated room and seldom, if ever, leaves. All of their mental and bodily needs are taken care of by the omnipotent, godlike, global machine. Through pressing a series of buttons, human beings could call for anything that they could ever want or need, and the machine would provide it. Communication is made possible by the machine as it enables instant messaging, phone calls, and video conferencing.

    An individual named Kuno grows weary of his mechanical world. He begins to realize that the machine does not provide an authentic human existence. Much of what the Machine provides is virtual experiences. He states that “something ‘good enough’ had long been accepted by our race” (p. 11). What he means is that humanity had given themselves to the technology and had become so dependent on the machine that they forgot about real humanistic things, such as seeing someone face to face or real human contact and settled for “good enough” such as seeing someone through a screen. This concept is slowly becoming ever more true as technologies surrounding virtual reality advance and humankind’s reliance on the smartphone continues to increase.

    Kuno contacts his mother Vashti via the video phone provided by the machine and asks her to come talk to him, not through the machine, but in his room, in person. While travel is permitted, it is mostly unused and unnecessary since the machine can provide all a person’s needs and connect you to anyone you might desire to speak to. Nevertheless, Vashti reluctantly indulges her son’s request and begins the journey from the southern hemisphere, where she resides, to the northern hemisphere, where her son resided. She leaves the safety of her room and proceeds to the air-ship station that will take her to her son. While on the ship another passenger dropped his book, which caused all passengers on the ship to freeze, they were shocked. Not shocked at the book that dropped, but in awe that it was not automatically picked up by the machine like it would have been had they dropped it in their room. Later, Vashti is horrified by the sunrise she saw through the window. She buzzes the flight attendant who explains to Vashti that she also does not know how to operate the blinds. From her short trip, it becomes apparent that technology has made human beings severely incompetent and unable to do even the simplest things for themselves.

    Vashti arrives at Kuno’s house and he tells her of the illegal trips that he has made outside of the machine. Through his visits to the surface of the Earth, Kuno discovers that humanity is what really matters. “Machines neither came into the world with us, nor will they follow us out, nor do they matter supremely while we are here” (p. 42). Later when speaking of the machine, Kuno tells his mother that “it has robbed us of our sense of space and of the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act, it has paralyzed our bodies and our wills” (p. 49) Kuno believes that the machine has enslaved and handicapped humanity. Humans only move to the will of the machine and Kuno begins to realize that this is not the way life should be. “Man is the measure” (p. 39) He also tells his mother that he has seen other human beings alive on the surface of the earth despite the teachings of the machine that state that the surface air kills humans instantly. Vashti is deeply disturbed by the blasphemous stories of her son and she departs to the airship to return to her room on the other side of the world.

    During the next few years, religion is reestablished. Humans began to view the machine as something to be worshipped forgetting that it was man that made the machine. They regard the machine as an entity superior to themselves. In their minds, the machine is all knowing and all providing. Kuno calls his mother and tells her that “The Machine stops… The Machine is stopping, I know it, I know the signs.” (p. 65) When the Mending Apparatus system that is responsible for conducting repairs of the machine breaks down, it leads to subtle troubles in the machines mechanisms. People experience issues such as getting the machine to play the music they desire and other trivial things of the sort. Soon enough, more serious defects begin to occur such as the rotting of artificial fruit. Due to the machine gaining godlike status, none question the defects and they simply accept them as the will of the Machine.

    “There was not one that understood the monster [machine] as a whole. Those master brains had perished.” (p. 63) Although mankind created the machine, after generations of using (or misusing) it, humanity had no longer understood its inner workings. Therefore, there was no one capable of fixing the machine, let alone understanding it. In turn, humans turned to religion, no longer complaining about the unremedied defects and instead accepting them as the will of the omnipotent Machine. “Human had become so subservient, that they rapidly adapted themselves to every caprice of the Machine” (p. 68).

    Time passes and humans continued to worship as they adapted to the defects that came with the failings of the Machine’s mechanisms. People spent their last days praying to the Machine until serious defects began to happen throughout it such as the failure of the tabloid and bed apparatuses. However, the severely crucial blow to humanity and society was when, without warning, “the entire communication-system broke down, all over the world, and the world, as they understood it, ended” (p.72). Humans had lived their entire lives communicating through the screens and speakers of the Machine. They knew no other way of living.

    This is seen firsthand when the Machine finally breaks down completely and stops working all together. Vashti remembers the cryptic message that Kuno had said to her, “The Machine stops” (p. 65) as she leaves her room. When Vashti exits her room, she is immediately met with utter and complete pandemonium. People are crawling, screaming, and whimpering all about. Some are fighting and even killing each other. Others are calling for respirators or yelling and pleading for the Machine to euthanize them. Some people even begin to curse the name of the Machine that they had once worshipped. The scene represents the complete collapse of civilization and society. Upon seeing this, Vashti realizes that the only world that she had ever known was over. “She knew that civilization’s long day was closing” (p. 75).

    Forster’s story reflects a deep skepticism on human beings’ dependence on technology and what effect that dependency will have on mankind’s development. Forster sees technology as a threat to humanistic values such as, human agency, human values, empiricism, and rationalism. The story argues that mankind’s dependency on technology will inevitably lead to human beings slowly losing pieces of themselves in technologies until they are but a shell of their former selves. One cannot help but think of The Machine Stops as the coronavirus confines us to our homes and produces fear of human contact. As we attend our virtual classes and listen to our online lectures through a screen, one begins to wonder if this is the beginning to what may be a prophetic vision of Edward Morgan Forster.

  17. During this week’s lecture, we discussed a recap of the story Frankenstein. We went over how Victor turned from pseudoscience in favor of chemistry and galvanism to discover how to give life to inanimate matter. We also discussed tabula rasa which is responsible for the creature’s blank slate. Moving on from Frankenstein, we discussed what eidetic memory is which is a recall for things you hear and/or read. We then discussed SF origins including the 17th, 18th, and 19th century, as well as the Age of Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution. Next, we discussed the meaning of a utopia and different examples including outopia, meaning no place and eutopia, meaning good place. We then discussed the gothic hit and that it’s developed from its critical bite. It is described as a reaction to enlightenment and the scientific revolution. It features strong elements of mysterious, supernatural and unknowables as opposed to the Age of Enlightenment’s focus on reason and rationality and need to understand everything. Then, we discussed multiple influences on science fiction such as Edward S. Ellis, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jules Verne, Herbert George Wells, and Edward Morgan Forster. We also discussed various works of SF including The Birthmark, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Around the World in 80 Days, Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, The First Man on the Moon, The Land Ironclads, Howards End, A Room with a View, and A Passage to India.

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