Thursday, October 18, 2007

Two Planets by Kurd Lasswitz (1897)

Two Planets, by Kurd Lasswitz (1897)

At left: Paperback (New York: Popular Library, 1971), 383 p., 95¢. Translated from German by Hans H. Rudnick. Epigraph by Wernher von Braun. Afterword by Mark R. Hillegas. Here's the blurb from the back cover:

Seeking the North Pole, the tiny band of explorers found instead a Martian settlement on earth, an artificial island with a floating ring space station, populated by ideal beings with light hair and shining powerful eyes – peaceful, civilized creatures who wanted to educate men in advanced Martian ways. In return, they sought only air and energy from earth’s bountiful supply. But human folly provoked the Martians to war, and their easy victory spelled separation for Joseph Saltner and La, lovers from two planets whose happiness personified the possibilities of universal peace. The utopian vision of this remarkable and important novel had a profound influence of German astronomy and the American space program. Its astonishing fantasy has for decades captured the imagination of European readers. One, Wernher von Braun, writes ‘I devoured this novel with curiosity and excitement as a young man. ...’ Here is the first English translation."

A “lost science fiction classic,” Two Planets is the English translation of Lasswitz’s Auf Zwei Planeten, which was originally published in German in 1897 and abridged by his son, Erich Lasswitz, in 1948 and 1969.

Interestingly, the story’s technological use of “gravity waves" is mentioned in a neat letter-to-the-editor, which appeared in the June 22, 1969, issue of The New York Times:
To the Editor: With reference to Walter Sullivan’s news report on the evidence of gravity waves and your June 21 editorial, it is interesting to note that at the end of the 1890’s, a German science-fiction writer, Kurd Lasswitz, sometimes called the German Jules Verne, built a story around the proposition that men from Mars had discovered the nature of gravity radiation and used it for traveling in space (Auf Zwei Planeten).

It is strange that a science-fiction writer should have anticipated, perhaps on the basis of scientific speculation of his time, a theory which Einstein formulated years later and which now is being verified by scientific measurements. Margarete Kranz, New York, June 22, 1969.
A review of Two Planets in the May 14, 1972, issue of The New York Times by Theodore Sturgeon mentions that “the book was banned by the Nazis as ‘democratic.’"

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