Thursday, September 11, 2008

Classics: Across the Zodiac by Percy Greg (1880)

Across the Zodiac: the Story of a Wrecked Record. Deciphered, translated and edited by Percy Greg (1880).

Written nearly twenty years before H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds (1898), Percy Greg's Across the Zodiac is one of the earliest science fiction novels about human spaceflight to Mars and is considered a key book in the history of science fiction.

John Clute and Peter Nicholls point out in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1979) that Greg's novel is "perhaps most significant for its detailed depiction of the protagonist's journey to Mars through the use of apergy, an Antigravity force (the concept provided a model for many later novels) which he uses to propel his spaceship."

Robert Markley argues in Dying Planet: Mars in Science and the Imagination (2005) that Across the Zodiac “was the first novel to attempt a scientifically plausible view of travel to Mars; the first to explore the implications of contact with an older and more advanced civilization; and the first to use the red planet as a cautionary, didactic model for Earth.”

However, according to Destination Mars: In Art, Myth, and Science (1997), by Martin Caidin and Jay Barbree, “Some Martians were not quite so advanced, and they considered women to be property. The hero from Earth became embroiled in a Martian civil war on the side of the telepaths who fought against slavery. After losing both his friend and his wife in the final conflict (though his side won the war), he escaped back to his spacecraft and returned to earth.”

An excellent review of Across the Zodiac appeared in DePauw University’s Science Fiction Studies back in 1975.

Originally published in two volumes in 1880, Greg's novel was reprinted with an introduction by Samuel Moskowitz in 1974 by Hyperion Press. An abridged paperback edition with an afterword by Benjamin Appel was published by Popular Library in 1978.

Google Books Library Project has digitized Volume I and Volume II of the first edition of Across the Zodiac. The full text is available at Project Gutenberg and, and an excerpt is part of The Planetary Society’s Visions of Mars library aboard NASA’s Phoenix Mars lander.

1 comment:

theo paijmans said...

Just a little detail: the illustration at the top of this article is not from Percy Greg (his book remained without illustrations), but is one taken from John jacob Astor's 'A Journey To Other Worlds', published in 1894.

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