Monday, December 29, 2008

"A book! A book!": Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss

Written just weeks after British author H. G. Wells’s seminal work The War of the Worlds first appeared, Edison’s Conquest of Mars (1898), an “unauthorized sequel” by American astronomer and writer Garrett P. Serviss, stars famed inventor Thomas Edison, who invades Mars in a belligerent plot filled with destructive weaponry and epic battles. One passage in Edison's Conquest of Mars, however, involves something more mundane than interplanetary warfare:
Finally, one day the prisoner, who seemed to be in an unusually cheerful frame of mind, indicated that he carried in his breast some object which he wished us to see.

With our assistance he pulled out a book!

Actually, it was a book, not very unlike the books which we have upon the earth, but printed, of course, in characters that were entirely strange and unknown to us. Yet these characters evidently gave expression to a highly intellectual language. All those who were standing by at the moment uttered a shout of wonder and of delight, and the cry of "A book! A book!" ran around the circle, and the good news was even promptly communicated to some of the neighboring electric ships of the squadron. Several other learned men were summoned in haste from them to examine our new treasure.

The Martian, whose good nature had manifestly been growing day after day, watched our inspection of his book with evidences of great interest, not unmingled with amusement. Finally he beckoned the holder of the book to his side, and placing his broad finger upon one of the huge letters -- if letters they were, for they more nearly resembled the characters employed by the Chinese printer -- he uttered a sound which we, of course, took to be a word, but which was different from any we had yet heard. ...
Interestingly, Edison’s Conquest of Mars was not published as a novel until 1947, nearly fifty years after it first appeared as a serial in the New York Evening Journal. Today, the work is in the public domain and you can download it as an eBook through Project Gutenberg or, or as an audiobook through Librivox.

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