18th Century and Earlier

An image of More's Utopia.

Sir Thomas More, 1478-1535.

Thomæ Mori Angli, viri eruditionis pariter ac virtutis, Omnia, quae hucusque ad manus nostras peruenerunt, Latina opera. Louanii: Apud Ioannem Bogardum sub Biblijs Aureis, anno 1566.

First published in 1516, More's Utopia describes a city-state in which the institutions and policies are entirely governed by reason. In Utopia there is no private ownership, there are free hospitals, euthanasia is encouraged by the state, priests are allowed to marry and divorce is permitted, and a variety of religious views are accepted. More contrasts this lifestyle with sixteenth century Christian Europe, which was divided by self-interest and greed for power and riches.

More's concept of putting forward political and philosophical principles under the fiction of an ideal state was taken from Plato's Republic. The term "utopia," coined by More from the Greek word for "no place," has come to mean an ideal community, the principles of which differ by the politics of the author.

Francis Bacon, 1561-1626.

New Atlantis. A Worke Unfinished; written by the Right Honourable Francis Lo. Verulam, Viscount St. Alban. London: Printed by J. Haviland for W. Lee [1627].

Although Bacon followed the utopian tradition established by Sir Thomas More, his is a very different community. Bacon was the first philosopher to suggest the improvement of society through science. In previous utopias, this new world was achieved through social legislation, religious reforms or the spreading of knowledge but this new society comes about through the joining of science and political power.

John Wilkins, 1614-1672.

The Mathematical and Philosophical Works of the Right Reverend John Wilkins. London: Printed for J. Nicholson, 1708.

The Works includes The Discovery of a New World or, A Discourse tending to prove, That ('tis probable) there may be another Habitable World in the Moon. Wilkins was an English scientist who defended the new astronomy of Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo. In the Discovery, he considers the possibility of life on the moon and discusses the problem of traveling there by means of a "flying chariot" and the establishment of human colonies on the lunar surface. While acknowledging the difficulties of space travel, he believed that a future generation would create a flying machine for both earth and space travel.

An image of Gullver's Travels.

Jonathan Swift, 1667-1745.

Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. By Lemuel Gulliver. London: Benjamin Motte, 1726.

Although it has achieved lasting fame as fiction, fable and children's book, Gulliver's Travels was a direct and bitter satire of the English court, political parties, religious dissensions, men of science, and historians of Swift's day. Swift was involved in many political controversies, especially those relating to the treatment of the Irish by the English, and his satirical pamphlets were widely circulated. Alexander Pope and John Gay claimed that Gulliver's Travels was read "from the cabinet council to the nursery."

Gift in Memory of Albert N. Raub, President of Delaware College 1888-1896.

An image of Voyage de Nicolas Klimius.

Baron Ludvig Holberg, 1684-1754.

Voyage de Nicolas Klimius dans le monde souterrain, contenant une nouvelle téorie de la terre, et l'histoire d'une cinquiême monarchie inconnue jusqu' à present. Copenhagu: J. Preuss, 1741.

The Journey of Niels Klim to the World Underground is a classic in speculative fiction and was the first fully developed novel set underground in a hollow earth. It is often compared to Gulliver's Travels, which was published 15 years earlier. The plot follows the adventures at the center of the earth of Niels Klim, a penniless Norwegian student, after he plunges into a bottomless hole in a cave. Klim discovers exotic civilizations and fabulous creatures scattered across the underside of the earth's crust and, at the earth's center, a small, inhabited planet orbiting around a miniature sun.

Gift in Memory of Albert N. Raub.

Sébastien Mercier, 1740-1814.

Memoirs of the Year Two Thousand Five Hundred, tr. from the French by W. Hooper, M.A. Philadelphia: T. Dobson, 1795.

The hero falls asleep and awakes in the future to find a rationalist utopia. The work, first published in 1771, was the first utopia to be set in future time. Written before the destruction of French Revolution, Memoirs characterized the future as one of unlimited progress.

The book was one of the eighteenth century's most successful with over 60,000 copies in print in several languages, and the first utopian novel published in North America (George Washington and Thomas Jefferson owned copies). It was also one of the eighteenth century's most controversial: first published anonymously in Amsterdam as L'An 2440 and promptly banned in both France and Spain as subversive propaganda.

19th and Early 20th Centuries

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, 1797-1851.

The Last Man by the author of Frankenstein. London: Henry Colburn, 1826.

The Last Man was the first major work by Shelley after the publication of her Frankenstein. It concerns a devastating worldwide plague that annihilated all of humanity except for one man who is left to chronicle the world's demise in the year 2100. This novel of apocalyptic horror, originally published in 1826, was rejected in its time and was out of print from 1833 to 1965.

George Tucker, 1775-1861.

A Voyage to the Moon: with some Account of the Manners and Customs, Science and Philosophy, of the People of Morosofia, and other Lunarians. By Joseph Atterley [pseud.]. New York: E. Bliss, 1827.

A truncated, cubic spaceship, propelled by an anti-gravity called Lunarium is used to send a crew to the moon. Although seen as science fiction today, the book was originally written as satire, mocking quack physicians, inept attorneys, and fashion-crazed women. Tucker was a University of Virginia professor who taught Edgar Allan Poe.

Edgar Allan Poe, 1809-1849.

Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1840.

This collection includes many of Poe's major contributions to the field of science fiction. His science fiction includes "Hans Phaall", one of the first scientifically serious tales of space flight, "The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion", the first end of the world story, "The Colloquy of Monos and Una", a tale of survival after death; and "A Tale of the Ragged Mountains", perhaps the first tale of physical time travel. Poe's emphasis on scientific plausibility in "Hans Phaall" and elsewhere influenced not just the treatment of space travel, but all of science fiction and in many ways he is one of the primary architects of modern science fiction.

An image of Battle of Dorking.

George Tomkyns Chesney.

The Battle of Dorking. Edinburgh & London: Blackwood and Sons, 1871.

The Battle of Dorking first appeared in Blackwood's Magazine, a respected Victorian political journal. The short story describes the invasion of England by an unnamed enemy (who happen to speak German) in which the narrator and a thousand citizens defend the small English town of Dorking. The story then moves forward in time fifty years to a still devastated England.

On loan from the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection.

An image of From the Earth to the Moon.

Jules Verne, 1828-1905.

From the Earth to the Moon, Direct in Ninety-Seven Hours and Twenty Minutes: and a Trip Round It. New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1874. First American edition of the two novels in one.

In a 1905 article in The Nation, written at the time of Verne's death, Verne's continuing popularity is discussed:

The books of Jules Verne are the Arabian Nights elaborately fitted with all modern improvements. The genii and the sorcerers of a few centuries ago have their lineal descendants in the accomplished gentlemen who are sometimes described as "the wizards of science." A submarine boat, a fast express, an automobile, a dirigible balloon, or a hollow shell shot at the moon, is a comfortable and highly plausible substitute for a travelling carpet or a roc. Given the problem of annihilating space and time, the unknown authors of the Arabian Nights and Jules Verne both solve it according to formulas popular in their own day.

Jules Verne, 1828-1905.

The Baltimore Gun Club from the French of Jules Verne; freely translated by Edward Roth (from The Earth to the Moon). Philadelphia: King & Baird, 1874.

This novel was published as De la Terre a la Lune (1865) and also published in English as The Baltimore Gun Club and The American Gun Club. Although the novel was subtitled Trajet direct en 97 heures 20 minutes ("Direct Passage in Ninety-Seven Hours and Twenty Minutes"), the actual journey to the moon was depicted in the book's sequel, Autour de la Lune (1870; Round the Moon). The Baltimore Gun Club tells of a group of American Civil War veterans, members of the Baltimore Gun Club, who conceive the idea of building an enormous cannon which will shoot a "space-bullet" to the moon from a site in Florida.

An image of Looking Backwards.

Edward Bellamy, 1850-1898.

Looking Backward, 2000-1887. Boston: Ticknor and Company, 1888.

On Memorial Day in 1887, Julian West sought help for his chronic sleep problems. In the course of his treatment by a Boston doctor, West was "mesmerized" so effectively that he never regained consciousness and remained in a state of suspended animation for more than a hundred years.

Looking Backward, the best-known American utopian novel of the nineteenth century, anticipates a future America (the year 2000) of nationalized industry, equal distribution of wealth and the destruction of class divisions. Bellamy sees the rise of technology as allowing increased freedom for the working man.

Rear Admiral P. Colomb.

The Great War of 189-: A Forecast. London: Heinmann, 1893.

First appearing in 1892 in the illustrated magazine Black and White, this shockingly realistic future war novel was the collaboration of many of the greatest military and political experts of the day. It was an attempt to determine how England would fare in a world war. Among the predictions was the aerial bombardment of a city by laser-like weapons.

On loan from the Mark Samuels Lasner Collection.

An image of News from Nowhere.

William Morris, 1834-1896.

News from Nowhere, or, an Epoch of Rest: Being some Chapters from a Utopian Romance. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1894.

First published in serial form in Commonweal in 1890, this novella offers Morris' ideal future for England as a pastoral society born out of revolution. When the hero awakes he finds an England governed by communist principles, without money or private property but with a perfect equality between all citizens who share in the daily labor. Morris's workers harken back to the medieval guilds of individual artisans producing items of use and beauty by hand.

H. G. (Herbert George) Wells, 1866-1946.

The War of the Worlds. London: William Heinemann, 1898.

This well-known Martian invasion story was written in response to several historical events. The most important was the unification and militarization of Germany, which led to a series of novels predicting war in Europe, beginning with George Chesney's The Battle of Dorking (1871). The other was the 1898 discovery by Italian astronomers of natural features on Mars which were improperly translated into English as canals. This fueled the belief that there was intelligent extraterrestrial life on the planet.

The book has been viewed as an indictment of European colonialism.. European technological superiority was seen as evidence of all-round superiority, and thus Europeans considered themselves to be more able to administer their colonies than the native peoples. The novel challenges this perspective by depicting the Martian invasion as unjust, regardless of the Martian technological superiority.

An image of Tales of Space and Time.

H. G. (Herbert George) Wells, 1866-1946.

Tales of Space and Time. London and New York: Harper & Bros., 1900.

This is a collection of short stories including "The Crystal Egg" which tells of a storeowner who finds a crystal egg that offers a window into life on Mars.

H. G. (Herbert George) Wells, 1866-1946.

In the Days of the Comet. London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1906.

In the midst of a world war, the tail of a comet brushes earth's atmosphere, causing everyone to lose consciousness for a few hours. When they awake, the world has been transformed into a Socialist utopia. Among the changes are an end to private ownership of land, nationalism, and religion. At the time he wrote the novel, Wells was involved with the Fabian Society, a British intellectual movement.

An image of Iron Heel.

Jack London, 1876-1916.

The Iron Heel. New York, London: Macmillan Company, 1908.

Although better known for his adventure stories, London also wrote this science fiction classic which highlighted his socialist beliefs. In this dystopian novel, the United States is ruled by an oligarchy of industrialists who destroy the middle class by bankrupting most small to mid-sized business and reducing all farmers to serfdom.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1859-1930.

The Poison Belt, Being an Account of Another Amazing Adventure of Professor Challenger. New York: Hodder and Stoughton, George H. Doran Co., 1913.

A scientist believes that the earth is about to be destroyed by collision with a belt of poisonous ether. He and his friends seal themselves in a room with cylinders of oxygen to wait out the destruction. When they later discover that humanity was not destroyed but briefly put to sleep, they convince the world to put a higher value on life.

Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950.

Back to Methuselah: a Metabiological Pentateuch. London: Constable, 1921.

Shaw wrote five linked plays under the collective title Back to Methuselah (1922). They express his philosophy of creative evolution in an extended dramatic parable that progresses through time from the Garden of Eden to AD 31,920. His concept of "Creative Evolution," an invisible life-force through which humanity might make the leap to a utopia, was an attempt to find some positive value to the dark pessimism of the years immediately following World War I.

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Last modified: 03/12/09