Science Fiction in Old San Francisco: History of the Movement from 1854 to 1890

Sam Moskowitz showed up in some of my reading lately, so I thought I’d post reviews of a couple of his books I mentioned in passing in my Bitter Bierce series.
Milne
While I’m a bit leary of a book that mentions the Black Hills of North Dakota and Rod Steiger’s The Twilight Zone, this was still an interesting book. I took away a few things from it.

 

First, further information on the role that newspaper hoaxes played in early American sf or proto-sf.

Second, that there really was a community of San Francisco writers who published in numerous San Francisco publications and mostly set their stories, not surprisingly, in Frisco. The constant referrals to each others’ works shows a clear beginning of the genre awareness necessary to say that sf existed as an “invitation to form” then. There was also a generous helping of foreign sf and fantasy, including Jules Verne, published in these same magazines and newspapers. I found it interesting that many writers, foreign and American, referenced Edgar Allan Poe as the father of the new genre that was to become sf. He certainly inspired Verne if not Wells. Poe, as a writer (and I never noticed this point) created stories of the fantastic without the supernatural. Poe, under the “invitation to form” definition of sf, may have a pretty strong claim to founding sf.

The Frisco writers may have influenced Wells since their work was sometimes reprinted over seas. William C. Morrow may have been the inspiration for the idea and eponymous character of Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. Moskowitz’s main emphasis is on the career of Robert Duncan Milne, a Scottish-American (a very well-educated remittance man and drunk) who, from 1881 to about 1899, has a very good claim to being the world’s first full time sf writer.

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Reading Bitter Bierce: Bierce and Science Fiction

If you look up some standard reference works on science fiction, you will see a few Bierce tales mentioned. They always mention “Moxon’s Master” (1909), an early robot story, and “That Damned Thing” (1898), an early invisible menace story.

Robert S. Coulson’s entry on Bierce in the James Gunn edited The New Encyclopedia of Science Fiction mentions both as well as “The Realm of the Unreal” which I’ve already discussed. 

The Bierce entry, authored by Peter Nichols and John Clute, in The Science Fiction Encyclopedia mentions several weird tales I’ve already discussed using the justification that “the speculative environment they create is often sufficiently displaced to encourage the interest of sf readers”. But they also mention “John Smith Liberator: (From a Newspaper of the Far Future)” aka “John Smith” (1873), “For the Ahkoond” (1888), and “The Ashes of the Beacon: An Historical Monograph Written in 4930” (1905) which is a radical revision of “The Fall of the Republic: An Article from a ‘Court Journal’ of the Thirty-First Century” (1888). I will be talking about all these stories in future posts except “John Smith” and “The Fall of the Republic”, neither of which I’ve gotten my hands on yet.

For now, though, I want to briefly talk about Bierce’s place in science fiction as an editor, critic, cheerleader and, in a sense, imitator. Continue reading