Unusual beach reads

Ditch your typical beach books this summer in favor of something a little more… sinister

If you’re wondering what books to pack in your beach bag this summer and are bored of the typical beach fluff, we have just the remedy for you: why not consider our eerie, prescient, and downright creepy series of proto-science fiction books, the Radium Age? You can listen to the soothing sounds of the sea while you read about a post-civilized society, a new-future England driven by eugenics, and a world run entirely below ground.

Read on to explore these books and more from the Radium Age.

The Heads of Cerberus and Other Stories by Francis Stevens

When three people in Philadelphia inhale dust developed by a scientist who has discovered parallel universes, they are transported into an interdimensional no-man’s land that is populated by supernatural beings. From there, they go on to an alternate-future version of Philadelphia—a frightening dystopian nation-state in which citizens are numbered, not named. How will they escape? In The Heads of Cerberus and Other Stories, introduced by Lisa Yaszek, you will find this world-bending story as well as five others written by Francis Stevens, the pseudonym of Gertrude Barrows Bennett, a pioneering science fiction and fantasy adventure writer from Minneapolis who made her literary debut at the precocious age of 17.

The People of the Ruins by Edward Shanks

In The People of the Ruins, Edward Shanks imagines England in the not-so-distant future as a neomedieval society whose inhabitants have forgotten how to build or operate machinery. Jeremy Tuft is a physics instructor and ex-artillery officer who is cryogenically frozen in his laboratory only to emerge after a century and a half to a disquieting new era. Though at first Tuft is disconcerted by the failure of his own era’s smug doctrine of Progress, he eventually decides that he prefers the post-civilized life. But, when the northern English and Welsh tribes invade, Tuft must set about reinventing weapons of mass destruction.

The Inhumans and Other Stories edited by Bodhisattva Chattopadhyay

Kalpavigyan—science fiction written to excite Bengali speakers about science, as well as to persuade them to evolve beyond the limitations of religion, caste, and class—became popular in the early years of the twentieth century. Translated into English for the first time, in this collection you’ll discover The Inhumans (1935), Hemendrakumar Roy’s satirical novella about a lost race of Bengali supermen in Uganda. Also included are Jagadananda Ray’s “Voyage to Venus” (1895), Nanigopal Majumdar’s “The Mystery of the Giant” (1931), and Manoranjan Bhattacharya’s “The Martian Purana” (1931).

Man’s World by Charlotte Haldane

In the not-too-distant future, England’s population quality and quantity are under scientific control: Only those deemed the fittest are permitted to procreate. Women are either groomed to be “vocational mothers,” or sterilized and put to other uses. Written by an author married to one of the world’s most prominent eugenics advocates, this ambivalent adventure anticipates both Brave New World and The Handmaid’s Tale. When a young woman rebels against her conditioning, can she break free?

The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson

In the far future, humankind’s survivors huddle below Earth’s frozen surface in a pyramidal fortress-city that, for centuries now, has been under siege by loathsome “Ab-humans,” enormous slugs and spiders, and malevolent “Watching Things” from another dimension. When our unnamed protagonist receives a telepathic distress signal from a woman whom (in a previous incarnation) he’d once loved, he sallies forth on an ill-advised rescue mission—into the fiend-haunted Night Land.

The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesterson

When Auberon Quin, a prankster nostalgic for Merrie Olde England, becomes king of that country in 1984, he mandates that each of London’s neighborhoods become an independent state, complete with unique local costumes. Everyone goes along with the conceit until young Adam Wayne, a born military tactician, takes the game too seriously. . . and becomes the Napoleon of Notting Hill. War ensues throughout the city—fought with sword and halberd.

The Lost World and the Poison Belt by Arthur Conan Doyle

In 1912, the creator of Sherlock Holmes introduced his readers to yet another genius adventurer, Professor Challenger, who in his very first outing would journey to South America in search of… an isolated plateau crawling with iguanodons and ape-men! A smash hit, Doyle’s proto-science fiction thriller would be adapted twice by Hollywood filmmakers, and it would go on to influence everything from Jurassic Park to the TV show Land of the Lost. Its 1913 sequel, The Poison Belt, finds Challenger and his dino-hunting comrades trapped in an oxygenated chamber as the entire planet passes through a lethal ether cloud.

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