May the 4th be with you… and may you enjoy these fascinating science fiction books in our Radium Age series
In these forgotten classics in our Radium Age series, readers will discover the origins of enduring tropes like tyrannical supermen, dystopian wastelands, sinister telepaths, and eco-catastrophes. According to the Los Angeles Review of Books, the series “challenges readers to reconsider the science fiction of the early 20th century… By returning to an international tradition of scientific speculation via fiction from after the Poe-Verne-Wells era and before science fiction’s Golden Age, the Radium Age series [demonstrates] the breadth, richness, and diversity of the literary works that were responding to a vertiginous historical period.”
Join the dark side and dive into these stories and even more below.
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.
“It is a marvel of imaginary adventure which Mr. Doyle has achieved.” —New York World (1912)
Theodore Savage by Cicely Hamilton
When we first meet Theodore Savage, he is a complacent civil servant, primarily concerned with romancing his girlfriend. During a brief war in which both sides use population displacement as a terrible strategic weapon, Savage must battle his fellow countrymen. He shacks up with an ignorant young woman in a forest hut—a kind of inverse Garden of Eden, where no one is happy. Eventually, he sets off in search of other survivors… only to discover a primitive society where science and technology have come to be regarded with superstitious awe and terror. A pioneering feminist, Hamilton offers a warning about the degraded state of modern women, who—being “unhandy, unresourceful, superficial”—would suffer a particularly sad fate in a postapocalyptic social order.
“Prescient both to Hamilton’s time and to the current moment of war, plague, and refugee crises, this novel deserves to be rediscovered. Readers will have much to chew on.” —Publishers Weekly
What Not by Rose Macaulay
In a near-future England, a new government entity—the Ministry of Brains—attempts to stave off idiocracy through a program of compulsory selective breeding. Kitty Grammont, who shares the author’s own ambivalent attitude to life, gets involved in the Ministry’s propaganda efforts, which are detailed with an entertaining thoroughness. However, when Kitty falls in love with the Minister for Brains, a man whose genetic shortcomings make a union with her impossible, their illicit affair threatens to topple the government. Because it ridiculed wartime bureaucracy, the planned 1918 publication of What Not, whose alphabetical caste system would directly influence Aldous Huxley’s 1932 dystopia Brave New World, was delayed until after the end of World War I.
“One of the wittiest, most ironical, and altogether funniest books that have appeared these many years.” —The Daily Telegraph (1919)
Nordenholt’s Million by J. J. Connington
In this novel originally published in 1923, as denitrifying bacteria inimical to plant growth spreads around the world, toppling civilizations and threatening to wipe out humankind, the British plutocrat Nordenholt sets himself up as the benignant dictator of a ruthlessly efficient, entirely undemocratic, survivalist colony established in Scotland’s Clyde Valley. Discovering just how far their employer is willing to go in his effort to spare one million lives, Jack Flint, the colony’s director of operations, and Elsa Huntingtower, Nordenholt’s personal assistant, are forced to grapple with the question of whether a noble end justifies dastardly means.
“You may like Nordenholt’s Million or you may detest it, but there is one thing I defy you to do, and that is to forget it.” —Punch (1923)
Of One Blood by Pauline Hopkins
Long before Marvel Comics gave us Wakanda, a high-tech African country that has never been colonized, this 1903 novel gave readers Reuel Briggs—a mixed-race Harvard medical student, passing as white, who stumbles upon Telassar. In this long-hidden Ethiopian city, whose wise, peaceful inhabitants possess both advanced technologies and mystical powers, Reuel discovers the incredible secret of his own birth. Now, he must decide whether to return to the life he’s built, and the woman he loves, back in America—or play a role in helping Telassar take its rightful place on the world stage. Considered one of the earliest articulations of Black internationalism, Of One Blood takes as its theme the notion that race is a social construct perpetuated by racists.
“Hopkins transports readers to a technologically advanced, hidden city in Ethiopia that’s remained free of colonialist influences and oppression.” —Andrew Liptak, Transfer Orbit
Forthcoming: 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.
Forthcoming: The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G. K. Chesterton
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.