#68 = Volume 23, Part 1 = March 1996
Evolution of Modern Science Fiction:
The Textual History of Hugo Gernsback's Ralph 124C 41+
Throughout the twentieth century, as science fiction emerged as a recognized literary genre, Hugo Gernsback's novel Ralph 124C 41+: A Romance of the Year 2660 has repeatedly emerged at crucial defining moments. It was first published as a serial of twelve installments in Gernsback's magazine Modern Electrics from April 1911 to March 1912, an era when other magazines were struggling with several short-lived terms to describe their science-fiction stories,1 and its popularity led to the policy of offering science-fiction stories in all of Gernsback's science magazines, establishing the first markets exclusively for works of “scientific fiction.” Its appearance as a book in 1925 immediately preceded the birth of Gernsback's first science-fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, in 1926, and its publication may have been one factor in the decision to launch that magazine; and Gernsback reprinted Ralph in Amazing Stories Quarterly in 1929, explicitly identifying it as an exemplary work of “scientifiction.” In the late 1940s and early 1950s, when companies first produced lines of science-fiction books, a second hardcover edition of Ralph appeared as part of “Fell's Science Fiction Library”; and later in the 1950s, as paperbacks increasingly dominated the science-fiction market, a paperback edition of Ralph was published in 1958. If one also considers Gernsback's prominence and visibility as a magazine editor, it is not daring to hypothesize that Ralph is an important document in the history of science fiction and to justify detailed study of an admittedly poor novel on those grounds.
The problem, however, is that these five editions of the novel have significant differences, and the first one in particular is radically unlike all its successors. To fully understand Ralph, therefore, one must examine its complete textual history, exploring how and why each version differed from its predecessor.2 It is a story about a narrative built out of fundamentally incompatible elements, of massive efforts to resolve those incompatibilities, and of later attempts to ameliorate those incompatibilities by polishing its surface. It is a story, I will eventually suggest, that is not unlike the story of science fiction itself.
1. The 1911-12 Version. A serialized novel appearing in Modern Electrics was incongruous, since the magazine might be described as a kind of Notes and Queries for Inventors. The April 1911 issue where Ralph first appeared is typical. The issue began with news reports and articles, some signed, some unsigned: “The Practical Electrician, Chapter III by Professor W. Weiler,” translated by Gernsback (pages 3-6), which continued to run in all later 1911 and 1912 issues; “Fontana Mast” (7-8); “The `Singing Spark' System of Wireless Telegraphy” (9-11); “Photographic Phonograph” (12-13); “Paris Letter” (14-16), news of inventions from Europe; “Condenser for High-Power Transmitters” (16-17); Gernsback's editorial (18); and the first installment of Ralph (19-20). Next were the “Experimental Department” (21-34), descriptions of their new inventions from various readers (including, that month, Lewis Mumford3), and a few more articles and features: “A Portable Wireless Telegraph Outfit” (34-35); “Flying Sparks,” a page of cartoons (36); “Wireless Telegraph Contest,” (37-39), where readers were invited in send in photographs and descriptions of their radio equipment; and a page listing “Electrical Patents for the Month” (40). Then came the “Oracle” (41-54), answering technical questions from readers, and finally, advertisements (52-64) chiefly aimed at inventors, offering help with patents, various types of electrical equipment, a program to “Learn Electricity,” the products of Gernsback's Modern Electrics Publications, and Gernsback's book The Wireless Telephone. In 1912, new features were added: an “Aeronautic Department” and another question-and-answer section, “Advice on Patents.” Two 1912 issues included suitable-for-framing portraits of Thomas Alva Edison and Nicolas Tesla, and there was much discussion in that year about proposed legislation governing radio. Other than cartoons and jokes used as fillers, the only other non-scientific feature of the magazine was Gernsback's occasional humor column, “The Wireless Screech,” which parodied various features in Modern Electrics (an “Idiotorial” followed by farcical articles, news reports, and reader questions—and on two occasions to be discussed, parodies of Ralph).
Ralph 124C 41+ was dropped into this milieu virtually without comment. Aside from an introductory paragraph accompanying the first installment (quoted below), summaries of earlier episodes, and reminders in tiny print that back issues with previous installments could be ordered, Gernsback made absolutely no mention of his story anywhere in Modern Electrics while it was appearing, even when describing, in moments of editorial boosterism, how the contents of his magazine were constantly improving; nor did he publish any letters with reader responses to the story (though, admittedly, he published very few letters of that type anyway). Perhaps Gernsback was at the time not too sure about what he was doing and hence reluctant to discuss the work at length.
There are two stories about Gernsback's plans and reasons for writing Ralph 124C 41+. First, Sam Moskowitz's Explorers of the Infinite says that when Gernsback “found himself a few pages short of material to fill the April 1911 issue of Modern Electrics, he sat down and dashed off the first installment of Ralph 124C 41+, a work of science fiction” (232) . Whether Moskowitz created this story or heard it from Gernsback, it is almost certainly false. There has always been reason to doubt that Gernsback decided to write Ralph at the last minute: a scene from the story appearing on that issue's cover (as was the case for the next eleven issues) implies that there was forethought involved, as do the facts that the story began in the first issue of a new volume and Gernsback announced at the start that it would be a “serial story.” (To fill space in one issue, an editor might well dash off a short story, but would hardly commit himself to a continuing story simply for that reason). Examining the published text raises more questions. The preceding three issues of the magazine—January, February, and March 1911—were respectively 64, 64, and 60 pages long; the April 1911 issue was 64 pages. The first installment of Ralph in April occupied little more than a page and a half. Perhaps publishing exigencies demanded an issue of either 60 or 64 pages, so Gernsback could not have solved his hypothesized space problem by printing an issue of 62 pages; but there was still no need to add a piece of fiction, as he could have easily left out a few things to bring the magazine in at 60 pages, or he could have used some of his standard filler material—excerpts from magazines, cartoons, jokes, book reviews, advertisements—to fill one and a half pages. In sum, the evidence shows that Gernsback carefully planned from the start to add a serialized story to his magazine.
The second story is Gernsback's own, in his 1950 “Preface to the Second Edition” of Ralph:
today I must confess I do not recall just what prompted me to write Ralph. I do recall that I had no plan whatsoever for the whole of the story. I had no idea how it would end nor what its contents would be.... As the story developed from month to month there was the age-old scramble to beat the deadline—but somehow or other I always made it—usually under duress, finishing the installment at 3 or 4 A.M. on the last day. (8)
Moskowitz agrees that “He had no ideas beyond the first chapter, but each month at the approach of the deadline he would sit down and carry the story forward, with no concept of how it would develop or end” (232). These accounts ring truer, since ample evidence in the text suggests that Ralph was not carefully planned. As one major example, the key characters of Fernand and Llysanorh' are not introduced until the eighth installment, intimating that the extended melodrama of the kidnappings and space flights was not anticipated. More generally, there is reason to believe that, in response to a specific influence, Gernsback decided halfway through his serial to radically alter the contents and style of the story.
To understand how Ralph changed, one must examine its twelve installments. Despite many changes, the 1911-12 text corresponds to portions of the 1950 edition, the most accessible uncorrupted text. (The other versions, all virtually identical in contents, are described below.) Reading the portions listed in the table will provide a rough picture of the serial's contents.
Looking at these texts, one sees that the original Ralph was, in essence, two significantly different stories. First consider installments one through seven: the first is a scene from a technological utopia, celebrating the wonders of picturephones and instantaneous language translation; the second introduces a bit of what might be termed scientific melodrama, a story of danger and rescue achieved by scientific wizardry, not derring-do; and the third through seventh installments settle comfortably into the familiar combination of the utopia and travel tale, as Ralph gives Alice a guided tour of his future world. Installments eight through twelve are quite different: they take
The 1911-12 Text of Ralph 124C 41+
Magazine installment Roughly corresponds to this portion of 1950 edition
1. April 1911 Chapter 1 (25-29), to “became apologetic”
2. May 1911 Rest of Chapter 1 (29-39)
3. June 1911 Chapter 2 (40-51) without references to the faces of Fernand and Llysanorh'
4. July 1911 Chapter 3 (52-65)
5. August 1911 Chapter 4 (68-78) without the conversation about Fernand and Llysanorh' and without the meeting with Fernand
6. September 1911 Chapter 5 (79-88) to “this timely night”
7. October 1911 Rest of Chapter 5 (88-96)
8. November 1911 Chapter 10 (141-146) from the start of Fernand's letter to end of chapter
Chapter 11 (147-51) to “damn you”
9. December 1911 Rest of Chapter 11 (151-163)
10. January 1912 Chapter 12 (164-171)
11. February 1912 Chapter 14 (176-181)
12. March 1912 Chapter 16 (195-207)
place almost entirely in outer space, while the first seven occurred exclusively on Earth; and far from utopian, they seem drawn more from traditional melodrama with touches of Gothic horror, as Ralph must pursue and overcome two villains, observe three violent deaths, and finally rescue Alice from the grave itself. Quite evidently, Gernsback had dramatically changed his mind about the type of story he wished to tell; and I believe I can identify one reason for that change.
At times, as noted, Modern Electrics would include brief book reviews of scientific books as fillers; but at least once a work of fiction was reviewed. The August 1911 “Book Review” section featured this review of Mark Wicks' To Mars via the Moon:
This book is published at a timely epoch, when all the world at large has become interested in our neighboring planets, and the question of their inhabitation. The book is dedicated to that eminent astronomer, Professor Percival Lowell, and based on his theories and discoveries.
While the book contains fiction that will hold the reader spell-bound until the last page is reached, nevertheless, from a scientific point of view, it is a very valuable book for advancing new theories and probabilities. Not only may it be read as a pastime, but it is recognizable as a text book. The description of the conditions on Mars, are unique, the people, cities, method of transportation, canals and other features, while based on the most conservative theory, make interesting reading. The very clear maps of the planet with its “canals” are especially worth mentioning.
This book should appeal strongly to those interested in the researches in connection with the planet Mars, and almost as appealing for the average readers seeking an enjoyable scientific novel. (371)
This is probably the first commentary on science fiction published in a Gernsback magazine and also contains the first Gernsback-magazine use of a term for science fiction: “scientific novel.” Since the review was unsigned, one cannot establish beyond doubt the identity of its author. However, its publication does prove that someone in Gernsback's circle had read the book in 1911 and Gernsback was aware of its contents; and it is highly probable that Gernsback himself read the book and wrote the review. In fact, the unfolding text of Ralph gives strong evidence that Gernsback had read, and had been impressed by, that book.
First, there are some similarities in contents between To Mars via the Moon and the later installments of Ralph. In Chapter XXVI of Wicks' book, the narrator and his friends witness “Wonderful Aerial Evolutions” staged by the Martians:
we were gazing upwards at the vast assemblage of air-ships, which were lit up by the ordinary lamps used when travelling at night, when suddenly the whole sky became brilliant with the flow of countless thousands of coloured lights, and the air-ships began to move into their allotted positions.
Every ship—and there was a very large number of them—was covered all over with electric lamps. Some of the ships had all red lights, others all blue, others yellow, and so on through the whole range of tints known to us, besides many tints which we had never seen before.
The Martian airships then form “simple geometrical designs,” a rainbow, the spectra of several stars, interesting mixtures of light, and light displays corresponding to music.4 The scene clearly anticipates the “aerial carnival” that Ralph and Alice witness in the October 1911 installment:
The spectacle which unfolded itself below his guests was indescribable. As far as the eye could see a broad expanse studded with lights, like a carpet embroidered with diamonds, was laid out. Thousands of aerial craft with their powerful search lights moved silently about and once in a while an immense transatlantic aerial liner would swish over the horizon with tremendous speed, the flare of its flashlights long in evidence after the disappearance of the liner....
Suddenly overhead at a great height the flag of the United States in immense proportions was seen. It was composed of about 6,000 aerial flyers all flying together in the same plane.... Each one of course had very powerful lights on the bottom; some had white lights, other red ones, other blue ones. (7:420-21)5
Later displays show the Solar System and the Planet Governor.
More broadly, Gernsback's decision to take his story into space may have been inspired by Wicks. The first seven installments contain no references to Martians or space travel; Ralph's future society is evidently an earthbound one. Only in the November 1911 installment are readers abruptly informed that Earth has mastered space travel and enjoys regular contact with humanoid Martians. And particular devices suggest the space-travel motif stemmed from Wicks. To Mars via the Moon includes three charts showing the orbits of Earth and Mars, including one which also shows the flight path of his protagonists' spaceship, the Aeronal (Figure 1, facing page 118); this may have inspired Gernsback's chart in the January 1912 installment showing the orbits of the inner planets and paths of Ralph's and Llysanorh's spaceships (Figure 2, 10:691). Wicks includes a description of the Martians:
I could now see that they were very much taller than myself, being quite seven feet nine inches in height. They were, however, so splendidly proportioned that at first their stature had not impressed me as being much above our ordinary standard; whilst their features were most beautifully formed and regular, their complexions being very clear and fresh-looking.
One great peculiarity I noticed in all around us, and that was a peculiar soft and liquid glow in their eyes, which seemed to light up the whole of their features, adding greatly to their beauty and nobility of appearance. (165)
This has affinities with Gernsback's briefer descriptions of his Martian: Fernand calls him “this lanky seven foot Llysanorh'” and refers to “his big black horse eyes” (8:498). Finally, one subplot of Wicks' novel is a romance between the narrator's companion and a beautiful Martian woman, which the narrator ends by telling his friend that a relationship with a seven-foot woman would never work back on Earth; this vignette of thwarted romance between human and Martian may have inspired Gernsback to feature a Martian man helplessly in love with an Earth woman but forbidden to marry one.6 More important than these apparent borrowings of content, however, is the fact that Gernsback evidently adopted the form and purpose of Wicks' novel. Consider the paragraph that introduced Ralph in April 1911 (here, I reproduce the actual text, not the slightly altered text Gernsback presented in the 1950 edition):
(Note. This story, which plays in the year 2660, will run serially during the coming year in MODERN ELECTRICS. It is intended to give the reader as accurate a prophesy [sic] of the future as is consistent with the present marvelous growth of science, and the author wishes to call especial attention to the fact that while there may be extremely strange and improbable devices and scenes in this narrative, they are not at all impossible, or outside of the reach of science.) (1:19)
For readers of Gernsback's later commentaries on science fiction, these remarks have a conspicuous omission: while Gernsback promises a “narrative” that will include prophecies, he does not stress that the narrative will provide “scientific fact” along with “prophetic vision,”7 since saying that his predictions are “consistent with the present marvelous growth of science” and not “outside of the reach of science” does not exactly promise scientific information, and he nowhere indicates that his narrative will be in any way “educational.” At this time, Gernsback has not fully formed the idea of science fiction that he would proclaim in Amazing Stories.
Then, in the summer of 1911 (we are with some confidence assuming), Gernsback read To Mars via the Moon. Wicks' “Preface” to the novel explicitly asserts that it is designed to educate readers by providing current, accurate information about astronomy:
In the course of my experience as an occasional lecturer during the past twelve years, I have been much impressed by the keen interest evinced, even by the most unlettered persons, when astronomical subjects are dealt with in plain untechnical language which they can really grasp and understand....
...it occurred to me that it would be much more useful and appeal to a more numerous class if, instead of writing a book on the usual lines, I wrote a narrative of events which might be supposed to occur in the course of an actual voyage to Mars; and describing what might be seen on the planet during a short visit.
This is the genesis of my story; and, in carrying out my programme, I have endeavoured to convey by means of natural incidents and conversations between the characters portrayed, the most recent and reliable scientific information respecting the moon and Mars; together with other astronomical information: stating it in an interesting form, and in concise, clear, and understandable language.
Every endeavour has been made to ensure that this scientific information shall be thoroughly accurate, so that in this respect the book may be referred to with as much confidence as any ordinary textbook. (ix-x)
And in writing a book with such goals, Wicks employed some devices usually associated with nonfiction: astronomical maps, charts, and photographs, with “Notes on the Maps and Charts” (xix-xxi) and a table of data on the Sun, moon and planets (xxiii), and, on three occasions, informative footnotes in the main text (52, 55, 126).
Reading To Mars via the Moon, then, may have showed Gernsback that a “scientific novel” could fruitfully include scientific data as well as predictions, and could thus be educational as well as inspirational. The author of the review picked up on the idea, saying that “Not only may it be read as a pastime, but it is recognizable as a text book.” And, with this missing piece of the puzzle in place, as it were, he was able to go on, in later installments of Ralph and other works, to write exactly the sort of science fiction that he would later extol in Amazing Stories.
As evidence for this hypothesis, note the formal differences between the two parts of the original Ralph. The first seven installments have no footnotes and two small visual aids: drawings of a Menograph tape (3:167) and the Sub-atlantic tube (4:231). The last five installments have seven footnotes (9:596 [two], 10:691; 11:788 [two], 790; 12:883) and five larger visual aids: the diagram of Gernsback's “radar” (9:593); a picture of the “Principle of the Anti-Gravitator” (9:595) omitted from later texts; the chart of planetary orbits (10:691); and two photographs of artificial comets (11:788). The first seven installments include only one sentence describing present-day science: “In 1909 Cove of Massachusetts invented a thero-electric sunpower-generator which could deliver ten volts and six amperes, or one-sixtieth kilowatt in a space of twelve feet” (6:359). Yet the ninth installment includes a long description of conditions in space (9:596, 616); the tenth describes the asteroids (10:690-91); and the eleventh offers extensive data about real comets and experimentally produced artificial comets (11:788). The fact that this information is astronomical further suggests the impact of Wicks' novel.
Acknowledging Wicks' influence, however, does not imply that Ralph simply became an imitation of To Mars via the Moon, since there remain significant differences between the works. First, while Wicks does discuss some marvelous Martian inventions and developments, he does so only in the most general terms; the policy of describing in detail the principles and workings of such devices, followed in all installments of Ralph, was uniquely Gernsback's. Second, the other dramatic change in the later installments of Ralph— the lunge into melodramatic action—cannot be attributed to Wicks. To Mars via the Moon is a conventional utopia and proceeds placidly: there are no villains, no violence, and no conflicts other than trivial ones. Ralph's daring pursuit of two kidnappers through space, and his efforts to restore a dead woman to life, are utterly unlike anything in Wicks.8 Overall, what happened during the writing of Ralph might be imagined in this way: after proceeding for a while with his guided tour of a marvelous future city, Gernsback came to realize that the story was unsatisfactory; seeking improvements, he borrowed from Wicks the ideas of space travel and scientific explanation in the manner of a textbook; he borrowed from somewhere else—other popular fiction of his day, no doubt—the colorful story lines of villainy, pursuit, and resurrection; and he retained his own emphasis on imagining and explaining at length new scientific achievements.
Another striking aspect of the 1911-12 Ralph, also similar to the popular fiction of its day, was its occasional intensely romantic passages. Consider, for example, the 1911-12 description of the tennis game between Ralph and Alice:
It was a delightful game and although 124C 41 was an expert, his companion beat him almost from start to finish. To be frank, he was not very attentive to the game, as it interested him far less than his fair opponent. He did not see the ball, nor did he notice the net. All he could do was to watch her in rapture and this alone kept him pretty busy.
He had never imagined that a human being could be so swift and graceful all at the same time. She darted hither and thither, she swished from right to left, smiling and beaming all the time. It seemed to him that she never touched the ground; one moment she would be straight up in the air, straight as an arrow, trying to catch an impossible ball; the next second her lithe and wonderful, flexible body would fly almost horizontally over the field after a hopelessly “out” ball. And she always smiled and beamed upon him, no matter what her pose, her white and perfect teeth, glittering in the sunlight, trying to outdo the fluorescent sparkle of her wonderful, tantalizing, ever dancing eyes.
124C 41 under this bombardment of feminine charms became as awkward as never before in his life. He could play mechanically only and as the game proceeded he became more and more confused. It was hopeless. Instead of seeing balls, he saw nothing but waving hair, a set of wonderful teeth and a pair of almost impossible, wonderful eyes which kept him spellbound.
He was almost ready to give up when the remarkable happened.
Miss 212B 423, when she left the house, had of course not known that she was going to play tennis, and for this reason had come to the game without her usual hair-net protecting her heavy hair. It was, therefore, little wonder that suddenly, while jerking her head to catch an extremely low ball, her hair came down without warning. Nor was there any half way about it.
It became unfastened neatly and thoroughly. Down it came, farther and farther; it passed her waist, then her knees and stopped short a foot from the ground. It completely enveloped her, and what hair it was! 124C 41, who was only ten feet away from her, had stopped short as if thunderstruck, completely flabbergasted, as it were. His racket had slipped from his hand and his mouth was far from being closed. He looked anything but intelligent. If he had ever given the subject thought, he would have come to the logical conclusion that a mass of hair, and such hair as he saw now before him, was an absolute impossibility. He would have told anyone that such hair was preposterous, a mad dream of a mad brain.
Presently, however, before his astonished eyes, a pink nose disentangled itself out of the forest of blueblack, heavy hair. Next a dimpled, well rounded pink chin appeared, followed immediately by a blushing, annoyed face, and a plaintive, embarrassed voice complained:
“How dreadful, oh what will I ever do . . . . “ but catching sight of our hair-struck young friend, whose face was the very personification of amazement, she burst into a ringing laugh, which to his ears sounded much like church chimes. It furthermore had the beneficial effect of waking him up by bringing him gently back to earth. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately—who knows?—it did not stop there. No indeed. He did not turn his head for the very simple reason that his head had become turned. (This is not intended for a pun.) Consequently, he watched her. The very admiration shining out of his soul by way of his eyes embarrassed her at first, but it quickly wore off, while she began to put up her hair again.
It was not the easiest task either. 124C 41 for the life of him could not see how on earth she was ever going to get it back again in place. Besides he could not understand where all these masses of heavy hair could find shelter and he continued gazing at her, watching every move. Little by little, however, it found its way back and in a short while it once more crowned a queenly head—not in time, however,—for 124C 41+ had made a solemn oath that he would never consider himself happy if he could not call himself part owner of that wonderful hair.
For the next ten minutes, he rhapsodized in ardent terms over her hair, and she became so embarrassed that he had to put a stop to it.
“You know,” he concluded, “some individuals, like Samson, are conquered by the loss of their hair; and on the other hand, some individuals, by the achievements of other's hair are conquered in turn!”
“Now,” he said, having become a matter-of-fact scientist again, “I will show you where New York gets its light and power from.” (6:358-359)
Here, Gernsback's prose is certainly exuberant and flowery, and he seizes upon a scenario that must have already been a cliché in 1911—the prim, proper girl who lets down her hair and reveals herself to be a beauty—and exaggerates it to an absurd extent. (Surely, only undiscussed technological advances would enable a woman with hair extending to her feet to pin it all up.) Significantly, this is one of the few passages that is greatly shortened in the 1925 edition (from 819 to 343 words), completely recast, and toned down:
In the game that followed, Ralph, an expert at tennis, was too engrossed in the girl to watch his game. Consequently, he was beaten from start to finish. He did not see the ball, and scarcely noticed the net. His eyes were constantly on Alice, who, indeed, made a remarkably pretty picture. She flung herself enthusiastically into her game, as she did with everything else that interested her. She was the true sport-lover, caring little whether she won or not, loving the game for the game itself.
Her lovely face was flushed with the exercise, and her hair curled into damp little rings, lying against her neck and cheeks in soft clusters. Her eyes, always bright, shone like stars. Now and again they met Ralph's in gay triumph as she encountered a difficult ball.
He had never imagined that any one could be so graceful. Her lithe and flexible figure was seen to its best advantage in this game requiring great agility.
Ralph, under this bombardment of charms, was spellbound. He played mechanically, and, it must be admitted, wretchedly. And he was so thoroughly and abjectly in love that he did not care. To him, but one thing mattered. He knew that unless he could have this girl life itself would not matter to him.
He felt that he would gladly have lost a hundred games when she at last flung down her racket, crying happily: “Oh, I won, I won, didn't I?”
“You certainly did,” he cried. “You were wonderful!”
“I'm a little bit afraid you let me win,” she pouted. “It really wasn't fair of you.”
“You were fine,” he declared. “I was hopelessly outclassed from the beginning. You have no idea how beautiful you were,” he went on, impulsively. “More beautiful than I ever dreamed anyone could be.”
Before his ardent eyes she drew back a little, half pleased, half frightened, and not a little confused.
Sensing her embarrassment he instantly became matter-of-fact.
“Now,” he said, “I am going to show you the source of New York's light and power.” (25:96-98)
While a few passionate phrases are retained, the falling of Alice's hair is eliminated (and, in fact, her hair is shortened along with the passage so that it only reaches her “neck and cheeks”) , so the incident qualifies as one of two passages in the 1911-12 edition that was completed removed from later versions of the story.9
Another passage of this sort that was considerably condensed and revised is the romantic moment Ralph and Alice enjoy right before Fernand's kidnapping. In the original version:
It was a beautiful night. The moon was full and the early autumn air was invigorating.
Ralph 124C 41 and Alice 212B 423 were enjoying a ride in a two-seated aerocab above the ocean, in the neighborhood of New York. This was one of Alice's favorite diversions and both enjoyed these rides immensely.
For some time already both had stopped talking. During the weeks of their acquaintanceship both had not lost time studying each other thoroughly. They had the same likes and dislikes for most things, and they usually agreed on the most vital subjects. They were moreover extremely sympathetic to each other, so much indeed that each one when blind-folded or in the dark could tell the presence of the other in a room full of people without difficulty.
The great scientist 124C 41, who two months ago was an avowed enemy of the fair sex, had at last been conquered. The great scientist had been turned into a meek lover, and he had, moreover, forgotten his own lectures ridiculing love as being nothing but a “Perfumed animal instinct.” Ralph, the lover, had indeed changed his mind on the subject. Alice, who for sometime past had watched the moon with a dreamy expression in her eyes, was building aircastles—a favorite habit of hers. In fact she was so engrossed in a lovely pink dream with baby blue edges on it that it was some time before she became aware that Ralph had taken her hand in his. She had never held hands with anyone in such a shocking manner and consequently withdrew it violently—in her imagination. However, as the novel feeling of holding hands with a very sympathetic young man was surprisingly delicious, she actually did not, of course, withdraw her hand violently. Quite the contrary. She sat perfectly still and both for a time enjoyed the thrill of the sympathetic flux surging back and forth between them through the clasped hands.
Centuries back on a like occasion the young man would have said or perhaps whispered a lot of sweet as well as foolish things—and thereby most likely have spoiled the whole effect. He would of course have asked her if she wanted to be his wife, if she would love him all her life, and other equally unnecessary questions.
Ralph and Alice, however, being highly advanced beings with the refinement and culture of past civilized centuries behind them, neither talked nor whispered. Sitting close together, the exchange of their thoughts was attended with no difficulty. Both felt in the same manner, both understood and thought through similar channels.
By and bye their two other hands met and clasped and still further by and bye their lips met, and neither of the two spoke. In fact speech had become impossible, obsolete. Both were electrified; every nerve in them tingled and pulled and vibrated. They were not sitting in an aerocab any longer, they floated in a rose-red sea of delicately scented emotions, in which time stood still. Their ears heard nothing but far-off sonorous chimes, ringing and singing in regular intervals—at least that is what it sounded like to them; what they did hear, or rather feel, however, was the rhythmical beating of their hearts. Just how long they floated on the sea of their emotions and just how long they heard the chimes in each other's hearts is difficult to ascertain, as no authentic report on these subjects is available. It is, however, well known that both were brought back to earth, or rather to their aerocab, by another aeroflyer, which hailed their driver, asking for assistance. The strange flyer seemed to be having trouble with its motor and asked permission to draw up to our friends' cab, which permission was of course granted. When the two cabs had been made fast, the driver of the aeroflyer asked the other driver for a few copper connectors which would enable him to repair the damage. Ralph, who had his head turned away, annoyed by the unpleasant interruption, was holding the left hand of Alice, as if he were loath to break away even for a second. He suddenly became aware of a sweet, pungent odor, which rapidly became sickening.
He tried to turn his head to ascertain where the odor originated, and everything was blotted out............. (8:499-500; author's ellipses)
Again, a heavily romantic passage was shortened (from 722 to 393 words) and toned down:
It was the night of the full moon. There was a faint touch of crispness in the early autumn breeze that now and again gently ruffled the waters of the ocean. A thousand stars danced lightly in the sky and were reflected in the undulating waves below. And in the moonlit path over the waters hovered an aerocab gleaming silvery white in the radiance.
The cab was far from New York, away from the beaten traffic. Occasionally other aircraft came into view but always at a distance.
To Alice and Ralph this solitude was Paradise. Night after night they hired an aerocab and flew to this lonely airway, where seated side by side, with only the driver for a chaperon, they were absolutely happy.
The driver was a silent man who, as long as he was well paid for his time, was content to describe endless circles indefinitely.
On this particular evening Alice seemed, to Ralph, more lovely than he had ever before seen her. In the caressing light of the mellow moon her flowerlike face glowed with a new radiance, and her dark eyes, shadowed with long curling lashes, were mistily tender.
Between these two there was no need for words. So perfectly were their thoughts attuned that each knew what the other felt.
And so, presently, their hands stole out and met, and clasped. And it seemed to both that Heaven could hold no greater happiness than this, until, with one accord, they turned their faces to each other, and their lips met. To them nothing existed beyond themselves and their love.
The voice of another aerocab driver hailing them made them realize that there were still ties that bound them to earth, and they moved apart a little selfconsciously, as a cab drew alongside their own.
“Having some trouble with my motor,” called the newcomer. “Could you let me have a few copper connectors to repair the damage?”
“Sure, “ returned their driver, and the two cabs came together and were made fast.
Ralph, seeing that his man could attend to the matter, turned away from them towards Alice, and again drew her hand into his own, where it snuggled confidingly.
Quite suddenly he was aware of a sickish, sweet odor, which almost instantly became suffocating. He was conscious of the pressure of Alice's fingers and then blackness overwhelmed him. (25:197-99)
While one passage of the 1911 version—the remark about “Perfumed animal instincts”—was moved to the new beginning of Chapter 10, much of the other material was simply deleted, shortened, or revised; and to further dampen the spirit of romance, the presence of the driver, ignored until the climactic moment in the 1911 version, is established at length at the beginning of the passage.
There are two reasons why Gernsback may have revised passages of this kind. First, Gernsback seemed to regard such writing as ridiculous, as shown by two ancillary texts in Modern Electrics. While lists of Gernsback's “firsts” grow tiresome, he qualifies as the first person to parody Ralph. In two editions of “The Wireless Screech,” the humor section of Modern Electrics, he parodied his “serial story.” The first (August 1911) went as follows:
RALPH + - x : - ! ?
Ralph put his proboscis into the smell piece of his telephot and took a long sniff.
“Punk,” he said, “that cigar of yours smells terrible.”
“That so?” chirped Alf; “next time give me a better one!”
“You don't mean to say that that is the cigar I gave you?” angrily demanded Ralph.
“Quite so,” quietly responded Alf, “but I guess it smells queer because our telephot wire passes through your stable! Consequently, you smell my cigar plus the stable!”
“Darn it,” muttered Ralph, “will you please . . . . . .”
At this juncture, by one of the pranks of Central, the two friends were disconnected from each other. For four minutes Ralph fumed and swore trying to get his friend back, and he was just going to hang up his receiver when a soft light appeared on the face plate of his telephot and immediately after the face of a beautiful young French cow appeared.
Ralph was so surprised at the beautiful sight that for a few minutes he could do nothing but gasp. By the soft light, lit up by a beautiful stable lamp, Ralph could see that she wore evening dress, i.e., none at all.
He finally managed to stammer.
“Pardon my intrusion, I assure you it was not intentional.”
“Moo-ooh, moo-ooh!“ came the answer, in a voice that went down deep in Ralph's heart.
“Aha, she's French,” thought Ralph, “I'll fix that in a hurry,”
He quickly turned the knob of his language rectifier to French, but somehow or other, the cow continued to say “Mooh-mooh!” which is the French for the English “Mooh-moooh.”
For a minute or two the great inventor was stunned. He looked about himself and then looked again at the cow. The cow was mooning plaintively and looking closer through the telephot, Ralph could see that the cow stood in three feet of water. Ralph turned white.
“Heavens!” he muttered, “a flood! What can I do to save that poor cow? and she's a French cow, too, 4,000 miles distant!” He tore his hair in despair. He had never met such a difficult problem in his life. The water was rising rapidly and the poor cow was frightened out of the little wits she had. It was frightful, awe inspiring.
Note: So far the story is 0. K. I like it but I must confess I got both Ralph and the cow into a tight position. If Ralph saves the cow, it is customary that he must marry her and that wouldn't be the story. If he don't save her he isn't as smart as I thought he was. Besides, I don't think he can save her anyhow, because the cow don't know enough to assist him. I am puzzled. It started so nice and easy and I had hoped to make a nice big story of it. I think I'll chuck it up and let you guess the rest. . . . . No—an idea! I got it! So here goes:
In despair Ralph looked on. Suddenly. . . . (To be continued) (5:308; author's ellipses)
The second (April 1912) went as follows:
ALP 12B 40.
(Coffeeright by Fips. All rights
He could see himself and his assistants working over the wretched canine with a fine-toothed comb and insect powder, and how suddenly the dog had shown signs of life and a violent desire to scratch himself, and how finally he had been brought back from the valley of the shadow.
He could see himself surrounded by the famous men congratulating him on his unheard of, wonderful success, and he could hear himself making the little speech in which he said:
“What I have achieved with this dog can be achieved with my poor “Valise.” [punctuation sic]
All this passed through his brain with lightning rapidity—a light ray in the utter darkness.
But could it be done? For the first time in his life he began to doubt his ability. He was almost afraid. What if he failed? He knew he could not live without his betrothed; only the solemn vow he made then and there, to die if she could not be brought back from the Beyond, finally gave him sufficient courage to act.
In a second he was himself again, not the lover, but the cold scientist. He instinctively felt that if he were to be successful he must not let his feelings interfere with his work.
A most important task was now before him. He had to pump an antiseptic solution through the veins of “Valise,” and after that the blood vessels had to be filled with a weak solution of Radium-K Bromide, which, taking the place of the blood, has the important property of restraining the body from undergoing physical and chemical changes.
After this task had been completed to his full satisfaction, Ralph returned to the laboratory to fetch down the insect powder.
When, however, he came to examine the steelonium bomb, labeled “Insect Powder,” he found that for unknown reasons the powder had escaped.
He had all he could do to keep from collapsing. His head swam and he had to sit down to keep from falling to the floor. This last blow was almost enough to drive him out of his mind. After he had had a reasonable assurance that “Valise” could be brought back, everything had been snatched away from under his very hands.
He became so despondent that he broke down completely and wept like a child. Without the Insect powder he knew he could never hope to save his dead sweetheart, as there was nothing to keep the dead body from disintegrating.
Can you imagine what the poor young man's feelings were, on his flight back to Earth? Imagine yourself enclosed in a metal flyer, all alone out in space, millions of miles from anywhere, with a dead French cow as sole company, with the chances ten to one that you will bury her on your arrival home. It is not very cheerful.
(Note. On account of lack of space we can't conclude this thrilling narrative in this issue. We will positively complete it in the next number. To our lady friends who have read this story with breathless interest we would say that the story finishes alright. Alf will positively fetch back to life the dead cow. It's going to be excitingly thrilling. Order your copy now.) (44-45)10
It is not clear why Gernsback found it so hilarious to substitute a cow for the woman Alice; and given his later insistence on science fiction as wholesome entertainment, the implication of bestial sex seems incongruous. Still, these feeble parodies do offer some insight regarding Gernsback's attitude towards his work. Later parodists of Ralph, like Harlan Ellison and John Sladek,11 would focus on the long passages where Ralph didactically describes the marvelous inventions of his future world; but Gernsback apparently did not see anything funny in those parts of his story. Rather, for him, the romantic passages chiefly invited ridicule.12
The latter parody suggests a second reason for Gernsback's shift away from this type of writing: the idea that the romantic element appealed only to “lady friends” in the audience. However, while scanning every 1911 and 1912 issue of Modern Electrics, I do not recall seeing a single female name; while it is possible that I missed a few, or that some female contributors or questioners concealed their gender with initials, the readership of Modern Electrics was almost certainly predominately male. And, some time between 1912 and 1925, Gernsback evidently concluded that the potential audience for science fiction was also predominately male, perhaps influencing his decision to shorten and dampen romantic passages in Ralph.13 A mild irony is that even as he downplayed the element of “romance”—in its modern sense—in his 1925 version, Gernsback also added a subtitle to the novel—A Romance of the Year 2660— using the term “romance” in its older sense.
Overall, Gernsback's willingness to make fun of his own novel suggests that he was dissatisfied with it—as does the fact that, after finishing Ralph, Gernsback temporarily stopped publishing fiction and waited thirteen years to revise the novel.
2. 1912-1925: The Interregnum. Early in 1912, Modern Electrics twice published a form with several questions about the magazine and invited readers to send in responses. While the survey covered all aspects of Modern Electrics, the timing of its appearance suggests that Gernsback was particularly anxious to receive some feedback about his novel. The results, published in April 1912 as “What Our Readers Want” on page 46, listed these results for the five questions pertinent to fiction:
I like Mr. Gernsback's serial story............................................ 3005
I do not like Mr. Gernsback's serial.......................................... 1074
I would like another serial story by Mr. Gernsback.................. 2520
I like short stories................................................................... 2155
I do not like short stories........................................................ 1387
Several things can be said about this survey. First, readers were evidently interested in responding to Ralph: while the survey had twelve pairs of “like/do not like” questions, the pair of questions on Ralph was one of four pairs that attracted more than 4000 total responses. Second, most respondents liked the story—almost 74%, to be exact. Third, the more general question about “short stories” generated a less enthusiastic response: far fewer responses overall, and a smaller percentage of positive responses—almost 61%. This suggests that Gernsback's story was appealing to some readers who did not otherwise like fiction, which presumably was one of Gernsback's goals in writing a heavily scientific story; but the question about “another serial story” did not attract as many positive responses as Ralph itself, indicating limited enthusiasm for fiction as a regular part of the magazine.
However, since this was still a generally positive reaction, why did Gernsback not immediately begin another work of fiction? The heading to the survey weakly explained that “Owing to Mr. Gernsback being in rather poor health at present, we will not immediately publish another serial story by him, but hope to be able to do this later on.” But the statement is suspicious, since Gernsback was during this time still managing to write his editorials and, with increasing frequency, the “Wireless Screech” feature. It is more likely that Gernsback simply did not feel ready to tackle the problematic task of writing another serial at that time; and when fiction did return to Modern Electrics, in October 1912, it came in the form of Jacque Morgan's “The Scientific Adventures of Mr. Fosdick,” not another serial by Gernsback.
Evidence of Gernsback's ambivalent feelings about such work surfaced when, later in 1912, Modern Electrics added a Table of Contents page to each issue, which meant that Gernsback had to classify the fiction he was publishing in one of his categories. In the October 1912 and November 1912 issues, the contents pages listed Jacque Morgan's first two Mr. Fosdick stories under the vague title “Miscellaneous Subjects” (pages 672, 785); but in the December 1912 issue, the third Fosdick story was instead listed with other articles under “Electricity and Magnetism” (page 897). So—were scientific stories predominantly fiction, or predominantly science? Gernsback could not make up his mind.
Not until May 1915, the first issue of the third volume of the successor to Modern Electrics, Electrical Experimenter, did Gernsback return to writing a “serial story” with the first of thirteen installments of “Baron Münchhausen's New Scientific Adventures.”14 Gernsback evidently wanted to produce a quite different kind of story, a rollicking satire in the manner of the original Münchhausen stories, and the first two installments, primarily describing the Baron's adventures during World War I, are in that vein. However, Gernsback quickly became dissatisfied with the story and once again turned to Wicks' To Mars via the Moon for inspiration; for the remaining eleven installments— aside from a few satirical flourishes involving the frame character who is receiving the Baron's radio transmissions from space, I.M. Alier—follow Wicks' novel very closely, far more closely than Ralph. That is, in the third through sixth installments the Baron also visits the Moon—though he actually lands there, unlike Wicks' heroes who simply flew past it—and the text is filled with astronomical and scientific information; and in the last seven installments, he visits Mars, where he also discovers an advanced utopian civilization and tours its technological marvels.15 However, the story utterly lacks the energy of the last five installments of Ralph; whatever else one might say about Gernsback's resort to melodramatic devices, they did provide his story with a sense of direction, made it more involving, and enabled Gernsback to reach a satisfying conclusion. Since Gernsback was unable to incorporate the same elements into his second serial, the Baron's story wanders aimlessly, and Gernsback apparently grew bored with it: as was not the case with Ralph, which appeared every month, Gernsback began to skip installments of “Baron Munchausen”—none appeared in the issues of September 1915, February 1916, May 1916, July through October 1916; December 1916, and January 1917—and the series ended limply and inconclusively in the February 1917 issue with Alier's statement that the Baron's radio transmissions had mysteriously stopped.
Gernsback's later ventures into science fiction before 1925 were brief: two short stories, “The Magnetic Storm” (Electrical Experimenter, August 1918) and “The Electric Duel” (Science and Invention, August 1923), and two speculative articles, “10,000 Years Hence” (Science and Invention, February 1922) and “Evolution on Mars” (Science and Invention, August 1924). But the form of writing he would call science fiction was increasingly on his mind: as the stories that he published in his science magazines grew increasingly popular, he made the August 1923 issue of Science and Invention a special “Scientific Fiction Number” and in 1924 began planning the all-fiction magazine that would emerge as Amazing Stories in 1926. This might have seemed like the logical time for Gernsback to revise and republish his first story, perhaps as a sort of trial balloon for his magazine; but he would now strive, for the first time, to produce a genuine science fiction novel.
3. The 1925 Version. In his one comment on the changes made in the 1925 edition of Ralph, Gernsback stated that “It has been necessary, in view of scientific progress since the time the story was written, and in order to present the book to a much wider reading public, to rewrite much of the story and to make many changes. Yet, the ideas and conceptions embodied in the original manuscript have been little altered” (“Preface [to the First Edition]” 25:3). The implication of the phrase about “scientific progress”—that Gernsback extensively reworked and updated the novel's scientific passages—is false; except for usually replacing the word “wireless” with “radio,” Gernsback retained virtually all of his original scientific language, even maintaining outdated references to the “ether” that could have been recast with little thought. Instead, all his energies were focused on “Present[ing] the book to a much wider reading public”—improving the literary quality of Ralph, making it a better story.16
Comparing the 1911-12 and 1925 texts, one sees that Gernsback had a few definite priorities in revising Ralph. First, he simply had to make the story longer, to achieve the typical length of a novel; second, he needed to better integrate the two parts of his story, particularly by incorporating materials in the early chapters that would foreshadow and lay the groundwork for the events in the later chapters; third, he sought to do what he could to make the conversational scientific lectures in Ralph a little more plausible; fourth, he tried adding a little more satire to the generic mixture of Ralph; fifth, he worked to better develop and sharpen the differing characters of the two villains, Fernand and Llysanorh'; and finally, he had an evident desire to generally make the novel more entertaining and to polish its prose style. To lengthen his story, Gernsback realized that extending Ralph and Alice's tour of the future would be the easiest course; thus, he inserted four new chapters (6 through 9) immediately after the end of what was the seventh installment in the original text, having the lovers visit an Accelerated Plant Growing Farm, discuss twenty-seventh century economics, confront the menace of Fernand and an “invisible cloak,” and learn about and witness the “Conquest of Gravitation.” Unfortunately, in adding the new scientific ideas, Gernsback paid little attention to his old scientific ideas, creating obvious inconsistencies between the older text and the new text. At the start of Chapter 9, Ralph excitedly explains and demonstrates his wonderful new invention, a machine that turns spoken language into writing; yet in the original and preceding text, Ralph had been shown using a Menograph that turns human thoughts into language. Surely, with such a machine in place, a new machine that transcribed voices would not be considered a useful innovation. At the Accelerated Plant Farm, Ralph and Alice enjoy a meal of solid vegetables, with no mention of their previous preference for liquefied food at the “Scientific Restaurant.” The new discussion of anti-gravity seems to conflict with much of the technology earlier introduced, as such a powerful tool would surely supplant such crude electrical devices as the Tele-motor-coasters, and also conflicts with the earlier, retained explanation of the “Anti-Gravitator” that powers Ralph's space flyer.
The other entirely new materials—Chapters 13 and 15—describe what happened to Alice while Ralph pursued her kidnappers through space and provide more information about Fernand and Llysanorh', as will be discussed; but these are crudely inserted into the story, as they respectively relate events that had already happened in Chapters 12 and 14. One might call them flashbacks, but it seems awkward to have flashbacks that only go back a few hours. However, instead of putting these scenes at more logical points, Gernsback took a lazy approach: the old tenth installment became Chapter 12, followed by a new chapter, and the old eleventh installment became Chapter 14, followed by a new chapter.
Overall, these clumsy additions suggest that Gernsback lacked great concern for truly creating a unified narrative; yet he paradoxically worked very hard to knit the two parts of his story together and made several additions to passages from the earlier installment to achieve that sort of unity. First, while the first installment abruptly began with the Telephot conversation—“Hello, Edward!” “Hello, Ralph!” (1:19)—the 1925 version has a new two-paragraph introduction, with this first paragraph:
As the vibrations died down in the laboratory the big man arose from the glass chair and viewed the complicated apparatus on the table. It was complete to the last detail. He glanced at the calendar. It was September 1st in the year 2660. Tomorrow was to be a big and busy day for him, for it was to witness the final phase of the three-year experiment. He yawned and stretched himself to his full height, revealing a physique much larger than that of the average man of his times and approaching that of the huge Martians. (25:9)
Not only does this better establish the milieu of the novel, and quickly provide a physical description of his protagonist, but the casual reference to “huge Martians” immediately conveys to readers that this is a future world that has mastered space travel.
Further foreshadowing is cleverly provided in the second chapter, where the old, rather dull description of the Telephot ovation for Ralph's rescue is enlivened by having Ralph notice the faces of Fernand and Llysanorh' and feel vaguely uneasy about them, even without knowing anything about them. The new Chapter 4 has two significant additions: a conversation between Ralph and James where the latter provides all the necessary background information about Alice's two suitors, and a brief and unpleasant encounter between Fernand and the pair after they notice the monument to the last work horse in New York. And the four new chapters in the middle include the exciting adventure of Fernand's abduction of Alice with an invisibility machine and Ralph's frantic effort to devise countermeasures and locate her. Thus, when the space adventure commences, readers of the 1925 version, unlike readers of the 1911-12 version, already know that this is a world with space travel, are familiar with the characters of Fernand and Llysanorh', and are prepared by the kidnapping episode for further melodramatic adventures of chase and rescue. (These new materials also resolve a minor inconsistency in the original text: when after the kidnapping Ralph exclaims, “Only that devil 600 10 could perform such a dastardly, cowardly trick” [8:600], the statement seems inexplicable, since Ralph at that moment has not displayed and has not been given any knowledge of Fernand; in the 1925 revision, when Ralph immediately suspects Fernand, it is totally understandable.)
As a third concern in revision, Gernsback was aware that the scientific lectures worked into his conversations were not always plausible, and he changed the text to ameliorate, if not eliminate, these problems. Consider this passage in the second installment, right after Alice has explained what has happened with the striking weather engineers of her district:
“What a remarkable case!“ he ejaculated, [“]and what a fine scientific understanding you have!”
“Oh that is nothing. I am somewhat of a scientist myself, and like nothing better than to dabble in papa's laboratory. That's why I was so interested when I saw yours,” she added.
She opened her mouth as if to say something. But at that moment.... (2:84)
In the 1925 version, the passage from “ejaculated” to “She opened her mouth” has been removed. When Gernsback was first writing his story, it might have seemed only logical to make the future wife of the world's greatest scientist a scientist herself. But this makes many of the later conversations between Ralph and Alice absurd; any scientist would already know how the Tele-motor-coasters work, how solar power plants work, and so on. So to make Alice a plausible audience for these explanations, Gernsback cannot describe her as a scientist. Yet he cannot go to the other extreme and make her a dummy, as then she could not understand Ralph's explanations; so he retained with slight alteration the assertion in the 1911 version that “Although Miss 412B 423 had a good scientific training, some of the wonders of New York kept her guessing” (5:294), which became, “Although Alice had had a good scientific training, some of the wonders of New York amazed her” (25:81).
There was also a passage in his fourth installment that seemed to bother Gernsback even as he was writing it: James 212B 423's explanation of the Subatlantic Tube. Originally, Ralph provokes the lecture abruptly: “and now the scientist spoke out of him, `tell me all about the new tube.'” James then begins a lecture with “As you of course know” and later starts another phase of his explanation with “You know, of course” (4:231) . Gernsback thus signals that he knows this entire discussion is ridiculous. After all, James is talking to only two people: his daughter, who has just come with him through the Tube and knows everything about it, and the world's greatest scientist who would be familiar with such a major scientific achievement. So there is absolutely no reason for James to be explaining everything about the Tube to these people—except, of course, that readers need this information.
Gernsback attempts to eliminate the problem with a key addition to the dialogue. In the 1925 version, Ralph now provokes James's explanation as follows: “And then, the scientist in him to the front: `Tell me all about this new tube. Busy with my own work I have not followed its progress closely enough to know all the details” (25:62). And James' description proceeds basically as before, without the “As you of course know” and “You know, of course.” This is of course not an ideal solution, since it remains highly unlikely that Ralph would not know “all the details” about the tube, especially since this “busy” scientist has been previously seen reading the afternoon newspaper, paying special attention to its “technical page” (25:45), and an event like the imminent opening of a Subatlantic Tube surely would have been extensively discussed in the newspapers. Yet the additional sentence shows at least that Gernsback was aware of the problem, even if he did not entirely solve it. Again, this is arguably a sign of laziness, since he might have with a little more work simply made the description of the Tube part of the narration, eliminating the need to justify a conversation about it.
Fourth, to add some humor to his story, Gernsback expands and recasts the scene when Alice and James first visit Ralph. In both versions, Ralph initially refuses visitors, as he is engaged in scientific work, and after finishing up he warmly welcomes them. But the 1911-12 text treats these events matter-of-factly:
The next day Ralph 124C 41, engrossed in deep research work, was interrupted by Peter.
The great inventor, irritated by the intrusion of his old servant, said a few unkind things and quite lost his temper.
“But,” Peter interjected, “won't you let me explain that the lady whom you ——”
“Never mind your lady,” was the angry reply, “and now, please disappear, and quickly at that!”
With that he pressed a button nearby, an electromagnet acted and the heavy plate glass door slid down from above, almost brushing Peter's displeased face.... [and Ralph returned to work. Later:]
As this was all that could be done for the moment 124C 41 summoned Peter.
“Sir,” announced the servant, “Miss 212B 423, the young lady you saved yesterday, has just arrived with her father; both are in the reception room, anxious to see you.”
“Oh, Oh, really! “ the great inventor exclaimed, beaming with pleasure. “I shall be down immediately!” (4:229,230)
Here, Ralph's initial refusal and later reversal are not treated in a particularly humorous fashion. But the 1925 text elaborates:
An apologetic cough came through the entrance to the laboratory. It was nearing one o'clock of the following day.
Several minutes later it was repeated, to the intense annoyance of the scientist, who had left orders that he was not to be interrupted in his work under any circumstances.
At the third “ahem!” he raised his head and stared fixedly at the empty space between the door jambs. The most determined optimist in the world could not have spelled welcome in that look.
Peter, advancing his neck around the corner until one eye met that of his master, withdrew it hastily.
“Well, what is it?” came from the laboratory, in an irritated harsh voice.
Peter, in the act of retreating on tiptoe, turned, and once more cocked a solitary eye around the door-jamb. This one feature had the beseeching look of a dog trying to convey by his expression that not for worlds would be have got in the way of your boot.
“Beg pardon, sir, but there's a young——”
“Won't see him!”
“But, sir, it's a young lady——”
“I'm busy, get out.”
Peter gulped desperately. “The young lady from——”
At this moment Ralph pressed a button nearby, an electromagnet acted, and a heavy plate glass door slid down from above, almost brushing Peter's melancholy countenance, terminating the conversation summarily .... [and Ralph returned to work. Later:]
This being all he could do for the present, he pressed the button that raised the glass barrier, and summoned Peter by means of another button.
That individual, looking a trifle more melancholy than usual, responded at once.
“Well, my boy,” said Ralph good-humoredly, “the stage is all set for the experiment that will set the whole world by the ears.—But you don't look happy, Peter. What's troubling your dear old soul?”
Peter, whose feelings had evidently been lacerated when the door had been lowered in his face, replied with heavy dignity.
“Beg pardon, sir, but the young lady is still waiting.”
“What young lady?” asked Ralph.
“The young lady from Switzerland, sir.”
“The young lady from Switzerland, sir, and her father, sir. They've been waiting a half an hour.”
If a bomb had exploded that instant Ralph could not have been more astounded.
“She's here—and you didn't call me? Peter, there are times when I am tempted to throw you out——”
“Pardon sir,” replied Peter firmly, “I made bold to assume that you might be interested in the young lady's arrival, and presumed to step into the laboratory to so inform——”
But his master had gone, shedding his laboratory smock as he went. Peter, gathering his dignity about him as a garment, reached the doorway in time to see the elevator slide downwards out of sight. (25:51-52, 57-58)
Now, not only is the butler Peter a more developed and sympathetic character, but Ralph is being made fun of—the absent-minded scientist who does not pay attention to what he is told and later forgets what had happened—and two previously routine exchanges are considerably enlivened. Further, the passage provides evidence of another shift in Gernsback's approach to science fiction.
In the pages of Modern Electrics, it should be recalled, Gernsback presented two different personalities: as Hugo Gernsback, he wrote serious scientific articles and earnest editorials, but in the transparent guise of “Fips,” he provided a steady stream of jokes, banter, and parodies. Ralph 124C 41+, except for a feeble joke about the Tele-Theater retained in later versions, was manifestly a product of the humorless Gernsback. But in revising this passage, Gernsback was seemingly trying to integrate the two aspects of his public character, to occasionally bring, as it were, the spirit of his parodies of Ralph into the text of Ralph itself. In the added Chapter 8, his antic muse surfaced again in Ralph's conversations with the befuddled, “none-too-intelligent shopkeeper” (25:165). Thus, even as Gernsback was working to downplay the romantic aspects of his fiction, he was sporadically incorporating elements of a new genre—satire.
Fifth, Gernsback wanted to better clarify and differentiate the key characters of Fernand and Llysanorh'. The letters from the two men in the eighth installment of the 1911-12 text, similar in content to those in Chapter 10 of the 1925 text, announce the differing personalities of the two suitors: Fernand is cold and interested in Alice primarily because of his ego, Llysanorh' is sincere and driven by a genuine love for Alice. But Llysanorh', as it turns out, never actually makes an appearance in the novel, save as a dead body when Ralph catches up with his ship; and the single letter from Fernand and his one meeting with Ralph do not fully convey with any impact Fernand's evil nature.
In the 1925 version, Fernand's despicable nature is fully established by James' warning to Ralph that he might kidnap Alice, by his actual kidnapping attempt using the invisible cloak, and by his unctuous dialogue and evil behavior towards Alice in the new Chapter 13, with passages like this one:
Fernand entered alone, carefully closing the door behind him. He wore his customary, rather bland smile, and his voice was suave to the point of oiliness.
“All over our little fit of temper?” he asked.
Alice stared at him, disdainfully, unanswering. Then her eyes fell upon something in his hand—manacles of glistening steelonium!
The horror she felt was depicted in her face, for he said, holding them out for her to see, “A pair of bracelets for you, sweetheart. Just as a precautionary measure. You are rather too quick with those hands of yours. But I am not unkind, my dear. You need not wear them if you will only give me your word not to repeat your recent performance.” (25:240-41)
In addition, Gernsback rewrites the scene where Ralph boards his flyer and finds Alice absent. Originally, Ralph confronted a surprisingly mild and apologetic Fernand:
In his right hand he held the Radioperforer and his eyes were lit with intense hate. Facing his enemy he bellowed:
“You damnable, low-down cur, I want every question answered truthfully and as quickly as I ask them. If you try any tricks or if the full truth is not forthcoming, by God, I will blow you to eternity as sure as I live. Now then: where is Alice?”
“I don't know, but let me explain and you will sympathize with me when you hear the story.” Fernand was breathing hard, and was leaning heavily against the wall of the flyer. Only now did Ralph observe the careworn, hard drawn face of his enemy and instinctively he felt that he would hear the entire truth from him. A most amazing story it was that followed:
“Go ahead,” Ralph said. “I am listening.”
“First I wish to apologize for having abducted your fiancee. Only you, who love her, perhaps no more than I did, can understand my actions. I felt as if I could not live without her and I risked everything to conquer her. My mind was love-crazed, my actions, as perhaps you can understand better than anyone else, were like those of a drowning man coming up for the third time, trying to clutch a sun-ray with his hands. But I have come to my senses, I am happy to say, and you need not fear any interference from me, quite the contrary, I will try to make good on whatever I have spoiled so far.” (10:689)
And after hearing his story, Ralph is somewhat conciliatory:
For a while he sat deeply engrossed in thought, then he jumped up and said: “While I should leave you to your fate, I feel charitably inclined. I will turn your machine around and direct you Earthward, so you will intercept the Earth in about thirty hours. Although you cannot steer, you can accelerate and retard the speed of your flyer and you will thus not run any risk of a collision with the Earth. Good-bye.” (10:690)
In the 1925 version of their final encounter, there is no effort to portray Fernand sympathetically—no mention of his “careworn, hard drawn face”— Ralph is more angry and confrontational, and Fernand makes no apologies. This is how they meet in the 1925 version:
“Where is she?” asked Ralph hoarsely. “What have you done with her? Answer me, or by God, I'll blow you into Eternity!” and, aiming his Radioperforer at Fernand's head, he spoke with such ferocity that the other shrank involuntarily.
“I don't know,” he muttered, weakly. “It's God's truth I don't know. The Martian got her. He took her away and left me drugged.” His voice trailed off and he seemed about to collapse.
“You're a liar!” growled Ralph, but his tone lacked the conviction of his words. There was that in the other's voice that rang true. Mechanically, he cut the cords that bound Fernand, and the man rolled over helplessly. He was weak and dazed, and altogether too broken in spirit to make any further trouble. His nerve was gone. (25:226)
While the original version incongruously made Fernand suddenly sympathetic and noble, he is now only portrayed as weak—an impression further heightened by their equally different parting:
He turned savagely on Fernand still crouched against the wall. “I'm tempted to leave you to the fate the Martian intended for you. God knows it wouldn't be half what you deserve.”
“Don't do that, in Heaven's name,” mumbled the other. “Don't leave me here like this.”
The scientist looked at him contemptuously for a moment.
“Bah!” he said scornfully, “can't you even take your medicine like a man? But I'll turn your machine around and direct it Earthward. You will intercept the Earth in about thirty hours. You can't steer, but you can accelerate or retard the speed of your flyer, and need not collide with the Earth if you are careful.
“And remember this,” he added grimly, “if you and I ever meet again I will pound your miserable cowardly body into jelly!” (25:232-33)
Fernand thus fully becomes a melodramatic villain—thoroughly evil in his schemes, abject and weak in the face of reversal—and Ralph appropriately treats him with greater anger and less respect.
Finally, Gernsback seeks to blacken Fernand's character by revising his letter. In the 1911 text, the letter reads as follows (omitting a passage that is virtually identical in both versions):
Well, everything is fine for everyone else not for me. However—you know me—I am not downed so easily. Fact is, I might just as well run against a steelonium wall as against Alice. One is as hard to conquer as the other. That, however, is to my liking. I love obstacles, especially if they are pretty as Alice. I never wanted her more in my life than now, now that she has thrown me down. I suppose if she really had given me encouragement, I would not care a lot for her. Now it is different. I will have her. I will make her love me and I will use force to gain my end.
I have told you already of Llysanorh', the funny Martian. It is too funny to see him look at Alice with his big black horse eyes. I do believe he really is in love with her, but these Martians certainly can control their emotions.
If Alice should ever take a liking to this lanky seven foot Llysanorh', she'd be lost to me, Ralph, and the rest of the world. That fellow certainly can be sugary if he wants to. However, I really think she loves that crazy Ralph scientist and, as I said before, between him and that Martian I have absolutely no chance. I know Alice could learn to love me if she really knew me well, but she never had an occasion. I am going to provide for that occasion. Yes, I will carry her off....
The purpose of this letter is to ask you kindly to attend for me to the several matters as per enclosed rolls. You will understand everything after you read the instructions. I do not think I will be away longer than three months at the latest and you will see from the gray document that I empower you to take charge of my affairs. I thank you in advance for your pains. Now I must close; I will send you a message from on board the machine if everything goes right.
For the purposes of the story, this version of the letter is functional and could have been retained without change for the 1925 version. Instead, Gernsback completely reworked the letter:
You have heard the gossip, but don't fear my having a broken heart. I am not easily downed, and I have a card or two yet to play in this game.
Fact is, Alice is as hard to conquer as a steelonium wall is to break through. That, however, is to my liking, my dear Paul. I love obstacles, particularly when the goal is as pretty as Alice. I have never wanted her more than now that she has thrown me down. Perhaps if she had ever encouraged me I would not have cared a rap for her. But—this opposition inflames me! Now I will have her. I will have her, and she shall love me, mark my words.
I have mentioned to you before the ridiculous Martian, Llysanorh', I believe. It is very amusing to see him staring at Alice with adoration in those enormous eyes of his. I really believe he is in love with her, but these Martians are so self-controlled it is hard to tell anything about them.
If Alice had fallen in love with this lanky, seven-foot Llysanorh' she would have been lost to me, and to all the rest of the world. That fellow certainly can be sugary when he wants to. However, she really imagines that she's in love with this crazy scientist, and right now I'm decidedly de trop. That worries me very little, I assure you. She will soon learn to love me once I can get her away from him. And I am going to provide for that ....
Before I close I must ask you to attend to several matters for me, as per enclosed rolls. You will understand everything better after you read the instructions. I do not expect to be away more than three months at the latest, and you will see from the gray document that I empower you to take charge of my affairs. I will send you a message from on board the machine if all goes well.
In this version, Gernsback first emphasizes that Fernand is motivated more by his ego than by love with the language of gamesmanship— “I have a card or two yet to play in this game” and “I love obstacles, particularly when the goal is as pretty as Alice.” His lack of genuine affection is underlined by changing the line “I would not care a lot for her” to “I would not have cared a rap for her.” Instead of saying “I really think she loves” Ralph, this Fernand, too egotistical to accept Alice's genuine feelings, says “she really imagines that she's in love with” him, and the name of one of his rivals has not fully registered in the brain of this self-centered person: it is “Llysanorh' I believe.” Sarcastic phrases like “don't fear my having a broken heart” and “my dear Paul” make Fernand sound more villainous, and the new Fernand is even less polite: he does not “ask...kindly” for his friend's help, does not “thank [him] in advance for [his] pains,” and closes with “Until then,” not “Sincerely yours.”
While he makes Fernand more despicable, Gernsback also adds material to make Llysanorh' more sympathetic and likeable. First, the added Chapter 15 fully conveys Llysanorh's sincere, tormented feelings with an exchange between him and Alice:
It was then that the pent-up emotions of months burst the bonds of self-restraint that he had forced upon himself.
“Why!” he cried passionately, “you ask me why! Can't you see why? How can you look into my eyes and not know why? Because I am a man—because I am a fool—good God, because I love you!” He flung himself upon his knees, clasping her about the waist with his arms.
“I worship you, I adore you—I always shall. You must love me, you cannot help but love me. I love you so much, Alice, Alice, my dearest, my beloved.”
He threw his head back and looked into her face imploringly, as if by the very force of his love she must respond.... For a time neither spoke. At last he said in quiet tones strangely in contrast with his late passion, “You can't hate me, Alice, I love you too much.“
“No,“ she said, gently, “I don't hate you, Llysanorh', but oh, can't you see how hopeless all this is? I love Ralph, and if you keep me here forever I will still love him.”
She got a glimpse, then, of the terrible struggle this man of Mars had had with his conscience.
“I know, I know,” he groaned, “I have gone over that ground many times—many times, but I can not—will not—give you up. I tell you,” he went on with a return of his former frenzied emotion, “that rather than let him have you I will kill you with my own hands. At least, when you are dead I will be sure that no other man can possess you.” (25:268-70)
Next, rather than placing the two men's letters side by side without comment, as in the original version, Gernsback adds a transitional passage in the 1925 text:
Long after [Llysanorh's missive] had gone, he sat rigid, motionless, by the window with unseeing eyes fixed on the city below him. At last he rose with a sigh and left the room. Was there no way out of such misery? Was there no straw he could grasp?
Of a very different caliber was an epistle sent by Fernand 600 10 to his friend Paul 9B 1261. (25:194-95)
These words emphasize the differences between the two men.
Finally, Gernsback also revised Llysanorh's letter—not as dramatically as he did with Fernand's, but with some small changes to place the Martian in a better light. In the 1911-12 text:
Although I am booked on the Terrestral which departs to-morrow, I have cancelled my reservation and consequently will not arrive on Mars November thirty-first as planned. I do not know if I will book on the next transport, in fact I don't know where I am at. My case seems hopeless. I should never have come to this earth. As you have guessed already—it's love at first sight. Never mind her name. You who have never visited this planet cannot understand, consequently it does not matter. Inasmuch as intermarriage of Martians and Terrestrials is forbidden by law, here as well as on Mars, this makes it all the more hopeless for me. I have tried everything to free myself—in vain. Chemicals and Radio-treatments seem only to accentuate my longing for the wonderful creature I love so madly, and I know by this time that I can never free myself. The good part is that she does not know how violently I love her, as I have always been careful not to betray myself. I know she likes me, but she very probably does not love me—in fact I can only hope that she does not; it would only heighten my agony to know that she should have to suffer on my account.
I will, I suppose, go the way of all Martians who fall in love with Terrestrials. There is no return. A little Listadinide injected under the skin will free me from all. Don't be shocked—you know my strong mind. If I could get out of it, I would, that is all there is to be said. I have lost and admit it.
Please hand enclosed documents to my Second and break the news gently to him. I have arranged everything of importance and there is nothing I can ask you to do for me. Please do not mourn me, but keep me in mind and think sometimes of
Your unhappy friend,
In the 1925 text:
Although I am booked on the Terrestral which departs tomorrow, I have cancelled my reservation and consequently will not arrive on Mars November thirty-first as planned. I do not know whether I shall take passage on the next transport or not. In fact, I don't know what I shall do. I am mad with despair and anguish. A thousand times over have I wished that I had never come to this planet!
I have not told you before, but as perhaps you have guessed from my previous letters, I am in love with a Terrestrial woman. Never mind her name. I loved her from the first moment I saw her. You, who have never visited the Earth, can hardly understand. It does not matter.
I have tried in every way to free myself from this mad infatuation, but it is hopeless. Chemicals and Radio-treatments seem but to accentuate my longing for that which is forever beyond my reach. I thought at first that I could conquer myself, but I know now that I cannot, and the knowledge is driving me to madness.
She has never known, and I think no one else here does. I have told none but you, my friend. Always I feared that in some way I might betray myself to her. There are times now when I wish that I had.
And yet—to have her suffer as I am suffering—I could not have borne that.
I will, I suppose, go the way of all Martians who have had the misfortune to care for a Terrestrial. A little Listadinide injected under the skin will free me from an existence which has become a daily torture unless I find a way to evade the harsh laws.
Please hand the enclosed documents to my Second. If I do not see you again do not grieve for me, but remember our friendship, and think sometimes of your unhappy friend.
While some information is omitted because it has now already been conveyed in previous chapters, the heightened and polished rhetoric definitely makes Llysanorh' a more likable and understandable character. The clichés are removed: “love at first sight,” “break the news gently.” The mild “My case seems hopeless. I should never have come to this earth” is replaced by the more passionate “I am mad with despair and anguish. A thousand times over have I wished I had never come to this planet!” The prosaic “my longing for the wonderful creature I love so madly” becomes “my longing for that which is forever beyond my reach,” and the suicide drug will not “free [him] from all” but will “free [him] from an existence that has become a daily torture.” And repeated and emphatic use of the terms “mad” and “madness”—“mad with despair and anguish,“ “this mad infatuation,” “driving me to madness” —also illustrate his tormented mental state. In all these ways, then, a character only briefly sketched in the original version becomes a better developed, even sympathetic figure, and this new Llysanorh' starkly contrasts with the manipulative, devious Fernand.
The differences between the two versions of Llysanorh's letter also illustrate Gernsback's final concern in revision: to improve the quality of his writing. There are many places in the text where small changes were made seemingly only for stylistic reasons. Consider, for example, the conclusion of the dead-alive dog experiment. In the 1911-12 text:
From that moment on the dog made rapid progress, and at half past five—one hour and ten minutes after the dog had been lifted out of the glass case—the animal was able to lie on its paws and to lick up some milk with surprising avidity.
At that moment the audience, who for almost thirty minutes had stood up in their seats, burst out in wild applause, scaring the dog almost to death. Everyone wished to shake hands with Ralph 124C 41 and he was visibly moved. He was the first man to give life to a dead body, dead for years; he had conquered nature, achieved the impossible; he had opened a new era for suffering humanity, for what could be achieved with a dog could be achieved with a human being.
It would now be possible for human bodies to have life suspended for centuries, perhaps, and live again after the world had moved on and new generations had appeared. Truly, it was wonderful.
As he descended in a dazed condition to his room a few minutes later, he could not forget a certain young lady, who with tears in her exquisite big black eyes had taken his hand into hers and with a vibrating voice full of emotion had said, “Oh you wonderful, marvelous being!” (4:233)
As first written, the scene seems implausible—after watching a dog gradually become active for over an hour, why would people suddenly “burst out in wild applause” when it drank some milk?—and not quite an appropriate response to Ralph's achievement, better suited to his rescue of Alice from the avalanche than to a remarkable scientific achievement; nor are the adjectives “wonderful” and “marvelous” really fitting. In revision, Gernsback added some dialogue to the description and presented a more subdued, and more effective, response:
In a few minutes more the dog was lying on its paws and licking up milk when Ralph turned to the group and said:
“Gentlemen, the experiment is concluded and I believe the condition of the animal at this moment establishes sufficient proof of my theory.”
As the reporters eagerly dashed from the laboratory to get to the nearest Telephot in order to communicate the news to the waiting world the scientists gathered around Ralph and one of them, a white haired old man considered to be the dean of the “Plus” men, voiced the sentiments of the entire group.
“Ralph, this is one of the greatest gifts that science has brought to humanity. For what you have done with a dog, you can do with a human being. I only regret for myself that you had not lived and conducted this experiment when I was a young man, that I might have, from time to time, lived in suspended animation from century to century, and from generation to generation as it will now be possible for human beings to do.”
The vista opened up by the results of this experiment in the minds of the other scientists had dazed them and it was with the most perfunctory good-byes that they left the scene of the experiment, enveloped with their thoughts of the future.
Tired and exhausted by the nervous strain of the afternoon Ralph, a few minutes later, lay down on his bed for a few hours' rest. But as he closed his eyes there came to him a vivid picture of a pair of warm dark eyes, radiating admiration, trust and something more that aroused an emotion he had never before experienced. (25:71-72)
Here, Ralph's statement, not the dog eating, serves to signal the successful end of the experiment; the rushing reporters add a touch of reality to the scene; and the old scientist's speech and the stunned silence of the others seem a more logical and evocative reaction than their original “wild applause.”
In addition to dramatically changed scenes, there are scattered throughout the text short passages that Gernsback tried to polish up a bit. Two examples: when Alice sees the monument to “the last Horse in Harness” in New York, this is her 1911 reaction:
“The poor thing,” murmured the young lady, “but I think the world is better off without torturing poor dumb beasts when electricity can well take care of all the work.”
Her companion, touched by this feminine remark, smiled softly. (5:296)
The moment is elaborated on in the 1925 text:
“The poor thing,“ she said, “it looks so pitiful, doesn't it? To think that once the poor dumb animals were made to labor! It is much better nowadays with electricity doing all the work.”
Ralph smiled at this very feminine remark. It was like her, he thought tenderly, to feel sympathy for even this former beast of burden. (25:89)
Instead of running Alice's reaction into one sentence, Gernsback separates her reactions—sympathy for the animal, regret at the former practice of animal labor, and gratitude for the improvements in her world—into three sentences; and Ralph spells out in his thoughts exactly how these remarks reflect favorably on Alice's character. Also, consider her first reaction to the Signalizers:
It was an inspiring sight to watch the hundreds of light shafts, especially the ones changing colors, the weird beauty of it all thrilling sensitive Miss 212B 423 into ecstasy:
“Oh, if I could only watch this beautiful spectacle forever!” she exclaimed, “it is so amazing, so superb. A fairyland could not demand more to satisfy its tenants.” (7:421)
In the 1925 text:
It was a wonderful sight and the weird beauty of the colored shafts thrilled Alice immeasurably.
“Oh, it is like a Fairyland,” she exclaimed. “I could watch it forever.” (25:115)
Here, Alice's rather overheated response to the traffic lights of future air travel is shortened and toned down: the sight no longer excites Alice to “ecstasy,” and the awkward-sounding “A fairyland could not demand more to satisfy its tenants” is effectively reduced to “Oh, it is like a Fairyland.”
These passages also convey another noteworthy aspect of Gernsback's prose revisions: a tendency towards shorter sentences—a difference in style that can be quantified. In the tennis-game passages above, the 1911-12 version consisted of 819 words and 41 sentences, an average of 20 words per sentence; the 1925 version consisted of 343 words and 28 sentences, an average of 12.25 words per sentence. In the abduction scenes, the 1911-12 version had 722 words and 34 sentences, an average of 21.25 words per sentence; the 1925 version had 393 words and 23 sentences, an average of 17 words per sentence. Perhaps Gernsback simply came to prefer the clarity and forcefulness of short sentences; but consideration of his audience could have been another factor. While Modern Electrics consistently addressed an adult audience, Gernsback may have gradually learned that many of his readers were much younger; and he may have reduced his average sentence length for the benefit of posited young readers. Thus, just as the diminution of the romantic element suggests a growing perception that science fiction had mostly male readers, Gernsback's shorter sentences suggest a growing perception that science fiction had many younger readers.
As a final illustration of several concerns operating at once, consider the two versions of the scene after James completes his lecture on the Subatlantic Tube. In the 1911 text:
[Alice] went on to explain the details of the journey and 124C 41 watched her with increasing interest.
Here at last was a girl who interested him. He, who had long since given up hope of making the acquaintance of a girl who would excite more than passing interest in him, began to think that he had found her at last.
Alice 212B 423 was tall and lithe. She carried a wonderful head on queenly shoulders, and her Greek masterfully chiseled profile, crowned with a mass of black curly hair, would command attention everywhere.
Her sparkling, black, vivacious eyes had an impenetrable depth, and when they did not dance mischievously, as was invariable when she laughed, a sorrowful expression would sometimes light up those deep-sea eyes—an expression that was quite in contrast with her general appearance. She was quite tall and carried herself with unusual grace; moreover she was quick in all her movements, and a trained eye would soon detect that she must be a great lover of out-door sport.
The more 124C 41 watched her, the more he knew that his search was ended and that here at last was a young woman worth his while. The afternoon having progressed, he invited father and daughter to be his guests for a few days. His invitation after some hesitation was finally accepted. He then summoned Peter to show the guests their rooms on the seventeenth floor of the tower, and before they ascended he invited them to be present in the laboratory at four that afternoon. (4:232)
The improved 1925 version:
As she spoke Ralph watched her with keen interest. Here was a girl who attracted him. Beneath the vivacity that so fascinated him he sensed the strength of her character, and the depth of her mind.
“I am so glad to be in New York,” she was saying. “Do you know, this is my first visit here for ages. Why, the last time I can just barely remember, I was such a little girl. Father has been promising me a trip for years, “ with a laughingly reproachful glance at him, “but it took an avalanche to get us started.”
“I'm afraid I've been a neglectful father of late years,” said her father, “but my work has kept me tied pretty close to home. I, too, am pleased to be here once more, and my visit promises to be doubly interesting, for I understand that your great dog experiment will be completed today. I am looking forward to receiving the earliest reports of it at the hotel.”
“But I can't permit you to spend your days here in a hotel,” protested Ralph. “Of course you must both be my guests. Yes, yes,” as they seemed about to demur, “I won't take no for an answer. I am counting on showing you New York, and, as for my experiment, it will give me great pleasure to have you both present in my laboratory this afternoon at four.”
He pressed a button. “Peter will show you to your rooms, and I will send some one for your luggage.” (25:66-67)
Gernsback again reduces the romance element by severely shortening Ralph's reverie and eliminating some pretty-sounding but essentially empty descriptions of Alice. He ameliorates two minor inconsistencies in the story: first, since James has already provided much superfluous description of the Subatlantic Tube, it seems doubly incongruous that Alice would continue the farce with her own extended account of the Tube; thus, the reference to Alice “explain[ing] the details of the journey” is removed. Second, it always seemed implausible that the daughter of a wealthy engineer working on an underground tube to connect France and New York would have never been to New York before; the original text's lame explanation is a brief comment preceding Ralph's tour: “for some unknown reason she had never visited New York” (5:293). Now, Gernsback offers a somewhat reasonable explanation for her unfamiliarity with the city. He also enlivens the passage by casting much of it in dialogue form, and he uses that dialogue to better characterize Ralph's guests: James, the caring but distracted father, Alice the loving but playful daughter.
No one has ever called Ralph 124C 41+ a masterpiece of literature, and it manifestly is not. But in revising the novel for book publication, Gernsback demonstrated that he could at times recognize bad writing and faulty story logic, and that he could occasionally correct such flaws. To be sure, innumerable problems remain in the awkward construction, disparate moods, and inept writing of the novel; but the 1925 Ralph is in every respect significantly better than the 1911-12 Ralph, and Gernsback deserves some credit for his many improvements.
4. The 1929 Version. Because Hugo Gernsback in the late 1920s was involved in a variety of publishing and business ventures, he presumably lacked the time or inclination to revise Ralph 124C 41+ again when he made the economical decision to reprint it in the Winter 1929 issue of Amazing Stories Quarterly. Yet someone spent an appreciable amount of time working on the text, as the innumerable minor changes in the text are far too pervasive and frequent to attribute to accident or a presumptuous typesetter.
Aside from his busy schedule, other evidence indicates that Gernsback did not make these changes. First, virtually none of these emendations were retained in the 1950 edition that Gernsback supervised,17 which followed the 1925 text while introducing, as will be discussed, several new changes. This indicates that Gernsback either was unaware or disapproved of the 1929 changes. Second, the 1929 editor at one point clearly lacked Gernsback's experience: growing up near the Alps, Gernsback knew exactly what an “avalanche” was, and describing Alice's plight in Chapter 1, he used that term every time; the 1929 editor, seeking word variety, often substituted “landslide,” an altogether different phenomenon. Finally, the 1929 changes consistently reflect a certain fussiness about correct grammar and punctuation, clarity of phrasing, and precise parallel structure, all concerns foreign to Gernsback, who employed a looser, and at times colloquial style. But these are exactly the concerns that characterize the prose of T. O'Conor Sloane, Associate Editor of Amazing Stories and Amazing Stories Quarterly, and Gernsback's eventual successor as their editor.
Sloane is most probably the editor of the 1929 text for two additional reasons. By all accounts, Sloane was most responsible for the daily business of producing Gernsback's science-fiction magazines, so he certainly had the means and opportunity to alter the prose of Ralph 124C 41+. As for motive, when Sloane became editor of Amazing Stories, he became known for compulsive tinkering with his contributors' prose, much to their displeasure. For example, Alva Rogers reports that E.E. Smith sent a novel to Astounding Stories in the 1930s because “he was thoroughly sick of Amazing's rewriting his material....”18 Sloane himself alludes to this tendency and the conflicts it generated in a September 1929 Amazing Stories editorial, “The Editor and the Reader”: “Many authors are unduly sensitive. In pre-Victorian days authors were very willing to submit their writings to critics for emendation. But the author of today often objects to even minor changes.... Any printer who has had extensive experience with authors can tell strange stories about the way they act with regard to corrections of their copy. They are a very sensitive class of people” (4:485). Though there is no definitive proof, then, ample evidence indicates that Sloane edited the 1929 text, and that is what I assume here.
The changes that Sloane made in Ralph 124C 41+ can be conveniently categorized as beneficial, pointless, and ruinous.
First, to give Sloane his due, he occasionally improves Gernsback's writing. He was vigilant in correcting minor errors and standardizing Gernsback's erratic capitalization. At times, he notices and removes redundant or superfluous language: from Gernsback's “His own body could not grow cold as its heat could not be given off to the atmosphere, nor could his body grow cold” (25:28) he removes the repetitive “nor could his body grow cold” (29:8); from “All at once there was seen an enormous colored circle which revolved with great rapidity, becoming smaller and smaller, as though it were shrinking” (25:117) he removes the unnecessary “as though it were shrinking” (29:23) and from “This cool abduction of herself” (25:238) he removes “of herself” (29:43). He replaces long, wordy phrases with tighter constructions: “Students who have failed in their studies” (25:) becomes “Poor students” (29:4); “the certain destruction of himself” (25:29) becomes “his own certain destruction” (29:8); “It seemed that the heat of those flames was so intense” (25:31) becomes “The heat of those flames seemed so intense” (29:8); “The vista opened up by the results of this experiment in the minds of the other scientists had dazed them” (25:72) becomes “The vista opened up by the results of this experiment had dazed the scientists” (29:16) ; “tobacco planted and harvested that day” (25:135) becomes “freshly harvested tobacco” (29:27); “such as sugar, milk, and many others” (25:137) becomes “such as sugar and milk” (29:27); and “Confident of success, sure of victory” (25:256) becomes “Confident of victory” (29:47). Some of his tiny word changes are defensible: a phrase referring to the novel, “the conception therein,“ (25:) becomes “the conceptions therein” (29:4), and “swung onto the Intercontinental Service” (25:11) becomes “swung into” (29:4). And at least one revised sentence is a clear improvement: “she could not deny the fact of his genuine, and fervent love for her” (25:271) becomes “She could not deny the fact that his love for her was genuine” (29:49).
Other changes in the 1929 text are harder to defend. Some of them are manifestly purposeless: “for a minute” (25:162) becomes “for a moment” (29:30), and “the New Yorker, loving his town” (25:82) becomes “the New Yorker who loves his town” (29:18). Next, Sloane displays a mania for scientifically exact and accurate language, even when the problems are trivial: Gernsback's “permit the heat to pass from one atom to another” (25:28) becomes “from one molecule to another” (29:8), since heat is a molecular phenomenon, and “the original supply taken from the earth is used over and over by altering the carbonic acid by means of automatic generators” (25:219-20) becomes “is used over and over by absorbing the carbonic acid and organic emanations by means of automatic apparatus” (29:40), apparently because it seemed incorrect to speak of “altering” carbonic acid and to omit “organic emanations.” When Gernsback wrote, “a head of wheat grown in the year 2900 was about three inches long, while the present year's crop showed a length of more than six inches, or twice as much flour content per stalk” (25:132), Sloane found this scandalously imprecise; if the new heads were “more than six inches,” it must be “or more than twice as much flour content” (29:25). Other examples of revisions along these lines include “flat tennis racquets” (25:187) becoming “parchment covered tennis racquets” (29:35), and seeing if a package “was franked correctly” (25:110) becoming seeing “if it had the proper postage stamps on it” (29:22). Finally, Sloane's desire for proper sentence structure often produces revisions that are neither better nor worse than the originals, like corrections of a faulty modifier (James's statement “but being one of the consulting engineers of the new electromagnetic tube, my daughter and I” [25:61] becomes “but I, being one... “ [29:14]), irregular sentence order (“Autograph-hunting women he usually dismissed” [25:14] becomes “He usually dismissed autograph-hunting women” [29:61]), and sloppy parallelism (“exactly as handwriting by different persons may vary, but still you can read because the characteristics are the same” [25:172-73] becomes; “may vary, yet be easily read because” [29:32]) To epitomize this sort of revision, Sloane's alteration of “The silver mouthpiece was then placed in the mouth and one pressed upon a red button” (25:86) to “and a button was pressed” (29:18) does provide two balanced passive constructions, but it is hardly a better sentence.
Most noticeable, however, are the ways that Sloane makes Gernsback's writing worse. Occasionally, the contents of the narrative are seriously harmed. In Gernsback's Chapter 1, it seems perfectly logical that a powerful energy beam would be able to melt or vaporize an “avalanche” of snow and ice; but this would obviously not work against Sloane's “landslide” of dirt and rocks. Belatedly, Sloane seemingly recognized the problem, because he changed Gernsback's description of the beam's results, “the entire avalanche was being reduced to hot water and steam” (25:31), to “the entire landslide was being reduced to hot water, steam and gravel” (29:8); but the potentially damaging “gravel” generated by Sloane's revision has vanished in the next sentence, where both versions speak only of “A torrent of hot water” rushing towards Alice's house (25:31; 29:8). In Chapter 8, to justify his invisibility device, Gernsback provides a footnote: “In 1925 John L. Reinartz, working with ultra-short radio waves, actually made it possible to look through solid metal plates with the naked eye” (25:157), which sounds impressive enough. Sloane gives a more detailed version that only emphasizes how unreliable and irrelevant this work actually was: “In RADIO NEWS of June, 1925, it told how John L. Reinartz, working with ultra-short radio waves, thought that he had made it possible to look through solid metal with the naked eye. The metal, gold, if thin enough, transmits green light, and if still thinner, transmits purple light” (29:30). If, as Sloane implies, all Reinartz did was to beam light through extremely thin sheets of metal, this has absolutely nothing to do with the sort of invisibility effect Gernsback is describing. (Surely, a wise editor would have simply omitted this note.) Finally, in Chapter 13, when Alice responds to her kidnapping by rushing to the door of Fernand's spacecraft and trying to open it—which would of course kill all the occupants—Gernsback specifies that such a murder-suicide was precisely her intent: “Fernand wrenched at her hands in real fear that she would succeed in her purpose, which was evidently their destruction” (25:239). But Sloane ends the sentence prematurely, “in real fear that she might succeed in her purpose” (29:44), which could suggest that Alice was simply trying to escape and stupidly did not understand that opening a spacecraft door would be fatal.
Sloane also lacks even Gernsback's rudimentary sense of style. Gernsback's term “Menograph” is a reasonably euphonious and logical portmanteau blend of “mental phonograph”: Sloane uses “mentigraph,” a more formal word construction but hardly a better neologism. Gernsback's Alice asks: “I wonder if you know where I am?” (25:12); Sloane's Alice asks: “I wonder if you know what city I am talking from?” (29:4,6) Gernsback says the avalanche “was sweeping down the mountain-side” and that it “rushed down the mountain” (25:29,44); Sloane substitutes the terms “creeping down” and “crept down” (29:8,11), perhaps more accurate descriptions of an avalanche's pace, but words clearly lacking in drama, implying that Alice might have escaped harm by calmly walking away. According to Gernsback, the fleeing Fernand “had a handicap of 400,000 miles” (25:221); Sloane says that he “enjoyed” such a handicap, hardly an apt word for the occasion (29:40). On a few occasions, Sloane's revisions damage Gernsback's efforts to bring out his characters' personality. When Alice gets flustered because she called the great scientist “Ralph,” he graciously replies, “I hope you will always call me that” (25:92) . Sloane misses the point in changing this to “I hope you will always talk like that to me” (29:19) . When Llysanorh' has captured Alice, he tells her “nothing is wrong with the flyer. It is I—I with whom everything is wrong” (25:267)—a statement whose poetic metaphor (the Martian is like a damaged spacecraft) and awkwardly formal construction are both perfectly suited to Llysanorh's personality. Sloane reduces this to the considerably less poetic “nothing is wrong with the flyer. It is I—I who am wrong” (29:49), further adding the false sense that Llysanorh' is in some way admitting guilt. And when Alice tells the Martian that “I thought you were serious,” Gernsback's Llysanorh' dramatically responds, “I was never more serious” (25: 268); Sloane's Llysanorh' prosaically responds, “I am serious” (29:49). And Gernsback often would deliberately use unusual word order in order to end a sentence on a dramatic note; Sloane insists upon standard word order, whatever the consequences. One conspicuous example is the sentence where Ralph discovers Alice is dead: Gernsback's sentence “The sight that presented itself to him as he crawled into Llysanorh's machine drew from him an involuntary agonized cry” (25:262) ends effectively with the evocative “cry”; Sloane numbly revises this to “drew an involuntary agonized cry from him” (29:48). Other cases include Gernsback's “on which lay his beloved” (25:283), as compared to Sloane's “on which his beloved lay” (29:52), and Gernsback's “she became increasingly aware that her situation was desperate” (25:270), as compared to Sloane's “she became increasingly apprehensive of her situation” (29:49).
And any discussion of Sloane's revising technique must mention his absolute obsessiveness about adding commas, though he did not fully understand the rules. He apparently believed, for example, that all participle phrases must be enclosed in commas, which at times led to infelicities. Gernsback's sentence “She looked at the man smiling in the faceplate of the Telephot almost dumb with an emotion that came very near to being reverence” (25:32) is perfectly clear; Sloane's version, “She looked at the man, smiling in the faceplate of the Telephot, almost dumb....“ (29:8) introduces an ambiguity: is Ralph or Alice smiling? More broadly, Gernsback's tendency to omit commas sometimes helps to make his prose move more rapidly; and Sloane's added commas in these passages needlessly slow down the pace. Thus in Chapter 8, arguably the most exciting chapter, Sloane adds no fewer than 13 commas, and in the equally fast-paced first part of Chapter 10, he adds 10 commas. To understand the problem, consider two sentences describing Ralph's actions after Alice's kidnapping. Gernsback's text: “Leaving the driver where he was Ralph dashed into the building. Meeting Peter he did not stop, only motioned him to the cab while he himself sprang to the nearest telephot” (25:202). Sloane's text: “Leaving the driver where he was, Ralph dashed into the building. Meeting Peter, he did not stop; he only motioned him to the cab, while he himself sprang to the nearest telephot” (29:37). Gernsback' s prose appropriately moves at breakneck speed; Sloane, by adding three commas, changing Gernsback's one comma to a semi-colon, and making a verb phrase into a clause, slows it down to a snail's pace. Twice, Sloane also dampens the energy level with end punctuation: Ralph's exclamation to Alice “You were wonderful!” (25:98) becomes “You were wonderful.” (29:20) Ralph's ruminations “Thoughts of high frequency wireless waves—of X-rays—of Fernand—” (25: 156) becomes “Thoughts of high energy wireless waves—of X-rays—of Fernand” (29:30).
To be sure, Sloane was not consistently energetic in revising Ralph: whole pages of text were left virtually unchanged—save for the inevitable new commas—then there is suddenly a phrase added or paragraph rewritten. Also, except for one short explanatory paragraph following Lylette's death in the vacuum of space (25:82), nothing was omitted from Gernsback's text, and there were no substantive changes in its contents. Still, the overall effect is of a novel that is clumsier, stodgier, and grayer than Gernsback's 1925 novel—a situation that leads to two interesting conclusions.
First, while the 1911-12 version has long been unavailable, and while the 1925, 1950, and 1958 book editions were not widely distributed, the 1929 Amazing Stories Quarterly text, thanks to many private collections and a microfilm series, is easily accessible to modern scholars; thus, it is logical to assume that this is the most frequently consulted version. Yet this is also a significantly corrupted text that does not truly reflect Gernsback's writing style. Gernsback surely deserves to be described as a terrible writer, but his reputation may be slightly worse than it should be, because so many people have only read the work of this bad writer as it was edited by an even worse writer.
Second, after the 1929 bankruptcy of Gernsback's company, he and Sloane parted company, Gernsback starting a new company, Sloane staying to edit Amazing Stories for its new owners. I have long suspected that one reason for that split was a growing personal animosity, possibly accentuated by Gernsback's displeasure regarding Sloane's editing of his masterpiece. So, when Sloane wrote about the “very sensitive” authors who “object[ ] to even minor changes,” one of the writers he had in mind may have been Hugo Gernsback himself.
5. The 1950 version. After Gernsback sold his remaining science-fiction magazine, Wonder Stories, in 1936, he officially withdrew from the field, though he maintained his interest in science fiction by writing a number of humorous sketches distributed to friends in the form of Christmas cards (some later appeared in Gernsback's 1953 magazine Science-Fiction Plus). And in the late 1940s, when hardcover publishers were suddenly anxious to publish science-fiction novels, it must have seemed the appropriate time to publish a new edition of Ralph. In theory, Gernsback might have used this opportunity to further revise and improve his novel, but he actually left it relatively unchanged; and, as some will not be surprised to hear, this was essentially a marketing decision.
That is, instead of attempting the hopeless task of making the outdated Ralph seem like a modern novel, Gernsback consciously decided to present it as a museum piece, a forty-year-old novel that had incredibly predicted a number of modern scientific advances.19 With due modesty, Gernsback could only boast about his own prophetic abilities to a limited extent—his “Preface to the 1950 Edition” briefly noted that “quite a number of the scientific predictions made in Ralph have come to pass” (50:10)—but he recruited two old friends, Lee De Forest and Fletcher Pratt, to write two “Forewords” making the case more forcefully. De Forest wrote, “The most outstanding, most extraordinary prophecies which this young clairvoyant had at that time conceived—all based on his keen observations and appreciation of their real significance and trend—he chose to record in the guise of a fanciful romance bearing the strange, cabalistic title of this book.... [The passage describing radar] constitutes perhaps the most amazing paragraphs in this astonishing Book of Prophecy” (50:15,18). According to Pratt, “This is a book of historic importance.... a book of prophecy, one of the most remarkable ever written.... Mr. Gernsback has been rather astoundingly successful in predicting actual developments” (50:19,21). Today, when Ralph is inaccurately described as only a series of predictions tied together by a perfunctory story line, we should recall that this is partially a result of the success of Gernsback's own marketing campaign.
Officially, then, Gernsback could not tamper with the text of Ralph, since this would virtually amount to rewriting history; and he added three footnotes in the 1950 edition which further call attention to the antiquity of the text. At the end of the paragraph declaring that “all the great baseball, tennis, and football contests are held after sundown,“ the note points out that “At the time this was written, no illuminated, night time sports fields existed” (50:81); when the “aerial carnival” depicted a Solar System of eight planets, a note says, “In 1911 the outer planet Pluto had as yet not been discovered” (50:94); and when Ralph was explaining the concept of converting paper money to gold coins, a note adds, “When this was written gold coins were legal tender. Gold payments were outlawed by Congress in 1933” (50:112). The subtext of these notes is unambiguous: you are reading the unaltered text of a very old novel.20
Unofficially, however, Gernsback did make a number of small changes in the 1950 text. Of course, having attributed the changes in the 1929 text to another editor, I must ponder the possibility that another person revised the 1950 edition; but I consider that highly unlikely. First, for what it is worth, there is Gernsback's own testimony that he was personally involved in preparing the 1950 text: “when I was reading proofs for the 1950 edition, after a lapse of 25 years” (“Preface to the Second Edition” 50:7).21 Second, I can claim a degree of familiarity with the prose of Hugo Gernsback, and while the 1929 text sounded unauthentic from the very beginning, all the changes in the 1950 text seem consonant with Gernsback's own prose style. Finally, since Gernsback was a wealthy and prominent publisher in 1950, it hard to imagine any employee of the Frederick Fell Company having the temerity to make unauthorized changes in his writing; but it is easy to imagine Gernsback taking a little time to go through the manuscript with a blue pencil, making a few changes here and there.
First, there were two tiny but substantive changes in the novel's contents. In the 1925 version, the Planet Governor was described as “the ruler of 90 billion human beings” (25:36); having second thoughts about the difficulties of supporting such a huge population, Gernsback changes it to “15 billion human beings” in the 1950 edition (50:42). Also, in all previous versions, both Alice's and her father James's surnames were given as 212B 423; in the 1950 edition, James's surname is consistently given as 212B 422, implying that the second number of the surname somehow represents a number of generations.22
Second, Gernsback was willing in a few ways to “update” the text, despite his commitment to historical accuracy. First, in the 1925 edition, Gernsback tried to change all uses of “wireless” to “radio,” but a number of “wireless”es remained in the latter part of the novel. For the 1950 edition, Gernsback changes seven more of them to “radio,” though there were still a few “wireless”es toward the end of the novel that forever escaped his scrutiny. Also, while justifying his new voice-writing machine, the 1925 Ralph explains the defects of phonograph records, including this comment: “under that method it was possible for one to speak a will, but it was a clumsy way and was rarely used; on account of its high cost, and because the voice was not reproduced faithfully” (25:169). Because the final clause was not true of the improved records of 1950, Gernsback deletes it, so the sentence ended “and was rarely used on account of its high cost” (50:128; also, for no clear reason, “a will” became “one's last will and testament”). Third, Ralph's 1925 explanation of anti-gravity included this long description of then-current research: “The first work along this line was conducted by Majorana, the Italian scientist in the year 1920. He floated metal balls on top of mercury and claimed to have discovered a diminution of the weight of the balls when thus floated. He thought he had discovered here a means that partially screened gravitation from the iron balls, thus making them lighter” (25:181). By 1950, it was clear that Majorana's work had no scientific value, so Gernsback deletes the entire passage. Also related to a desire for modernization were the change from “`etherized'” (25:27) to “energyzed” (50:36; though all other references to the ether were retained) and from “telephone thanks were not nearly so nice” (25:59) to “telephot thanks” (50:57).
Finally, in addition to various minor corrections, including updated spelling and punctuation, Gernsback made about forty changes in his language, usually involving a few words at most. He tried to avoid repeated use of the same word in quick succession: “He stepped to one side of his Telephot so that his friend could see the apparatus on the table about ten feet from the Telephot faceplate” (25:10) becomes “He stepped to one side of his instrument...” (25:26); “he proceeded to point out the finer points of the tube construction” (25:62-3) becomes “he proceed to elaborate on the finer points...“ (50:59); “the scientist made a minute examination of the instrument. It was a complicated instrument” (25:162) becomes “...It was a complicated machine” (50: 123); and “the Governor felt that the task of keeping Ralph content had been lifted from the Governor's already over-burdened shoulders” (25:191) becomes “...from the official's already overburdened shoulders” (50:141). In a few cases, he adds more specific information: “Ralph applied a small electric device to the back of the insensible man” (25:225) becomes “Ralph applied a small electric shocking device to the spine....” (50:164); “when he had generated enough” (25:251) becomes “when he had generated enough of the gas” (50:180); “the blood will begin to flow” (25:282) becomes “blood will begin to flow from the mouth, nose and ears” (50:200); and “he was forced to sit down to keep from falling” becomes “he was forced to sit down to keep from slumping over in the gravitation-less flyer” (50:198). At times, Gernsback simply substitutes a more dramatic word: on two occasions in addition to the above, a form of “fall” is replaced by “slump” (25:226,273; 50:165, 194); “the avalanche rushed down the mountain” (25:44) becomes “the avalanche thundered....” (50:47); and “said Ralph in exasperation” (25:161) becomes “shouted Ralph in exasperation” (50:122). Rarely, an entire phrase is reworked: “all of a sudden, the sound stopped” (25:24) becomes “suddenly, all sound stopped abruptly” (50:34), and “in order that all might get a good look at him” (25:39) becomes “in order that all might see him perfectly” (50:44). And there are a number of unimportant word changes: “Power” (25: 19) to “energy” (50:31), “began” (25:23) to “started” (50:33), “aerial vessels” (25:114) to “the traffic” (50:92), “numerous” (25:123) to “many” (50: 98), “steadiness” (25:129) to “continuance” (50:102), and “just” (25:276) to “now” (50:197). Certainly, Gernsback did not undertake any thorough polishing of the text, but if he happened to notice a little something that might be better, he went ahead and made the change; and the fact that he bothered to do so again demonstrates that, for all his concerns about science, Gernsback always retained some interest in the quality of his published writing.
6. The 1958 Version. Like Gernsback in 1950, the editors of the 1958 Fawcett Crest paperback edition marketed Ralph 124C 41+ as a venerable antique full of remarkable predictions: the front cover described it as “One of the most prophetic books of science-fiction ever written”; both front and back covers call Ralph Gernsback's “famous classic,” further emphasizing its antiquity; and there is a new subtitle, One to Foresee for One, which both explains the meaning of the title to baffled browsers and again communicates its prophetic qualities. Though presented as a reprint of the 1950 Frederick Fell edition, this version was not exactly that, since there were a number of new changes in the text. Almost certainly, Gernsback was not personally involved in preparing this edition, as he most definitely would not have approved of the decision to omit both of his “Prefaces,“ leaving only a drastically shortened version of Pratt's “Foreword” and a brief quotation from De Forest's “Foreword” as introductory materials. So it is logical to attribute these changes to an editor, or copyeditor, working for the Fawcett company who, predictably enough in preparing a mass-market paperback, brought new priorities to the revision of Ralph: intermingled concerns for economy, brevity, and modernity.
First, undoubtedly to avoid the hassle and expense of reproducing illustrations, the 1958 editor removes all of the textual drawings and diagrams that had previously been part of the text—another change that Gernsback surely would have opposed. So this is the first version of Ralph that does not present the drawing of the Menograph tape, the diagrams of the Subatlantic Tube and of Ralph's journey through space, the photographs of the real and artificial comets, and even the well-known diagram illustrating the principle of radar. At times, this means that some of the text has to be removed as well; so, the two short paragraphs in parentheses surrounding the Menograph drawing (50: 48) are taken out, as is a sentence in the footnote about comets describing the two photographs (50:179) To be sure, the diagrams were not essential, and removing them arguably made for a more conventional and readable novel; but without them, some of the unique flavor of Gernsback's story is undeniably lost. And for that reason alone, while the 1958 editor's changes were otherwise less frequent and less objectionable than Sloane's, this edition qualifies as the more corrupted of the two unauthorized revisions.
While removing the diagrams served to shorten the length of the novel, there are many other small reductions in the 1950 text. Since it states something that is repeated two sentences later, the sentence “Alice tasted it, however, and found that it tasted exactly like a good rich cow's milk” (50: 108) is properly deemed superfluous and removed. While Gernsback fully describes why Ralph had “one great advantage over Llysanorh'—“The latter was wholly unprepared, believing he had to deal with a comet. This facilitated Ralph's movements” (50:185)—the 1958 editor feels this is already clear enough and simply states, “The latter was wholly unprepared” (58:125). Gernsback writes, “When the farms came into view, the entire country below, so far as the eye could see, appeared to be dotted with the glass-covered roofs .... she had never seen so many grouped together of such immensity” (50:98); in the 1958 version, “When the farms came into view, the entire country below appeared to be dotted with the glass-covered roofs.... she had never seen so many grouped together” (58:61). From “The girl, desiring to know what it represented, approached and read this inscription” (50:75), “desiring to know what it represented” is removed (58:45). Sometimes only a small phrase is taken out: “can then be accurately and quickly calculated” (50:152) becomes “can then be accurately calculated” (58:101) ; “to which humanity had been chained for ages” (50:155) becomes “to which humanity had been chained” (58:104); “she became increasingly aware that her situation was desperate” (50:193) becomes “she became increasingly desperate” (58:131); “which he was certain was that of the Martian, as he had reasoned, heading for Mars” (50:169-70) becomes “which he was certain was that of the Martian heading for Mars” (58:114); and references to “James 212B 422” (50:58,88, 95) are shortened to “James” (58:32,54,58). Only twice is this type of trimming harmful: when Gernsback's “six to twelve large antigravitators... which could be worked in unison, or operated independently in order to control the direction of the flyer” (50:157) is changed to “to control their direction” (58:105), the function of the devices is obscured; more significantly, when the 1958 editor omits two seemingly redundant lines of dialogue from the scene with Peter quoted above—“The young lady from Switzerland, sir.” “The—which?” (50:56)—the humor is spoiled, as this eliminates the precise moment of Ralph's double-take.
Finally, the 1958 editor at times wishes to modernize, smooth out, or improve Gernsback's often creaky prose. “These thoughts obtruded themselves into his consciousness” (50:55) becomes “These thoughts were uppermost in his mind” (58:30); “That is a great relief to me, I assure you, for I speak French very indifferently” (50:58) becomes “That's a great relief, I assure you, since my French is terrible” (58:32); “Busy with my own work I have not followed its progress closely enough to know all the details” (50:59) becomes “I've been busy with my own work so I have not followed its progress” (58:33); “to ascertain at what hour they would be ready” (50:66) becomes “to find out what time they would be ready” (58:38); “it may be taken as an axiom that” (50:99) becomes “we know that” (58:61); and “Certainly, he would not hesitate to murder Ralph if the opportunity presented itself” (50:175) becomes “to murder Ralph if he could” (58:118). There are a number of minor word changes: “Ralph ejaculated” (50:31) becomes “Ralph said” (58:14; perhaps because the term seemed suggestive); “in readiness” (50:33,165) becomes “ready” (58:15,111) ; “desired to know presently” (50: 79) becomes “wanted to know” (58:47); “think collectively” (50:119) becomes “think clearly” (58:76); and “his missive” (50:143) becomes “his letter” (58: 95). Generally these revisions are either harmless or beneficial; so, while Sloane gave the world a slightly stuffier Ralph, the 1958 editor presented a slightly breezier, more accessible novel.
When editors produce a revision of a novel, they also provide a commentary on it, which is why the 1929 and 1958 versions merit discussion; and while Sloane and the 1958 editor had very different attitudes and concerns, their responses to Ralph are generally parallel. First, while they were surely aware of the larger problems in the novel's structure, pace, and consistency, they had no desire, and were not in a position, to deal with them. On the other hand, they both recognized Gernsback's consistently awkward prose as one problem they could unobtrusively attack, and they both took some time to try to improve the style of Ralph. However, neither Sloane nor the 1958 editor attempted the herculean and probably impossible task of bringing the entire text of Ralph up to the level of competence; they would occasionally spot and work on some clumsy sentence, but they would then look at several equally inadequate sentences without making any changes. Both editors were helpless, therefore, in confronting the fundamental weakness of Ralph: the fact that its author was consistently unable to write a fluent English sentence. If Gernsback had only had a smidgen of talent to go along with his scientific imagination and literary aspirations, Ralph might have actually become a “famous classic” in the eyes of the general public; instead, after the 1958 edition went out of print, Gernsback's novel faded into general obscurity.
Improbably, however, this very bad novel has remained strikingly visible in the science-fiction community, as seen by occasional published excerpts, homages like William Gibson's “The Gernsback Continuum,” the parodies of Ellison and Sladek, and the invariable, though usually disparaging, comments of science-fiction historians. And with the possibilities of unexamined manuscripts or new editions, one cannot say with confidence that the textual history of Ralph 124C 41+ has ended.
7. Conclusion. With its full story revealed, Ralph 124C 41+ emerges as a novel which interestingly straddles all of the boundary lines typically erected in the field of science fiction.
Some critics, building upon the apparent dichotomy in its name, would divide science fiction between those primarily interested in science and those primarily interested in literature; and Gernsback is presented as a leader of the science-first camp. Yet despite his obvious fascination with scientific ideas, Gernsback devoted an equal amount of energy to improving the literary qualities of his novel. True, he was reticent about these ambitions and displayed little writing ability; but lack of public commitment and lack of talent should not be mistaken for lack of desire.
There is also Brian W. Aldiss's division of science fiction into the “thinking pole,” represented by the somber speculations of H.G. Wells, and the “dreaming pole,” represented by the exotic adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Again, Gernsback displays both tendencies. The first seven installments of the original Ralph stand solidly near the thinking pole, strongly emphasizing scientific gadgetry, to be sure, but also projecting a broader picture of a benevolent world government that has prospered by recognizing and supporting the work of its scientists. But in the last five installments, Gernsback veers near the dreaming pole with a melodramatic account of pursuing evil kidnappers through space.
Finally, some see science fiction as either basically utopian—stressing the positive effects of scientific progress—or dystopian—stressing its negative effects—and Gernsback is said to exemplify the utopian school. Yet Gernsback could recognize that there were dangers in advanced science: people in his future world are being driven crazy by their “labor-saving devices,” an invisibility machine and modern chemicals are employed in kidnapping schemes, and Ralph reveals the power to create a comet and aim it at a vulnerable planet. Certainly, Gernsback was more inclined to celebrate the benefits of technology, but he was not completely blind to its possible drawbacks.
After examining its multifaceted nature, and seeing signs of its influence throughout modern science fiction, I have elsewhere argued that Ralph 124C 41+, and the ideas that Gernsback developed and promulgated after writing it, constitute the true origin and foundation of the genre of science fiction. To others, who find the roots of science fiction in other, more exemplary texts, Ralph 124C 41+ is only an aberration, a brief, catastrophic interruption in the genre's otherwise distinguished history. Yet those who see Ralph as a wellspring, and those who see it as a backwater, might find common ground in considering the novel as a microcosm.
That is to say: when science fiction historians look back at the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the texts they find usually fall into the categories of utopia or travel tale, and their scientific marvels are presented as either pleasant accoutrements to life in exotic lands or the basis of an ideal society—as in the first seven installments of the original Ralph. But when those historians move into the nineteenth century, the mood abruptly changes: whether because of the general Romantic revolt against Newton's clockwork universe, as a specific reaction to the unpleasant effects of the Industrial Revolution, or simply due to a desire to generate more exciting stories, writers begin to present scientific progress in a negative light: scientists replace necromancers in Gothic horror tales, and amazing inventions once seen as instruments of a benign government are now placed in the hands of madmen and criminals—as in the last five installments of the first Ralph. Throughout this time, there is a disinclination to combine scientific predictions with tales of romantic love, save as a perfunctory subplot in melodramas, and there are occasional times when science is viewed in a humorous fashion or as an object of satire. At the beginning of the twentieth century, most notably in the works of H.G. Wells, one sees all of these elements coalescing—as in the 1925 version of Ralph— and they have remain blended in modern texts, sometimes effectively, sometimes uneasily, while their literary quality has gradually improved.
This is the story of the evolution of modern science fiction; and in miniature, it is also the story of the evolution of Hugo Gernsback's Ralph 124C 41+.
1. As discussed in Sam Moskowitz's “How Science Fiction Got Its Name” in Explorers of the Infinite (Cleveland and New York: World Publishing Company, 1963), 313-333. Moskowitz quotations in the later text are from “Hugo Gernsback: Father of Science Fiction,” in the same volume, 225-42.
2. I thank the Interlibrary Loan Department of the University of California at Riverside for providing me with a copy of the 1911-12 version; the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature of the University of California at Riverside for providing copies of the 1925, 1950 and 1958 editions; and R.D. Mullen for lending me a copy of the 1929 text.
3. The relationship between Modern Electrics and young Lewis Mumford is an interesting area for exploration. He records in his autobiographical My Works and Days: A Personal Chronicle (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1979) that “in my youth, as a zealous reader of Hugo Gernsback's Modern Electrics, I shared my generation's pious belief in our future” (14); and Donald L. Miller notes in Lewis Mumford: A Life (New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1989) that Mumford's first publication, at the age of fifteen, was an eight-line article on “new breakthroughs in radio receivers” published in Modern Electrics (34). Yet it has apparently not been noted that Mumford published repeatedly in the magazine. In looking at all issues from 1911 and 1912, for example, I found no piece that matched Miller's description— presumably, if Mumford was fifteen at the time, it appeared in 1910—but Mumford did make five contributions to the “Experimental Department” of the magazine in those years. (The department invited people to describe their inventions and awarded prizes to the best ones.) The first, “Unique Variable Condenser,” as by “L.C. Mumford,” appeared in the January 1911 issue, 577; “A Portable Receiving Outfit,” as by “Lewis C. Mumford,” appeared in the April 1911 issue, 29-30; “The Ultimate,” as by “L.O. Mumford,” appeared in the June 1911 issue, 179; “A Reply,” as by “Lewis C. Mumford,” appeared in the September 1911 issue, 269 (not a description of an invention, but a caustic response to another correspondent's report that he had “improved” on an invention previously described by Mumford); and “Improved Electrolytic Detector,” as by “Lewis C. Mumford,” appeared in the April 1912 issue, 40. The first won the First Prize of two dollars; the others, all Honorable Mentions, presumably earned Mumford 25 cents each. These pieces offer only the sort of shop-talk that characterized the magazine and provide no insights into the developing thoughts of young Mumford; but they at least prove that the man who would later write the influential The Story of Utopia read, as a young man, the magazines that first published Gernsback's singular contribution to that tradition.
4. Mark Wicks, To Mars via the Moon: An Astronomical Story (New York: Arno Press, 1975), 184-88. Reprint of 1911 edition published in London by Seeley and Co. Future page references in the text are to this edition.
5. Future page references in the text to the 1911-12 version will begin with the installment number (see Table), followed by colon and page number. Future page references in the text to the 1925, 1929, 1950, or 1958 texts will begin with 25, 29, 50, or 58, followed by colon and page number.
6.There is another possible borrowing from Wicks that precedes the appearance of the review: Wicks' spacecraft is built out of “martalium,” a metal “composed of aluminum and other rarer metals which, when combined together, produced a substance almost as light as aluminum, yet many times harder and tougher than casehardened steel; whilst its surface shone like burnished silver and could never in any circumstances become tarnished or affected by rust” (27-28) . The May 1911 installment briefly mentions a similar substance, “steelonium (the new substitute for steel)“ (2:85) and the August installment elaborates: “Steelonium, as you of course know, is unrustable and ten times as strong as steel” (5:294). Yet marvelous metals were common enough in the scientific fiction of the time, so that this may only be a coincidence.
7. Gernsback, “A New Sort of Magazine,” Amazing Stories 1:3, April 1926.
8. Two other minor changes in later installments, that cannot be attributed to Wicks, reflect developments in Gernsback's writing style. In the first seven installments, Gernsback consistently referred to characters only by their last, numerical names: Ralph is “124C 41” and Alice is “Miss 212B 423.” This must have sounded cold to Gernsback, for in the eighth and ninth installments, he alternated use of full names, last names only, and first names only: Fernand is variously “Fernand 600 10,” “600 10,” and “Fernand.” In the last installments, only first names are used alone; and in the 1925 text, Gernsback substituted first names for numbers throughout the novel. Also, there are Gernsback's strange dates, introduced in the eighth installment: a letter to Alice is dated “August 35th, 2660” (8:497), Llysanorh's letter refers to “November thirty-first” (8:498), and the telegram from the Planet Governor to Ralph is dated “Sept. 34th, 2660” (9:594). Since it is hard to imagine how or why future scientists would expand Earth's orbit—to lengthen the year—or speed up Earth's rotation—to shorten its days—there are two possible explanations: either the rational denizens of the future have adopted some calendar reform—perhaps ten months of 36 days each, with two months omitted and five or six holidays at the end of the year—or, because of the different lengths of “years” on the inhabited Venus, Earth, and Mars, they have adopted a uniform “year” that does not correspond to Earth's year. But since the text is silent on this issue, one must regard these dates primarily as a literary device, a novel way to convey the strangeness of Ralph's future world.
9. The other is the letter to Alice from her friend Vilonette 88B 90, beginning the eighth installment, that was eliminated in the 1925 edition because its background information about Fernand and Llysanorh' now had already appeared earlier in the text.
10. “Fips” was the pseudonym Gernsback regularly used for his humorous pieces. The surname in the second passage presumably should be read, “One to be for nothing” or “for naught.”
11. Harlan Ellison's parody of Ralph came in his 1967 speech “A Time for Daring,” when he needed a quick way to characterize and criticize the preferences of certain science-fiction fans:
Now Al Lewis believes that stories of science fiction [should be like this:] the man of the future is standing on this slidewalk going through future time and he looks around and says, “Look at this fantastic world that we live in, isn't it incredible, I say to you, Alice of the future 20432209, isn't this a grand world in which the buildings rise up a full screaming two hundred feet into the air, isn't this a marvelous slidewalk that's going at 25 miles an hour, and we have one over there that goes to 35 miles an hour, and another one right next to it at 45 miles an hour, to which we can leap, if we want to” (“A Time for Daring,” in The Book of Ellison, edited by Andrew Porter [NY: ALGOL Press, 1978], 106-107; speech originally published in ALGOL, March 1967).
Sladek's parody, “Ralph 4F,” appeared in The Steam-Driven Boy, and Other Strangers (London: Panther Books, 1973), 147-51.
12. But Gernsback was also willing to have a bit of fun with his science, imagining the telephot as a smell-transmitting device and replacing his Permagatol with “insect powder.” One should also note that in the concluding remarks following these parodies, Gernsback presents himself as, first, an author who is not planning ahead, and second, an author who wishes to cynically exploit his story as a circulation-building device. One is naturally tempted to view these characterizations as autobiographical.
13. As evidence for this theory, there is a passage in an early Amazing Stories editorial where Gernsback noted that “A totally unforeseen result...strange to say, was that a great many women are already reading the magazine” (“Editorially Speaking,” Amazing Stories, 1:483, September, 1926). It is also possible that Gernsback downplayed the romantic angle because he was increasingly aware that science fiction was attracting young male readers (as discussed below), presumably even less likely than adult males to appreciate passionate prose.
14. I rely on Gernsback's Evolution of Modern Science Fiction (privately printed, 1952) for publication data; I have only read the text as it was reprinted in Amazing Stories from February 1928 to July 1928, retitled “Baron Münchhausen's Scientific Adventures.” I assume the essential honesty of the introductory claim there, “The author has made a number of minor corrections in preparing it for reprinting, but the story itself remains substantially the same as originally published” (blurb to “Baron Münchhausen's Scientific Adventures,” Amazing 2:1061, February, 1928). Certainly, nothing about the text—presented in thirteen chapters which correspond to the titles of the thirteen installments listed in Evolution of Modern Science Fiction—suggests extensive revision, although the data below indicates that Gernsback's Associate Editor, T. O'Conor Sloane, may have made some minor changes.
15. More detailed analysis of the close relationship between “Baron Münchhausen” and To Mars via the Moon must await another occasion, but a few obvious connections can be mentioned: both texts provide detailed descriptions of Mars' canals, both make the Martians very tall, and both provide the Martians with telepathic powers. This discussion about the influence of To Mars via the Moon does raise one question: if Gernsback was aware of the novel, why did he never reprint it in his later science fiction magazines? And why did he never mention Wicks in his occasional comments on the history of science fiction? (See “`The Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Edgar Allan Poe Type of Story': Hugo Gernsback's History of Science Fiction,” SFS 19:340-53, #58, November, 1992.) There is one logical explanation: Gernsback was painfully aware that his own novels visibly borrowed from Wicks and so had no desire to draw his readers' attention to the novel.
16. One unanswered question: did Gernsback make these changes entirely on his own, or were editors of the Stratford Company involved in the process? Given Gernsback's lifelong interest in writing fiction, and the many flaws remaining the 1925 version, it seems reasonable to assume that Gernsback did all the work on his own; but he may have received some outside prodding or advice.
17. The exceptions are a few identical corrections of minor errors, like changing “aeroflier” to “aeroflyer” at the beginning of Chapter 8, that could easily have been made by the preparer of the 1950 edition without reference to the 1929 version.
18. Alva Rogers, A Requiem for Astounding (Chicago: Advent: Publishers, 1964), 14.
19. After writing this sentence, I found this statement in Gernsback's “Preface to the 1950 Edition”: “In the meanwhile the book became a sort of museum piece” (50:7).
20. Oddly enough, the 1950 edition omitted all of Paul's illustrations, which would have served to emphasize the novel's antiquity, both because of Paul's old-fashioned technique and because most modern novels featured no illustrations; but a reproduction of the equally old-fashioned cover of the April 1911 issue of Modern Electrics, showing Ralph at the Telephot, was included as part of Gernsback's “Preface to the Second Edition.”
21. Also, the statement that he was rereading Ralph “after a lapse of 25 years” provides additional support for the theory that he was not involved in preparing the 1929 edition.
22. It is all but impossible, though, to make this seem reasonable. Assuming twenty years to a generation, Ralph's number 41 shows that he can trace his ancestors back to 1840 or so, reasonably enough for an American; the evil Fernand's low number 10 indicates that he is a social upstart of sorts; and Llysanorh's large number 1618 suggests that in the presumably older Martian civilization people can trace their ancestors back for thirty thousand years. But it is hard to see how Europeans could claim to trace their ancestors back 8000 years, as the numbers 422 and 423 imply; and other final numbers, like the Martian Rrananolh's 42 or Fernand's friend Paul's 1261, seem equally inexplicable. Like Gernsback's odd dates, these numerical names must be viewed primarily as literary devices, not scientific predictions.
THE TEXTS OF RALPH 124C 41+ BY HUGO GERNSBACK
Ralph 124C 41+. In Modern Electrics, 4 (April 1911), 19-20; (May 1911), 83-87; (June 1911), 165-68; (July 1911), 229-33; (August 1911), 293-96; (September 1911), 357-61; (October 1911), 419-22; (November 1911), 497-500, 516; (December 1911), 593-96, 616; (January 1912), 689-92; (February 1912) 787-90, 796; (March 1912), 881-86.
Ralph 124C 41+: A Romance of the Year 2660. Boston: Stratford Company, 1925. 293 pp. Heavily revised and expanded version of the 1911-12 text, with a “Preface” by Hugo Gernsback and several illustrations by Frank R. Paul.
Ralph 124C 41+: A Romance of the Year 2660. In Amazing Stories Quarterly, 2:4-53, Winter 1929. The 1925 text, edited in numerous but minor ways by T. O'Conor Sloane, with the 1925 “Preface” as untitled blurb and most of Paul's illustrations.
Ralph 124C 41+: A Romance of the Year 2660. Second Edition. New York: Frederick Fell, Inc. 1950. 207 pp. The 1925 text, lightly edited by Gernsback, with the 1925 “Preface” (as “Preface to the First Edition”), a new “Preface to the Second Edition” by Gernsback, two “Forewords” by Lee De Forest and Fletcher Pratt, and Paul's illustrations omitted.
Ralph 124C 41+: One to Foresee for One. New York: Fawcett Crest, 1958. 142 pp. Anonymously, lightly edited version of the 1950 text with a short version of Pratt's “Foreword” (as “A Preview of Tomorrow”) and all illustrations and diagrams omitted.