Master of Adventure: The Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs

By Richard A. Lupoff | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
A Phoenician on Mars

The literature of space flight has a long and honorable history, with stories of visits to the sun, the moon, and even other planets surprisingly antedating the existence of astronomical theory to support them. In the classical era and indeed for centuries after, scientific and religious thought were so intermixed that supernatural and what we would today consider superscientific elements appear in indiscriminate juxtaposition, so that the borderline between fantasy and science fiction becomes blurred. Yet this is true of many more recent works, including A Princess of Mars with John Carter's apparently astral voyage to Mars, his unexplained longevity and his apparent deaths and resurrections.

At least five historians of science fiction do agree that the oldest works that can reasonably be termed science fiction are those attributed to Lucian of Samosata, a Hellenized Syrian who flourished circa 200 A.D. In one tale Lucian portrays a flight to heaven by means of bird's wings, but more important from our viewpoint is his True History in which a ship is carried aloft by a waterspout and deposited on the moon. Subsequendy the crew visit the planet Venus, colonization rights to which are the subject of warfare between the armies of the sun and the moon!

The historians who agree on Lucian as a sort of great-great-great grandfather of modern science fiction are J. C. Bailey in Pilgrims through Space and Time (1947), Marjory Hope Nicolson in Voyages to the Moon (1948), L. Sprague de Camp in Science Fiction Handbook (1953), Roger Lancelyn Green in Into Other Worlds (1958) and Peter Leighton in Moon Travellers (1960).

From Lucian's hands the theme of space flight passed through many others, but interplanetary stories seemed to give way once more to lunar and solar expeditions. Neither de Camp nor Green cites any tide for over fifteen centuries, with the possible exceptions of “spiritual” journeys, fairly

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