RADIUM AGE: 1913

By: Joshua Glenn
July 17, 2022

Francis Picabia’s Star Dancer on a Transatlantic Steamer (1913)

A series of notes — Josh calls it a “timeline,” but Kulturfahrplan might be the more apt term — towards a comprehensive account of the science fiction genre’s Radium Age (1900–1935). More information on Josh’s ongoing efforts here and here.

RADIUM AGE TIMELINE: [1900 | 1901 | 1902 | 1903] | 1904 | 1905 | 1906 | 1907 | 1908 | 1909 | 1910 | 1911 | 1912 | 1913 | 1914 | 1915 | 1916 | 1917 | 1918 | 1919 | 1920 | 1921 | 1922 | 1923 | 1924 | 1925 | 1926 | 1927 | 1928 | 1929 | 1930 | 1931 | 1932 | 1933 | [1934 | 1935]. (The brackets, here, indicate “interregnum” years — i.e., periods of overlap between sf’s Radium Age and its Scientific Romance and so-called Golden Age eras.)


1913


The year 1913, in my periodization scheme, marks the end of the cultural decade known as the “Nineteen-Aughts.” Of course there are no hard stops and starts in culture, so it’s more accurate to describe 1913 (and 1914) as cusp years during which the Aughts end and the Nineteen-Teens begin.

In 1913, Gernsback founded the magazine Electrical Experimenter — which from 1920–1931 would be published as Science and Invention. Gernsback invited proto-sf authors to contribute; in a 1916 editorial, he argued that a “real electrical experimenter, worthy of the name” must have imagination and a vision for the future.” In The Perversity of Things: Hugo Gernsback on Media, Tinkering, and Scientifiction (2016), Grant Wythoff writes that “To page through the print run of The Electrical Experimenter across the 1910s is to watch the activities of a quirky group of hobbyists grow into a mass cultural phenomenon.”

ALSO SEE: Best adventures of 1913.

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Proto-sf coinages dating to 1913, according to the Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction: IMPOSSIBLE STORY (esp. in the early pulp era: a work of imaginative fiction; a different story — letter in All-Story Magazine, “Give us plenty of scientific and impossible stories…”).

    First US edition — 1913

  • J.D. Beresford’s Goslings / A World of Women (1913). When a plague kills off most of England’s male population, the proper bourgeois Mr. Gosling (one of the few survivors) abandons his family for a life of lechery. His daughters — who have never been permitted to learn self-reliance — in turn escape London for the countryside, where after some adventures they find meaningful roles in a female-dominated agricultural commune. The women of the commune shed their vanity and socially imposed role restrictions; along with one male, the intellectual Thrale, they must learn to come together as a community for survival. But the Goslings’ idyll is threatened by their elders’ prejudices about free love! Reissued in 2022 by MIT Press’s Radium Age series.
  • Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt (1913). Three years after having led an expedition into a South American jungle in search of surviving pterodactyls and iguanodons, the controversial scientist George Edward Challenger telegrams his dino-hunting comrades: “Bring oxygen.” Once they arrive at his country home south of London, Challenger reveals that the planet is about to pass through a belt of poisonous ether (astrophysicists now prefer “dark matter”), which will destroy all life on Earth. However, Challenger has transformed his wife’s dressing room into an airtight chamber, so they can witness the end of the world. Why — in this first sequel to The Lost World — did Doyle lock his adventurers into a room? Because this is an epistemological thriller: At the extremity of experience, Summerlee, an avatar of the inductive scientific method, and Challenger, an avatar of the simultaneously intuitive and logical “abductive” method of acquiring knowledge, hash it out. To be reissued, along with The Lost World, by MIT Press’s Radium Age series in 2023.
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Gods of Mars (1913, as a book 1918). The second installment in Burroughs’s Barsoom series. Returning to Mars after ten years, John Carter materializes in the Valley Dor: the supposedly paradisial secret location to which Barsoomian’s travel once they’ve reached 1,000 years of age. Joined by his friend Tars Tarkas, the 15-foot-tall, double-torsoed, green-skinned Martian, Carter discovers that Barsoomians are actually killed and enslaved in the Valley Dor! (This context is strongly reminiscent of Philip K. Dick’s 1966 novel The Unteleported Man; also compare with Edwin Lester Arnold’s Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation, published in 1905.) The Therns, a white-skinned, cannibalistic race of self-proclaimed gods, must be defeated — but Carter and Tarkas must also contend with Plant Men, Black Pirates, the green warriors of Warhoon, and the Zodangans. Phew! Fun fact: First published in All-Story as a five-part serial, this novel was written at the same time as Burroughs’s Tarzan of the Apes.
  • Bernhard Kellermann’s bestseller Der Tunnel is a kind of sf novel. Allan, an idealistic engineer, wants to build a tunnel at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean connecting North America with Europe within a few years. The idealist’s scheme is thwarted for financial reasons, and the tunnel construction (in particular a segment dug under a mountain) experiences several disasters. A fiasco seems inevitable, the army of workers revolt, and Allan becomes a figure of universal hatred throughout the world. After 26 years of construction, the tunnel is finally completed; however, the engineering masterpiece is outdated as soon as it opens, as aeroplanes now cross the Atlantic in a few hours. Allan’s nemesis, Woolf, isn’t explicitly depicted as Jewish… but it’s a racist stereotype of Jews. Fun facts: The novel sold 100,000 copies in the six months after its publication, and it became one of the most successful books of the first half of the 20th century. By 1939 its circulation had reached millions. “The Tunnel shows what it means to sweat and toil for a great dream. Compared to the dramatic impact of Kellermann’s book, other novels about similar titanic undertakings are pale things indeed.” – Survey of Science Fiction Literature vol. 5
  • J.-H. Rosny aîné’s La Force Mystérieuse [The Mysterious Force] (1913), tells of the destruction of a portion of the light spectrum by a mysterious force — possibly aliens from outer space (or from another dimension, maybe) who, for a brief while, share our physical existence. The titular force, later described as an “interstellar cyclone,” passes through the Earth and causes widespread anxiety — which helps spark a worker revolution in France. As the colors of the spectrum begin to disappear, our reality becomes wan and grey. Humanity, too, becomes lackluster and enervated. Technology and even chemical reactions fail. After millions have perished, a strange new world begins to manifest… Shades of Octavia E. Butler, people — now possessed by alien life — form near telepathic gestalts with family members, friends, even amimals. Via this communal idyll, individuals reach new levels of individuality — as a result of their heightened sensitivity to their fellow communalists. The first part of the novel, with its apocalyptic scenes in the heart of Paris, bears comparison to Doyle’s The Poison Belt (also 1913).
  • Robert W. Chambers’s The Gay Rebellion. Young men of handsome appearance and good health are abducted… and married by young women from the suffragette eugenics movement — in order to breed a perfect race. A war of the sexes story (or series of linked stories) with a condescending masculine bias. “This light-hearted spoof of the suffragette movement and the science of eugenics is perhaps most important for the dated attitude it expresses toward women and love…” – Anatomy of Wonder
  • Frank Barkley Copley’s The Impeachment of President Israels. A wealthy Jewish U.S. president averts war with Germany through the use of diplomacy — but is impeached for his trouble. Fun fact: The author is best known for his adulatory Frederick W. Taylor: Father of Scientific Management (1923).
  • Alexander Kuprin’s Zhidkoe solntse (trans. as Liquid Sunshine in Pre-Revolutionary Russian Science Fiction, ed. Fetzer), is a parody of Russian pulp-magazine sf complete with a mad scientist and super-weapons. Culminates in a futile battle with the forces of entropy. See 1906 for Kuprin’s Tost.
  • Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Horror of the Heights.” Included in Voices from the Radium Age (MIT Press), a 2022 story collection edited by yours truly.
  • Coutts Brisbane’s “A Matter of Gravity” — an antigravity story.
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs’s A Man Without a Soul (Published in book form in 1929 as The Monster Men). Professor Arthur Maxon, who has been experimenting in the creation of artificial life, travels with his daughter Virginia to one of the remote Pamarung Islands in the East Indies to pursue his project. Maxon and a Dr. Carl von Horn begin their experiments, growing several living creatures in chemical vats, humanoid but mindless and ugly. Maxon hopes Experiment Number Thirteen will result in a perfect human being, and plans to wed Virginia to this ultimate creation. Von Horn hopes to marry her himself. Meanwhile, locals and pirates conspire against the scientists, who they believe are hiding treasure. When one of the earlier experiments escapes and abducts Virginia, Number Thirteen rescues her… and she finds herself attracted to the handsome stranger.
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Warlord of Mars serialized December, 1913 — March, 1914. (It was published as a novel in 1919.) John Carter follows his wife’s abductors into the north polar regions where he discovers more fantastic creatures and the nearly forgotten Yellow Martians, who live on the north polar cap behind a ring-shaped ice barrier. This book is the last to feature Tars Tarkas, John Carter’s ally, in any major role; indeed, the green Barsoomians of whom Tars Tarkas is an oligarch disappear altogether from most of the later novels.
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Return of Tarzan serialized — there is an sf angle with Atlantis survivors. Tarzan becomes embroiled in the affairs of Countess Olga de Coude, her husband, Count Raoul de Coude, and two shady characters — Nikolas Rokoff and his henchman Alexis Paulvitch. Count Raoul finds Tarzan a job as a special agent in the French ministry of war; he is assigned to service in Algeria. Eventually he ends up at Opar — a lost colony of Atlantis located deep in the jungles of Africa, in which incredible riches have been stockpiled down through the ages. Notable comic-book adaptations include those of Gold Key Comics in Tarzan no. 156 (November 1966, art by Russ Manning), and DC Comics in Tarzan nos. 219-223 (April–September 1973, art by Joe Kubert).
  • L. Frank Baum‘s children’s Radium-Age sci-fi/fantasy adventure The Patchwork Girl of Oz Baum considered this one of his very best Oz books. I don’t agree, but it’s a good one — and a disquieting one, since it forces readers to reconsider whether Oz is a utopia… or a dystopia. Ojo, a young Munchkin boy, is starving. (Who knew you could starve in Oz?) He and his uncle strike out in search of food, and the first place these refugees arrive is the home of the Crooked Magician, a kind of wizard-scientist whose experiment goes awry, petrifying the uncle and the wizard’s wife. Before that, Ojo mischievously adds extra brains to the head of a patchwork doll whom the wizard intends to animate and utilize as a mindlessly obedient servant (Karel Capek’s RUR wouldn’t be written for another decade). Ojo, Scraps the patchwork girl, and a glass cat embark upon a quest to obtain the magical ingredients required to unpetrify Ojo’s uncle. They encounter the Scarecrow, Jack Pumpkinhead, and Dorothy and Toto, as well as some new characters… including an Afro-futurist tribe of Hottentot-like imps who live in black domes lined with… radium! Fun facts: Baum had intended The Emerald City of Oz (1910) to be the series finale; its conclusion describes Oz as being isolated from outside worlds forever. Here, he explains that he was able to make contact with Oz via wireless telegraphy.
  • Fred C. Smale’s “The ‘V’ Force.” Surtees has returned from Tibet with a mysterious metal box that glows in the dark and has mysterious effects on living things. Even when it’s thrown into the ocean. (Could this be the original MacGuffin?) We read in Moskowitz’s History of the Scientific Romance that this is a good story. See 1900 for Smale’s “The Abduction of Alexandra Seine.”
  • El Lissitzky’s 1920–1921 poster for a post-Revolution production of Victory Over the Sun

  • Victory over the Sun (Победа над Cолнцем, Pobeda nad Solntsem) is a Russian Futurist opera that premiered in 1913 in Saint Petersburg. The libretto was contributed by Aleksei Kruchonykh (See below), the music was written by Mikhail Matyushin, the prologue was added by Velimir Khlebnikov, and the stage designer was Kazimir Malevich. The plot concerns a group of protagonists who want to destroy reason, by disposing of time and capturing the sun. The audience reacted negatively and even violently to the performance. The aim of the artists involved was to break with the usual theater of the past. Malevich created costumes from simple materials and took advantage of geometric shapes. Flashing headlights illuminated the figures. The stage curtain was a black square. One of the drawings for the backcloth shows a black square divided diagonally into a black and a white triangle. All of which helped Malevich conceive of his art movement Suprematism, which he founded the same year.
  • First US edition — 1914

  • M.P. Shiel’s To Arms! / The Dragon. When China and Sun Yat-sen returned to the headlines during the Chinese Revolution of 1911–1912, Shiel wrote another Yellow Peril novel — but it failed to catch the public’s interest. Here the quarrel between Orient and Occident is depicted as ultimately a spiritual matter, rather than economic, as Chinese and UK supermen strive for domination.
  • Maurice Renard’s Monsieur D’Outremort et autres histoires singulières (story collection, sometimes translated as Mr. Beyonddeath). It’s been said that Renard’s writing is a “fusing together… of speculative Wellsian sf with Hoffmannesque horror.… Renard’s fiction seems continually to cross the line into Gothic horror, mythological fantasy, detective fiction, and the fantastic in general.” See below for another D’Outremort book from this year.
  • Mauruce Renard’s “M. d’Outremort, gentilhomme physicien” (1913 [MO], Mr. d’Outremort, Gentleman Physicist), portrays a deceptively gentle scientist who, in his family castle, conducts experiments in telemechanics, described as “the science of operating machines at a distance, without connecting wires, and exclusively by the manipulation of hertzian waves.” When ferociously attacked by his town’s superstitious villagers, he activates — with his remote control — the family roadster (now specially equipped with scythe blades) and massacres them without pity.

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ALSO: Soddy describes the phenomenon in which a radioactive element may have more than one atomic mass though the chemical properties are identical; he named this concept isotope. In his first experiments, Moseley uses what was called the K series of X-rays to study the elements up to zinc; at the same time, Bohr proposes his quantum model of the atom. J. J. Thomson shows that charged subatomic particles can be separated by their mass-to-charge ratio, the technique known as mass spectrometry. Invention of stainless steel. Suffragette demonstrations in London (above); King George I of Greece assassinated; Balkan War raging; Mahatma Gandhi arrested; Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, Proust’s first installment of A la recherche du temps perdu (which mentions the concept of “un espace à quatre dimensions”), Gide’s Les Caves du Vatican, Lowndes’s The Lodger, Biggers’s Seven Keys to Baldpate, Bentley’s Trent’s Last Case. Husserl’s Phenomenology, Freud’s Totem and Taboo, the 3rd volume of Principia Mathematica by Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell is one of the most important works in mathematical logic and philosophy, Bourne’s Youth and Life. Yeats’s Poems Written in Discouragement. Shattuck claims the climax of the Banquet Years (heady era between Symbolism and High Modernism) came in 1913 — Vorticism breaks out in London, the Armory Show scandal in New York, Apollinaire’s Alcoöls, etc. Boccioni’s Futurist sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, Balla’s 1913–1914 painting Abstract Speed + Sound, and Russolo’s The Art of Noises. The 1913 sf/horror adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde helps bring the concept of mad scientists to cinema.

In January 1913, Henri Bergson visits the US for the first time, and delivers a lecture at Columbia titled “Spirituality and Liberty.” Enthusiastic fans caused the first traffic jam in the history of Broadway. Later the same year, Bergson would give the Presidential Address, entitled “Phantasms of the Living and Psychical Research,” to the Society for Psychical Research in London.

In Munich, Hugo Ball charged with obscenity for his violent poem “Der Henker”; he and avant-garde theatrical performer Emmy Hennings are drawn into expressionist circles; Ball and Kandinsky plan an experimental, multimedia theater in Munich — at one planning meeting for which Ball befriends Richard Huelsenbeck. Kandinsky producing his first unequivocally non-representational artwork, including Untitled (Study for Composition VII, first abstraction), around this time. Malevich — under the influence of P D. Ouspensky, as well as the poet Velimir Khlebnikov — founds Suprematism, an art movement focused on the fundamentals of geometry (circles, squares, rectangles), painted in a limited range of colors. The movement’s moniker refers to an abstract art based upon “the supremacy of pure artistic feeling” rather than on visual depiction of objects.

Speaking of Khlebnikov, in 1913 he participated in his fellow Russian Futurist poet Aleksei Kruchenykh’s project of developing a non-referential language called Zaum — the purpose being to show that language is indefinite and indeterminate. (In Zaum, “zaum” means “beyonsense.”) The purpose was also to develop a universal language organically, rather than (like Esperanto) artificially. Kruchenykh’s libretto for the Victory over the Sun (see above) is written in Zaum. The use of Zaum peaked from 1916 to 1920 during World War I.

Also this year: US architect and theosophist Claude Bragdon’s A Primer of Higher Space — another popular explication of theories of the fourth dimension, relying heavily on Hinton and Zöllner — “4-dimensional vision” seems to be essentially X-ray vision. (Rudy Rucker recommends “this lovely little book” in his 1977 book Geometry, Relativity, and the Fourth Dimension.) In 1920, Bragdon would help translate and publish Ouspensky’s Tertium Organum, for which he would also write an introduction.

Kandinsky’s Squares with Concentric Circles (1913)

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MORE RADIUM AGE SCI FI ON HILOBROW: HiLoBooks homepage! | What is Radium Age science fiction? |Radium Age 100: 100 Best Science Fiction Novels from 1904–33 | Radium Age Supermen | Radium Age Robots | Radium Age Apocalypses | Radium Age Telepaths | Radium Age Eco-Catastrophes | Radium Age Cover Art (1) | SF’s Best Year Ever: 1912 | Radium Age Science Fiction Poetry | Enter Highbrowism | Bathybius! Primordial ooze in Radium Age sf | War and Peace Games (H.G. Wells’s training manuals for supermen) | Radium Age: Context series | J.D. Beresford | Algernon Blackwood | Edgar Rice Burroughs | Karel Čapek | Buster Crabbe | August Derleth | Arthur Conan Doyle | Hugo Gernsback | Charlotte Perkins Gilman | Cicely Hamilton | Hermann Hesse | William Hope Hodgson | Aldous Huxley | Inez Haynes Irwin | Alfred Jarry | Jack Kirby (Radium Age sf’s influence on) | Murray Leinster | Gustave Le Rouge | Gaston Leroux | David Lindsay | Jack London | H.P. Lovecraft | A. Merritt | Maureen O’Sullivan | Sax Rohmer | Paul Scheerbart | Upton Sinclair | Clark Ashton Smith | E.E. “Doc” Smith | Olaf Stapledon | John Taine | H.G. Wells | Jack Williamson | Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz | S. Fowler Wright | Philip Gordon Wylie | Yevgeny Zamyatin

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Radium Age SF, Sci-Fi