May 16, 2023
A (pro- or anti-) science-, mathematics-, technology-, space-, apocalypse-, dehumanization-, disenchantment-, and/or future-oriented poem published during sf’s emergent Radium Age (c. 1900–1935). Research and selection by Joshua Glenn.
When men are made in bottles
and emerge as squeaky globules with no
bodies to speak of,
and therefore nothing to have feelings
they will still squeak intensely about their
and be prepared to kill you if you say
they’ve got none.
— from Pansies (1929)
The Radium Age-era, utopian sf of H.G. Wells was a favorite target for those who did not share his confidence in the future or in science. (That said, I’m not sure that Wells ever predicted a future in which humankind would swap their physical bodies in exchange for “squeaky globules.” Though his 1898 occult story “The Stolen Body” does imagine malign bodiless beings from the spirit world.) Lawrence, who feared that humans were losing touch with their bodies and natural instincts, here extrapolates from that anxiety a future society in which bodiless (and therefore emotionless) creations turn violently upon their creators. A proto-AI panic?
RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF POETRY: Stephen Spender’s THE PYLONS | George Sterling’s THE TESTIMONY OF THE SUNS | Archibald MacLeish’s EINSTEIN | Thomas Thornely’s THE ATOM | C.S. Lewis’s DYMER | Stephen Vincent Benét’s METROPOLITAN NIGHTMARE | Robert Frost’s FIRE AND ICE | Aldous Huxley’s FIFTH PHILOSOPHER’S SONG | Sara Teasdale’s “THERE WILL COME SOFT RAINS” | Edith Södergran’s ON FOOT I HAD TO… | Robert Graves’s WELSH INCIDENT | Nancy Cunard’s ZEPPELINS | D.H. Lawrence’s WELLSIAN FUTURES | & many more.