While looking through free books on Amazon, and I was surprised to see books and short stories from a large number of classic writers from the early years of science fiction were available for free for downloading. I downloaded electronic copies of many of these. Further research found that most had be first made available through Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/ I thought I would share some of these free books with my millions of devoted fans. Please keep in mind that many prominent authors of the period are absent from these free listings, and of those that are included, only some of their books are listed, and generally these are not among their best. Someone else has suggested that these books fell into the public domain because they were out of print for a certain period of time and their copyrights were simply not renewed.
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
What is the First Science Fiction Novel? In my opinion, and since I am writing this article, the first true science fiction story and author were Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley when she wrote Frankenstein (1818). There have been many other people and works proposed as the originator of the genre ranging from the tales of Gilgamesh, to Aristophanes, to Milton, to Swift, and so forth. I will deal with some of these in a separate blog as many of these are also available for free on the internet. I believe Mary Shelley is the originator of science fiction because the basis of the story is a scientific experiment and its consequences.
Draft of Frankenstein (“It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld my man completed …”)
This was not the only work written by Shelley that is available through Project Gutenberg. Mary Shelley http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=mary+shelley There are two works in particular that warrant notice in the context of early science fiction- Frankenstein (1818) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/84 and The Last Man (1826) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/18247 . If you are going to do any serious reading of early science fiction, you really need to read Frankenstein.
Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe is the next major author up for consideration. Poe is best known for his writings of the macabre and mysteries and is considered the inventor of detective fiction. He was one of the first authors to really make use of the short story. Some people have credited him with being the inventor of science fiction, but as I said above, I give that credit to Mary Shelley.
1860s portrait by Oscar Halling after an 1849 daguerreotype
Poe was prolific during his unfortunately short lifetime (January 19, 1809 – October 7, 1849). Everyone has read or at least heard references to his masterpiece poem The Raven. There are many works by Poe available on Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=edgar+allen+poe The best bet is to download a five volume set of the works of Poe rather than the individual works: The Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Volume 1: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2147 The Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Volume 2: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2148 , The Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Volume 3: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2149 , The Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Volume 4: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2150 , The Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Volume 5: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2151 . One exception might be to download a copy of The Raven (with illustrations): http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/17192 .
Definitely not science fiction, but a classic of fantasy is the 1865 work Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) .
“The chief difficulty Alice found at first was in managing her flamingo”. Illustration by John Tenniel, 1865.
A variety of his works can be downloaded: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=Lewis+carroll The two most important are Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/19033 and Through the Looking Glass (1871) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/12.
The name Jules Verne stands out in everyone’s mind when thinking of early science fiction writers. He was the author of dozens of novels dealing with travel, adventure, and of course science fiction. Wikipedia says he is the second most translated author in the world after Agatha Christie.
Cover of L’Algerie Magazine, June 15, 1884: A drawing of Jules Verne and some of the creatures from his novels.
Everyone has heard of some of his most famous works including 20,000 leagues under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty Days, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Most of his work s available on Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=jules+verne or through Amazon. I must say I am particularly fond of the Micheal Todd version of Around the World in Eighty Days. A selection of his work to get started includes From the Earth to the Moon (1865) ; and, Round the Moon: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/83 , Jules Verne w/Michel Verne In the Year2889 (1889) : http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/19362, Off on a Comet! a Journey through Planetary Space(1877) : http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1353 , 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870): http://www.amazon.com/Twenty-Thousand-Leagues-under-ebook/dp/B002RKSZJO/ref=pd_sim_kstore_1, and Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864): http://www.amazon.com/A-Journey-Centre-Earth-ebook/dp/B002RKRMSY/ref=pd_sim_kstore_1 The latter two were not available for free in English on Project Gutenberg but were available for free through Amazon.
Robert Louis Stevenson
Robert Louis Stevenson http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=Robert+Louis+Stevenson was the author of three notable works: Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/42
All are available for download, but only Dr. Jekyll can realistically be considered science fiction.
H. Rider Haggard
H. Rider Haggard might not be considered to be a true science fiction author. He wrote of exploration in Africa, at the time pretty much unexplored territory as far as Europeans were considered. There are some fantastical elements to many of his stories. In She, the title character is made immortal by a magical spring.
Allan Quatermain orders his men to fire in this illustration by Thure de Thulstrup from Maiwa’s Revenge (1888).
If they are not science fiction exactly, they contain much of the exuberance and adventure found in many great science fiction book and without a doubt was influential in the early development of the genre. H. Rider Haggard http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=H.+Rider+Haggard , King Solomon’s Mines (1885) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2166 , Allan Quartermain (1887) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/711, She (1886): http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3155 , and People of the Mist (1894) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/6769 .
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=Sir+Arthur+Conan+Doyle is the author of the original Sherlock Holmes novels. Again these are not exactly science fiction, but are very influential in the field. He also wrote a historical novel The White Company, and one true science fiction work – The Lost World.
Portrait of Sherlock Holmes by Sidney Paget, 1904
This novel tells of an expedition to a plateau in the Amazon basin of South America where dinosaurs and prehistoric animals still survive. It has been the basis of several movies and influenced many other stories. I have newspaper clippings from the 1960’s when the first expedition reached to top of the tepui above Angel Fall in South America and it is rife with references to the “Lost World.” The entire Sherlock Holes series as well as the Lost World are available on Project Gutenberg. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892): http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1661, A Study in Scarlet (1887): http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/244 The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/108, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2852, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes (1894) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/834 , The Sign of the Four (1890) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2097 , The Lost World (1912) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/139
Richard Chwedyk commented re A. Conan Doyle: his other Challenger novel, “The Poison Belt” is also straight-ahead SF. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Poison_Belt It also is available through Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/126
Bram Stoker http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=bram+stoker of course is the author of Dracula. The vampire novel has since become a mainstay of horror movies, and the entire vampire book genre. It can e argued that it is not science fiction (and I would agree) but I include it here because of the vast cultural influence of the book on the entire fantasy and horror fields and by extension the science fiction genre.
Stoker’s handwritten notes on the personnel of the novel.
H. G. Wells
H. G. Wells (not the character from Warehouse 13) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=H.+G.+Wells is the last of the major Victorian style authors at the beginnings of science fiction. Everyone has seen one or more of the movie adaptations of The War of The Worlds where Earth is invaded by Martians. In the thirties Orson Wells did a radio adaptation of the novel in which the Martians landed in New Jersey. Many radio listeners at the time thought the broadcast was a real news broadcast and widespread panic ensued. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W6YNHq1qc44
A Martian fighting-machine battling with HMS Thunder Child
Wells is also the author of other notable science fiction works that have appeared in film such as The Time Machine, The Food of the Gods, The Island of Dr. Moreau, and the Invisible Man. In most cases the books are much better than the movies. The War of the worlds (1898): http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/36, The Time Machine (1895) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/35, The Invisible Man(1897) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/5230, The Island of Dr. Moreau(1896) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/159 , The First Men in the Moon (1901) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1013,Tales of Space and Time (1899) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/27365, When the Sleeper Wakes (1904) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/775,The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth (1899) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/11696
William Hope Hodgson
William Hope Hodgson http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=William+Hope+Hodgson is noted in the science fiction field for one novel. Baird Seales and others in A Reader’s Guide to Science Fiction wrote: “This extraordinary man wrote one extraordinary novel which assures him a special place in science fiction…The Night Land, equally hair-raising in parts, is a vision of the future, and a stranger one has never been conceived.” What can I say after that?
Other Victorian Authors
There are many authors in the mid to late 1800’s that have been cited as having science fictional elements from Edward Bellamy, to Samuel Butler, to a host of others. These will be dealt with in a future article.
I had never heard of Roy Rockwood until I came across a book entitled: Five Thousand Miles Underground, or, the Mystery of the Centre of the Earth (1908) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/4994 I did a little research (very little – I looked up his name on Wikipedia – it is fair I gave them a donation) and found the following information: “Roy Rockwood was a house pseudonym used by the Stratemeyer Syndicate for boy’s adventure books. Edward Stratemeyer had earlier used the pseudonym “Roy Rockwood” for the book The Wizard of the Sea; or a Trip Under the Ocean, published by the Mershon Company in 1900.” Wikipedia also states: “”Edward L. Stratemeyer.. was one of the most prolific writers in the world, producing in excess of 1,300 books himself, selling in excess of 500 million copies, and created the well-known fictional-book series for juveniles including The Rover Boys (starting in 1899), The Bobbsey Twins (starting in 1904), Tom Swift (starting in 1910), The Hardy Boys (starting in 1927), and the Nancy Drew (starting in 1930) series, among others.”
The name Roy Rockwood is also listed in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/index.cgi At this point I have read only the “Five Thousand Miles Underground” novel, but there were an entire series of books available under that name on Project Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=Roy+Rockwood Here is a listing of some of the more interesting sounding: Dave Dashaway and His Hydroplane or Daring Adventures Over The Great Lakes (1913) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/6714 , Through the Air to the North Pole or The Wonderful Cruise of the Electric Monarch (1906) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/14665 , Under the Ocean to the South Pole or The Strange Cruise of the Submarine Wonder (1907) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/19731, Five Thousand Miles Underground, or, the Mystery of the Centre of the Earth (1908) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/4994, Through Space to Mars or the Longest Journey on Record (1910): http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/6717, Lost on the Moon, or, in Quest of the Field of Diamonds (1911): http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/7473, On a Torn-Away World, or, the Captives of the Great Earthquake (1913) http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/6468 , Wizard of the Sea: Or a Trip Under the Ocean (1900): http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/20132.
To continue the trend Victor Appleton is a pseudonym used by several authors to write stories in the Tom Swift Series. There are thirty five books available on Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/search/?query=victor+appleton So far there is six different series of Tom Swift adventures numbering over a hundred novels. These all appear to be part of the initial Tom Swift series.
Tom Swift and His Motor Cycle (1910), the first Tom Swift book
One book in particular caught my attention with its title: Tom Swift and His Photo Telephone (1912): http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/4532 I have several books in the series in my collection. Some are better than others, but all are so-so.
Photographs are from the Wikipedia Commons and are considered public domain in the United States.
End of Part 1