Victorian and Edwardian proto-science-fiction

David Malki sez, "I moderated a panel at Worldcon the other week on Victorian & Edwardian (proto-)science fiction, and my co-panelist Matt Bennardo kept notes on everything both the panelists and the audience brought up. A lot of great work was mentioned, including tons of titles I'd never heard before. Now Matt's compiled this list of links to free etexts of everything we could find! Months of reading at the very least. Hope you enjoy!"

Over the course of the Victorian and Edwardian science-fiction panel, about 50 books and short stories were mentioned or discussed. It’s not possible to reproduce all the discussion here, but the list makes a fair starting point for those who may be looking for a general introduction to the science-fiction of the period.

This list has many shortcomings. It is nowhere near comprehensive. In fact, the panel largely jumped over the well-known catalogues of writers like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. This doesn’t mean that the unnamed books by those writers aren’t worth reading. But most readers are likely to already be aware of many of them, and the discussion veered more often towards some less commonly read works.

In a few places, the list strays from all reasonable definitions of “Victorian” and “Edwardian”. Some books and stories that fall into different periods were discussed as points of comparison. I’ve included all those that I remember, whether or not they are technically “Victorian” or “Edwardian”. Finally, the list is not very diverse — it consists almost entirely of books written by American, English, and French men. Mary Shelley and Charlotte Perkins Gilman are the only women mentioned, and no writers from other countries make an appearance.

A Brief Survey of Victorian Science Fiction (Thanks, David !)


  1. I once read (in a collection of science fiction) a short story from the 1800s that involved a young boy who ate nothing but beer, spoke what sounded like gibberish (but could be slowed down to reveal ordinary speech with the aid of a phonograph) and who was able to see wildlife (including giant flat amoeba things roaming about). It was really early science fiction, and I loved it– but I lost the book, and I can’t recall the story. Does anyone happen to know the name of it? I’d love to read this story again!

  2. I have been reading books by HG Wells recently and I have to say he is one of the best ever science fiction writers. His perspective is a little bit different from late 20th century writers, but at the same time he gives the best impression of life around 1900 that I have read anywhere.

  3. “The Thames Valley Catastrophe”, 1897 in the December Strand magazine,  by Grant Allen is one helluva a great disaster short story.

  4. Other works (continuing for the moment to disregard those by Verne, Wells, & Burroughs) deserving a mention include these:

    • Edward Everett Hale: The Brick Moon (story; 1869)
    • John Jacob Astor: A Journey in Other Worlds (1894)
    • C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne: The Lost Continent (1900)
    • M. P. Shiel: The Purple Cloud (1901)
    • Jack London: Before Adam (1906)

    And if we loosen the definition of “Victorian” and “Edwardian” a bit, though no more so than in the article, further works beg for inclusion:

    • J. D. Beresford: The [Hampdenshire] Wonder (1911)
    • David Lindsay: A Voyage to Arcturus (1920)
    • Yevgeny Zamyatin: We (1921)
    • Ray Cummings: The Girl in the Golden Atom (1922)
    • Karel Capek: The Absolute at Large (1922)
    • Hugo Gernsback: Ralph 124C 41+ (1925)
    • S. Fowler Wright: Deluge (1928)
    • Philip Wylie: Gladiator (1930)
    • Aldous Huxley: Brave New World (1932)
    • Olaf Stapledon: Star Maker (1935)

    Anyhow, I was delighted to see that Lt. Gullivar Jones made the list.

  5. I was at that panel and I can testify that it was a blast and one of the best panels I attended! David did a great job.

    Matt Bennardo mentioned the Sam Moskowitz anthologies. Like David I’ve requested “SF by Gaslight” through my library. But the sequel “Science Fiction in Old San Francisco” seems only available at Amazon.

    Bennardo mentioned the sf that appeared in the San Francisco Examiner. I did some further research last week. The Examiner from that time is not yet available online. However, Moskowitz’s other source for “Science Fiction in Old San Francisco” was “The Argonaut.” And this is available from the Internet Archive.

    I’ve been checking out the online newspapers archives of that period at the Library of Congress and the Chicago Tribune.  It is kind of hit and miss because the work isn’t listed as sf or even scientific romance. And sometimes a fiction story is masquerading as legitimate article. (Of course, you have a telescope so powerful you can see the martians waving at you. Sure.)

    One more thing, most of the illustrations in the newspapers for these stories are wonderful!

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