JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 693 Blog Bookstore
Herman Geertz, a mysterious, unknown quality of a person to me, made a major contribution to the history of American spaceflight, albeit an unusual, ephemeral one. In 1898 he published a song—with the firm of Broder & Schlam of San Francisco—called “A Trip to Mars (a March Two Step)”, and is perhaps the first piece of music ever published in the United States about interplanetary spaceflight.
The musician--whose portrait appears in a frame at the upper left—also includes an odd view of the planet Mars, and, most important, an image of a space ship. It actually took about 20 years for this sort of popularization of Mars to grab a hook in song, even though the interest in the planet and the possibility of life there had been bubbling since Schiapparelli’s (misunderstood) work on the planet in which he famously identified its “canalli” (and which was infamously and wrongly translated as “canals”. Much of this great misunderstanding was rooted in Percival Lowell’s book Mars in which he takes the canalli idea and runs with it to the goal line of Martian civilization).
One year later, in 1898, Kurd Lasswitz—a professor of math and physics, a Kant expert and philosophe, and an historian of science—published what was to make him the equivalent of Germany’s Jules Verne/H.G. Wells (in importance if not in quantity). Auf Zwei Planeten (first published in Leipzig in 1898) was an immediate best seller, as it was Germany’s first work of science fiction, and it made its scientist/historian an instant sensation. It was an interesting, high-tech-utopian story that describes humans finding and dealing with an isolated Martian colony existing at the North Pole; humanity has its ups and downs, as do the Martians, the species trading moral highgrounds and such, until a peaceful co-existence comes into play between the two planets. It was pretty heady stuff for the time. Lasswitz saw into the future in this book, bits here and bits there: space travel is rather accurately summarized as is a sort of television (that was actually a Martian tele-telescope) and synthetic fuels and foods.
This period right before the turn of the century was particularly progressive for the sciences and for science fiction. In the world of science fiction, for example, in 1895 there was Lowell’s Mars, Williams Morris’ The Wood Beyond the World; for 1896 there was Morris' The Well at the World's End, H. G. Wells The Island of Dr. Moreau and The Invisible Man, and Louis Tracy’s The Final War. 1897 saw Lasswitz’ Two planets, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and William Le Queux The Great War in England in 1897. 1898 rounded things out very nicely with Well’s War of the Worlds.
Frankly though science outstripped the fiction part of the creativity index: the end of 1895 saw an entirely new world intruded by Roentgen’s X-Rays; 1896 saw Becquerel’s discovery of radioactivity and Langely’s aerodrome; 1897 Thomson’s discovery of the electron; 1898, the discovery of radium by the Curies; 1899, Collin’s invention of the wireless telephone, 1899/1900 the introduction of the quantum theory by Max Planck and also the rediscovery of Mendel’s work by Correns. It was, in short, a remarkable and remarkably-intense period whose outward reach seemed to be more dominated by the fiction aspect of science (with spaceflight and invading aliens) while the vast new interior worlds of the previously unseen were totally dominated by the sciences, which was of course the stuff that would stick, If you stretched this period by just another five years, the Einstein annus mirablis would be included, further deepening this unbelievable period of achievement. Then again, nearly the whole of modernity is invented during this time: from 1875-1915 or so nearly every genre of human pursuit entered the modern period. New methods of writing in literature and for the stage, new ways of painting (from impressionism to non-representational art), through music and the sciences, biology and geology. Everything changes, except for one field: political science. Actually, if you included the invention of the concentration camp during the Boer War(S) then I guess you could throw polysci into this group, though but by screaming and kicking.