The ‘twenties is know as the “speed” decade—everything was
going faster, increasing its speed, expanding to the limit: this was true for the ability to communicate
via telephone, the appearance of commercial radio, the great increase in the
speed of trains and planes and automobiles; the music was fast, the movies were
There are many iconic images relating speed and the roaring twenties—generally though this spectacular cover for Otto Willi Gail's Mit Raketenkraft ins Weltenal…vom Feurerwagen zum Raumschiff (1928) is much less frequently seen, though it certainly does get the message across. Otto Gail was a creative German science fact and science fiction writer with a strong background in following the scientific and technical accomplishment in rocketry of the age, especially the works of Max Valier1 and Hermann Oberth2. Raketenkraft was more a peek into the future and pop techy work for kids than a straight-out scifi novel like his The Moon Stone, which was a story that brought us Atlantis, space travel and hidden ancient culture in the underground Ice World.
It’s the unfortunate Ice World that attracts my attention
around Gail, swimming around his interesting and tech-involved scifi world like a
melting and failing Moon made of hundred-year NYC garbage scows, the idea of a
good engineer-turned-trash cosmologist named Hans Horbiger, whose ideas wound
up being whispered into the ears of many monsters. Horbiger had some sort of
vision-dream about stuff in 1894 and spent the next 30+ years fleshing out the idea,
which sounds bad from the very start when the author admits to finding “Newton
And so I associate poor Gail (1896-1956) with the Horbiger mess, and not his good work in science reporting and popularization. So it goes.
The other thing that you can say about Horbiger—he had a full-out behemothian mustache. That’s about it.
1. Valier seems to have been the first person killed in a rocket-related incident, blistered by his exploding rocket-car.
2. Oberth is another one of those Germans working at Peenemunde (along with Wernher von Braun and a great host of others) trying to kill as many people in the UK as possible who wound up in Huntsville, working for our government. It is all so problematic. It is interesting that there is little in the Air and Space Museum (as part of the Smithsonian system) that mentions von Braun. He is burioed in a simple grave in a cemetery next door to a Jewish cemetery in Alexandria , Virginia. I also remember going to some restaurant in the diamond district that, in very high bad taste, served up a beer called the Wernher von Brown--von Braun certainly had his hands covered in Jewish blood at least to the wrists, and to have a product so stupidly named as that in that place was just one of those impossible things that happen every day.