This book of science fiction’s past ends at its beginning. No book about the greats of twentieth century science fiction is complete without Hugo Gernsback, who the Smithsonian calls “the father of science fiction”. More accurately, he is certainly the father of science fiction magazines.

He also coined the term “science fiction”.

There was certainly science fiction before Mr. Gernsback published, but short stories appeared in general purpose magazines that ran just about anything. His magazine, Amazing Stories, was the first science fiction magazine.

He was born in Luxembourg City on August 16, 1884 to a winemaker named Moritz Gernsbacher and his wife Berta.

He moved to the United States in 1904, later becoming a U.S. Citizen. After his move to the U.S. he imported electronic parts and equipment, including some of his own design, and worked to popularize amateur radio. His catalogs, titled Modern Electrics and published from April 1908 are said by most historians to actually be magazines, since they contained stories, features, and articles.

The year after he opened his catalog/magazine he founded the Wireless Association of America; radio was known as “wireless” then. Radio was brand new, high tech. There was no such thing as electronics before 1904, because that was the year the vacuum tube, or “valve”, was invented.

The utopian science fiction he often published in Modern Electrics became popular, and he started the first magazine devoted entirely to science fiction, Amazing Stories, in 1926.

Its first edition in April of that year contained an editorial and six old stories that had been previously published. Not only was this issue the first edition of any science fiction magazine, it was the beginning of the genre’s fandom as well. His letters to the editor column was a precursor to today’s internet chat rooms, as the writer’s address was printed with the letter, and fans started collaborating by mail. It’s said that Asimov, Bradbury, and others got together by mail as teenagers because of the magazine’s letters section and were probably encouraged to write stories.

But Gernsback was certainly no saint. He was called “Hugo the Rat” by H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith for his habit of underpaying his writers, and sometimes not paying them at all; writer Jack Williamson had to hire an American Fiction Guild lawyer to get paid. Writer Barry Malzberg said of him, “Gernsback's venality and corruption, his sleaziness and his utter disregard for the financial rights of authors, have been so well documented and discussed in critical and fan literature. That the founder of genre science fiction who gave his name to the field’s most prestigious award and who was the Guest of Honor at the 1952 Worldcon was pretty much a crook (and a contemptuous crook who stiffed his writers but paid himself $100K a year as President of Gernsback Publications) has been clearly established.”

Hugo almost didn’t make it into this book, because his writing is incredibly hard to find. He wrote science fiction, but I could find none, not even his novel Ralph 124C 41+ that was printed as a twelve part serial in Modern Electrics and is said by wikipedia to be “one of the most influential science fiction stories of all time”. I’ve seen much written about it, though, and have seen nothing positive. Lester del Rey, for instance, said it was “simply dreadful”.

I rankled at paying eight dollars to get an electronic copy of a public domain work, but it was all I could find. I’m not sure, but I believe it is the editorial from that first Amazing Stories. Although the word “futurist” wouldn’t be used as it is today until the 1940s, this essay shows that Gernsback was, indeed, a futurist. It is, in its own words, a prophesy of what life would be like fifty years in its future, which would be the late 1970s.

Like all futurist predictions, some were entirely accurate – color television when television itself hadn’t yet been made practical, and buildings with comfortable temperature all year around. Some did happen, but much later than he thought, like the picture phone that is in use now, with videoconferencing, Skype, and the like, but isn’t yet widely used.

Some, like the matter transporter Roddenberry used, and the moving sidewalks that both Asimov and Heinlein used, are still science fiction.

Some, like his electric roller skates, are just silly – no different than today’s futurists.

Just as striking as what he got wrong and what he got right are things that completely changed the world, like lasers, computers, or bioengineering, that there was no way for anyone to foresee.

He died in 1967, three days after his eighty third birthday.

I was only furnished a scan of this article, but it was a very large paged periodical and printing the scan, which is presented on the book’s last page, makes the printing microscopic. That one page article takes up eight pages in this book. It is the only unedited scan in this book.

So this book of the future told by the greats of the past ends with a look at Hugo Gernsback’s vision of his future, and our past, from 1926.
 



 

 


 
By Hugo Gernsback,
Editor of radio News, Science and Invention, and The Experimenter.
Member of American Physical Society.

 


Few people have patience with a prophet. Most people live only today; tomorrow is an unknown quantity. The remarkable thing about the scientific prophet is that, as a rule, his wildest flights of imagination have proved absolutely inadequate to the progress that actually occurred long before the time assigned in the prophecy was reached.

When Jules Verne wrote his prophetic books some fifty years ago, he was ridiculed not a little. He had “invented” the submarine, almost down to the last nut and bolt. He even had it propelled electrically, and there were few things he had overlooked. When his story first appeared, it was held that the device was impossible. Twenty years later his prophecy had been fulfilled.

When we look back fifty years, it is amazing to find the tremendous progress that has been wrought by electricity, the mysterious fluid.

Fifty years ago there was no telephone. There was no skyscraper, because we had no electric elevators. There was no electric light, there were no moving pictures, there were no electric trolley cars, no electric trains, no tunnels under rivers because we had no electric trains to keep us from suffocating. Wireless telegraphy fifty years ago would have been held as preposterous. The suggestion to send a picture from New York to London through the air without wire would have called forth a storm of ridicule.

How will this world look to us fifty years hence?

If the rate of population is maintained, as it has been in the past, all large cities will at least be three or four times as large as they are now. A city like Chicago, for instance, will probably have 10,000,000 inhabitants. New York City will probably have anywhere from 12,000,000 to 15,00,000, with other cities in proportion. How will this tremendous population be taken care of, as, for instance, going to and from work?

In all our large cities transportation has become well nigh intolerable. It seems that it will be necessary to have streets arranged in such a way that the various traffics can be taken care of in a more adequate manner than is possible today. Every city will probably have a so-called belt line, similar to that shown in our illustration. The top level will be for light passenger vehicles, autos and the like.

There is no doubt that all of these will he propelled electrically by that time. In the accompanying illustration you see a wire line running along the top of the structure. This line will give its power by radio, not only to the automobile, buses, etc., but it will serve to propel pedestrians as well.

Each pedestrian will roll on electric skates, such as have been constructed even today. An insulated wire running from the skate to the head or shoulder of the skater will be sufficient to take the power from the radio power line, and we shall then all be propelled electrically at a pace at least four or five times as fast as we walk today.

Underneath the first level in the picture we have the elevated railway much as it is now, electrically propelled, of course. This railway, however, will make much greater speed than we now know, due to the different manner of construction, as well as to better track, and other vital elements of construction. Below the elevated railway we have continuous moving platforms. There will be three such moving platforms alongside of each other. The first platform will move only a few miles per hour, the second at eight or ten miles per hour, and the third at twelve or fifteen miles per hour.

You step upon the slowest moving one from terra firma and move to the faster ones and take your seat. Then arriving at your station, you can either take the lift to the top platform or else you can get off upon the “elevated level” and take the fast train there, which stops only every thirty or forty blocks. Or, if you do not wish this, you can descend by the same elevator down to the local subway.

On the other hand you can take an inter-urban subway, or if you desire you can go still further down, where you strike the long distance subway, traveling at the rate of about two hundred miles per hour. This will be at a depth of 400 feet.

The lower street level is given over to trucking only. There are no pedestrians on this level.

Fifty years hence our scientists will have solved the problem of controlling the weather, at least as far as our cities are concerned. Huge high frequency electric current structures, placed on top of our largest buildings, will either dispel threatening rain, or, if necessary, produce rain as needed during the hot spells or during the night.

The question is often asked: “What effect do radio stations have on living beings and on plants?”

At the present time there is practically no effect for the simple reason that the broadcast stations, as well as the commercial radio stations, send out a very diminutive amount of power.

Fifty years from now, with super-radio stations generating millions or billions of kilowatts, the situation will probably change. The beneficial action will then be felt by everyone, no matter where located on this globe. By that time, the high frequency currents will have become sufficiently powerful to have a vitalizing effect on every human being. We shall all be electrified then in the full meaning of the term. Not only that, but plant life will also be greatly stimulated, as recent high frequency experiments on plants have shown. Our crops and plants will grow practically two to ten times as quickly and the crops will be more productive under this electrification. Under such stimulation it will be quite possible to raise crops at least twice or perhaps more often during the year; and the most interesting part about this is that it wi1l cost the farmer absolutely nothing except for fertilizer. And this he requires anyway.

Outside of these effects there are, however, other physiological effects on the human body that should be mentioned. Everyone knows of the beneficial effect that we experience when we grasp the handles of a small electrifying machine, known better under the popular name of the electric shocking machine. Technically this is known as Faradization.

We know how this treatment stimulates our nerves, how it injects new vitality into us, and how in popular parlance it “peps us up.” If we could be under such stimulus twenty-four hours a day and, as we all know, it is perfectly harmless, it certain1y would increase our working efficiency to a very marked extent. It would probably do away with such common ailments as headaches. It would improve our digestion. Rheumatism would be practically unknown, and the “nervous wrecks” would only he found in ancient histories. In a small way, the electrification effects just mentioned may be actually experienced today in the vicinity of any large radio station.

Forinstance, the Government station at Arlington, VA (NAA), is so powerful that if you walk underneath the aerial wires, which are 800 feet above your head, you will experience a tingling sensation on the soles of your feet as you step on the moist earth. If an automobile drives along the road underneath the aerial you are able to draw stinging sparks from the car and from the occupants, because the automobile, due to its rubber tires, is insulated from the conducting ground, while you, standing on the ground, are not insulated. Now, then, the power of NAA is comparatively weak compared with the radio super-stations we shall have in the future.

Perhaps it will be possible for children under such electrification to grow up more quick1y without bad effect. Under constant electrification, it may be possible, fifty years from now, that a child of six will be mentally and physically equal to the youth of eighteen today.

The future city will receive its power by radio, of course, from distant waterfalls, or from distant sunlight power plants. Tremendous quantities of energy are going to waste today, all of which can be collected and sent to our large centers by wireless.

Indeed, some of the sunlight power plants can be located right in the heart of the city, if desired, and such plants will be sufficient to take care of the power for our office buildings and smaller manufacturing shops.

The tops of our tallest buildings will be flat and glass-covered. They will have airplane landing platforms on which all kinds of airplanes, or even the trans-Atlantic planes of the future will land.

Our large office buildings, or, for that matter, private houses, will have real gardens, with large trees on top of the roofs, as has a1ready been tried experimentally with smaller plants in some of our large cities.

All of our buildings and houses are due for a great revolution. In the Wintertime all of our buildings will be warm, and in the Summertime they will be cool. The future buildings and houses will be fashioned along the principle of a thermos bottle. Each wall will be double, and the space between the walls will be filled with cork or some other poor heat conductor.

At the present time as soon as we heat a room the heat is dissipated through the walls and through the windows. By having double walls and double or triple window panes, a small electric heater will keep a big room warm. In the Summertime, on the hottest day, our rooms will be nice and cool, because no heat can get into the room. All year around, windows wi1l be kept closed, the same as they are now in the Winter; of course, there will be some ventilation in order to give us air, but this air will be cooled in the Summer and heated in the Winter.

We must stop here, first, for lack of space and second, because we do not wish to be ridiculed. We do not wish to delve into the future of what will be going on inside of these buildings, because we probably would not he believed.

The following are some of the impossible things that will have become possible fifty years hence:

By that time, we shall be able to send all sorts of materials by radio. If you think that it is impossible to transmit a carload of coal thousands of miles, you need only go back less than fifty years, when it would have been thought equally impossible to have the street cars of Syracuse, N. Y., run by the power generated by Niagara Falls. Today no one thinks anything of this.

To anyone who doubts that solids can be transported through space it should be pointed out that the same thing is being done right now. Every time an X-ray picture is taken, solid particles leave the X-ray tube, being shot right through the glass walls of the tube. These small particles, which are being shot at tremendous speeds, then impinge upon the photographic plate, if such is in the path, where they blacken the plate, which we see visually after the plate is developed.

A similar action takes place with radium. Alpha and Beta particles, which are given off by radium, are just as solid substances as bricks or pieces of steel These particles are shot off from the radium substances.

In time it will be possible to do the same thing by radio. In other words, let us say, a brick will be disintegrated into its elements and radiated out into space the same as radio waves. or light waves are now radiated, to be reassembled at the receiving station.

This may seem quite incredible today, but it is not at all so to the up-to-date scientist who can see into the future.

Fifty years hence, we shall not be using our wasteful electric bulbs either, which waste over 98 per cent of the energy put into them. We shall have cold light, and we shall utilize nearly all the energy, instead of throwing nearly all of it away in wasteful heat.

Movies by radio! Why not? You will be able to have a moving picture produced in some central plant and projected in your home, on your yacht, or on your camping trip, the picture being sent by radio, and received and projected upon your screen. All this is perfectly possible.

Fifty years hence, we shall surely have the “telephot,” whereby we shall be enabled to see each other over the phone, instead of being satisfied with the voice as we are today. Much progress has been made on this invention, and many models built, and while so far nothing practical has been developed, we are getting there by degrees.

The chances are that if someone runs across this fifty years from now, he will severely condemn the writer of this for his great lack of imagination, for, no matter how wild the predictions may seem now, they will look very tame fifty years hence. If someone had tried to explain radio to you fifty years ago, or the X-ray, or radium, he would have been put down as ripe for the insane asylum, and you may rest assured that we are no different today.
 


 
 

 


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