Air warfare from Zeppelin’s 1900 flight to neo-Edwardian fiction

A new post in the Anticipations and aerostatic warfare series – 3/3

After Zeppelin’s flight over Lake Constance in 1900 in a hydrogen-filled aluminium airship and the Wright brothers’ flight in 1903, investment in aircraft research and production by Western powers such as Germany and the United States increased dramatically. Air assaults such as those during the Italian invasion of Libya (1911-1912) and the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) demonstrated a new role for air warfare, not only in intelligence gathering but also in combat, to attack and destroy buildings, artillery and ground troops.

In Europe, Russia and the United States, the potential military applications of the new flight technologies were one of the main attractions around which an ‘air-mindedness’, coagulated – that popular fascination with airships which gave rise to a series of clubs, societies, shows and competitions devoted to gliders and rockets.

Attacks from the sky were to be found in key works in the history of future wars such as Robur-le-Conquérant and Maître du Monde by Jules Verne (1886, 1904) and The War in the Air and The World Set Free by H. G. Wells (1908, 1914). Air-to-ground battles and airborne weaponry remained a constant feature of future war narratives throughout the 20th century.

The author who codified the idea of future warfare fought with balloons with perhaps the greatest vividness and inventiveness between the 19th and early 20th centuries was Albert Robida. A journalist and caricaturist as well as a novelist and illustrator, Robida imagined entire societies revolutionised by the use of electricity, human flight and other incredible inventions in telecommunications.

Illustrated novels such as La guerre au vingtième siècle (1887) and La guerre infernale (1908, with Pierre Giffard) drew inspiration from conflicts fought on the fringes of European space, such as the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), which reached the French media with documentation, including photographs, of the massacres. In the designer’s fictional imagination, the balloon remained, alongside gliders and aeroplanes, a central element in the creation of a futuristic sense of wonder. Thus, during the 1937-1938 world war imagined in La guerre infernale, the Channel was again crossed by French air armies, this time not to attack but to rescue London, threatened by a German offensive (see Figure below).

Albert Robida, illustration for La guerre infernale by Pierre Giffard, Paris, Èdition Méricant, 1908, detail of the back cover of the first fascicle. Copy at the British Library, London. Work in the public domain, photo by the author.

In the age of aeroplanes and spaceships, far from waning, the trope of the balloon has been re-functionalised and recurs in alternate history narratives. In the lively trend that since the 1980s has been known with labels such as steampunk or dieselpunk, alternate historical courses are imagined by changing known premises, starting from nineteenth- and early twentieth-century settings.

Writers and designers depict a retro-futuristic steam age in which, for example, the analogue computer was invented or in which aerostatic flight reached heights of sophistication unknown in history. Contemporary authors are explicitly inspired by predecessors such as Verne and Robida, taking pleasure in inventing futures that look back to the past.

The balloon is now central to a whole new strand of imagined wars and war technologies. The airship lifted by lighter-than-air gases has become the manifesto of a new aesthetic and synthesises the ambivalent relationship that neo-Victorian and neo-Edwardian fiction has with the course of events in the real world, a relationship of recreation and resistance, of fetishization of the past, questioning the idea of a progressive and teleological historical diachrony.

In literary and figurative invention we find vivid evidence of the consequences that armed confrontation, mass violence and the application of techno-science for the purpose of war have produced in the European mind in the late modern and contemporary eras.

The fact that an omnivorous Italian memorabilia collector like Diego de Henriquez planned to devote the final section of his War for Peace Museum to the anticipations of science fiction clearly testifies to his interest in the effects of war on all levels of society – including cultural and symbolic – as well as the pedagogical ambitions that increasingly characterised his projects in the 1940s and 1960s.

The anonymous novel The Reign of George VI had imagined, immediately after the Treaty of Paris in 1763, an alternative course of the Seven Years’ War, projecting a global conflict between Britain and France into the future. The pamphlet Anticipation (1778) employed a futuristic and exquisitely satirical mechanism to comment on the actuality of British parliamentary debates on the American War of Independence. Between the 1790s and 1805 literary and figurative works had interpreted French ambitions (and specular British fears) of an invasion of Britain, such as the etching La Thiloriere (1803), in which Jean Louis Argaud de Barges envisaged the transportation of Gallic armies across the Channel in huge balloons. Through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries of Edgard Allan Poe, Jules Verne, Albert Robida and H. G. Wells, the aerostat recurred in futuristic wars, continuing to be part of the repertoire of a narrative genre that was being codified. In this guise it has survived into the 2000s, and proliferates in contemporary steampunk, where it becomes the epitome of the ambivalent relationship that neo-Victorian and neo-Edwardian science fiction entertain with history.


A. J. Echevarria II, Imagining Future War: The West’s Technological Revolution and Visions of Wars to Come, 1880-1914, Westport, CT-London, Praeger Security International, 2007, pp. 81-94.

Ariela Freedman, Zeppelin Fictions and the British Home Front, in: “Journal of Modern Literature”, No. 27, 3, 2004, pp. 47-62.

I. Csicsery-Ronay Jr, ‘Empire’, in The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction, edited by M. Bould, A. M. Butler, A. Roberts, and S. Vint, London and New York, Routledge, 2009, pp. 362-72.

J. Verne, Robur-le-Conquérant (1886), Paris, Hetzel, 1890; J. Verne, Maître du Monde, Paris, Hetzel, 1904.

H. G. Wells, The War in the Air: And Particularly How Mr. Bert Smallways Fared While It Lasted, London, George Bell and Sons, 1908.

H. G. Wells, The World Set Free: A Story of Mankind, New York, E.P. Dutton & Company, 1914.

A. Robida, La guerre au vingtième siècle, Paris, Georges Decaux, 1887.

P. Giffard, La guerre infernale, illustrated by Albert Robida, Paris, Èdition Méricant, 1908.

G. Iannuzzi, The illustrator and the global wars to come. Albert Robida, La guerre infernale, and the long history of imagined warfare, in: “Cromohs” 22, 2019, pp. 95-136, doi:

R. A. Bowser and B. Croxall, ed., Steampunk, Science, and (Neo)Victorian Technologies, monographic issue of “Neo-Victorian Studies”, no. 3, 1, 2010.

Board game: Scythe: The Wind Gambit, designer Jamey Stegmaier, edition Stonemaier Games at al., 2017.

Video game: BioShock Infinite, director Ken Levine, production Irrational Games, 2013.

M. Perschon, Steam Wars, in: “Neo-Victorian Studies”, no. 3, 12010, pp. 127-66.

E. Guffey and K. C. Lemay, ‘Retrofuturism and Steampunk’, in The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction, edited by R. Latham, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 434-48.

G. Iannuzzi, Il collezionista di guerre future. Un percorso nelle collezioni di Diego de Henriquez presso i Civici Musei di Trieste, “Qualestoria”, 1,2020 pp. 98-110.

This blog post is adapted from Giulia Iannuzzi, Guerre del futuro: Anticipazioni e aerostati da battaglia, dall’invasione napoleonica della Gran Bretagna al conflitto mondiale del 1937, in Ragioni Comuni 2017-18, ed. Ilaria Micheli (Trieste: EUT, 2022), 127-142. ISBN: 9788855113076, eISNB: 9788855113083.

Anticipations, celebrations, satires

A new post in the Anticipations and aerostatic warfare series – 2/3

Imaginary wars, projected onto the future of Europe as ominous warnings and political arguments, were part of the emergence of a conception of history pliable by human action. This colonisation of the future within fictional narratives at the end of the eighteenth century already had some significant precedents. One such precedent, The Reign of George VI,[1] was a curious novel – or rather a fictional treatise on the history of the future – published in London in 1763, which offered a fascinating proto-fantascientific remake of the Seven Years’ War. The anonymous author, dissatisfied with the terms of the Treaty of Paris, imagined that the dispute between France and Britain might end very differently in the future, leading to British supremacy over all of continental Europe and global maritime trade. The pamphlet was written in the form of a historical reconstruction of events that took place in the twentieth century, testifying to a mixture of genres between typical modes of historical-political reflection and propaganda and an emerging narrative invention.[2] Continue reading “Anticipations, celebrations, satires”

Anticipations and aerostatic warfare

From Napoleon’s invasion of Great Britain to the global conflict of the year 1937. A new future-wars series – 1 / 3

It is 1803, on the English coast in front of the Channel, crowds of people are beginning to gather. Looking up, someone points to the silhouette of a large flying object in the distance. New dark dots appear on the horizon as the first one approaches. With horror, the spectators gradually make out a gigantic balloon with a mushroom-like profile. In the huge gondola fixed under the balloon there are dozens, hundreds of men, even horses. The high-altitude wind stirs the French tricolour: Napoleon’s armies have come to invade England, carried by the largest balloons ever built by human hands.

Argaud de Barges, La Thiloriere ou Déscente en Angleterre, “Projet d’une Montgolfiere capable d’enlever 3,000 Hommes et qui ne coutera que 300,000 Francs on y suspendra une lampe qui présentera une nappe de flamme suffisante pour empêcher le refroidissement. Extrait du Publiciste du Jeudi 13 Prairial de l’An XI”, Paris, Chez Boulard, 1803, detail. Copy at Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris, via Gallica. Work in the public domain, no restrictions on the use of reproduction in scientific publications.

We look away and find ourselves safe and sound at the Bibliothèque nationale de France, where we are admiring an etching by Jean Louis Argaud de Barges (1768-1808),[1] printed in the Prairial month of year XI of the French Republic (June 1803) (Figure above).[2]

Continue reading “Anticipations and aerostatic warfare”

Anticipation and Satire in 1778 London

The Future Tense of War

@ ISECS International Seminars for early career scholars / SOG18
War Times in the 18th century: Perceptions and Memories, September 25-30, 2022, Schloss Seggau/Leibnitz (Austria)

A view of the House of Peers, the King sitting on the throne, the Commons attending him
J. Lodge, in The gentleman’s magazine, 1769. Yale, Horace Walpole Library.

On 23 November 1778 an account of a heated parliamentary debate on recent developments in the American War of Independence was printed in London, discussing the turning point that had transformed the conflict between the colonies and the mother country into a Euro-Atlantic confrontation with the signing of the Franco-American treaties.

The pamphlet followed the editorial custom, common in the British capital notwithstanding the restrictions in place, of committing to paper the sessions of Parliament. This report, however, had one peculiarity: it reported a session that had yet to take place.

Continue reading “Anticipation and Satire in 1778 London”

Futuristic fictions and power relations through the globe

Some remarks on the long history of imagined conflicts to come, against the backdrop of the emergence of a world technology-mediated interconnectedness – closing the future wars series

La guerre infernale’s case study, explored in this series on future wars which comes to an end with this post, can today foster a better understanding of how the representation of the future begun to work as a pliable setting for speculative narratives, and how related genres emerged and found success in early-contemporary European cultural consumption.

This 1908 feuilleton invites today’s reader to mind a plurality of levels, exploiting critical tools at the intersection of different scholarly traditions, so that it might in turn be used to provide concrete evidence of phenomena involving complex historical traditions and communicative circuits. In other words, what one might call a global microhistory of Giffard and Robida’s fiction locates its object against the backdrop of a long history of ideas, as an apt expression of the emergence of a world technology-mediated interconnectedness in its specific early-contemporary European historical and cultural context, and as a unique embodiment of its author(s) ideas. Continue reading “Futuristic fictions and power relations through the globe”

Racial Fears and Techno-Apocalypses

A new post in the future wars series: yellow perils, bacteriological weapons, and futuristic inventions, before and after WWI

By 1908, the stereotypes and racialised representation of Asian populations used in Albert Robida’s feuilleton La guerre infernale – such as the demographic pressure and willingness to sacrifice millions of individuals (instalments 16, 24), the comparisons with insects such as ants (instalment 23, Les fourmis jaunes), the topoi of Oriental cruelty – were well established in popular Western yellow peril narratives and propaganda.[1]

In La guerre, bacteriological weapons are used to reduce their numbers (instalment 25, A nous le choléra!) but soon these weapons pollute the waters and affect the “whites” as well. Among yellow-perils coeval narratives, Jack London’s “The Unparalleled Invasion” ought to be mentioned for a similar idea of an annihilation of Chinese people operated – successfully in London’s case – by Western powers with bacteriological weaponry, after the realisation of China’s potential for world domination thanks to its demographic strength. Written around 1907 and first published in 1910, London’s short story is mainly set in 1976, and it is framed as written retrospectively from a yet even more distant future. According to John Swift “The Unparalleled Invasion” “clearly gives expression to an uneasy premonition, in London, in his culture, or in both, of the precariousness of white racial supremacy; but, more interestingly, it pays homage in language and plot to an emergent science and scientism that made racial anxieties simultaneously more frightening and more manageable.”[2] The parallel might help today’s reader to better grasp the significance of the yellow peril theme at the time, and to see how a grotesque exaggeration and satirical elements are exploited by Giffard and Robida’s in expressing in words and images racial fears.

The fear of an overwhelming wave is aptly represented by the image of an artificial hill made by soldier with their bodies, which the Chinese army erects on its march towards Moscow so that the officers can get a better view of their surroundings (instalment 28, Les Chinois à Moscou). The scene is described with horror by the narrator, who is following the Chinese army as a prisoner with other Westerners. In Moscow, horrible tortures and painful deaths await them, drawing on the topos of Oriental cruelty, not unprecedented in Robida’s work, nor isolated in popular French and Western publications, where, by the end of the 1880s, Chinese torture had become a fairly common topic in  public discourse, thanks not only to the interest in Chinese society and culture created by developments in East-West political and cultural relations such as the opening of a Chinese embassy in London in 1877 and the Chinese section at the 1878 Paris International Exhibition, but also to the proliferation of specific tropes in popular literature[3] (instalments 28 and 29, Dans l’avenue des supplices).

Albert Robida, illustration for La Guerre infernale by Pierre Giffard (Paris: Èdition Méricant, 1908), published in issue 28, “Les Chinese à Moscou”, 895. A Chinese army with prisoners in cangues advances towards Moscow; text reference: “Ce fut dans cet équipage que nous entrâmes à Moscou”. On this image see also Giulia Iannuzzi, “The Cruel Imagination: Oriental Tortures from a Future Past in Albert Robida’s Illustrations for La Guerre infernale (1908)”, 2017, external link to full open access version.

Throughout the novel, nature is bent and shaped by technology: tunnels of gigantic proportions are excavated both by the Germans when they attack France, and in England where the Tube is re-purposed as a bomb shelter, transferring the entire capital underground (instalments 8 and 9).[4] The famous London fog is cleared with specially developed acetylene guns (instalment 10). To ward off Japanese battleships, the Americans create a cage of fire on the water using a system of oil pipes off the coast of Florida. Thanks to the genius of an inventor by the name of Erikson, the US Department of Power and Electricity manages to jam the Japanese compasses, and to freeze the water by suddenly removing the oxygen from it. Thousands of Japanese corpses are burnt, poisoning the air with a terrible stench. Similarly, by altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere, and by electrifying the soil, thousands of casualties are caused on land, in a terrible exercise of “scientific massacre” (La tuerie scientifique, instalment 17).

La guerre infernale, as the precedent La guerre au vingtième siècle, with its rutilant imagination, and its narrative frame ultimately neutralising tragedy and destruction as part of a dream from which the protagonists wakes in the last pages, testifies Robida as – in I. F. Clarke’s words –

one of the very few … who found it possible to be funny about ‘the next great war.’ [5]

It is worth noting that the experience of the First World War will radically change his approach. Immediately after the conflict, Robida published a short illustrated in-folio album – Le Vautour de Prusse – and a 302-pages novel – L’Ingénieur Von Satanas – developing the same anti-Prussian reflections, and revisiting the war theme with a more pronounced anti-militarist spirit.[6] L’Ingénieur’s second prologue, taking place in the fictional “Peace Palace” in La Hague where a pacifist international conference is inaugurating the palace, in 1909, seems to suggest a direct reprise of La guerre, followed by its pessimistic fulfilment. Scientists, politicians, philosophers, and millionaires from all around the world are championing a pacific progress and greeting the beginning of a new global golden age, brought about by techno-scientific progress. But scientific marvels become means of mass destruction in the hand of the greedy Prussians, corrupted by the evil engineer Von Satanas, a diabolical figure recurring through the ages, that might as well be seen as the embodiment of human nature’s dark side and inclination towards violence and conflict. In 1929, Europe and the whole world have become home to a new prehistoric and barbaric civilisation, a post-apocalyptic land, with survivors living underground. Endless irregular lines of trenches, bomb craters, burrows and tunnels disfigure the Earth surface and render the similar to the Moon’s.

Without losing the adventurous edge that characterised La guerre as well as other Robida’s earlier works, L’Ingénieur offers a rather more pessimistic and sinister take not so much on science per se – which is presented as the key to a possible future of harmony and prosperity – but on the human ability to put differences aside and resist belligerent instincts.

The next post in the future wars series will summarise some conclusions about Robida’s work and war imagery as a laboratory for a global and futuristic mind set.

Albert Robida, L’ingénieur von Satanas: roman (Paris: 1919). Copy at Bibliothèque nationale de France via Gallica. “Le gas! le gas! – crient-ils”.


[1]  Thoralf Klein, “The ‘Yellow Peril’,” EGO – European History Online, external link; John Kuo Wei Tchen and Dylan Yeats, eds., Yellow Peril! An Archive of Anti-Asian Fear (London: Verso, 2014); John W. Dower, “Yellow Promise / Yellow Peril: Foreign Postcards of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05),” MIT Visualizing Cultures, 2008, see especially section ‘Yellow Peril’, external link. See also Michael Keevak, Becoming Yellow: A Short History of Racial Thinking (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2011).

[2]  John N. Swift, “Jack London’s ‘The Unparalleled Invasion:’ Germ Warfare, Eugenics, and Cultural Hygiene,” American Literary Realism 35, no. 1 (2002): 59-71, qt. 60; see here 67 for remarks on the narration’s grotesque detachment, elements of a dark Swiftean approach, and an ironic distance between London and his narrator. On London, the Russo-Japanese war, and yellow peril fears see also Daniel A. Métraux, “Jack London: The Adventurer-Writer who Chronicled Asian Wars, Confronted Racism-and Saw the Future,” The Asia-Pacific Journal  8, no. 4.3 (2010): 1-10.

[3]  André Lange, “Le rire et l’effroi. Supplices et massacres orientaux dans l’oeuvre d’Albert Robida”, in Le Supplice Oriental dans la littérature et les arts, ed. Antonio Dominguez Leiva and Muriel Detrie (Neuilly-lès-Dijon: Editions du Murmure, 2005), 135-169 ; Jérôme Bourgon, “Les scènes de supplices dans les aquarelles chinoises d’exportation”, 2005, Chinese Torture / Supplices Chinois, accessed January 21, 2020, external link.

[4]  On the precedent of the tube in La vie electrique see also Dominique Lacaze, “Albert Robida, Explorer of the Twentieth Century,” part I, “Technical Innovation” and part II, “The Invention of a Society,” Futuribles 366 (2010): 61-70, and 367 (2010): 65-76, see I, 65.

[5]  I. F. Clarke, “Future-War Fiction: The First Main Phase, 1871-1900,” Science Fiction Studies, 24, no. 3 (November, 1997): 387-412, see 398.

[6]  Albert Robida, Le Vautour de Prusse (Paris: Georges Bertrand, 1918); Robida, L’Ingénieur Von Satanas (Paris: La Renaissance du Livre, 1919), Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica, identifier: ark:/12148/bpt6k14217576. A brief mention is in Philippe Willems, “A Stereoscopic Vision of the Future: Albert Robida’s Twentieth Century,” Science Fiction Studies 26, no. 3 (November 1999): 354-378, see 376-377, note 18.


This post is adapted from Iannuzzi, G. (2019). “The Illustrator and the Global Wars to Come: Albert Robida, La guerre infernale, and the Long History of Imagined Warfare”, Cromohs – Cyber Review of Modern Historiography22, 95-136; par. “Techno-apocalypses”, pp. 122-124. DOI: 10.13128/cromohs-11706. Full text available in open access:

See here all posts in the future-wars series

Visualising a global war: La guerre infernale

A new post in the future-wars series: Robida and the world war of the future

La guerre infernale was written by Pierre Giffard and illustrated by Albert Robida.[1] Published in weekly instalments in 1908, La guerre infernale gives the future-war genre a satirical edge, offering a scenario in which a global conflict of massive proportions breaks out in consequence of an argument between the German and the English ambassadors over the serving order of the dessert at a dinner. To add to the irony, the dinner is taking place during the Conférence de la paix, the annual meeting of a philanthropic organisation founded by Nicholas II of Russia in 1895. In 1937, the protagonist and narrator is covering the conference periodical summit at the Hȏtel de l’Entente Universelle in La Hague, for the Paris newspaper L’an 2000, when the war breaks out. While the conflict is triggered by a disagreement between European powers, the role of Japan and China in its outcome is a clear reminder of the Russo-Japanese War of a few years before.

Novelist, reporter, illustrator, watercolourist and engraver, Albert Robida (1848-1926) is today regarded as one of the founding fathers of science fiction, and recognised as a key figure on the cultural scene of the French Third Republic. He extensively worked as editor and collaborator of Paris periodicals such as La Caricature, and imagined visionary portrayals of a future society shaped by the technological inventions exhibited at International World Fairs such as Paris 1881, 1889, and 1900.  During his life, he illustrated ninety-four books, of almost fifty of which he was sole author.[2]

 With Giffard – a fellow journalist specialised in sport, who covered the Russo-Japanese war in 1904[3] Robida collaborated in various editorial projects already during the 1880s-1890s. These included the pictures for the humorous La vie en chemin de fer and La vie au théâtre (1887-1888) and La fin du cheval (1899) on the means of transports that were soon to replace horse-drawn carriages and the socio-economic advancements that they would bring about.

Giffard himself (1853-1922), after taking part in the 1870 war as one of the youngest lieutenants in the French armée auxiliaire, had become a journalist. He collaborated with numerous newspapers and periodicals including Le Figaro, covering, among other things, the technological developments in transport and communications exhibited at Paris 1878, and travelling the world as a correspondent, from war zones such as Algeria and southern Tunisia amongst others. Creator of French cycle and car races, he became editor-in-chief of Le Petit Journal in 1887, until moving to Le Vélo in 1896 after a few years of collaboration under a pseudonym, and then to L’Auto in 1904.

One may assume thatone of the reasons Giffard mentions for choosing a humorous slant in his work on the railway in the “Préface” of La vie en chemin de fer also applies to La guerre infernale :

… avec la forme humoristique l’auteur a pu s’assurer le concours de l’un des crayons les plus spirituels de notre époque, et c’est là un gros atout dans son jeu, pour ne pas dire plus.[4]

He is referring to none other than Robida, of course, whose contribution is very likely to have been more than just illustrating: many themes and inventions are reprises of ideas and scenarios already imagined in the above-mentioned Le vingtième siècle, and its sequel La guerre au vingtième siècle, including means of instant communication, aerial means of transport, innovative weapons.[5] Furthermore, La guerre infernale shares with other works by Robida an interest in social aspects (such as the role of women),[6] and in the consequences of technology for everyday life and customs and habits. As Philippe Willems has summarised,

what really distinguishes Robida from other nineteenth-century writers of conjectural fiction is the depth of his portrayal of the future, the real-life dimension … halfway between Jules Verne’s detailed mechanical explanations and H. G. Wells’s psychological realism.[7]

The global backdrop against which the protagonists’ adventures take place, unlike the mainly French and Parisian setting of Le vingtième siècle and La vie electrique, is reminiscent of the Voyages très extraordinaires de Saturnin Farandoul (1880).[8] Paris serves nonetheless as a barycentre for the adventures of La guerre infernale’s protagonist. It is to the French capital that he returns between his adventures in the Atlantic and in Russia, and it is to Paris that knowledge and news always flow and are collected and sorted, near the palaces where the crucial decisions are discussed by French authorities.[9]

In fact, La guerre infernale plays up a global dimension brought onto the stage of individual experience and perception by the use of new means of transport and communication that earlier works by both Giffard and Robida had represented in different contexts and/or with different strategies.[10] The first instalment, tellingly entitled La Planète en feu, presents the idea of a global dimension compressed by the instantaneous nature of the telephone: awoken in the middle of the night by a massive fire starting in La Hague, the protagonist discovers that a war has started, but is unable to track down the incident that originated it. He will receive news of what happened in the very same hotel he is staying at only via a colleague in Paris, who gets a phone call from La Hague at the Café Krasnapolski. Similarly, it is the telephone that makes it possible to deliver ultimatums and institutional communications in real time, activating the various alliances that cause the conflict to escalate first to a European and then to a global dimension.[11]

Means of transport are at the centre stage from the very first pages, allowing the protagonist and his companions to travel throughout Europe and across the globe. They use an aérocar to head back to Paris, since the editor-in-chief asks the protagonist to cover the conflict for the newspaper L’an 2000, only to be redirected to the French aerial arsenal at the base in Mont Blanc.

Albert Robida. “Nouvelles du Grand Lac Salé”, Le Journal Amusant, no. 759, July 16, 1870: 3, detail. Source: Gallica, On this image see also Daryl Lee, “Robida’s Mormons”, Transatlantica [En ligne], 2 | 2017, mis en ligne le 13 mai 2019, DOI :

The massive Mont Blanc arsenal (to the description of which the second instalment, Les Armées de l’air, is almost entirely devoted) includes a Leviathan formation composed by 150 attacking aircrafts, supported by a regiment of bicycle-sized, extremely manoeuvrable flying machines operated by couples of pilots and gunners. Furthermore, aerial warfare brings about consequences in the life of civilians (e.g. the use of individual shields and the construction of subterranean cities), in terms of tactics and strategies, and in the existence of specific authorities (e.g. the ministère de l’Aérotactique, ministry of aerotactic, already imagined in La vie électrique).[12] A German bombing strikes the chemical section of the compound, where bacteriological weapons are being developed,[13] causing 150 deaths. But tragedy of even bigger proportion is reported from Belfort, blown up by a massive quantity of explosives that German soldiers placed under the city using a gigantic tunnel excavated from the Black Forest.

The first part of the novel is devoted to the conflict as it unfolds in Europe, with the German Reich attacking the French Mont Blanc base as well as bombing cities in France and bringing war to the other side of the English Channel. After an aerial battle in the skies above London, the protagonists and his friends end up stranded above the Sargasso Sea, where the only way to allow the others to regain altitude and leave the polar region is to drop the body of a dead companion. The passage to the Atlantic marks the passage of the narrative backdrop from a European to a global scale.

Along with submarines and hommes-crabes (6), the naval warfare is no less impressive: over the Atlantic the protagonist admires the American warship Minnesota on patrol: “Mille tonnes de deplacement, cinq turbines, trois arbres à helicer, un developpement al 15000 chevaux faisaient alors du Minnesota le Croiseur le plus rapide du monde” (instalment 12: 380). When cholera is used to wage bacteriological warfare in Russia against Chinese armies, a “train sanitaire” operates between Orenburg and Rostov, to help infected “whites” (instalments 25 and 26).

Economic interconnectedness is also put to use by battling countries. During the first days of the war, Britain floods Germany with false Deutschmarks in order to sink its economy (instalment 5), and when European powers coalesce against the threat of an invasion from China a “yellow tax” is approved within the alliance to fund the war against Asian powers (instalment 21).

In fact, while there is a treaty in place at the beginning of the war between Japan and France and Japanese aviators are perfecting their training with the French Voleurs corps (instalment 8). When he arrives in North America, the protagonist learns that Japanese immigrants in California had long been preparing for the invasion of America, and that now, supported by troops from Japan, are engaged in terrible battles which caused thousands of deaths, and left every American survivor deranged due to the trauma, hospitalised in a dedicated facility.

Japan and the US fight a naval battle of epic proportions between the Bahamas, Cuba and Florida (instalments 15, 16). From Canada to Africa, the Japanese multiply their invasion plans, acting as the leading force behind which the Chinese are also mobilised. It is against the backdrop of the Atlantic space and with the Asian arrival on the scene that the conflict starts to assume a fully global scale and at the same time a clear racial connotation: the “yellow” threat leads “white” nations to overcome their current disagreements and strike up new alliances. The American president arguing for an alliance with the British warns about the prolificacy of Asian populations, contrasting it with the demographic decline of the “whites” (instalment 16). Japanese and Chinese armies invade California and block the Panama Canal (instalments 18 and 20), while Europeans helps Russia to construct a “muraille blanche,” “white great wall,” against the Chinese plans to invade Europe (instalment 21). The assassination of Tsar Nicholas II and a riot or revolution demanding a new constitution leaves Russian open to Chinese occupation (instalments 21-23).

The next post in the future wars series will offer some reflections on the theme of the ‘yellow peril’ and the representation of a nature bent by technology, and then discuss the subsequent developments of the representation of the war of the future in Robida’s creative journey.


[1]   Pierre Giffard, La guerre infernale, illustrated by Albert Robida (Paris: Èdition Méricant, 1908), 30 weekly instalments, in-4°, 952 pp.

[2]   For an overview on recent scholarship on Robida and indications for further reading: Iannuzzi, “The Cruel Imagination,” 194-195; secondary sources of particular note are: Philippe Brun, Albert Robida, 1848-1926. Sa vie, son œuvre. Suivi d’une bibliographie complète de ses écrits et dessins (Paris: Editions Promodis, 1984); Daniel Compère, ed., Albert Robida du passé au futur. Un auteur-illustrateur sous la IIIe République (Paris: Belles Lettres, 2006); Sandrine Doré, “Albert Robida (1848-1926), un dessinateur fin de siècle dans la société des images” (doctoral thesis, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense, 2014).

[3]   Jacques Seray, Pierre Giffard, précurseur du journalisme moderne. Du Paris-Brest à l’affaire Dreyfus (Toulouse: Le Pas d’oiseau, 2008); C.G.P.C.S.M.-Fontaine d’histoire, La Famille Giffard (Fontaine le Dun: Fontaine d’histoire, 2007).

[4]   “… thanks to the humorous form, the author was able to secure the collaboration of one of the wittiest pencils of our time, who was a big asset to his work, to say the least.” Pierre Giffard, La vie en chemin de fer, illustrated by Albert Robida (Paris: A la Libraire illustrée, [1888]), Bibliothèque nationale de France, Gallica, ark:/12148/bpt6k1028744.

[5]   Marc Angenot, “Albert Robida’s Twentieth Century,” Science Fiction Studies 10, no. 2 (July 1983): 237-240; Philippe Brun, Albert Robida, 1848-1926. Sa vie, son œuvre. Suivi d’une bibliographie complète de ses écrits et dessins (Paris: Editions Promodis, 1984), 33; Philippe Willems, “A Stereoscopic Vision of the Future: Albert Robida’s Twentieth Century,” Science Fiction Studies 26, no. 3 (November 1999): 354-378, esp. 358 and note 7.

[6]   On Robida’s representation(s) of women: Robida et l’émancipation de la Femme, thematic issue of Le Téléphonoscope. Bulletin des amis d’Albert Robida 21 (2014); Doré, “Albert Robida,” vol. 1, 98, 150-152, 244 note 825, 296-299; Sandrine Doré, “Entre caricature et anticipation, la Parisienne définie par Albert Robida (1848-1926),” L’art de la caricature, sous la direction de Ségolène Le Men (Nanterre: Presses universitaires de Paris Nanterre, 2011), electronic edition, doi: 10.4000/books.pupo.2233; Dominique Lacaze, “Albert Robida, Explorer of the Twentieth Century,” part I, “Technical Innovation” and part II, “The Invention of a Society,” Futuribles 366 (2010): 61-70, and 367 (2010): 65-76, see II, 72-73. Depictions of women in the army by Robida are to be found in La Vie parisienne, as early as 1875, and in Le Vingtième Siècle (1883).

[7]   Willems, “A Stereoscopic Vision,” 360.

[8]   Albert Robida, Voyages très extraordinaires de Saturnin Farandoul dans les 5 ou 6 parties du monde et dans tous les pays connus et même inconnus de M. Jules Verne (Paris: Librairie illustrée- Librairie M. Dreyfous, 1880), Eng. trans. The Adventures of Saturnin Fanandoul, trans. Brian Stableford(Encino, CA: Black Coat Press, 2008).

[9]   On the representation of France at war and its ideological ambivalence in La guerre infernale: Paul Bleton, “La guerre telle qu’elle pourrait être,” Lublin Studies in Modern Languages and Literature 39, no. 1 (2015): 64-75, see 67, 70.

[10]   On the global conflict evoked in Le Vingtième siècle: Lacaze, “Albert Robida,” II, 74.

[11]  See also André Lange, “En attendant la guerre des ondes: les technologies de communication dans les anticipations militaires d’Albert Robida,” Le Téléphonoscope. Bulletin des amis d’Albert Robida 11 (2004): 7-17.

[12]  On Robida and aerial warfare: Alain Bernard, “Robida et les dirigeables,” Le Téléphonoscope. Bulletin des amis d’Albert Robida 10 (2003): 10-11; Marcellin Hodeir, “La guerre aérienne à travers la science-fiction: Albert Robida,” in Compère, Albert Robida, 117-126; here especially 120 for Robida’s inventions as extrapolations from technologies of his time.

[13]  On the possible influence of Robida on Well’s imagination on biological warfare: Helena Costa and Josep-E. Baños, “Bioterrorism in the Literature of the Nineteenth Century: The Case of Wells and ‘The Stolen Bacillus,’” Cogent Arts & Humanities 3, no. 1, doi: 10.1080/23311983.2016.1224538, see 6-7.

This post is adapted from Iannuzzi, G. (2019). “The Illustrator and the Global Wars to Come: Albert Robida, La guerre infernale, and the Long History of Imagined Warfare”, Cromohs – Cyber Review of Modern Historiography22, 95-136; par. “Techno-apocalypses”, pp. 118-121. DOI: 10.13128/cromohs-11706. Full text available in open access:

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