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.

References

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: https://doi.org/10.13128/cromohs-11706.

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.

A futuristic anti-Jesuit satire

The Memoirs of the Twentieth Century @ Eighteenth-Century Ireland Society/An Cumann Éire San Ochtú Céad Déag 2022 Annual Conference University College Cork, 17-18 June 2022

Designed as a hypothetical laboratory to test the author’s political and philanthropic ideas, and to satirize a number of coeval cultural and political trends, The Memoirs of the Twentieth Century is one of the first futuristic fictions known in European literature. Published anonymously in 1733, it was written by Samuel Madden, an Irish Anglican clergyman and philanthropist with Hanoverian and Whig sympathies. It consists of a collection of diplomatic letters written in the 1990s, sent to the Lord High Treasurer in London from British ambassadors from a number of countries, which the narrator claims to have received from the future. Through these correspondences, twentieth-century world scenarios spread out before the reader, in which British naval power rules the waves and international commerce, while the transnational scheming of the Jesuits threatens the independence of weaker European courts.

Continue reading “A futuristic anti-Jesuit satire”

Writing the History of Future Empires

Samuel Madden’s Eighteenth-century Twentieth century at Beyond Borders: Empires, Bodies, Science Fictions

I am delighted to present a paper at Beyond Borders: Empires, Bodies, Science Fictions, the London Science Fiction Research Community 2020 conference, an online event in partnership with the London Chinese Science Fiction Group and Science Fiction Beyond the West.

I’ll be talking about A new and unexampled way of writing the history of future empires: Samuel Madden’s Eighteenth-century Twentieth century, presenting the first results of an ongoing research on the future as a secularized imaginary space in eighteenth-century European culture through the case study of the Memoirs of the Twentieth Century. Published anonymously in 1733, the Memoirs is a work of speculative fiction in the form of an epistolary novel by the Irish writer Samuel Madden, an Anglican clergyman and philanthropist with pro-Hanoverian and Whig sympathies.

Madden’s novel is a fine example of the emergence of a new secularized future, pliable through human action. This research, using the Memoirs as a case study, places new emphasis on the role played by a new form of imperial and global interconnectedness in shaping and accelerating complex processes of time secularization.

First slide of Giulia Iannuzzi's presentation "A new and unexampled way of writing the history of future empires: Samuel Madden's Eighteenth-century Twentieth century", with author's name, paper title, conference details. In the background an eighteenth-century drawing of two angels observing the moon with a telescope.

My paper is scheduled as part of Panel 4B: Pliable Futures (chair: Tom Dillon), Saturday 12th September, 10:00-11:30 (GMT+1) – Panel Block 4:

  • Giulia Iannuzzi- A new and unexampled way of writing the history of future empires: Samuel Madden’s Eighteenth-century Twentieth century
  • Sakshi Tyagi – Beyond Otjize and Medusae: Identity and Borders in Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti
  • Mary Regine Dadole – Familiar Aliens: An Analysis of the Postcolonial Condition and the Politics of Science Fiction in Isaac Asimov’s “The Martian Way”.

The conference programme includes:

a plenary session on  SF & Translation with Sawad Hussain, Emily Jin, Guangzhao Lyu, Dr. Sinéad Murphy, Dr. Tasnim Qutait,

keynotes by Dr. Nadine El-Enany, Florence Okoye

a Creator Roundtable with Chen Qiufan, Larissa Sansour, Linda Stupart, chair: Angela Chan,

a rich schedule of panels exploring borders in science fiction, and particularly “borders as politicised tools used to uphold empires, divide communities and police the bodies of those most marginalised”.

Here’s the conference webpage: http://www.lsfrc.co.uk/category/beyond-borders/.

 If you wish to attend the event, please visit the ticket tailor event page for the conference at this link.

At this link a set of conference documents, including the programme beautifully designed by Sinjin Li.

The London Chinese Science Fiction Group and Science Fiction Beyond the West are partner of this event and the programme includes a number of contributions on contemporary Chinese science fiction. I’ve been interested in the reception of Chinese science fiction in Italy for quite some time now. From my archive, here’s in full open access an essay I published in 2015, an interview with the translator Lorenzo Andolfatto (Chinese-Italian), and one with Massimo Soumaré (Japanese-Italian).

Future Wars: Introductory remarks

Introducing a series on future-wars fiction in modern European culture

Ne soyez point en peine de ce Heros inconnu qui se presente à vos yeux. Encore qu’il ne soit pas ny de ce Monde ny de ce Siecle, il n’est pas si farouche ny si barbare, qu’il ne soit capable de faire un beau choix, & qu’il n’ait jugé aussi juste de vostre merite, que l’auroient pû faire tous ceux qui ont l’honneur de vous mieux connoistre.

Jacques Guttin [Michel de Pure], 
Épigone, histoire du siècle futur
 (A Paris: Chez Pierre Lamy, 1659), aij-p.nn.

Late modern and early contemporary imageries related to techno-driven globalization processes are to be found, in some of their most popular and graphic expressions, in visual and literary works of fiction. Made possible by the emergence of new ideas of a secularized historical time, early speculative fiction is an exceptional vantage point from which to observe the birth and development of popular themes and tropes related to those compressions of time and space, which increasingly characterized the world system between the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century.

In the European cultural space, and especially in mature publishing markets such as the French one, speculative fiction set in the future became an apt expression of new imageries related to techno-science, including new communication and transportation systems and the astonishing speed of their development.1 Narratives and illustrations interpreted the appearance of new forms of awareness of globalization processes, becoming part of a communicative circuit, which was expanding its audience at a fast rate, thanks to the increasing presence of the popular press.

In this phase of techno-scientific acceleration and tumultuous changes in cultural habits, speculative fiction began to depict a major shift that had been occurring in the European mind-set during the late modern era: the emergence of a plastic future. New ideas of the future were a consequence of new, secularized temporalizations of history. The conception of historical time as home to linear processes of development was in turn deeply influenced by a close encounter with “others,” by explorations, voyages and the availability of written, figurative and material sources regarding remote parts of the world, which documented Western forms of ethnocentric hierarchization and, at the same time, began the task of problematizing them.2

Fantastic narratives and illustrations can be read as part of a broader social history of ideas of space and time,3 and work as litmus tests of the complex reconfigurations they underwent in the Western mind, as global interconnectedness brought new subjects and issues onto the stage.

The subgenre of imagined future wars developed in relation with the use of alternate history as a means for political propaganda, which could be found from the late seventeenth century onwards in non-fiction tracts and pamphlets, as in some of the examples discussed below. Near the end of the nineteenth century, this literary and visual narrative strand assumed clear-cut characteristics, and articulated concerns regarding instabilities and tensions in international relations, and fears related to the destructive use of those technological innovations that were following one another so rapidly and that were taking centre stage at the great international exhibitions and world fairs. 

The discovery of a selection of Albert Robida’s original sketches for Pierre Giffard’s feuilleton La guerre infernale (1908),4 offers an occasion to connect these various strands and critically assess the role of wars to come in the development of an imagination related to the future, and in the construction of the consciousness of a global, human, earthly destiny.

Recent scholarship in speculative fiction studies and cultural history has produced a few excellent studies tackling speculative fiction as a laboratory for a global space-time between the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century,5and the emergence of science fiction as a genre in the age of colonialism and empires.6 Existing contributions, also when dealing with the specific theme of imagined future wars,7 tend to concentrate on the early-contemporary age, rightfully stressing the significant changes that in that phase affected the European techno-scientific, socio-political and economic system, and their influence on new forms of mass media communication, collective imagery and textual genres.

Histories of science fiction dealing with the development of the genre from ancient times through the ages tend, in turn, to be written from a perspective internal to the science fiction genre..8 While excellently outlining main authors and trends, general histories of science fiction necessarily give up more in-depth analysis of specific themes, and usually broader issues of cultural history remain outside their scope. Such works do not deal, or only marginally, with the connection between speculative imagery and the conceptualization of time, and they often keep their focus on literary expressions, while leaving aside other spheres and levels of public discourse and forms of representation.

The present series of posts, building on existing contributions, aims at fostering a better understanding of imagined future wars in the early contemporary age by locating them within a long history of imagined warfare, including late-seventeenth and eighteenth-century developments, and against the backdrop of the cultural history of time. Furthermore, for late modern and early contemporary expressions, this study – drawing on Robida’s case –, aims at enhancing the deep connections that run between literary, figurative and exhibitionary cultural artefacts in terms of representation strategies and circulation of ideas.

NOTES

1

“SF and Globalization,” ed. David Higgins and Rob Latham, special issue, Science Fiction Studies 39, no. 3, 118 (November 2012).

2Reinhart Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time, trans. Keith Tribe (1979; New York: Columbia University Press, 2004).

3Peter Burke, “Foreword: The History of the Future, 1350-2000,” in The Uses of the Future in Early Modern Europe, ed. Andrea Brady, Butterworth Emily (New York and London: Routledge, 2010), ix-xx.

4Presently part of the Civico Museo di guerra per la pace “Diego de Henriquez” of the City of Trieste, of which seven are reproduced here (Figures 6-12). Diego de Henriquez, Italian ex-soldier and creator, between the 1940s and the early 1970s, of a notable private collection of armaments, military tools and technologies, documents and books pertinent to the theme of war throughout history, bought fifteen of Robida’s original sketches in 1957, when he found them on a bookstand in Rome. On Henriquez (Trieste 1909-1974) see Antonella Furlan, Antonio Sema, Cronaca di una vita: Diego de Henriquez (Trieste: APT Trieste, 1993); Furlan, La civica collezione Diego de Henriquez di Trieste (Trieste: Rotary Club Trieste-Civici musei di storia ed arte, 2000). On Robida’s sketches within Henriquez collection: Giulia Iannuzzi, “The Cruel Imagination: Oriental Tortures from a Future Past in Albert Robida’s Illustrations for La guerre infernale (1908),” in Law, Justice and Codification in Qing China. European and Chinese Perspectives. Essays in History and Comparative Law, ed. Guido Abbattista (Trieste: EUT, 2017), 193-211, esp. 194, note 3.

5Higgins and Latham “SF and Globalization,” quoted above.

6E.g. Istvan Csicsery-Ronay Jr, “Empire,” The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction, ed. Mark Bould, Andrew M. Butler, Adam Roberts, and Sherryl Vint (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), 362-372; John Rieder, Colonialsm and the Emergence of Science Fiction (Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2008). See also Paul K. Alkon’s works cited below.

7E.g. I. F. Clarke, “Future-War Fiction: The First Main Phase, 1871-1900,” Science Fiction Studies, 24, no. 3 (November, 1997): 387-412; I. F. Clarke, “Before and after ‘The Battle of Dorking,’’’ Science Fiction Studies 24, no. 1 (1997): 33-46.

8E.g. Adam Roberts, The History of Science Fiction, 2nd ed. (London: Palgrave, 2016).

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. “Introductory remarks”, pp. 96-98. DOI: 10.13128/cromohs-11706. Full text available in open access: https://oajournals.fupress.net/index.php/cromohs/article/view/11706.

See here all posts in the future-wars series

The Illustrator and the Global Wars to Come

Fantastic narratives and illustrations as part of a broader social history of ideas of space and time

Ne soyez point en peine de ce Heros inconnu qui se presente à vos yeux. Encore qu’il ne soit pas ny de ce Monde ny de ce Siecle, il n’est pas si farouche ny si barbare, qu’il ne soit capable de faire un beau choix, & qu’il n’ait jugé aussi juste de vostre merite, que l’auroient pû faire tous ceux qui ont l’honneur de vous mieux connoistre.

JACQUES GUTTIN [MICHEL DE PURE], Épigone, histoire du siècle futur (A Paris: Chez Pierre Lamy, 1659), aij-p.nn.

My latest work on the conceptualisation of historical time in late modern and early contemporary European culture is now on Cromohs: Cyber Review of Modern Historiography.

Late modern and early contemporary imageries related to techno-driven globalization processes are to be found, in some of their most popular and graphic expressions, in visual and literary works of fiction. Made possible by the emergence of new ideas of a secularized historical time, early speculative fiction is an exceptional vantage point from which to observe the birth and development of popular themes and tropes related to those compressions of time and space, which increasingly characterized the world system between the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century.

Louis-Sébastien Mercier, L’an deux mille quatre cent quarante (1774; nouvelle edition, Paris, an X [1801-1802]) vol. I, 12. Looking at the public notices posted on a wall, the protagonist realizes he has slept for 672 years. Source: gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France.

In the European cultural space, and especially in mature publishing markets such as the French one, speculative fiction set in the future became an apt expression of new imageries related to techno-science, including new communication and transportation systems and the astonishing speed of their development. Narratives and illustrations interpreted the appearance of new forms of awareness of globalization processes, becoming part of a communicative circuit, which was expanding its audience at a fast rate, thanks to the increasing presence of the popular press.

In this phase of techno-scientific acceleration and tumultuous changes in cultural habits, speculative fiction began to depict a major shift that had been occurring in the European mind-set during the late modern era: the emergence of a plastic future. New ideas of the future were a consequence of new, secularized temporalizations of history. The conception of historical time as home to linear processes of development was in turn deeply influenced by a close encounter with “others,” by explorations, voyages and the availability of written, figurative and material sources regarding remote parts of the world, which documented Western forms of ethnocentric hierarchization and, at the same time, began the task of problematizing them.

Fantastic narratives and illustrations can be read as part of a broader social history of ideas of space and time, and work as litmus tests of the complex reconfigurations they underwent in the Western mind, as global interconnectedness brought new subjects and issues onto the stage.

Continue reading “The Illustrator and the Global Wars to Come”

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