Two short science-fiction stories from the early 20th century

Today I spent 1 hour reading two science-fiction short stories from the early 20th century:

The first one is really surprising: to me, it is a very early example of dystopian science fiction, only two years later than Jack London’s The Iron Heel, referred to as the first of this genre (next on my reading list, obviously). The story is set in a distant future that has many features in common with our present, and it’s not easy to accept that Forster would imagine a world in which

There was the cold-bath button. There was the button that produced literature. And there were of course the buttons by which she communicated with her friends. The room, though it contained nothing, was in touch with all that she cared for in the world.

All this and more thanks to the Machine, a man-made world-wide mechanism that is slowly becoming a divinity, in a world where religion has been banned. There’s a shadow of the totalitarian regimes that were to come in the 20th century, and it has reminded me of diverse things like 1984, Fahrenheit 451 and 12 Monkeys. And I cannot help seeing the shadow of our world wide machine, that keeps us in our rooms, with no need to go out for communicating with our friends.

Still, if I was to name one step of the entire human technical evolution that is absolutely superior to any other, it’s certainly long-distance communication.

The second story is a horror science-fiction, much alike some stories by H. P. Lovecraft such as The Color Out of Space (1927). In fact, both England’s and Lovecraft’s works were published on the Amazing Stories science fiction magazine. The Thing from—”Outside” is quite short, and may not be the best example of this genre, and however I like to know not only the masterpieces, but also the minor works that certainly helped shaping the readers’ taste of that period.

And what is so good about these works is that they’re all in the public domain and gentle people out there have transcribed the texts in digital format on Wikisource or other public archives.

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Stefano Costa

Archaeologist, I study the Late Antique and Early Medieval/Byzantine period on the northern side of the Mediterranean, focusing on pottery usage patterns. I'm also involved in open source and open knowledge communities, like OSGeo, the IOSA project and the Open Knowledge Foundation.

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