I have one slight confusion over this book – the title. And it isn’t for the usual reasons since the book itself explains the origins of the phrase ‘scientific romance’ very clearly. No, I’m just confused that when I searched for it on various websites it didn’t appear under that title but had been expanded out to ‘Under The Moons of Mars: a Collection of Scientific Romance’. I do understand that changes are often made after proofs (or e-proofs) are made but this seems a little bit like a focus group somewhere decided the original was too difficult to understand…*sigh*. Also, very few of these stories are set on Mars.
I really enjoyed the stories in this book even though I’m not usually a big fan of ‘hard’ sci-fi. But these tales, published between 1835 and 1924, are more Victorian (and Edwardian) explorations of the scientific advances which thrilled the society of the day. Their authors range from the incredibly well-known, like Conan Doyle, to unknowns and they hail from France and America as well as the UK. They are, in fact, something like the originals of steampunk itself! There are stories of automata, intelligent machines who, since they are given a social conscience, come to the conclusion that the workers would be better off without machines taking their jobs: one where Scotland becomes a nature reserve and historical theme park (with the help of a device which can control the weather) and one which explores the human costs of ‘perfect’ societies (eugenics and the fact that cultural/religious norms hold more sway than natural emotional responses). My favourites (probably no surprises here) are a tale which explores climate change caused by humankind’s over-use of fossil fuels and one which turns evolution on its head in a lecture given by a gorilla professor on whether apes were descended from humans.
I saw these stories as proof that sci-fi isn’t all about space battles and explosions (as good as Rogue One was…). It doesn’t even have to involve space – science has enough mysteries to keep us going even today.
P.S. As a bonus it turns out that the editor of this collection, Brian Stableford, was born in Shipley. Which is nice…