A JOURNEY TO THE YEAR 2025
Clement Fezandié is among the lostest of lost names in SF, and his fall is perhaps the hardest of any. At one time he was Hugo Gernsback's favorite author.
In the early 1920s SF did not yet exist as a field, and certainly not as a genre magazine style. Scattered stories that today we would tag as SF appeared in a variety of pulp fiction magazines, and even on rare occasion in one of the slick magazines. Aficionados - you could hardly call them fans, which implies organization - had to hunt the newsstands and hope and guess their way to a find, based on a familiar name or an intriguing title or a line about a coming attraction.
The champion of this sort of story, the ideas of and extrapolations to modern science, mixed with a soupçon of fictional sweetness to make it go down easier, was Hugo Gernsback. He latched onto the newborn field of radio, started the Wireless Association of America, and churned out magazines devoted to radio and all things electronic starting in 1908 with Modern Electrics. No formal surveys existed that could tell him who his audience was or what they wanted to read; like many historic editors he fashioned magazines for himself and assumed that others were equally interested in these subjects. For a long period his feel for the public's pulse was masterful.
Fiction about science was part of that mix. His didactic listing of ideas as futurisms, Ralph 124C 41+, spent a year being serialized in Modern Electrics. The Electrical Experimenter followed, creating a steady home for writing of scientific fictions: Gernsback himself with “Baron Münchhausen’s New Scientific Adventures,” Thomas Benson's "Wireless Wiz" stories, Charles S. Wolfe's scientific detective Joe Fenner, and George Frederick Stratton about an investor who supplied the money for all these marvels. When Gernsback changed the name of the magazine to Science and Invention in August 1920, he soon found another prolific grinder of story-length idea-sausages, one Clement Fezandié.
In his autobiography, Undiluted Hocus-Pocus, Martin Gardner fondly remembers the thrill of subscribing to Science and Invention:
[I]t's wild speculations about the future of science were a delightful mixture of hits and misses. I remember a great cover showing what a Martian would look like. Another cover, one of the hits, showed a couple kissing with wires connecting parts of their bodies to their brains and to equipment measuring their responses to the kiss. The cover illustrated an article on how science was beginning to investigate sex. Other cover hits were pictures of helicopters helping build skyscrapers, and the use of flamethrowers in wars. Covers were devoted to articles debunking pseudosciences such as astrology, spiritualism, and perpetual motion. One fascinating cover depicted a scene in which you were asked to count all the scientific mistakes, such as a rainbow with colors in the wrong order, jets of water following wrong curves and so on...
Gernsback published forty short stories by a high school science teacher named Clement Fezandié. They were about Dr. Hackensaw's scientific discoveries. Not one of his stories has since been reprinted even though they pioneered dozens of themes later explored by SF writers.
Illustrations from early Dr. Hackensaw stories: Science and Invention May 1921, July 1921, October 1921, and April 1922.
(Gardner says 40 Dr. Hackensaw stories, the ISFDB lists 42, and the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction credits him with 43. One of them was serialized in four parts, which shouldn't make a difference but cataloguers are human. SF is like baseball: the numbers change every year as people go back and dig deeper through the archives.)
As I say repeatedly, SF is not about the future: it's always about the present. Utopian stories tell us what people of their time thought they lacked; dystopian stories extend the worst aspects of the present to extremes. (Utopia and dystopia are relative in this sense: every work in which technology is useful becomes utopian no mater the tone or the resolution of the accompanying story; every work is which technology is damaging becomes dystopian. The Martian Chronicles bounce back and forth from story to story and most honest representations of the future will have some aspects as each.) Gernsback was distinctly a utopian. For him science and technology did equate to progress; the marvels he wrote about in every issue of every magazine manifestly created a better world around him day by day as he sat in his office and dreamed of how much further these brilliant minds could carry humanity. His nonfiction articles and fictional stories had the same ideal of positing and depicting a world in which electrics took the edge, the grime, the drudgery, and the misery off the world.
Fezandié achieved this ideal as well as any of Gernsback's authors. He dispensed with superfluities like characterization, believable dialog, plot, background, and local color to binge forth Sunday supplement gosh-wow super-science nonfiction told in dialog by his cardboard mouthpieces. Even his names were as purely allegorical as those in Emile Souvestre's The World As It Shall Be from 1846. In the story below, the boy is Silas Rockett, the girl is Radia Sparks. (Silas is a reporter and Hackensaw's usual Watson figure. He yearns for Hackensaw's secretary, named Gloria Mundy.) For Fezandié, the art of storytelling had not changed since his certain inspiration Edward Bellamy used this technique so successfully in Looking Backward 2000 - 1887. All Fezandié did to accommodate the faster pace of the 1920s were to chop his blocks of text into smaller and more easily digested pieces.
"A Journey to the Year 2025" is purest distilled Fezandié, a dialog of nothing but ideas, recounting the advances that would be commonplace one hundred years hence. The story, the eleventh in the series, appeared in the December 1922 issue of Science and Invention. Why it is therefore set one hundred and three years in the future passeth understanding.
The city of the future is of course New York, the only city in the country worth considering, despite the pretenses of Chicago and Boston, and of course by New York, Fezandié meant Manhattan, the wonderland of neon and skyscrapers that emblemized the technological prowess of the present. Manhattan contained everyone who mattered and an order of magnitude more, more than two million people crowded in 23 square miles (60 sq. km). The city couldn't ever keep up with its growth, even though the subways had given the masses in the Lower East Side a route out to The Bronx and Queens. Dirt and noise and the press and stink of bodies were inescapable except for the richest rich, and even they had to cope with the gridlocked streets.
No surprise then that Fezandié starts the story with individual freedom in the clean air, far from the hoi polloi. Radia, the girl of 2025, wears pocket-wings - think a gossamer jetpack - whose propeller is powered by beamed wireless, just as Carl Claudy forecast in 1917. (See Dawn of the Flying Car.) Fezandié was an amasser of other peoples' ideas, not an originator. He recycled the wonders predicted by others and strung these beads into a gaudy necklace, even when they make little sense in juxtaposition. Therefore everybody flies, but they also need a moving sidewalk system and some people use "water skates" to walk across the Hudson, not to mention the bizarre description of suckered shoes that allow people to walk on ceilings. One thing stands out in this mixture of transport: each is essentially individual or limited to small intimate duos. Mass transmit meant pressing shoulders against the multitudes of lower classes who are conspicuous by their absence in 2025. The closest they get to a mention is that while the upper classes are literally so, entering their great apartment buildings at roof level, deliveries are still restricted to street level. Just as in Bellamy, the audience is not merely supposed to identify with the elite, but all of society is constructed to finally, once and for all, separate the classes. It shouldn't be a surprise that the U.S. would pass an extremely restrictive Immigration Act in 1924 that halted the flood of immigrants into New York.
Apartments are stripped down to give the same space and cleanliness, a single bare room in which an improbable amount of furniture is hidden inside walls and brought out one piece at a time for a particular purpose and then whisked away so that an invisible system can drench the room of any unsightly must and grime. H. G. Wells had a similar system in Anticipations as early as 1905 along with a similar horror of the dirt of contemporary London. Manhattan was still grappling with its water and sewer systems in the 1920s, a fact contemporary readers would be all too aware of. Radia also offers Silas a choice of ocean breezes or mountain air piped in to the apartment, just as in the 1911 Harry Grant Dart cartoon shown in Predictions. No matter what you think of Manhattan in the 21st century, every basic of living was worse in 1922. The one area in which Fezandié was truly prescient was his reliance on clean energy rather than fossil fuels. Radia says, "Of course, power is cheap – we get it from the waves, the tides, the sun, wind and the internal heat of the earth."
The world of the future can do without the lower classes in another way; there are no servants, everything being voice controllable via phonograph recordings. In an oddity, malaria stills exists in this world, its effects so severe that the shaking in Radia's voice meant that she was locked out of her apartment. (Fezandié ignores the great advances in two of Gernsback's pet interests: medicine and television.) She had a simple solution - she merely rented another apartment until her family returned to rescue her! The casualness of that amount of wealth peels away any facade of believability to the character.
For Fezandié - and by every indication for Gernsback - the most telling deliberate statement about the future is buried toward the end. "Mankind, [Silas] found, had changed but little in the hundred years, but mechanical inventions had multiplied to an enormous extent, and marvel after marvel appeared before his delighted eyes." Mankind meant him and people, i.e. males, like him. Radia is a literal dream woman. Twenty years old, "superbly beautiful," with "a soft feminine voice," and "a silvery laugh," she is an untouched virgin, literally so because kissing has been banned as unsanitary. Despite the ban she immediately succumbs to Silas Rockett's importunings. She exists for no other reason than as a male fantasy, which would be unbearably sexist except that the entire world of the future exists merely as a male fantasy of the progress of technology. (The psychosexual implications of a future of compliant young virgins alone should be enough to destroy any fantasies of a better world in the past. That they fed the adolescent reading of the entire "Golden Age" of SF writers proably explains much about their vision of women.)
Fezandié's multitude of Hackensaw stories were compressed into five years of publication. He had many years of life left - born in 1865 he nearly made it to a century himself, not dying until 1959 - but he was inextricably tied to the Gernsbackian mode and faded when Gernsback did. This is not the future you were nostalgic for; but it's the one you need to read.
A Journey to the Year 2025
by Clement Fezandié
You’re a smart man, Doctor Hackensaw, “remarked Silas Rockett. “But I’ll bet there’s one thing you can’t do/”
“Indeed? And what is that, pray?” asked the doctor, smiling. “Is it to make Gloria Mundy fall in love with you?”
“Silas Rockett blushed. “No,” said he, “I don’t need any help in that direction. What I should like would be to take a trip a hundred years forward into the future!”
“Is that all?” cried the doctor, gaily. “Why that’s easy enough – I’ll take you there any time.”
Silas Rockett’s face fell. “You don’t understand me,” said he. “I don’t want you to put me to sleep for a hundred years, pickled in carbon dioxide, the way you do with other men. No, thanks! What I want is just to take a short run to the year 2025 and then back to the present time again. If such a thing were only possible, I should come back a rich man!”
“Why, I’d simply take not of some of the greatest inventions that had been made during the century, and patent them now. I’d soon be the richest man in the United States!”
The smile on Doctor Hackensaw’s face broadened into a sarcastic grin.
“I’ll gladly do what you want, Silas: - the thing is simple enough. But, as to making your fortune, I fear you will be sadly disappointed. Do you imagine for a moment that if Ben Franklin had been allowed to spend a few days in our century, and had then gone back to 1776, he could have accomplished much? He would know how to make a locomotive, a dynamo, an automobile, an aeroplane, and radio apparatus – but of what use would they be? He would have no capital with which to put his machines on the market, no facilities for running and transporting the coal required, no gasoline for his automobiles and aeroplanes, no business that would warrant the installation of telephones and wireless. No, Silas, a new invention cannot be successfully launched until the world is ready for it. Human progress is necessarily slow. People in 1776, even more than at the present day, were opposed to all innovations, and Franklin would have been long dead before the simplest of these new devices would have been adopted. Every great invention requires a host of preliminary steps, and then there is the arduous work of educating the public up to it. But that’s neither here nor there. If you want to make a short trip to the year 2025, I’ll send you there at once, and guarantee you a safe return, too.”
“But how will you manage it, doctor?” asked Silas, surprised.
“Simply enough. I will merely give you an opiate, and by leading your thoughts to the future, as you fall asleep, you will almost certainly dream of 2025.
Silas Rockett made a wry face. “What use would that be?” said he. “In my dream I should learn nothing new, because a man can dream of nothing he doesn’t already know.”
“Indeed?” returned Doctor Hackensaw. “You forget that the human brain is a wonderful organ, especially when under the influence of a stimulant. I will promise you an interesting and instructive trip, and you will certainly see many new inventions, though I doubt if, on your return, you can make any profit out of them. At any rate, you will be back in an hour, so you risk nothing. Here, swallow this potion, and while it is taking effect I will lead you mind in the right direction by speaking of some of the things you are likely to see.”
“Where am I?” cried Silas Rockett, opening his eyes and gazing about him in wonderment.
“I hope you are not hurt, sir?” said a soft feminine voice in his ear.”
Silas Rockett looked up and found he was supported in the arms of a young girl about twenty, who was looking at him anxiously to ascertain if he were wounded.
“Where am I?” asked Silas again, his bewilderment increasing – “And who are who, pray?”
“My name is Radia Sparks, and here is my “identification button” FN-1728-N.Y. I suppose you flew here and met with an accident. By the way, you’ve lost your identification button!”
“My identification button? What’s that?”
“Is it possible you don’t know? I see from your clothing and speech that you are a stranger, but I thought everyone in the world today had to wear an identification button.”
“What place is this?” asked Silas.
“This is New York City,” returned the maiden.
“If you feel well enough to fly, I’ll take you to my home, where you’ll feel more comfortable. Have you your pocket-wings with you?”
“Yes, to fly with? But I see you haven’t them. Luckily, mine are strong enough to support the two of us.” So saying, the young lady drew a roll from beneath her dress, unfolded it, and in a moment a small flying machine with a propeller underneath was ready for action.
“Where is the engine?” asked Silas in surprise?
“There is none. The power comes by wireless impulses from the earth that set the propeller spinning. If we sit close enough together the two of us can fit in the machine. See, I turn the this knob. And up we go!” And as she said the words the plane ascended in the air.
It was soon evident, however, that the weight of the two persons was too much for the machines.
“We shall have to land!” observed the young lady. “Luckily we are near the traveling walks!” A moment later the two found themselves on the roofs of the houses where three traveling sidewalks – if side-walks they could be called – going at different rates of speed, were in constant motion in one direction, while three others were traveling in the reverse direction.
Silas and his fair companion moved from the slowest to the most rapid “walk” and there sat down in comfortable arm-chairs.
“Set your chair-dial for No 1272,” said Radia, and she showed Silas how to turn the dials. “You see,” she explained, “the chair is now set so it will travel straight to my house without further attention.”
“Is all traveling done on the roofs of the houses?” asked Silas.
“Yes – the streets below are for the vehicle traffic. Here on the roof we have the gardens. And, as you see, at every street corner, our chairs cross from one block to the next on moving bridges.”
“And are all the houses of the same height?”
“Practically so in all important centers in New York. Each house occupies a whole block, and surrounds a central garden. Roadways lead to the garden, for pleasure vehicles. All deliveries of goods are, however, made at the front door on the streets. Visitors either make use of the back doors in the garden, or enter from the traveling walks by doors in the roof, but they generally fly in through one of the windows.”
“I see,” said Silas. “By the way, what do you do when it rains? I suppose you have a glass roof to raise over the sidewalks, so you won’t get wet?”
Radia turned and looked at him in surprise, and then laughed merrily. “Why, what an idea!” she cried. “No, of course we have no glass roofs, though I believe there are such things in some out-of-the-way countries. But we don’t allow rain in the cities.”
You don’t allow it?”
“No The weather-makers have orders never to make it rain in New York except on special occasions. And then a week’s notice must be given so people can remain at home during the shower.”
“I see. Your weather is made to order. You have rain for the farmer and fine weather for the city man. But how do you satisfy everybody?”
“We don’t. But we have local options. Every months the people of each locality decide by vote what weather they want for each day of the coming month – heat, cold, rain or shine – and they get what they want within certain reasonable limits and provided the expense is not too great.”
“Why, yes. It costs money to control the weather. It takes a large amount of power – in the form of heat or electricity, to bring down a shower, keep it off, or move it to some other locality. Of course, power is cheap – we get it from the waves, the tides, the sun, wind and the internal heat of the earth. But such large quantities are required for weather purposes that the cost is considerable. But here we are at home. See, our chairs have stopped.”
Silas looked all around him on the roof, but could perceive no sign of a door. Radia noticed his puzzled look, and gave a slight silvery laugh.
“Wait until I open the door,” she cried. And then, slowly and distinctly she pronounced the words.
At the sound of her voice, a door in the roof noiselessly opened, and the arm-chairs on which they sat automatically continued their journey.
“Was it the sound of your voice that opened that door?” asked Silas, puzzled.
‘Why, certainly,” replied the young lady. “Almost all our locks are phonographic. We first make the record by speaking into the phonograph, and after that the lock will only open when the same voice repeats the same words, for unless the needle travels in the same groove, the electrical contact is not made, and the door will not open.”
“But how do you manage when several persons are to use the same lock?”
“Each person makes his own phonogram, and the lock will then open to any one of a dozen different voices, each repeating its own special words. When strangers are expected we use a broader needle in making the records. Then the lock will open for anyone who pronounces the given words. Or else we speak through a special horn that changes the voice, so that the lock is not set for an individual voice.”
“But doesn’t your own voice change somewhat at times?”
“Yes indeed. Once I came home so hoarse that my voice wouldn’t work the lock. In another case I had an attack of malaria and was shivering so hard I couldn’t articulate the words. In both cases I had to hire a room downstairs until my family returned.
“But here we are in my room, and as you must be hungry, we might as well have some dinner.”
Silas Rockett looked about him in surprise. The room was absolutely empty. In shape it was square, but there were no corners, no mouldings or panels to accumulate the dust. For ease in cleaning, the corners of the room were all rounded – there was no fire-place or mantel-piece and no carpet. Not even a door was visible. The arm-chairs, that had brought them, had vanished, and the opening had closed again. Not a chair, table, or other article of furniture was in sight. To Silas it appeared more like an empty room in a hospital than anything else.
“You have sanitary rooms all right,” said he, “and they must be easy to keep clean.”
“Yes, indeed,” replied Radia, “the rooms scrub themselves clean every day, automatically.”
“I see. But you speak of dinner, and yet there doesn’t seem to be the ghost of a table, chair or stove present, and what is more important than all, there doesn’t seem to be anything to eat.”
Radia laughed again – and her laugh was so infectious that Silas found himself joining in, though he hadn’t the faintest idea what he was laughing at.
“Before I attend to dinner,” said Radia, “what kind of air will you have?”
“Air?” echoed Silas in perplexity.
“Yes. Do you want ocean breezes brought in from five hundred miles out in the Atlantic, or do you want mountain breezes from the Adirondacks?”
“Oh I see,” said Silas, “you bring your air to the houses in pipes.”
“Yes,” returned Radia. “Our houses are dustproof and we use only filtered air. And you can have it warm or cool – any temperature you wish.”
“I’ll try the ocean air,” said Silas.
The young lady held herself erect, and in a clear distinct voice she uttered the command: “Sea breeze!”
Immediately the room was filled from an unseen source by the bracing salt-breezes of the Atlantic.
“You have good servants,” observed Silas.
“Servants? Oh that was no servant that turned on the breeze. It was simply another phonographic lock. We have no servants but use phonographic locks instead. I can order any one of a thousand things by merely shouting the proper word. You see, this is my bedroom, dining-room, parlor, library, music room, etc. The furniture is all of the folding variety and appears or disappears at command. It is stored behind the walls of the room. I shall now order the table and chairs to appear. Dining table for two!” she called. At the words the wall noiselessly opened and a small table with two chairs moved into the center of the room.
“Now,” said Radia, “what will you have to eat? That round spot in the center of the table is a phonograph transmitter. Press the button in front of you to connect to the restaurant, and then order anything you want. It will be served immediately.”
“I prefer that you give them the order,” said Silas, diffidently.
Radia smiled and ordered a delicious dinner such as Silas in all his life never tasted before. Each dish, as ordered, descended from the ceiling piping hot, and the young couple made a hearty meal.
“Now then,” said Radia after the last mouthful had been eaten, “perhaps you would like to take a trip around the city. I have an extra pair of pocket-wings that you can use.”
To Silas that afternoon spent in visiting the shops and factories was a revelation. He saw displays of goods such as he had never dreamt of before, and machines that possessed almost human intelligence so complex and delicate were the operations performed. Mankind, he found, had changed but little in the hundred years, but mechanical inventions had multiplied to an enormous extent, and marvel after marvel appeared before his delighted eyes.
The clothing worn by the men and women especially interested him. It was soft like silk, and yet between the outer and inner airtight tissue there was a vacuum which served to keep out the heat in summer and the cold in winter.
He visited the schools, saw lessons in geography and history taught by speaking movies in natural colors. In physiology, too, the movies were used to show the functioning of each organ. The lectures that accompanied the movies were up-to-the-minute talks by the most celebrated scientists.
The walls of houses were all built with a vacuum, and this acted as a silencer as well as a preservative against changes of temperature. A man could sing at the top of his voice, or run his phonograph at midnight in his room, and no sound would be perceptible to his neighbor in the next room. He saw people walking across the Hudson River with their feet encased in weighted floating-shoes – what you might call water-skates.
He saw other persons walk head-downward from a ceiling like flies, special suckers on their shoes enabling them to walk up the side-walls and cling to the ceiling. He greatly admired the lighting arrangements in the houses – for at the command: “Light!” the room would be flooded with daylight from some invisible source.
He flew to the suburbs with Radia and watched how the farmers passed the soil of their farms through sterilizing machines that killed all the weed-seeds and disease germs. Then pure cultures of beneficial microbes, and properly prepared humus and fertilizer were added, and the soil when planted needed no weeding.
But it would be impossible to detail one one-hundredth of the things he saw. His head was in a perfect whirl as they turned to leave the farm.
“Ah Radia,” said he, “I don’t know how to thank you for this wonderful day.” Then seeing she was having some trouble with adjusting her flying-gear, he added: “Here – let me fasten your wings for you.”
Radia looked superbly beautiful as she bent down to allow him to fasten the clasps of the aeroplane to her shoulders and it is no wonder if the poor man completely lost his head.
“Radia,” said he with his soul in his eyes, “Radia, will you allow me to kiss you?”
“No indeed!” she replied, blushing. “Kissing is against the law. On account of sanitary reasons, no one is allowed to kiss.” Then she added, more gently: I have read about kissing, in books, and I have often wondered what it must feel like to have a man’s lips touch yours.”
“I’ll show you, Radia,” cried Silas, beside himself, and seizing her in his arms he gave her a long ardent kiss.
The young girl blushed crimson, and breaking from his embrace, darted up into the air. In an instant Silas had buckled on his own flying machine and had followed her. But he had been too excited to fasten the clips carefully. Something slipped and he felt himself falling, falling…
“Well Silas,” said Doctor Hackensaw. “You’ve been gone just one hour. I hope you’ve brought back enough ideas for inventions to make your fortune. But what in the world did you mean by crying out: ‘Oh Radia, Radia – just one more kiss, please!’”
And Doctor Hackensaw smiled sarcastically.
Silas Rockett blushed scarlet. “Doctor,” said he, “if you ever tell Gloria Mundy about Radia, I’ll never forgive you. Women are such jealous creatures she wouldn’t understand that Radia was only a girl one hundred years in the future – and a dream-girl at that!”