13 June 2012 by Dominic Lenton
To address that shortcoming, what do you make of this opening paragraph from a novel telling the story of how the largest steamship ever built ploughs into an iceberg while trying to cross the Atlantic in record time, plunging thousands of passengers into the icy water and revealing a hopelessly inadequate complement of lifeboats?
She was the largest craft afloat and the greatest of the works of men. In her construction and maintenance were involved every science, profession and trade known to civilization. On her bridge were officers, who, besides being the pick of the Royal Navy, had passed rigid examinations in all studies that pertained to the winds, tides, currents and geography of the sea; they were not only seamen, but scientists.
The surprising thing is that Morgan Robertson's 'The Wreck of the Titan' was originally written in 1898, fourteen years before the Titanic met her end. Clearly one of those remarkable coincidences that are bound to happen when life imitates art, the novel has been republished in a new edition by Hesperus Press with an introduction by Sam Leith, whose own 'The Coincidence Machine' examines the effect of the invention of a machine that can manipulate probability.
Robertson was an American author well known in his day for his short stories and novels. He claimed to have invented the idea of the periscope for one of his books, and marine technology features heavily in the background of 'The Wreck of the Titan'. Otherwise, it's a typically melodramatic turn of the century tale of disgrace and redemption, in which a disgraced former Royal Navy lieutenant who happens to have taken a job as a lowly deck hand redeems himself through his heroism in the face of disaster.
If the style of 19th century Gothic that was the precursor to science fiction is more to your taste, Hesperus has also revived three tales by another American writer and genre pioneer in 'The Diamond Lens and Other Stories' by Fitz-James O'Brien.
Irish-born O'Brien capitalised on the success of Edgar Allan Poe with a line in macabre stories with demented protagonists. The three featured here include a lone scientist's discovery of a microcosmic world within a drop of water, the discovery of an invisible man by the residents of a boarding house (predating HG Wells' take on the same theme by nearly four decades) and an embittered toymaker who creates and unleashes an army of killer mannequins.
The collection stands the test of time better than Roberton's historical curiousity. With the current vogue for portmanteau horror films, it's almost surprising that no enterprising producer has turned any of these stories into a cult movie yet.
Read all about it...
E&T's Titanic-themed special issue from April 2012.
Some 'striking similarities' between The Titan and Titanic.
Wikipedia's page on Morgan Robertson.
Buy 'The Wreck of the Titan' by Morgan Robertson' (Hesperus Press, £8, ISBN 978-1843913580/ 978-1843913597) at Amazon.
Fitz-James O'Brien page at The Literary Gothic.
Buy 'The Diamond Lens and Other Stories' by Fitz-James O'Brien (Hesperus Press, £8, ISBN 978-1-84391-358-0) at Amazon.
Edited: 25 June 2012 at 10:32 AM by Dominic Lenton
Posted By: Dominic Lenton @ 13 June 2012 03:00 PM General
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