Thursday, March 5, 2009

Mellonta Tauta

"Get ready your spectacles and make up your mind to be annoyed. I mean to write at you every day during this odious voyage..."

Have you all read this ridiculous story, "Mellonta Tauta," by Edgar Allan Poe? (I mean "ridiculous" in the best possible way--I am not insulting the founder of American genre fiction) Click on the title to go over to the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore's website and check it out if you don't have it in some anthology on a bookshelf already.  It's a piece of what could be called early sf in the sense that it is set a thousand years in the future, but it is also intended (I assume) as a sort of satirical attack on the society of the time. It's also laugh-out-loud funny and quite crazy.

It is written in the form of a letter, the author being a passenger on some kind of hot air ballon or airship. Apparently there are hundreds of people on this air voyage, which is supposed to be a vacation for them, but the narrator finds it entirely dreary: "Heigho! When will any Invention visit the human pericranium?" He wonders. "Are we forever to be doomed to the thousand inconveniences of the balloon?" Haven't you always wanted to be able to ask something like that? Much of the story is the narrator's observations of their world with reference to the ancient past, his understanding of it being fraught with errors and (mis)informed by another balloon passenger named Pundit.  At one point he even sets down the letter-writing to go ask Pundit something: "Let me see!  I will go ask Pundit and be back in a minute..."  As if he is talking to someone on the phone rather than writing a letter.  It is hilarious. The story ends with the balloon collapsed and heading down to the sea and the narrator hastily yet cheerfully finishing up his missive, saying that he'll cork it in a bottle and toss it into the sea.

That ending reminds me a lot of the much later Lovecraft and Lovecraftian stories with the image of the journal writer madly writing down events write up to the last second as doom arrives at the door. I love that stuff for its geekiness: it's writing for writers. I can imagine blogging that way now: "This may be my last post. The alien horde is literally across the street now...oh they come!!!" 

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