Coloured aquatint, ca. 1862, depicting a man covering his mouth with a handkerchief, walking through a smoggy London street – Source: Wellcome Library.
“Scarcely can I portray in words the dire and dismal scenes that met my vision here…
For here, where on the previous night had throbbed hot and high the flood-tide of London’s evening gaiety, was now presented to my poor fevered sight, the worst, the most awful features of the whole terrific calamity.
I had entered into the very heart and home of horror itself. This is the way the world ends: not with a bang but a bronchial spasm”.
That is, at least, according to William Delisle Hay’s 1880 novella The Doom of the Great City. I
t imagines the entire population of London choked to death under a soot-filled fog.
The story is told by the event’s lone survivor sixty years later as he recalls “the greatest calamity that perhaps this earth has ever witnessed” at what was, for Hay’s first readers, the distant future date of 1942.
The novella received only mild acclaim among its late Victorian readers, and today it is almost forgotten.
But, surprisingly enough, it has become possible to read our social and environmental problems foretold in Hay’s strange little story.
In our age of global warming, acid rain, and atmospheric pollution, we may become the first readers to take Hay seriously.
When Hay imagines a city whose wealth and “false social system” lulls it into complacency, we can recognize ourselves in his words.
And as for those air problems that loomed dangerously around them, Londoners “looked upon them in the light of a regular institution, not caring to investigate their cause with a view to some means of mitigating them”.
At moments like these, we get the feeling that Hay’s obscure 135-year-old story is eerily prophetic.
A print from around 1882 depicting a futuristic view of air travel over Paris as people leave the opera.
Many types of aircraft are shown including flying buses, limousines and, what are presumably, police vehicles. On the latter are mounted strangely un-futuristic sword-carrying officers that wouldn’t seem out of place on the Opera’s stage itself.
As far as the get-up of the normal opera-going folk, things don’t seem to have progressed too radically, though many of the men seem to be sporting the same bizarre military-esque hat.
To the left of the scene, amongst the flying vehicles, we can see a restaurant, which like the Opera building itself, is elevated to an enormous height above the vaguely discernible city below.
In the distance we can make out the Eiffel Tower, which seems to have some enormous structure emerging from its top about which buzz more flying vehicles.
One other interesting thing to note is that women can be seen driving their own aircraft.
The print is the creation of the French illustrator, etcher, lithographer, caricaturist, novelist, and all around futurologist, Albert Robida. Editor and publisher of La Caricature magazine for 12 years, Robida also wrote an an acclaimed trilogy of futuristic novels imagining what life would be like in the 20th century.
He foretells many inventions in his writings, including the “Téléphonoscope”: a flat screen television display that delivered the latest news 24-hours a day, the latest plays, courses, and teleconferences.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
Sixty years after the publication of Orwell’s masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, that crystal first line sounds as natural and compelling as ever.
But when you see the original manuscript, you find something else: not so much the ringing clarity, more the obsessive rewriting, in different inks, that betrays the extraordinary turmoil behind its composition.
Probably the definitive novel of the 20th century, a story that remains eternally fresh and contemporary, and whose terms such as “Big Brother”, “doublethink” and “newspeak” have become part of everyday currency, Nineteen Eighty-Four has been translated into more than 65 languages and sold millions of copies worldwide, giving George Orwell a unique place in world literature.
“Orwellian” is now a universal shorthand for anything repressive or totalitarian, and the story of Winston Smith, an everyman for his times, continues to resonate for readers whose fears for the future are very different from those of an English writer in the mid-1940s.
The circumstances surrounding the writing of Nineteen Eighty-Four make a haunting narrative that helps to explain the bleakness of Orwell’s dystopia.
Here was an English writer, desperately sick, grappling alone with the demons of his imagination in a bleak Scottish outpost in the desolate aftermath of the second world war.
The idea for Nineteen Eighty-Four, alternatively, “The Last Man in Europe”, had been incubating in Orwell’s mind since the Spanish civil war.
His novel, which owes something to Yevgeny Zamyatin’s dystopian fiction We, probably began to acquire a definitive shape during 1943-44, around the time he and his wife, Eileen adopted their only son, Richard.
Orwell himself claimed that he was partly inspired by the meeting of the Allied leaders at the Tehran Conference of 1944.
Isaac Deutscher, an Observer colleague, reported that Orwell was “convinced that Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt consciously plotted to divide the world” at Tehran.
Artist Noah Stacey (Zen-Master on DeviantArt) created this piece of art for the menus at Storm Crow Tavern in Vancouver, which imagines a galactic way station where Lando absolutely destroys Link at holographic monster chess.
See the full art below:
Source: So, Every Science Fiction and Fantasy Character Ever Walk Into a Bar