Sunday, February 26, 2017

Science Fiction by Gaslight: Episode 3

Title: "A Corner in Lightning"
Author: George Griffith
Published in: Pearson's Magazine March 1898

Category: Catastrophes

Summary: To get even richer, a wealthy businessman implements a scheme to control all electricity on Earth, with disastrous consequences.

Protagonist: White male, about thirty, who is "one of the richest men in London", with a wife and child.

The Science: Electric fluid, a real idea, now discounted. Early researchers into electricity (such as Benjamin Franklin) posited the existence of this substance, which made possible all discernible electrical phenomena, both natural and artificial. Like aether and phlogiston, it doesn't really exist; in the story, it does.

Reader's notes: The casual capitalism that drives the story forward is telling: the scientist who verifies the theory abrogates any ethical responsibility for his participation and even the protagonist's wife thinks that the idea is 'wicked". (All she does is threaten to move to Australia for the duration of the experiment, but only makes it to Nice.) None of this sow the project down in the slightest. The story lacks strong conflict; as the ill-considered industrial adventurism interferes not only with telegraph and power transmission, but also with the weather and human health, the circumstances just happen to people, with no opportunity for response or action. While it is an interesting exercise in the origination of disaster, it lacks the interpersonal dynamics that give the disaster epics their life.

Grade: C. There is a Dramatic Irony in the comeuppance.

No comments:

Post a Comment