Monday, 23 May 2016

Cyrano de Bergerac, Science Fiction Writer

Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac is best known from the play about him by Edmond Rostand, which was a fictionalised account of his life. The true details of his life are not known, only fragments. What we do know is that he was an innovative dramatist and novelist who lived in France in the early 17th century.
What we also know is that he wrote science fiction. It seems he was inspired by True History by Lucian of Samosata, described last week.

A collection of his work, published in 1657, after his death, included his novel The Other World: The Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon. Another collection, published in 1662, included The Comical History of the States and Empires of the Sun.

The States and Empires of the Moon

Cyrano relates the book as though it were his own history. He believes that the civilisation on the moon views the Earth as its moon, and attempts to go and meet them.

His first idea is to strap bottles of dew to himself. As the dew rises he soars into the sky, but falls back down. Then he builds a flying machine which he launches off a cliff. It fails, but soldiers find it and fix rockets to it and he is blasted into space probably the first description of a space rocket).

He meets inhabitants of the moon who have four legs, musical voices, and amazing weapons that cook game for a meal while it's being shot, and talking earrings which educate children. He also meets the ghost of Socrates and Domingo Gonsales of Francis Godwin's The Man in the Moone (which I wrote about last week). His has philosophical discussions with them, and then returns to Earth.

The States and Empires of the Sun

In this novel he builds a machine that generates bursts of hot air by using mirrors to focus solar energy – an early ‘ram jet’. On the sun he learns about the solar system and discusses sex in Utopia with Tommaso Campanella. But he is also put on trial, by birds, for humanity’s crimes, but someone helps him escape.


Just as Cyrano was inspired by Lucian’s True History, his The Other World inspired many authors whch followed, including Jonathan Swift's novel Gulliver's Travels, which is also an example of fantastic voyages exploring both contemporary social commentary, and some ideas of the unknown and ‘modern’ science.

Get A Brief History of Science Fiction free here!

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