Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Free Fiction: Dr. Hackensaw's Secrets #9: The Secret of Television

[Here's another one, brought back at long last to the land of the downloadable. Originally posted January 25, 2009, under the category of "Sunday Scientifiction."]

I missed last week's Sunday Scientifiction because I was busy finishing up Thrilling Wonder Stories, Volume 2. So this week, enjoy a two-fer!

Here we have one of a long series that ran in Hugo Gernsback's Science and Invention magazine from 1921 to 1925. I thought it would make amusing reading, less than three weeks before the United States makes an epochal change in television, putting an end to full-power analog broadcasting. DTV and HDTV have nothing on what Clement Fezandié imagines.

[UPDATE 2011: As it turned out, the U.S. had one more delay before the big switchover finally occurred on June 12, 2009.]

It also provides a window into scientific fiction as Gernsback pictured it in the early days. As Mike Ashley says in his indispensable volume The Gernsback Days:

[T]he episodes hardly qualify as stories, but rather a series of discourses, just as you might imagine Fezandié lecturing....
Writing in 1961, Gernsback called Fezandié a "titan of science fiction." This is hard to grasp by today's definition of science fiction, but we have to remember that Gernsback was talking about his own definition. These stories more than any others in Science and Invention epitomized Gernsback's model for scientific fiction. They extrapolated from existing known science to suggest future inventions and what they might achieve; and all for the sole purpose of stimulating the everyday man, who had a penchant for experimenting and tinkering with gadgets, into creating that future.

I'm guessing Fezandié was aware that much of what he was writing was, to use the expression of a much later age, technobabble. But in making Hackensaw's television impossibly grandiose, he might "stimulat[e] the everyday man" to a greater degree than he could with a more modest extrapolation.

It's worth pointing out, though, that John Logie Baird first demonstrated monochrome television transmission a bit over three years after the issue containing this story left the newsstands, so any kind of television was still science fiction. What's more, magnetic video recording didn't happen until 1951. (It was on magnetic tape and not wire, of course, but you can hardly blame Fezandié for not forseeing that.)

Click image to download story (489KB pdf file)

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