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Barbara Schmidt <[log in to unmask]>
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Mon, 12 Jan 2004 14:53:49 -0600
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The following review was written for the Mark Twain Forum by John H. Davis.



_Tales of Wonder_. Mark Twain. Edited with an introduction and notes by
David Ketterer. University of Nebraska Press, 2003. Pp. xxxiii + 385.
Softcover, 6 x 9. ISBN: 0-8032-9452-2. $16.95. (Originally published as
_The Science Fiction of Mark Twain_, ed. David Ketterer. Hamden, Conn.:
Archon, 1984.)

Many books reviewed on the Forum are available at discounted prices from
the Twain Web Bookstore, and purchases from this site generate commissions
that benefit the Mark Twain Project. Please visit

Reviewed for the Mark Twain Forum by:
John H. Davis
Chowan College
Murfreesboro, North Carolina

Copyright  2004 Mark Twain Forum. This review may not be published or
redistributed in any medium without permission.

Those who recall David Ketterer's _The Science Fiction of Mark Twain_
(1984) may find the title _Tales of Wonder_ (2003) disconcerting and
appropriate. It is the same book, in soft-cover with new title. With
burnt-orange letters above and below a portrait of Mark Twain against a
moonscape-like backdrop on the front cover, this book seems intended for a
more commercial audience than the somber, solid-black original. Imprecise
regarding critical purpose, this title implies a collection that will
likely attract more general readers than the earlier title that suggested
literature analyzed rather than anthologized. Despite new title, publisher,
design, and soft format, arguments and examples are those offered in 1984,
with no further discussion, stories, or updates to the already-extensive
bibliography. This statement is not negative criticism. The earlier book
made Ketterer's point: Twain is both major contributor and leader in
developing the science fiction genre.

With definition and application, analysis and analogy, historical and
critical research, examples and analogues, complete works and fragments,
parallel and crossover ideas from Twain and from Edgar Allan Poe, Jules
Verne, H. G. Wells, and others, Ketterer demonstrates Twain's relevance and
impact as a science fiction author and innovator. The impact, mainly
potential, lies within unfinished works published after his death.

Acceptance of Ketterer's 1984 argument is evidenced by commentary in _Mark
Twain A-Z_ (1995) and _The Mark Twain Encyclopedia_ (1993); although _The
Oxford Companion to Mark Twain_ (2003) rejects it, Ketterer includes enough
examples of Twain's writings to support his case. Further examples would
only cement proof already set. Other literary choices not included,
however, might be as pertinent and more attractive to a general audience
than "Secret History of Eddypus" or "Earthquake Almanac," included works
which are more related to proving points than entertaining readers. For
instance, alternate realities in "Which Was the Dream?" and "Which Was It?"
with its potential racial problems, antedating the Black Power movement,
would be enticing if they had been included.

Beginning with a twenty-two page introduction, followed by four pages of
notes, Ketterer asserts evidence of Twain's rightful place among major
science fiction writers. He divides exemplary literature into three topical
sections: "Whimsical Wonders," "Instantaneous Communication," and "Doubtful
Speculations."  Following these sections are five appendixes, eighteen
pages of "Explanatory Notes," and a 4 1/2-page "Selected Bibliography."
The 68-entry bibliography, with relevant scholarship extant in 1984, is an
excellent resource about Twain and science fiction. One wishes, however,
that Ketterer had expanded it for this new edition. Certainly, more
specific criticism has appeared since 1984.

Following a short historical context in his introduction, briefly
considering definition and distinctions between science fiction and
fantasy, Ketterer explains reasons for his selections. Within the
chronological explanation is justification of Twain's significance in
science fiction development. Ketterer cites Darko Suvin's assertion that,
had Twain finished and published particular fragments, he would doubtless
replace H. G. Wells as "'the major turning point in the tradition leading
to modern SF [and] Stapleton as the inventor of fictional historiography'"
(xiii). Selections appear essentially chronologically from 1862 to 1905
(section one covers ten years, the second twenty, and the third seven).
Items in the appendixes come from the late 1860s, middle 1870s and 1880s,
late 1890s, and early 1900s. So, choices are representative of Twain's
authorial career.

"Whimsical Wonders" contains "Petrified Man," "Earthquake Almanac," "A
Curious Pleasure Excursion," "The Curious Republic of Gondour," and
"Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven."  Ketterer's introduction links
literary hoax and tall tale to science fiction and petrified corpses to
repetitive preserved bodies in Twain's works, culminating in fragments
foreshadowing "The Great Dark" and a parallel to _Cat's Cradle_, Vonnegut's
end-of-the-world story. Ketterer contends "Earthquake Almanac," which
connects literary hoax and science fiction, is Twain's only world-ending
story, but fails to note that the proposed endings of "The Great Dark" and
"No. 44" (which Ketterer does not include) would have made them
world-ending stories. Its ending figuratively places _Connecticut Yankee_
with such stories. Ketterer categorizes this section as Twain's
less-serious science fiction. Even so, "Pleasure Excursion" presents
interstellar travel and missionaries to other worlds. Offering alternative
visions of Earth and types of Utopias, "Gondour" and "Stormfield" represent
the sub-genre of alternate worlds. "Stormfield" contains early non-humanoid
aliens. "Gondour" presents "a rational Utopia" (xviii) with universal
suffrage where the learned and propertied vote more times than "the
ignorant and non-taxpaying classes" (10), depending on amount of education
and value of their property. Praised as placing the best people in
government, the amendment "enlarging" suffrage resembles the 3/5 amendment
that effectively granted slaveholding states more votes. Whereas the
educated gain "greater homage" than the wealthy, the legislation ironically
devalues poor, uneducated people, who (with fewer votes) receive less
respect than "important" people, a result intensified by custom, "that most
powerful of all laws" (11). As this modified republic differs from American
expectations, so does Stormfield's "materialist heaven [. . .] in
interstellar space" from religious ones (xviii). Stormfield's comet ride
there may suggest the rules for space travel in "Pleasure Excursion."

Concepts about swiftly transporting people, sound, images, and thoughts
over time and space fascinate Twain. Entries in "Instantaneous
Communication" include "The Loves of Alonzo Fitz Clarence and Rosannah
Ethelton," "Time-Travel Contexts from _Connecticut Yankee_," "Mental
Telegraphy," "Mental Telegraphy Again," "My Platonic Sweetheart," and "From
the 'London Times' of 1904."  They more distinctly merge scientific
interests with fiction. "Loves," the first story to include and use a
telephone as a plot device--a year after the first commercial
telephone--anticipates long-distance calling, calling and paying for the
time, bugging a phone, "stealing" music over wire, prevention with
anti-tapping devices, portable phones, and specific places for home phones.
In "'London Times' of 1904" (1898), Twain merges telephones with
"television" and expands television coverage decades before satellites
permit world-wide broadcasts. Resembling contemporary camera-phones, these
phones permit close-ups and panning, all in living color.

The Connecticut Yankee's movements physically through time and space are
well-known, but Twain's interest in travel by thoughts or between minds is
not as famous. Considered in two similarly titled essays, Twain's mental
telegraphy, resembling telepathy, influences thoughts and actions of
others. Not having heard from someone, Twain writes that person and, while
writing, he concentrates on that person, then destroys the letter, and
shortly receives one from the person. The concentration linking them
prompted the other to write. In this manner, he believed minds could
communicate over wide distances. A visual example is Twain's seeing
someone, not present, he later meets dressed as he saw her; her knowledge
she would meet him linked their minds. Mental telegraphy explains
similarities of _Rasselas_ and _Candide_, written by contemporaries
separated by the English Channel, just as Twain influenced William Wright
to write about silver mines when he, in the East, conceived the idea and
thought Wright, in the West, the man to do it. The internally-directed
concept of a second-self in dreams and, later, other possible dream-selves
and lives led Twain deeper into the subject. Ultimately, these other selves
seemingly refer to the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious (conceived
without consciousness of Freud) that evolved in _Mysterious Stranger_
fragments (not in Ketterer's anthology) into Waking (Workaday) Self,
Dream-Self, and Spiritual-Self (Immortal Soul). An early expression of the
second-self's life in dream is "My Platonic Sweetheart." In meetings with a
dream sweetheart over many years, lovers never age. Despite speaking
dream-language, they always understand each other, and though their names
change, they are the same people who always know one another. Dream
feelings and language instantly translate, apparently because of harmonious

 "Doubtful Speculations," with "The Great Dark," "The Secret History of
Eddypus," "Sold to Satan," and "3,000 Years Among the Microbes," is more
science fantasy than science fiction. Ketterer notes analogies of the 1966
film _Fantastic Voyage_ to "3,000 Years" (374). He could also have compared
"The Great Dark."  In the film, scientists miniaturized by advanced
nano-technology enter an injured man's bloodstream to save vital
information. With a specially designed craft, they encounter microscopic
dangers before removing an inoperable brain blood clot. In "The Great
Dark," characters on a ship in a water drop under a microscope are
threatened by creatures their larger selves had seen with it. In "3,000
Years," a magician transforms narrator Bkshp, former scientist, into a
cholera germ in the body of Blitzowski, a tramp labeled a planet. Implicit
in both is the idea of multiple microcosms within multiple macrocosms,
diminishing each subsequent race's importance. The ending, "I then went to
bed" (324), suggests a cycle: one dream-experience ends (379); another
begins. Twain's notes are explicit that "The Great Dark" is a dream with
nightmare experiences so real that reality becomes uncertain.

According to the Nightmare of History theory, events cycle, continually
casting civilization into darkness. Ketterer calls "The Secret History of
Eddypus" "the clearest exposition of MT's nightmare vision of history,"
which "3,000 Years" and _Connecticut Yankee_ also exemplify (361).
"Eddypus" projects a future developed following guidelines from Mary Baker
Eddy, Christian Science founder. Though puns and coinages based on "Eddy"
and sarcasms toward Christian Science abound, this mock history more
intently urges a cyclical view of history, in which, paraphrasing Yeats,
"All things fall and are built again" to fall again, a constant
encroachment of darkness (ignorance, folly, depravity, greed, cowardice,
slavery) upon light (freedom, knowledge, charity, wisdom, kindness,
fellowship). Emphasizing this cycling, in which even names of things may be
reproduced (_Fables of Man_, 401-402), a future scribe, reflecting on the
progressive nineteenth century, frequently jumbles events, people, times,
names, and eras, so that a person of one century appears beside a person of
another: Columbus and Uncle Remus discover America; William the Conqueror
dies at Bunker Hill; Emerson invents yellow journalism; Washington drowns
at Waterloo. Similarly, Bkshp mixes Cleopatra, King Herod, and Catherine of
Aragon, but as germs, and says Washington commanded Hessians and Franklin
was at the Diet of Worms. History becomes nightmare when it becomes chaos
and replaces reality with dream-becoming-reality.

Lacking analogies to preceding works, "Sold to Satan" does fit all three
section titles. Its whimsicality derives from the narrator's decision,
prompted by Stock Market slumps, to sell Satan his soul. Applicable to
"Instantaneous Communication," Satan reads thoughts. Speculations concern
radium, Satan's protection from Hell-fires, as potential unlimited power
source for humanity.

Appendixes parallel and fill in the progression the three sections present.
"The Generation Iceberg" and "Shackleford's Ghost" complement "Great Dark"
and "'London Times'"; "Shackleford" and "The Mysterious Balloonist" contain
plot-details of "Murder, Mystery, and Marriage," synopsized because of its
unavailability in 1984. Like it, "Generation Iceberg," whose inhabitants
know only an icy interior as reality, anticipates enclosed-worlds (and Lost
World themes of Conan Doyle, Rider Haggard, and Edgar Rice Burroughs) in
"3,000 Years" and "Great Dark" (xxv-xxvi). "Dark's" Superintendent of
Dreams recaps "Shackleford's" Invisible Man (357). Citing Tuckey, Ketterer
offers "History 1,000 from Now" as "'the germ of "Eddypus"'" (380).

Ketterer's Explanatory Notes supplement the introduction, amplifying
contributions and providing context. For example, concerning "The Great
Dark," Ketterer explains such antecedents as "The Enchanted
Sea-Wilderness," "Indiantown," and "Which Was It?" He provides De Voto's
summarized Conclusion-Notes, biographical relevancies (Susy's death,
Twain's height, Twain's letter to wife Olivia), and links to Twain's
readings (Lichtenberg, Russell, Brown, Bullen). Though Ketterer cites
titles, a final quibble is the absence of a selective bibliography of
Twain's other science fiction.

Enthusiasts of Twain, science fiction, and futurology should commend
Ketterer for recognizing Twain's literary contributions and significance
which had been unrealized by the general public and Twainians who had not
connected the dots. Ketterer's single-volume sampling is now a convenient
soft-cover edition. Though a subtitle would clarify content and purpose, as
burnt-orange letters attract, content should hold, readers.