A Study of the Hollow Earth

Exploring forgotten realms of literature

Archive for the tag “review”

REVIEW – “Hugo Gernsback: An Amazing Story”

gernsbackCNL_180_thumb[Hugo Gernsback: An Amazing Story by Luc Henzig, Paul Lesch, and Ralph Letsch (2010) Mersch, Luxembourg : Centre national de littérature]

For those not lucky enough to live in close proximity to Luxembourg, or fortunate enough to have the means of reaching Luxembourg, you might have missed out on the Centre national de littérature’s exhibition on the life and works of Hugo Gernsback,  celebrating the 125th anniversary of his birth in that country. This book is a gallery guide to the massive collection of Gernsback relics amassed from around the world to put forth a chronology of an amazing life. Hugo Gernsback: An Amazing Story is a two-dimensional recreation of artefacts to enlighten those interested in the life of the man who give the science fiction genre its moniker, with detailed commentary about the phases of his life and impact on science fiction.

Half of the book is in English, etl’autre moitié du livre, en français, s’adresse aux Luxembourgeois. Readers picking it up should not expect that every page is going to fill them with insights into Greenback’s life: only half of them will. And half of those pages are not filled with narration or analysis, but reproductions of photographs, letters, manuscripts, magazine covers, articles, etc. Fortunately, these are presented in high resolution colour, and not just the occasional glossy page with a hastily snapped photo of the exhibit. Great care has been taken in the layout and presentation of the evidence of Gernsback’s life and accomplishments, complicated by the necessity of bilingual explanatory notations. Readers might at first be confused, though, by the circled numbers inserted throughout paragraphs. Only by flipping ahead in the text will they realise these are references to the numbered artefacts, or the source of the information in the absences of a visual reproduction.

It should be noted that this is not an academic text, proposing no new theory or perspective on Gernsback beyond shedding ‘a constructive light on the merits of a man hitherto little known’ (p. 9), or at least, ‘little known’ in Luxembourg, Gernsback having moved to the US at the age of twenty. His early family life in Luxembourg is given in great detail, including several photos and letters from his descendents never before publicly exhibited. At the same time, even the exhibitors acknowledge a certain lack of documentation, such as a degree certificate to verify if a young Gernsback (never a diligent student) actually graduated from the Technikum in Bingen, Germany, which he attended in 1901 and 1902. One of the downsides to the reproduced letters and certificates from early in his life is that many of them are in French, without translation in the notes, leaving Anglophone speakers at a loss as to what exactly is being presented.

The American portion of Gernsback’s life in broken into two distinct parts: his contributions to promoting science and technology, and his literary endeavours in the nascence of science fiction. While the authors/exhibitors have been thorough in their chronological narrative, the redundancy of the introduction to each section of ‘Technology and Science Enthusiast’ becomes almost painful, five times beginning with the words ‘When Hugo Gernsback was born in 1884,’ (pp. 51-56) as if the reader is in danger of forgetting this pertinent information. This section also feature nearly 70 exhibits, with the unfortunate result that the guide reproduces less than half of them, giving readers only a source for the information, but not the evidence itself, which is at times frustrating. The subsequent section, ‘Father of Modern Science Fiction’, is dedicated to Gernsback’s publishing endeavours, starting with science and technology journals, and then moving into science fiction magazines. Here we find reproductions of letters, stories and poems by Gernsback, including the unpublished ‘Spring Poem’ from 1907:

First of all it’s raining cats,
And the cold makes die the rats.
Zephyr winds and balmy breeze
Are so frosty that we sneeze. (119)

One is left to wonder how Gernsback would feel to have such work posthumously made available to the public.

The last pages are given over to Gernsback’s legacy, including the development of the Hugo Awards for science fiction and the growth of ‘fandom’, employing the broadest definition of that word to encompass the whole of the genre. Gernsback’s efforts to create the first science fiction ‘fandom’ by incorporating the Science Fiction League in 1934 helped to revive the fading readership of Wonder Stories by making it the league’s official publication. Gernsback’s efforts in early sf had clear monetary rewards. Other fanzines rose to prominence, though, and are explored in this section, expanding the exhibit’s perspective beyond Gernsback to look at these ‘zines and letters regarding their contributors, including artefacts from H.P. Lovecraft.

Perhaps the greatest flaw in this book (or gallery catalogue as it should more properly be called) is its apparent lack of availability. Gernsback scholars or enthusiasts eager to take advantage of the rare materials presented here will find themselves looking under proverbial rocks to find a copy. But if they can, they may find a new critical insight into Gernsback that has hitherto gone unexplored.

Reviewing “The Goddess of Atvatabar”

Thanks to the wonders of the on-line newspaper catalogue “Chronicling America” it has been possible to dig up some nineteenth century reviews of some of the hollow earth novels I’ve been studying. Today’s feature is three reviews of William R. Bradshaw’s The Goddess of Atvatabar (1892), which compelled these reviewers to relate the novel to the European imports of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Rider Haggard’s She. This is actually quite interesting, building a case that at this time foreign novels were still far more widely read than America’s own literary products. Only the last review, however, mentions John C. Symmes’s wholly American theory of polar openings leading to a hollow world.


The Saint Paul Daily Globe, Thursday Morning, May 5, 1892, p. 3.

Since Jules Verne set the fashion of journeys to remarkable places we see now and then accounts of some wonderful discoveries. This liking for stories that would make Munchhausen turn green with envy has incited William R. Bradshaw, to suit a book with a good long title, “The Goddess of Atvatabar, being the discovery of the Interior World and the Conquest of Atvatabar,” and presents a map of that long talked of country. Mr. Lexington White, being a man of wealth and having a strong desire “strange countries far to see,” fits out a strong ship with all the modern conveniences, and a full complement of officers and men, which he calls the ‘”Polar King.” He then starts out to find the long lost North pole. While anchored near the impassable barrier of mighty ice cliffs a good many miles farther north than anybody else ever got, a terrible convulsion of nature rends the cliffs and opens a passage to a clear blue sea beyond. Bravely the commander determines to enter the passage and after a few hours sailing discovers that they are going down hill, and they continue their downward course, till they reach a country where men weigh nothing and gold and silver are common rocks, and where people are peculiar to say the least. While the ship was at anchor two strange men came flying on board: “These two men were strange beings. Their complexions were a bright-yellow and their hair black. Their wings were long gleaming blades of some white metal, that were moved by some powerful force (possibly electricity) quite independent or the body. Each was armed with spear and shield, and notwithstanding their queer looks they did not object to a glass of rum. On being questioned, by pantomime one of the men introduced himself as “Plothoz, wayleal as Atvatabar.” Our adventurers had no trouble in learning the language of this new country and were soon taken to visit Kiaram the home of the king where they were to see a review of the armies of the country. The soldiers were mounted on immense walking machines, but on the plan of the ostrich, and run by electric motors. These were forty feet high and were called “bock-hockids.” These people seem not to be prohibitionists, for the king drank the health of his visitors, in a goblet of wine. The flora of this interior county grew in strong resemblance to birds and beasts, and displayed the most gorgeous coloring. The religion as explained by the Goddess of Hopelesslove was far too etherial and spiritual to commend itself to people in our sphere, and the introduction of pushing American men seems to have upset things in Atvatabar, as it usually does everywhere, for the goddess fell in love with the American commander, as is the custom of maidens everywhere, and as she had already found her twin soul and lost him by death, and was devoted to perpetual widowhood in a spiritual sense, the whole country had to be upset and its theology changed to suit her change of mind, for marry the beautiful American she would and did.


The Sun, Saturday, June 4, 1892, p. 8(?)

It looks as though Mr. Rider Haggard’s “She” were the source of Inspiration for “The Goddess of Atvatabar” a novel by Mr. William R. Bradshaw (J. F. Douthitt), but the later story is no servile Imitation of Its distinguished model. The Atvatabarese Goddess is a highly startling creature. In the matter of color she seems to have had the assistance neither of good taste nor of good fortune, for her hair is blue and her skin yellow, and it is her habit to wear a vermilion tiara while sitting upon a divan upholstered in croon velvet. She suits Mr. Lexington White, however, a gentleman who was enabled to find her by the simple expedient of sailing through a hole in the sea into the interior of the earth. Mr. White, a New Yorker, with eyes like soup plates (see Illustrations), and otherwise of a distinguished personal appearance, was on his way to the north pole in an ironclad yacht when the hole in question opened up before him. The yacht was bombarding the Arctic ice pack with rackarock bombshells, and rapidly pulverizing it, and Mr. White, incongruously but interestingly clad in the uniform of a Field Marshal of France, was languidly regarding the operation. All of a sudden the yacht began to sail into the hole, and when it fetched up the high-colored Goddess of Atvatabar was at hand. Some time was spent in doing the country. Mr. White sailed in an airship and rode on metallic grasshoppers seventy feet high, which are used In Atvatabar for cavalry horses. He also heard singing by a vast assemblage of twin souls, and he reports it as having been an extraordinary performance. “It was a roar of invincible music,” he says. He adds: “I cried aloud amid a Chimborazo of song, a hundred-cratered Popocatepetl of sweet strains. The audience, enraptured with the climax, became an inferno of passion, laughter, tears, and felicity.” Then the Goddess accommodated Lexington White with a kiss, which was a “whirlwind of fire and tears,” and after neat administration of rackarock to such as raised objections he became Deity-Consort and commander of the airship and the grasshopper squadron. Mr. Julian Hawthorne, in an Introduction, pronounces this story “a work of art which may rightfully be termed great.” We should say so! A Popocatepetl* of sweet strains indeed!

* Popocatepetl: a volcano in south central Mexico


The Morning Call, San Francisco, Sunday, June 5, 1892, pp. 9-12.

THE GODDESS OF ATVATABAR.— Through “Symmes’ Hole” into the interior of the earth is the imaginative excursion on which William R. Bradshaw conducts the reader in this “History of the Discovery of the Interior World and Conquest of Atvatabar.” It possesses all the extravagant fancies to be met with in Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and Rider Haggard’s “She.” The perfection of the various apparatuses of locomotion, the ingenious architecture throughout the kingdom, the novelty of resting on the air, owing to the absence of the attraction of gravitation, all appeal to one’s interest. The volume is profusely illustrated. [New York, J. F. Douthitt. For sale at the bookstores.]

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