Explore Digitized Treasures of the Merril Collection from Your Couch!
TPL's branches may be closed for browsing and reference during the Grey-Lockdown, but there are still ways to explore our Special Collections. The Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy has over one hundred books in its Digital Archive, with more coming later this year. Here are a few weird and wonderful books to explore.
These books are all available for download as PDFs.
Star-Begotten: A Biological Fantasia by H. G. Wells (1937)
H.G. Wells was one of the most influential authors of science fiction, penning such works as The Time Machine, War of the Worlds and The Island of Dr. Moreau. Star-Begotten, written late in his career, is more about the spread of ideas than interplanetary conflict. Joseph Davis, a writer of histories, comes to believe that the genetic make-up of humanity is changing. It is the work of cosmic rays from Mars, a sinister plot to turn the human race into Martians. As he convinces himself and others of this idea, can it be that the changes become real though the rays are not?
Darius Green and His Flying-Machine by J. T. Trowbridge (1910)
In this amusing poem, the fourteen-year-old Darius Green becomes obsessed with the fact that he cannot fly. After all, animals of far less intelligence can take to the skies. Convinced of his genius, he builds his own flying-machine. This poem was originally published in 1869. It was re-printed in 1910 to capitalize on the "present intense and widespread interest in aviation."
The Girl in the Golden Atom by Ray Cummings (1923)
The Girl in the Golden Atom is the first and most famous work by Ray Cummings. It was published in the pulp magazine All-Story Weekly in March 1919. Cummings wrote for the pulps under various names. There are over 600 stories identified as his work and he likely wrote more than 750. This story is about a chemist who, using a powerful microscope, discovers a tiny world within an atom. Obsessed with a girl he sees there, he invents a drug to shrink himself to visit the microscopic world.
Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation by Edwin Lester Arnold (1905)
Lieutenant Gullivar Jones, disappointed with his life, finds a flying carpet and is whisked away to Mars. The Red Planet is a land of decaying cities and strange creatures. Jones encounters many adventures as he travels the planet and strives for the love of the beautiful Princess Heru. This was Arnold's last and best-known work of fiction. It has some similarities to Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars and likely influenced that novel.
The Battle of Dorking by George Tomkyns Chesney (1871)
Written by a British soldier and politician, this book launched a subgenre of "future war" or invasion tales. It describes a successful invasion of England by a Germanic country, armed with surprise and terrifying "fatal engines." The book was hugely popular, translated into several languages. It was a reaction to the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871. The Prussian victory over France led to widespread European anxiety. The Battle of Dorking critiqued British unpreparedness for an attack.
With the Night Mail: A Story of 2000 AD by Rudyard Kipling (1909)
In the year 2000, the skies are full of zeppelins kept in check by the rigid Aerial Board of Control. This story follows the adventures of a mail dirigible in a world where everything is tightly controlled so as not to interfere with air traffic. With the Night Mail was first serialized in McClure's Magazine. This book includes an appendix of fake advertisements Kipling wrote to accompany the story. Rudyard Kipling is famous for books like The Jungle Book and his Just So Stories.
Mary Melville the Psychic by Flora Macdonald (1900)
Flora MacDonald Denison was a Canadian feminist, businesswoman and spiritualist. She was a leader in the Canadian Suffrage movement and used her weekly newspaper column to fight for women's rights. This book is a fictionalized account of the life of Denison's older sister, Mary, who died at a young age. She was said to have psychic powers. In telling the story of a strong young woman with special powers, Denison expressed her own spiritual and social ideas. Benjamin Fish Austin, a famous Canadian spiritualist, wrote the foreword for the book.
Swastika Night by Murray Constantine (pseudonym of Katharine Burdekin) (1937)
Katharine Burdekin wrote under the names Kay Burdekin and Murray Constantine. She imbued her science fiction and fantasy books with feminist themes. Swastika Night is her best known-work. Published in 1937, after the rise of Hitler but before the world went to war, this book imagines a future 700 years after Nazis have conquered Europe. Hitler is seen as divine and women as little better than animals. But a German Knight reveals a family heirloom that throws doubt on these beliefs and shows the truth of history.
Originally published as By The Gods Beloved in the United Kingdom in 1905, the book was released as The Gates of Kamt in America in 1907. It tells the tale of two adventurers who find a secret enclave of ancient Egyptians living in the Libyan Desert. In this hidden kingdom, called Kamt, politics and romance could spell their doom. By The Gods Beloved features detailed black and white illustrations by H.M Brock. The Gates of Kamt has colour illustrations by the Kinneys, the same artists that made the gorgeous cover. Baroness Orczy is most famous for writing The Scarlet Pimpernel, which introduced the idea of a hero with a secret identity (thus inventing superheroes). But she wrote widely in other genres, including detective stories and adventure romances. The Scarlet Pimpernel was also published in 1905.
Le Vingtième Siècle: La Vie Électrique by Albert Robida (1893)
This book's title translates as "The Twentieth Century: The Electric Life." Set in France in the 1950s, it describes a country full of flying machines, governed by a female president. The book spins a dystopian tale of unbridled technological advancement. But it is filled with wonderful illustrations. The author, Albert Robida, was also an illustrator and caricaturist. Le Vingtième Siècle was mentioned as one of the 50 Weird and Wonderful Items at the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation & Fantasy.
More to Explore Online
To explore the Merril Collection further, tune in to the new podcast Unknown Worlds of the Merril Collection created by Friends of the Merril Collection Oliver Brackenbury and Chris Dickie. Topics include the history of the collection, role playing games, pulp magazines and more.
Recent posts about our collection:
- An in-depth blog post about another digitized treasure, A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder (1888)
- Colouring book of items in our Merril Collection (PDF 25 MB)
- 50 Books of Speculative Fiction You Should Read — Across 18 Subgenres
- Speculative Fiction Community Reflects on 50 Fantastical Years of the Merril Collection
- Merril Collection at 50: Stories from the Spaced Out Library
- Dracula: A Bloody Good First Edition
- Unexpected Games from Our Role Playing Games Collection