Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Esperanto Saves the World!

An alien!
(from another story)
I would think that if aliens were monitoring Earth broadcasts in order to determine what language they should use in contacting Earth, they would choose English. This was not the conclusion of the aliens in J. G. Frederick’s The Planet Juggler, which was originally published in the November 1908 All-Story, and then subsequently serialized in the Washington Times in 1910, from May 5 through 12. I cannot pretend that there is anything more than incidental reference to Esperanto, but as this story hits two of my major interests (Esperanto and science fiction), it’s pretty irresistible (if only Frederick had worked in cooking, although in 1908, there’s no way he could have worked in gay rights, which didn’t even exist as a concept).

But the alien isn’t actually monitoring Earth broadcasts. Radio was in its experimental days, and the first successful transmission of speech was only a few years before. It would be likely that no Esperanto had been transmitted by radio before the end of 1908. However, Frederick makes clear in the second chapter that the alien voice, a individual from Canopus, has been monitoring the sights and sounds of earth for ten years, but it was only with the developments in wireless that the alien was able to speak to Earth. There had been suggestions at about the same time that civilizations on other worlds would speak Esperanto.

Clearly the whole of J. G. Frederick’s story is too much to include here. I can’t even include entire first section. Way more typing of someone else’s words than I’m willing to do. However, if you want to enjoy this story from the pulps, the pages are as follows:

Part 1, May 5, 1910
Part 2, May 6, 1910
Part 3, May 7, 1910
Part 4, May 8, 1910
Part 5, May 9, 1910
Part 6, May 10, 1910
Part 7, May 11, 1910
Part 8, May 12, 1910

The hero of the story, Elverston, is an Esperantist who manages to be in the right place at the right time. As the villain from Canopus transmitted in Esperanto, had Elverson not been able to understand it, the Earth would have been destroyed. While Elverson is the hero of the piece, its clear that in some way, so is Esperanto, because Frederick makes clear that Esperanto “was by this time used by all the intelligent classes of the earth” (which would explain why the Canopusian chose it).

That’s one of the few references to Esperanto in the novel. Frederick didn’t actually use any Esperanto in the story. We’re told that the initial message, received as a voice transmission over a telegraph line, is in Esperanto, but given it in English:
But before he reached it the diaphragm of the receiver crackled as if it would burst—as a telephone receiver on ordinary use crackles when lighting hits the wire. Then, to the operator’s astonishment and confusion, words came to him from the head-piece, as distinct as though spoken by a bass voice into his hear in loud tones—though he was five feet from the tiny receiver. “Hallo, Earth Hallo, Earth! Do you understand? Hallo, Earth! Hallo, Earth!”—and ran on indefinitely, in Esperanto, the universal language which was by this time used by all the intelligent classes of the earth.
The year is not given, but this is clearly the future. Like a somewhat cartoonish villain, Canopus is holding the Earth ransom for a payment of 500,000 tons of gold, delivered in 500-pound ingots, to be transferred by an air ship, as per specifications.

Canopus is about 310 light years away, so this air ship would have to have some pretty amazing properties. On the other hand, the villain is communicating with Earth instantaneously over that distance, which is a pretty good trick as well (though in 1908, I suspect the question of the speed of light as a limit might not have been considered). Happily, our Esperanto speaker, Elverson, is able to save the day.

In the final words of the story, we’re told that he’s speaking Esperanto.
“Hurrah!” cried Elverson in Esperanto. “Let me touch the wireless key on my desk a moment and send the news all over the earth and to Mars.
“There! Everybody is rejoicing and all we desire now is to make a universal treaty of peace with you, an exchange knowledge.

“Then we shall go back to our solar system—for we are a home-loving people, and the clash of battle has no attraction for us.

“Thank you, Goodbye!”
Here we find united two early twentieth-century American concerns: progress and peace, with progress typified by the wireless and Esperanto, and that progress leading to peace. The statement that “we are a home-loving people, and the clash of battle has no attraction for us” sounds like the early notes of the isolationist and pacifist views of the United States at the beginning of World War I.

Peace. Progress. Prosperity. And Esperanto!

The author of the story was Justus George Frederick (1882–1964) who is described in Science-Fiction: The Gernsback Years by Everett Franklin Bleiler and Richard Bleiler (1998) as the publisher of Business World, and that he wrote two pioneering science fiction stories, this and 1902's "The Dupe of a Realist." Outside the pulp era, the wrote The Einstein Express, which appeared in Astounding in 1935. The Bleilers describe this as "amateurishly presented."
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1 comment:

  1. Now THAT'S an aggressor language!


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