fiction, research

Fragment of a Regency-era SF story

Doing primary source research sometimes leads to spectacular (or, at least, deeply interesting) finds. In this case, I was looking through an 1809 volume of The lady’s magazine: or entertaining companion for the fair sex, appropriated solely to their use and amusement, as one does, searching for a description of a particular royal estate, and instead I came across… well, a science fiction story.

“Fragment of a Letter to an Inhabitant of a Planet, Remote from the Earth, of a Superior Race of Beings” is purported to be written by a “Eusebia”, who had the idea for it after seeing the funeral procession of Admiral Nelson. The story is from the POV of an alien from another planet who is visiting Earth, unknown to anyone except a local guide. It’s implied that the aliens know about Earth because an angel told them about us weirdo humans, who are mortal and seem to revel in death. (Apparently, despite being aliens, they believe and are affected by Christianity. Oh, 1800s England.)

Reading through the text, it appears that the aliens are immortal and live on a planet that has no death, to the point where they don’t experience seasons, are apparently vegetarian, and don’t sleep. Our unnamed alien narrator — who also has a “subtle vehicle” that lets them go through walls and observe us invisibly — comes to the conclusion that God has made it so that humans have to sleep so as to prepare us for the inevitable horror of permanent death through repetitious mini-deaths… which has unfortunate consequences for our entire understanding of life.

It’s an interesting story, though more for seeing the author do a neat bit of negative-space worldbuilding (telling us about their species/planet through what their narration chooses to highlight and/or be confused by) than for any real plot or message. But… it’s an SF story in a women’s magazine, under a female pseud, during the Regency period. It’s pretty likely that Jane Austen read The Lady’s Magazine — how great is it to imagine Jane sitting around and discussing distant planets with her sister Cassandra, making jokes about what they’d do with their own “subtle vehicles”, wondering what other things would look weird to an alien observer?

If you’d like to read the story yourself, here’s the direct link to the scan, here’s a downloadable PDF of the original printed story, or you can click the “Continue Reading” below for a transcription. It’s a neat bit of SF history that I haven’t seen referenced elsewhere, but let me know if you’ve seen otherwise, or if you know of other Regency SF that could use a light shined on them. Enjoy!

Continue reading “Fragment of a Regency-era SF story”