The Time Ship: A Chrononautical Journey

The Time Ship: A Chrononautical Journey


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H. G. Wells wasn’t the only nineteenth-century writer to dream of a time machine. The Spanish playwright Enrique Gaspar published El anacronópete—“He who flies against time”—eight years before Wells’s influential work appeared. The novel begins at the 1878 Paris Exposition, where Dr. Don Sindulfo unveils his new invention—which looks like a giant sailing vessel. Soon the doctor embarks on a voyage back in time, accompanied by a motley crew of French prostitutes and Spanish soldiers. The purpose of his expedition is to track down the imprisoned wife of a third-century Chinese emperor, believed to possess the secret to immortality. A classic tale of obsession, high adventure, and star-crossed love, The Time Ship includes intricately drawn illustrations from the original 1887 edition, and a critical introduction that argues persuasively for The Time Ship’s historical importance to science fiction and world literature.

Hardcover is un-jacketed.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819572936
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 07/02/2012
Series: Early Classics of Science Fiction
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

ENRIQUE GASPAR (1842–1902) was a Spanish diplomat and pioneer of social theater. YOLANDA MOLINA-GAVILÁN is a professor of Spanish at Eckerd College. ANDREA L. BELL is a professor of Spanish and Latin American studies at Hamline University. Molina-Gavilán and Bell are the coeditors of Cosmos Latinos: An Anthology of Science Fiction from Latin America and Spain.

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In Which It Is Proved That FORWARD Is Not the Byword of Progress

Paris — focus of excitement, center of movement, nucleus of bustle — looked different that day. This was no orderly procession of locals and foreigners making their way to the Exposition at the Champ de Mars, either to satisfy base curiosity or to make a technical study of the advances of science and industry. Nor did those faces reflect the happy pleasure with which the inhabitants of ancient Lutecia, mangling English words and dressed to the nines, hasten each year to watch the grand prize stakes in the equestrian events, with each person capable of paying the price of the handicap and together of liquidating the floating debt of some foreign State.

Granted, although it was a time of universal competitions, for this was the year 1878, it was not an age for races, as no more than ten days in the month of July had transpired. Furthermore, there was no to-ing and fro-ing; that is, none of the usual occurrence where people who are out for amusement cross paths with those who are working or idle. All were headed in the same direction, a look of wonderment on their faces. The shops were closed; trains from the four cardinal points spilled forth passengers who, storming omnibuses and horse-drawn carriages, had but one cry: "To the Trocadero!"

The little steam boats on the Seine, the ribbon rail, the American tramway, that is, every mode of locomotion that exists in the modern Babylon, redoubled its efforts toward that attractive object of common desire. Although the heat suffocated like in the dog-days of summer, two human rivers overflowed the sidewalks since, not counting privately owned vehicles, Paris, with her fourteen thousand carriages for hire, could only transport two hundred and eighty thousand people at a time, allowing for ten two-person trips per carriage. Since the number of inhabitants had risen to two million by virtue of the day's entertainment, which everyone wished to attend, the result was that one million, seven hundred and twenty thousand individuals had to travel on foot.

The Champ de Mars and the Trocadero, the theater for that singular presentation, had been overrun since daybreak by the impatient crowd that, lacking the fee for the lecture that would take place in the palace's banquet hall at ten o'clock in the morning, was content to witness the second part, on the Exposition grounds, for the price of admission. Those without access to those grounds stormed the bridges and avenues. The most indolent or least fortunate were reduced to spreading out through the upper reaches of Montmartre, the bell towers of churches, the hills of the Bois, and the promontories of the Parks. Tile roofs, obelisks, columns, commemorative arches, observatories, artesian wells, domes, lightning rods — anything offering some height had been taken over by force, and stores ran out of umbrellas, parasols, straw hats, fans, and refreshing drinks with which to combat the sun.

What was happening in Paris? Let us be fair. Those people, who admire themselves by placing their mediocrities on pedestals so that the world will take them for geniuses and who enjoy mocking themselves during their endless leisure time, were, on this occasion, stirred up for ample reason. Science had just taken a step that was going to radically change humanity's way of life. A name — hitherto obscure and Spanish to boot — was coming to erase with its brilliant intellect the memory of the leading experts of the learned world. For indeed, what had Fulton done? Applied to maritime locomotion Watt's or Papin's experiments so that ships sailed with greater speed, more easily overcoming the waves' resistance with their impulse force. But leaving a port on Monday to reach another on Tuesday in which previously, with the wind in your sails, it would have been impossible to drop anchor before Saturday, cannot be called saving time but, at most, losing less of it. Stephenson, inventor of the locomotive, made it devour space along two metal nerves; but to cover greater distances in fewer minutes was always to go in search of tomorrow via the pathway of today. I say the same of Morse: transmitting a thought over wire by means of an electric agent does not alter the fact that, though the current may be able to circle the globe four times in one second, the idea, in each revolution around the equinoctial line, takes one two-hundred-and-fortieth of a minute to return to its point of origin. That is to say, the result is fatally hindmost when it comes to time. Furthermore, the inability to dispense with the conductors renders graphic the definition of the electric telegraph that one individual gave as, "A very long dog that barks in Moscow when its tail is pulled in Madrid."

The so-called marvelous hypotheses of the famous Jules Verne were but child's play compared to the grandness of the real invention by the modest Zaragozan, resident of the Royal Seat of Spain. Journeying to the center of the earth is but a matter of opening a hole through which to confirm descent, imitating the residents of Ergastiri who, many centuries before the Christian Age, had already penetrated the chasms of Laurium in order to mine argentiferous lead. The trip was shorter, but the road the same. Voyaging through the air by the ingenious theory of the bellows offers no other advantage than reducing navigation to the will of the aeronaut by omitting the ropes that Jourdan used to move the Montgolfier balloons and scout the enemy's position in the Battle of Fleurus. To go to the pole and await the thaw is a matter of pure patience: servile though wise imitation of those people who, in order to shop at a store, wait until the store is having a clearance sale. As for the Nautilus, long before Verne, our compatriot Monturiol had already conducted a highly successful test with the Ictíneo. To tell us about what dwells at the bottom of the seas, we need only assemble a congress of divers. And above all (forgive me if I repeat myself), to depart alluvial terrain on Monday in order to arrive in the Eocene on Tuesday, the Permian on Wednesday, and the Sea of Fire by week's end; to travel by air from France to Senegal in twenty hours or to reach the end of an underwater trip later or earlier, but always afterwards, encompasses an idea of posteriority that renders science's mission monotonous, invariably running after tomorrow as if it already knew yesterday.

The world is mankind's house, and its inhabitants as they multiply add stories to the structure, with the goal of living more comfortably, but they are not careful to study the foundations to make sure that the building will withstand the crushing weight being added to it. When, a half-hour later, we see so disfigured the pattern we witnessed thirty minutes before, can we have such blind faith in the tales history tells us of the primitive times upon which we base our future conduct? If, through a series of deductions, Boucher de Perthes believed he had proven the existence of fossilized man, is it not possible that the femur he assumed to be human belonged to some relation — on the zoological scale — of Sancho Panza's mount? The past is absolutely unknown to us. When studying it, the retrospective sciences proceed almost by induction, and so long as we are unaware of yesterday it is pointless for us to ramble on about tomorrow. Before turning to nihilism through hypotheses about the future, let us learn to believe in God by drawing near to the marvelous origins of his vast architectural work.

Such were the philosophical principles of Don Sindulfo García, Doctor of Exact, Physical, and Natural Sciences. His application of them was the spectacle to which those people, craving excitement, hastened en masse, with the anxiousness and doubt that are naturally awakened by that which one cannot fathom, in spite of living in Paris, the self-anointed brain of the world.

"But see here, Captain, sir," inquired of a Pavian hussar a gentleman who, along with nineteen other individuals, was heading by omnibus to the setting of the event. "You, as a Spaniard, must know about the Time Traveler's device."

"Begging your pardon," replied the hussar. "I know how to fight my country's enemies; to be civil with the men and gallant with the ladies; I know discipline, tactics, and strategy; but when it comes to flying through the air, at school I only learned how to be tossed about in a blanket when my tobacco pouch wasn't full enough to supply my schoolmates."

"Nonetheless," the questioner insisted, "It seems to me that you, as a countryman of the machine's learned inventor, must have more exact notions of it than a foreigner would."

"I'm honored to call myself a Spaniard and, moreover, I am Señor García's nephew, but I am no more informed about the subject than the next man."

News of the kinship between the captain and the scientific colossus redoubled the curiosity of the travelers, who began trying to find in him traces of his uncle, just as in the desert plains of Marathon or among the vineyards of the Catalonian countryside we search for Miltiades' steps or Attila's steed's helmet. The women asked if Don Sindulfo was married; the men, if he had won any medals; and everyone, if he was related to Frascuelo.

"But, in short, what is he trying to do?" asked one.

"What we French are tired of doing," exclaimed a hotheaded patriot. "Traveling through the air."

"Yes, but with a set direction and at a dizzying speed," a French national guardsman prudently contended, noting that the hussar was handling his saber, his only intention in fact being to settle it more readily at his side.

"I do not deny," put in a fourth, "that it is a great and marvelous thing to be able to plow the atmospheric currents at will; but sooner or later this would have come about. What human intelligence does not conceive is that, with this vehicle, one can go backwards in time, leaving Paris today after eating in Véfour and arriving yesterday at the monastery in Yuste and drinking chocolate with Emperor Charles V."

"That's impossible," everyone shouted.

"For we the ignorant," continued he who held the floor. "Not so for the science that endorsed the invention during its last congress. In any case, soon our doubts will be resolved. Today, Señor García departs for chaos in his Time Ship, whence he proposes to return within a month, bringing back proof of his fabulous expedition."

"I'll wager the inventor is a Bonaparte loyalist who wants to re-seat the traitor of Sedan on the throne of France," thundered the patriot.

"Or bring back the Terror with Robespierre," said a supporter of the Legitimist cause, clenching his fists.

"Let's not be hasty," argued a sensible one. "If the Time Ship leads to the undoing of what's been done, it strikes me that we should congratulate ourselves because this will allow us to repair our mistakes."

"You're right," exclaimed a henpecked man who was plastered against a wall of the coach. "As soon as the line is open to the public, I shall buy a ticket for the night before my wedding."

Everyone was still enjoying this witticism when the omnibus (not without great risk of flattening the packed crowd) stopped at the head of the bridge and the passengers, disembarking, fought their way to their destinations as best they could.

What we have just heard seems like fiction, and yet nothing could be more real. Doctor Don Sindulfo García was preparing to conduct a practical experiment to resolve the most arduous problem the annals of science have recorded to this day: traveling backwards in time.

What analysis of the problem had been done? To what class of bodies belonged what, up until today, had been an abstract idea? How could it be dismantled? What agents did one use for that? What monstrous system was it that threatened to arrive at the truth by going backwards, in a century that seeks its ideals in tomorrow and accepts "forward" as the formula for progress?

The following chapter will tell us.


A Lecture within Everyone's Reach

The show was divided into two parts. First, the Spanish sage would bid farewell to his colleagues, the authorities, and his Paris audience in a lecture at the Trocadero Palace, during which he meant to make those less versed in the sciences understand the main principles of his invention by replacing technicalities with common demonstrations. The second part would entail elevating the monstrous device from the Champ de Mars up into the atmospheric zone where the trip would take place. In order to witness this latter event, people need only pay the entrance fee to the Exposition fairgrounds, climb to high ground, or spread out in some flat, open space. And this, as we have seen, is just what the masses had done from the break of day, testing the prudence and fists of the police, who eventually succeeded in preventing a takeover of the Palace of Industry. Among the many who claimed the right to hear the doctor's words, relatively few were chosen. The main hall, though spacious, was not large enough to contain so many people. None of the spectators was following the anti-fat treatment, and yet one could say that they had all lost weight, since every seat held at least one-and-a-half people. The entrances were clogged and the aisles jam-packed with the type of crowd that patiently awaits the opportunity to advance one step, knowing all the while that it will never reach its goal.

The Presidents of the Republic, the co-legislative bodies, and the Cabinet were all present, as were the diplomatic corps and delegations from Institutes and Academies. Members of those learned bodies intermingled with military officers parading their bemedaled and beribboned uniforms and also with the modest priest bearing only the Cross of Golgotha over his black or purple cassock. A few dinner jackets — not many, since in France it's a rare bird who doesn't own a uniform — acknowledged civilian status as though in shame among the oceans of silk, waterfalls of Spanish lace, mountains of diamonds, and clouds of hair. Some of the women's coiffures were as black as tempests, others were as blonde as stratus clouds wounded by the setting sun, and almost none were of that color that announces snow in the winter of life, since to be a woman and to be old is now becoming incompatible with the land of Violet and Pinaud.

Finally the time came. A wave of curiosity rippled across the place. The doors were thrown open by two janitors and the scientific committee entered, with the hero, that modesty so becoming of talent showing on his face, walking to the right of its president. Everything about him was commonplace. His first name, rather than that of a sage, seemed to belong to the old man in a comic opera. His last name was not linked by means of any particle to those patronymic lists which, like that of Paredes or Córdoba, provide leafiness to family trees and stop cold the disrespect that allows Malibràn, an illustrious offspring of the Garcías, to be as infamous in the world of the arts as Bernaola is in the one of crime. He carried his fifty years not with the haughty pride of the titan who brings his own stepladder to climb up to heaven, but with the resignation of the porter carrying a trunk. Smallish, his long hair smooth and perfectly combed, his suit well brushed and seeming to hang off his thin frame, he had one of those faces that seemed to have been made in accordance with the name it would have to bear. In brief, he was worthy of the name Don Sindulfo García and merited the nickname his maidservant had bestowed on him: Pichichi. Such was the outward appearance chosen by Wisdom to astound the world, proving once again that under a bad cape hides a good drinker.

The delegation sat beneath the massive pipe organ; the president rang a silver bell, the session was opened, and the Time Ship's inventor proceeded to the rostrum amid a torrent of applause that was brought to an end not by his reedy voice but by the movement of his lips, which made the crowd realize he had uttered "Gentlemen," the sacramental opening of any speech.

Silence restored, the hero expressed himself thusly: "I will be brief, because the more hours I spend, the more I widen the gulf that separates me from the yesterday I am proceeding towards. I will speak plainly: since my theories have been endorsed by the learned world, all that remains is to make myself understood by everyone else. Nevertheless, I will answer any objections that may be put to me. My purpose, as everyone knows, is to go back in time, not so as to put a stop to the constant forward motion of life, but to unmake its work and bring us closer to God as we travel toward the origins of the planet we inhabit. But in order to explain how time may be undone, we must first learn of what it is composed.

Let us proceed in order. God made the heavens and the Earth, the former dark and the latter in chaotic form. He then said: 'Let there be light,' and there was light. And so we have the sun floating in the celestial vault and the orb suspended in space by solar attraction. Everyone knows, since Galileo demonstrated the principle of the Earth's rotation, that the world moves; but what science has not yet explained is why the Earth performs its rotary movement from west to east and not the other way round. This is what I will expound as the basis of my time traveling system."


Excerpted from "The Time Ship"
by .
Copyright © 2012 Yolanda Molina-Gavilán and Andrea Bell.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Time Ship’s Place in the History of Science Fiction
In Which It Is Proved That FORWARD Is Not the Byword of Progress
A Lecture within Everyone’s Reach
Theory of Time: How It Is Made, How It Is Unmade
Which Deals with Family Affairs
Cupid and Mars
The Vehicle as School of Morality
Retroactive Effects
The Gradual Reduction and Ultimate Elimination of the Army
In Which a Seemingly Insignificant Yet Greatly Important Incident Takes Place
A Bit of Tiresome, Though Necessary, Erudition
Forty-eight Hours in the Celestial Empire
Nineteenth-century Europe Meets Third-century China
An Unexpected Guest
The Resurrection of the Dead before Judgment Day
Where All Is Explained and All Is Entangled
Bread and Circuses
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi
Shipwrecked in the Sky
The Best One; Not Because It’s Better but Because It’s Last

What People are Saying About This

Daina Chaviano

"Gaspar's novel takes us back to science fiction's infancy, when emotion and intelligence were enough to evoke a sense of wonder, creating pure adventure without needing to resort to rivers of blood or extreme violence. Reading it is a surprising experience as well because, though almost 125 years old, The Time Ship proves that many of the themes we think of as current were already a concern to our great-grandparents."

From the Publisher

"What an amazing discovery! A time machine before H. G. Wells, and lively and witty romps through history before Doctor Who. Add Enrique Gaspar to the list of inventors of science fiction, and place him high."—Andy Sawyer, Science Fiction Foundation Collection, University of Liverpool Library

"Gaspar's novel takes us back to science fiction's infancy, when emotion and intelligence were enough to evoke a sense of wonder, creating pure adventure without needing to resort to rivers of blood or extreme violence. Reading it is a surprising experience as well because, though almost 125 years old, The Time Ship proves that many of the themes we think of as current were already a concern to our great-grandparents."—Daína Chaviano, author of The Island of Eternal Love

Andy Sawyer

“What an amazing discovery! A time machine before H. G. Wells, and lively and witty romps through history before Doctor Who. Add Enrique Gaspar to the list of inventors of science fiction, and place him high.”

Daína Chaviano

“Gaspar’s novel takes us back to science fiction’s infancy, when emotion and intelligence were enough to evoke a sense of wonder, creating pure adventure without needing to resort to rivers of blood or extreme violence. Reading it is a surprising experience as well because, though almost 125 years old, The Time Ship proves that many of the themes we think of as current were already a concern to our great-grandparents.”

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