Stories of Other Worlds

by George Griffith
Illustrated by Stanley Wood

George Chetwynd Griffith-Jones
In An Unknown Prison Land
Hutchinson & Co of London 1901

George Chetwynd Griffith-Jones (1857-1906) is often overlooked in the history of science fiction. During the latter years of the 1800s, his stories and novels enjoyed great popularity in the United Kingdom only to find his socialist ideas too strong for the readers in the United States, where H. G. Wells was the most popular author of what we would today call science fiction. While many dismiss Griffith as a Wells imitator, many of his ideas and concepts appeared before, or simultaneously with Wells and the climactic battles and giant war machines that are featured in some of his stories and novels—either on land, sea—are precursors to the science fiction of the late 1920s and 1930s.

The majority of Griffith’s science fiction appeared from Pearson Publishing, which thought highly enough of him to run this short biography in the July, 1900 issue of Pearson’s Magazine (US) as part of the sixth installment of Stories of Other Worlds:

Mr. George Griffith, it may be of interest to our readers to know, has had an extraordinarily adventurous career. His roving life began at the age of fourteen, when he left his home, and took to the sea in a sailing vessel in search of adventure. On reaching the port of Melbourne, Williamstown, he deserted, and set out inland carrying a revolver, a few clothes, a copy of “Childe Harold,” and a note book. His first employment was on a vineyard; then he became tutor to a settler’s son; and, in turn, a general knock-about man—a farmer, carpenter, sheep-washer, wood-cutter, and butcher. Adventures in the bush fell thick and fast, until, satiated, he determined to set out for the coast, and to work his way, before the mast, to England. At Melbourne, however, he changed his plans, and joined the crew of a sailing vessel bound for a South Pacific island. Again he deserted his ship, and for a time he discarded civilisation and lived the life of the Polynesians.

At the age of nineteen, having wandered over the greater part of the globe, he at last found himself in England again. Here no less wonderful adventures befell him. Six months after he had left rope-hauling he gained a mastership at Worthing College, where he taught his class by day the lessons he learnt for the first time by night. He drifted to a school at Brighton, and found time to contribute to local papers; he studied in a German University, and wrote a story for an American newspaper. His scholastic experience; he describes as “ten years’ penal servitude.” He studied politics, and wrote for the papers, finally drifting one day into the Pearson office in London, where he found employment as an addressor of envelopes.

Here he soon earned fame by his serial stories of adventure—notably “The Angel of the Revolution”—his novels, articles, essays, and poems without number, gathering material by trips to Europe, Asia, Africa, and America, and earning no little fame as an adventurous traveller by breaking the record for the journey round the world, and for the journey to France by balloon. Mr. George Griffith is still on the right side of forty.

Honeymoon In Space
C. Arthur Pearson Ltd. 1901
Cover art by Stanley Wood

With Stories of Other Worlds, Griffith produced a seminal work of early science fiction. The serial features space travel, a far fetched notion in the late 1800s, and there are only a handful of stories or novels prior to Other Worlds that featured travel to another planet—most science fiction of the time dealt with global wars, earthly menaces (giant plants!) and lost civilizations. Griffith’s characters not only travel through space, but they make their journey in a powered spacecraft (Griffith calls it a “star-navigator”) that is completely under the control of the occupants and not a projectile fired towards a planetary “target”; another unusual and rarely used concept for the time.

Additionally, Griffith puts different life forms on each of the planets visited during the stories, which was considered a scientific possibility in the late 1800s. Nearly all the life they encounter is humanoid, but these humanoids reflect not only the different facets of humanity—from the intellectual, to the spiritual to the savage—but also the possible futures for the Earth and the human race. Speculation about life in the future was a common theme in the works of many early science fiction authors and while some only focused on social and political change, others went so far as to suggest that the human race would evolve; naturally or through science. That this process would move humanity up or down on the evolutionary scale depended on the outlook of the author, but there was also another line of thought that predicted a massive cataclysmic event would reshape both the planet and humanity and bring an end to “life as we know it.” Griffith incorporates all these themes throughout the work and adds to this a thread of imperialism—British ingenuity, with (grudgingly) some American grit, can triumph over any opposition. Underneath it all, however, is Griffith’s firm belief within the serial that science holds the key to whatever challenges may appear in humanity’s future.

Looking back from today, Stories of Other Worlds may seem trite and all too familiar, but one must realize that all of the concepts in the stories were eventually incorporated into later works. Space flight? Although it cropped up here and there over the years, it wasn’t until the late 1920s that Edmond Hamilton wrote “Crashing Suns,” the first story in which space travel was portrayed as a commonplace occurence. Life within the solar system? Once space travel became accepted in science fiction, exploration of the solar system, the worlds beyond it, and the meetings between explorers and alien life forms became a regular plot device. In other words, Griffith’s creation was very possibly the inspiration for many of the stories and novels that would follow.

In 1901, the C. Arthur Pearson company published a novel version of Stories of Other Worlds titled, Honeymoon in Space. The novel has numerous additions at the beginning, so many in fact that the narrative begun in the first serialized story doesn’t appear in the novel until Chapter IV (page seventy-six). Most everything mentioned in the introduction to the first story, “A Visit to the Moon,” is covered in these additions and expanded. There are also additional materials, including more on the development of the spacecraft, mention of the wedding (but no wedding occurs in the narrative) and, in a nod to the American reading audience, a stop at the White House and a speech by the President of the United States. All this is then followed by a world-wide declaration that Redgrave’s ship has brought about an end to war by creating a pax aeronautica—a Utopian ideal that world peace could be maintained through a powerful fleet of aircraft (in the right hands, of course) and, not coincidentally, the theme of Griffith’s first serialized novel, Angel of the Revolution. The rest of Honeymoon in Space is then made up of the individual stories from the serial, sans chapter titles, with some additions, expansions and, in a few rare cases, deletions or condensations of the text as it appeared in the magazine version—as an example, the short epilogue found at the end of the sixth story, “Homeward Bound,” is expanded by Griffith from one paragraph to fifteen pages.

And, on a final note, the name of the spacecraft that transports the honeymooners, Astronef, is the French word for “spaceship.”

Stories of Other Worlds originally appeared in the January-July, 1900 issues of Pearson’s Magazine (US).

Bob Gay
October, 2022
Introduction © 2022 by Bob Gay
Editor’s Note: We have added the covers for each issue of Pearson’s Magazine (US) that contained a chapter of Stories of Other Worlds. These covers, however, were only available in the bound volumes of the magazine that were scanned at high-speed as part of the Google scanning project of some years ago. As a result, both of the scanning process and the actual binding of the magazines, the covers, in most all cases, were cropped and faded. We have done our best to restore all the covers, including the May, 1900 issue that was only a partial image. Artist credits for the covers are a paraphrase taken from the table of contents of each issue.
Grifith makes numerous references within Stories of Other Worlds to people and places that, in most cases, would have been recognizable to the readers of the time. You will find our explanation of these items with the introduction to each story.

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