4

"The Jameson Satellite" by Neil R. Jones (1931), which is possibly the first instance of transhumanism in fiction (according to this answer by user14111), has Prof. Jameson trying to escape death by having his body preserved in a rocket "satellite" orbiting around Earth for all eternity, until he is found millions of years later by the Zoromes, a species of space travelling aliens who replaced their flesh-and-blood bodies by machines, only keeping their brains.

In this story, the titular protagonist refers twice to two scientists "of his day".

First when the Zoromes bring him back on the now desolate Earth:

Professor Jameson was silent.

"I wonder whether or not there are any ruins here to be found?" queried 25X-987.

"I don't believe so," replied the professor. "I remember hearing an eminent scientist of my day state that, given fifty thousand years, every structure and other creation of man would be obliterated entirely from off the earth's surface."

"And he was right," endorsed the machine man of Zor. "Time is a great effacer."

And another near the end, when Jameson hesitates between staying on Earth or joining the Zoromes' space travels:

A great loneliness seized him. Would he be happy among these machine men of another far-off world—among these Zoromes? They were kindly and solicitous of his welfare. What better fate could he expect? Still, a longing for his own kind arose in him—the call of humanity. It was irresistible. What could he do? Was it not in vain? Humanity had long since disappeared from the earth—millions of years ago. He wondered what lay beyond the pales of death—the real death, where the body decomposed and wasted away to return to the dust of the earth and assume new atomic structures.

He had begun to wonder whether or not he had been dead all these forty millions of years—suppose he had been merely in a state of suspended animation. He had remembered a scientist of his day, who had claimed that the body does not die at the point of official death. According to the claims of this man, the cells of the body did not die at the moment at which respiration, heart beats and the blood circulation ceased, but it existed in the semblance of life for several days afterward, especially in the cells of the bones, which died last of all.

Can these claims be pinpointed to a specific scientist? Or are they Jones' invention? (I am guessing the second claim can be a little bit more broad than the first one, though)

Jones referred to at least one real-world person in the same story, namely H. Rider Haggard and his novel She: A History of Adventure (1887).

Nota: the story was written in 1931. Jameson initiated his satellite project in 1958, presumably after having been a scientist for some years already (so he might have known/heard of a 30s scientist). Furthermore, "his day" could also simply refer to the 20th century, when the story is set 40 million years in the future - 1930 was certainly more "Jameson's day" than the year 40,001,958!

2
  • Lots of scientists have postulated the end of the world and what happens afterwards; (The World Without Us by Alan Weisman, for example)
    – Valorum
    Jan 6, 2019 at 18:21
  • @Valorum I know that and all the "The three human construction that will remain after we're no longer on Earth" articles, but these are quite recent. I don't know if it was that popular a subject in the 30s.
    – Jenayah
    Jan 6, 2019 at 18:27

1 Answer 1

9

On the theory that Neil R. Jones probably read the magazines he wrote for, I figured that a likely place to find his source for those factoids would be in the early issues of Amazing Stories. Sure enough, I found a plausible source for the first one. On p. 925 of Amazing Stories, January 1928 (available at the Internet Archive), in an essay titled "Our Unstable World", editor-publisher Hugo Gernsback wrote:

After every major upheaval, of course, all traces of civilization are wiped out completely. Such an upheaval may be so tremendous, as to turn everything from the surface of the earth topsy-turvy to an extent of some several miles deep. For that reason, nothing from a previous civilization could remain. Suppose every human being on earth were to be killed by the gases of some wandering comet today without any accompanying upheaval. How much of our present civilization would remain after 50,000 years? The destructive forces of the elements, such as rain, wind, storms and water, would level everything in less than a thousand years. At the end of 50,000 years, nothing would remain perhaps, except in subterranean cavities, providing no moisture had gotten into them. Ten thousand years, after all, is only a ridiculously small fraction of time in the life of our Planet. It is at the rate of a thousandth of a second as compared to the beginning of the human era. In other words it is practically nothing.

Gernsback cites no scientific authorities in this essay. Therefore, if this is indeed Jones's source for that "50,000 years" factoid, then his "eminent scientist" seems to be Hugo Gernsback himself, which in my view is overpraising him.

Gernsback's essay was reprinted in Science Fiction Classics, Winter 1967 and again in Amazing Stories, May 1979 (links to the Internet Archive).

3
  • That's a great find! :) It seems it could indeed be what Jameson was referring to. Any luck in finding something related to the scond claim? (although as said in the question, that's a broader claim)
    – Jenayah
    Jan 7, 2019 at 18:11
  • there is also older and interesting concept called "Deep time". Basically, we don't know if dinosaurs or any other creatures before us had a civilization because the time would destroy everything, even bricks and plastics. See more about concept here en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep_time
    – jo1storm
    Apr 27, 2023 at 12:48
  • 1
    @jo1storm Though as Isaac Asimov pointed out, porcelain is very durable and would be found in huge amounts in sedimentary rock formed following the disappearance of Mankind, so that toilets would be the index fossil of our age...
    – Mark Olson
    Apr 27, 2023 at 13:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.