The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells is credited as one of the most influential science fiction books ever written, having introduced ideas like super-advanced aliens coming to Earth and said aliens hating the shit out of us and trying to wipe us out. Even though it was published as a novel all the way back in 1898, it's seen as the blueprint for every alien invasion blockbuster released more than a century later. This article isn't about that book.
In the same year, a writer named Garrett P. Serviss crapped out an unauthorized sequel to Wells' book called Edison's Conquest of Mars, in which famed inventor Thomas Edison turns the tables on the aliens from The War of the Worlds by flying to Mars and killing all of them with his revenge boner -- it's the Victorian-era equivalent of shameless straight-to-DVD crapfests like Transmorphers and Titanic II.
Oh, you thought we were joking about the boner part?
Also, it was one of the most revolutionary sci-fi novels ever written.
That's right -- many fundamental elements of science fiction as we know it can be tracked back to this cheap knockoff, not the classic it was ripping off. Like ...
#6. The First Mention of Ray Guns and Handheld Disintegrators
You can't have a science fiction story without a ray gun of some sort, from Han Solo's Greedo-murdering blaster in Star Wars to Marvin the Martian's beak-displacing gun in the Looney Tunes cartoons. In Star Trek, the phasers (which apparently do everything from stunning people to disintegrating them) are the most used gun in the universe after Captain Kirk's dong.
Surely such an idea must have originated in an era where, at the very least, revolvers were no longer considered cutting-edge technology, right? Wrong: Back in 1898, Edison's Conquest of Mars described the Martians as carrying "hand engines, capable of launching bolts of death of the same character as those which emanated from the knobs of their larger machines." So, rather than coming up with new weapons, Serviss had simply taken the giant mounted heat cannons used by the aliens in The War of the Worlds and made them smaller, accidentally inventing one of the most classic staples of science fiction.
"Making a whole new weapon sounds hard, I'll just revolutionize the genre instead."
In Edison's Conquest, the effect of these rays can reduce the humans to "heaps of cinder" -- but what about flat-out disintegration? This book has that, too ... on the human side. Early on, Edison invents a little portable device with the power to break molecular structures and disperse the atoms of any given object, leaving only an existentially haunting mist behind. The characters even refer to it as a "disintegrator," despite the device being described as something resembling a pocket mirror.
"Hey, does it say 'Patented by Nikola Tesla' on the side?"
Before leaving for Mars, Edison demonstrates the weapon by aiming it at a crow and disintegrating its feathers while leaving the bird unharmed. He of course then kills the bird anyway because, as we never get tired of mentioning, Edison was kind of a dick.
"Hahaha, fuck you, bird. Hahahahaha."
#5. The First Spacesuits (and Space Flight in General)
The War of the Worlds was ahead of its time in many ways, but space flight wasn't one of them. The Martians arrive on Earth via "meteors," and at no point do humans themselves leave the planet. H.G. Wells wouldn't write about that until a few years later in the also classic The First Men in the Moon (1901), which did feature a description of space flight, but obviously lacked things like spacesuits, zero-gravity walks, airlocks and such, because come on, Wells was a great writer and all, but it's not like he could actually see into the future.
The dude who wrote Edison's Conquest, on the other hand, apparently could. If another novel or story mentioned the concept of spacesuits before this, nobody can seem to find it.
If not for Edison's Conquest, NASA would have just Saran Wrapped our astronauts and called it a day.
For someone who claimed to have never been on a spaceship, Serviss suspiciously nailed down a lot of things about space travel ... roughly five years before humanity even figured out how to make a regular plane lift off the ground for more than a few seconds. In the book, Edison invents possibly the first fictional spacesuit ever, which is described as "an air-tight dress constructed somewhat after the manner of a diver's suit" and could be used to leave the dildo-shaped spaceships (also made by Edison) without freezing to death.
The suits were heated via an intricate series of tubes, had their own propulsion system and even had built-in phones -- oh, and they looked like ridiculous gimp suits.
Serviss' working title for the novel was Sadomasochistic Ninjas from Outer Space.
Edison's ships also feature a "double-trapped door which gave access to the exterior of the car without permitting the loss of air" ... which is a very rough description of the same protective airlock chamber you've seen in every space movie ever made. At one point, the book's narrator describes the awesome feeling of stepping outside the ship and experiencing weightlessness thanks to his all-body leather condom; or, as he put it, "the delicious, indescribable pleasure of being a little planet swinging through space, with nothing to hold me up and nothing to interfere with my motion."
Why do they move like Terrance and Phillip mid-fart?
This was written 67 years before the first real spacewalk, but the impressive part isn't that a science fiction book predicted it: It's that a cheap ripoff sequel by a hack writer did it. Along with ...
#4. The First Epic Space Battles
The main difference between modern science fiction and classic science fiction is the amount of explosions: We don't expect a book by Jules Verne to have awesome space battles like in Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica or Firefly, because we're pretty sure that awesomeness hadn't even been invented back then. The War of the Worlds was the first book to feature an all-out confrontation with alien invaders, but the "war" consists mostly of one side shooting death rays and the other trying to dodge them.
Edison's Conquest of Mars took a look at The War of the Worlds, and the first problem it found with it was that the humans there came off as giant pussies. The sequel immediately fixed that mistake by having the Edison fleet fight and straight up obliterate the Martian Air Force, right there on their own red turf, and, as far as we can tell, invented the concept of massive ship vs. ship space battles in the process. Though why Edison didn't think to bring up this revolutionary Martian-stopping technology during the weeks when the Earth was being continuously raped by the same guys, nobody knows.
"Well, I had to file for a patent first, obviously."
The battle between the Martian bat planes and the Edison dick rockets is described in great detail, focusing on swooping, diving and shooting enemies in midair, and this was written back when the only kind of dogfights in real life included actual dogs. Here's a typical sentence during one of those fight scenes:
Almost in an instant, it seemed, a swarm of airships surrounded us, while from what, for lack of a more descriptive name, I shall call the forts about the Lake of the Sun, leaped tongues of electric fire, before which some of our ships were driven like bits of flaming paper in a high wind, gleaming for a moment, then curling up and gone forever!
Looking at those bug eyes and bulging faces, we have to add Total Recall to the list of movies this book influenced.
The sequel also expands on the warmongering nature of the Martian race, giving them a long history of conquests around the galaxy. It turns out that before coming down to Earth and kicking all of our asses, the Martians attacked and defeated the 40-foot-tall inhabitants of Ceres, a dwarf planet in our solar system. Edison and company even encounter a slave woman from Ceres on Mars ... who dies in a flood caused by Edison.
Making him the first interplanetary douchebag.