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Tales of Wonder by Mark Twain
edited by David Ketterer
University of Nebraska Press, 385 pages

Mark Twain
Mark Twain (a.k.a. Samuel Langhorne Clemens) 1835-1910) is an American icon. His humorous books like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn were uproariously funny, yet capable of exposing racism and other injustices in American society. For more details on his life and works, see the selected links below:

David Ketterer
David Ketterer (1942- ) is an emeritus professor at Concordia University in Montreal and an honorary research fellow in the Department of English at the University of Liverpool. He is the author of numerous books, including New Worlds for Old: The Apocalyptic Imagination, Science Fiction, and American Literature (1974), The Rationale of Deception in Poe (1979), Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy (1992), and Imprisoned in a Tesseract: The Life and Work of James Blish (1987). An edited volume, Flashes of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the War of the Worlds' Centennial, Nineteenth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts is in press. Long a member of the editorial board of the journal Poe Studies, in November 2002, Ketterer accepted an invitation to join the editorial board of The Edgar Allan Poe Review. He is at work on a critical biography of John Wyndham. He currently lives in London and Liverpool.

Publisher's site for Tales of Wonder

OTHER REVIEWS OF Tales of Wonder: 1
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

Tales of Wonder Mark Twain was a man who used his razor wit to expose much of what he saw as inhumane and degrading in the society of his time. Some of his more caustic material, such as his The War Prayer, remain very topical even today. Tales of Wonder, an updated version of David Ketterer's 1984 The Science Fiction of Mark Twain, collects a score of tales, some exceedingly obscure, bearing a number of science fiction tropes, from time travel (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court), to telephone-marriage ("The Loves of Alonzo Fitz Clarence and Rosannah Ethelton"), to miniaturisation akin to that in Isaac Asimov's The Fantastic Voyage (3,000 Years Among the Microbes).

Reading Tales of Wonder, one gets the impression that, like Rod Serling in the censor-infested world of early television, Twain made use of alien worlds and situations to highlight some of the foibles of society that society wasn't quite ready have presented openly to them. While David Ketterer makes a convincing argument that a number of Twain's works can be categorized as science-fiction, satire, cynicism, sarcasm and social comment are the clear purpose of these works. Certainly Twain's science fiction is nothing like the escapist pulp adventure science-fiction of the likes of Ray Cummings and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

In terms of 19th century American science fiction, most people might point to Edgar Allen Poe. But there were contemporaries of Twain who wrote science-fiction on a near full time basis, and largely with entertainment rather than social commentary on their mind: Edward Page Mitchell (1852-1927), W.H. Rhodes (1822-1875) and Robert Duncan Milne (1844-1899). A number of early science fiction stories were hoax stories, including Poe's "The Balloon Hoax" and W.H. Rhodes' "The Case of Summerfield" in which the notorious Black Bart held the world ransom with a vial of water-disintegrating material. Similarly, some of Twain's tales, such as "Petrified Man" in the Whimsical Wonders section of Tales of Wonder draw from the same tradition. Compared to his contemporaries, however, Twain's science-fiction might be termed satirical, but certainly not hard or technology-based science fiction as that presented in some of Mitchell's stories, in particular.

Personally, I enjoyed the tales far more for their humour than their science-fiction aspects, which were in a number of tales, tenuous at best. Also, while David Ketterer should be applauded for digging up some very rare Twain tales and fragments, in some cases there is a reason why these works have remained obscure: they just aren't the best stuff Twain wrote. Certainly, if you're a Mark Twain fan, you'll probably enjoy Tales of Wonder, but if you're more interested in 19th century American science fiction try rather:

  • Milne, Robert Duncan. 1980. Science Fiction in Old San Francisco, Vol. 2. Into the Sun and Other Stories. Hampton Falls, NH: Donald M. Grant.
  • Mitchell, Edward Page. 1973. The Crystal Man. New York: Doubleday
  • Poe, E.A. 1976. The Science Fiction of Edgar Allen Poe. (H. Beaver, ed.) New York: Penguin Books
  • Rhodes, W.H. 1974. Caxton's Book. (rpt. of 1876 title) Westport, CT: Hyperion Press

    Copyright © 2003 by Georges T. Dodds

    Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.

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