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September/October 2010
 
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True History, by Lucian of Samosata (CA. 160 A.D.)

THE narrator is captain of a Greek sloop caught in a water spout; he and his crew are sent skyward to land on the Moon, where they find themselves in the midst of a war between the Moonites and the Sun People. The narrator encounters a series of weird life-forms, explicitly described as natives to diverse stars in the heavens. Also described is a remarkable well: by gazing into its waters, an observer can view any desired location anywhere in the universe. After the Moonites surrender to the Sun People, the narrator and his crew develop a method of traveling from one island in the sky to the next, encountering fresh marvels on each world.

The second volume finds our hero and his surviving crew (there have been some casualties) back in the Mediterranean, only to be gobbled by a whale the size of a city. Escaping, the stalwarts sail to a sea of milk in which they encounter an island of cheese. Further voyages encounter species that are humanoid, half-human, or bodiless entities of pure intelligence, dressed in cobwebs.

Throughout his adventures, the narrator assures us that, if we doubt his words, we need only retrace his journey in order to see for ourselves that he is telling the truth.

True History is generally considered the first work of science fiction rather than fantasy. Its author was apparently a Syrian; almost nothing is known about him apart from his fragments of autobiography, and these appear to be a hoax.

—F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre

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