“The Fate of the Poseidonia,” Clare Winger Harris, 1927 — George is attending a meeting of intellectuals at the home of Professor Stearns, head of the Astronomy Dept of Austin College, when he encounters Martell, an odd stranger of less than average height, odd coloring, and an instantly disagreeable demeanor. The audience listens to a lecture on Mars, in which it is noted that Mars lacks the water that enriches Earth and thus is a dying planet. When the floor is opened for questions, Martell asks whether or not Mars might have an intelligent species equal to that of the terrestials, and, if so, what might it be expected to do if threatened with extinction-? The Professor responds that necessity is the mother of invention and wishes the Martians well with their problem.
After the lecture, George is forced to encounter Martell again, as Martell has attracted the attention of Margaret Landon, the woman George fancies. George implores Margaret to break off her friendship with Martell, but Margaret refuses, as she will not let anyone dictate whom she is allowed to befriend.
George begins to suspect that Martell is involved in nefarious business, and he lies his way past the doorman and into Martell’s quarters. He’s horrified to discover a machine that appears to replicate images, enabling long-distance communication (essentially, a television). His invasion of Martell’s quarters is discovered and George thrown in prison. He is visited by a colleague who is able to help him, once George convinces him that his suspicions are grounded.
Meanwhile, the trans-Atlantic passenger plane, Pegasus, mysteriously disappears from the sky mid-flight. At the same time, the sea level has dipped significantly, although no one seems terribly alarmed. Eventually, these strange events reach a climax with the abduction of the ship Poseidonia, on which Margaret and her family are vacationing. Desperate to discover her fate, George uses Martell’s television and is able to receive a message from Margaret. She explains that she was in love with George all along; she only spent time with Martell because she resented George’s suspicions and jealousy. She confirms that all of the other passengers on the Poseidonia are dead; only she has been taken to Mars as Martell’s trophy. Mars is beautiful, she continues tearfully, and she’ll attempt to make a life there, now that it has sufficient water. She is about to say more when Martell’s leering face appears. His skull-cap is gone and “his clipped feathers stood up like the ruff of an angry turkey-gobbler” (19). After that, the machine never works again.
Comments: Read in Daughters of Earth, with a critical essay, “Illicit Reproduction: Clare Winger Harris’s ‘The Fate of the Poseidonia'” (2006) by Jane Donawerth. Her essay discusses the story’s use of race, female characters, replication/authenticity,and early fears concerning television (visual communication). Given Donawerth’s comments regarding fears concerning television, one might wish to compare this piece with Twain’s “From ‘The London Times’ of 1904” (1898). Although she doesn’t mention it, one of the concerns regarding television was not only the loss of authenticity (due to the replication of images) but the loss of privacy, and Twain’s story makes this more explicit. In Harris’s story, a loss of privacy in the “normal” world–i.e., the intrusion into Martell’s quarters without permission–is punishable with a prison sentence. However any spying or similar intrusions Martell may wish to achieve with his television cannot even be checked, much less punished.
Author: Wikipedia: “Clare Winger Harris (January 18, 1891- October, 1968) was an early science fiction writer whose short stories were published during the 1920s. She is credited as the first woman to publish stories under her own name in science fiction magazines. Her stories often dealt with characters on the “borders of humanity” such as cyborgs.” Note: “For many years Harris claimed to have been the first woman science-fiction writer in the United States. While this can be debated (since Gertrude Barrows Bennett, writing under the pseudonym Francis Stevens, published science fiction stories as early as 1917), Harris is recognized as the first woman to publish stories in science fiction magazines under her own name.”