Forgotten Futures IX
It's My Own Invention...
A Role-Playing Source-book for Victorian and Edwardian Weird Science and Technology

by Marcus L. Rowland
Copyright © 2004, portions Copyright © 1993-2003

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"I see you're admiring my little box," the Knight said in a friendly tone. "It's my own invention — to keep clothes and sandwiches in. You see I carry it upside-down, so that the rain ca'n't get in."
Through The Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll

MOST of the previous Forgotten Futures material has had a background which was to some extent based on weird (or at least very unconventional) science, a never-ending source of ideas for scientific romances. This collection concentrates on the technological and engineering side of this field, emphasising the nuts, bolts, and rivets rather than abtruse theories or extraordinary scientific discoveries. Some of the stories which it calls on for inspiration are "Edisonades", in which a scientific genius triumphs over adversity. Others describe heroic failures, villainous schemes, and everyday life in the future.

Many familiar themes of scientific romance (and later science fiction) can be found in the stories. These include the ingenious invention that nobody else can duplicate, the invention with unexpected side effects, and the social consequences of new discoveries. The specific inventions mentioned in these stories include flight, invisibility and time travel (both stories written long before Wells), cyborgs, ingenious robots, food pills, suspended animation, and much more.

By way of contrast there are also three factual articles - on real inventions of the period, and the scientists Tesla and Edison. Ironically, Tesla seems to be a much better candidate to appear in an Edisonade than Edison himself!

For convenience the following abbreviations are used for the fiction accompanying this collection;

Usually these abbreviations are bracketed and followed by a chapter reference where appropriate, and function as links; for example, [OA 5] is a link to The Outlaws of the Air Chapter 5. Articles are referenced as:

Previous Forgotten Futures collections have been based fairly closely on their source material; this time it was felt that a more free-wheeling approach was needed. Rather than expanding on the sources, I have used them as a springboard for some of my own ideas. This was mostly a matter of personal preference - for example, I didn't want to write up a detailed account of the worlds described in The Outlaws of the Air or The World Peril of 1910, since I had done something similar for Griffith's earlier books The Angel of the Revolution and Olga Romanoff in FF VII. I also felt that readers would prefer something a little different. Here I need to thank users of the CIX and Steve Jackson Games RPG conferences for their input. This worldbook concentrates on the source material and the "doing" of weird gadgeteering, while some separate files describe campaigns based on various technological ideas:

These campaigns can be used separately, or elements from them can be combined as you prefer.

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Language And Units

THE author of Forgotten Futures is British, as were most of the authors whose work is included. American readers will occasionally notice that there are differences in spelling and use of language between our 'common' tongues. If that worries you, you are welcome to run documents through a spell checker, but please DON'T distribute modified versions. Please also note that the English of the fiction often has minor Victorian idiosyncrasies, spellings and turns of phrase which have fallen out of common usage today. There is a glossary below.

The stories occasionally use Imperial measurements; feet and inches, ounces and pounds, miles and horsepower. To retain their flavour these units have been used in the worldbook and adventures. Readers who are unfamiliar with the British (and American) system of weights, or with pre-decimal British currency, will find the awful details in the Forgotten Futures rules.

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Playing Games

THIS collection is a source for game referees, and most sections contain notes for their use. A few sections are written primarily for games and will be of little interest to other readers. Statistics for the Forgotten Futures rules are included, but you are welcome to use the game of your choice and add game statistics to fit its rules. No one will complain, provided you don't distribute a modified version of these files, but if you like the game setting and adventures please register. Please note that mention of a game at any point below does NOT mean that this is an approved playing aid for the system concerned!

As mentioned above, most of the previous Forgotten Futures collections have had some weird science and technology in them:

Some other games with a good deal of relevance to this theme:

Gadgets and gadgeteering seems to be a common theme in most of the other Victorian and Edwardian RPGs, with the possible exception of those focusing on horror. They are also common in games based on espionage and science fiction.

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Weird Science, Magic and the Supernatural

THERE is no magic in the stories accompanying this collection, and in general it doesn't fit well into a technological campaign. Accordingly the magic rules introduced in FF VIII and the extra MAGIC stat and Wizardry skill are not used in this worldbook. If you would prefer to include them, assume that all adults mentioned have MAGIC [0], all children MAGIC 1 or 2 and no Wizardry skill.

It's possible to imagine magical foes for technological adventurers; pulp fiction and comics are full of them, not to mention foes who use the guise of magic to hide their own technological surprises (as in the Scooby Doo cartoons). See especially Dr. Nikola (FF VI and an additional novel on the FF CD-ROM) and of course Dr. Fu Manchu. Genuinely magical characters should be run using the FF VIII rules, but it's probably best to limit their powers to those that affect the magician or other living beings. Gadgets have no defences against some of the other spells described; for example, no Infernal Device is likely to work if its innards are transformed into frogs...

None of this is to say that magician player characters are impossible in a technological campaign; most superhero teams since the earliest comics have included magicians and gadgeteers. Referees should simply be aware that they may cause a few problems, since they have a tendency to think "outside the box" of technology and may find short-cuts which leave the other characters with little to do. One answer is to use the one of the assumptions that powers magic in FF VIII; magic only works so long as you don't know that it is impossible, as your knowledge of technology and the world in general grows, your ability to affect things magically is usually lost.

Psychic powers, mediums and supernatural events are common in stories of the period, and there is no reason why they should not appear in a gadgeteering campaign. The Carnacki stories (FF IV) are an obvious example of this fusion of ideas. Generally technology should be able to overcome the supernatural, or at worse should be on a par with it. An interesting recent example of the use of technology to explore the supernatural can be found in issue 10 of the comic Tom Strong (America's Best Comics), Tom Strong And His Phantom Autogyro by Alan Moore, in which the eponymous hero flies into the world of spirits with near-catastrophic results. One of the campaigns accompanying this collection, The Queen's Own Aerial Hussars, pits technology against the supernatural; another, Swiss Movement, draws on several sources and has an optional background plot based on one of the definitive horror stories, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

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Weird History

MOSTLY the setting for these stories is history as we know it. The main exceptions are [OA] and [WP], which involve global wars, and [TP 5], which is set in a "future" where there has been a civil war between "white" and Asian-descended Americans. The game worlds described in this collection aren't based directly on these stories, and any "history" needed for them is described in the appropriate files. It's safe to assume that any history which isn't specifically described remains unchanged, and that the same kings and politicians rule as in our world.

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Technical notes

THESE documents were mostly typed using NoteTab Pro, an excellent Windows text editor, and Windows Wordpad. HTML was hand coded to minimise size, and tested using Internet Explorer 4, 5 and 5.5, Opera 5 and 6, Netscape Navigator, and Mozilla 1.0. No problems were found, but due to the large number of illustrations and tables etc. it is possible that extreme combinations of display and text size (large typeface on a low-resolution display, or small typeface on a high-resolution display) may occasionally result in graphics displaying oddly or overlapping text. These files do not attempt to change the default font or style for your browser, but a font that includes the UK pound "£", half "" and quarter "" signs and characters such as the cojoined AE (Æ) will give best results.

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MANY friends and acquaintances helped with ideas and material for this collection. Most notably, Matt Goodman (Heliograph Inc.) suggested the use of Edward Page Mitchell's stories and found me a copy of The Crystal Man. Users of CIX's RPG conference, Steve Jackson Games' RPG newsgroup, and the Society of Science Fiction and Fantasy Wargamers gave invaluable help, advice, and encouragement. Readers of my livejournal helped immensely with comments on some of the illustrations used.

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THIS glossary covers words and phrases which may be unfamiliar to a modern audience or to foreign readers, which have changed their spelling or meaning since the source material was written, or are used in an unusual manner in the source material. Words and phrases which are obvious from their context are generally not listed.

Slopes [TP 6]
Wireless message [WP 7]
Aeronef (or Æronef)
See Air-Ship
Inflatable air sac inside the gas bag of an Aerostat (q.v.) used for fine control of altitude etc. [OA 31]
Control surfaces for an air-ship (q.v.) [OA 9]
Heavier-than-air flying vessel, capable of hovering, supported mainly by rotating propellers, often aided by wings in horizontal flight. The more usual modern meaning, as a lighter-than-air vessel, was rarely used in scientific romances before the first Zeppelin flights. This design is often referred to as an Aeronef (or Æronef) in e.g. George Griffith's The Angel of the Revolution [OA]
Steerable lighter-than-air flying vessel supported by gas-bags or balloons, e.g. a dirigible [OA 30]
Operation of Aerostats (q.v.) [OA 30]
A machine capable of man-like functions such as speech, usually in the form of a human, e.g. a mechanical or magical talking head. A later meaning, a machine made in part of flesh etc., was not in use when this story was written. [TP 1]
Mechanism which decodes sounds and replies with appropriate speech in a process of mechanical speech recognition. [LA]
Aqua fortis
Nitric Acid. The bottles described in this story are presumably mislabelled, since the contents are drinkable. [TP 1]
A machine capable of independent operation and movement. An Android (qv) is an automaton, but not all automatons are androids. [LA]
Sailors (so named to distinguish them from marines) [OA 1]
Escort [OA 2]
Gas Light and Coke Company
Suppliers of lighting gas, electricity, and coke (pre-processed coal) to London and other large cities in Britain [OA 23]
Corea, Corean
Korea, Korean [OA 15]
Writing paper (the exact size varies considerably according to the whim of individual manufacturers) [OA 41]
Causing cooling, e.g. refrigeration. [TP 5]
Histological, Histologist
Study of the structure and function of cells and tissues, a scientist trained in this speciality. [TP 6]
Explosive based on picric acid, used in armour-piercing shells etc. Stable as an explosive, but corrosive. Also known as Lyddite. [OA 12], [WP 9]
Device used to achieve great speed by the use of multiple trains stacked one on top of another. [TP 1]
Telepomp (Telepomped)
Matter transmitter, capable of sending objects via telephone lines (object transported via this device) [TP 3]
Electric heating element. [TP 5]

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1% Inspiration...

"Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration.
Thomas Alva Edison, Life, 1923

EDISON was right. For most inventors even the smallest innovation is a long hard process, a slow evolution towards a dimly-seen goal. Some of the best inventions have been accidental, or inspired by accidentally noticing something that could never have been anticipated. Even with a firm idea, there is no guarantee that it's a good one; it's notable that all of the inventions described in [PA], with the exception of the automatic shoe polisher and paper matches, have now disappeared without trace.

Edison's genius in inventing the light bulb, a comparatively simple device, was primarily the realisation that he also needed to invent a reliable means of electrical distribution - several other inventors developed similar lamps around the same time, but most failed because they didn't have the infrastructure needed to make it a realistic source of illumination. Gas mantles (used to brighten the flame of gas lamps and make them more white) could have been invented much earlier than they were; they appeared well after the electric light, and were developed to counter it, as an improvement on existing gas lamps which were notoriously hard on the eyes.

It's easy to forget that players and referees aren't really part of the game world; our views are invariably influenced by modern life, so that we expect there to be advantages in miniaturisation, electrification, and so forth. A Victorian or Edwardian inventor might dismiss both as passing fads, and would certainly be more impressed by sheer size and mechanical power. Big is more powerful than small, steam is a more obvious power source than electricity (and often more readily available), steel and cast iron are widely used while aluminium is rare and expensive and synthetics are almost unknown. As an example of the way that things once were, a 1927 laboratory catalogue lists five different power sources for various laboratory machines - compressed air, hydraulics, hand crank, external drive shaft (a belt drive from a rotating shaft that might serve several machines) and electricity. Today only electricity is at all common.

Forgotten Futures already includes rules for scientific projects, weird science, etc. A set of expanded rules was considered for this supplement, and developed over several months, but in the end discarded as too cumbersome (and much too boring) to be worth using. What follow are some very optional ideas which can be added or ignored as you prefer. Use them to add subplots or minor complications, or to totally derail the development of an invention. It's probably best to use only one or two of these ideas per invention.

It's Wonderful, But Who Can Afford It?
Scenario Idea: A Good Walk Spoiled
Basil Poppington-Smythe has invented the "Infallible" gyroscopically-stabilised golf club (slogan "Every shot a success!") and wants to attract investors. There are some obvious snags, not least the device's weight (eighteen pounds including the backpack compressed air supply) and the near-certainty that it will be declared illegal under the Rules of Golf as soon as it is bought to the attention of those who frame the rules. His idea is to enter a golf tournament, win it, then attribute his success to the club. No problem... unfortunately the other players seem to be put off by its loud whirring noise and the hiss of escaping compressed air, and the luck of the draw has selected him to play against a wealthy banker who is the most likely investor (and father of the girl he hopes to marry). It's possible that he will dislike Smythe if he wins the game. Smythe needs to find a way to lose to him but nevertheless impress him; a few trusted friends (the adventurers) are asked to help him come up with a plan and help bring it off. Recommended reading: P.G. Wodehouse's golfing stories and the Bertie Wooster books.
Something that's often glossed over is the question of funding. Developing technology costs serious amounts of money, and many of the most famous inventors lost fortunes on schemes that seemed plausible but never quite worked. Tesla did this several times; for example, his broadcast power scheme would probably have never worked, but even if it had it would have probably cost hundreds of millions to develop. Balloons powerful enough to lift hefty cables into the stratosphere don't come cheap, neither do the generators and power receivers that would have been needed. It would have been more expensive and much less efficient than a conventional electricity grid.

Tesla got the money for his schemes from investors, but finding investors and persuading them to stay on board if schemes seem to be running into snags needn't be simple. If you want to add this complication, treat any failure as the cue for potential problems with investors, the company employing the inventor, etc. This can happen even if the person developing the invention is independently wealthy; for example, a relative who is in line to inherit might see a fortune being frittered away and decide to take steps to salvage his inheritance. Having the inventor declared insane or incompetent is usually a good starting point.

The search for funding can be a good way to introduce inventors to the wider world, or even involve them (or their friends) in adventures and other complications; for excellent examples see The Angel of the Revolution (FF VII), The Lost World (FF III) and Wells' Tono-Bungay.

Against the Laws of God and Nature...
Scenario Idea: What Do You Want If You Don't Want Money?
An inventor (preferably one of the adventurers) is served with an injunction just as his or her latest marvel is ready to be tested. The grounds for the legal action are minor, but the opposition seem to be determined to prevent the test, rather than reaching some sort of settlement. For example, an adventurer planning to test a flying machine might be forbidden to fly over a nearby farm which is almost impossible to avoid. Why such implacable opposition? What's really behind it, and what can the adventurers do about it?
Most of the inventions detailed in this collection have potentially undesirable side-effects, from mass unemployment to the annihilation of the human race. See especially Swiss Movement, which is set in a world where automata are replacing men in some jobs.

Side effects are one possible reason for disliking a new idea, but there are many other reasons why an invention might be rejected. Some ideas strike others as just plain wrong, on moral, social, or even aesthetic grounds, or are considered to be too dangerous to be allowed. This can lead to censure in the press, sermons from the pulpit, questions in parliament, or the traditional Peasant Mob with PitchforksTM. Numerous examples can be found, good examples being Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (and numerous imitators), the film of Wells' Things To Come and various schemes to use the Moon as an advertising billboard (Heinlein's The Man Who Sold The Moon, Clarke's Watch This Space, the Judge Dredd comic strip, etc., with predecessors back to the nineteenth century).

Obviously not all inventions will fall into this trap, but almost anything can be interpreted badly given sufficient malice or stupidity. For example, the Luddites did their best to destroy the cotton mills and weaving machines that they saw as taking away their living, despite their obvious economic advantages and efficiency. Parliament considered a law against the use of X-rays because it was believed that they could be used to see through clothing.

Obviously any type of disapproval is only possible if an invention is given publicity. Unfortunately inventors have a nasty habit of talking about their inventions before they're ready and rarely think about possible public responses. Those that avoid publicity may instead impress others as being too secretive, and end up suspected of being coiners (forgers), anarchists building Infernal Devices, or worse. The best middle ground is probably limited publicity, with any worrying implications played down or simply not mentioned. This may mean that everyone accuses the inventor of being evasive, but that's a risk that may have to be taken.

A Better Mousetrap
Scenario Idea: The World Will Beat A Path...
One of the adventurers or an NPC invents a wonderful new device (such as a flying machine, a pocket phonograph, a radioactive comb which genuinely stimulates hair growth, or a new and comfortable seat design for bicycles) which takes the world by storm. Everyone wants one, but one of the metals essential to it is derived from an extremely rare mineral which is only found on one island whose ownership is disputed by the British, French, German and Belgian empires (not to mention its native inhabitants, who are fierce cannibal warriors). Extracting the mineral on the necessary scale will require extensive mines, a processing plant, docks, and other facilities. It can only be worthwhile if the inventor has a monopoly for at least ten years, more would be better. This means that he or she must somehow cut a deal with one of the governments, persuade the others to bow out, and ramp up production quickly before demand for the device pushes the price of the mineral so high that it no longer makes a profit. Naturally the other adventurers will probably have to help in some way; perhaps by speeding the political process, perhaps by "pacifying" the natives.
There's another side to public relations. Sometimes an invention is so obviously desirable that everyone wants it. This can be a little inconvenient if an essential component is in short supply or the invention isn't quite perfected yet. For example, until the 1880s aluminium was rare and expensive, produced by a laborious chemical process; Napoleon owned an aluminium dinner service which was worth more than the gold equivalent. Electrolytic extraction of aluminium was perfected around 1890, with production of eight thousand tons a year by 1900. Production went up eightfold between 1900 and 1913 then doubled again by 1920, at which time it was a common component of aircraft and other lightweight devices. As the price fell new applications were found for it. But if a popular invention had depended on it in the 1870s the demand would have soon outstripped the supply, leaving the inventor with a problem. Similar problems have arisen many times since the 1880s, with essential materials and components becoming scarce then (usually) common again, and cheaper, as more supplies become available. It's a common process, one of the basics of economics and investment.

This may sound like an easy way to make money; corner the market in an essential material before its true value is known, reap the rewards, then get out before prices fall too much. It's another common investment ploy, but can unfortunately be risky. If someone comes up with another invention that bypasses the need for the scarce material, or finds new sources, your money can be wiped out.

While launching an invention that can't easily be manufactured in bulk can be a problem, launching (or even publicising) one before it's ready, or exaggerating its capabilities once it is ready, can lead to many problems. Costomers who find that their shiny new toy leaves a little to be desired can be a nuisance; customers who find that their shiny new toy leaves them in need of major surgery may justifiably feel that the inventor owes them an explanation. The article on patents describes several devices that could easily be extremely dangerous, not least a shoe-cleaning machine that trapped one of its users. Today we can imagine more subtle dangers, products that seem to do everything that is asked of them but in the long term prove dangerous to their users or the environment. They have a few fictional predecessors, such as the side-effects of the lightning machine described by George Griffith, but in general few authors imagined effects as subtle as depletion of the ozone layer.

For game purposes the most useful problems are those which drag characters into adventures. In the example above the mineral contract is the "McGuffin" that drives the plot, which can involve anything from diplomacy in London to fighting cannibals on a remote island. There's no necessity for them to be on the same side as the mining company; they might instead be fighting to protect the natives from exploitation, to prevent the discovery of some ancient secret that will be exposed if the mining goes ahead, or to take the mines for a rival company or government.

The Secret Died With Him...
Scenario Idea: You Can't Take It With You...
For many years Professor Pear worked on his Personal Refractor, a device that held the key to invisibility. He demonstrated it twice, then became alarmed by the attention of spies and other criminals (not least the adventurers!) and the possibility that it might be used for evil. Shortly before his death he burned all his papers and announced that he had destroyed the device.

Several months later the adventurers have accidentally learned that he bought an expensive camera around the time he destroyed the papers, of the type used to make microfilm photographs. Nothing can be found in his house, but the pictures would be less than an inch across, so small that they might easily be concealed on his person. It seems plausible that they could be buried with him. There's no way that the adventurers will get legal permission to exhume the body, and the grave is in a busy city-centre cemetary, so a little ingenuity will be needed...

A commonplace of the stories which suggested this collection is the invention so ingenious that only its original creator can comprehend it. Often this means that killing the inventor and smashing the device will permanently prevent its use. An excellent example is the device described in Robert A. Heinlein's first story, Life Line, which can infallibly predict the moment of a person's death, but it has many fictional predecessors. George Griffith's novel The Angel of the Revolution (FF VII) describes a fuel and an explosive that are a secret of this type, the FF VII worldbook suggests that they might be less secret than their creator imagines.

In the real world there are few inventions so mysterious that they can't be understood and eventually duplicated. Assuming roughly comparable technology, several inventors may come up with the same idea at the same time. A notable real-world example is the simultaneous patenting of light bulbs in Britain and America in the nineteenth century; it was an idea whose idea had come, and it was promptly developed. Two patents were filed. There may sometimes be practical reasons why a device can't immediately be duplicated, but on the whole if one person can invent something it's likely that someone else can repeat the process, or invent something comparable. Knowing that the device exists is half the battle. Nevertheless, for game purposes any important invention should contain some element of mystery, a secret that other inventors can't easily duplicate. It may, of course, be deliberately designed that way, a "black box" built to give minimal clues to its operation, cunningly rigged to self-destruct if the covers are ever removed, unless the mechanic taking it apart is sufficiently skillful to overcome its defences. Some perfectly ordinary devices are inherently like that, of course; a marine chronometer, a fine watch, or a complex mechanical calculating engine can't easily be dismantled without the right tools and expertise, and actually duplicating its components will take a precision machine shop with the right tools and craftsmen. It may be simpler to design your own.

Patent Applied For
Scenario Idea: Patently Absurd
The villain of a campaign somehow patents an everyday object or process which is vital to civilisation - the wheel, writing, chairs, whatever seems most appropriate. Amazingly the patent is passed and upheld by the authorities, and hundreds of patent enforcers roam the streets, collecting a fee whenever the idea is used. The adventurers have to find out how the patent was allowed to become law, get it revoked, and make sure it doesn't happen again.

Note: This plot is probably as old as the patent system. Its best-known modern use is in various comics, a common supervillain trick.
Patents are theoretically a way of ensuring that inventors reap the benefits of their ideas. In the 19th and early 20th centuries the process is simple enough; invent something, show that it's an original idea, patent it, make it or persuade someone else to do so, and enjoy a monopoly for the lifetime of the patent. It shouldn't be possible to patent something that is already a common device or idea, such as the wheel or writing, or a natural phenomenon such as rain formation or a new breed of cat. The patent must include enough information to allow the invention to be duplicated; the whole point of a patent scheme, as a replacement for the trade secrets previously used, is to encourage the spread of technology by rewarding inventors for making their secrets public.

There are snags, of course. There is no such thing as an international patent in this period, so devices must be patented in any country that's capable of manufacturing the device being patented; probably Britain, the USA, Germany, France, and a few other European countries for most mechanical devices, since few other countries have the expertise or market for advanced machinery. Some entrepeneurs employ agents who do nothing but read new patent applications, write a precis, and (if it is deemed useful) patent it in other countries before the rightful owner can do so. Even if a device is patented, there's no guarantee that someone won't try to make it without paying the patent fees, and fight a legal battle in preference to paying.

The main defence against abuse of the patent system is the patent agent, who shepherds his client's patent through the system, organises simultaneous patents in several countries, warns the client of any breach of the patent, handles any legal problems, and otherwise smooths the way for the inventor. For a substantial fee, of course. Patent agents are also supposed to warn their clients if their invention isn't patentable, before the registration process begins; this requires a search through each country's patent records, and in this period is a long and difficult procedure. Most patent agents are honourable hard-working men, but there are occasional rotten apples who work against the interests of their clients for personal gain; taking fees for trying to patent something that's inherently unpatentable, or delaying the application while an accomplice files a patent in the name of a dummy company owned by the patent agent. In the latter case the agent eventually reports that the idea can't be patented because someone else got in first.

Even if the agent is honest, the application may be denied. It's been said that there's nothing new under the sun, and this can apply to inventions. Some have appeared three or four times before they finally become a success, and the failures are often forgotten by everyone apart from the patent office. Examples include telephone answering machines and automated diallers (both originally seen in the 1920s), fax machines (first seen in a crude form in the nineteenth century; see the FF CD-ROM), colour photography (another nineteenth century invention described on the FF CD-ROM) and roller skates (first tried in the eighteenth century, perfected in the 1920s).

For more on the patent system see [PA]. Leslie Charteris wrote at least two Saint stories dealing with abuses of the patent system of the type described above. More recently Charles Harness has written several SF novels and stories with a basis in patent law.

Not Invented Here
Edison versus Tesla: The Case for Edison
In the late nineteenth century Edison fought a long dirty campaign against the introduction of AC power distribution, pioneered by Tesla and Westinghouse. This is usually presented as an old hidebound inventor refusing to accept the merits of a clearly superior system. There is some justice in that view, but it shouldn't be forgotten that AC gave Edison a major problem; areas wired for DC couldn't easily be converted to AC. Any district converted would need major changes, including new generators, a new distribution system, electricity meters, motors, and lamps. Installing the original DC system was only possible because Edison wired an entire district in a single night, used hundreds of workers to accomplish the feat, was mostly installing basic lighting circuits, and didn't have to replace anything. As time passed many of these buildings added electric fans, lifts, and other devices, all designed for DC power. Although AC systems were better and more efficient than DC and considerably cheaper to install and run, the cost of a wholesale change would have crippled Edison's business. Additionally, he would have had to start paying royalties to Tesla and his associates. If he had immediately embraced AC there would have been huge pressure to switch existing customers; instead Edison's delaying tactics bought years to phase in the change gradually and reduced the period in which his companies had to pay royalties to Tesla.
There's a long and less than illustrious history of companies refusing to accept the merits of devices that supplement or replace the technology they've pioneered. Previous Forgotten Futures sourcebooks have mentioned this the battle between Edison and Tesla, usually casting Edison as the villan (but see the boxed text to the right) but an earlier fight over lighting is often forgotten.

When the first incandescent electric lights were marketed, by Edison in the USA and Swan in Britain, it was obvious that they were immensely superior to the existing forms of gas lighting. They were brighter, cleaner, less of a fire risk, and didn't flicker or produce toxic waste. In a purely logical world the gas lighting companies would have immediately gone into the electricity business, but most had no wish to diversify. Instead they put their best minds to work inventing a better gas light, eventually coming up with the gas mantle, A mantle is essentially a small mesh bag made of silk or asbestos coated with thorium, a toxic and (it was later learned) radioactive material. When heated by a gas flame it produces a steady white light, far superior to the flickering yellow light of earlier gas burners. This improvement significantly delayed the spread of electric lighting, with many areas and homes gas lit well into the twentieth century. It also caused a significant pollution problem, with buildings contaminated with thorium and asbestos still causing problems today.

Many technological advances face similar opposition; if industry invested time and money in a product or service it is unlikely to welcome something that supercedes it, especially if it is introduced by an outsider who must be paid royalties. Opposition may involve negative publicity, boycotting of the innovation, or gangs of heavily-armed thugs. If adventurers seem to be venturing into areas that might arouse such opposition the referee should consider a plot developement of this type.

Scenario Idea: Invented HERE!
If the adventurers are expecting to encounter this problem, why not hit them with an alternative; when they demonstrate their new idea industry loves it... and claims to have thought of it first. The trouble is that nobody is lying - while the adventurers have been preparing their technological master-stroke the industrial giants have been preparing to surprise the world with the same exciting innovation. The adventurers have made their announcement just days before several scheduled press conferences, their patents were filed hours before those of the industrial giants. And the giants can prove that they've had teams of scientists and engineers working on the idea for years, while the adventurers are typically a small group of eccentrics with suspect records. Who's going to be believed when someone suggests that their stroke of genius was actually stolen from the big boys?

Not In My Back Yard
Not all inventions are good neighbours. Generally nobody really wants to live next door to a chemical factory, a noisy industrial plant, a smelly sewage works, or any one of dozens of dangerous or unpleasant inventions. You can make this choice for yourself if you move to a new neighbourhood, but what if the bad neighbour comes to you? What if your neighbour casually mentions that he's working on an explosive "a thousand times more powerful than dynamite", wants to cut down all the trees you can see from your garden to build a new lab, or tells you that he'll be conducting some experiments with radium rays and asks if you would object to him setting up a few instruments in your house, which is "well outside the danger area"? What if you want to be the bad neighbour in pursuit of your scientific dream?

This idea can be used in two ways; first, to make it difficult for the adventurers to start work on their interesting new invention ("I'm sorry, Professor, but the Parish Council is raising strong objections, Colonel Salt has taken out an injunction, Doctor Jones says it will endanger the public health, and Lady Smith-Smythe is threatening to send a groom to horse-whip you."), and second to add an unwelcome complication to their lives which might lead into an adventure. If one of the characters has invested his fortune in a beautiful home, the sight of factory chimneys rising over the adjoining property may be less than welcome; it reduces the value of the property, ruins the view, and may herald pollution, noise, and other problems. Even if a development is necessary and obviously essential it may be something that nobody wants to live with. An apparently unnecessary and mysterious development can be a nuisance - or the beginning of an adventure as the characters try to find out what's really going on.

Scenario Idea: 102 Uses For A Dead Cat
For several years a small factory near an adventurer's home has stood empty. Now someone has bought the building and installed machinery for a new product. The snag is that the product in question is synthetic gems, small rubies which are to be produced from the cremated remains of dead cats. Through his translator the owner, a mysterious Egyptian with an unpronounceable name who is always accompanied by several bodyguards, claims that only cats contain exactly the right combination of chemicals; he's tried other animals and the stones are badly flawed, cats make perfect gems. He's buying surplus animals from animal homes all over London (or the nearest big city to the adventurer's home), killing them humanely, then processing the bodies. Even ignoring cruelty issues there are several problems, not least the smell (which is apalling), the noise, and the release of dense black smoke from the factory chimneys. Which often seems to blow towards the adventurers' home...
Unfortunately the factory does seem to be operating within the law (smoke, per se, is not illegal in this period) and there seems to be nothing to do about it from a legal viewpoint. But maybe there's something going on that the adventurers can exploit, a hidden motive for the project. Why do this in Britain rather than Egypt? Are cats really as essential as is claimed? Why is the factory trademark a picture of the ancient goddess Bast? And when, if ever, will the rubies go on sale?
The answers may be banal (the factory really does work that way, the owner prefers to live in Britain, and there will be rubies a-plenty once the process is perfected and they cost less to produce than they're worth as gems), criminal (it's all cover for a counterfeiting operation or disposal of smuggled gems), mystical (the owner believes that each gem will be an amulet carrying the blessings of the goddess Bast, and plans to use them to equip a rebel army which will throw the British Empire out of the Middle East), or magical (as mystical, but it's true and eventually Bast will show up in support of the rebel army). Solutions might range from improving the factory's pollution control to planting a few sticks of dynamite to magically invoking the goddess and persuading her that going along with the plan is a really bad idea.

You've Invented What???
Scenario Idea: Pulp Friction
Inventor Roger Chandler has discovered a way to make pulp paper directly from leaves and other plant material, bypassing much of the lumber industry. Wood pulp is still needed, but in much smaller proportions than the usual process. The quality is adequate for newspapers and packing materials such as cardboard. Chandler imagines that the total need for wood pulp will be reduced by 50%, replaced by plant waste from farms, leaves and twigs from the timber industry, etc. Unfortunately the paper and timber industry is unhappy. Most paper manufacturers own their own forests and timber mills, or are committed to long term partnerships with the timber industry. Wood pulp is made from low-grade wood and the bits of trees that can't be used for other things, if this material isn't used and they have to buy in other plant material their profits will be reduced. The overall effect could well be a small increase in the price of paper! Unfortunately Chandler has announcemed the breakthrough, and pulp paper buyers all over the world expect to see significant price cuts as the new system is adopted; it will be difficult to sell them on the idea that it isn't going to work that way.
The adventurers are hired to discredit Chandler's system, by any means they can think of. Currently only one prototype factory uses it; their employers want them to find jobs there and ensure that things go wrong. For example, they might deliberately make batches of faulty paper or arrange a few accidents; if nobody is hurt they'll be paid well. What could be easier....
Sometimes an invention may seem desirable... until you really start to think about it. It would be wonderful to turn lead into gold, but the end result would soon be the devaluation of gold. There's a historical precedent; in only a few years, as described above, aluminium changed from a precious metal to an everyday commodity. Many other inventions can cause major social or economic problems. Flight is desirable, but has huge military implications. Automaton workers would release endless workers from lives of apalling drudgery... but what will they do instead, and who's going to pay for their food? The artificial gems described in the scenario ourline in the previous section would only be valuable if they were sold secretly; as soon as news got out the value would plummet. What will the owners of ruby mines have to say about that?

Unless inventors are prepared to deal with these unintended consequences they should take them by surprise, and they may run into problems with people who have thought of the consequences first and are prepared to deal with them as ruthlessly as seems appropriate. Their response may range from calm reasoning to murder attempts, depending on the importance of the invention, the amount of money involved (or whatever else might be at stake), and how badly they will be hurt by it.

For good examples of this idea in fiction see Doyle's The Doings of Raffle Haw, Frank O'Rourke's Instant Gold, or the Saint story The Gold Standard by Leslie Charteris, all of which deal with the implications of synthetic gold; Jack Williamson's With Folded Hands or Capek's R.U.R., which deal with the unintended consequences of robotics; Heinlein's Life Line and Gerrold's The Man Who Folded Himself, both discussing some implications of accurate prophecy; or Asimov's The Dead Past and Sherred's E for Effort, both of which show that machines to view the past would have bleak consequences. There are many others.

To contents
Appendix: About The Authors

GEORGE GRIFFITH (1857-1906) was one of the most prolific and influential SF authors of his day, but he was always overshadowed by Wells. His work often appeared in British magazines, most notably Pearson's Weekly and Pearson's Magazine, and helped to create a genre of sensationalised "high-tech" future war typified by the work of Griffith himself, William le Queux, and M.P. Shiel, in which new inventions totally revolutionised warfare. His politics made him unpopular with American publishers, and little of his work appeared there. He was a globe-trotter and explorer, whose claimed exploits included a voyage around the world in 65 days (shattering all previous records) and discovery of the source of the Amazon.

Griffith's work often mixed Utopian themes with quasi-religious apocalyptic disaster. For instance, in the Astronef stories (FF2) we see two worlds collide to form a new sun, incidentally saving the characters and strengthening their religious beliefs. This cometary theme was repeated in Olga Romanoff and in The World Peril of 1910.

Griffith had some curious blind spots. The most obvious is his addiction to the "strong man" interpretation of history, and an assumption of a more or less unchanged social order regardless of circumstances, but he also shows several technological weaknesses. One, seen most obviously in [WP] but also found in several earlier works, is a reluctance to take the use of wireless into account in his stories of future wars. [WP] mentions aerograms, messages sent via this medium, but nevertheless shows several battles fought under the direction of signal flags, and surprise attacks which would be impossible if any of the ships involved had radios. In contrast, Kipling immediately understood the importance of radio and used it to good effect in several stories. Griffith completely misunderstood the significance of modern naval armaments in his accounts of battleships fighting pitched artillery duels at a range of a few hundred yards; big guns were all about power projection, and tactics emphasised their use at maximum range, if possible outside the range of the enemy, so that targets could be sunk without firing back. There are many other obvious shortcomings, but it should be remembered that Griffith was one of the pioneers of this field. While his mistakes may seem ludicrous to a modern audience, they are often no more grotesque than the assumptions seen in many modern techno-thrillers.

In short, while it must be admitted that Griffith was never as good an author as Wells, Doyle, or Kipling, and was less ready to handle the implications of technology, his stories showed endless energy and a steady stream of interesting ideas which were occasionally more accurate than those of his rivals.


and numerous other novels and stories. Italicised titles are on the FF CD-ROM.

The Raid of 'Le Vengeur' [Ferret Fantasy 1974] is a collection of Griffiths' short stories accompanied by a long biographical essay by Sam Moskowitz and an extensive bibliography by George Locke. Second-hand copies are occasionally available.

Sources: The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction (Clute, Nicholls), The Rivals of H. G. Wells (ed. A. Kingsley Russell), The Raid of Le Vengeur (see above), The Angel of the Revolution (introduction to the abridged 1907 paperback), and numerous other works on science fiction history.

EDWARD PAGE MITCHELL (1852-1927) was an American writer and reporter who worked for the New York Sun from 1875 onwards and was its editor from 1903 until his death. His fiction was written between 1874 and 1885 and appeared in his own paper. Sam Moskowitz's introduction to a volume of his collected works, The Crystal Man (1973), includes his biography and an extensive bibliography. Moskowitz suggests that Mitchell may have been an influence on Wells (his stories describe time travel and an invisible man well before Wells wrote his novels) but there is little real evidence except priority of date to back up this idea. He wrote no novels and The Crystal Man appears to be the only anthology of his short stories.

Sources: The Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction (Clute, Nicholls), introduction to The Crystal Man (Sam Moskowitz)

ERNEST E. KELLETT (1864-1950) was a fantasy writer whose work appeared in various magazines at the end of the nineteenth century. His only book was A Corner in Sleep and Other Impossibilities (1900), a collection of stories which is mostly fantasy but contains two scientific romances. His story in this collection remains in European copyright; I have been unable to locate the copyright owner, any information concerning this would be appreciated.

Source: John Clute

HENRY A. HERING (1864-?) was a humorous author active from the late nineteench century to approximately 1930. I have been unable to establish the copyright status of his story in this collection, any information concerning him would be useful. He published at least one book, Adventures And Fantasy (1930), a short story collection. A story is reprinted in Strange Tales from the Strand (ed. Jack Adrian, OUP 1991).

Source: John Clute, Brian Ameringen (Porcupine Books)

I have been unable to learn anything about the authors of the articles in this collection, or determine their copyright status. Any information concerning this would be welcome.