Amy H. Sturgis (eldritchhobbit) wrote,
Amy H. Sturgis
eldritchhobbit

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Early SF Investigators: What do you think?

Hello everyone! Yes, I'm still alive, or so they tell me. I've been really sick, and then my better half became really sick, and yet work hasn't slowed down much for either of us. I've been Epic Fail personified in terms of keeping up with everyone, but I hope to catch up soon. Please excuse me.

Happy birthday wishes to jasonbsizemore, dannyboy8406, and _snitchbitch. Happy early birthday wishes to killerweasel, ashesngolddust, and wellinghall. May all of you have wonderful days, my friends, and a fantastic year to come!

Fringe by sudarshannus



Despite the ick and the drugs for the ick, I've been working on my piece regarding the 19th-century and very early 20th-century literary antecedents to the "speculative fiction investigators/detectives" of Fringe. Since my learned and wise friends know all – at least, all that's worth knowing – I thought I'd put out a call and ask your help: What have I missed?

Investigators of 19th/early 20th-Century Literary SF: Precursors to Fringe



I thought I'd start out with a not to mad scientists and point out how they are different than investigators/detectives in the genre. But, in the context of the multiple-season arc of Fringe, I thought it important to mention, at least, Faust, Victor Frankenstein, and Nathaniel Hawthorne's Dr. Rappaccini.

As for the SF investigators themselves, I'll admit up front that I'm not going for an exhaustive list. I do want to give at least passing mention to Shiela Crerar by Ella M. Scrymsour, the female psychic investigator from six short stories in 1920 issues of The Blue Magazine (mostly noteworthy for her gender, personal psychic capabilities, and use of logic and compassion). If I mention other characters like Norton Vyse (1919) and/or Dr. Tavener (1926), I'll probably just list them in a general way.


Here's the list I've got at the moment of characters I thought to be worthy of discussion:

THE LIST

Who: C. Auguste Dupin (1841-1844) by Edgar Allan Poe
Why? Dupin's ratiocination anticipates the scientific methods of later SF investigations (and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" almost seems to suggest a supernatural case, at first blush) – besides, the paths of all detectives must be traced back to Dupin.

Who: Dr. Martin Hesselius (1872) by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
Why? Trained in science (as a physician), Hesselius departs from orthodox practice and becomes a "metaphysical doctor," investigating cases such as that of the vampire Carmilla. He's a sort of rogue figure, like Dr. Walter Bishop.

Who: Prince Zaleski (1895, 1955) by M.P. Shiel
Why? Set apart from the rest of humanity, he is a superbly gifted intellect who uses drugs as well as intuitive reasoning to solve mysteries. (Some of these traits remind me of Dr. Walter Bishop.)

Who: Professor Abraham Van Helsing (1897) by Bram Stoker
Why? "He is a seemingly arbitrary man, this is because he knows what he is talking about better than any one else. He is a philosopher and a metaphysician, and one of the most advanced scientists of his day, and he has, I believe, an absolutely open mind." And he hunts vampires.

Who: Flaxman Low (1898-1899) by E. and H. Heron
Why? Low is a ghost hunter who solves "psychic mysteries" with his knowledge of the supernatural and keen observational skills. The tone of the Low stories is often dark and macabre, not unlike Fringe.

Who: Andrew Latter (1904) by Harold Begbie
Why? Latter is able to enter a dream world where he can follow chains of cause and effect that led to mysterious events. The existence of the separate, real, "parallel" dream world, which holds answers for our own, has some parallels with the alternate universe in Fringe. Moreover, Latter is consulted by Scotland Yard, much as Dr. Bishop is consulted by the Fringe Division with DHS.

Who: Dr. John Silence (1908, 1917) by Algernon Blackwood
Why? He's a "psychic doctor" who has prepared himself for his unusual cases – including monsters and creatures from folklore - with extreme mental, physical, and spiritual training. He says, "I have yet to come across a problem that is not natural, and has not a natural explanation," but then again his definition of "natural" goes far beyond most other scientists'. He likes ancient texts. Cue Walter again.

Who: Thomas Carnacki (1910-1912) by William Hope Hodgson
Why? Of the "psychic detectives," he is the most scientific in his methods. As he says, "I am what I might term an unprejudiced skeptic. I am not given to either believing or disbelieving things ‘on principle’" His favorite tool, the "electric pentacle," is based on his scientific observation that electrical fields dampen psychic activity. Again, I think of Walter.

Who: Professor George Edward Challenger (1912-1929) by Arthur Conan Doyle
Why? Based on on Doyle's professor of physiology, William Rutherford, one character calls Challenger "just a homicidal megalomaniac with a turn for science." He proves, however, to have vast knowledge in a variety of scientific fields, which helps him investigate and explain various science fictional mysteries. And he has a most unusual personality. (Like anyone we know?) I can also slip in mention of Sherlock Holmes if I discuss Doyle.

Who: Aylmer Vance (1914) by Alice and Claude Askew
Why? I'm still contemplating whether or not I'll use this one, but Aylmer Vance, the Ghost-Seer, investigated many supernatural phenomena with his sidekick/chronicler, the psychic Dexter. He intrigues me because he doesn't have a very high success rate of solving situations (either of evil spirits of lost/confused spirits): people get killed, and sometimes his only answer is to tear down the affected building. The idea that unseen and mysterious forces are bigger and more powerful than the protagonist seems to fit, but it might be a bit of a stretch.

Who: Jules de Grandin (1925-1951) by Seabury Quinn
Why? Part of the French civil police force (and thus somewhat official, like Olivia Dunham or the Bishops), Jules de Grandin is both a physician and an expert on the occult. He proves that some of the "supernatural" events he investigates actually have natural explanations, not unlike Special Agent Olivia Dunham and her team.

Who: Various investigators in the works of H.P. Lovecraft, such as Professor William Dyer (At the Mountains of Madness, 1936), Dr. Elihu Whipple ("The Shunned House", 1937) and Dr. Marinus Bicknell Willett (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward), 1941
Why? These scientists/medical men often get drawn into investigations due to their personal relationships, and they pursue them doggedly, sometimes at tremendous personal cost (including their lives/sanity). This really fits for all the leads in Fringe.

I thought I'd end up with a quick comment on SF investigators on television, including Professor Bernard Quatermass from the Quatermass serials and the title characters from Sapphire and Steel, all from the UK, and Carl Kolchack from Kolchak: The Night Stalker and Fox Mulder and Dana Scully from The X-Files, all from the US.





Am I missing anything important? I welcome any/all suggestions, especially for the 19th/early 20th-century literature section, which is the heart of the piece. Thanks so much!

Walternate: Nature doesn't recognize good and evil, Philip. Nature only recognizes balance and imbalance. I intend to restore balance to our world. Whatever it takes.
- from "Amber 31422," Fringe
Tags: fringe, publications, sf
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  • If you're interested in the films of Jiang Wen...

    ... Body in Question: Image and Illusion in Two Chinese Films by Director Jiang Wen is a wonderful resource. I thought I'd share my mini-review…

  • R.I.P., Chuck Berry

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