Well, I never knew the word “android” was in existence in the 19th Century! This may be the oldest sci-fi novel I’ve read and one of the most fascinating. It starts off with us being introduced to a fictionalized Thomas Edison, a kind of mad scientist, and his interesting thoughts on how things would have been different had the human race had the means to record sound earlier on in its history.
“Even among the noises of the past, how many mysterious sounds were known to our predecessors, which for lack of a convenient machine to record them have now fallen forever into the abyss? Dead voices, lost voices, forgotten noises, vibrations lockstepping into the abyss, and now too distant ever to be recaptured!”
Edison also laments the fact that we don’t have photographs of Cleopatra, Rachel, Queen of Sheba, Helen of Troy, etc.
“Isn’t it exasperating to think of all the pictures, portraits, scenes, and landscapes that it [photography] could have recorded once, and which are now lost to us?”
The Deluge, The Seven Plagues of Egypt, The Furies, the Head of Medusa are examples of subjects Edison would have liked to see photographed. There’s no distinction between myth and reality in his mind, obviously!
After his musings, things get interesting when his friend Lord Ewald falls in love with a plain and vapid girl, whom he recognizes is “a sphinx without an enigma”, and has decided to end his life. Edison decides to make an android version of his fiancée for him, an ideal woman, using as the prototype, Hadaly, a similarly plain woman who caused his friend to kill himself. What follows is a deep philosophical journey into the role of God in creation, the parts of a woman, and the soul.
The book lost a point for its blatant misogyny, there is lots of it:
“Yes, that’s what these women are: trifling playthings for the passing gadabout, but deadly to men of more depth, whom they blind, befoul, and bind into slavery through the slow hysteria that distills from them.”
But all in all, a very well-written book, one that made the think.