The Moon Metal by Garrett P. Serviss (1900)
Garrett P. Serviss (1851-1929) was a journalist and amateur astronomer who wrote a number of popular books on astronomy and other scientific subjects. He graduated with a law degree but never practiced law; instead he began a 16-year career at the New York Sun, where he developed a talent for popularizing scientific subjects. In 1894 Andrew Carnegie asked him to deliver a series of scientific lectures; this led to a long career as a popular speaker, while also contributing articles to leading magazines. In 1923 he worked with Max Fleischer to produce a short film, The Einstein Theory of Relativity, based on one of his books. Serviss did not begin to write fiction until he was almost 50 years old, publishing five novel and one magazine serial that never made to book form. His best-known novels were Edison's Conquest of Mars (yes, that Edison), A Columbus of Space (a science fiction homage to Jules Verge), and The Second Deluge (in which the Earth is inundated by a cloud of water from space and a modern day Noah steps up.) Hugo Gernsback republished most of Serviss' fiction in early issues of Amazing Stories, which made Serviss very popular among the newly-minted science fiction fans and his works are now considered classics in the field. (Creaky, but classic).
The Moon Metal, the shortest of his novels (basically a novella) was published by Harper and Brothers in 1900. (It supposedly had an early publication as a newspaper serial, but that has not been confirmed.) It was reprinted in All-Story Magazine in 1905; Hugo Gernsback reprinted in Amazing Stories in 1926; and Mary Gnaedinger used it in Famous Fantastic Fiction in 1939. It was not reprinted in book form until 1972, when FAX Collectors' Editions produced a small print run. A decade later, Forrest J. Ackerman included it in his The Gernsback Awards: 1926, an attempt to highlight the best stories from that early year in SF history. It has since been republished by a number of companies and is easily available in E-book or publish-on demand form, as well as being available from Gutenberg and Libravox.
In the not too distant future, a large field of gold has been discovered in Anarctica -- far more gold than had previously been mined on the planet. Suddenly, the value of gold dropped and the gold standard, for all intents, became worthless. The financial leaders of the world are stymied; the economy of every country appears to be crashing. Suddenly there appears the mysterious, satanic-looking Dr. Syx, who claims to have the solution. Syx says that he has discovered a large amounts of new metal -- rare, beautiful, pliable enough to be used to create jewelry and works of art. This metal, which he called artemisium, could easily replace gold as the basis of the world's economy. The financiers are skeptical, but Syx takes them to his mining operations in Wyoming to ease their doubts. Since much of the process he claimed to be "secret," they saw only what he wanted them to see -- which was enough to convince them. Soon the world's economy was set straight and Syx was on his way to becoming the wealthiest man in the world.
One young engineer smelled a rat and, after a long investigation, discovered that Syx's entire operation was a phony. So where did this marvelous new metal come from. SPOILER ALERT (BUT NOT TOO MUCH OF ONE, GIVEN THE BOOK'S TITLE): The metal came from the moon. Syx had devised a ray that, when aimed at the moon, pulled particles of the moon back to Earth. Those particles were pure artemisium. (Artemis, of course, was the goddess of the moon.) END THE NOT TOO MUCH OF A SPOILER ALERT.
Syx's monopoly is broken. The world's economy is once again in danger. Steps are taken to save it. Hurrah. The end.
The Moon Metal is an interesting book, although certainly not a fast-moving one. It clunks along in a meandering way and doesn't answer all the questions it raises. At one point Syx shows the financiers a film of a strange race of people in an alien landscape. No explanation is ever given. Are these supposed to be moon people? People from a different planet? Or what? And why show the film? What was most interesting about this film was that it was in color (!) and that the beings filmed moved in a smooth fashion and not in the jerky way people in films from 1900 moved.
And Dr. Syx himself. Who was he? There is a vague implication that he might be Satan himself, but this, too, was never explored.
And the moon. Is is entirely made of artemisium? It certainly appears so. Or, perhaps the rays are calibrated only to extract particles of that one metal?
To expect answers to these questions is rather silly. The Moon Metal is a good example of proto-science fiction, to be read as much for its historic value as for its entertainment. It's a quick read and I'm glad I had a chance to step back in time and enjoy it.