Monday, July 2, 2007

Liquid From The Sun's Rays

Author: Sue Greenleaf
Published: 1901

When I visited the Library of Congress I wanted to find a SF book that couldn't be found elsewhere. Liquid From the Sun's Rays is not the first SF book written by a woman, but a very early one that is not in the utopia/dystopia category so popular around the turn of the 19th century. And very obscure (here is the closest relevant link I could find).

The story reminded me of gothic fiction, not because of elements such as horror and ghosts, but more of the many turns of the plot, stock characters who die and re-appear, as well as mysterious events and letters.

I had to read quickly since I had limited time (you cannot take books out of the LOC). The key element was "Memory Fluid" (aka "liquid from the sun's rays") which not only killed all the bad bacteria in one's body (bestowing very long life) but also restored to one all the memories from one's previous lives. This became a problem for someone who in a previous life was known as "The Kansas Plunger", a notorious confidence man who cheated thousands out of their money. The question is, can this man who admits to his past life crimes, be held responsible for them?

Alas, this is not what takes up most of the novel. There is a coup in a former-Mexican state (which has been annexed to the U.S.), issues regarding giving the "Memory Fluid" to anyone else, a strange case of love unrequited, another fluid that allows levitation, and a lot of talk about light, the divine, the universal, past sins, and so on (getting the drift here?)

In the end, the artist-previously-known-as-the-Kansas-Plunger is convicted, but the judge dismisses all charges. Love is still unrequited, some die, some live, and the coup is defeated.

Strange eh? But that is not the most interesting part of this book. The dedication is enough to make one wonder, not only about the novel, but about the author. It read:

"With sorrow in my heart
much pity for the weak
who put obstacles in my path
wishing my life a perpetual
slough of despair
I respectfully dedicate this volume"

Now, tell me there isn't a story behind those sentiments!


Cheryl said...

That dedication alone would make me read the book!

Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like some agent read her query letter and responded with some vague comments scratched with a faded quill pen "not right at this time."

Todd Wheeler said...

Yes, Sue Greenleaf showed them all!

Now, at the LOC they have all kinds of restrictions which can be different in each reading room. No pens or cell phones is the baseline. For some reason I thought even pencils were banned from the rare book room where this volume was available. So I brought a digital camera in case I wanted to 'copy' some pages.

Nope. Had to turn over the camera at the cloak room. I get to the rare book reading room and lo and behold, there are all these signs saying 'use pencil only'.

So, after every chapter, I recited the dedication in my head so I could remember it later.

Next time, I'll be better prepared.

Camille Alexa said...

Well, you do have the card...

Todd Wheeler said...

Yep. Good for two years.