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The many faces of Hugo Gernsback 4/7

A visionary turned prophet

When you hear the word science fiction, the first thing that comes to your mind is lasers, spaceships, hovering cars, basically everything that you can imagine what could be invented in the future. But have you spent a second thought on the origins of science fiction and who its “father” may be?

Hugo Gernsback, born in Luxembourg in 1884, was not content with editing and inventing. One of his main goals was to educate and inspire a wider audience, even in less conventional subjects.

The publication of Hugo Gernsback’s first novel Ralph 124 C 41+ (one to foresee for one all) in 1911, marked the beginning of science fiction, a genre which at the time was still called ‘Scientifiction’. The plot line follows the romantic relationship between Ralph 124C 41+ and Alice 212B 423 in 2660. The couple meets at the beginning of the novel through a “Telephot”, a device which resembles today’s smartphone. Gernsback’s vision of a digital future dominates the novel. Through an amalgamation of science and fiction, Gernsback aims to educate and inspire the reader. The novel is filled with scientific inventions which, although grounded in scientific knowledge, were at the time still considered futuristic. The book acquires a prophetic element: thus the radar he describes in the novel was developed in the 1930s, before World War II. Other inventions that are described in the book are, for example, the fax machine and the smartphone. Gernsback’s interest in educating people about science and technology also took on different dimensions. As an early-day sexologist, Gernsback shed light on other aspects of life.

Illustration sources:
Centre national de littérature, Hugo Gernsback: An Amazing Story, 2010

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