Initially published in 1872 and here translated for the first time into English, this French SF classic employs Plato's philosophical dialogue form to unite 19th-century science with boldly imaginative fictional narrative. A noted astronomer and science popularizer, Flammarion (1842–1925) speculates on the relative nature of space and time, anticipating by three decades Einstein's theory of relativity. That the author was also fascinated by psychic "research" comes through in the five lively "conversations" that comprise the text between Questor ("Seeker") and the recently dead Lumen ("Light"), whose soul roams the universe while instructing his avid pupil. Bolstered by Stableford's able introduction, voluminous notes and a comprehensive bibliography, this short novel survives the first two didactic and repetitive conversations to burst pyrotechnically into the sheerest poetry when Lumen describes the indescribable: sentient entities on unheard-of worlds linked by psychic bonds that draw souls into successive reincarnations across the abyss of intergalactic space and time. This early work illuminates the human aspiration to overcome mortality, occasionally reflecting a genuine spark of the divine, as when Lumen muses, "What voice is more eloquent than the silence of a starlit night?" (June)
Forecast:Its appeal limited mainly to SF historians and Stableford completists, this book will have a healthy sales life only if it becomes part of the SF curriculum on college campuses.