The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
Across the Zodiac. A Story of Adventure (1896)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
Across the Zodiac was written by “Edwin Pallander,” the pseudonym of Lancelot Francis Sanderson Bayly (1869-1952), an Irishman of independent means and a keen botanist, biologist and musician.
Across the Zodiac is about Captain Chlamyl and his ship, the Astrolabe. Three scientists are observing an active volcano in Iceland when the balloon they are using drifts too close to the crater. They are on the verge of falling into the volcano when they are rescued by Chlamyl, who takes the trio with him rather than depositing them back in civilization as they request. The Astrolabe is on its maiden voyage, and Chlamyl takes it to the moon, which has the remains of a long-dead civilization on it, and Saturn, where the visitors find primitive life forms. The crew, who have been mistreated by Chlamyl, eventually mutiny. There is a gas explosion, which disables the Astrolabe, and it drifts, powerless, toward the sun. But the Astrolabe gets caught within the gravitational pull of Venus, which swings the Astrolabe away from the sun. Chlamyl and the crew land on a comet and ride it back to Earth.
Bayly’s debts to both Percy Greg and Jules Verne are considerable. Bayly had read Greg’s Across the Zodiac (1880) and liked it so much that he took the title and outer space milieu for his own novel.1 Bayly was clearly even more taken with Verne’s work, and Bayly’s Across the Zodiac is essentially Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea In Space, with Captain Chlamyl being a version of Verne’s Captain Nemo. However, Chlamyl, a brilliant scientist and inventor, is a brutal, arrogant man, embodying all of Nemo’s negative traits–his megalomania and contempt for ordinary men–and none of his good traits. Although Across the Zodiac has a few thrills, and Bayly paid some attention to scientific detail, he lacked Greg’s ability to innovate and Verne’s ability to invest scientific facts with interest. Too, the secondary characters in Across the Zodiac are even more colorless than Verne’s minor characters.
The lone aspect of interest to Bayly’s Across the Zodiac is Bayly’s basing Captain Chlamyl’s personality on that of Shamíl (1789-1871), the third Imam of Dagestan. Shamíl was a leader of a national movement in the North Caucasus in the 1830s and declared Dagestan an independent state in 1834. When the Russians attempted to invade and retake Dagestan, Shamíl declared jihad against the Russians, and for twenty-five years led an effective resistance against the Russians. Shamíl was an international celebrity and became a Caucasian hero of Russian Romanticism and an international celebrity.2 Bayly using Shamíl’s name in this way is in questionable taste, especially since Captain Chlamyl shares Shamíl’s brutality--Shamíl ruled Dagestan with a ruthless efficiency—but lacks the inspirational element which Shamíl possessed.
Bayly’s Across the Zodiac has little to recommend it, but does stand as an example of mediocre Victorian science fiction, of that type that would be swept away, the following year, by H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.
Print: Edwin Pallander, Across the Zodiac. London: Forgotten Books, 2017.
1 David Alan Schroeder, “A Message From Mars: Astronomy and Late-Victorian Culture” (PhD. diss., Indiana University, 2002), 220.
2 Shamil regularly appeared in the European press during the “Murid War,” and after his capture by the Russians in 1859 he was “simultaneously courted and contained by the [European] colonizing powers” across Russia, Europe, and even Mecca. Austin Jersild, Orientalism and Empire: North Caucasus Mountain Peoples and the Georgian Frontier, 1845-1917 (Kingston, CA: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2002), 21.