Symzonia: A Voyage of Discovery.New York, printed by J. Seymour, 1820 Stock Code: 135743
NotesRare first edition, first impression, of the book rightly considered the first science fiction novel written by an American. Published two years after Frankenstein, the book utilizes the hollow earth theory of John Cleves Symmes Jr. to create the first in a long line of hollow-earth lost race fiction.
Captain Adam Seaborn is a pseudonym in keeping with the other names used in the text. The book has been attributed to Symmes himself, although in view of the satirical element, this is inherently unlikely. A more plausible candidate proposed was Nathaniel Ames (1796-1835), whose A Mariner's Sketches (1830) was a source for Melville's White Jacket, but it is earlier than Ames's other published work and it may be that Ames was simply in thrall to Symzonia. The book has also been claimed as a powerful influence on Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838). The book is certainly an early indication of a new literary self-confidence and a new sense of national identity among American writers that some have described as "literary nationalism", especially notable after the US victory over England in the war of 1812.
"Combines two genres: the imaginary voyage and the utopia" (Seed, p. 77). "A pleasant early imaginary voyage, satirizes Symmes's ideas; it also comments, a clef, on the political structures of Europe and the USA" (Clute & Nicholls). "A very entertaining novel, one of the more readable and enjoyable eutopias, for the unknown author is master of a very pleasant style, and his occasional satiric comments on Symmes's theory, the government of the new United States, and the nature of the British are amusing" (Bleiler).
The first edition is notably rare, most readers and libraries having to make do with microform or facsimile reprints. WorldCat records only five locations for the first edition: three in the US (Huntington and the universities of Eastern Illinois and Massachusetts), the British Library, and Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin. No copy is listed in auction records.
Duodecimo. Uncut in original drab boards, rebacked with printed spine lettering in facsimile, front board and front endpapers skilfully replaced to style. Housed in a dark blue flat-back cloth box by the Chelsea Bindery.
Woodcut diagram of the interior of the Earth printed on p. [iv].
Two early ownership inscriptions to title, one in red ink, the other manuscript, and "No. 37" in ink. Title faintly darkened, faint foxing throughout due to the paper stock used, a couple of gatherings a little carelessly opened, but a very good copy, entirely untrimmed, the title and woodcut diagram both in strong, dark impressions, sympathetically restored to reflect original condition as issued.
Bailey, Pilgrims Through Space and Time, pp. 40-42; Bleiler, Science-Fiction 1987; Clute & Nicholls, eds., The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993), p. 579; Howgego, Encyclopedia of Exploration: Invented and Apocryphal Narratives of Travel S16; Lewis, U
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