Review of “The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion” (1839)


Edgar Allan Poe (writer).

Read in 2022.

A dead man in an afterlife explains the end of the world to someone who died some years before it happened.

I suppose this apocalypse is hard science fiction, despite the influence from Revelation (ca. 95 CE), if you disregard the initial narrative frame of a stately afterlife. However, like The Last Man (1826), the story is built on profound ignorance, in this case of astronomy and psychology. When a comet approaches the Earth, at one point the scientific establishment calms the lay public by insisting that the comet is made of some harmless gas:

That material injury to our globe or to its inhabitants would result from the apprehended contact, was an opinion which hourly lost ground among the wise; and the wise were now freely permitted to rule the reason and the fancy of the crowd. It was demonstrated, that the density of the comet's nucleus was far less than that of our rarest gas; and the harmless passage of a similar visitor among the satellites of Jupiter was a point strongly insisted upon, and which served greatly to allay terror.

Apparently, Poe seems to think that is accurate, but then pulls the rug out from under everybody’s sense of complacency by explaining that the comet is dangerous because it’s made of oxygen, so that plants—which in reality do not feed on oxygen in sunlight—grow extremely rapidly before everything catches fire. Every part of that would be a false description of nature, but it’s an interesting document of its time. More problematically, despite being Poe, it lacks the poetic power of Revelation or of “Darkness” (1816).

References here: “The Colloquy of Monos and Una” (1841), “The Power of Words” (1845), Don’t Look Up (2021).

text fiction