Kurd Lasswitz’s 1897 utopian novel describes man’s first encounter with beings of higher intelligence from another planet, the inhabitants of Mars.


Kurd Lasswitz, Two Planets: A Novel, Trans. by Hans H. Rudnick, Southern Illinois University Press, 1971.

Kurd Lasswitz’s 1897 utopian novel describes man’s first encounter with beings of higher intelligence from another planet, the inhabitants of Mars. Physically differing little from man, but intellectually, ethically, scientifically, and socially far advanced, the Martians seek to educate man, whom they encounter at the North Pole, where they seek air and energy to supplement the diminished supplies in their own, older world. The encounter is seen through the eyes of several characters, both Martian and human, and the action is drawn together by the love affair between a beautiful Martian girl and a man from the earth exploring party.
For decades the novel has captured the imagination of Europeans, including that of Dr. Wernher von Braun, who recently noted that he had “devoured [the novel] with curiosity and excitement as a young man.” Readers will be especially interested in obtaining a view of the richness of ideas at the eve of the twentieth century which gave rise to this novel.

This nineteenth-century German science fiction novel ("The Two Planets" or "Auf zwei Planeten") by Kurd Lasswitz (1848-1910), a mathematician, philosopher, and scholar of Kant, was not translated into English until 1971 (by Hans H. Rudnick). Thus, it had very little influence in the development of English or American science fiction. Nevertheless, the novel did have a significant impact. It was a popular book of young German boys, particularly Wernher von Braun and Willy Ley. Thus, the novel had an influence in the development of our space age. It "fired" their imaginations and had a big effect on German astronautics. The "two planets" are Earth and Mars. Three German and Austrian explorers are traveling in a balloon in an attempt to reach the North Pole. They find that a group of intelligent beings, very similar to humans, have set up a base at the Pole. Their balloon is inadvertantly drawn in by the Martian's antigravity device and two of the explorers find themselves guests of the Martians. The Martians have come to Earth to educate mankind, to assist in the development of a utopian Earth, and to ask for air and solar energy in return. However, through a misunderstanding, a "war" arises between the Martians and England, resulting in the formation of a Martian Protectorate over Europe. Unfortunately, a number of Martians soon exhibit the corrupting influences of power, and the Martian rule becomes despotic. An underground movement develops, keeping the positive aspects of Martian (and Kantian) philosophy, to rid Earth of the Martian yoke. This is accomplished with the help of American engineers, who are able to build their own spaceships to challange the Martians. The "good" of both planets win and a new era begins in Earth and Martian relations. And, in all of this, Lasswitz has two love stories as subplots, one of which is between one of the explorers and a Martian. When Martian probes began to map the surface of Mars, one of the newly discovered Martian craters was named after Lasswitz. This is a classic volume in science fiction and serious students of science fiction literature should read it. - R. D. Allison

Kurd Lasswitz (1848-1910) German Kantean philosopher, historian of science, novelist and short-story writer; the German form of his surname, Laßwitz, is usually rendered in English as Lasswitz. He began to publish work of interest with "Bis zum Nullpunkt des Seins" ["To the Zero Point of Existence"] (21-24 May 1871 Schlesische Zeitung); along with a second sf novella, this depiction of life in 2371 was assembled as Bilder aus der Zukunft: Zwei Erzählungen aus dem vierundzwanzigsten und neununddreißigsten Jahrhundert ["Images of the Future: Two Stories from the Twenty-fourth and the Thirty-Ninth Centuries"] (coll 1878). As the first major sf writer in German, Laßwitz holds a similar place in Germany to that of H G Wells in the UK and Jules Verne in France. He taught philosophy for many years at the Gymnasium Ernestinum in Gotha, and it is symptomatic of nineteenth-century German intellectual culture that he irradiated his fiction with theoretical speculation; there is no Laßwitz fiction without a lesson. In "German Theories of Science Fiction" (November 1976 Science Fiction Studies) William B Fischer claims on his behalf that many of his ideas directly prefigure later critics' use of terms like "extrapolation" (> Prediction) and "analogue", and translates as follows from Laßwitz's introduction to Bilder aus der Zukunft: "Many inferences about the future can be drawn from the historical course of civilization and the present state of science; and analogy offers itself to fantasy as an ally." The seriousness of Laßwitz's didactic impulse can be seen in the strong emphasis he places in his fiction on establishing a plausible imaginary world whose hypothetical nature will be governed, and given verisimilitude, by the resemblance to scientific method evident in its realization (> Thought Experiment).Unsurprisingly, the stories that embody these overriding concerns tend to be more effective as broad technological and scientific canvases than as studies in character. The tales collected in Bilder aus der Zukunft read consequently almost like illustrated tours of various "superior terrestrial cultures located in the future". (A short story from this volume was published in The Overland Monthly in 1890 as "Pictures of the Future".) Further short stories are collected in Seifenblasen: moderne Märchen ["Soap Bubbles: Modern Tales"] (coll 1890), two stories from this volume appearing (trans Willy Ley 1953 and 1955) in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Nie und Immer ["Never, Ever"] (coll 1902), the second of its two stories – which features an intelligent marsupial (> Prehistoric SF) – later being published as Homchen: Ein Tiermärchen aus der Oberen Kriede ["Humanoid"] (1908); two sf novels, Aspira: Der Roman einer Wolke (1905) and Sternentau: Die Pflanze vom Neptunsmond ["Star Dew"] (1909), have not been translated into English.Laßwitz's major work is his long sf novel, Auf zwei Planeten (1897; cut 1948; cut again 1969; trans Hans J Rudnick, much cut, as Two Planets 1971), in which a team of explorers approach in the North Pole in a Balloon, where they discover a clement enclave, only to find their balloon pulled by an invisible Ray upwards to a Martian Space Station, where they enter negotiations for mutual trade and benefit. But when two of them are sent back to Earth by Airship, they are attacked by a British battleship, and War breaks out. After a doomed defiance of the Martians, Earth is put under a benign protectorate, and humans gradually begin a process of self-improvement at the same time that the Martians on Earth become decadent. Ultimately mankind rebels, equality between the two planets is established, and Earth seems destined to a Utopian future. The book incorporates much technological speculation, including details about life on Mars, based on the theories of Percival Lowell, about possible alien forms of Biology (> Xenobiology), and about the nature of mankind, actual and potential. It was deeply influential upon at least two generations of German youth, as the epigraph to the 1969 edition by Wernher von Braun attests; and E F Bleiler has speculated that it was important in shaping Hugo Gernsback's "technologically based liberalism".In 1981, the ongoing Kurd Laßwitz Preis ["Kurd Laßwitz Award"] (> Awards) was established to honour, in a fashion meant to reflect the Hugo, the best German sf published during the previous year. [JC] - sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/lasswitz_kurd