“Micromégas” in Romances, Tales, and Smaller Pieces of M. de Voltaire; 1794; London: Dodsley, P.
This short work by Voltaire — which tells of a visit to Earth by Micromégas, an inhabitant of a distant planet which circles the star Sirius, and his companion hailing from Saturn — remains a seminal work of early science-fiction. The planet from which Micromégas has come is huge, almost 22 million times greater in circumference than that of the Earth, and Micromégas himself (whose name means “Smallbig”) is sized to match, coming in at a modest 120,000 feet (37 km) tall. Micromégas is travelling the Universe after running into a spot of bother on his home planet — embroiled in a controversy which had him banished from the court for 800 years (to give a sense of scale, the lifespan of a Sirian is around 10.5 million years). His crime? Heresy, for writing a scientific treatise on the insects of his planet (which, at 100 feet long, are too small to be seen by ordinary microscopes). During his interstellar jaunt he lands upon Saturn, and befriends the secretary of the Academy, a relative “dwarf” (only 6000 ft high) compared to Micromégas. After an entertaining comparison of their two planets, they decide to travel onward together to Earth. At first they don’t believe the minuscule beings they are seeing can possibly be big enough to be intelligent, but soon are listening to them speak with the help of a special hearing tube fashioned from fingernail clippings. Picking up the language quickly the two giant aliens begin to converse with the humans and discover them to be more intelligent than first thought. They learn of many philosophers, from Aristotle to Locke, including Aquinas’ theory that the universe was made solely for mankind, to which they “nearly fell over with that inextinguishable laughter which, according to Homer, is shared with the gods.” The story ends with the Sirian pledging to write a book for the humans that will explain “the point of everything”. When the volume is presented to the Academy of Science in Paris, the secretary opens the book only to see “nothing but blank pages”.
|Housed at: Internet Archive | From: Boston Public Library|
|Underlying Work: PD Worldwide | Digital Copy: No additional rights|
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