Across the Zodiac

Across the Zodiac: The Story of a Wrecked Record (1880) is a science fiction novel by Percy Greg, who has been credited as an originator of the sword and planet subgenre of science fiction.[1]

Across The Zodiac
Across the Zodiac
AuthorPercy Greg
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreScience fiction
PublisherTrübner & Co
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardback)
PagesVol. 1: 302 pp.
Vol. 2: 294 pp.


The book details the creation and use of apergy, a form of anti-gravitational energy, and details a flight to Mars in 1830. The planet is inhabited by diminutive beings; they are convinced that life does not exist elsewhere than on their world, and refuse to believe that the unnamed narrator is actually from Earth. (They think he is an unusually tall Martian from some remote place on their planet.)

The book's narrator names his spacecraft the Astronaut.

Alien language

The book contains what was probably the first alien language in any work of fiction.[2]


The same title was used for a later, similar book—Across the Zodiac: A Story of Adventure (1896) by Edwin Pallander (1869–1952) (the pseudonym of UK biologist, botanist and author Lancelot Francis Sanderson Bayly). Pallander copied some elements of Greg's plot; in his book, gravity is negated by a gyroscope.[3]

See also


  1. ^ Everett Bleiler, The Checklist of Fantastic Literature, Chicago, Shasta Publishers, 1948; p. 132.
  2. ^ Ekman, F: "The Martial Language of Percy Greg", Invented Languages Summer 2008, p. 11. Richard K. Harrison Archived 2008-09-08 at the Wayback Machine, 2008
  3. ^ Jess Nevins, The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, Austin, TX, Monkeybrain Books, 2005.

External links

1880 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1880.

A Journey in Other Worlds

A Journey in Other Worlds: A Romance of the Future is a science fiction novel by John Jacob Astor IV, published in 1894.

A Princess of Mars

A Princess of Mars is a science fantasy novel by American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs, the first of his Barsoom series. It was first serialized in the pulp magazine All-Story Magazine from February–July, 1912. Full of swordplay and daring feats, the novel is considered a classic example of 20th-century pulp fiction. It is also a seminal instance of the planetary romance, a subgenre of science fantasy that became highly popular in the decades following its publication. Its early chapters also contain elements of the Western. The story is set on Mars, imagined as a dying planet with a harsh desert environment. This vision of Mars was based on the work of the astronomer Percival Lowell, whose ideas were widely popularized in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Barsoom series inspired a number of well-known 20th-century science fiction writers, including Jack Vance, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert A. Heinlein, and John Norman. The series was also inspirational for many scientists in the fields of space exploration and the search for extraterrestrial life, including Carl Sagan, who read A Princess of Mars when he was a child.

Alien language in science fiction

A formal description of an alien language in science fiction may have been pioneered by Percy Greg's Martian language (he called it "Martial") in his 1880 novel Across the Zodiac, although already the 17th century book The Man in the Moone describes the language of the Lunars, consisting "not so much of words and letters as tunes and strange sounds", which is in turn predated by other invented languages in fictional societies, e.g., in Thomas More's Utopia.

As the science fiction genre developed, so did the use of the literary trope of alien languages.

Some science-fiction works operate on the premise that alien languages can be easily learned if one has a competent understanding of the nature of languages in general. For example, the protagonist of C. S. Lewis's novel Out of the Silent Planet is able to use his training in historical linguistics to decipher the language spoken on Mars.

Others work on the premise that languages with similarities can be partially understood by different species.

Stanislaw Lem's novel His Master's Voice describes an effort by scientists to decode, translate and understand an extraterrestrial transmission. The novel critically approaches humanity's intelligence and intentions in deciphering and truly comprehending a message from outer space.

The 2014 novel Lamikorda by D. R. Merrill not only deals with differences in verbal communication, but gestures and other "body language", pointing out the inextricability of language with cultural and social norms.In some cases, authors avoid linguistic questions by introducing devices into their stories that seamlessly translate between languages, to the point that the concept of different languages can largely be excluded from a franchise. Notable examples include:

Douglas Adams's babel fish

The TARDIS from Doctor Who

The translator microbes in Farscape

The universal translator from Star TrekIn other cases, the question of language is dealt with through the introduction of a universal language via which most, if not all, of the franchise's species are able to communicate. In the Star Wars universe, for example, this language is known as Basic and is spoken by the majority of the characters, with a few notable exceptions. Other alien species take advantage of their unique physiology for communication purposes, an example being the Ithorians, who use their twin mouths, located on either side of their neck, to speak in stereo.

In some franchises this universal language is an intermediary language; one that different species can easily translate to and from their own languages, thus allowing simple communication between races. Examples of this approach include Interlac from the Legion of Super-Heroes, Babylon 5, and the Uplift Universe, where numerous sapient species use at least twelve "Galactic" languages (each version is used in communication between species that can articulate it, and that find it useful in expressing their concepts).

Not all of these universal/intermediate languages take the form of spoken/written languages as is recognized in the human world. In the film and book Close Encounters of the Third Kind scientists use Solresol, a language based on musical tones, while in the film and book Contact, aliens send the instructions to build a machine to reach them using mathematics, which the main character calls "the only universal language". Similarly, in Stargate SG-1, the protagonists encounter a galactic meeting place where different races communicate with one another using a language based on atomic structures which is "written" in three dimensions rather than two.

A number of long-running franchises have taken the concept of an alien language beyond that of a scripting device and have developed languages of their own.

Examples include the Klingon language of the Star Trek universe (a fully developed constructed language created by Marc Okrand)

The Zentradi language from the Macross Japanese science-fiction anime series

The DC Comics, Kryptonese (for which there exists an alphabet and language glossary)

For his 2009 science fiction film Avatar, creator and director James Cameron constructed the fictional Na'vi language (with the aid of college professor Paul Frommer) for his fictional alien Na'vi race in the filmThe existence of alien languages and the ease or difficulty of translation is used as a plot device or script element in a number of franchises, sometimes seriously, and sometimes for comedic value.

In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, the crew is forced to speak (broken) Klingon without the universal translator.

In the film Mars Attacks!, the language spoken by the Martians appears to consist only of the words "ack!" and "rack!" spoken at different pitches and volume. The film's universal translator consistently translates these as being offers of friendship despite the fact that the aliens' actions are anything but friendly.

In one episode of Babylon 5, Commander Susan Ivanova gives orders to a Minbari crew in their language, and exclaims "Ah Hell!" in frustration, inadvertently giving the command "continuous fire" in Minbari. This is identical phonetically to "ahel" the Minbari translation of "continuous fire".

In Dragon Ball Z, Bulma speaks in her usual language (Japanese) and thereby involuntarily activates some functions of an alien starship, as her words are identified by the ship's computer as Namekkian orders.

C. J. Cherryh's Chanur series of books relies heavily on linguistic and psychological problems of communication between various alien races. Some examples include usage of obscure languages and cultural references to conceal information from others, imperfections of computer translation, use of pidgin and linguistic barriers, psychological concepts which do not have matches in other races' languages, and a race so alien that it cannot be understood at all without a translation by another race which itself can barely be understood due to manifold meanings in each message. In the Foreigner universe, Cherryh explores the interface between humans and Atevi, whose language relies on numerical values, causing the main character, Bren Cameron, to constantly calculate as he speaks the Atevi language, Ragi.

Conversely, in The Simpsons, the fact that English is mutually understood by the show's human and alien characters is noted as being "an astonishing coincidence".

Some stories, however, have alien beings speak near-unpronounceable tongues. Clark Ashton Smith, in one tale, has the sorcerer Eibon struggle to articulate the name of an alien, Hziulquoigmnzhah.Other works present detailed, concrete examples of the difficulty of learning alien languages due to linguistic relativity.

In Mary Doria Russell's philosophical/sci-fi novel The Sparrow, a linguist who travels to an alien planet as part of a Jesuit mission discovers a language with unique and (at first) incomprehensible tenses and conjugations.

In Carl Sagan's novel Contact (and the subsequent film adaptation), a broadcast from an extraterrestrial source is discovered to contain multiple layers of encrypted messages.

Ted Chiang's short story "Story of Your Life" describes attempts to communicate with a technologically advanced alien species that has no apparent understanding of basic mathematics and physics.Other science fiction stories imagine communication through telepathy.

There is for example the Vulcan mind meld in Star Trek.

In the novel Ender's Game, the "Buggers" are an alien species in which their queen can telepathically communicate with every member of her species, but no humans except Ender. The inability of the two species to effectively communicate serves as a critical element of the novel's plot.

Sheila Finch published a collection of short stories about first contact and alien communication, The Guild of Xenolinguists, (Golden Gryphon Press), in 2007.

In 2008, the game Dead Space introduced a form of alien language known as Unitology, for the religion that mainly uses it. Unitology is only shown to be written with no example or indication of a verbal dialect.

In Futurama, a language exists called Alienese, which originates from an unspecified extraterrestrial source. At least one character has achieved an academic degree in xenolinguistics, which gives her the apparently rare skill of knowing how to translate between English and Alienese.

In the 2016 science-fiction movie, Arrival, a linguist is tasked by the U.S. Army to try and understand an alien language of complex symbols. The film received significant media attention for its unique and detailed portrayal of what human communication with aliens might resemble. Film production went as far as employing several linguistic professors from McGill University, including Jessica Coon, who serves as Canada Research Chair in Syntax and Indigenous Languages, and Wolfram Research Founder and CEO, Stephen Wolfram and his son, Christopher, to analyze the symbols which served as the language used in the film.

Various works from the Cthulhu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft present short sentences, excerpts and text fragments in the language of the Old Gods, referred to as "R'lyehian" or "Cthuvian" by the fan base. Lovecraft provided translations for some of the texts and denoted Cthuvian as a thick, guttural language, but he never published any details on pronunciation and grammar, so it is not possible to communicate in Cthuvian. Based on the limited text resources, only few grammatical rules and vocabulary could be worked out by fans, which are mostly guesswork. There is no evidence that Lovecraft even had a concept for the structure of the language when writing it.

Annals of the Twenty-Ninth Century

Annals of the Twenty-Ninth Century: or, The Autobiography of the Tenth President of the World-Republic is a science fiction novel written by Andrew Blair, and published anonymously in 1874.Blair's work is one of a group of early science fiction novels that are now little known, but were influential in their own time—group that includes Edward Maitland's By and By (1873), Percy Greg's Across the Zodiac (1880), and John Jacob Astor IV's A Journey in Other Worlds (1894). Blair tells an extravagant tale of a future age in which the peoples of the Earth have been united in a Christian "Mundo-Lunar Republic", and other planets in the solar system have been reached and their native inhabitants encountered.

One modern critic has called Blair's book "a hodge-podge of interplanetary travel and super-scientific inventions" but also "a speculation of Stapledonian magnitude." In the view of another, Blair portrays "the union of science and religion...under the sign of a positivist Deism mixed up with various utopian socialisms, and progressing from one technological wonder to another."


Apergy is a fictitious form of anti-gravitational energy first described by Percy Greg in his 1880 sword and planet novel Across the Zodiac.

It is also used by John Jacob Astor IV in his 1894 science fiction novel, A Journey in Other Worlds.

Apergy can also be found in an 1896 article by Clara Jessup Bloomfield-Moore, called "Some Truths About Keely". In it, apergy is used to describe the latent force John Keely harnessed, by using frequency to release the latent force found within all atomic matter.

In an 1897, ostensibly non-fictitious, article in The San Francisco Call titled "The Secret of Aerial Flight Revealed", science correspondent Frank M. Close, D. Sc., visits an unnamed Hindu man masquerading as a viticulturist somewhere on the Pacific coast who claims to have invented a flying boat that uses an "apergent" -- a rare metal called "radlum" -- to produce controlled apergic force, allowing the vessel to ascend and descend. The inventor describes apergy as "a force obtained by blending positive and negative electricity with ultheic, the third element or state of electric energy" and calls apergy a "second phase of gravity", hinting at a third phase as well.

In S. P. Meek's short story "Cold Light", which appeared in Astounding Stories of Super-Science, March 1930, apergy is mentioned as the opposite force of gravity.

In Chris Roberson's short story "Annus Mirabilis" from the 2006 second volume of Tales of the Shadowmen, Doctor Omega and Albert Einstein investigate apergy. Apergy is also mentioned in the Warren Ellis comic Aetheric Mechanics, as being generated by Cavorite technology from The First Men in the Moon.

Astrological sign

In Western astrology, astrological signs are the twelve 30° sectors of the ecliptic, starting at the vernal equinox (one of the intersections of the ecliptic with the celestial equator), also known as the First Point of Aries. The order of the astrological signs is Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces. Each sector is named for a constellation it passes through.

The concept of the zodiac originated in Babylonian astrology, and was later influenced by Hellenistic culture. According to astrology, celestial phenomena relate to human activity on the principle of "as above, so below", so that the signs are held to represent characteristic modes of expression. Modern discoveries about the true nature of celestial objects have undermined the theoretical basis for assigning meaning to astrological signs, and empirical scientific investigation has shown that predictions and recommendations based on these systems are not accurate. Astrology is generally regarded as pseudoscience.

The twelve sector division of the ecliptic constitutes astrology's primary frame of reference when considering the positions of celestial bodies, from a geocentric point of view, so that we may find, for instance, the Sun in 23° Aries (23° longitude), the Moon in 7° Scorpio (217° longitude), or Jupiter in 29° Pisces (359° longitude). Beyond the celestial bodies, other astrological points that are dependent on geographical location and time (namely, the Ascendant, the Midheaven, the Vertex and the houses' cusps) are also referenced within this ecliptic coordinate system.Various approaches to measuring and dividing the sky are currently used by differing systems of astrology, although the tradition of the Zodiac's names and symbols remain consistent. Western astrology measures from Equinox and Solstice points (points relating to equal, longest and shortest days of the tropical year), while Jyotiṣa or Vedic astrology measures along the equatorial plane (sidereal year). Precession results in Western astrology's zodiacal divisions not corresponding in the current era to the constellations that carry similar names, while Jyotiṣa measurements still correspond with the background constellations.In Western and Indian astrology, the emphasis is on space, and the movement of the Sun, Moon and planets in the sky through each of the zodiac signs. In Chinese astrology, by contrast, the emphasis is on time, with the zodiac operating on cycles of years, months, and hours of the day.


An astronaut or cosmonaut is a person trained by a human spaceflight program to command, pilot, or serve as a crew member of a spacecraft. Although generally reserved for professional space travelers, the terms are sometimes applied to anyone who travels into space, including scientists, politicians, journalists, and tourists.Until 2002, astronauts were sponsored and trained exclusively by governments, either by the military or by civilian space agencies. With the suborbital flight of the privately funded SpaceShipOne in 2004, a new category of astronaut was created: the commercial astronaut.


Barsoom is a fictional representation of the planet Mars created by American pulp fiction author Edgar Rice Burroughs. The first Barsoom tale was serialized as Under the Moons of Mars in 1912, and published as a novel as A Princess of Mars in 1917. Ten sequels followed over the next three decades, further extending his vision of Barsoom and adding other characters. The first five novels are in the public domain in U.S., and the entire series is free around the world on Project Gutenberg Australia, but the books are still under copyright in most of the rest of the world.

The Barsoom series, where John Carter in the late 19th century is mysteriously transported from Earth to a Mars suffering from dwindling resources, has been cited by many well known science fiction writers as having inspired and motivated them in their youth, as well as by key scientists involved in both space exploration and the search for extraterrestrial life. Elements of the books have been adapted by many writers, in novels, short stories, comics, television and film.

Ionia (novel)

Ionia: Land of Wise Men and Fair Women is an 1898 utopian novel written by Alexander Craig. It is one work in the major wave of utopian and dystopian fiction that characterized the final decades of the nineteenth century and the start of the twentieth.Virtually nothing is known of the book's author, Alexander Craig. Though his novel was published in the United States, the story has a strong English setting and ambience. It is known, from the dedication page, the author dedicated the book to Nahum Edward Jennison.

Mars in fiction

Fictional representations of Mars have been popular for over a century. Interest in Mars has been stimulated by the planet's dramatic red color, by early scientific speculations that its surface conditions might be capable of supporting life, and by the possibility that Mars could be colonized by humans in the future. Almost as popular as stories about Mars are stories about Martians engaging in activity (frequently invasions) away from their home planet.

In the 20th century, actual spaceflights to the planet Mars, including seminal events such as the first man-made object to impact the surface of Mars in 1971, and then later the first landing of "the first mechanized device to successfully operate on Mars" in 1976 (in the Viking program by the United States), inspired a great deal of interest in Mars-related fiction. Exploration of the planet has continued in the 21st century on to the present day.

Percy Greg

Percy Greg (7 January 1836 Bury - 24 December 1889, Chelsea), son of William Rathbone Greg, was an English writer.Percy Greg, like his father, wrote about politics, but his views were violently reactionary: his History of the United States to the Reconstruction of the Union (1887) can be said to be more of a polemic, rather than a history.

His Across the Zodiac (1880) is an early science fiction novel, said to be the progenitor of the sword-and-planet genre. For that novel, Greg created what may have been the first artistic language that was described with linguistic and grammatical terminology. It also contained what is possibly the first instance in the English language of the word "Astronaut".

In 2010 a crater on Mars was named Greg in recognition of his contribution to the lore of Mars.

Sword and planet

Sword and planet is a subgenre of science fantasy that features rousing adventure stories set on other planets, and usually featuring humans as protagonists. The name derives from the heroes of the genre engaging their adversaries in hand-to-hand combat primarily with simple melée weapons such as swords, even in a setting that often has advanced technology. Although there are works that herald the genre, such as Percy Greg's Across the Zodiac (1880) and Edwin Lester Arnold's Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation (1905; published in the US in 1964 as Gulliver of Mars), the prototype for the genre is A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs originally serialized by All-Story in 1912 as "Under the Moons of Mars".The genre predates the mainstream popularity of science fiction proper, and does not necessarily feature any scientific rigor, being instead romantic tales of high adventure. For example, little thought is given to explaining why the environment of the alien planet is compatible with life from Earth, just that it does in order to allow the hero to move about and interact with the natives. Native technology will often break the known laws of physics.

The genre tag "sword and planet" is constructed to mimic the terms sword and sorcery and sword and sandal. The phrase appears to have first been coined in the 1960s by Donald A. Wollheim, editor of Ace Books, and later of DAW Books at a time when the genre was undergoing a revival. Both Ace Books and DAW Books were instrumental in bringing much of the earlier pulp sword and planet stories back into print, as well as publishing a great deal of new, imitative work by a new generation of authors.

There is a fair amount of overlap between sword and planet and planetary romance although some works are considered to belong to one and not the other. Influenced by the likes of A Princess of Mars yet more modern and technologically savvy, sword and planet more directly imitates the conventions established by Burroughs in the Mars series. That is to say that the hero is alone as the only human being from Earth, swords are the weapon of choice, and while the alien planet has some advanced technology, it is used only in limited applications to advance the plot or increase the grandeur of the setting. In general the alien planet will seem to be more medieval and primitive than Earth. This leads to anachronistic situations such as flying ships held aloft by anti-gravity technology, while ground travel is done by riding domesticated native animals.

The Great Romance

The Great Romance is a science fiction and Utopian novel, first published in New Zealand in 1881. It had a significant influence on Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, the most popular Utopian novel of the late nineteenth century.

The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds is a science fiction novel by English author H. G. Wells, first serialised in 1897 by Pearson's Magazine in the UK and by Cosmopolitan magazine in the US. The novel's first appearance in hardcover was in 1898 from publisher William Heinemann of London. Written between 1895 and 1897, it is one of the earliest stories to detail a conflict between mankind and an extraterrestrial race. The novel is the first-person narrative of both an unnamed protagonist in Surrey and of his younger brother in London as southern England is invaded by Martians. The novel is one of the most commented-on works in the science fiction canon.The plot has been related to invasion literature of the time. The novel has been variously interpreted as a commentary on evolutionary theory, British imperialism, and generally Victorian superstitions, fears, and prejudices. At the time of publication, it was classified as a scientific romance, like Wells's earlier novel The Time Machine. The War of the Worlds has been both popular (having never been out of print) and influential, spawning half a dozen feature films, radio dramas, a record album, various comic book adaptations, a television series, and sequels or parallel stories by other authors. It was most memorably dramatized in a 1938 radio program that allegedly caused public panic among listeners who did not know the Martian invasion was fictional.

The novel has even influenced the work of scientists, notably Robert H. Goddard, who, inspired by the book, invented both the liquid fuelled rocket and multistage rocket, which resulted in the Apollo 11 Moon landing 71 years later.

Timekeeping on Mars

Various schemes have been used or proposed for timekeeping on the planet Mars independently of Earth time and calendars.

Mars has an axial tilt and a rotation period similar to those of Earth. Thus it experiences seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter much like Earth, and its day is about the same length. Its year is almost twice as long as Earth's, and its orbital eccentricity is considerably larger, which means among other things that the lengths of various Martian seasons differ considerably, and sundial time can diverge from clock time more than on Earth.

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