Monday, 17 July 2017


The circulation desk at Public Domain Review recommends the seminal work of short-fiction by satirist and philosopher Voltaire (the nom de plume of François-Marie Arouet adopted after his release from the Bastille in 1718) called Micromégas (1752), which enjoins a common trope of scrutinising human foibles allegorically with the eyes of outsiders but the other worldly titans of this story also comprise one of the first instances of science-fiction in the Age of Enlightenment.
The eponymous Micromégas, a thirty-seven-kilometre (eight leagues) tall individual from a giant planet orbiting the star Sirius, finds himself at the receiving end of a heresy complaint for advocating that the “insects” of his home word need to be studied—though impossibly small and inconsequential—probably something parallel to the early proponents of the “germ theory” of diseases (first suggested in 1546 but not widely accepted until the 1850s) and is banished for a spell—though generations in human terms, an instance given the lifespan of Sirians that stretches into the millions of Earth years. During his exile, Micromégas decides to explore neighbouring constellations and comes to our solar system, first meeting an interlocutor on Saturn—a pocket sized one, relatively, at less than two kilometres in stature. The two take a pleasant stroll around the Earth but find the miniscule planet unremarkable until the discovery of a beached whale leads to a second find of a stranded boat—carrying a retinue of philosophers. Amazed but doubtful that anything so imaginably tiny could be intelligent, the alien visitors fashion an ear trumpet to amplify the words of the shipwrecked crew. With equal incredulity and nearly reaffirming the Sirians initial dismissal of the Earthlings, they announce that the Cosmos was created for men—sort of like modern-day views of the Anthropic Principle and our seeming privileged place in the Universe. Taking pity on humanity, Micromégas promises to give them a book with all the answers but once it is unrevealed back at the Academy, the pages are blank. Read the short story in its entirety at the link up top and discover more treasure from art and literature at Public Domain Review.