After thirty years

Issue 1/1987 | Archives online, Fiction, Prose

This, the very first Finnish science fiction story, is an extract from Viktor Pettersson’s (1849-1919) Efter trettio år (‘After thirty years’), published in 1886. Introduction by Matti Apunen

On 31 August 1916 father and daughter went up on the ‘deck’ of the air balloon Atlantic. Atlantic was just one of the comfortably furnished air vehicles that plied the regular route between the New and Old Worlds. Pleasure trips between these continents were now made, preferably, by air balloon rather than by ship, because the journey took half the time – a mere three days; and this despite the fact that the standards of comfort in ships were now excellent, since they were made of cardboard and furnished with electric motors. In addition, air balloon travellers avoided sea-sickness and the associated unpleasantnesses. Of course, they did suffer from ‘air­sickness’, but the symptoms of this disease made themselves felt in a much more bearable form. For they actually made the sufferer happy, enthusiastic and friendly, so that he wanted to embrace the Lord and the whole world. Dried-up and creaky old bachelors became as lovable and sympathetic as confessors who have made their vow of celibacy; spiteful and pompous wives and spice-selling madames smelling of wormwood became in a second as devoted and sweet-natured as a mademoiselle in a shop selling drinking water. It was like being under the influence of some wonderful aphrodisiac.

Trindlund had never travelled in a balloon before. Thus he had no idea of how things were done in this upper world. It could be said that the poor man felt a little lost – for we all know, don’t we, that people in ‘high places’ tend to get a bit confused.

His optimistic daughter, on the other hand, was an experienced aeronaut. She had often travelled by balloon, although not as far as Europe. So her father fired questions at her unremittingly.

‘Opposita, my dear’ – the girl’s name was Opposita – ‘Tell me what that balloon over there is, the one that looks almost as if it is anchored to a wall of cloud?’ he asked his daughter.

‘That? That’s a station balloon, where we can fill up our gas reserve if necessary, if it should chance to run out on our journey,’ replied the girl with a thoughtful look on her face. And she had reason to look philosophical, too, for she had passed her student exams.

‘And that red balloon, which looks so funny circling over there, what’s that?’ continued the father.

‘Daddy darling, that’s a supplies balloon, a floating restaurant, where you can order yourself a portion of food or, perhaps, a cognac. And talking of cognac, I’m sure that one would warm us up nicely this morning. If Father wishes, I can call the balloon over here.’

Miss Trindlund was, as you will remember, a student, and so was no enemy of cognac. Her father nodded and the girl took out her whistle and blew. At once the supplies balloon floated over to the side of the Atlantic like a plump restaurant-keeper’s wife. The balloons were connected together and the prettiest little buffet maid took their order and poured their drinks from a silver carafe.

Trindlund thought to himself: ‘Good heavens, what is the world coming to! Once upon a time we sat in a snug in Helsinki a few feet below ground at Nikolajeffs to drink our cognac – now, thirty years later, here we are sipping the same stuff ten thousand feet above the sea and the land as the whispering clouds pass by! Peculiar, very peculiar!’

Thus thought Trindlund as his daughter paid for the cognacs and gave the waitress, instead of a tip, a pamphlet entitled ‘Woman as the dominant and sole deciding figure in society and in the family circle’.

The supplies balloon was disconnected from the Atlantic, upon which it made for an airship returning from Europe, which was full of happy tourists. They were returning from an international Volapük congress which had been held in Finland’s capital city. These advocates of a world language had noticed that no country could better Finland in terms of its variety of languages: the enthusiasm with which attempts had been made to make Finnish, Swedish and Russian in turn Finland’s official language had attracted these linguists to hold their conference there. They were very pleased with their trip, and had come to the conclusion that the language they had heard in the markets of Vyborg, Tampere and Pori would do very well as the basis of a world tongue.

Translated by Hildi Hawkins

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