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Ancient Egypt in SF

Entry updated 10 November 2023. Tagged: Theme.

From one perspective, ancient Egyptians were the creators of sf, since they were obsessed with the future, crafted narratives describing the future destinies of the dead (which can be regarded as early forms of sf), and built monuments and wrote texts inscribed in stone and paintings explicitly designed to convey messages to their descendants. And it is undeniable that, ever since Napoleon's excursions in Egypt in the early nineteenth century brought its ancient culture to widespread modern attention, there has been an ongoing interest in their accomplishments, intensified by the stunning discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in 1923, as evidenced by innumerable films and television documentaries. Some sf works involve astounding discoveries about ancient Egypt that are not fantastic, such as Georges Price's Les Trois Disparus du "Sirius" ["The Three Missing Men from the 'Sirius'"] (1896; trans Brian Stableford as The Missing Men of the Sirius 2015) and two novels by Talbot Mundy, Moses and Mrs. Aintree (1922) and The Mystery of Khufu's Tomb (1935), while other stories about the Magical accomplishments of ancient Egyptians, sometimes as represented by surviving artefacts, are best classified as Fantasies. It is occasionally indicated that they were rather masters of advanced Technology, though in some cases it is unclear whether Egyptian marvels are due to magic or science. There are also tales about Time Travel to a realistic ancient Egypt; outposts of ancient Egypt enduring to the present in remote locales; Aliens who visit ancient Egypt, sometimes said to be responsible for their achievements; ancient Egyptians who become Immortal and survive into the present; ancient Egyptians who return to life via Reincarnation; and people and aliens that mimic ancient Egyptians in disparate realms.

Numerous stories depict the amazing results of ancient Egyptian science. In Fred T Jane's The Incubated Girl (1896), a man follows the guidelines on an ancient Egyptian casket to create an artificial woman, and in his To Venus in Five Seconds (1897), ancient Egyptians employed Matter Transmission to travel to and establish a colony on Venus. A L Hallen's Angilin: A Venite King (1907) is about a man who uses a method outlined in an ancient Egyptian papyrus to take a spiritual journey to Venus. In E Nesbit's The Story of the Amulet (May 1905-May 1906 The Strand Magazine; 1906), an ancient Egyptian amulet enables its young protagonists to travel through time. In 1910, Brinsley Moore began publishing a Satirical series of stories in Pearson's Magazine, Professor Peterson's Experiments, about a Scientist reviving ancient Egyptian science. Edward B Waterworth's "The Lost Invention" (June 1911 Blue Book Magazine) reveals that the ancient Egyptians used a form of Antigravity to construct the Pyramids. In Garrett P Serviss's The Second Deluge (July 1911-January 1912 Cavalier; 1912), evidence surfaces showing that the ancient Egyptians were well aware that a huge deluge would someday afflict humanity. Cyril Wates's "The Face of Isis" (March 1929 Amazing Stories) describes the discovery of an ancient Egyptian powder with the property of antigravity. In Benson Herbert's "The World Without" (January 1931 Wonder Stories) and its sequel "The World Within" (August 1931 Wonder Stories), a man employs an ancient Egyptian rod to travel to other Dimensions, while in Douglas Sladen's The Crystal and the Sphere: A Romance of Crystal-Gazing in Egypt (1925), it is discovered that ancient Egyptians mastered atomic power (see Nuclear Energy). In Wallace West's "Dragon's Teeth" (September 1934 Astounding Stories [see Astounding Science-Fiction]), ancient Egyptians employing advanced science inherited from the lost continent of Mu battled against invaders from Mars who were originally colonists from Mu. Jeffery Lloyd Castle's Vanguard to Venus (1957) explains that UFOs are vehicles created and manned by ancient Egyptians who mastered Space Flight, an accomplishment also celebrated in Brainticket's concept-album Celestial Ocean (1974). The female Superhero Isis, featured in television cartoons and Comics, gained amazing powers after obtaining an ancient Egyptian amulet.

In comics, ancient Egypt was sometimes visited by time travellers, including Wonder Woman in the 1940s, where she erected a pyramid. As a younger Superboy, DC Comics's Superman visited Cleopatra and briefly brought her into the present in Robert Bernstein and Curt Swan's "Superboy's Romance with Cleopatra" (December 1961 Adventure Comics). DC's Challengers of the Unknown find themselves portrayed in ancient Egyptian statues and go back in time to investigate in Jack Schiff and Bob Brown's "The Riddle of the Faceless Man" (November 1962 Challengers of the Unknown). Marvel Comics's Fantastic Four traveled there to retrieve a possible cure for blindness in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's "Prisoners of the Pharaoh" (October 1963 Fantastic Four).

Elsewhere, Max Uhlemann's Drei Tage in Memphis (1856; trans anon as Three Days in Memphis; Or, Sketches of the Public and Private Life of the Old Egyptians 1858) has its protagonists travel through time to ancient Egypt. Fred Saberhagen's Pyramids (1987) and After the Fact (1988) involve a time traveller who visits ancient Egypt. In Peter Milligan and Glyn Dillon's comic book miniseries Egypt (1995-1996), a man is transported back to ancient Egypt and then experiences a number of reincarnations. In the Doctor Who serial "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship" (2012), the time-travelling Doctor retrieves ancient Egypt's Queen Nefertiti to serve as one of his companions. In "Cleopatra" (1962), an animated episode of "Peabody's Improbable History" included in The Bullwinkle Show (1959-1963), an intelligent dog and his human companion use the Wayback Machine to visit Cleopatra, and in the animated film adaptation Mr Peabody and Sherman (2014), the pair again travels to ancient Egypt and encounters King Tut (Tutankhamun). Stories about ancient Egyptians traveling through time into the future include William Henry Warner's The Bridge of Time (1914), about an Egyptian prince transported to the present, and Mike Maihack's comic series Cleopatra in Space (2014-current), adapted as the animated television series Cleopatra in Space (2019-2021), featuring Cleopatra, who travels into the far future to engage in space adventures.

A remnant of ancient Egyptian culture found in the present is depicted in Simon Berington's The Memoirs of Sign: Gaudentio di Lucca (1737), in which ancient Egyptians who relocated to the land of Mezzoraim, somewhere in the Sahara desert, have maintained their culture to the present. Other enduring civilizations in Africa founded by ancient Egyptians are described in Lillian Francis Mentor's The Day of Resis (1897), C Dudley Lampen's Mirango, the Man Eater (1899), Baroness Emmuska Orczy's By the Gods Beloved (1905), George Whiteley Ward's Drelma: A Tale of the Great Sahara (1908), Joseph Doke's The Secret City: A Romance of the Karroo (1913) and its prequel The Queen of the Secret City (1916), Margaret Peterson's Deadly Nightshade (1924), Douglas Dold's "Valley of Sin" (April/May 1931 Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories), and F Ratcliffe Holmes's The Secret People: An Adventure in Africa (1936). Descendants of ancient Egyptians also occupy an Underground city in Africa alongside strange silicon people in Fritz Burg's "The Silicon Empire" (August/September 1933 Amazing Stories). Bernard Cronin's The Treasure of the Tropics (1928) involves an ancient Egyptian society thriving underground in present-day Australia; another subterranean civilization with roots in ancient Egypt appears in Val Heslop's The Lost Civilization: A Story of Adventure in Central Australia (1936). In Harry Bates's and Desmond W Hall's "The Hands of Aten" (July 1931 Astounding Stories), a surviving outpost of ancient Egyptians is discovered in the Arctic near a volcano, while another such civilization is found in the Yukon territory in G Gibbard Jackson's Arctic Air Terror (1937). The Swift Morgan comic numbered #6, Swift Morgan and the Ancient Egyptians (1948), largely the work of writer and artist Dennis McLoughin, describes the discovery of a subterranean society of ancient Egyptians in Egypt. A colony of ancient Egyptians on another planet is the setting for the Futurama episode "A Pharaoh to Remember" (2002).

Stories about aliens in ancient Egypt include Serviss's Edison's Conquest of Mars (first appeared 12 January-10 February 1898 New York Evening Journal as "The Conquest of Mars"; 1947; cut vt Forrest J Ackerman Presents Invasion of Mars 1969), wherein humans conquering Mars learn that Martians came to ancient Egypt, constructed the pyramids, and inspired the appearance of the Sphinx. Aliens from Saturn (see Outer Planets) also built the pyramids and the Sphinx according to Lebbeus Harding Rogers's The Kite Trust (A Romance of Wealth) (1900). L Taylor Hansen's "The Prince of Liars" (October 1930 Amazing Stories) involves a Greek visitor to ancient Egypt who is granted a lengthy lifespan and recruited to serve as an "observer" for aliens. In Howard Wandrei's "The God Box" (April 1934 Astounding Stories) (see Donald Wandrei), a box discovered from ancient Egypt is a device, apparently created by aliens from the star Vega, that enables matter transmission. Stanley G Weinbaum's "Valley of Dreams" (November 1934 Wonder Stories), his sequel to "A Martian Odyssey" (July 1934 Wonder Stories), reveals that ancient Egyptian images of animal-headed gods were actually depictions of visiting Martians. The Doctor Who serial "Pyramids of Mars" (1975) features an alien discovered in an ancient Egyptian tomb who comes back to life as a menace. In Ni Kuang's Zhili Ren ["The Fragmented"] (December 1966-March 1967 Ming Pao), it is discovered that an Egyptian god was actually an alien placed in a Stasis Field. Aliens who had repeated encounters with ancient Egyptians are encountered in the television series Otherworld (1985). In the film Stargate (1994), an alien travelled to ancient Egypt and set up a matter transmitter, termed a Stargate, which is rediscovered and used in the present. The film spawned two television series, Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007) and Stargate: Atlantis (2004-2009), and other media adaptations. In the film The Fifth Element (1997), aliens contact ancient Egyptians to inform them about a weapon they will provide to guard against a future threat.

Accounts of Ancient Egyptians who became immortal include Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Ring of Thoth" (January 1890 Cornhill Magazine), about an ancient Egyptian who consumed an elixir granting him immortality but longs for and finally achieves death. A story with a similar plot is George Griffith's "The Lost Elixir" (October 1903 Pall Mall Magazine). R Crossley Arnold's "The Secret of the Tomb" (Fall 1930 Wonder Stories Quarterly) involves an ancient Egyptian priest who achieved immortality and is plotting to decimate humanity in the present. In Milton R Peril's The Lost City (May-July 1934 Amazing Stories), the Egyptian pharaoh Cheops (his name now rendered as Khufu) remained alive in an underground world populated by descendants of Atlantis. Fawcett Comics's Captain Marvel fought against Black Adam, an ancient Egyptian who was the wizard Shazam's first choice as his successor before he turned to evil and required Shazam to turn to the virtuous Billy Batson to be his champion, though he survived into the present to bedevil Captain Marvel; the character has recently been reenvisioned in film as an Antihero. One of Wonder Woman's opponents in the 1940s was King Aknaten, an ancient Egyptian pharaoh who became immortal and now seeks to conquer the world.

Perhaps the first tale of a resurrected Egyptian in sf was Jane Webb Loudon's The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century (1827), which envisions the scientific revival of the pharaoh Cheops, who proves a savvy commentator on future Politics. Edgar Allan Poe also wrote a story, "Some Words with a Mummy" (April 1845 American Review), about a mummy reanimated by electricity who defends his own society as better than ones in the present day. In Henry Cadwallader Adams's Sivan the Sleeper: A Tale of All Time (1861), an ancient Egyptian awakens to view developments in later eras (see Sleeper Awakes). Joseph Shield Nicholson's Thoth: A Romance (1888) is the convoluted tale of a Greek in ancient Egypt who develops superscience and remains in Suspended Animation to the present, periodically reviving to carry on his campaign to conquer the world. Mummified Egyptian princesses are brought back to life in Edgar Lee's Pharaoh's Daughter (1889), Clive Holland's An Egyptian Coquette (1898; rev vt The Spell of Isis: A Romance of Egypt 1913), Robert W Chambers's The Tracer of Lost Persons (1906), and Anne Rice's The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned (1989). In C J Cutcliffe Hyne's "The Mummy of Thompson-Pratt" (August 1898 Cassell's Magazine), a revived mummy surprisingly talks only about trivial matters. Florence Carpenter Dieudonné's Xartella (1891) involves an immortal woman who revives several mummies using a strange liquid.

Reanimated mummies intent upon murder appear in Herbert W Crotzer's "The Block of Bronze" (March 1898 Black Cat) and Robert Spenser Carr's "Spider-Bite" (June 1926 Weird Tales). J C Kofoed's "The ­Jeweled Ibis" (March 1919 Thrill Book) and Sax Rohmer's She Who Sleeps (1928) both describe elaborate hoaxes about a purportedly revived Egyptian priestess. In Reginald Schroeder's "The Bodkin of Menopteris" (December 1910 Adventure), the spirit of an ancient Egyptian princess murders a man who has possessed her hairpiece. One of the early opponents of the superhero Fantomah, Mystery Woman of the Jungle (later reimagined as an ancient Egyptian princess) was an animate mummy from ancient Egypt. Fawcett's magical superhero Ibis the Invisible was originally the ancient Egyptian Amentep, placed in suspended animation and revived in modern times. However, the rebirth of mummies in numerous modern films – sometimes mute menaces resembling Zombies, sometimes more articulate and formidable foes – are usually attributed to magic.

Sometimes, ancient Egyptians return to the present by means of reincarnation. C Bryson Taylor's In the Dwellings of the Wilderness (1904) depicts a reincarnated Egyptian; Griffith's The Mummy and Miss Noticris (1906) is a confusing tale involving reincarnated ancient Egyptians; and George Horace Lorimer's The False Gods (1906) is the poorly explained account of a reincarnated ancient Egyptian queen in modern-day New York. Oswald Dallas's The Man Who Wasn't (1912) describes an artificial man inhabited by the personality of an ancient Egyptian. The first version of DC's Hawkman was presented as the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian prince, while another DC hero, supernatural investigator Mark Merlin, was briefly refashioned as the superhero Prince Ra-Man, also the reincarnation of an ancient Egyptian.

Accounts of modern reinventions of ancient Egypt include Otis Adelbert Kline's The Bride of Osiris (1927), describing a Mad Scientist who re-creates an ancient Egyptian society in an enormous cave. In David H Keller's The Conquerors (December 1929-January 1930 Science Wonder Stories [see Wonder Stories]), a subterranean civilization of dwarves maintains enclaves of several human societies, including ancient Egypt, for purposes of research. A physicist who has also studied ancient Egypt, calling himself the Torch of Ra, seeks to destroy modern cities in Jack Bradley's The Torch of Ra (1930). A villain featured in the television series Batman (1966-1968), King Tut, is a crazed Egyptologist who imagines himself to be an ancient Egyptian pharaoh and dresses and acts accordingly.

Stories featuring alien societies resembling ancient Egypt include Ellsworth Douglass's Pharaoh's Broker (1899), wherein explorers encounter a Martian civilization resembling that of ancient Egypt as a result of "parallel Evolution". Roger Zelazny's Creatures of Light and Darkness (1969) portrays the Egyptian gods as powerful aliens or Posthumans who have endured to influence events in the universe, while the film Space Is the Place (1974) features a spacefaring Sun Ra and his cohorts wearing ancient Egyptian clothing. Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel Pyramids (1989) provides an entertaining Parody of ancient Egyptian gods and funeral customs on that singular world. [GW]

see also: Afrika Bambaata; Terry Carr; Pauline Gedge; Bernard Hamilton; Eva Harrison; Lyn McConchie; Norman Mailer; Courttia Newland; Pocket Comics; Francis W Rolt-Wheeler; Wilbur Smith; Theosophy; Erich von Däniken; S H L Washington; Stewart Edward White.

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