It might look surprising, but the first Science Fiction novel written by a Spaniard, and one of the first in the whole world, it is so special because it paved the way (as the British Library admits) in such a particular genre as the time travel. It was not the first time book playing with the topic, of course. Several authors had already used magic and dreams for those kind of journeys. However, what makes this novel pioneering is the fact that it describes the first time machine designed to be used to sail history at will.
The “Anacronópete”, written in 1881 was born as a typical “Zarzuela” (Spanish common theater genre in that time) which could not find investors to be played and mutated into a novel in 1887. It’s important to highlight that “The time machine” written by H.G. Wells was published in 1895 because, from an international perspective, it is considered (even today) the book that started the topic of time travel using machines designed by scientists. Ana (backwards) + crono (time) + pete (who/which flies). This machine became the instrument to live a series of adventures with a great dose of humor and it served the author to criticize the society of his time. “Don Sindulfo”, the main character, not only describes in detail the scientific challenges about the possibility to perform the travel, but also explores revolutionary philosophical ideas that decades, and even centuries later, would be the main topic of many novels and films, such as the consequences to the presente after changing the past. We must consider that in 1887 the plane had not been invented yet, Einstein was a child, and science had just started to refer to time as the fourth dimension.
The fact that this book is a travel to the past instead of the future could be the reason why it was not as successful as the one from Wells. The acid critic to the Spanish society didn’t help much to give it more visibility.
Its author, Enrique Gaspar y Rimbau, wrote more than thirty theater plays, including “Huelga de hijos” (a feminist allegation, absolutely advanced for its time) and also some other novels, but nothing as disruptive as “El anacronópete”.
Terminator, Back to the Future, 12 monkeys, Looper… are just some examples that made the topic something generalist in the modern times. But we need to put ourselves in the shoes of the first person with that idea in mind to understand how original and creative was to write about this in the XIX century.
From now on, when anyone asks who invented the time machine, you can say it was a Spaniard…
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