Today is the birthday of French sci-fi author and illustrator Albert Robida (1848-1926). His novels about life in the twentieth century (written between 1883-1890) have apparently provided modern readers that irresistible combination of prescience and absurdity that we do so love in predictions. But I've never read any of his works, so I won't just repeat the gossip. If you're interested you can look up his work elsewhere. What I do want to share today are a couple of examples of his illustrations, which are a lot of fun. It's true they aren't block prints, but I forgive them.
First up, a wonderfully atmospheric view of modern skies. It looks like a Victorian "Blade Runner." It's got the dark skyscrapers, the police floodlights, and the myriad flying vehicles of Coruscant, "The Fifth Element," and probably dozens of other sci-fi cities. But it's also got the charming whimsey of fish-shaped vehicles and an elegantly respectable couple who have not forgotten their umbrella. Unlike the airships in most sci-fi movies these are no speeders. They look quite leisurely.
Second is another view of twentieth-century skies over Paris. This depicts people leaving the opera in all their finery. These vehicles look a little faster, but you can still see a variety of types, from the policemen's scooters to the large bus or limo being loaded in the foreground. I particularly like the styles of the nosecones with their different shapes and designs. Some look more like fish and others more like birds, but they all have a distinct vibe of Northwest Pacific Coast art, which is unexpected but very cool.
Finally, here's a modern house: an "aerial rotating house," to be specific. It's not entirely clear to me why us modern types would want our houses to rotate, although I guess it would allow you to determine which rooms got the sunlight or the best view. You can see the man turning the crank to spin the house, so it doesn't appear to be electric, which might be one of the first things this family should upgrade. Also, the elevator is probably pretty unpleasant in bad weather. However it's clearly a delightful house on the whole, with a large and busy family in residence. I especially like the weathervane and the rooster-head ornament on the gable, and I'm pleased to see that they're growing plenty of plants up there.
So the twentieth century came and went without personal flying vehicles, and as long as people are going to insist on talking on their cell phones while driving, that's really just as well. But it's certainly fun to imagine.
[Pictures: Illustration by Albert Robida from Le Vingtieme Siecle, 1883 (Image from docarelle);
La Sortie de l'opéra en l'an 2000, illustration by A. Robida, c 1882;
Maison tournante aérienne, ink over graphite by A. Robida, c 1883 (Images from Wikimedia Commons).]