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The Blazing World

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The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing-World, better known as The Blazing World, is a 1666 work of prose fiction by English writer Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle. It has been described as an early forerunner of science fiction.

94 pages, Kindle Edition

First published January 1, 1666

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About the author

Margaret Cavendish

90 books106 followers
Margaret Lucas Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, was the youngest child of a wealthy Essex family. At the age of 20 she became Maid of Honour to Queen Henrietta Maria and traveled with her into Persian exile in 1644. There she married William Cavendish, Marquis (later Duke) of Newcastle.

Between 1653 and 1668 she published many books on a wide variety of subjects, including many stories that are now regarded as some of the earliest examples of science fiction.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 229 reviews
Profile Image for Matt.
752 reviews515 followers
October 4, 2020
A bizarre trip of a Lady gone Empress of a new world, called the blazing world, to which she got via hopping from pole to pole (don’t ask).

An­i­mal-crea­tures of this new world, like bear-men, spi­der-­men, worm-men &c, demonstrate con­sid­er­able patience in answering the new-born empress’s questions of which she has a great many. At this time, I wasn’t even quite sure, if this was meant to be satirical or not.

Stylis­ti­cally it’s a fiasco, if you ask me. There’s indirect speech galore in the seemingly unending Q&A-section and sentences that run on and on, far beyond the horizon of any sense and reason. I counted no less than 90 oc­cur­rences of the word “asked” followed by “answered” in the whole text and 128 oc­cur­rences of “if” or “whether” that precede indirect speech. Phew! Readers got to have a great deal of patience them­selves.

Regarding content & themes it’s not even so bad. The shipload of questions are about nature, science, religions; physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology, math­e­mat­ics, logic; the seen & the unseen world - metaphysics in short - and what was called Natural- and Divine Phi­los­o­phy back in the 17th century when the book was published. In this regard, it’s probably a treasure trove for people in­ter­ested in the history of science. Also, near the end, when another “character” appears in the form of the soul of a certain Duchess of Newcastle (read: the author), things get a little bit better stylis­ti­cally and one can nearly feel half a whiff of cap­ti­va­tion. Some scenes testify to the author’s great gift of imag­i­na­tion, but, un­for­tu­nately, they are almost ploughed under by the way they are presented.

My favorite part comes from the exchange between the Empress and the Fish- & Worm-men (the biol­o­gists of the blazing world), about the question “whether all Animal Creatures did continue their Species by a suc­ces­sive pro­poga­tion of par­tic­u­lars”. For some reason it was believed that maggots bred out of cheese, and the Empress said:
... there is some likeness between Maggots and Cheese; for Cheese has no blood, nor Maggots neither; besides, they have almost the same taste which Cheese has. This proves nothing, answered they; for Maggots have a visible, local, pro­gres­sive motion, which Cheese hath not. The Empress replied, That when all the Cheese was turned into Maggots, it might be said to have local, pro­gres­sive motion. They answered, That when the Cheese by its own fig­u­ra­tive motions was changed into Maggots, it was no more Cheese.
When it comes to cheese and maggots it’s hard to con­tra­dict this kind of philo­soph­i­cal reasoning.

Apart from this and a few other such finds, it was a bore for me to read through this text which es­sen­tially appeared like the an­tithe­sis of “blazing”.

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Profile Image for Charlene.
875 reviews493 followers
March 4, 2021
Five solid stars for being one of the first science fiction novels and for helping create the sci-fi genre itself. I wish I could give a 6th star in recognition of her achievement writing this and other books in the 1600s, when the public thought it literally insane for a woman to take up writing and far more insane to think she could discourse with the greatest minds of the day, who were all men. Thank you for daring to force your way into the literary world and for forcing your way into the Royal Society. She was the only female member until 1945. Margaret Cavendish, I freaking love you! 
Margaret Cavendish was called the Kim Kardashian of her day because she was influential and her antics kept everyone guessing what she was up to. When she had a gown made that left her breasts completely exposed, save for the red paint she put on them before going to the public theater to watch a show, she caused an incredible scandal. But to call her the Kim Kardashian of her day would only be accurate if Kim Kardashian were an influencer, fashion icon, addictive to watch, an activist, AND spoke to the public like Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye or wrote a thoroughly researched science fiction script like Jonathan and Christopher Nolan's Interstellar. 

Blazing World was, at its very core, a book on the philosophy of science, religion, social constructs, and politics. With this book, Margaret Cavendish was a key player in usher in the very genre of science fiction. That is to say, this is one of the first science fictions books ever written. When I learned of this fact, through the book, Monster She wrote by Kroger and Anderson,  I knew I had to find a copy of Blazing World and read it for myself. I suspect if Cavendish had been a man, she would have devoted herself wholly to the study of science. The style of this book reminds me a bit of Plato and DesCartes in that it teaches science by using a dialogue style of writing. She paired that style with her creation of a whole new world, which is what makes this a sci-fi book. In the new world, she encounters an empress with whom she enters into discussions of the natural laws that make the Empress' world so different from her own. Her debates  with the Empress serve to educate the reader about the truly magical scientific discoveries of her day. One aspect of science she was clearly in love with was the science of thermodynamics. This was a theme she marveled at when she was in discussions with the empress of the Blazing World. She was shocked, as so many humans were, to find out that cold winds were not the result of cold air overpowering the warm air but is in fact hot air rushing into the cold air because heat always rushes to cold. This was quite impressive when you consider that this book was published in 1666 and Sadi Carnot and Ludwig Boltzmann, and their ideas about thermodynamics, didn't even exist until the 1800s. Cavendish came so damn close to their ideas in this book that I had to double check its publication date and thought I must have been wrong about the time period in which she lived. But, then her discussions on religion and atoms put it all back perspective for me. She didn't want to be bothered thinking about "all those particles!" Hahaha. The fact that she was asking about the origins of life and what matter itself was made of was good enough for the 1600s. I had wonderful daydreams of her somehow traveling through time to our Blazing World of 2021 and imagining how thrilled she would be to see all the scientific secrets of the universe that humans have been able to uncover up to this point in history. She would be so happy to be kidnapped into such a world. 

I was shocked and pleased to see her focus so much on the color of a person's skin for what appeared to be the purpose of showing how much it doesn't matter and that our skin is just a fact of science but has no bearing on anything else. Of course I would like for her to have been able to say more, but I was very pleased that she seemed to understand skin tone far better than Darwin who wrote of the "savage" in the 1800s. 
Some of the more imaginative aspects of this story were that in the Blazing world:

- They had microscopes that could take the entire shape of a large whale and shrink it down to size so that we could study it. (Made me wonder if we won't have something that can shrink large objects for study one day, even in virtual form, that allows you to dissect it down to the quantum scale). And, they could take a tiny bug shape and blow it up to the size of a whale. 

-  In the Blazing World, blood existed in animals but did not flow through the animal bodies. It just lay still, making her question if a living form (as opposed to an inanimate object) really did have to have moving particles or whether some  particles could be more still and yet produce "life". This was undoubtedly her asking Schrodinger's question, "What is Life?" Schrodinger concluded that life is life and not inanimate because the moving particles in life systems go about circulating energy and fighting entropy longer than one would suppose. Cavendish's explanation in the 1600s came very close to that understanding. Of course she could never have come close to the ideas of energy flow, entropy, or energy cycling patterns that Schrodinger understood in 1944, but wow, she certainly was ahead of her time in 1666. 

- I know Issac Newton was not fond of women and barely thought any male his intellectual equal, but I believe that if he had read her discussion on alchemy, and he was not told the author was a female, he would have been taken with it. She called alchemy, "the art", and oozed admiration and astonishment at how the earth itself can engage in "the art" and turn particles into gold, only in the regions where the earth's temperature and pressure would allow. She questioned if animals could do the art and turn one form into another. Newton spent a great portion of his life wondering and experimenting to answer the same question. 

- In the Blazing World, the science of perception is weaved throughout in beautiful and scientific ways. One really sweet and lovely section talked about how the very perception of a seed is what makes them turn into a plant or not. When they turn off their perceptions to the outside world (a perfectly reasonable way to think about it in the 1600s), then seeds go into deep solitude and remain in seed form, but when they allow themselves to perceive the outside world, they bloom into different forms. I loved the way she wrote about seeds. 

- She explored the different and really interesting theories for why tides ebb and flow that really gave me a good sense of what people understood and did not understand in her time. So much was not known in the 1600s, and so there was a lot of discussion between the people in the Blazing World about how certain aspects of the different worlds came to be. For example, when they look at the ebbing and flowing of water on the planets, some people argued that it is caused by the chemical makeup of the water, while others actually got super close to a description of plate tectonics and the convection of heat from the core to the surface of the planet. It was so thrilling to read this from a book written in the 1600s! Some argued that the ebbing and flowing of some springs were the cause of hollow caverns in earth where water would ebon flow, and so it affected water further out that in turn would also ebb and flow, causing the tides. Cavendish also did her best to explain why salt water was so salty and spring water not. She said that freshwater was special because it existed underground and then only pushed its way to the surface when it heat pushed it and it found a hole through which to travel. This section about heat pushing out water made me feel like if I were alive in the 1600s, Mad Madge would have been my very best friend. I love her mind. 

In the epilogue, she revealed, not to anyone's surprise, that she is the Empress of the new Blazing World and invites you to join her and be her subject, if you are so inclined, and learn about the amazing world around you. If you do not want to be her subject and embark upon such a journey with her, that is cool too. She encourages you to be your own Empress. I hear you "Mad Madge." I hope your invitation to learn will find its way into the hearts of lots of young girls. You are "mad" in the BEST possible way and I thank you for imparting this book to me and all the other females and males on this planet who are passionate about uncovering the most wonderful scientific aspects of our universe. 
Profile Image for Heather Jones.
Author 18 books172 followers
September 4, 2015
This is one of various works touted as “the first science fiction novel” (especially in contexts where people are pointing out the strong influence of female authors in the early development of science fictional concepts). The full title is The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing-World, first published in 1666, but with an expanded version (as discussed below) published in 1668.

In brief: a young woman is abducted by a would-be suitor but the ship carrying them is blown off course to the North Pole and enters a passage into an alternate world, in the course of which everyone on the ship except for the young woman perishes of the cold. From the description of the transition and the destination, the world seems to be not so much located in the interior of the Earth, but accessed as a sort of Klein bottle concept where both worlds are “exterior” to each other. The text seems to alternate between treating the home world of the young woman (who is never identified by name -- first she is simply “the lady”, later referenced by another title) as our own world, but later on there is reference to three worlds, with the third being the one the author herself dwells in, which is not directly accessible to the other two. The “Blazing World,” as this destination is called, is clearly utopian, being united under a single emperor and a single religion where everyone lives in peace and harmony. The inhabitants are of a number of different races, partaking of the nature of various animals (bird-men, fish-men, bear-men, worm-men, in addition to unmarked humans) to each of which is attributed some inherent set of intellectual skills. Unsurprisingly given the era when it was written, there’s a lot of unexamined essentialism, colonialism, and “white savior” issues. “The lady,” by virtue of her inherent virtue and purity is instantly recognized as being worthy to be the spouse of the emperor and is thereafter referred to simply as “the empress.”

After this elevation in status, the text bogs down in a long philosophical treatise, presented as the empress’s inquiries of the various beast-scientists as to the nature of the world she has come to rule. The Wikipedia entry on the book suggests that this section had originally been a separate and purely factual treatise “Observations on Experimental Philosophy,” which was appended to the fictional tale in the 1668 edition. (If this is the case, I’d dearly love to get ahold of the simpler 1666 text to see if it holds up better.) If I’d been reading this as a text, I probably would never have gotten past the first few pages of this section, but I had quite wisely downloaded the LibriVox.org audiobook version in preparation for a long road trip. Even so I had to take a break to avoid being put entirely to sleep.

Eventually, the dramatized lecture on experimental philosophy shifts into a more complex story when the Empress turns her hand to introducing Christianity to the Blazing World (though she knowingly uses stage-magician’s tricks to convince her subjects of its truth) and then has her beast-philosophers summon up immaterial spirits to satisfy her curiosity about the condition of the world she left behind. They discourse for some time on theology and philosophy and in the end the Empress sets her heart on creating a Cabbala. The Empress asks the spirits to recommend to her a scribe who can write up the Cabbala for her and they recommend one Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle. There’s only one problem: the Duchess lives in an entirely different world in accessible to the Blazing World, but they can procure her spirit to talk to the Empress by a sort of astral projection, “and truly their meeting did produce such an intimate friendship between them, that they became Platonick Lovers, although they were both Femals.” [swoon] The Empress expresses a desire that the Duchess should rule over a similar realm to her own, but the spirits point out that every person is capable of creating an infinity of worlds within their own imagination over which they could rule, so why be content with just one? Both women exercise this power for a while, creating and abandoning invented worlds at whim. Oh, and the Duchess introduces the Empress to several important English concepts including Theater, with which she is much taken. (There are also digressions where the Duchess laments her husband’s financial woes and how badly Fortune has treated him.) The Empress decides she wants to visit England for herself, so she and the Duchess to the astral projection thing again and somehow both end up sharing the Duke of Newcastle’s body with him and there’s this discussion of the awkwardness of three spirits sharing a single body and the jealousies that arise thereby.

The next section involves a court case against the personification of Fortune, who is being indicted for crimes against the Duke of Newcastle, during which the Duchess pleads his case most eloquently and successfully. After this, the two women’s souls take leave of each other, promising to visit regularly (by astral projection, of course). And that’s the end of Part 1.

Part 2 can be summarized as, “The Empress checks out how things are going back in her home world, discovers that her homeland is beleaguered and throws the scientific and natural resources of the Blazing World at the problem of how to smite her homeland’s enemies and make it the dominant political power of its world. This involves the invention of submarines and chemical warfare. A great deal of the world-building info-dump from the beginning of the novel now becomes relevant as the special physical resources of her new realm are weaponized against the unsuspecting folks back home. They are victorious and the Empress returns home considering it a job well done. There is a last episode where the Duchess visits her in spirit once more and is lavishly entertained. The story concludes with an epilogue to the reader from the Duchess, describing the supreme delights of world-building and encouraging others to do the same.

For me, it is this emphasis on the self-conscious creation of an inventive secondary world, and the exploration of its nature, properties, and consequences, that places The Blazing World solidly in the lineage of modern science fiction and fantasy. If the plot seems a bit sluggish to the modern reader, and the language overly florid, and the social politics more than a little cringe-worthy, this must be chalked up to being A Product of Its Times and, if not forgiven, at least understood. As an imaginative creation, the Blazing World ranks solidly up there with Middle Earth, Narnia, and Barsoom. For that matter, when stripped down to the essence of the plot, the story could hold its own against many a straight-forward quest adventure. But do yourself a favor and listen to the audio version while doing something tedious like housework or weeding. I doubt many modern readers would have the patience to slog through it otherwise.
Profile Image for Steffi.
948 reviews195 followers
October 3, 2020
Es handelt sich um einen sehr frühen Science Fiction-Roman (1666), und er wurde, was noch ungewöhnlicher ist, von einer Frau geschrieben.

Der Anfang liest sich auch noch ganz interessant: Eine Frau wird von Männern per Schiff entführt. Die Männer erfrieren unterwegs, nur sie überlebt und überschreitet am Nordpol die Grenze zu einer anderen Welt, in der Tiermenschen friedlich zusammen leben. Der dortige Kaiser heiratet sie und nunmehr als Kaiserin lässt sie die verschiedenen Tiermenschen ihre wissenschaftlichen, religiösen und philosophischen Erkenntnisse referieren.

Das aber wird zunehmend öde. Diese ganze Ausbreitung verrückter oder weniger verrückter Ideen ermüdet. Handlung gibt es kaum. Auch Charaktere lernen wir kaum kennen. Vielmehr verwendet Cavendish, die auch Naturphilosophin war, diese literarische Form, um theoretische Ideen an die Frau und den Mann zu bringen. Ein Etikettenschwindel also.

Als man schon anfängt nur noch quer zu lesen, entwickelt sich die Handlung doch noch etwas. Die Kaiserin reist mit einer Herzogin, die erstaunliche Ähnlichkeiten mit der Autorin hat, in eine nun wieder sehr real anmutende Gegend. Als von Nottinghamshire und Sherwood Forest die Rede ist, hofft man kurz, gleich springe Robin Hood aus dem Dickicht… aber nein, da werden nur der Verlust von Ländereien und die verstimmte Fortuna beklagt.

Diese phantastische Reise erinnert an Morus‘ Utopia sowie an das später erschienene Gullivers Reisen. Auch bei Swift, so kann ich mich erinnern, gab es für meinen Geschmack so manche Länge, wenn auch auf ganz anderem Niveau (und mit mehr Witz). Zudem fielen mir Karikaturen von Grandville ein, der nicht nur ebenfalls Gullivers Reisen illustrierte, sondern viele Tiermenschen zeichnete.

Dennoch ist die Begegnung mit Cavendish aufregend. Sie wurde von vielen „Mad Madge“ genannt. Dazu brauchte es im 17. Jahrhundert keine wirklichen psychischen Störungen, sondern es reichte, dass sie einen ungewöhnlichen Kleidungsstil pflegte und – als Adlige und als Frau - nicht nur schrieb, sondern das Geschriebene auch veröffentlichte. Skandalös!

Sie war die erste (und für lange Zeit einzige) Frau, die die Royal Society besuchen durfte und die sich mit den männlichen Mitgliedern dieser Gesellschaft anlegte (ich musste an Die Kunst der Bestimmung denken, dort steht die Royal Society mit ihren illustren Mitgliedern ebenfalls im Mittelpunkt). Sie erlebte als Adlige den Verlust von Privilegien unter Cromwell und deren teilweise Rückerlangung, war glühende Anhängerin des Absolutismus (natürlich), war wenig gebildet, aber gleichzeitig Bekannte von Thomas Hobbes und lebte in der Zeit von Pest, Großem Feuer und Londons Wiederaufbau.

Und ihre Stimme ging nicht ganz verloren. Virginia Woolf erwähnt sie Ein Zimmer für sich allein und Siri Husvedt greift auf sie in ihrem Roman Die gleißende Welt (!) auf sie zurück.

Also alles in allem ein sehr bescheidener Roman, aber eine interessante Persönlichkeit über die man nun gerne einen guten historischen Roman lesen möchte. Der Roman selbst ist sicher nur knapp 2 Sterne wert, wenn überhaupt, aber da er mich auf eine interessante historische Persönlichkeit aufmerksam machte, gibt es einen dritten.
Profile Image for Pink.
537 reviews498 followers
March 25, 2018
I read this as the first of a trio of books. Her most well known fiction to get me started, followed up by a biography and yet to be concluded with some historical fiction of her life. Margaret Cavendish was a fascinating woman and as a prominent female of the time, we know quite a lot about her life and still have her work to read today. Yet, until recently I'd never heard of her.

This story is bizarre, sometimes boring, but equally blazing. Before reading, I suggest a little research about her life, marriage, involvement in court life, the civil war and emerging scientific experiments of the day. Wikipedia will do the job well enough. I think that gives a lot of grounding to the ideas represented here. Margaret had a life of comparative comfort, but it was full of upheavals and all she really wanted was the King on his throne, her family around her and husband to love.
Profile Image for nettebuecherkiste.
511 reviews125 followers
October 3, 2020
I hardly know how to rate this, it is certainly not an enjoyable read, very boring in parts, and not written very well, but then, it's remarkable in its way, the work of an obviously remarkable woman of the 1660s.
Profile Image for Margaret.
1,133 reviews58 followers
April 8, 2017
Here's the thing about Restoration era literature--it's steeped in contemporary references. I took a Restoration literature class in undergrad, and found most of the material boring and quite difficult to get through. It required a lot of research just to understand conversations and plot.

I had forgotten about this when I picked up The Blazing World, instead expecting something a little more exciting. The first science fiction written by a woman? A feminist Utopian? Sign me up!

That's not quite what this is. Instead, I found commentary on contemporary political, philosophical, and scientific thought, and since I don't know very much about 1666 England, I didn't follow a lot of it.

In this novel, an English lady travels to another dimension. There, she finds that each animal is its own cognizant, speaking society. Thus, there are the Bear-men, the Worm-men, the Bird-men, etc. This is pretty cool. All these societies are ruled by a single ruler, and soon the decide the lady will be their empress. As Empress, she investigates scientific, philosophical, and religious thought, and each of the animal species specializes in individual areas of investigation. Therein ensues a long investigation where the empress asks the head animal-man their opinion on things, and they give their thoughts. This is most of the novel, and this is where a current reader (like me) is going to become bored. Eventually, she finds out there's a war in England, and she brings an army from the dimension she's an empress in and fights for England, conquering everyone and leaving England to rule the world. Cavendish argues that it's better to have a single head and a single entity making decisions for the whole, so there won't be any strife. I guess she doesn't believe in tyrants.

While steeped in its time, there's still some interesting parts. While superior, the dimension of animal-people doesn't allow women to go to church, so the empress creates a church for women and preaches at it. There's also never any question that she shouldn't rule because she's a woman. She's quite capable the whole time.

I'm quite sure I missed a ton, and I plan on doing some research. It's worth reading, as long as you're aware of that time period's literature. You're going to be disappointed if you're expecting Ursula Le Guin, though.
Profile Image for Sarah.
153 reviews34 followers
July 15, 2016
More like 2.5 stars.

This is a fascinating read, but only for those that are really interested in the origins of science fiction and early women writers. Margaret Cavendish is a very early English writer that wrote this when it was not acceptable for women to write and publish books. I am not sure of a lot of the backstory behind this, but I'm hoping to be able to gleam some of that in the new book Margaret the First, which explores her life in a biographical historical fiction story. I picked this up because of my interest in feminism and early science fiction, especially since men tend to get a lot of the credit for inventing and innovating the genre.

Cavendish creates a utopia in this story, littered with animal people of all different varieties. Most of the story is a description of this utopia, what she calls The Blazing World, which incorporates Cavendish's views on politics, government, religion, liberties, and society. It's worth noting that her views are tainted with privilege, as most things are from this era, as she was an English royal. But this book definitely sheds light on what she believed to be an "ideal" world of sorts, with both peculiarities and common traits of her current world. I found it interesting how she also fashioned herself the leader of this world, which is perhaps a commentary on the ability of women to lead.

All in all, I recommend this book for those who are academically-minded about early English, women, science fiction, and utopia literature. It was great for giving me perspective on how the genre has developed over the years. But for most other people, it's probably a solid pass. The text is not exactly interesting to read, as it is mostly pedantic descriptions of her utopia. Perhaps read some commentary about this book instead. For what it's worth, this is available in only 15 issues on Serial Reader, which is how I read it, and I found it very digestible in smaller chunks.
Profile Image for zhixin.
278 reviews11 followers
August 18, 2013
Before reading this, I truly thought there were no utopias in fiction because they all turn into dystopias somehow. I also thought nobody would write a utopia because how the heck do you write a world where all is perfect, and make it interesting?

Well look, Cavendish wrote one! Unsurprisingly it is downright boring.

Of course this is from a 21st century perspective; it's an achievement for a female of her age to be writing, there are all those new scientific thoughts coming out, blah blah, but from a narrative perspective this has no conflict, climax, resolution, depth of characterisation whatsoever. The only conflict comes at the start of the book when she gets abducted, but nobody ever thought for a second that she was in any danger because the abductor got dashed into the rocks in the span of the next sentence. Everyone is perfect, systems are perfect, the world is filled with gaudy jewels and gold because that is Cavendish's definition of beauty, it's so obvious she put herself as both female characters who are, except for a brief mention of being desirous of fame, perfect. Oh Cavendish, so transparent in this book. This isn't a narrative, Cavendish. This is more epic wish fulfillment, except dreams are more exciting than this.
Profile Image for Wreade1872.
679 reviews131 followers
January 22, 2021
A weird bit of philosophy and proto-sci-fi. Ignores the rules of any conventional story, features parallel worlds, astral-projection, submarines made of gold and many sorts of animal men including Lice-men. Best approached as a piece of philosophy rather than sci-fi but quite interesting.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,040 followers
February 6, 2017
I chose this on Serial Reader in an attempt to read more classics but I had to abandon it. If this is where science fiction started, thank goodness it changed and grew. It's an adventure/SciFi/fantasy story where literally nothing happens, they just sit around and talk about how they understand the universe. And of course the visitor to the species is welcomed and made the empress, so no conflict anywhere.
Profile Image for Rosemarie.
182 reviews152 followers
July 18, 2018
This is a very unusual book in that it is a very early science fiction/fantasy novel written by an usual woman, Margeret the Duchess of Newcastle. It is an amalgam of discussions, action, description of the world and all its creatures in a unique way.
I would rate it 2 and a half stars, since there is a lot of interesting description but it has a feeble plot.
Profile Image for Emi.
191 reviews8 followers
January 25, 2023
*New sleep paralysis demon just dropped. Gather round, kids.*

Thoughts. Thoughts. I have thoughts. Lord . I have so many thoughts.

First off, I must unfortunately dethrone Mary Shelley, my beloved queen. The first science fiction work to have been published most probably was this unfortunate Cavendish child. Born some 200 years before Shelley’s “Frankenstein”.

This isn’t quite a novel. Which is perhaps why people vehemently hold on to Victor Frankenstein and his lil “first-sci-fi-ever” title so dearly. That, or maybe the fact that this text is almost unreadable at times (fault of the intense amount of natural science theory packed inside) is what makes people discount its existence entirely. I’m not sure what label you can ascribe to it, but originally, it came as an appendix to a scientific journal called “Observations Upon Experimental Philosophy” that Cavendish also wrote. Now, mind you, both were published in 1666. I’m not here to talk about how shoddy the science actually is. But it does play a massive role in the text, although it also claims to be fictional and a work of nonsense.

As Cavendish herself stated, this text can be split into three sections. It starts off as a romancical text, then it morphs into a philosophical one, and lastly it becomes a work of fantasy. But the plot is not quite so easily divided into neat sequential parts. See, the story begins with a woman kidnapped. As most stories do. However, this body-snatch endeavour fails spectacularly. This woman was taken onto a ship that set sail for the arctic. But, while the ship sailed across the unmarked North Pole, they actually sailed into another world. See, this North Pole of hers seems to have been some cross-dimensional portal. So, not only does she still find herself in the middle of the arctic when she gets to the other side, she is also on a whole other planet all alone because! (and get this) all of the men that abducted her have died. Why? You may ask? Well, because of some super sound science. They died of hypothermia because the multiverse portal connected TWO North Poles together, and so the already frigid temperatures of ONE North Pole was DOUBLED. Why did the woman survive this power-up frost effect? Oh, because of her divine beauty. We all know that if you are pretty, it means you’re immune to bodily harm. I mean just ask all of the female characters in video games. They never need armour. Equip a woman with a chain-link bikini and a button nose and she can topple empires quicker than any man ever could. But right. Now she is alone. In some foreign world. Just dripping sex. Absolutely divine. You know. Just completely- (yes I am having fun with this). But very quickly after her arrival, she comes across the inhabitants of this land: the bear-men. Yes. And the bear-men show her around, introducing her to the bird-men. Then she meets the fox-men, the worm-men, some fish-men, a few fly-men, jack-daw- magpie- and parrot-men. The list goes on. They, being very peaceable, are very hospitable throughout this process and eventually bring her before their emperor. He, not having a wife, takes this random woman as his queen (no questions asked) and she then proceeds to live on in this world, as an empress. And absolute-monarchy-shenanigans ensue. Enthralling, right? I lost my shit in lecture. So did the professor, mind you. He was throwing profanities around, pacing incessantly. If I didn’t know any better I’d say he wanted to dig Cavendish out to shake her, fall to his knees and wail, “WHYYYYyyyyyyy……”.

But I promised some thoughts. I will share them now. Is my thesis clear enough? I will make my points now. I’m doing it. I will number them. I swear.

Girlbossing in STEM: A How-To Guide from the 1660s

Margaret Cavendish lived a relatively difficult life. Born in 1623 she lived a somewhat quiet life in Essex until… *drumroll please* civil war explodes in 1642 between the parliamentarians and the royalists whom are being chased out of the country. Now, in the mean time, Margaret has somehow wormed herself into being the Queen’s maid of honour. Which means… that if the royalists are fleeing… the Queen and her court…ran away to the continent. Jesus. I feel like dora the goddamn explorer. OKAY. Queen seeks refuge at a “small” Paris cottage and Margaret has been separated from her family who, unlike her, remained in England and did the noble thing. The standing your ground and fighting thing. Which, if you’ve been paying attention, means that… her entire family including herself are dickriders for the Queen. Hola! Soy fucking Dora! So. They’re all royalists. Ick. This is important for later. Fast forward to 45’ and Margaret meets the love of her life in Paris. Fast forward 3 more years and her entire family back home is dead, most being killed by the parliamentarians. Fast forward some more and King Charles I is beheaded and so the monarchy is abolished, and in 1649 we enter the Interregnum period. Margaret? Still in Paris. Why? All of her, and her husband’s estates have been seized by the state, so they have no income and nothing to return to. They try to bargain to get some of it back, but are denied. That is at least until the year 1660 when the Restoration period begins! We have monarchy again!! (Yes, I am blowing a party whistle). And for their undying loyalty to the crown, any property that has previously belonged to Margaret or her husband was restored to them, AND William (her husband) was made a capital D, Duke (of Newcastle) and Margaret automatically becomes: The Duchess of Newcastle. She is 37 now. She was 19 when she fled her home. So, all is well and good now? No. You see, England is doing this very cool thing where they are establishing this club called “The Royal Society”. Nothing too massive. Just the fellowship of many of the world’s most eminent scientists and the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence. That Isaac Newton guy was admitted, Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking, David Attenborough. Hopefully you’ve heard of them. In more recent years, fellowship was awarded to Elon Musk, which I think besmirches the whole operation. But anyhow. Margaret comes back from exile. She is a rich woman. An educated woman. She has read the new science lore. She is sitting in the middle of the scientific revolution. And she’s eating this UP. For her, a new BTS album is coming out every month. This is a heavenly time to be alive. So when she finds out there’s a cool science club that make doing science a legit job with a serious and respectable title? Obviously she wants to join- They even have this cute motto going “nullius in verba”. That is… until she is told that she cannot be a part of this elite exclusive rational minds gang. Because? Say it with me kids: She is a woman~ and women’s minds can only handle processing fantasy. We all know this. Physics and Chemistry are far too complex for the feminine brain. By the way, these motherfuckers got away with this for the longest time too. Women only began to be admitted in the 1940s. ALMOST THREE CENTURIES LATER. Cavendish is kind of rightfully pissed. And so? She ends up sciencing all alone. She read scientific journals which she had access to through her husband and her new title. She wrote and developed her own theory. And she also…wrote this here thing.

The Blazing world: Fact? Or Fiction? Or Magical Realism? Or Sci-fi? Or Philosophy? Or Hollywood science? Or… Huh?

This text is almost impossible to digest because this woman will go back on her word as if it is her job. She will introduce a concept, re-introduce it to ascribe it her own meaning, and then will proceed to continue using the *original* meaning of the concept. For example, take one of her favourite and most perplexing words. “Fancy”. No, she did not mean love. By “fancy” she meant to be talking about the word we know as “fantasy”. However, she also re-defined it for herself in this text to mean: the faculty of representing something in the mind that one can perceive with the senses. Or, to put it aptly, reality. These are two opposite concepts. And when you write an essay, you have to define your terms for the reader. Not- entertain all possible meanings of said terms simultaneously. And when you do this, you get characters speaking of fantasies as if they were reality while also speaking of reality as if it were one giant piece of inexplicable lore that can be possible but isn’t.

The science she introduces (and I have to assume this is actual fantasy speaking) made me shit myself. At one in the morning I was reading about the properties of this elixir of life being described to the Empress, and that was the moment I think I died. I mean the list of side effects was infomercial level disturbing. You name it. It’ll shed your skin, chemically burn your pancreas if you drink it on the full moon, it’ll even age regress you! But that’s a relatively cheap price to pay for immortality? Right? And that’s just one ridiculous instance. There are so many more.

This may be titled the first science fiction novel, but all it means is that this was the first attempt at writing a text, with fictional (?) characters whose plot is intertwined with some form of inter-planetary travel. It passes on a technicality. Because if you try to pick this up thinking you’ll get some start warsian story in archaic English, you would be mistaken. The world building in this is shit because it is non existent. I don’t mean it to criticize, I mean it as an observation or more as a warning as to the fact that absolutely nothing is explained. There is so much going on, and absolutely no backstory. Things appear as they are needed for the first 2/3 of the novel. Which is why it is jarring when all of a sudden, rules and regulations are introduced to the plot. What happened to the king’s pervious empress? Is there a minimum age for taking the elixir (out of health concerns?) ? What happens when the lice-men wake up one day and decide that they do not want to work in their assigned profession of ‘mathematician’?

Margaret Cavendish on the monarchy: Queen Elizabeth Ist was cool actually

I think we can gather that Cavendish liked her Queen very much. And while I do not understand what she saw in her, I can grasp why her life’s circumstances might have influenced her politics. See, if you are growing up at a time when your country is being torn apart you too might just want an absolute force to take care of it all and unite its people under one ruler, one religion, one culture. So, you’ve mistaken her entirely . Cavendish is not a monarchist. She just wishes that all in the United Kingdom live a fulfilling and dignified life!

And that… might have perchance bled into her book…
I mean the entire text is bookended with declarations of “I am better apt at colonizing than Alexander or even Caesar”. I am serious. She uses the words “conquering”, “Alexander (the great)” and “Casear” in that context (see page 163). Not to mention the blatant yearning that Cavendish’s Empress had to be an absolute ruler herself. Going so far as to convert all of her subjects to a new religion she herself concocted (though it is never explained how it works) and then keep them chained to that religion by threatening eternal damnation if anyone so much as defies her. The list actually goes on, if you can believe it. The (fictionalized) Duchess of Newcastle is encouraged to “colonize” worlds of her own. Etc etc

Adding an epithet to the Blazing World because I can

This is absolute fan fiction. A day dream. The before-bed-scenarios. It was wholly and unapologetically self-indulgent.

All of the main characters are literally just herself in different forms. The empress is a glorified Cavendish, a version that could exist if the patriarchal nature of the Royal Society was abolished. Someone with the power to make others listen and respect her. Then she invites a character called “The Duchess of Newcastle” into the plot which… is just an exact replica of Cavendish herself as well as her life except it is inserted into this text, making her fictionalized. And lastly, Cavendish will herself interject, interrupting the story and breaking the fourth wall. All protagonists in this text are Cavendish. Cavendish is all of these characters. Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. This is her legacy. If God doesn’t care about you, than you consume Him.

Which is why, in all honesty, this was insanely difficult to read. Not in terms of the language, but because this feels so personal. Like I am reading someone’s diary. She wrote “Observations Upon Experimental Philosophy” and when she was laughed at by the Royal Society, she rebranded her ideas within a fictional story in hopes that she would be taken seriously and immortalized herself within the literary cannon in the process. She made herself author, empress, and duchess because she knew she would never be afforded legitimacy, because she would never be allowed into a position where she would be able to gain any power. So, she crafted it herself. One little fantasy at a time. What you are reading when you read “The Blazing World” is a recorded version of her God complex. Good for her. I will always look up to a woman who is willing to publish her filthy desires for the world to read.

What even??? Was the point of this??

Was a question posed in my Tutorial. Okay Cavendish. You said a lot, some of it unwarranted. So then. What gives- You are openly slandering the figures of note and the very Royal Society which you are trying to impress. You compared Robert Boyle to a flea, and essentially called the scientific community a waste of effort if they would not entertain your scientific findings. You are actively ending your career and perchance setting woman back some 50 years. Por qué??

But I suppose the moral of the story is that the wealthy can say anything they so desire and they will still have a title to give them a modicum of legitimacy at the very least. Rich people will be heard no matter what. Even if they are just shouting into the ethos about their overcooked eggs from last Tuesday.

But I leave the rest to you to ponder.

Part Conclusion: Insane passages for you to munch on because I am a kind soul

“And then the Duke had three Souls in one Body; and had there been but some such Souls more, the Duke would have been like the Grand-Signior in his Seraglio, only it would have been a Platonick Seraglio. But the Dukes soul being wise, honest, witty, complaisant and noble, afforded such delight and pleasure to the Empress’s soul by her conversation, that these two souls became enamoured with of other; which the Duchess’s soul perceiving, grew jealous at first, but then considering that no Adultery could be committed amongst Plaatonick Lovers, and that Platonism was Divine, as being derived from Divine Plato, cast forth of her mind that Idea of Jealousie.” (133)

“Then the Empress asked the Spirits, whether it was an evil Spirit that tempted Eve, and brought all mischiefs upon Mankind, or whether it was the Serpent? They answered, That Spirits could not commit actual evils. The Empress said they might do it by perswasions. They answered, That Perswasions were actions; (spirits cannot perform actions without a vehicle — vessel — here) but the Empress not being Contended with this answer, asked whether there was not a supernatural Evil? The Spirits answered, That there was a supernatural Good, which was God; but they knew of no supernatural Evil that was equal to God.” (114)

This was definitely an excruciating read. But I can appreciate the knowledge I’ve gained from digesting it. Grateful I have it under my belt.

Profile Image for Sorgens Dag.
107 reviews13 followers
April 28, 2020
Primero y antes que nada, si hay alguna persona de Siruela por ahí leyendo las reviews quisiera agradecerle la publicación de este libro en tierras de habla hispana ya que de no haber sido así muy probablemente muchas personas no podrían tener acceso a el o conocer de su existencia. Segundo, a los que lean esta reseña, he visto que abundan los comentarios acerca de lo aburrida que es la historia, que no pasa nada, que esto, que lo otro, seré muy clara: para poder apreciar en su totalidad el trabajo de Cavendish se requiere tener una mente despejada y tolerante a formas distintas de la narrativa, encontrar sentido en el contexto en el que fue escrita y sobre todo la capacidad de apreciar la inventiva de la autora cuya finalidad es llevarnos de viaje a un lugar en el que solo seremos espectadores, pues como bien señala, este es su mundo, ella hace lo que quiera.

Las mejores partes del mundo resplandeciente tienen que ver con las argumentaciones que Cavendish hace en torno a la ciencia y filosofía de su época (el texto es de los 1600 por lo que es una total curiosidad el conocer como se concebía al mundo y la realidad en aquellos tiempos), los caminos misteriosos del misticismo y el viaje alucinante que se realiza por ellos a lo largo de la descripción de este mundo ajeno a la cerrazón y los limites. Esta obra es un verdadero homenaje a la imaginación y a lo que esta más allá de la razón, es una especie de poética de los sueños y la metafísica.
Profile Image for Lucas Mota.
Author 7 books97 followers
July 16, 2019

Este é um livro difícil. Não em sua escrita, mas em seu ritmo. O livro inteiro é uma grande sequência de exposição, sem qualquer conflito ou descrição mais aprofundada, o que torna a leitura bem cansativa. Por outro lado é um importante registro histórico que antecede as principais convenções de gênero da ficção científica, o que o faz ser importante pelo contexto. Também é bom lembrar que se trata de um autora se aventurando no campo da filosofia, o que era absolutamente inadmissível em sua época. É uma leitura importante enquanto memória história, mas não é uma leitura fluida ou ágil.
Destaque para a edição da editora Plutão que traz um ótimo trabalho de edição com um texto de contextualização e os prefácios originais da obra.
Profile Image for L.R. Lam.
Author 24 books1,051 followers
April 27, 2019
This was fairly bonkers, but an interesting look into proto-science fiction with some heavy lashings of philosophical musings. Feminist for the seventeenth century, but a fair amount of casual colonialism. Is it a utopia? Also had the author self-insert as a Mary Sue, and then it was surprisingly queer.
Profile Image for Katarzyna Bartoszynska.
Author 8 books111 followers
August 12, 2016
I'm doing the first half of the Brit Lit survey this year, which gave me the excuse to finally make the time to read this. Oh man. It is totally bonkers and absolutely awesome. Like, what if you and your BFF could unite your souls in one body and run the world??
Looking forward to teaching it.
Profile Image for Uva Costriuba.
320 reviews9 followers
April 1, 2021
foi chocante e esquisito ler um livro de 1666 escrito por uma mulher falando de ciência e ficção. e foi impressionante descobrir que a autora foi muito bem informada, reconhecida em vida, publicada múltiplas vezes e sob o próprio nome. no séc. XVII sabe...

este é um livro (talvez até uma transcrição) de contação de história. a narrativa segue a fala de alguém que gesticula e fisga respostas de outras pessoas e isso se perde muito no texto corrido. há momentos cômicos e recapitulações que denunciam essa presença de platéia.

achei difícil de ler porque segue um fluxo de pensamento solto que não faz pausas. me pergunto se não teria algum recurso de edição pós moderna que pudesse interferir nesse texto como quem faz uma obra de restauro: eu gostaria de ver um ritmo de leitura que traduzisse essa experiência de 1666 para a nossa realidade atual. entendo que a linguagem já foi atualizada para facilitar a leitura, mas acho que há coisas além do texto que se perderam na tradução.

recomendo a leitura para quem pesquisa utopia e feminismo. foi um respiro interessante nos focos de atenção durante a pandemia em 2021.
Profile Image for Maria Fernanda Gama.
224 reviews14 followers
August 24, 2019
While I praise the author for her innovative skills, I feel this book was really hard to enjoy. She claims in the prologue she wanted to create a fantasy so that people could learn while being entertained but this is just not entertaining. I know the idea of entertainment is probably very different today than it was in the 1600s, but I never felt this huge gap of ideias in Shakespeare, for instance, and he predates her by a century (although I do feel it's very unfair to compare anyone to Shakespeare). But, that being said, I think there are some interesting ideas in this, mainly her strong belief that we are all able to create worlds in our minds that are not less important or complex than the real ones. If she had only tried to write fantasy for the sake of writing fantasy, and not with the underlying intention of analysing and explaining her views in politics, science and religion, I fell this would have been a much better book.
Profile Image for André Caniato.
278 reviews46 followers
February 5, 2017
The Description of a New World, Called The Blazing-World, or simply The Blazing World, is considered one of the earliest examples of science fiction in history, so of course I had to include it in my 2017 sci-fi journey—more out of curiosity than actual hope of enjoying the experience. Considering it's a 1666 autobiographic, quasi-nonsensical story, I admit it's way less boring than I thought it would be—though it is quite boring. Its importance to science fiction and even women's writing is notable, however, and I don't regret reading it.

I recommend this book as an academic endeavor; a study. It is fascinating if you're interested in science fiction, women's history, genre fiction etc. You will hardly enjoy it otherwise.
Profile Image for Malice.
245 reviews29 followers
April 26, 2021
No sabía muy bien con que me iba a encontrar en esta lectura y lo que encontré me sorprendió bastante. Este libro es considerado como precursor de las historias de ciencia ficción, escrito en el siglo XVII y por una mujer, Margaret Cavendish.

La historia va de lo estrambótico a lo absurdo, como telón de fondo para hablar sobre la ciencia y filosofía de su época, de una manera bastante original. Agrego a esto, que la historia de la propia autora es ya de por sí muy interesante, así que bien vale la pena conocer un poco más sobre su vida.
Profile Image for Manuel Alfonseca.
Author 72 books147 followers
December 10, 2022
ENGLISH: Book written the year of the great fire of London. Through the north pole, the protagonist passes into another world, connected to ours through both north poles (as in Pellucidar, the series of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs). In that world, of which the protagonist becomes Empress, there are human beings, but also intelligent animals of many kinds: bears, birds, worms, flies, lice, spiders, apes, etc., each species specializing in a branch of knowledge: bears are astronomers; spiders mathematicians; worms biologists; and so on.

The book is difficult to follow, especially due to its endless paragraphs, but it has some interest, because it explains the different philosophical and scientific theories of the 17th century, although those favored by the author are not always those that we consider valid today.

In the second half of the book, the author herself appears as a character, and she feels jealousy towards the protagonist, because she is empress of a world and the author is not. She is then advised to create her own imaginary world, of which she can be the empress. It follows that the world she creates is the one described in this book, so the book is self-referential and the author is one of the characters.

ESPAÑOL: Libro escrito el año del gran incendio de Londres. A través del polo norte, la protagonista pasa a otro mundo, conectado con el nuestro a través de ambos polos norte (como en Pellucidar, la serie de novelas de Edgar Rice Burroughs). En ese mundo, del que la protagonista se convierte en emperatriz, hay seres humanos, pero también animales inteligentes de muchos tipos: osos, aves, gusanos, moscas, piojos, arañas, monos, etcétera, cada especie especializada en una rama del conocimiento: los osos son astrónomos; las arañas matemáticos; los gusanos biólogos; etcétera.

El libro es bastante árido, especialmente por sus párrafos interminables, pero tiene interés, porque explica las distintas teorías filosóficas y científicas del siglo XVII, aunque las que favorece la autora no son siempre las que hoy consideramos válidas.

En la segunda mitad del libro, la propia autora aparece como personaje, y tiene celos de la protagonista porque es emperatriz de un mundo y ella no. Entonces le aconsejan crear su propio mundo imaginario, del que pueda ser emperatriz. Se deduce que el mundo que crea es el que describe en su libro, así que el libro es auto-referente y la autora es uno de sus personajes.
Profile Image for Aengus Schulte.
40 reviews
February 22, 2022
Such a fascinating book! It's really interesting to see how this inspired the science-fiction genre - Cavendish is so full of ideas. The writing is pretty incoherent, but the content makes up for it!
Profile Image for Nicholas Whyte.
4,565 reviews176 followers
July 20, 2014
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2308871.html[return][return]For all the primacy of Frankenstein, I reckon this must be one of the earliest known sf books by a woman, at least in English. The Duchess of Newcastle was a well-known eccentric of Restoration England - Samuel Pepys has several awestruck entries in his diary about simply wanting to look at her in astonishment, including her visit to the Royal Society - and wrote various pieces including this exploration of politics, science, religion and learning from 1668. [return][return]Her unnamed heroine, kidnapped by sea from her home, is blown by storms to the North Pole and thence to another world which adjoins ours there. The inhabitants immediately make her their Empress, and we then settle down for a hundred pages or so of exposition and world-building, some of it a little satirical, some simply speculative and imaginative (some of it perhaps inspired by her visit to the Royal Society the previous year). The Empress then causes further point-of-view confusion by inviting the Duchess of Newcastle to come visit her on her own planet, and, using otherworldly technology, exterminates all of England's military enemies to ensure that Britain can be Top Nation. [return][return]It's a undisciplined, rollicking, diverting ramble through the mind of one of the era's most interesting personalities, and I'm really surprised that it is not better known - I think I came across it only browsing Wikipedia, though I then found an essay about it in Speculative Fiction 2012 when I was already half way through. I also detect one or two elements which surely Swift must have put directly into Gullver's Travels; he would surely have known and read this.
Profile Image for Pawit Mahattanasing.
83 reviews27 followers
March 24, 2018

เรียบง่ายเหมือนนิทาน ค่อนเล่มเป็นช่วงสารพันปัญหาถาม-ตอบเชิงปรัชญาปรัมปราผนวกกับวิทยาศาสตร์ธรรมชาติของโลกอันไกลโพ้น เหมือนนั่งรถไฟย้อนเวลาพบคนแปลกหน้าชวนสนทนา ได้แต่พยักหน้าหงึกหงักเออออห่อหมกไปตามมารยาท บันเทิงเหลือล้ำถ้าคุณสนใจศึกษาองค์ความรู้ของดวงจิตในโลกต่างมิติ แต่ผมไม่ ถึงหน้าที่ 100 ขอพักเปิดอ่านสปอยรัวๆ ก้อนสมองอ่อนเปลี้ยเกียจคร้านสิ้นเชิงต่อการขบคิดตามตรรกะทั้งหลายทั้งปวง พักไปอ่านเล่มอื่น กลับมาอ่านต่อ อ่านทิ้งอ่านขว้าง ขอบคุณพระเจ้าที่หนังสือเล่มนี้มีตอนจบ ปลื้มใจว่าอย่างน้อยเราได้ใช้ชีวิตอยู่ในยุคสมัยที่มีนิยายอ่านสนุกอยู่ล้นหลาม
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