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"This is very awkward," he muttered, as he sat philosophically contemplating the indicator, which now marked thirty knots. "Exceedingly awkward."

Writers can never know how their words will be interpreted or where their work will lead. A minor hit by Jewish-Canadian poet/composer Leonard Cohen rebounded into his signature song, and its sexually-charged lyrics about a failed relationship were transmogrified into a Christian hymn. A grad student named Richard Foster penned a car-themed SF story called, "A Nice Morning Drive" in 1972 and sold it to Road & Track, those being the days when every magazine published some kind of fiction. He then vanished from the writing scene. However, Neil Peart read the story and was inspired nearly a decade later to write "Red Barchetta," which became one of Rush's best-loved songs. Foster would not realize he inspired a popular song until 1996, and did not meet Peart until a decade after that, when the two of them went on a motorcycle trip together.

And then there's the obscure SF dime novel that gave its name to a Canadian town.

J. E. Preston Muddock, a journalist and author of (mainly) detective and mystery fiction, wrote The Sunless City: From the Papers and Diaries of the Late Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin in 1905. Its oddly-named protagonist goes by the sobriquet, "Flin Flon." He's a nineteenth-century explorer, an esteemed member of The Society for the Exploration of Unknown Regions, and an inventor. With unknown regions growing fewer, he decides to plumb the depths of a mysterious bottomless lake situated in "one of the loneliest and most inaccessible parts of the Rocky Mountains of America."

To this end, he creates a Jules Vernesesque vehicle, a fish-like submarine powered by no clearly identifiable means, and descends into the lake, accompanied only by some animals.

Despite the remote and rugged destination, Flonatin's vessel contains a pretty cabinet's worth of Moët & Chandon and rum, and enough food to permit sumptuous feasts. He has snuff to take at will, and bolts of cloth from which he is able to fashion new clothes when his old ones wear out. There's something cockeyed and absurd about the story, though its attempts at humour play unevenly.

After chapters of Flin Flon exploring large caverns and strange phenomena, he finds a vast valley of gold and precious metals and a subterranean city, Esnesnon, illuminated by "electricity passing through vapour." The local insects make it seem as though "the gems from some jeweller's shop had taken wings," and the birds have "rainbow" plumage. The subterranean people have tails.

The novel becomes more overtly satiric at this point. Flin Flon encounters a vain ruler, Gubmuh, a spiritualist named Ytidrusba, and a masculine princess, Yobmot, among others. Many of the social expectations and conventions of 1905 also run backwards in this strange world. The subterraneans use gold to make common objects, but prize tin. Women have real power, and Muddock thus develops an extended and rather weakly-conceived satire of the suffragettes.

Flin Flon's lack of a tail marks him as the member of an inferior, regressive breed, and the inhabitants want to put him on display. He reacts with predictable indignation, feeling that, as a "fellow of the important Society for the Exploration of Unknown Regions, and enjoying the personal acquaintance of all the great men of the United States, from Mr. Barnum down to the President, for him to be treated in every way as his own countrymen would have treated a heathen Chinese or a naked savage from Equatorial Africa, was simply monstrous, and he felt that he must enter a protest." Protesting, alas, makes matters worse.

Eventually, Flin Flon escapes, only to learn... But that would be spoiling the rather rushed finale.

The Sunless Sea is not terrible, but neither is its author a Jules Verne or H.G. Wells. The writing is pure penny dreadful, while character development is almost non-existent. Much of the satire is dated. I think it likely the book would be utterly forgotten by this century, were it not for a prospector named Tom Creighton.

Creighton and his partners found several mineral deposits in Canada, including, in 1915, a high-grade deposit of copper near the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border. It happened he had read a certain fantastic novel (supposedly, after just finding an old copy somewhere), and the deposit made him think of the vast and valuable deposits encountered by the fictional Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin. He named it "Flin Flon." The town that established itself nearby subsequently took the name. Flin Flon, founded in 1927 and incorporated in 1933, belongs to Manitoba, though parts run over the border into Saskatchewan. Roughly 5000 people live there. In 1962, they had a statue built of the protagonist from a forgotten dime novel. American cartoonist Al Capp, of Li'l Abner fame, designed "Flinty's" statue, and the fictional explorer has become the town's mascot. Flin Flon remains known for mining, nature, and its local hockey team (the subject of a somewhat tedious 2018 documentary). But its greatest achievement may be preserving the memory of a book that would otherwise have been lost to history.

SciFiQuest 3020: Foresight is 3020

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