Go back to article: ‘Not one voice speaking to many’: E C Large, wireless, and science fiction fans in the mid-twentieth century


In all the ways discussed – the cheap power of naming, technical obscurantism, the discouragement of the amateur, and the obligatory, one-way communication from ‘them’ – the all-wave superhet came to disappoint. Many if not all of these seeds were sown in the late 1930s and are visible in the pages of Wireless World; they come to fruition in Large’s 1956 novel.

Dawn in Andromeda follows something like a William Golding plot; original flaws in the community crack open into full-blown treachery and warfare. The first killing, in the novel’s final chapter, gives both sides pause for thought. And it is at this fraught moment that the wireless set is brought out. It is trumpeted as ‘the instrument of our deliverance’, but the grandiosity of this claim is belied – and pleasingly so – by the geekish, otherworldliness of its constructors as they emerge blinking into the daylight, still wanting to tinker with it just a little bit more.

But what is their wireless going to receive, isolated as the colonists are in distant space? Here Large takes both a cheap technological gimmick and a non-Earth psychogeography from science fiction. The set has been fitted with a fictional feature, a ‘two-way interpenetration’ that means it can pick up the sounds of the universe without the need for broadcasting equipment. As the colonists range through the dial they hear the sounds of comets and meteorites, oceans and birdsong, until at last:

…voices succeeded the sweet music, and the voices were their own. Not one voice speaking to many, but all to be heard… (p 282)

And from these, the voice of God is heard, repeating his faith (expressed at the book’s very opening) that there is good in humanity after all. A rainbow appears, resting on piers that are ‘the faith of science’ (p 282). The ending of the novel, then, holds open the tension between wireless at its two frequencies: the promise of science for all, on the one hand, and on the other the constant danger of its being made obscure and commodified. One is reminded of early enthusiasm for the Internet, lauded, as the wireless once was, as being at once the prime means of mediating science, and the zenith of science’s instantiation. The public history of wireless, re-tuned through fiction, may just help us think about participation in the current era.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/170802/007