Cyrano de Bergerac is best remembered for the size of his nose and his excellent swordsmanship, thanks to the famous 1897 play by Edmond Rostand. But the connection between the Cyrano of the play and the seventeenth-century nobleman is purely nominal. The real Cyrano wielded a sharp pen, and in tow science fiction novels that satirized authority proved himself something of a prophet as well.

Born in Paris in 1619, Cyrano de Bergerac was among the first of a long line of science fiction writers to forecast new technologies. His predictions appear in two scientific romances, one set on the moon, the other on the sun, both of which were published after his death in 1655. (They are now published together in English as Other Worlds.) In them Cyrano described such inventions as the phonograph and tape recorder, as well as mobile homes and electric light bulbs.

Cyrano also proposed several methods of space travel. His fire-cracker-propelled rockets resemble the multi-stage rockets that were developed three centuries later to send astronauts to the moon. Another method of propulsion he described, involving a power plant open at both ends, is similar to the modern ram-jet engine. Cyrano also suggested, 300 years before the idea was borrowed by writer Erich von Daniken in Chariots of the Gods?, that the gods and mythological beings of our past were actually travelers from outer space. But not all Cyrano’s ideas were as brilliant or as original. He suggested that humans would be able to travel to the moon by fastening the dew-filled bottles to their body. The sun, he thought, would suck up the dew and so pull the person into space!