The fifteen selections in this collection, edited by David Ketterer, are grouped under three headings. “Whimsical Wonders” includes two sketches that Mark Twain wrote during his early years in the West. “Petrified Man” (written as a hoax in 1862) describes a stone human figure discovered in western Nevada. After a local judge holds an inquest, the jury rules that the deceased died from protracted exposure. “Earthquake Almanac” (1865) predicts the end of the world, advising readers on how to prepare for this event.
Responding to public anxiety about a new comet, “A Curious Pleasure Excursion” (1874) announces that Mark Twain and P. T. Barnum have leased the celestial traveler. With a million staterooms and numerous amenities, the comet offers unparalleled comfort to anyone wishing to book passage for a voyage through the solar system that will last until 1991.
“The Curious Republic of Gondour” (1875) describes a utopian country in which suffrage is universal. Because citizens receive extra votes if they have good character, a strong intellect, or property, nearly all have abandoned gambling and speculating. Only the most distinguished citizens—including many women—are elected to office.
A deceased sea captain narrates “Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven” (1909). The captain finds heaven to be unimaginably vast, containing beings from so many worlds that it is hard to find anyone who has even heard of Earth. Stormfield’s observations overturn almost every Christian preconception that he brings with him.
(The entire section is 651 words.)