Today marks the 156th birthday of mad and maddening scientist Nikola Tesla, a man that science fiction writers and fans have practically taken to heart as a patron saint. There are a myriad of reasons why: his ingenuity. The fact that history proved him correct in matters concerning ideas about electricity that his rivals tried to bury. That sly moustache.
Tesla’s intriguing nature lends itself naturally to high-spirited tales of fiction, internet memes, and then some. Below, the staff lists some of their favorites.
Kate Beaton’s “Tesla: The Celibate Scientist” comic strip
Ladies always be standing in the way of Tesla’s science! (More bloomers in the machine?) This six-panel strip is such a perfect mixture of Nikola Tesla’s current fandom with his actual scientific and stage efforts. He truly was the Justin Bieber of his time. - Chris
Nikola Tesla turns out to be David Bowie in the film version of The Prestige
My first choice would have to be Tesla as portrayed in Christopher Priest’s The Prestige, which is a fantastic book, and of course the fact that David Bowie was cast in the movie version turns the awesomeness factor up to eleven. – Bridget
The end of Tesla’s life as chronicled in The Invention of Everything Else
This short literary novel by Samantha Hunt tells a possible tale of Tesla at the end of his life, post-World War II, cooped up with pigeons in the New Yorker Hotel with only just-hired hotel maid Louisa as regular company. The story is mostly concerned with the maid, who has two relatives who are absolutely certain they’ve constructed a time machine. The maid and her family are poor, but constantly striving for bigger things and the parallels between her family and Tesla are striking (and eventually, tragic.)
The novel takes pity on Tesla and the subdued nature in which it deals with Tesla stayed with me long after I read the book. Nikola is often imagined as larger than life, part of an encroaching whiz-bang science fiction future, and it’s refreshing to read a story where that pretense falls away.
In a larger sense, the story speaks to fans of science fiction, as well. You can strive and you can build the world you wish existed, but don’t ever forget that you also need to make the best of the world you’ve been given. Even if it ruins you. - Chris
Drunk History relates the rivalry between Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison (sorta NSFW)
It wasn’t until I was 22 years old when I found out that Thomas Edison was a total jerk and did everything in his power to screw over Nikola Tesla. I know a lot of people get this information in history class much younger, but for some reason, I didn’t. So, when it became apparent to me that Tesla was the true genius of electricity and not Edison it rocked my world. Then, years later I saw Drunk History’s very helpful video on Tesla in which I learned he was the “electric Jesus.”
If you haven’t seen this, you should watch it right away, mostly for John C. Reilly’s brilliant lip-sync portrayal of Tesla, but mostly for Crispin Glover’s sadistic and evil Thomas Edison. The part where Edison/Glover starts electrocuting animals is terrible/hilarious. I really like the part when Edison says “Fuck this. Alternating current is bad…” – Ryan
We barely scratched the surface, of course. What about his role in steampunk fiction, for example? Let us know what your favorite fiction and art involving Tesla is!
Stubby the Rocket is the mascot of Tor.com and saw Mark Twain there, crying.