Sail On! Sail On!

"Sail On! Sail On!" is an alternate history short story by American writer Philip José Farmer, first published in Startling Stories 1952. In an alternative 1492, Christopher Columbus sets out to find a shortened route to China and South-East Asia across the Atlantic, financed by Ferdinand V and Isabella I of Spain. However, in this timeline, the Earth is flat, though scientists and philosophers have doubts about its geological provenance, and an Angelo Angelli is mentioned as proving Aristotle's axiom that objects of different weights drop with different velocities (which Galileo Galilei disproved in our world).

Sail On! Sail On!
by Philip José Farmer
CountryUnited States
Genre(s)Science fiction
Published inStartling Stories
Publication typeScience fiction magazine
PublisherStandard Magazines
Media typePulp magazine
Publication date1952

Radio technology exists in 1492, and the shipboard operator of a telegraph is a "Friar Sparks", although the principles are described in religious terms involving angels' winglength as a substitute for radio waves and the involvement of cherubim hurling themselves across the ether to send the signal (giving rise to "kilo-cherubs" as a measurement of frequency, denoted as "k c.", and "continuous wingheight", denoted as "c w", both radio terms in the real world). Psychology also exists, which means that Columbus's vessels do not turn back despite growing unease and ominous warning signs. It turns out that the Americas do not exist, and that this world is a disc, not a sphere; so, like other transatlantic travellers, Columbus and his colleagues sail over the edge of the world into Earth orbit, and never return from their mission.

Richard Garfinkle's alternate history novel Celestial Matters (1996) describes a more elaborated Aristotelian physics and geocentric cosmology, although its Earth is dominated by the "Middle Kingdom" of China and the Greek-centred Delian League and is capable of its own version of spaceflight according to its own laws of physics.


The song "Birds Without Legs," by Kevin Healey is inspired by "Sail On! Sail On!". The song also borrows images from Farmer's 1977 novel, The Dark Design, which contains a description of a mystical vision that parallels a passage in "Sail On! Sail On!".


  • Mary Brizzi: Readers Guide to Philip José Farmer: Mercer Island, Washington: Starmont House: 1981: ISBN 0-916732-05-3

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