09 July 2014

Review: The Empire of the Future edited by Richard Bleiler

Hardcover, 254 pages
Published 2013 (contents: 1888-1900)
Borrowed from the library
Read May 2014
Political Future Fiction: Speculative and Counter-Factual Politics in Edwardian Fiction, Volume 1: The Empire of the Future
edited by Richard Bleiler

Despite the series title, this book contains two pieces of Victorian-era future fiction: Samuel Barton's The Battle of the Swash, and The Capture of Canada (1888, US) and Robert William Cole's The Struggle for Empire: A Story of the Year 2236 (1900, UK). Both of them have been rarely (if ever) reprinted, and so I'm grateful for editor Richard Bleiler (a reference librarian at my home university, actually) for getting them out there.

The Battle of the Swash is a pretty typical piece of The Battle of Dorking-derived future fiction: Barton has an issue he wants to stump for, he presents a dire prediction of what will happen to America if no one listens to him! Though it turns out pretty good for America, as it ends up with Canada in its possession, so there you go. But it is dead boring.

The Struggle for Empire, on the other hand, is (as far as I know*) the first example of spaceship-to-spaceship combat in literature. This is where Star Wars is born. Indeed, it seems a pretty clear lineage from Griffith's aerial combat stories (like Angel of the Revolution) to Cole's work to E. E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman tales, except that it's doubtful Smith could have ever read this.

The plot and characterization and themes are all thin here, to say the least, but this is a lot of blasted fun. Spaceships swooping around, fleets annihilating each other, mega-weapons. It's just completely, awesomely gigantic and delightful. Even the racism is just over-the-top you have to enjoy it. (The Earth of the future and the galaxy are of course ruled by the Anglo-Saxon Empire, whose innate superiority is completely obvious to all obverers.)

Also hilarious: the bit where the narrator tells you all good women know that if your fiancé falls in love with another women, you should just be nice and let him out of the engagement without fuss. Dump a woman who wasn't so compliant, Cole?

* There is some space combat in Serviss's Edison's Conquest of Mars (1898), but it is spaceship-to-asteroid base if I remember correctly.

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