05 November 2015

Review: John Brunner Presents Kipling's Science Fiction

Hardcover, 178 pages
Published 1992 (contents: 1893-1932)

Acquired January 2013
Read February 2013
John Brunner Presents Kipling's Science Fiction
by Rudyard Kipling

I have no idea who John Brunner is or why he's so important as to get his name in the title of this book,* which collects Kipling's science fiction output: nine stories across forty years, running the gamut from the nascency of the genre to its Golden Age. I didn't find them very interesting, unfortunately, with the exception of "With the Night Mail: A Story of 2000 A.D." (1909), one of Kipling's two tales of a future where the world is dominated by the Aerial Board of Control-- this one was the most imaginable and accessible. What's a shame, though, is that whenever I read about "With the Night Mail," I see mentioned the fact that on its original publication, it was surrounded by advertisements from the year 2000, simulating the context of the futuristic magazine in which the story ostensibly appeared. As an exercise in worldbuilding it sounds amazing and ahead of its time... so why does no one (to my knowledge) actually reprint all those advertisements with the story? It seems to me that the story arguably has not been reprinted in its entirety if you omit that material.

Though I think Kipling was an excellent short story writer, his tales that can be classified as pure sf do not show off his talents at their best; his entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, for example, seems to indicate that his tales of the fantastic are better, and I know from personal experience that he's done excellent realist fiction. Fred Lerner argues that Kipling's real impact on contemporary sf comes from his realist tales of India: "Kipling faced the same technical problem that the science fiction writer faces: the need to make an alien time and place understandable to his audience. Whether the scene be India under the British Raj or Mars under the Solar Federation, the reader needs to know the essential differences in biology, technology, and sociology that govern the characters and their actions. This information needs to be provided without interfering with the narrative. The reader wants a story, not a lesson." Essentially, in his depictions of India, Kipling established a model for immersive worldbuilding that sf still follows today.

* Does this make me an uncultured Philistine? Someone please let me know if I should have heard of him.

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