31 December 2015

Early SF Tales from the Eaton Collection: The Stolen Submarine by George Griffith

Hardcover, 320 pages
Published 1904
Borrowed from the Eaton Collection
Read January 2015
The Stolen Submarine: A Tale of the Russo-Japanese War
by George Griffith

Here I am, I'm George Griffith, and I'm reading the newspaper. In it I learn that war is brewing between Japan and Russia. "Great!" I cry. "This gives me a flimsy pretext upon which to hang my most recent recycling of my favorite plot: advanced military technology used to terrorize the world by a band of renegades!" Yup, it's his sixth stab at this exact same storyline.

Despite the fact that he ought to be an old pro at it by this point, the narrative seems to escape Griffith's control. There are foster brothers, each of whom is part of a pair of biological brothers, plus a pair of sisters (one good, one manipulative), and also a pair of twins. There's also a pirate queen, a Russian spy/princess who decides to break out on her own, tired of working for the government, and as always, there's nothing as sexy to George Griffith as a woman with the power of bloody destruction at her fingertips. (I wonder what he thought of Zalma, which ripped him off but perfected the form.)

The gist of it is that an experimental French submarine is stole by its crew, as they're secretly working for a British industrialist; they then re-steal it from him and sell it to the Russians. To defend the Japanese, a British inventor  makes both a submarine and an air-ship and uses them on behalf of Japan, and since he's British, his submarine is of course more awesome.

As always, the mild-mannered British inventor, Mark in this case, turns out to be very good at killing people as he rains death on Russia from the air: "Who am I, after all, that I should wield the thunderbolts of Jove, and fling death and destruction from the skies on those helpless people down yonder? Still, I promised you—and it’s got to be done. Anyhow, this is mercy compared with what happened at Blagowestchensk,* and the most merciful way of waging war is, after all, the most merciless." So, once again typically for Griffith, bloody massacres are okay for reasons of both utilitarianism and just that everyone else does it, though there is the fascinating realization that the most clinical ways of killing are the most barbaric. Also, like in so many Griffith novels, aerial violence is the threat that will prevent all future warfare: "This must be the last war fought on land or sea or in the air, and that is why I refuse to tell even his Majesty himself the secret of the motive power which has given me […] the command of the air."

The book ends with a submarine-vs.-submarine duel where Mark kills everyone, but at least he feels bad about it.

* The 1900 massacre of 5000-8000 Chinese civilians by Russian troops.

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