14 January 2016

Early SF Tales from the Eaton Collection: The Sack of London by the Highland Host: A Romance of the Period, Narrated by Jingo Jones, M.P.

Hardcover, 336 pages
Published 1900
Borrowed from the Eaton Collection
Read January 2015
The Sack of London by the Highland Host: A Romance of the Period, Narrated by Jingo Jones, M.P.

This book is about a group of Highlanders who attack London because of an unflattering stereotypical cartoon published in Punch; I read the novel two days after the Charlie Hebdo shooting, which made the premise much less farcical than its pseudonymous author intended, I'm sure. I think the book is intended to be funny, but I didn't find it to be so, and judging by the one contemporary review I dug up, neither did readers of the time, so I guess we can't blame that on cultural difference.

There's lot of Scottish “comedy” at first, with long, lengthy arguments and invasion planning and such, but then it turns quite serious when the Highlanders dynamite much of London: suddenly it’s death and fire and panic. The book justifies the Highlanders' violence by the fact that they work really hard to minimize casualties, carrying out rescue operations right away. And the book also argues this tragedy will all lead to a better, stronger Britain: with London’s importance reduced, everyone else’s will increase

So, then in what was a comedy and then was a terrorism novel, all of a sudden you get very detailed political reform ideas about the military, Irish self-government, criminal sentencing, poor laws, pensions, homeless, asylums, liquor taxes, endowments of the Churches of England and Scotland, university education and technical institutions, hereditary pensions, business tax rates, very specific payment rates for Old Age Pension Fund, the Houses of Lords and Commons, Free Trade, and the Boer Wars. It's about as exciting as it sounds.

But then the Royal Navy turns up, the ringleaders of the rebellion are killed, and everything goes back to the way it was. Weird and sort of inexplicable on the whole. Everett Bleiler suggest that the writer actually was an M.P.; maybe if you were in Parliament/from Scotland in the 1890s, you'd be amused/interested, but I know I wasn't.

I did dig up the actual 17 January 1900 Punch cartoon that inspired the book:
Yeah, I don't get it either. Highlanders really like oatmeal, I guess?

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