07 April 2016

Early SF Tales from the Eaton Collection: The Invasion of New York; or, How Hawaii Was Annexed by J. H. Palmer

Hardcover, 248 pages
Published 1897
Borrowed from the Eaton Collection
Read January 2015
The Invasion of New York; or, How Hawaii Was Annexed
by J. H. Palmer

There are some works of literature from the past we make excuses: "It was a different time. They didn't know any better." And there are times this is okay, when people are straining to work out new moral standards in an era with different one. The Invasion of New York deserves no such concession. This is a shit book, with shit writing and shit politics and shit ethics. It's interesting as a relic of an ugly moment in American history (and one that's still with us today), but it has no redeeming literary merit of any sort, even in the context of often-rocky 1890s proto-science fiction.

In brief: At the ceremony of the annexation of Hawaii, 10,000 Japanese infiltrate the city; meanwhile, Spain amasses a fleet in Cuba. Both of these actions prompt an immediate response. Battleships and guns are catalogued exhaustively and lovingly as the United States attacks Havana. Seriously, you can sense J. H. Palmer's hard on. The Spanish sneak around the American fleet and attack New York, but don't worry; America kills 'em all anyway. The Japanese bombard San Francisco; in retaliation, after recapturing Hawaii, America continues on to Japan and bombs the hell out of 'em. Whoo, America!

Here are some choice bits of jingoism/racism:
  • A lieutenant from the Maine who's been captured in Hawaii gives his report: "all the indignities of his position forced themselves upon him in overpowering strength, and with a shout of rage he threw himself upon the Japanese guard on his left and seized him by the throat, nor could his grasp be released until a lifeless mass the Japanese was flung to the ground." (22-3)
  • The reaction to learning about the Japanese attack on Hawaii: "There was no debate; a desperation born of a nation insulted, of a flag outraged and dishonored, animated Republicans and Democrats; there was but one sentiment in one word. War! War to the Spanish cowards who slaughtered helpless women and starved their children! War to the Japanese upstarts who defied the progressive civilizers of the West! War! Horrid! Cruel! but war on all who dared to even speak of the glorious flag with derision!" (34) Yeah, say something about our flag, and we'll kill ya. Freedom of speech!
  • I don't know anything about J. H. Palmer, but he still seems bitter about the Civil War: "There had been another war, not altogether of the past, a cruel internal conflict, fought for a principle, two principles, for a principle involving integrity of government, a principle of property rights; but a war tolerable by reason of its mistakes. Now there must be war, not to place a North against a South, not to free a slave and impoverish a million; but because Time was ripe for War." (57) Dag, how much it stinks to free slaves if it makes some people poor!
  • Well, at least destroying San Francisco was a boon for urban planning: "Instead of bewailing the destruction of a beautiful city, steps were immediately taken to rebuild everything worth rebuilding; to seize the opportunity to correct mistakes made I first laying out San Francisco. New buildings were projected and commenced, streets widened in places, more open spaces provided for, and the city in many ways improved from an æsthetic and business point of view" (107-8)
  • America retaliates on Japan: "In the morning, at the first streak of day the bombardment was recommenced. No sentiment about this—this was war. This was what Japan wanted, this was what the fleet was here to give. And the flimsy structures were battered, were given up to fire, were demolished, until ruin covered everything. Still white flags were seen everywhere on the shore." (202)
Go America! But seriously, don't read this book; it's one of the worst I've ever read. Jingoistic shit with no real story or characters or ideas.

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