My Early Dreamers reading is getting past the easy stuff. In the category of Invasion Literature, I am not only getting out of English language works or translations to English, I’m getting down to the nasty stuff: racism and genocide. What else can you call it when Jack London heroically describes the annihilation by bio-warfare of the entire Chinese race, and the hunting down of the few survivors?
Elsewhere, we have “Capt. Danrit” with his “thousands of white pages soiled day after day by a national hero of France” (he was killed early in WW1, 21 February 1916), who cranked out more patriotic victory before the war than anyone else from 1888 to his death in battle. His novels are just huge, and he dumped them out like some Franco-military Barbara Cartland.
- Capitaine Danrit; P. de Pardiellan (1896). La Guerre de Demain. Le Journal de Guerre Du Lieutenant Von Piefke. Illustrations by Paul de Sémant. (Tomorrow’s War. The War Journal of Lt. Von Piefke)
- Capitaine Danrit (1889). La Guerre de Demain. Grand Récit Patriotique & Militaire. Illustrations by Paul Cousturier. (Tomorrow’s War. Grand Patriotic and Military Account.)
- Capitaine Danrit (1891). La guerre en rase campagne. Flammarion. (The War in Open Country)
- Capitaine Danrit (1894). La guerre au vingtième siècle: l’invasion noire. (The War of the Twentieth Century: The Black Invasion)
- Capitaine Danrit (1902). Les exploits d’un sous-marin. (Exploits of a Submarine)
- Émile Augustin Cyprien Driant (1904). La guerre fatale, France-Angleterre. E. Flammarion. (The Fatal War)
- Capitaine Danrit (1905). L’Invasion Jaune. Illustrated by G. Dutriac. (The Yellow Invasion)
- Capitaine Danrit (1905). Ordre du Tzar: de Samarcande à L’hassa. Flammarion. (Command of the Tsar: from Samarkand to Lhasa)
- Émile Driant (1906). Vers un nouveau Sedan. Juven. (Toward a New Sedan)
- Paul Combes; Émile Driant (1906). La Guerre possible. J. Tallandier. (The Possible War)
- Émile Augustin Cyprien Driant (1908). Guerre maritime et sous-marine. E. Flammarion. (Maritime and Submarine War, and for all I know it’s non-fiction: haven’t gotten this far )
- Émile Augustin Cyprien Driant (1909). L’aviateur du Pacifique. E. Flammarion. (The Aviator of the Pacific)
- Émile Augustin Cyprien Driant (1909). Un dirigeable au Pole Nord. Flammarion. (A Dirigible at the North Pole)
- Capitaine Danrit (1910). La Guerre Fatale. Les Exploits D’un Sous-marin. The Sunken Submarine …. Translation by Frederick Lawton. With Forty-eight Illustrations. London.
- Émile Augustin Cyprien Driant (1910). L’Alerte. Illustrated by G. Dutriac. E. Flammarion. (The Alert)
- Capitaine Danrit (1912). Robinsons souterrains. Flammarion. (Robinsons Underground)
- Émile Augustin Cyprien Driant (1913). Le grand pèlerinage a la Mecque. E. Flammarion. (part of L’invasion noire)
- Émile Augustin Cyprien Driant (1913). Fin de l’islam devant Paris. E. Flammarion. (The End of Islam before Paris)
- Émile Augustin Cyprien Driant (1913). La mobilisation Africaine. E. Flammarion.
Now, I can understand a jingoistic Frenchman wanting to write revenge for the loss of the Franco-Prussian War (we’ve been known to refer to WWI as FPII). With the Napoleonic Wars not unforgotten, I can even understand a little indulgence in beating the snot out of the British, Royal Navy and all.
What keeps confusing me, though, is that racism then isn’t what we normally think of as racism. It’s huge and inclusive and has room to hate and despise millions more than most of us could manage to. The Russians are involved in getting the Japanese invasion of France going in The Yellow Invasion (and Chinese mandarins carrying the Japanese Emperor’s litter), and the Turks are lumped in with the Africans for a Black Invasion. It just has a grandiose lunacy to it that keeps me going, “Nah! This can’t be serious.”
Except, if you look around, there still are people running around, and filling up electrons on the Internet with spittle-spraying loathing of everyone outside their tiny little boundaries of religion, language, and national politics.
I know that a great deal of what is being done in the name of steampunk is just goofy good fun, and why not — it’s science fiction Snickers bars. But it occurs to me that science fiction and fantasy based in the 19th century is being as highly romanticized as the Arthurian high fantasy before people thought to bring it down to some really medieval explorations by inventing gritty medievalesque fantasy. Here in steampunk is a chance to remember how vast the gulfs, really, between that world and this in terms of how oppressive normal Euro-Western society was, and how far we have climbed from there — and how dangerously close we are to falling back into that dark place of automatic hatred. If Driant thought he had reason to fear Muslims and Africans, all Orientals including Russians — did he have more or less reason than we? How, facing that, do we keep before us what ugliness and evil that brings into our hearts, so that we do not slide back toward what he (and so many others) were?
We can still have our Snickers bars, but maybe sometimes we need to write or read the unpleasant, unromantic side of steampunk possibility, use what was there to look at racism, sexism, homophobia, and remind ourselves not to go back there, remind ourselves why we fought so hard to escape that world.
It’s a whole genre out there in early science fiction, from the roots of steampunk through dieselpunk-inspiring eras. I’m collecting a whole batch of Yellow Peril works, now, and the less common Black Peril shows up now and then. This is going to be slow going because I can’t take too much of this. It’s not like the romps around the solar system. Its more like skin diving in sewage. If anything, the occasional armoured airship and elephant, or electric bicycle corps gives one a break in the unpleasantness.
I hope you’re having a much more wholesome time with your books.