“Dark Tides“, the dramatic third volume of “The Witch’s Box” is now available for purchase. In this one, the struggle between rebels and the Empire comes to a conclusion, ancient energies are awakened, and Imperial Princess Maihara keeps alive her ambition to become Empress. (to order, search for Kim J Cowie on Amazon.)
Note there is also a paperback edition. Both editions are available for purchase from 15 July 2021.
Aelita by Alexei Tolstoy , Raduga, 219pp, 1923, tr. Lucy Flaxman.
I found a 1958 USSR-printed edition of this early SF novel. By coincidence, I have also seen the 1924 Russian movie, which differs significantly from the book. The elderly Engineer Los builds a space rocket in his backstreet shed, with the intention of flying it to Mars, and is looking for a second man to accompany him. Signals have been received from Mars. The ex-soldier and adventurer Gusev shows up and is accepted. They take off and within hours are approaching Mars and manage to land in one piece. There follows a series of adventures with the Martians in which they learn something of the history of the Martians, who are descended both from the original inhabitants and from Atlanteans who fled Earth.
They are taken to the country house of a leading Martian, Tuscoob, partly to keep them isolated from the Martian population. Los becomes infatuated by Tuscoob’s daughter Aelita, while the restless Gusev flirts with a servant girl and escapes to the city, where he foments an uprising of the worker class.
Tuscoob meanwhile has a desperate plan to halt the degeneration of the Martians by destroying the principal city and forcing the Martians into the countryside. Gusev’s uprising is repressed with a considerable death toll, and the city is destroyed.
The science element in the novel is rather wide of the mark, especially the backyard rocket, but little was known about Mars when the book was written. Of more interest is the political aspect, as the action on Mars is an obvious reference to the Bolshevik revolution, then only a few years old.
The novel is written in an odd style, with short sentences of roughly equal length, but I have no idea whether this reflects the original Russian or is an artifact of translation. It is quite a good read and can be enjoyed as a story as well as for its historical interest. The book appears to be currently out of print in English editions.
The Biography of a Serbian Diplomat, by Lena A. Yovitchitch
This book was one I bought some years ago at a second-hand book fair. It was published in 1939, and covers events from the mid-19th century to the First World War, and sheds a light on long forgotten people and events in countries that may no longer exist. It follows Yovitchitch’s career through diplomatic postings to London, Rome and elsewhere, and gives a glimpse into the gentlemanly practice of diplomacy, and Yovitchitch’s encounters with royalty. Diplomatic conversations and correspondence were generally in French. Yovitchitch’s Scottish wife and his growing family are also mentioned. The book covers a few sensational but long-forgotten events, such as the assassination of the King and Queen of Servia, and Turkish occupation of parts of the Balkans. It also gives an insight into conditions in Servia and the Balkans at the time. The book contains 15 photographs of personages.
This book would be of interest to readers with an interest in history, or maybe authors seeking to write historical or fantasy fiction.
The book is still available from online sellers of used books, but the prices are not cheap.
The Rise of the Robots by Martin Ford, Oneworld, 334pp, £9.99 Technology and the threat of mass unemployment.
Whenever a new machine is introduced to replace human labour, we are told that this is progress, and that the humans displaced will find less deadening jobs elsewhere, that they can be retrained to work in other industries, and so on. Who still believes this? For many people, the search for a job entails hundreds of applications and futile visits to the jobcentre, and for those in work, it means a struggle to make ends meet on the minimum wage or a zero-hours contract. Well-paid jobs for blue-collar workers or for the middle classes are disappearing. Why? What is happening?
Martin Ford’s book provides many of the answers. The replacement of mass employment by automation has been going on for many decades, and the effects have garnered little public attention. It’s only when one is forced to look at ‘then’ and ‘now’ that the differences are apparent. Films of factories taken fifty or sixty years ago show thousands of workers streaming out of the gates in cloth caps and filling the streets. The typical new facility of today is an automated factory, or a vast datacentre in which you’d need a sniffer dog to find an employee anywhere.
As Ford points out, advanced technology systems being developed today have the potential to make almost any routine job, whether in a workshop or at a keyboard, obsolete. Mass production in factories is now largely automated, and a host of other jobs are under attack. Driverless cars are news, and in a few years will be threatening hundreds of thousands of jobs. If you can summon up a driverless car to take you where you want to go, who needs taxi drivers? Or delivery van drivers? Or do you need to own a car at all? If you don’t, the number of cars required to serve the population will be far less. Meaning fewer dealerships, filling stations, car parks and repair shops. The disruption caused by Uber will be as nothing compared with this.
A popular job for newly qualified lawyers is searching for documents relevant to a legal case. This can be automated too.
Do you eat at McDonalds? There is one in Milton Keynes where the row of clerks at the counter has been replaced by rows of terminals where patrons can select and order their meals. Catering is one of the remaining providers of mass employment (admittedly not well paid) but this too is now under attack.
There are statistics that show how while the number of people in the labour market is rising, the number of hours worked stagnates, and the wages and salaries paid remain static or fall.
The trend is clear enough and leads to a future in which a super-rich elite holds most of the wealth and the remainder of the population struggles to find any work or gain any income. And how will this affect the economy? A capitalist economy needs mass consumption, but robots don’t consume, and people on the breadline consume very little. The outlook for the economy is not good.
To put it plainly: No jobs = no spending = no mass market = no economy.
Ford offers a possible solution – that all citizens be given a guaranteed income so that they can feed and house themselves, and carry on participating in the economy, even if they don’t work. the cost of this could be met, Ford suggests, by reassigning the sums spent on jobseekers allowance, housing benefit, disability benefit, etc, and their inefficient administration, increasing the taxes on the rich and making international corporations actually pay some tax. Surprisingly, this has been looked into in a small way in a few countries, but I’m not holding my breath for this to happen in the UK or the USA any time soon. You can easily deduce how Tory politicians will react to this idea, since they have not grasped that Austerity is having the same effect on the economy as the destruction of employment…
Read this book.
A video by Clara Casian of author/publisher Michael Butterworth in conversation with Bob Dickinson is available: Vimeo Also on Youtube This should be of great interest to readers of Butterworth’s work. Other related videos are available if you follow the first link.
See also an exhibition visit video featuring New Worlds, etc. Bury Art Museum
The Bomber War – Arthur Harris and the Allied Bomber Offensive 1939-1945, by Robin Neillands, 464 pp.
This book is noteworthy in that it discusses both the RAF and the USAAF campaigns in roughly equal detail. Neillands sets out in his book to defend Arthur Harris, the Commander in Chief of Bomber Command, against revisionist criticisms of his campaign. Harris was committed to a policy of area bombing of German cities. However he did not invent this policy, which was sanctioned from higher up the command structure, and was regarded at the time with general approval both by the authorities and the general population.
Shockwave: The Countdown to Hiroshima by Stephen Walker, 352pp £20 Another war history book, this time with tie-in to Japan and a manga reviewed a few weeks ago. This is a countdown to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. It is as far as possible entirely factual, being based on written records and personnel involved in the American program, and survivors on the Japanese side. Even though one knows what is going to happen, this is an account that is hard to put down. In the prologue, two lovers spend some time together in a beautiful garden in Hiroshima, a few hours before the bomb is dropped. Then we are taken to the Trinity bomb test, three weeks earlier. The book describes the personalities of the leading players, both the military officers and scientists on the American side, and the Japanese diplomats, some of whom were trying to secure a negotiated peace. The technology of the bombs and their complex fuzing is described in detail. The scale of the Manhattan Project and the arrangements for bomb delivery is staggering. It’s often quoted that it cost two billion dollars (at 1945 prices), but when one reads that the 509th Group used up a whole set of expensive B-29 bombers just in practicing bombing runs and the special diving turn, and then they just ordered up a second set, and that they had their own base at Tinian island, one starts to see where the money went. No effort and no expense was spared to get it done as quickly and securely as possible. As to the morality of it all, it came towards the end of a brutal war in the Pacific, in which neither side paid much attention to the rules of warfare. On the American side, only the scientists entertained any second thoughts about the morality of what they were doing. On the Japanese side, while some officials wanted a negotiated peace, they were afraid of the fanatics in the war cabinet who wanted to resist on the main islands to the end, insisting that death was better than dishonour, and that surrender was unmentionable. Only when the Japanese cabinet had seen the results of two atomic bombs was the Emperor able to over-rule the fanatics and agree a surrender. Even then it was a conditional surrender, with the Japanese allowed to keep their Emperor, rather than the unconditional surrender the Americans had in mind (and which was imposed on Germany). The Russians were also an important element. They fobbed off Japanese diplomatic efforts towards a negotiated peace, planning to switch allegiance and grab as much Eastern and Japanese territory as they could, before the war ended. The Americans and British, alarmed by Soviet advances in eastern Europe, were keen to impress the Russians with the power of their new bomb. The effect of the bomb on the population of Hiroshima was, of course, horrible. One eye-witness describes seeing a stream of blackened monsters with tattered flesh and swollen lips, that had once been human, streaming out of the city. Of the prologue scene, the young man was seriously injured, his beautiful girlfriend was never seen again, and the garden was destroyed. (As a coda, while it’s not mentioned in the book, a visit to Bletchley Park reveals that the codebreakers had decrypted the cargo manifests of cargo submarines travelling between Germany and Japan. They include neatly a ton of uranium shipped to Japan. The Americans must have wondered what it was for….)
La Squab – The Black Rose of Auschwitz , David Britton, Savoy Books, 334pp. Publication 16 April 2012.
” La Squab by David Britton represents a departure from the author’s reputation as the creator of Lord Horror, the last novel to be banned in Britain.
Masquerading as a book for children, the primary inspirations of La Squab are The Wind in the Willows -if Grahame’s classic had been re-written by Adolf Hitler! -and the ‘Fudge & Speck’ comic strip created by celebrated Beano cartoonist Ken Reid.
At once loony and dangerous, La Squab relates a picaresque river journey down a Thames whose metaphysical qualities exist only in Mr Britton’s imagination. Along the ways favourite children’s characters such as Tiger Tim, Angel Face and Weary Willie & Tired Tim are encountered, together with real-life historical figures Alfred Jarry, Sigmund Freud, Leni Riefenstahl, and Lord Horror’s treacherous doppelganger, Lord Haw-Haw. The final destination is a submerged Auschwitz conjured afresh beneath the mighty Thames. There La Squab’s playful romp through literature and topsy turvy morals reveals that all is not always well in the end!”
So what did I think of it? This is the fourth of David Britton’s “Lord Horror” novels, the others being Lord Horror (1989), Motherfuckers, the Auschwitz of Oz (1996) and Baptised in the Blood of Millions (2000), also published by Savoy. (see Panegyric) “La Squab”, billed rather ironically as “A nuggerty treasure book for children of all ages” is profusely illustrated and inspired visually by the “Fudge” comic strips of Manchester cartoonist Ken Reid. I loved the illustrations, most of which feature a distinctly naughty-looking La Squab. Most are in black & white, but you do get a pair in colour at the front of the book, and several on the outer dust-jacket. La Squab, a malevolent moppet who first appeared (looking rather younger) in Savoy’s “Meng & Ecker” comic #9, is, along with Lord Horror, a major character in this book. In the text, Britton continues with his long-term project to attack anti-Semitism by means of brutal and gory satire (for nothing could be more brutal or gory than Auschwitz). In this book Britton seems to have toned it down a bit, for while there are corpses, horrors, and razoring aplenty, there’s no actual sex. It takes the form of a fantastical journey along the Thames, where we meet such characters as a talking, mermaid-eating water-mill, and other monsters such as the wonderfully named Lammy Pie, the Splattersplooch, and the Jolly-Boy. The text constantly refers to elements of popular English or more highbrow world culture. References to children’s book characters, such as Tiger Tim, from an earlier era will miss the mark with some readers. There’s also a talking crematorium, and a boat with Hitler on it, for the Auschwitz thing becomes more overt as the journey progresses. While Britton is trying to make a serious point, this book is, with its fantastic scenes and spot-the reference intellectual games, quite a lot of fun. And I already mentioned the Kris Guido illustrations. It also makes a good introduction to David Britton’s other work. Since this is “masquerading as a book for children” you might not want to give it to your kids, though :-).
As a bonus, the book contains a CD of Fenella Fielding reading from the first two chapters of the book. For Savoy info see Savoy Books
Lord Horror; Reverbstorm, text: David Britton, art: John Coulthart, published by Savoy Books, 11 Feb 2013, 344 pages, £25. This is a graphic collaboration between writer David Britton, author of four Lord Horror novels, and John Coulthart, known for his promotional and CD cover art, and also for his book of Lovecraft-derived comic strips and illustrations, The Haunter of the Dark. Reverbstorm was originally published in serial form and is now being presented in a single volume for the very first time.
In the nightmare metropolis of Torenburgen, new York’s Art Deco architecture has fused with the termination machinery of Auschwitz. In this urban inferno Jessie Matthews is singing Sondheim, James Joyce is at work on a new novel, and Lord Horror, ex-Nazi propoganda broadcaster and Torenburgen’s model citizen, is stalking the streets in search of fresh victims for his razors. Murderous apes infest the alleyways, Ononoes feast on the living and the dead, and trains arrive with bodies destined for the charnel furnaces.
As in the Lord Horror novels, Britton counters the ghastliness of Fascism with a ghastly ironic satire. The satire has sometimes been lost on those offended by Britton’s works. His first Lord Horror novel was the last work of fiction to be banned in Britain. This graphic work features the singer Jessie Matthews (long safely dead) as the muse of Lord Horror (who was inspired by William Joyce a.k.a. Lord HawHaw, the wartime traitor and Nazi broadcaster). So what did I think of it? The black-and-white art by Coulthart is great, and some full-page panels feverishly evoke a nightmare world of death, extermination machinery and horrid creatures. Others echo images from Picasso’s Guernica, or the post-impressionist work of Georges Seurat. Some sections are blackly humorous, for instance when Lord Horror sings about an encounter with the police: “A-standing on the corner, a-swinging my chain, along came a copper, and he took my name …” Apparently this is a quote from a real rockabilly song. I liked the caption texts which reflect various cultural sources (listed in the appendix). Collectors may care to note that this volume includes Reverbstorm #8, previously unpublished. The art for #1 – #7 has been re-captioned.
David Britton, Savoy Books, Oct 2017, 300pp, £20. Razor King is
David Britton’s seventh novel, the latest in his series of
absurdist novels about the Jewish Holocaust.
novel has a loose narrative of sorts, but mainly consists of a series
of fantastical series of scenes and descriptions of three or four
main characters, the razor-wielding Lord Horror, engaged in
dispatching Jews with his razor, and his two grotesque associates
Meng, a sexually voracious half-man half-woman, and his emaciated and
more reflective brother Ecker. There is also Meng’s pubescent
daughter, the winsome La Squab. There are also two talking cars with
libidos and an alien boy made of confectionery. The settings involve
among other things crematoria, the Wild West and a ship crewed by
rats. Britton certainly has a vivid imagination and a knack for
putting his creations on the page. Needless to say, Britton does
not in any way endorse anti-semitism, but is attempting to expose its
psychopathic and un-empathetic nature. Continuing a trend begun
with La Squab in 2012, Razor King is illustrated throughout by Kris
Guidio, this time entirely in full colour. The book contains thirty
double-spread full colour illustrations, depicting Britton’s
grotesque characters, along with crematoria, Ken Reid’s elf
characters Fudge and Speck (from Reid’s comic book republished by
Savoy) and various characters redolent of Edgar Rice Burrough’s
books. The images contain some cartoon nudity.
Let’s be clear, this book is for adults only, and further to that, it’s for adults not easily offended. This is a brutal satire on anti-semitism, and everything in it references Hitler and the Jewish holocaust. While reading it however, I was forcibly reminded of a more recent event, the ethnic cleansing of the Rohinga from Burma. ‘Razor King’ is a significant exercise in transgressive speculative fiction, extending on an established tradition, and deserves some serious attention. The artwork alone would make it worth examination. (CD).