Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The Angel of the Revolution: A Tale of the Coming Terror by George Griffith

Dreary world-war fantasy with racist aftertaste
The Angel of the Revolution, a novel by British author George Griffith, was originally serialized in 1893 issues of the periodical Pearson’s Weekly. It is a work of science fiction that is set in the near future of 1903. A young scientist named Richard Arnold, working in his own private laboratory, has invented a flying machine. A major advance over the technology of his time, Arnold’s invention is not merely a modified balloon but an actual powered flying machine capable of great speed, agile maneuverability, and a heavy carrying capacity. So far, however, Arnold has only been able to construct a scale model of his design. He lacks the money to build a full-sized prototype. At the moment of his greatest financial difficulty, he is approached by a mysterious man named Colston who offers to help him bring his concept into production. Colston introduces Arnold to a secret organization of anarchists and nihilists who call themselves the Brotherhood of Freedom, though the rest of the world refers to them as The Terrorists. The Brotherhood wants to use Arnold’s flying machine to crush the world’s military forces, in particular those of the Russian Tsar, in order to bring about world peace. Being sympathetic to their ideals, Arnold joins the Brotherhood and becomes their admiral of the air.

The Angel of the Revolution is a very well-written pulp fiction adventure novel. Griffith’s prose is consistently brisk, often exciting, and surprisingly fresh. His writing is less antiquated than even exemplary contemporaries like H. G. Wells or Jules Verne. While the way Griffith tells his story is quite commendable, however, what he actually has to say is not so appealing. This is really an ugly story, the purpose of which is to rack up as much carnage and as high a body count as possible. One really has to have an appetite for destruction to appreciate this novel. Much of the plot revolves around troop movements and airpower strategy and reads like some pompous wargamer pontificating over a game of Risk.

Though the Brotherhood are supposedly men with no nation, the story clearly favors the Brits over the evil Russians. The Tsar’s regime is depicted as institutionalized torture and murder, yet the Brotherhood itself doesn’t come across as much more humane. We are supposed to admire these “heroes” as they mercilessly destroy all opposition before them, but their methods and their speech ring of fascism. The system with which they propose to replace the existing world order is vaguely socialist, but in the hands of the psychotic Brotherhood it would no doubt devolve into an iron-handed oppression even worse than the Soviet Union’s heyday of human rights violations.

In addition, there’s the racism. In Griffith’s world war England and Germany team up against an alliance of France, Russia, and Italy, thus pitting the palest, blondest nations in Europe against the swarthy Southerners and Slavs. The novel explicitly states in several passages that the Anglo-Saxon race is destined to inherit the Earth. Once they conquer Europe, the Brotherhood plan to then exert their influence over the colonies of Africa and the “yellow barbarism” of the East.

If you want to read an excellent science fiction novel about a future socialist revolution, read Jack London’s The Iron Heel (1907). London himself was an Anglo-Saxon supremacist, but not blatantly in that book, and the political theory is a lot smarter than the pointless bloodlust on display in The Angel of the Revolution.

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