Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Futuristic And Contemporary Fiction

There is one kind of pleasure to be had from reading a futuristic sf novel and a contrasting pleasure to be had from reading a contemporary novel. When Poul Anderson tells us that:

"Beyond the compound walls, the homes of the wealthy loomed amidst grandly downsweeping private parks."
-Poul Anderson, A Circus Of Hells IN Anderson, Young Flandry (Riverdale, NY, 2010), pp. 193-365 AT p. 204 -

- we understand and appreciate that the author has created and is presenting to his readers a fictional extrasolar colony planet, Irumclaw. Anderson's character, Dominic Flandry, reflects that these homes "...epitomized man's trajectory." (ibid.) Once the settlement had been prosperous but now:

"Tonight Irumclaw lay like a piece of wreckage at the edge of the receding tide of empire. What mansions were not standing hollow had become the property of oafs, and showed it." (ibid.)

The passage rings true and is authentic to this extent: we know that such declines have happened to more than one empire. Nevertheless, the Terran Empire and its Irumclagian colony exist in a speculative future and of necessity are entirely fictional.

By contrast, when Ian Fleming tells us that:

"Richmond Road is the 'best' road in all Jamaica...The 'best' people live in its big old-fashioned houses..."
-Ian Fleming, Doctor No (London, 1989), Chapter I, p.5 -

- we believe him. Fleming wrote about the world he knew and he certainly knew who the 'best'/wealthiest/most respectable people were. Even if he fictionalizes some of the details, he nevertheless presents an informed and accurate account of social strata and divisions in Jamaica, where he wrote this series of novels. And he knew that the tide of empire was receding:

"Such stubborn retreats will not long survive in modern Jamaica. One day Queen's Club [on Richmond Road] will have its windows smashed and perhaps be burned to the ground, but for the time being it is a useful place to find in a sub-tropical island - well run, well staffed and with the finest cuisine and cellar in the Caribbean." (pp. 5-6)

"Useful" to the "best" people, of course. Commander Fleming knew this from experience.

In his last novel, Bond visits the independent Jamaica.            

9 comments:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

Old mansions on Irumclaw had become the property of oafs, and showed it? I'm SURE many of the gang bosses of the drug cartels who are such a plague to the US, Mexico, Coloumbia, etc., have purchased or built mansions like that!

And I hope Jamaica still has decent, high quality clubs of the kind Bond visited. I see no harm in nations having some civilized "retreats" like that.

Sean

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
No, indeed.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I thought of Poul Anderson's Old Phoenix stories (and interludes in A MIDSUMMER TEMPEST) as being a parallel to the club Bond visited.

I also thought of Sterling Lanier's Brigadier Ffellowes stories, narrated by him at a high quality club in NYC. And L. Sprague De Camp and Fletcher Pratt's tales from Gavagan's Bar. But I don't know if you had ever read any of these stories.

Sea

Paul Shackley said...

Sean,
Nope. The British equivalent was TALES FROM THE WHITE HART by Arthur C Clarke.
Paul.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I've read those too! But, alas, not many of Lord Dunsany's Jorkens stories. I mentioned the Jorkens tales because they seem to have been a model inspiring later writers using the "club" milieu.

Sean

S.M. Stirling said...

Though in fact the Liguanea Club (Fleming's original) is still going strong on Jamaica. https://www.theliguaneaclub.com/

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

Good! I'm glad Bond's "Queen's Club" did not have its windows smashed and the building burned soon after the "receding tide" of the British Empire left Jamaica behind.

Sean

S.M. Stirling said...

When I was living in Kenya, not long after independence, it was notable how many of the new elite took up things like foxhunting to hounds in pink coats. Empires may recede, but often their influences long outlive them.

Sean M. Brooks said...

Dear Mr. Stirling,

Because the CULTURAL influence of the British Empire made such things desirable, esp. if the native culture seemed, in many ways, crude and backward.

Sean