Thursday, December 23, 2010

We're not worthy

I’m a big fan of ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley and ‘1984’ by George Orwell and I’m forever grateful to both authors for giving me a smart answer for anyone who claims, with a lofty, air that ‘they don’t read Science Fiction’.

You see, Brave New World and 1984 (and Clockwork Orange for that matter) are considered ‘literature’, and by literature I mean everybody in the English speaking world who has read these wonderful books considers you an idiot if you’ve had the opportunity to read them and have never done so,( and they’re right).

So, if you’re a science fiction fan and you ever hear anyone intimate that they are somehow ‘above’ the genre; these are the titles that will bring them down with a crash.
I can see why people don’t think of them really as Sci-Fi, (the robots and aliens that we expect from the genre are absent,) but they are science fiction. All utopias/dystopias are science fiction; from a Clockwork Orange to a Handmaids Tale.

What I love about these two in particular though, is that they come from a time when the old way was gone and technology was changing everything, fundamentally,- and nobody knew what ;’the new way’ would or should be: it’s almost like they stood in the first quarter of the 20th Century and shone their brilliant intellects into the future; like guiding lights.

Orwell shone down the path of state control. He lit up the fascist/communist ‘State is all’ model. The state destroys all other relationships. Huxley shone in the other direction; ‘individual is all’, community is subversive, work-and-buy and-consume-and-die and enjoy absolutely everybody and everything; and ,with enough drugs and amusements, and every citizen pre-disposed to their position in society since birth, more meaningful relationships than the relationship that the individual has with the state; will simply never occur .

Seeing as Hitler lost the war, and the fascism practised by the Russian State under the name of communism* also came a cropper, the vision of Brave New World is probably the more resonant to us today, seeing as how the world, or at least the developed world, turned out.

Either way, these were the influential authors with the big ideas of what the world might turn into, and we’ve all heard of them, but: there is another book.

Not as far-reaching as the other two but chillingly prescient as things turned out and that is ‘Swastika Night’. I’ll presume that you are unaware of it, because nobody I ever meet is aware of it. It’s a book written in 1937 about a dystopian future where the Nazis have decided to go to war with all of Europe. It’s set about a hundred years later and there are no Jews.
There is no memory in fact, that there ever was any Jews. The oppressed groups are women and Christians. And sexuality among high-born Germans has evolved into a kind of boy-worship. This boy-worship is the publicly acceptable face of love, as women are regarded as an almost sub-human section of society who live separately and whom one visit only out of duty to the reich,( to help manufacture warriors for the next generation).

That somebody would write such a book in1937, before concentration camps were even built, never mind discovered, is amazing. I spent a bit of money one time to get an early copy of it (printed 1940), to hold it in my hands and read it and say to myself ‘fuck! Somebody could see, somebody knew…Here’s the book!’

If you have never heard of this book then you’re probably thinking to yourself; hang on a minute… Who’s been hiding this important gem, this document, this staggeringly accurate Dystopia?

If I tell you the author is Murray Constantine then you might think;
’Murray Constantine? How come I’ve never heard of him?’

Then, if I tell you that ‘Murray Constantine’ was a pseudonym and the true author was a woman called Kathy Burdekin, well then you will cry HA HA! There’s a reason why this book was suppressed while Orwell’s and Huxley’s were celebrated- it’s because a woman wrote it! And the 20th century just dumped all over the women and ignored their contribution!

An understandable reaction and certainly it was an opinion like this that prompted the feminist press to reprint Swastika Night in 1985.

Why didn’t it rock the world?

Was it because Orwell and Huxley had already gotten ‘in there’ and we had no room in our collective consciousness for another informative vision of possible society from the 1930’s?

Or was it because Katy Burdekin (for indeed that was her name)’s vision of the future was simultaneously accurate and inaccurate,( seeing as the Nazis did try to conquer all of Europe and eradicate the Jews; they just didn’t win) and simply ‘dated’ quicker than the others with the end of the war?


Ahem; the reason this book doesn’t occupy the position of respect that the other two occupy, is because… it’s crap.

It’s a crap story. An episode of the famous five is more descriptive, has a better plot, more insight, more story and more character development than Swastika Night.

It was reprinted in 1940 by ‘the left book club’ not because of public demand but because it was considered ‘worthy’. It was reprinted by the Feminist press for the same reason. It’s a good idea for a book; but it just was never a good book.

So I’m not sure that worthy good intentions have any place in Art. Was there ever a crapper cartoon than ‘Captain Planet’?

Katy, wherever you are, fair play to you, I have your book; but you shouldn’t complain that history overlooked you. A good idea does not a good book make.
But I do respect that you wrote this at a time when Hitler was on the rise and if things had’ve gone his way you’d have been the first English writer on the train to the ovens.

It just wasn’t very good.

Shame that.


  1. An odd sheaf of memory sometimes falls loose when i consider either 1984 or Brave New World, the fall of which presents me with a school memory.

    In secondary we had one of those workbooks, as gaelaige, that gave you extracts, short stories, poems, and exercises.

    I remmeber that one of the stories presented was one a strange mix of both 1984 and Brave New World, where a primitive gaelgoir, an islander from off the coast of Ireland is brought to a 1984 type society for study. An odd trinket and I cannot remember the name of it or its author but there you have it.

  2. "That somebody would write such a book in 1937, before concentration camps were even built, never mind discovered, is amazing. "

    They were first employed by the Nazis in 1933. They mainly imprisoned Socialists, Trade Unionists and Communists. That continued up until the end of the war when Auschwitz was evacuated - it was following the evacuation that the concentration camps then housed a large number of Jewish prisoners.

    Also, the British invented concentration camps during the Boer war.

    But otherwise, i agree that Swatika Night is an interesting book, even if it doesn't have any real political import.

  3. Quite right;what I was thinking of was the whole system of Zyklon B and the ovens.
    I thought it was pretty amazing how obvious it was to Ms. Burdekin at that time ;the way that she clearly saw that National Socialism would require total removal and annihilation of what was deemed 'ungerman' not only from the German State but also from History.

    But you're right of course this was not the first use of concentration camps, it was not the first (and sadly not the last) genocide in history, nor was it news in 1937 that the German fascists were making people 'dissappear'.
    I suppose what I was referring to was the sense (that I got from reading the book,) of how well she understood the Nazi mindset and to what particularly dark places such a philosophy was inevitably leading them.

    I was honestly impressed and humbled even by this aspect of the book. If not by anything else in it.