Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[books] More readings in the original Klingon

Shortly after finishing (and blogging about) The Log of the Flying Fish: A Story of Aerial and Submarine Peril and Adventure by Harry Collingwood [ Project Gutenberg ], oaksylph recommended in my comments section another Victorian classic, The Last American: A Fragment from The Journal of Khan-li, Prince of Dimph-Yoo-Chur and Admiral in the Persian Navy by John Ames Mitchell [ Project Gutenberg ], first published in 1889, and reprinted in numerous editions.

Mitchell was apparently quite the man for all seasons, among other things, founding Life magazine. See more on the book and the author here.

Well. This was a lovely science fictional premise written in a rather crisp prose for the era, which was dented for me by the excessively silly character names and a somewhat strained Planet of the Apes ending. I don't suppose it's fair to call the denouement cliched, because when Ames was writing, it probably wasn't, but in retrospect the ending does not hold up well at all. As for the names, the less said the better — I presume Mitchell was writing with the humor of his times. If you want a hint, read the subtitle above aloud. What is Khan-li prince of? Most of the 'Persian' names in this piece follow that 'Oh-Watta-Goo-Siam' convention, which I found pretty distracting.

All of which is a shame, because the conceit of the tale is that of a sociological and technological collapse due to climate change and imperial adventurism, in which the successor states as world powers are Islamic. This was very much social criticism of the emerging material culture of its time, but the mechanisms Ames chooses to make his point seem intensely contemporary, for a book written more than twelve decades ago. You could take this plot and setting, reskin it with prose in the current mode, and have a crackling, almost hair-raising piece. (Well, and change the ending a bit.)

My only other complaints are essentially technical. One has nothing to do with Ames' work. The Project Gutenberg edition I downloaded was supposed to contain the original illustrations, but was in fact a rather mangled conversion which included only a smattering of the art, and was liberally sprinkled with OCR artefacts and HTML weirdness. The second, anent Ames' worldbuilding, was that he used Christian years in the story, but I'm pretty sure a future Muslim state would use the Islamic calendar. Instead of 2951 CE, this story would take place in 2401 AH.

Also, in the vein of readings in the original Klingon, I'm having trouble finding an EPUB edition of The Wonderful Electric Elephant by Frances Trego Montgomery, recommended to me by amysisson. If this is legally available in downloadable format, I'd love a pointer.

Tags: books, steampunk

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