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The Angel of the Revolution a Tale of the…

The Angel of the Revolution a Tale of the Coming Terror (original 1893; edition 2010)

by George Chetwynd Griffith

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Title:The Angel of the Revolution a Tale of the Coming Terror
Authors:George Chetwynd Griffith
Info:General Books LLC (2010), Paperback, 252 pages
Collections:To read (Postponed)
Tags:Alternate History, Steampunk

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The Angel of the Revolution: A Tale of the Coming Terror by George Griffith (1893)



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In the future year of 1904, an impoverished English inventor solves the secret of aerial navigation. He hands it over to the nihilist organization, the Terrorists, dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism and militarism. This starts out as pretty poor sf, much below what Wells was doing, but it builds up to a harrowing depiction of a vast, apocalyptic total world war, which prefigures World War I with the unusual wrinkle of the UK and Germany fighting against Russia and France. For fans of Michael Moorcock, this seems to be one of the influences behind the Bastable novels, but I think it's better since this is the pure source. ( )
  rameau | Sep 8, 2011 |
The thing about proto-sf is that there are several very different strains, and never shall they meet. Mary Shelley might set The Last Man two hundred years in the future, but it's mostly a vehicle for political speculation, and there's no serious attempt to imagine what technology will be like in the 21st century. On the other hand, Jules Verne is writing tales of fantastic technology, but never seriously imagines how society would be affected by it; his inventions belong to one lone person who for some reason won't share them. There's no reason Shelley and Verne would even think of themselves as doing the same thing, and they're not; we just lump them together in retrospect.

It's not until the end of the 19th century that these strains start to converge. I'm sure someone did this before George Griffith, but future-war fiction is one of the places it begins to happen. These tales of the War to Come ask what political implications there could be from fantastic new technologies of war-- Angel of the Revolution gives us a race to develop air-ships, since they will determine the war in Europe. This kind of stuff really is the moment where anything we can meaningfully call "science fiction" comes into being.

As for the book itself, as you can tell by it retroactively applied series title of "Tsar Wars," it's vaguely Star Wars-esque. A secret band of rebels called the Brotherhood of Freedom (or the "Terror"), an alliance of socialists, nihilists, and anarchists, recruits the inventor of the air-ship and gets him to build them a fleet. The Terror has been trying to forestall a war between the European powers, not because they don't think the war should happen (in fact, they think it's inevitable), but because they want to make sure that when it's over, they're the ones with an advantage. You see, the Terror hates "Society," especially the Russian Tsars, who have oppressed them. The book is tremendous fun at first, what with secret ceremonies and a rescue scene that really is straight out of Star Wars: they're trying to rescue the head Terrorist's daughter, and during a sledge chase through Siberia, she grabs the gun because the men don't shoot well enough!

It's kind of downhill after that, though. The Terror's air-ships give them such an advantage that they never really encounter difficulty, not even when one is stolen. And then all of a sudden you learn that the Buddha has come back and is about to lead the Buddhists in a war on Christendom, which can only survive if the Anglo-Saxon race is given back its natural supremacy over all. Um, what? It's not even consistent with all the complaints about Society in the first half of the book. From this point on, the Terror just goes around establishing its own despotism, which is apparently justified because 1) it is one of peace and 2) Anglo-Saxondom is awesome. It would be bearable if the plot was interesting, but it's not.

But the book is a great read, not just because it manages to synthesize everything needed to create science fiction, but because of its jaw-dropping weirdness at some points. Such as when the head Terrorist suddenly has mind control powers... but for one scene, and never again. And the final battle is awesome. It would make a great steampunk film, but you'd have to do a lot of rewriting.
2 vote Stevil2001 | May 16, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
George Griffithprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hope, Edwin S.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jane, Fred T.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McLean, StevenEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moskowitz, SamIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rowland, Marcus L.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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