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Nordenholt's Million by J. J. Connington
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Nordenholt's Million (1923)

by J. J. Connington

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A surprisingly modern story from 1923 about the choices made to save at least some humans in the face of global mass starvation.

A natural disaster kills the bacteria in the world's soil, causing the loss of all plant-life on Earth. Whatever stores of food are in place are all there will be. With humanity only a few months from extinction, the extremely wealthy and rather mysterious Englishman Nordenholt puts into play an audacious scheme to save a few million by barricading them in an industrial area of Scotland while a means of replenishing the world's soil is found. All other humans and animals in the British Isles are left with what food stores won't be needed by the colony: in effect, to die.

Told by one of Nordenholt's assistants, the story is related at an emotional distance, with the emotional implications being presented almost entirely by the single female character, so there is some of the early 20th century's condescension towards women. The racism, though, was rather nasty, although it appeared in only one chapter, in which the two black characters in the book, both nameless and only briefly present, are described as huge and violent Negroes, with one use of the word "nigger".

The plot, however, is pretty interesting. Nordenholt, who seems a thoughtful and decent sort, sets up a dictatorship, seeing it as the only means of accomplishing the goal of rejuvenating the soil in time for the next planting. Without a crop, there will be no more food for anyone, and all remaining humans will die of starvation. The dictatorship actually makes a lot of sense in this context, and Nordenholt's whole fortune and massive intellect is put to this use as well. There are, of course, problems along the way, including an apocalyptic preacher who instigates destruction of essential parts of the plan. Nordenholt has a backup plan, though, and the question is whether it will work in time.

All-in-all, a good read, even at almost the 100-year mark.

(Courtesy of Netgalley.com and of Dover Publications, which is publishing a new edition.) ( )
  auntmarge64 | May 24, 2016 |
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Famine sweeps across the world when a lab accident unleashes a virulent strain of bacteria that transforms healthy fields into barren wastelands. With the fate of the human race at stake, wealthy financier Stanley Nordenholt establishes a stronghold in central Scotland and assumes dictatorial powers to save what remains of the planet's starving population. This gripping tale of survival explores some of the moral dilemmas that arise in the wake of catastrophic events as well as their social, cultural, and political consequences. A precursor to the latter-day tales from the golden age of science fiction, this compelling novel was published by a noted British chemist in 1923. Acclaimed by the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction as "realistic, reasoned, sociologically observed, and credible," it offers an ever-relevant warning against the exploitation of disaster as a pretext for the suspension of freedom, democracy, and justice.… (more)

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