Friday, 24 April 2009

The Airlords of Han, by Philip Francis Nowlan

I read this as a palate-cleanser, so it’s ironic that the very first page left a sour taste in the mouth – the airlords are “fierce Mongolians, who, as scientists now contend, had in their blood a taint not of the earth”.

Apart from two extremely dull chapters – essentially essays describing the technology of each side – most of the book is the usual meticulously-described Antony Rogers derring-do.

By the end, though, you realise that Rogers is leading a war of genocide – his purpose is to eradicate every man, woman and child of the Han from the face of the Earth, destroying their cities, burying them beneath rock, murdering them mercilessly.

The narrator acknowledges this awful bloodthirstiness, but explains it to be warranted by the evil, alien, subhuman nature of the Hans. Norman Spinrad wrote a book, called The Iron Dream, as if by a Hitler who found his way to America and science fiction. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s hard to imagine it sticks more closely to Hitler’s ethos of annihilation than this book does.

I’m not one for praising science fiction for predicting the future – when it happens it’s nice, but when it doesn’t people take it to be a failing of the genre, and either way writers are often just popularising scientists’ ideas – but Nowlan’s description of the Hans at work at home, before their computer screens, ordering their new trousers with a button press, seems remarkably prescient of the internet age.

The Airlords of Han, by Philip Francis Nowlan, Feedbooks.

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