In June of 1870 France had been the dominate land power in Europe since the reign of Louis XIV. Sure it had had it’s ups and downs and yes, granted Napoleon was defeated (eventually) but look at the size of the alliance it took to take him down.
My point is this, France had been the big dog in Europe for so long, everyone’s world view was built around it. You may not have drawn comfort from it but it was something you could rely on to always be there. La Belle France ruled on land, Britannia ruled the waves, that was all there was to it. It was a background to your life and you could more or less plan your entire life with this in mind.
Then in September of 1870, Prussia shifted the world’s paradigm without a clutch. The battle of Sedan was no temporary reversal, it was a battle of annihilation that saw the destruction of the Grande Armee and the capture of Napoleon III. France was crushed and in 1871 the German Empire was declared in Frankfort.
This was an absolutely shocking turn of events for everyone, everywhere. If great and powerful France could be beaten so handily, who couldn’t be defeated?
A writer(and General) by the name of George Tomkyns Chesney, asked himself that very question and came up with the answer of Britain. He then wrote a novella titled The Battle of Dorking. It was what we would call today military science fiction.
It’s about the reminisces’ of a veteran, taking place decades after a successful invasion of Great Britain by an unnamed but German speaking Enemy.
From Infogalactic: “Demilitarisation and lack of training means that the army is forced to mobilise auxiliary units from the general public, led by ineffective and inexperienced officers. The two armies ultimately converge outside Dorking in Surrey, where the British line is cut through by the advancing enemy, and the survivors on the British side are forced to flee. The story ends with the conquest of Britain and its conversion into a heavily-taxed province of the invading empire. The British Empire is broken up, with only Gibraltar and Malta being kept by the victorious Germans. Canada and the West Indies are ceded to the United States, whilst Australia, India and Ireland are all granted independence, with Ireland entering a lengthy civil war as a direct result. “
This was shocking stuff in it’s day and set off a furor. How dare the man, an officer and a General write such scurrilous poppycock! Britain defeated? Absurd!
Yet everyone knew that they would have said the same thing about France only a year before.
The Battle of Dorking started off a cycle of invasion stories. They were quite the thing for a while although most are about as well read today as the Battle Dorking itself (Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,329,088 Paid in Kindle Store). However there was one Dorking ripoff that has stood the test of time.
War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells.
Wells really didn’t come up with anything too original here. He stole like an artist. He took the Invasion trope and slapped it together with rabid public interest in Lowell’s Martian Canals and created a new genre.
Honestly, the man gets more credit than he deserves. Wells for his part always stated, the he wasn’t a science fiction writer, he was a Socialist.
The man wasn’t lying…at least about that.
He did invent quite a few tropes along the way; the more advanced aliens, who of course were all Communists, (The First Men in the Moon). That Man is an animal that will revert to his animal state if given a chance (The Island of Doctor Moreau).
But in the main his works pretty much all reflect Marx’s roadmap for the future of all Mankind.
I suppose it was all good and hopeful stuff if you were a 19th Century Communist yourself but I found his stuff to be pretty dour and from my own view point rather pessimistic. The thing is that for the most part Wells thought that the future was going to be bright because the future was of course Communism because that was the inevitable road where evolution would lead.
Although interestingly enough, his most dire view of the future followed that road to it’s logical conclusion was in his first book, the Time Machine.
There have been two film adaptations of that work. (Or at least two major adaptations)
The 1960 George Pal version and the 2002 I Forget Who version.
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Of the two movies George Pal’s was closer to Wells narrative whereas the 2002 version was much closer to Well’s own progressivism.
First of all, if you’ve ever read the Time Machine you will know that it makes for very poor screenplay material. Victorian fiction conventions don’t lend themselves to film adaptation. None the less, George Pal’s version made an effort to be close to the book. Although with some major thematic changes. The Time Traveler wakes the Eloi out of their bovine torpor and clearly is starting them on a road to some kind of civilization. There was an air of hopefulness at the end of the George Pal movie that was absent from Wells own work. One very intriguing element of the Pal version is right at the end. George has gone back to the future and taken three books with him.
What three books would you take with you if were going to start a civilization? In 1960 everyone knew without question that one of them was the Bible.
Pretty much the last book H.G. Wells would have picked.
And let’s not forget how big the Left was raping the Earth in the 1930s. Things to Come was very clear about the fact that this was to be more feature than bug.
The interesting and rather revealing motif is that men are small and insignificant comparted to the mighty machines they serve. And the obsession of that period with all cities being underground and the men living in them living like termites.
This is a very true image of the dream of Communism.
“One death is a tragedy. A million is a statistic. – Joseph Stalin