What-if?, Science Fiction and Fevered fantasies

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What-if?, Science Fiction and Fevered fantasies

Postby jf42 » 25 Sep 2014 23:23

I have recently posted some thoughts about H.G. Wells - 'The Land Ironclads'- possibly in the wrong section- 'Weapons and Tactics' - given that Wells' prescient short story might be judged science-fiction.

Along with projected designs for more practical uniforms - or not- I have always been intrigued by 'alternative' histories.

It's amusing to speculate how events might have unfolded if the paranoia regarding the Russian threat to the North West Frontier in 1885 or the anxiety about French ambitions in 1859, 1863 or 1898 had actually provoked conflict, on the fringes or closer to home. Similarly, what if the differences of opinion between the US and Britain in 1863, combined with Fenian activity, had produced serious conflict or if a hot pursuit by the US cavalry into Canada had provoked an unfortunate incident in the 1870s.

Wargamers have played with these ideas, I believe. Such speculation- or paranoia- extended into works of fiction, a century before the immortal adventures of Harry Flashman came to public attention. Here are two classic examples from the mid-Victorian period.

"A history of the sudden and terrible invasion of England by the French in the month of May 1852" (Anonymous 1853)

Inscribed TO THE CITIZENS OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, THE ALLIES OF ENGLAND, AND THE FRIENDS OF FREEDOM,
the preface begins:Escaping by a miracle from the sacking of London, I was employed by the paralyzed Government to take despatches from Liverpool to Washington.

The narrative opens: "It was on the 10th of December, 1848, that the little Corsican, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, became the President of France.

The nephew of that great scourge Napoleon I., he sought, by his audacity, if not by his talents, to assimilate himself to his uncle! Vain, dissipated and insignificant, during his exile in England he associated only with the wildest spirits of the aristocracy; but under the cloak of gaiety he concealed an undying hatred to the British name. Awake or in his dreams he beheld his uncle dying by inches at St. Helena, and he determined to avenge him...."


There is either a vein of subtle satire there or it is unintentionally hilarious. This piece of wonderful pre-Crimean paranoia is only twenty two pages long and serves as a suitable preamble to the invasion anxiety that gave birth to the Volunteer movement

I have yet to read "The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer" '(unfortunate hints of 'Monty Python' and "Ripping Yarns') which tells of an untrained Volunteer caught up in the fighting after 'a country similar to Prussia' invades England. Written in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War by 'A Contributor to Blackwood' (In fact, one George Chesney) it is sur-titled (unusual in itself) 'The Fall of England?' and, like a demented music hall poster, the narrative is summarised: "Destruction of the Fleet. Occupation of London. Fall of the British Empire." It is in fact set in 1925 when the veteran recounts his experiences to his grandson. The book was, apparently, intended to highlight the unpreparedness of the British defence forces in the face of the continental powers with their conscript armies.

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http://www.ozebook.com/ozebook/dorking.htm

So, as the nights draw in... Are there other similar works that spring to mind?

There is Erskine Childers' "Riddle of the Sands, " of course..

http://books.google.co.uk/books?pg=PA7& ... &q&f=false


https://archive.org/details/battledorkingor00chesgoog
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Battle_of_Dorking

http://www.angelfire.com/mech/ironclad/ ... clads1.pdf
Last edited by jf42 on 27 Sep 2014 07:30, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: What-if?, Science Fiction and Fevered fantasies

Postby Josh&Historyland » 26 Sep 2014 11:39

Not an area I stray into much, though it does sound interesting, and heaven knows I've read some HistFic novels with poorer storylines, I'll keep an eye out.

That pre Crimea bit is interesting of course, France still the "Natural" enemy etc, reminds me of Raglan calling the Russians French and the French the enemy. Which I suppose after a 20 year war, backed up by countless others one can understand that it was a hard habit to break.
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Re: What-if?, Science Fiction and Fevered fantasies

Postby timothylrose » 26 Sep 2014 13:38

A good overview read for this stuff is "The Tale of the Next Great War 1871 - 1914" edited by I.F.Clarke published by Liverpool University Press - it includes the Battle of Dorking along with another dozen or so similar stories - worth picking up if you get a chance to - atb Tim
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