Science Fiction Studies, #6
Vol 2, Part 2, July 1975, pages 179, 186-187.


R. D. Mullen: The Arno Reprints

It is to be regretted that Forgotten Fantasy, the magazine established in 1970 by Douglas Menville and R. Reginald to publish turn-of-the-century SF, lasted for only five issues, but now Reginald and Menville have returned to edit for the Arno Press (...) A series of 62 hardbound books: 13 secondary works of some or great value and 49 volumes of fiction that may certainly be said to be representative of early SF—representative not only of its various themes but also of its style and imagination, from the best to the worst. My feelings on the series are somewhat mixed. The prices asked are high—as high as the traffic will bear, if not higher—especially when compared with those of the Hyperion series reviewed in the last two issues of SFS, and the reproduction is in many instances not as good as it might be, and in general inferior to that of the Hyperion series. But for the study of the history of SF, we need to have all these books—the bad as well as the good, and even those that can hardly be counted as SF—more readily available than they have been in the past. So in the end we must welcome the series and hope that a number of libraries buy it complete and shelve it both for local use and for interlibrary loan. And if like me you have been hunting unsuccessfully in the used book market for certain of these titles, you will welcome the opportunity to buy them even at these prices.
Since this review is written primarily for students of SF who might be interested in particular volumes, it includes some comment on research that needs to be done—or, if you will, on articles that SFS would like to publish. Of the forty-nine volumes of fiction I would recommend thirty-one: four as belonging to the first rank of SF, comparable in quality to the best of Wells (#24 The Lord of the Sea, #32 After London, #36 Lord of the World, and #47 Krakatit); eleven as belonging to the second rank, as of sufficient originality, though somewhat deficient in matter or style, to be required reading for all serious students of SF (#2 Symzonia; #4 A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder, #6 The Goddess of Atvatabar, #12 Gullivar Jones, #17 In the Future, #22 Omega, #37 The Scarlet Plague, #40 Deluge and Dawn, #41 The Man with the Broken Ear, #45 The Hampdenshire Wonder, #48 Before the Dawn); and sixteen useful as specimens of the genre even though of at best average quality (##...) Two of the books (##...) cannot, and a third (#9) can barely, be counted as SF, but they are perhaps useful for that very reason; i.e., for establishing the perimeter of the genre. The remaining fifteen are all bad books (or so it seems to me), useful only for particular themes (as #25 serves me here with respect to the Yellow Peril) or for the study of bad books (which is not necessarily an uninteresting subject). [p179]
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#24. M. P. Shiel. The Lord of the Sea, L 1901. 502 pages: (iii)-viii, (1)-496. $28.00 God moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform: the expulsion of the Jews from Europe and their coming to England in such numbers that they eventually constitute a fourth of the population; the strange birth of Richard Hogarth; the persecution of Richard by the Jew Frankl, who succeeds in having him wrongly convicted of murder; Richard in prison coming to understand that the great social evil is the private ownership of land, and that a man would have as much right to seize portions of the sea as of the land; Richard’s wondrous escape from prison, and the great wealth that comes to him through his finding an enormous diamond that has fallen from the heavens; the floating forts that make Richard the Lord of the Sea, receiving tribute from all nations; Richard as Lord Regent of England; the defeat in Parliament by a combination of Tories and Jews of Richard’s bill to end the private ownership of land, and his decision to expel the Jews from England; Richard’s compelling the Sultan to withdraw from Palestine, Syria, and Mesopotamia so that Israel may be established (and established as a state with no private ownership of land); the exposure of Richard as escaped convict and Jew, the destruction of his forts, and his fall from power; the recognition by the Jews of Richard as the Messiah; the glory of Israel; and its redemption of the world.
Such ways are evidently too mysterious for some readers, for this celebration of Zionism, this splendid tribute to the Jews and their holy mission, one of the most imaginative and vivid of all SF novels, is known to present-day students of SF primarily through an essay (§9 of Sam Moskowitz’s Explorers of the Infinite, 1963) that describes it as reaching “an intensity of anti-Semitism that provokes comparison with Hitler’s Mein Kampf, for which it could have served as an inspiration” (p146).
In 1924, in what must be one of the most thoroughgoing revisions in the history of prose fiction, Shiel reduced the length of this novel by 30%. Almost every sentence [p 187] that remains has been sharpened by the deletion of qualifiers; e.g., the first sentence of the book: “In the Calle las Cabias—one of those [steep] by-streets of Lisbon below St. Catherine—there occurred one New Year a little event in the Synagogue there [, so singular, and so well-authenticated, that we think it] worth a mention in [beginning] this history of Richard, Lord of the Sea.” Just as sentences have been pared in this way, so incidents have been stripped of explanations of significance, with the result that the narrative is often highly cryptic. Since it is this cryptic narrative that has been most readily available for several decades (NY 1924, L 1929, L 1963, and possibly other editions), we can perhaps understand why the story has been so grossly misunderstood, and we must therefore welcome this new edition of the original text, which, if less perfect artistically, will surely not be read by anyone as supporting those who accuse Shiel of anti-Semitism.
The present edition includes an Introduction that was deleted from the 1924 revision, an introduction that links The Lord of the Sea to The Purple Cloud (also 1901) and The last Miracle (1906) as one of the stories derived from the notebooks of Miss Mary Wilson, a mental patient who claimed to have trances during which she read and transcribed books written and published at some future time. There may be a fourth book in this series; at any rate, a note on page 6 reads: “As for [Notebook]’IV.,’ I have not yet finished its deciphering, but so far do not consider it suitable for publication.” Shiel was one of the best stylists that ever wrote SF, and his work has been too long neglected by scholars in the field.

#25. Ferdinand, Heinrich Grautoff, Banzai! By Parabellum [pseudonym of narrator]. [Translation of Bansai!, Leipzig 1908]. NY 1909 [also L 1909]. Three illustrations. 316 pages: (i)-xi, 1-302, plus 2 plates. $18.00. The Introduction, purportedly written after the war depicted in the story, uses such phrases as “we Americans” and is signed “Parabellum.” The Forward (which may or may not be in the London edition), speaks of “this translation from the German of a work which exhibits a remarkable grasp of facts coupled with a marvellously vivid power of description,” goes on to make certain that you will grasp the significance of the pseudonym by quoting and translating the proverb, “Si vis pacem, para bellum —if you wish for peace, prepare for war,’ and is signed “P.”, which suggests that the author forgot to disguise the fact that he was praising himself. The book’s propagandistic purpose was evidently threefold: to awaken Americans to the growing threat, both commercial and military, of Japanese power in the Pacific; to shame the English for having used Japan against Russia and for continuing to be an ally of Japan against the best interest of the white nations; and to promote the solidarity of the white race against the rising Yellow Peril—or at least certain select portions of the white race, for the narrator not only excludes all Moslems form this exalted status (p96), he also has little use for most of the recent immigrants to the United States:

As for the story, the Japanese take over Hawaii, the Philippines, and the western States, not so much by invasion as by simply coming out of their holes, for each and every male immigrant from Japan is a trained and dedicated soldier patiently awaiting the day. Despite the enormity of our initial defeat, we Americans reject the Japanese offer of peace, get ourselves organized, and with the help of German arms finally drive the enemy into the sea, so the book can end with these ringing words: “The yellow peril has been averted!”
For a truly horrendous book on this theme, read M.P. Shiel’s The Yellow Danger (1898); for a truly romantic one, Shiel’s The Dragon (1913; also 1929 as The Yellow Peril), [sic. RDM meant The Yellow Wave (1905)] with its retelling of the story of Romeo and Juliet; for the theme projected into the distant future, Philip Frances Nowlan’s “Armegeddon—2419 A.D.” and “The Airlords of Han” (Amazing Stories 1928, 1929; combined under the first title, with racism toned down, by Ace Books, n.d., currently in print); or for a specimen even cruder than Banzai!, see #31 below.
[R.D. Mullen]


Return to M. P. Shiel at Selected Authors of Supernatural Fiction