Robert A. Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, Poul Anderson and other Sci Fi writers pay tribute to Sci Fi pioneer Rudyard Kipling< read all 1 reviews
A fortnight ago I dropped in the Forbidden Planet pigeonhole of lunch.com a review of a collection of short stories and verses honoring Sci Fi pioneer Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865 - 1936. That collection's title: HEADS TO THE STORM.
I told you then that there was also a companion paperback with the same editors David Drake and Sandra Miesel, also published in 1989 by Baen. Its name is A SEPARATE STAR: A SCIENCE FICTION TRIBUTE TO RUDYARD KIPLING. Contents of A SEPARATE STAR are eleven essays with tributes by later science fictioneers to their pioneering master Rudyard Kipling, eight of their own stories and verses and one poem and three stories by Kipling himself.
A few things stay with me from A SEPARATE STAR, this excellent collection of stories, poems and essays:
-- (1) 20th Century Science Fiction writers like Sandra Miesel, L. Sprague de Camp and Robert A. Heinlein spent a lot of time reading one another's works and enjoying one another's company. And when they met at conventions of their peers, they would joyously "kipple," that is, "revel in the naming of our special favorites and declaim passages from them" (Poul Anderson in his introductory essay on Kipling, "Beyond the loom of the last lone star ...").
-- (2) Long, long before they read one another, the future Sci Fi-ers either read Kipling for themselves or their grandmother or parents read, recited or sang Kipling to them in their cradles, at bedtime or after dinner. Growing toward adulthood almost all of those writers could recite Kipling's Just So Stories, continue to tremble for Rikki Tikki Tavi, the valiant young mongoose up against a family of cobras or wander along India's Grand Trunk road with teen-age Anglo-Irish Kimball O'Hara (Kim), with Afghan horse trader and spy Mahbub Ali and with Kim's kindly Red Lama from Tibet. Kipling's impact? He hard-wired Sci Fi-er minds and imaginations. Like Poul Anderson writing elsewhere in A SEPARATE STAR many a reader in 2012, as well, knows that there is a "Kipling part of me."
-- (3) There is some exceptionally fine mid-20th Century and later Sci Fi included in A SEPARATE STAR. I was especially touched by three offerings:
---- (a) Joe Haldeman's poem of 1982, "Saul's Death" in which two male mercenary warriors from different time and places bonded till death did them part. It ends with the narrator recalling the non-human look of dying Saul's spilled guts:
"He never told me he was from another world,
I never told him I was from his future."
---- (b) "Carry Me Home" by Gordon R. Dickson (1982). In an Introduction to that tale editor and fellow Sci Fi writer Sandra Miesel describes Dickson's deliberate application of Kipling in Dickson's own "consciously-thematic" way of writing fiction. "Every story demonstrates its own meaning." Thus, the JUNGLE BOOK's Mowgli demonstrated the need for survival education.
As Kipling might have imagined an ancient Afghan finally returning to his ancestral mountain clan after 40 years soldiering for the British Raj in India, so Dickson did much the same in "Carry Me Home." Dickson tells of Mr. Kerl Potter, an unlikely "degenerate" as he is thought by the reluctant young spit-and polish fifth-generation career soldier assigned to take a troop of twenty and escort Potter through many dangers safely home. Retired with great honor, Mr. Potter is now voluntarily returning to a wild world and to primitive people he had escaped decades earlier as a teen in order to explore the stars. His interstellar career had been heroic. Only duty has finally made him return to a primitive, unloved clan where he was sure to be acclaimed king. This was not what Potter would have preferred to do, but it was finally time to accept what duty made him do.
Kipling would have understood.
---- (c) "Ghost Ships" by L. Sprague de Camp (1968). In five stanzas set within "a harbor in the sky" countless ancient and modern ships of war and peace review the evolution of sea craft and sea power "From proas, junks, and tiremes to the liners looming high."
Nelson's command vessel Victory recalled Trafalgar. Perry's flagship Mississippi remembered opening up Japan. The British battlewagon Warspite told what it had been like off Jutland. The aircraft carrier Enterprise reminisced about its war in the Pacific against Japan. The poem ends:
"These villainous atomic bombs have spoiled the art of war.
An old Phoenician bireme eyed a nuclear submarine
And spake as follows to the ships in accents harsh and hoar:
'The next big fray our makers fight may end the earthly scene.
If any live, they'll fight from bark canoes in broils marine;
So take your sentimental leave of human naval war!'"
-- (4) In conclusion it has to be said that, fine as they are, the literary candles of later Sci Fi masters in A SEPARATE STAR are dimmed by the collection's sun, the collection's final four pieces by Kipling himself: one poem "MacDonough's Song," one youthful interview in Saint Louis of Kipling's hero Mark Twain (a little gem but having nothing, however, to do with Sci Fi) and two justly famed inter-related yarns of the imagined 21st Century to come: "With the Night Mail" and "As Easy as ABC."
In the latter two short stories Kipling foresees a 21st Century world in which the human population has been deliberately shrunken to a size manageable, comfortable and prosperous for all humans, in which tuberculosis, paradoxically however, is far from eradicated but war is a thing of the past and in which crime, especially political crime, barely exists and is controlled by being made laughable. All this is thanks to the not strictly governmental A.B.C, "the Aerial Board of Control" (Motto: "Transportation is Civilization"). "The A.B.C., that semi-elected, semi-nominated body of a few score persons, controls the Planet."
In "MacDonough's Song," the happily shorn sheep of 21st century Earth (all those humans contentedly submitting to A.B.C. control) reminisce about the bad old days of democracy, of voting and of mobs on soapboxes interfering with personal privacy. To some readers the poem's opening lines have eerily called to mind contemporary American and international political debates about the merits of abortion and population limitation:
"Whether the State can loose and bind
In Heaven as well as on Earth:
If it be wiser to kill mankind
Before or after the birth --
These are matters of high concern
Where State-kept schoolmen are;
But Holy State (we have lived to learn)
Endeth in Holy War."
Every generation rediscovers Rudyard Kipling either, like T.S. Eliot, to put him on a pedestal or to revile him (revile falsely, scholars concede) as a war monger, "a good bad poet" (George Orwell), a brainless shill for the British Empire and for European conquest of the rest of the world and on and on.
Among the brightest and most enthusiastic of those rediscovering Kipling are Science Fiction writers and Sci Fi fans. Witness the writers' admiring contributions in the twin volumes: FACES TO THE STORM and A SEPARATE STAR.
If your grandmother did not sing Kipling lullabies to you, it is not too late for you yourself to lift the headsets from the ears of your own bairns and young 'uns and sing to them
"Ship me somewhere east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there ar’n’t no Ten Commandments an’ a man can raise a thirst."
Or gather a son or granddaughter round and read aloud of 21st Century mail dirigibles plying to Quebec and the long, grey containers called coaches crammed with mail sacks and postal workers being hoisted up the outward mail towers of London. The children can sit quietly on the shoulder of an early 21st century Kipling-esque narrator who is about to make a privileged trans-Atlantic flight "With the Night Mail."
"Five such coaches were filled as I watched, and were shot up the guides to be locked on to their waiting packets three hundred feet nearer the stars."
Kipling is calling you, with his sea monsters in their death throes, along with thinking, talking ocean going vessels not to mention similarly endowed black panthers, wolves and Shere Khan the lame Tiger. Believe, if you care to, with Poul Anderson that Kipling "can help you understand yourself better than you did before you read him."
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