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Year 2011 collection of 13 scholarly essays on 1907 Nobel Prize Winner Rudyard Kipling

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Kipling's science fiction showed "the power of science and technology to shape the world"

  • Jun 17, 2012
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Between January and March 2012 I sent up to LUNCH.com/Forbidden Planet three reviews on Rudyard Kipling (1865 - 1936) as master of science fiction. The first book was John Brunner's 1992,1994 selection called  THE SCIENCE FICTION STORIES OF RUDYARD KIPLING. The next two books OF 1989 reviewed were entitled HEADS TO THE STORM and A SEPARATE STAR: A TRIBUTE TO RUDYARD KIPLING collected by still living SciFi writers David Drake and Sandra Miesel. The essays in praise of Kipling and his influence on them were by the likes of Poul Anderson, Roger Zelazny, Anne McCaffrey, Jerry Pournelle, John Brunner and other SciFi masters.  


Three months have now gone by, so won't you agree that it is time for a fourth review of Kipling and SciFi for Forbidden Planet?


This time our focus is not Kipling's own works or essays by later SciFi giants but by detached, well credentialed scholars, not practitioners themselves of Science Fiction.


This time I focus on two of 14 essays by 13 writers in Howard J. Booth (editor), THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO RUDYARD KIPLING (2011). The principal monograph that zeroes in on what turns on devotees of LUNCH.com/Forbidden Planet is entitled "Science and technology: present, past and future (pp. 52 - 65, including three pages of 38 notes. The author is Laurence Davies of the University of Glasgow, Scotland and Dartmouth College, New Hampshire. Before showcasing SciFi and fantasy as isolated elements in Kipling's writings, Davies gives plenty of evidence of Kipling's growing interest in machines: trains, ships, printing presses (he supervised 80 Indians and ran two newspapers in Lahore and Allahabad from ages 17 - 24). 


Kipling also writes of water-powered mills evolving down the centuries from Roman times. He is fascinated by electricity, turbines, engineering, bridge building, waves power and steam power. Techophobic Rudyard Kipling was not. His imagination then goes to work: locomotives speak to one another and understand the language of their human bosses; a myriad of barely related parts shake down into a ship with one soul during a maiden voyage of a freighter; dirigibles become instruments of planetary political control in stories noted by Poul Anderson and other SciFi writers earlier reviewed.


Davies underlying thesis is that Rudyard Kipling wrote science fiction as thought experiments "about the power of science and technology to shape the world" (Ch. 4, p. 62).


Like other commentors and writers, Laurence Davies gives special weight to the SciFi short story "The Eye of Allah," set in 13th Century Roman Catholic England and in Moorish Spain. Three famous real historical thinkers (including Roger Bacon) debate whether it is "timely" to use and reveal openly the microscope recently discovered by Muslims (this part is not historically true). Is a microscope magic? Will its defenders irritate the Church and make up "less than fifty pounds by weight of ashes at the stake?" Read the story and find out!


The editor of THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO RUDYARD KIPLING, Howard J. Booth of Manchester University, has two pieces in his book: a brilliant introduction to every monograph and his own essay, "The later short fiction" of Rudyard Kipling.


Kipling peaked early as a writer: England's darling at age 25, 1907 Nobel Prize winner at age 41. His popularity fell after 1910 but he wrote masterpieces till the day he died in 1936. Scholars are paying increasing attention to his short stories written after 1910, when he wrote most of his strictly SciFi materials. "The Eye of Allah" appeared in the 1926 collection DEBITS AND CREDITS. You can read its text (I don't want to "spoil" your enjoyment by too many details) at




Editor Booth gives three pages to this short story. Some of Booth's insights:


-- "a scientific advance requires the right climate of reception." What if the microscope was discovered three centuries before "its time?"


-- Kipling himself later wrote that "The Eye of Allah" was a complex allegory and one element it probed was "the attitude of the artist, the physician, and the philosopher (and the church) to science."


-- The story is set around 1366/1367. The participants in dinner and dialog had each seen the small beings in motion in a drop of dirty water. Low status Thomas the abbey's infirmarian, goes into ecstasy. He follows Roman Varro in believing that "certain small animals which the eye cannot follow enter the body by the nose and mouth and set up grave diseases." The microscope confirms Varro's hypothesis!


Rudyard Kipling wrote imaginative animal tales before he did talking trains and sea ships.Think of the JUNGLE BOOKS, JUST-SO STORIES, PUCK OF POOK HILL and more. His was a mind that did not separate out reality, imagination, technology or science. Read THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO RUDYARD KIPLING. Each chapter's end notes will give you a wealth of sources for further reading.



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About the reviewer
(Thomas) Patrick Killough ()
Ranked #94
I am a retired American diplomat. Married for 47 years. My wife Mary (PhD in German and Linguistics) and I have two sons, six grandsons and two granddaughters. Our home is Highland Farms Retirement Community … more
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