A Twin Review
F. Towner Laney
Too many reviews are of rare and costly books, ones that the shoe-string collector/reader cannot hope to get. I'm going to tee off this time on a couple of cheapies, one of them in fact being the most common of all science-fiction books. DELUGE can be found in almost any used book store of any size at not to exceed 50¢ for the American edition. DAWN is scarcer, but it shouldn't be worth over a dollar for the abridged American edition. (The American edition of DAWN is cut, DELUGE is not.)
The author of these two is of course S. Fowler Wright, who is in the biased opinion of this reviewer one of the two or three best writers in the science-fiction field, even if he is a bloody limejuicer. He knows people and hence can make solid three-dimensional characterizations, although semantics is a closed book to him. Being a realist, he of course knows nothing of dianetics. Since his own many crackpot ideas make no claim to pseudo-intellectuality, even a fan can see through them and ignore them. There will never be any "institutes" founded either to promulgate his views or house the more rabid followers of them, but he writes good stories. Let's talk about a couple of them.
DELUGE: A ROMANCE. 2nd Ed. Fowler Wright LTD, London, 1928, 320 pp.
DELUGE, like so many other of Wright's novels, postulates a scientifictional happening and then attempts to portray the reactions of a group of people towards this event.
A sudden readjustment of the earth crust, such as has happened many times in the geologic past, causes the ocean to flood much of the habitable area of the globe and raised vast areas of seabed to become new islands and continents. A small, sparsely populated section of England survives, and DELUGE tells of the survivors and their experiences.
The chief protagonists are Martin Webster, an attorney; his wife Helen; and Claire Arlington -- all of whom are obviously intended by Wright to be idealised persons. Martin and Helen are separated during the disaster, each thinking the other dead, and do not re-meet until after Martin has married himself to Claire. This is the old Enoch Arden theme with a most unusual twist; since Martin and Claire are married in good faith, Helen accepts them both and our Mr. Webster has himself two wives.
The ramifications of the story are many. We are given greater or lesser glimpses into the lives of all manner of different survivors, and the ways in which they react to the disaster. Among the most notable are Bellamy, the brutal leader of a small band of anarchistic outcasts; Jerry Cooper, an unscrupulous pre-deluge business man who intends to rule the survivors and had built up a disciplined, semi-military band to effect this end; Joe Harker, an antisocial and individualistic ex-jockey, who played both ends against the middle for his own selfish gain; and Tom Aldworth, the leading member of the disorganized group of "decent" people who comprised the bulk of the survivors.
The narrative of DELUGE shows all these people in their conflicting aims, describes graphically the condition of the survivors and their environment, and carried the reader through a number of bloody skirmishes and battles. At the end of the book, Bellamy's gang had been wiped out by Aldworth and Webster, Webster with his two wives has just become the autocratic leader of the "decent" element, and Cooper has suffered a sanguinary defeat and retired to build up his strength.
The characterisation is superb throughout. These people are all eminently believable, real persons, and for the most part their motivations are thoroughly in keeping with their characterisations. Even the extremely difficult problem of the Martin-Helen-Claire triangle is solved in a thoroughly believable fashion. Despite the fact that the solution seems at first glance to run so contrary to usual behavior, Wright has skillfully characterised all three of these people so that the polygamous situation is the obvious and natural one.
The few violations of realism occur only when Wright gets so involved in his preachments as to be carried away and allow someone to step out of character for a moment. The most noteworthy example of this occurs when the "decent" survivors with one accord jettison all surviving automobiles in the ocean, a singularly pointless thing for them to do.
DELUGE brings out in addition to Wright's typically reactionary yearning for the pastoral life of medieval England and for the destruction of the machine age, both his deep-seated mistrust of democracy and his feeling that there should be a complacent mass man ruled by a nobility. The distrust of democracy is brought out in several places, but particularly in Martin's speech to Tom Aldworth when he is considering accepting Tom's offer to rule the survivors. The typical autocratic arguments about the relative efficiency of a committee and a captain, the statement that many of them may not like where they are going but at least they are all going there and not in a circle, and similar stuff is pretty indicative of what Wright thinks about individualism, for mass man at least, and democracy. And I am in no way satisfied with the subservient way in which the "decent" element accepts Martin as a leader. Even granting that they were in desperate need of organization for their own survival and knew it, I very much question that such a group would accept such an autocratic leadership with as little quibbling as they did.
They were very short of women, for one thing, yet here was Martin holding a monopoly on two of the most desirable women in the community, and moreover preparing to order the other men about with very little regard for them other than as ants in an anthill. Another item that works in the book better than it would in actuality is the arrangement that all men and women except the Websers must be monogamous. There are no community women to be shared by the men who don't have mates.
As a story, as entertainment, DELUGE with all its faults is first class. While most readers will ignore the author's social and economic biases and phobias, there is nevertheless much food for rumination and discussion in this basically factual narrative of the experiences and motivations and conflicts of the survivors of a ruined world.
DAWN. 3rd Ed. Harrap & Co; London, Bombay, Sidney. (reprinted) 1931.
Although often loosely considered as a sequel to DELUGE, DAWN is actually the major story of Wright's Great Flood. DELUGE actually is a magnified and augmented version of the small but significant portion of DAWN which deals with the origins# and early post-Deluge experiences of Martin, Helen, and Claire Webster.
For the basic story of DAWN, refer to the review of DELUGE. The events are identical, though shown from different viewpoints and in greater detail both of event and time. The present volume shows the history of the main group of survivors, partly through the experiences of Muriel Temple, a retired missionary; and partly through those of Tom Aldworth. The narrative carries the history of the colony to a point where after a final bloody battle with Cooper and his men, the survivors are left without any major opponents to the rule of Martin Webster, who soliloquises on the last few pages as to the possible danger of an invasion from across the sea wiping out his efforts to build a new civilization.
Yes. A new civilization is precisely what S. Fowler Wright obviously wishes to build, and he has in DAWN deftly outlined the broad picture of the civilization he wants. It is a tribute to Wright's power as a writer that the story is readable, for it is forced to carry the ponderous deadweight of the blueprint for this utopia -- which like all utopias tends toward the crackpottish. A lesser pen would have turned out unreadable hogwash; but consistent careful realism of motivation and incident, painstaking settings, and above all, believable and three-dimensional characterization has made of DAWN one of the finest pieces of literate science-fiction this reviewer has ever encountered. There are flaws in it of course, the chief being the nature of Wright's utopia -- largely a negative one. It is an amazing fact that while he sets forth scarcely any positive aims for society -- aims set forth in so many words as when he limits private ownership to what a man builds or creates or uses -- he petulantly writes diatribes ranging from a couple of sentences up to several pages dogmatically being "anti-" no less than fourteen different things, ranging from scientific agriculture to landlords.
This is minor carping. Both DELUGE and DAWN should be read as stories. This of course is true of any science-fiction or fiction generally -- ignore the religious, utopian, or other crackpottish features for optimum reading pleasure.
The modern reader, particularly if he has any traces of semantic orientation, is bound to be either annoyed or amused by the serious, non-entertainment portion of DAWN . He will be making a grave error if he allows this annoyance or amusement to blind him to the merits of DAWN, the novel.
DAWN, as I said before, is in my opinion one of the very best science-fiction stories I have ever read. Not only is it almost as hard to put down in the middle of a first reading as a Max Brand western, but it will stand up under repeated rereadings better than almost any other fantastic item.
Try it and see for yourself.
Text versions and page scans Judy Bemis
Data entry by Judy Bemis
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