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March 17, 2013

Sunday Morning Book Thread 03-17-2013: Victorian Pulp Edition [OregonMuse]

Victorian pulp 3.jpg
"Oh for Pete's sake, woman, get up off your fat ass and make me a sammich!"

Good morning morons and moronettes and welcome to the AoSHQ Sunday Morning Book Thread.

I don't have much this week, so I'll just flap my lips for awhile about a couple of books I'm reading.

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

So in a previous book thread, I mentioned first hearing about the Victorian adventure novel King Solomon's Mines in an essay C.S. Lewis wrote on the subject of what makes a good story. So I downloaded a Kindle edition of KSM and finished it last week. It's OK, but nothing spectacular. What I found interesting was that the part of the story Lewis said he liked so much didn't happen. At least, if I understood him correctly WARNING, spoilers ahead. Lewis cited the end of the novel where the good guys were trapped in a mausoleum/crypt, surrounded by the mummified corpses of dead kings. Lewis' point was that the suspense was heightened by this creepy "entombment" threat and that's what made the story good, that is, it just wasn't impending death, but that the location of the impending death greatly added to it. However, when I got to that part, I was surprised to find out that the events didn't transpire in the manner Lewis described. Yes, they went into the crypt with the dead kings, but then they passed through into another room, an inner room where all the treasure was kept, and that's where a giant stone door was suddenly shut behind them, trapping them inside. The corpses of the kings were on the other side of the door. So I'm thinking maybe Lewis based his essay on a misremembered fact. Either that, or there's something I've just missed. That's always possible.

And as I said, as an adventure novel, I found King Solomon's Mines just OK.

Victorian pulp 1.jpg
Inscrutably Evil Chinese Guy

For sheer thrills and excitement, though, The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu is hard to beat. In the first few chapters, there's a near-miss murder attempt, a chase, a too-late-by-minutes-to-prevent murder, and then another murder attempt. It's all the good guys can do to keep one step ahead of the bad guys, and it makes for exciting reading. Sax Rohmer knows how to amp up the thrills and chills to a pretty high level. However, what I'm finding unsettling about this book is that, you know, it's really kind of racist.

Fu Manchu is not just an evil man, he's an evil yellow man, and his being Chinese is very much a part of his evil nature. It just adds to the terror. One of the good-guy characters makes a speech early on where he says that Fu Manchu is a dangerous threat, not just to this country or that country, but to "the entire white race." Also, the phrase "yellow peril" gets used, and even though I first heard this a long time ago, I had to look it up to find out exactly what was meant by it. Basically, it was a more or less generalized fear that western countries would be overwhelmed, either militarily or economically, by eastern countries, specifically China and Japan.

They even wrote entire novels about the "yellow peril".

Check this out:

Emile Driant, a French officer and political activist, wrote under the pen name of Capitaine Danrit The Yellow Invasion in 1905. The story depicts the surprise attack against the Western world by a gigantic Sino-Japanese army, covertly equipped with American-made weapons and secretly trained in the remote Chinese hinterland. The plot is hatched by a Japanese veteran of the Russo-Japanese War: coming out of the war with a fanatical hatred of Westerners, he organizes a world-spanning secret society named the Devouring Dragon in order to destroy Western civilization.
Jack London's 1914 story "The Unparalleled Invasion", presented as a historical essay narrating events between 1976 and 1987, describes a China with an ever-increasing population taking over and colonizing its neighbors, with the intention of eventually taking over the entire Earth. Thereupon the nations of the West open biological warfare and bombard China with dozens of the most infectious diseases—among them smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, and Black Death—with all Chinese attempting to flee being shot down by armies and navies massed around their country's land and sea borders, and the few survivors of the plague invariably put to death by expeditions entering China. This genocide is described in considerable detail, and nowhere is there mentioned any objection to it. The terms "yellow life" and "yellow populace" appear in the story. It ends with "the sanitation of China" and its re-settlement by Westerners, "the democratic American programme" as London puts it.[16]

Whew. By the way, that photo of Sax Rohmer on his wikipedia page makes him look like sort of a horse's ass. I'm just sayin'.

From what I've read, I'd guess that the Victorian English were probably the most filthily racist people ever to have lived -- except for everybody else.


So that's all for this week. As always, book thread tips, suggestions, rumors, and insults may be sent to OregonMuse, Proprietor, AoSHQ Book Thread, at aoshqbookthread@gmail.com.

So what have you all been reading this week? Hopefully something good, because life is too short to read lousy books.

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