Sunday, January 4, 2009

SF authors born 1854-63: 1855

1. James Barnes


James Barnes (1855-1936)

American writer, editor at Scribner's Magazine and Harper's Weekly. During the Spanish-American War he served in the Naval Reserve. From 1899 to 1901 he was a war correspondent for The Outlook covering the Boer War in South Africa. During WWI he was sent to France, as commander of the United States School of Aërial Photography, to organize that work at the front. Author of many books on naval topics.

* The Unpardonable War (Macmillan: New York, 1904). "Of routine competence, but incredible politically and militarily," opines Everett F. Bleiler, in Science-Fiction: The Early Years. Set in the near future of 1915-16. America's two major political parties have collapsed, and an incompetent and corrupt labor government has assumed power. In order to distract the populace from domestic problems, big business interests, the yellow press, and various cabinet officials collude in starting a war with Great Britain. Once this comes to pass, however, a great president surrounded by decent, competent officials takes over. America then invades Canada — the plot was starting to sound like recent history, until then, wasn't it? — and captures everything west of Montreal from the British. Great Britain then lands several hundred thousand troops in Maine, capturing everything from the Penobscot to the Kennebec. (Think Red Dawn, except Patrick Swayze is playing Johnny Tremaine, not a Wolverine.) Westland, an American scientist, develops a Zone of Force ray that detonates certain types of ammunition (it projects "intense electronic vibrations"), and an electrified river that bars the British troops from capturing Washington. "Science had rendered military advancement worthless." The war is called off, hooray! Funny meta-SF moment: "Damned trying to the nerves, this," remarks a British officer, upon hearing the electronic whistling of the Zone of Force. "Do you remember an extravagant story by a chap named Wells, entitled 'The War of the Worlds'? That confounded whistling and the echoes remind me of the 'Ulla, ulla' of the Martians."

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