Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Part of loving a genre is exploring its roots. While science fiction, fantasy, horror, and adventure all go back quite some time, exploring Victorian-era works that fit into my genres of choice seemed like a fun idea, and a nice change of pace for Luke Reviews. Therefore, Luke Reviews is going to explore some of these works here on the site, mixed in with the usual fare. A six book list for my foray into Victorian (and a couple post-Victorian works that still really fit into the Victorian genre fiction sensibilities) can be found below:

The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Erewhon by Samuel Butler

Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

King solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard

Green Mansions by W. H. Hudson

The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle

I hope you enjoy exploring the genre fiction of an earlier age, and that it provides a bit of a fresh experience along with all of the modern fiction. Take the time to read the classics you always hear about!

A man is exploring a mine when he stumbles upon a hidden underground society. This people, who call themselves the Vril-ya, are exceptionally advanced in the sciences through the use of a mysterious substance known as vril. However, as the narrator learns more and more about them, he also learns of their terrifying power and their belief that they are to one day rise up from the depths and take back the surface world from humans.

While this novel at first seems to be a “hollow Earth” adventure story, like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic novel At the Earth’s Core, it turns to be very little like that. After the initial bit of getting our un-named narrator to the Vril-ya, the largest section of the book is made up of his observations of their culture. This can be both fascinating and frustrating. Bulwer-Lytton’s in-depth creativity in assembling his culture is certainly impressive, but it derails any semblance of plot for a substantial portion of the book. After an extensive crash course in Vril-ya society, we get back to the plot with a bizarre love tangle-up, before our narrator is faced with a life-threatening situation.

For a book of its time, it was immensely popular, but certain sections of The Coming Race have aged poorly. If you are willing to work with the extensive sections that lack plot, but are almost textbook is style, you will find a lot of treasures, both in the essays on their society and the story itself. However, if you are an impatient reader and want a quick, exciting story, this likely won’t be the book for you. That should be considered before deciding on the book based on the rating alone. For fans of science fiction, who want to explore the history of the genre, this would seem to be a key text, and worth the visit.


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