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Dreaming Again

Grimes and the Gaijin Daimyo the first A Bertram Chandler story to be published in 24 year is now available in the Anthology Dreaming Again edited by Jack Dann.

Science Fiction - A Review of Speculative Fiction - Vol 6 No 3 1984
(Cover Nick Stathopoulos)

Science Fiction - A Review of Speculative Fiction - Vol 6 No 3 1984


The Penguin is a Flightless Bird

For quite a long while now I’ve been boring the ears off friends and acquaintances in at least six countries with a sort of blow by blow account of the writing of Kelly Country. Now I am saying that there was one year’s research, one years writing, six months during which I was trying to sell the bloody thing and, to date, six months arguing about it, Penguin Books’s editor is one of those who firmly believes that a novel should be the bastard off-spring of the mating of the minds of the editor and the author. (Actually she is a very good editor; one piece of rewriting that I did to her requirements has improved the story no end.)

But she wanted the Battle of Batoche sequence cut out entirely. I stood firm and said that I had promised the late Susan Wood that the Riel Rebellion (a nasty little civil war in Canada that actually happened at the same time as my fictitious Australian War of Independence) would be incorporated in my story. So the Battle of Batoche sequence has stayed in, although it had to be shifted from early in the novel to quite late in the action.

She wanted the real-life Louisa Lawson-who had been dragged in by the hair, kicking and screaming, just to annoy my everloving-purged from the party. But Louisa stayed in.

She wanted the City of Bathurst incident-the sinking of an Australian passenger liner in the Bay of Biscay by a German Zeppelin early in World War I, thus dragging the Australian Republic, hitherto neutral, into that conflict-cut out. I insisted that it be kept in.

She wanted the Battle of Kiel sequence-also World War I-cut. With great reluctance I let her have her way on that one.

Probably most people know by this time what Kelly Country is all about. I used the ideas propounded quite a few years ago by the English mathematician J. W. Dunne in his An Experiment with Time and The Serial Universe. My narrator is sent back in time, into the mind of his great-grandfather, in order to be able to write an eyewitness account of the Siege of Glenrowan, his ancestor having been among those present in Ma Jones’s pub on that occasion. He somehow gets control of great-grandfather’s mind and interferes, stopping Thomas Curnow from flagging down the special train, not realising that by so doing he has shunted history on to another track. (He does realise, of course, when he returns to a somewhat different Here-and-Now.)

The narrator also has a French-Canadian great-grandfather-hence the Battle of Batoche sequence-and a German grandmother, who witnesses, from the ground, the Battle of Kiel.

In the story the Australian Revolution succeeds because the rebels receive considerable outside help, from the USA. The Harp in the South Committee-with Ned Kelly’s famous cousin, Buffalo Bill, as its figurehead-raises money and volunteers. Francis Bannerman-the world’s first international secondhand arms dealer-supplies weaponry. Certain officers of the American army regard the war in Australia as an ideal opportunity for trying out newfangled devices in somebody else’s country.

I didn’t cheat. All of the new-fangled devices were, in the 1880s, already in existence or on the drawing boards. There was the Andrews airship, which flew successfully in 1864. There was the steam-operated Gatling cannon, which Dr Gatling was trying, without success, to peddle to the military. There were the primitive tanks, steam-driven, armoured traction engines with steam-operated Gatlings as their armament. Such things had been considered at that period.

In the novel the success of the Australian Revolution doesn’t affect world history all that much. The First World War happens on time. So does the Russian Revolution. So does the Second World War. And the Vietnam War. There are, however, differences between the two time tracks.

For example, the use of the airship in warfare in the l880s does lead to an accelerated development of lighter-than-air flight. By the time of World War I there are the airship aircraft carriers-an idea that wasn’t played around with until the 1920s in our history. There are Zeppelins armed with cannon rather than machine guns. During our First World War some later German dirigibles, at the finish, did pack quite a wallop but their guns were only 20mm. In Kelly Country Admiral Strasser’s ships are armed with 88-mm cannon.

There was a Strasser in our real history, He held the rank of Fregattenkapitan, equivalent to that of Commander RN. Despite this comparatively low status he was the German Navy’s Zeppelin king. He loved airships but they didn’t love him. Every time that he went on a raiding flight himself everything would go wrong. This was true when he flew in LZ7O, a super-Zeppelin with a very high ceiling and armed with 20-mm cannon, on 5 August 1918. Although Kapitanleutnant (equivalent to Lieutenant, RN) von Lossnitzer was nominally in command, there is little doubt that Strasser himself was in charge of his fine new ship.

She was shot down in flames, by British fighters, with the loss of all hands, She fired only a few ineffectual shots from her 20-mm cannon.

So I decided to give Peter Strasser some posthumous recognition and a long overdue promotion. Following this preamble is the deleted chapter in which this is done.