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The Rim Worlds

... out on the Galactic Rim things are very iffy and if you fart really hard your're liable to blow yourself on to an Alternate Time Track.

A Bertram Chandler.

The Mentor No: 47 - Dec 1983
(Cover Kerrie Hanlon)

The Mentor No: 47 - Dec 1983


At long, long last this novel is to appear in print. It took me five years to sell the idea to the Literature Board of the Australia Council, who awarded me a Senior Fellowship to enable me to write it. (By the time I got that Grant I’d sold the idea to myself and had played around with it in a few short stories.) Then there was a year devoted to research - in and around Glenrowan, in Melbourne, in Vancouver and in Washington D.C. where I dug up much useful material in the Smithsonian Institution, in the National Air and Space Museum and in the National Archives, There was a year’s writing, with another, brief, interlude for research in Wellington, Now Zealand.

Finding a publisher was more of a problem than I had anticipated. First of all I tried to peddle the book to those major publishing houses with offices in Sydney. Every attempt brought the same reaction, “We like it, but...” At last I did what I should have done in the first instance and sent the manuscript to Penguin Books Australia, whose editorial offices are in Ringwood, Victoria. Penguin Books were immediately enthusiastic; nonetheless it had taken me about six months to find a buyer for the novel.

Then followed another six months arguing about it. Penguin Books’ editor is one of those editors, rare in these days, who takes her job seriously, believing that any book should be the bastard offspring of the mating of the minds of editor and author. Any changes required by her were discussed at length by correspondence or telephone. One change she wanted — and got did improve the novel. In my original story the conversion of Red Kitty the feministic, socialistic German baroness who becomes Ned Kelly’s wife and pushes him to a position of great authority - to the Gospel According To St. Marx was far too Patty Hearstish with a strong flavour of Mills & Boone. The Red Kitty who emerged from the rewrite was a much stronger and more plausible character.

The Battle of Batoche sequence was shifted within the framework of the novel. Kay Ronai - the editor - wanted it shifted right out but I stuck to my guns, saying that I had promised the late Susan Wood that I would use the actual - history Riel Rebellion in Canada as part of my plot and that, in any case it was essential to the plot. I fought hard to keep the City of Bathurst incident - the sinking of an Australian passenger liner in the Bay of Biscay, early in World War I (Australia still being neutral) by fighter bombers launched from a German Zeppelin, pointing out that this was necessary to show how the early introduction of the Andrews Airship into warfare, during the Australian War of Independence, had influenced the history of military aviation.

In quite a few places I had used concepts familiar to science fiction readers so, for the benefit of the general public, I had to do what appeared to roe unnecessary dotting of “i”s and crossing of “t”s.

And I think, now, that I gave in too easily over the Foreword. Kay wanted it considerably shortened. I shortened it. And then Susan who, until then had sided with Ms Ronai, screamed, saying that the Foreword was “the best part of the book” and that it must, repeat must, make an appearance somewhere if not in the front of the novel itself.

So here it is:


This is an If Of History novel,

There have been many such. One popular “If” in recent years has been If Germany had won World War II. It could have happened, you know. If Hitler had launched a damn—the—expense invasion of England immediately after Dunkirk... If the German scientists had been first with the atom bomb... After all, Germany already had the means of delivery, the V2 rocket — and another rocket, capable of striking the eastern seaboard of the U.S.A. when fired from European launching pads, was on the drawing boards.

A battle used as a deviation point by more than one novelist has been the Battle of Tours in 732 A.D. It was at Tours that Charles Martel turned back the Arab advance into Europe. But what if the Franks had lost? It can be said with certainty that the course of world history would have been entirely different. More unpleasant - possibly. Less unpleasant - possibly. Different - most certainly.

Another crucial battle was Gettysburg, regarded by most historians as the turning point in the War Between The States. There, for three days, July 1, 2 and 3 in 1863, the Union and Confederate armies slogged it out. If Pickett’s charge had achieved its objective the Confederacy might well have won the battle and gone on to win the war. And then, probably, the U.S.A. would have become two separate nations, neither of which would have been able to exercise the influence on world affairs that the United States have done and still do.

Insofar as history is concerned I try to steer a middle course between Carlyle and Marx. Carlyle said, more or less in these words, “History is the biographies of great men.” Marx regarded the great men of history as symptoms rather than causes. But great men do influence the course of events - and there have been men who were potentially great and who, had the cards fallen a little differently, would have achieved greatness or, possibly, had greatness thrust upon them.

Such a man was Edward Kelly.

He was charismatic. He had a sound grasp of guerrilla warfare tactics. He was something of an innovator in military matters, as is evidenced by his famous armour. He lived during a period when Australia was on the brink of rebellion. In 1854 there was Eureka Stockade, where the armed miners fought for their rights against the government’s military forces. In 1891 there was the Great Shearers’ Strike, during which the strikers organised themselves on military lines and drilled, with wooden rifles, while they were threatened by the artillery deployed against them. And, talking of artillery, more than one wealthy squatter maintained his own private cannon to defend his property against possible - or probable - uprising of’ the propertyless masses.

Kelly was more, much more, than a mere bushranger. He was regarded by many as a freedom fighter, as an Australian Robin Hood. He was, in fact, referred to by the poor farmers on their selections as The Captain of the North East.

Whether or not there was an actual revolutionary organisation of which the Kelly Gang was the nucleus is still something of a mystery. There was that firing of a rocket, a signal rocket, during the siege of Glenrowan. Who was supposed to be watching for that signal and taking appropriate action? But there was that brief glare of pyrotechnic stars in the night sky over Glenrowan...

Anyhow, about six years ago I got bitten by the Ned Kelly bug. I wanted to write an Australian If Of History Novel, featuring an Australian War of Independence. I wanted a good deviation point, some well known event, some historic occasion when things just might have gone the other way. The Siege of Glenrowan was - to me - the obvious choice. The key character was Thomas Curnow, the man who flagged down the special train. If the train had not been stopped... If the train had been derailed, with a subsequent massacre of the police party... If the authorities had over—reacted to such an extent as to antagonise the entire countryside...

If... If... If...

And suppose there had been an uprising - could it have succeeded without outside help? I don’t think so. After all, the American War of Independence could not have done so. The decisive action in that conflict was the Battle of the Chesapeake Capes, between the British and the French navies.

As the French helped the rebellious Americans so, I think, would the Americans have helped the rebellious Australians. After all there was then, as now, a large Irish population in the U.S.A. Aid would have been given unofficially or, even, semi-officially. And what if certain officers of the American armed forces wanted to try out new - fangled weaponry - weaponry that would have been available in the early 1880s to anybody with the imagination to make use of it - in somebody else’s war, in somebody else’s country?

The Andrews airship was flown successfully over New York in 1864. President Abraham Lincoln was interested in Dr. Andrews’ invention. If - another If! Lincoln had not been assassinated that airship might well have been adopted by the armed forces of the U.S.A. Meanwhile Dr. Gatling, who was doing a nice trade in hand-operated machine guns, just could not interest anybody in a steam-operated model, (As a matter of fact the electrically-operated Vulcan cannon, with its fantastic rate of fire, used by American helicopter gunships during the war in Vietnam, is a direct descendant of the Gatling gun.)

In this novel I have made use of armed and armoured steam traction engines. As a matter of historical fact the first employment of steam traction engines in warfare was in the Crimea, from 1854 to 1856. They were used for towing heavy artillery. Surely somebody must have toyed with the idea of giving the brutes arms and armour...

(After this foreword was written I saw in a book on military vehicles a drawing of an armoured steamroller. It was about the right period, too. Unluckily there was no further information about this fearsome juggernaut.)

I must confess to having been guilty of a little cheating. To ensure the eventual success of the Australian Revolution I had to withdraw the ships of the Royal Navy from Australian ports. I did this by having the government of the U.S.A. backing the Riel Rebellion in Canada. (It seems rather amazing that this did nothappen in actual fact.) But - yet another IF! - Riel opposed the incursion of a small- army of New York Fenians into Canada. If he had accepted and made. Use of such outside support.. American Gatling guns, under an American officer with a temporary captaincy in the Canadian army, did play a. decisive part
at the Battle of Batocke - but they were deployed against the rebels,

Another small piece of cheating - but essential to the plot - was to have the mysterious marksman at Dallas missing John Kennedy and killing Jackie. The second Mrs. Kennedy persuades her husband to withdraw from Vietnam, leaving Australia to go it alone.

Nonetheless, despite Australian independence, the mainstream of history is little affected. World War I happens on time. Thanks, however, to the early employment of the airship in warfare the airship aircraft carriers are in use in 1914. In actual history this idea was played around with in the 192f0s. (As a small boy I watched fighter biplanes being flown off from one of the British Zeppelin-type dirigibles, either R33 or R34.) World War II happens on time. In both conflicts, however, Australia is dragged in some time after the outbreak, just as America was.

I have implied that the early development of aeronautical techniques resulted in an earlier development of the arts and sciences of astronautics, with the U.S.A. blowing money on manned Mars landings which, on this Time Track, was poured down the drain in Vietnam.

But could my fictitious history have happened without a charismatic, innovative leader such as Ned Kelly?

Despite my preference for the Marxian view of history against that of Carlyle I somehow don’t think so.