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With the Night Mail: A Story of 2000 A.D.

Rudyard Kipling

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    Oh my goodness, what a hoot this story is. Or not. Did Kipling mean to be humorous? I dunno. The folks at the Kipling Society apparently don't think so. I mean, Kipling could be very humorous. As in his Just So Stories although those were written for a six-year old. He could be very serious, too, as in his great novel, Kim. This story and its sequel, (they are both short stories or novelettes published in magazines) are Kipling's only adventure into sci-fi, futuristic sci-fi, no less. I will make the same comment on this one as I made about Wells' The Shape of Things to Come, (and he was a seasoned sci-fi writer), and that is if you write about the future, make it WAY into the future, or you will look silly if none of your prophesies pan out. This was written in 1905. And the bulk of it is pure nonsense. However, I did quite a bit of research to attempt to make sense of it, and uncovered some interesting material, which I will share with links. I also want to mention that a brief Wikipedia article actually compares this one with the Wells work, in that they both had created a futuristic world that was run by air traffic control. OK, so that part isn't so funny. I mean look where we are now. In both fictional stories, it was the air traffic control that kept the world in a state of peace. Now, however . . . . Anyone paying attention to what is going on in the skies now, concerning the government and military, particularly concerning geoengineering and using the weather as a weapon, (you can Google weather warfare), should be scared shitless and knows that it ain't got nothin' to do with keeping peace. So.
    As I plod along in my yearly obligation to add a new book to each of my Index Pages, meaning that I must read at least one book by each author I have listed, I've run out of paper copies for most, so I have a flash drive full of eBooks. The one I had chosen for Kipling was called A Diversity of Creatures, which I thought would be like Just So Stories or The Jungle Book. Not so. It is actually a collection of short stories that appeared in magazines, and the first one is called "As Easy As A. B. C.." When I started to read, I realized, 1) I had no idea what he was talking about, and 2) it was a sequel. Having also downloaded this story, I decided to read it first. So now I know. A.B.C. stands for Aerial Board of Control. That story is the sequel to this one.
    There is really very little plot, and only three characters to speak of: Captain Purnall and Captain Hodgson, plus the narrator who hitches a ride on the Night Mail run from London to Quebec. Most of the story is "technobabble," as described by one reader at Goodreads. Kipling has created these super-fast, superlight airplanes of the future, and keep in mind that, according to the article at the Kipling Society, "the first successful powered flight had only taken place two years before, in 1903, and that the first flight across the English Channel was not accomplished until four years after the story was written."
    These planes could travel the Atlantic over night, powered by "Fleury's Ray," and there were emergency vehicles along the way, plus lots of lights. They encounter a terrible storm, then a sinking plane, and are able to rescue its occupants, including the ship's kitten, before it goes down. Their standby emergency ship is the Banks Mark Boat. But it wasn't until I saw one of the illustrations that I realized that these "planes," these state-of-the-art-of-flight-technology were . . . dirigibles!!! OH MY. Kipling thought dirigibles were the way of the future, and that's where I had to laugh. I mean, OK, so here in Northeast Ohio we have the Goodyear Blimp, and yeah, it does travel to outdoor professional sports events and broadcasts the aerial views of the games, but, um. They're not exactly the epitome of 21st century air travel.
    However. Lots of people had interesting stuff to say about Kipling's creativity, and one was that he was way ahead of his time in describing steampunk! That made me stop and think. I never would have even known that term were it not for Dover Publications and their artsy-fartsy editors and coloring book artists, who have provided a great deal of steampunk materials in the form of coloring books, paper dolls and one Book with CD-ROM, all of which I own. The only literary work before this that falls into this category which I have read is The Golden Compass, Book One of His Dark Materials, which I will re-read one of these days and review. I saw the movie the same day I bought the book, and was fascinated with the strange technology. And if I remember correctly, and this was quite a while ago, but I think they traveled in, yep, dirigibles.
    There is one more point I must make, and this was the truly laugh-out-loud part of the story. It ended with a mock publication that contained bulletins, "For Sale" ads, job openings, etc.. Kipling had to mean to be humorous in these!
    So there you have it. Here are some links to explore for more insight on this very strange story by Kipling, You may access all his books I have reviewed on this sight on his Index Page.
    Here are a couple other sites:
The Arion Press Catalogue
Fantasy Literature

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