Turks and Armenians

Researching my post for Robert W. Chambers’ The Dark Star, I wanted to know, though it’s not germane to that novel, when the Ottomans decided on the Armenian Genocide.

I asked an academic acquaintance who specializes in genocide studies for some suggested reading, and he pointed me to McCarthy’s work.

Review: Turks and Armeninans: Nationalism and Conflict in the Ottoman Empire, Justin McCarthy, 2015.

So when did the Ottoman Empire decide to commit genocide against its Armenian citizens?

McCarthy’s convincing answer is that it didn’t. There was no genocide:

The actual history is one of repeated Armenian rebellion, culminating in the great rebellion of World War I. As far back as 1887 the Hunchak Party Program had declared, ‘The most appropriate time to realize the revolution will be when Turkey is at war.’ The actual history demonstrates that this is exactly what happened. The history of World War I shows rebellion, reaction to rebellion, forced migration of both Muslims and Armenians, and mutual massacre. It is a history of a war in which the requirements of life were denied to all, a war in which most those who died succumbed to starvation and disease. Neither side was completely innocent, neither side completely guilty. In no way, however, can the mayhem be called one-sided. It was not genocide, it was war.

McCarthy, a demographer, addresses the various historiographic problems of talking about Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Ottoman census figures weren’t broken down by ethnic groups but by religious affiliations.

Another problem, addressed in a separate appendix, is the very inaccurate impression Europeans and Americans had of Turks. Most of their information about the Armenian minority in the Ottoman Empire came from missionaries. Even when they spoke Turkish, they were, understandably, more interested in their co-religionists among the Kurds and Armenians than Muslims. They got a distinctly one-sided view of life in the Ottoman Empire. Their reports of atrocities committed against the Armenians were sometimes so fantastic as to be demographically impossible or, sometimes, completely unsourced.

Diplomatic reports contradicted many of these claims, but they rarely became public. This was because, particularly in Britain, some powerful politicians were extreme partisans for the Armenians. Armenian Committees in Britain and America, where many of the Armenian diaspora settled before World War One, had their own agendas to pursue. This distorted picture was worsened, of course, by British propaganda during the war.

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World War One in Fantastic Fiction: The Golden Rock

I continue with my look at the romans scientifique of Théo Varlet.

Review: The Golden Rock, Theo Varlet, trans. Brian Stableford, 2012.

Cover by Mandy

Varlet’s firsr science fiction novel mixes astronomy with the “dismal science” of economics for a tale of international intrigue, French post-World War One woes, impending war, and romance while also managing to be somewhat prophetic.

Published as Le Roc d’or in 1927, Varlet’s novel is, as Stableford notes in his “Introduction”,  a takeoff on a posthumous Jules Verne work from 1908, La Chasse au météore. While’s Verne’s tale was an amiable comedy involving the families of two American astronomers and how the discovery of a near-earth object made of goal – and attendant plans to bring it down to Earth with a ray – causes growing acrimony and threatens the marital plans of two of the families’ members, Varlet’s tale is much more serious.

The story begins with narrator Antoine Marquin, a medical doctor, attending a party the day before he is to leave on an expedition to the Antarctic. There he meets the Kohbulers of Switzerland. He doesn’t much like the pushy Dr. Kohbuler, but he is immediately smitten with his beautiful daughter Frédérique-Elsa, an accomplished mathematician.

A radio broadcast announces a great storm in the North Atlantic with the loss of many ships. (As in The Xenobiotic Invasion, Varlet uses mass media to do a lot of his exposition, but here it’s not only newspapers but radio.) Here Varlet raises early his theme of the changes modernity has brought and humanity’s dangerous character. Marquin remarks to Dr. Kohbuler that

The rhythm of life on our planet has accelerated, and humankind is increasingly forming a whole, a single organism palpitating all at once with the same reactions.

Varlet, Theo. The Golden Rock (French Science Fiction Book 86) (Kindle Locations 161-162). Black Coat Press. Kindle Edition.

If this storm had happened 13 years ago, it would have taken three or four days to learn about the loss of life. (That interval, incidentally, would take us back to the sinking of the Titanic.) Dr. Kohbuler says the Great War showed humanity was not a homogenous mass, that the races are irreconcilable.

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“The Child That Went with the Fairies”

This week’s bit of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Child That Went with the Fairies”, Sheridan Le Fanu, 1870.

I seem to recall seeing this story mentioned in Fortean Times as a good literary representation of fairy beliefs among the Irish. 

The story is fairly simple. 

It starts out with a description of the Slieveelim hills and a solitary road between Limerick and Dublin. 

In that area, lives the widow Mary Ryan with her four children. The magical protections around her simple cottage are several: mountain ash trees believed to be “inimical to witches”, two horseshoes above the door, bits of house-leeks along the thatch roof. Inside, Mary has her rosaries and holy water. 

The story takes place in the autumn and, in this area, out of fear of fairies, the so-called “Good people”, the locals get inside at twilight. 

After coming home carrying some turf, Mary asks her elder daughter Nell where the other three children are. She didn’t see them outsides. (This part of the story renders the conversation dialectically in, for me, an often times incomprehensible fashion.) Nell goes outside to look for her two brothers Con and Bill and sister Peg. She can’t find them by the nearby bog, and she casts an apprehensive eye towards the rocks of Lisnavoura, reputed home of the fairies. She remembers the stories she’s heard of children stolen by the fairies at nightfall. 

Nell comes back to the cottage to tell her mother she can’t find the children. Nell thinks they’ve just ran down the road, but Mary is sure “they’re took”. The nearest help is Father Tom, three miles away. 

Just then, mother and daughter see the rest of the children approach up the road. Except there are only two of them. When asked where Bill is, Con says “they took him away”. “He’s gone away with the grand ladies”, says Peg. 

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The Xenobiotic Invasion

And so I return to the work of Théo Varlet, this time for his second roman scientifique.

Review: The Xenobiotic Invasion, Théo Varlet, trans. Brian Stableford, 2011. 

Cover by Grillon

Published in 1930 as La Grande Panne, this is a charming science fiction novel that succeeds as a romance and a treatment of alien invasion and social upheaval. It also has some surprisingly modern resonances.

Our narrator is Gaston-Adolphe Delvart, a fairly successful painter. The book opens with him visiting his friends, Géo de Ricourts and his sister Luce. The subject turns to a rather rare topic in French romans scientifique – rocket powered space travel. Varlet was one of the few authors of French speculative fiction to use the idea before 1950.

It seems that it’s a potentially a big day for the advancement of aeronautics and rocketry. The American Moon Gold Company is launching, from Columbia, Missouri, a rocket ship to the moon. It’s part of a well-publicized attempt to bring back gold from Luna. The ship was developed by Professor Lescure and to be piloted by his famous daughter Aurora.

Alburtin, a medical doctor also visiting the de Ricourts, says he’s seen Aurora in the newsreels and found her “very pretty”. Delvart admits he does too. But what he tells us is that he is really fascinated with her. His disdain for famous film actresses is inverse to their popularity, but Aurora . . .  And why he wouldn’t he be attracted to Aurora? She’s beautiful, has several doctorates in math and science, and is a skilled pilot and, now, a rocket test pilot.

Luce asks why anyone would find a bespectacled American scientist attractive. Luce herself is quite attractive and knows it and flirts with Delvart. But, despite her beauty, Delvart knows there’s an “undeniable moral incompatibility” between the two of them. Besides, Luce has made no secret of her plans (to the horror of her mother) to marry a rich American when she can find one.

Wanting a break from the de Ricourts, Delvart accepts a ride back to Cassis with Dr. Alburtin. And, along the way, the woman of Delvart’s dreams falls from the sky.

The men pull the unconscious Aurora from her rocketship after a controlled landing, and they also grab a bag of meteorites collected in Earth orbit.

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Dance of the Furies

A few years back, I saw a recording of Michael Neiberg’s presentation on this book at the National World War One Museum. I picked up a copy and read it a few months ago as research for my post on Robert W. Chambers’ The Dark Star.

Review: Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War 1, Michael S. Neiberg, 2011.

When Gavrilo Princip stepped up to the car of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 and fired his Browning pistol twice, one bullet for the Archduke and one for his wife, he gave Europeans what they had long wanted: a war to settle old grudges and to further the interests of their countries. The war had long been predicted, desired, and was greeted with enthusiasm. They all wanted it.

Or so one of the myths of World War One would have it.

Neiberg’s compelling and highly readable history is a convincing refutation of that idea. By looking at the journals, articles, letters, and diaries of Europeans – including some who found themselves in countries their home nations were at war with – and diplomats and journalists from neutral nations, he details how Europeans went from barely noticing any “crisis” in June 1914 to reluctant but resolute supporters of the war by December 1914.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire wasn’t that upset about the assassination. There was no cessation of regular activities to mourn the Archduke. French, Italian, and Russians newspapers barely noted the story. The British papers were sympathetic to the Archduke since he and his wife had visited England the year before. But, really, what could you expect from Serb “anarchists”?

It was a beautiful summer, and Europe was at peace. Bestselling books had argued for years that a European war was unthinkable because of international trade and the sheer volume of material that would be consumed in a modern war. And there had been war scares before back in 1905 and 1911. The diplomats had always worked things out. It may take months, and there would be ups and downs. Maybe the Austro-Hungarian Empire would take its gripes against Serbia to a third-party arbitrator. It’s not like it was going to punish a whole country because of a small group of terrorists.

Europeans were not internationalists. They had loyalties to nations and empires, but it was not an aggressive nationalism that yearned for war. Kaiser Wilhelm, astoundingly, was regarded in the Europe of 1914 as a major force for peace. Czar Nicholas had a similar reputation. The British Royal Navy visited the German High Fleet in Kiel that July, and politicians took vacations and went to the spa.

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This Immortal

Over at The Books That Time Forgot, there has been discussion of Roger Zelazny.

While I’m working on new posting, I thought I’d post this Raw Feed.

Raw Feed (199): This Immortal, Roger Zelazny, 1965. 

Cover by Gray Morrow

I had forgotten how witty Zelazny could be in his prose and dialogue. 

Conrad Nomikos, like the hero of Zelazny’s My Name Is Legion, is a man of a mysterious past fighting a covert struggle.  Here, though, Conrad has wearied of his struggle to assert Earth’s independence from the Vegans and is unsure how to continue that struggle. 

Like most Zelazny novels, there are religious and literary references (many of which I don’t recognize) allusions. Here the mythical framework, also found in other Zelazny novels, is Greek in origin. Conrad and his dog Bothan are like some Greek demigod. 

I found the first third of this book rather slow, if witty, but things picked up as the grand tour of a near deserted Earth began. The novel moved quickly then. 

I loved particularly the mad anthropologist with his Frazer-inspired ability to lend class to a bunch of cannibals. Zelazny briefly, but poignantly, touched on the plight of the long-lived Conrad: his seeing friends and family — especially his son Jason — grow old and die. 

The novel’s end, with Conrad inheriting the Earth, was interesting but I thought Cassandra’s survival a bit contrived. 

New Atlantis: A Narrative History of Scientific Romance

Review: New Atlantis: A Narrative History of Scientific Romance: Vol. I: The Origins of Scientific Romance, Brian Stableford, 2016.

New Atlantis: A Narrative History of Scientific Romance: Vol. II: The Emergence of Scientific Romance, Brian Stableford, 2016

New Atlantis: A Narrative History of Scientific Romance: Vol. III: The Resurgence of Scientific Romance, Brian Stableford, 2016.

New Atlantis: A Narrative History of Scientific Fomance: Vol.  IV:  The Decadence of Scientific Romance, Brian Stableford, 2014. 

This is an expansion of Stableford’s earlier Scientific Romance in Britain 1890-1950 which I’ve already reviewed. It is 968 pages of text compared to the earlier work’s 337. All four volumes are intended as a single work with the index in the fourth volume. (And, no, I don’t why the fourth volume has an earlier copyright.)

A great deal of the expansion is in Vol. I which doesn’t even make it to 1890. Stableford traces the first use of the phrase “scientific romance” to a 1780 essay by English lawyer James Ibbetson. His complaint had nothing to do with what we would think of as “scientific romances” but with the notion that English common law went back to the city of Troy. That notion is what  Stableford calls a “scholarly fantasy” – a notion that was taken up as a theme in his The Darkling Wood

Scholars are inherently far more likely to fall prey to their own patter than inventors of romance; indeed, it is a rare scholar who does not. There is no fantasy that tries harder to pretend to be fact than scholarly fantasy, although it is the case, perhaps sadly, that all scholarship, including scientific scholarship, contains a weighty component of fantasy – which, by virtue of its scholarly nature, tends to be very insistent in its denial of its own fantastic quality.

Stableford offers his own definition for the purpose of his discussion: Scientific romance is essentially the romance of the disenchanted universe: a universe in which new things can and must appear, quite unpredictably, by virtue of the discoveries of scientists and the ingenuity of inventors; and a universe that is already rich in strange phenomena that humans have not yet discovered, the range of which can only be tentatively estimated with the aid of scientific notions of conceivability. It remains a kind of romance, although it is skeptical of received ideas and frequently mischievous in the manner of the challenges that it opposes to them. There is an irreducible element of ‘flim-flam’ in it, but one that aspires to enhance its seriousness rather than detracting from it, however paradoxical that might seem. 

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“Swan Maiden”

This week’s weird fiction being discussed by the Deep Ones over at LibraryThing.

Review: “Swan Maiden”, Barbara A. Barnett, 2013. 

I didn’t have high expectations for this one given that it’s flash fiction. Most of the flash fiction I’ve read strikes me as an abrogation of authorial imagination and ends the story where the real imaginative work begins. 

This story is told from the point of view of a ballerina who, along with the rest of her company, was frozen in place, magically, by Fyodor. It was peforming Swan Lake. At first, they were visited frequently. But Fyodor is now old, not many people visit, and the theater now is dilapedated and filled with garbage. The only reason it hasn’t been torn down is because of the spectacle of those frozen ballerinas.

But Fyodor’s magic can possibly be counteracted. 

The narrator is frozen “forever on point”. Roksana, playing Odette, has an expression changing slowly to “madness and despair”. The narrator has learned that the strength she admired in Roksana was affected; she’s going mad. Her skin has also taken on the “cast of stone”. Yet, Roksana’s movement has given the narrator hope.

With exquisite pain, the narrator has began to move her foot. She only hopes her first step can be taken before the theater collapses.

The ending emphasizes the narrator’s resolve to fight against impending doom and brings the story to a satisfying conclusion.

His Own Most Fantastic Creation

Low Res Scan: His Own Most Fantastic Creation: Stories About H. P. Lovecraft, ed. S. T. Joshi, 2020. 

Cover by John Coulthart

Joshi’s “Introduction” mostly groups the anthology’s stories by theme and notes that Lovecraft has been a fictional character in other people’s stories since 1921 in Edith Miniter’s “Falco Osssifracus” where he appeared under a fictitious name.

Let’s cover the cheating stories first, those that don’t actually feature a fictional Lovecraft. Sometimes they vaguely refer to places in his stories. In one case, the adjective “eldritch” is about the only link. I’m not convinced by Joshi’s argument that they feature characters “who reveal strikingly Lovecraftian elements”.

W. H. Pugmire’s “A Gentleman of Darkness” is set in the Red Hook district of New York City but, unlike Lovecraft’s “The Horror at Red Hook”, in contemporary times. The protagonist, a woman of mixed race, is friend to the sallow-faced Carl Pertwho is troubled by sleepwalking, stange dreams, and a musician neighbor playing a strange horn. The story seems to owe something to Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann” and T. E. D. Klein’s “Black Man with a Horn”. It’s a merely adequate story, and I suspect it’s mainly here out of Joshi’s loyalty to his friend Pugmire.

I liked the next two cheats.

Simon Strantzas’ “Captured in Oils” is a tale of obsession. Its protagonist goes from a hobby painter which gives him some kind of inner life unlike the office drones around him. But then he finds himself obsessively drawing strange images during office meetings, soiling his pants, and having fugue states. Soon enough, he’s fired and in constant pain, yet he must continue putting his visions on the canvas. There’s something lurking in the canvas he must capture. Strantzas wraps this one up with some nice phrasing.

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After a lull of a few weeks in which I couldn’t get my hands on the weekly reading of LibraryThing’s The Weird Tradition’s Deep Ones’ discussion group, my weekly weird fiction review is back.

Unfortunately, it’s back with this.

Review: “Lull”, Kelly Link, 2002.

Normally, I would do a detailed plot synopsis to order my thoughts for the Deep Ones discussion. However, I am not going to do that for this one. It’s too long, and I didn’t like the story. To Link’s credit, nearly every sentence is important in this story, so I synoptic compression wouldn’t save much space.

The only other Link story I’ve read is “The Specialist Hat”, I said of that story in my notes that it opened promisingly but “degenerated into so-what obscurity.” That is mostly true for this long story.   

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