Rudyard Kipling, that poet of empire, also wrote two very airminded science fiction stories: "With the night mail" (1905) and a sequel, "As easy as A.B.C." (1912). Both were set in the then-remote 21st century, and revolved around the Aerial Board of Control - the ABC of the second story's title. This is effectively a world government, composed of elite aviators, which had grown out of the necessity to regulate air transport:
Her black hull, double conning-tower, and ever-ready slings represent all that remains to the planet of that odd old word authority. She is responsible only to the Aerial Board of Control-- the A.B.C. of which Tim speaks so flippantly. But that semi-elected, semi-nominated body of a few score persons of both sexes, controls this planet. 'Transportation is Civilization,' our motto runs. Theoretically, we do what we please so long as we do not interfere with the traffic and all it implies. Practically, the A.B.C. confirms or annuls all international arrangements and, to judge from its last report, finds our tolerant, humorous, lazy little planet only too ready to shift the whole burden of public administration on its shoulders.
The globalising effects of air transport (more airships than airplanes) has helped the world to outgrow war; and more and more countries are becoming tired of messy politics, and place themselves in the ABC's hands:
The story of the recent Cretan crisis, as told in the A.B.C. Monthly Report, is not without humour. Till 25th October Crete, as all the planet knows, was the sole surviving European repository of 'autonomous institutions,' 'local self-government,' and the rest of the archaic lumber devised in the past for the confusion of human affairs. She has lived practically on the tourist traffic attracted by her annual pageants of Parliaments, Boards, Municipal Councils, etc. etc. Last summer the islanders grew wearied, as their premier explained, of 'playing at being savages for pennies,' and proceeded to pull down all the landing-towers on the island and shut off general communication till such time as the A.B.C. should annex them. For side-splitting comedy we would refer our readers to the correspondence between the Board of Control and the Cretan premier during the 'war.' However, all's well that ends well. The A.B.C. have taken over the administration of Crete on normal lines; and tourists must go elsewhere to witness the 'debates,' 'resolutions,' and 'popular movements' of the old days. The only people who suffer will be the Board of Control, which is grievously overworked already. It is easy enough to condemn the Cretans for their laziness; but when one recalls the large, prosperous, and presumably public-spirited communities which during the last few years have deliberately thrown themselves into the hands of the A.B.C., one cannot be too hard upon St. Paul's old friends.
In "As easy as A.B.C.", this theme is expanded upon, with the ABC being called in to Chicago to put down social unrest; as Michael Paris notes, this story shows that as peaceful as Kipling makes the ABC out to be, ultimately its authority rests on the use of its aircraft as weapons.1
This is a very early instance of an idea which was to enjoy some currency in the 1930s, of an aviation-based technocratic alternative to democracy - in particular H.G. Wells' Air and Sea Control in The Shape of Things to Come (1933).2 Paris also suggests that as Kipling and Frederick Sykes (head of the RAF in 1918) were friends, the ABC stories may have had some influence on the latter's airpower ideas, particularly air control.3
Although I think I've read "With the night mail" before, I'd never seen the faux ads for dirigibles and (air)shipping news reports which (according to Bleiler, Science-fiction: The Early Years) accompanied the 1909 New York edition, obviously to add to the verisimilitude.4 These are so fun! Not that newspapers have Edwardian-style "answers to correspondents" sections any more, but perhaps they should:
PLANISTON -- (1) The Five Thousand Kilometre (overland) was won last year by L. V. Rautsch, R. M. Rautsch, his brother, in the same week pulling off the Ten Thousand (oversea). R. M.'s average worked out at a fraction over 500 kilometres per hour, thus constituting a record. (2) Theoretically, there is no limit to the lift of a dirigible. For commercial and practical purposes 15,000 tons is accepted as the most manageable.
PATERFAMILIAS -- None whatever. He is liable for direct damage both to your chimneys and any collateral damage caused by fall of bricks into garden, etc., etc. Bodily inconvenience and mental anguish may be included, but the average courts are not, as a rule, swayed by sentiment. If you can prove that his grapnel removed any portion of your roof, you had better rest your case on decoverture of domicile (See Parkins v. Duboulay). We sympathize with your position, but the night of the 14th was stormy and confused, and - you may have to anchor on a stranger's chimney yourself some night. Verbum sap!
Oh, and if anyone is looking for a job:
FAMILY DIRIGIBLE. A Competent, steady man wanted for slow speed, low level Tangye dirigible. No night work, no sea trips. Must be member of the Church of England, and make himself useful in the garden.
M. R., The Rectory, Gray's Barton, Wilts.
But mind where you drop your grapnel.
(Thanks to Peter Farrell-Vinay for the pointer, and also for noting the similarity to Wells.)
Michael Paris, Winged Warfare: The Literature and Theory of Aerial Warfare in Britain, 1859-1917 (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1992), 39. Though they do have the power to immobilise people as well as kill. ↩
Ibid, 29. ↩
Ibid, 39-40. ↩
Kind of like the "Would you like to know more?" hyperlinks in the propaganda inserts in Starship Troopers ... oh, I feel so unclean now that I've mentioned that film. ↩
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