Science Fiction – Future History transformed over time into Alternative History
City of Endless Night by Milo M. Hastings (Author)
Science Fiction from the early 20th century can be both odd and engaging. Stories like Jack London’s “The Iron Heel” and Robert Hugh Benson’s “Lord of the World” and even C.M. Kornbluth’s “Not This August” were written long enough ago that they are like time capsules from a different culture with different assumption and different concerns. These stories are trying to predict what their future will look, but their future is our past and we can be amazed at what they got right and what they got wrong.
Milo M. Hastings’ The City of Endless Night was published in 1920, shortly after the capitulation of Germany in World War I, after the abdication of the House of Hohenzollern, and during the midst of the Communist revolutions that held Berlin for a time. Hastings writes this story about a future Berlin with that background in mind.
Hastings’ story has an odd mix of old and new. For anyone familiar with the archaic and overwrought prose of Wells, London and others from a more civilized age, Hastings has a modern, efficient approach to prose. His writing is accessible and clean and he tells his story with an attention to telling the story. On the other hand, the tropes of a visitor to a alien-world seem to be something we might expect from Edgar Rice Burroughs, and he has a Victorian sensibility, notwithstanding that he projects a world where a large percentage of women are prostitutes.
If you are like me, you will find this quick bit of alt.hist/history that never was to be fascinating:
//Third came ‘The Age of the League of Nations, 1919– 1983’, with the gold of democracy battling with the spreading red of socialism, for the black of autocracy had erstwhile vanished.
The fourth map was the most fascinating and terrible. Again the black of autocracy appeared, obliterating the red of the Brotherhood of Man, spreading across half of Eurasia and thrusting a broad black shadow to the Yellow Sea and a lesser one to the Persian Gulf. This map was labeled ‘Maximum German Expansion of the Second World War, 1988’, and lines of dotted white retreated in concentric waves till the line of 2041.
Hastings, Milo M. (2014-10-01). City of Endless Night (p. 8). Hesperus Press. Kindle Edition.
The story is set in the 21nd century, long after the German Empire has been pushed back to Berlin, where it defends itself with an impenetrable death ray, and Berlin has buried itself 60 stories into the Earth, dividing up the levels between workers, soldiers, intellectuals and the divine Hohenzollern dynasty. The narrator has grown up in the World State – the successor the League of Nations, which fell in 1983 to a resurgent Imperial Germany – knowing of Germany only as Berlin, a city isolated from the world. He accidentally gains access to Berlin by way of an abandoned Potash mine, assumes the identity of a German chemist killed in his entry into the mines, and, then, makes his way up through Berlin society by utilizing his outside knowledge of chemistry to gain the attention of his superiors. In making his way up through the levels of the underground German world, the narrator plays tourist and offers a description of German society.
The world he discovers ought to be familiar to any student of history – it looks like Nazi Germany, but isn’t. Germany has used generations of eugenics to create workers and soldiers perfected to their jobs. The workers are big, strong and dumb and the soldiers are big, strong and loyal. Marriage has been eliminated for everyone except the Imperial cast. God has been replaced by a German God and the Imperial family has been declared in texts written by the German intellectuals to be divine. The Bible and Christianity have been suppressed and forgotten. The Jewish problem has even been solved:
//At this I looked for an outburst of indignation from the orthodox Admiral, but instead he seemed greatly elated. ‘Of course,’ he enthused; ‘the blood breeds true. It verily has the quality of true divinity. No wonder we super -men repudiated that spineless conception of the soft Christian God and the servile Jewish Jesus.’
‘But Jesus was not a coward,’ spoke up Marguerite. ‘I have read the story of his life; it is very wonderful; he was a brave man, who met his death unflinchingly.’ ‘But where did you read it?’ asked the Countess. ‘It must be very new. I try to keep up on the late novels but I never heard of this “Story of Jesus”.’
‘What you say is true,’ said the Admiral, turning to Marguerite, ‘but since you like to read so well, you should get Prof. Ohlenslagger’s book and learn the explanation of the fact that you have just stated. We have long known that all those great men whom the inferior races claim as their geniuses are of truth of German blood, and that the fighting quality of the outer races is due to the German blood that was scattered by our early emigrations.
‘But the distinctive contribution that Prof. Ohlenslagger makes to these long established facts is in regard to the parentage of this man Jesus. In the Jewish accounts, which the Christians accepted, the truth was crudely covered up with a most unscientific fable, which credited the paternity of Jesus to miraculous interference with the laws of nature.
‘But now the truth comes out by Prof . Ohlenslagger’s erudite reasoning. This unknown father of Jesus was an adventurer from Central Asia, a man of Teutonic blood. On no other conception can the mixed elements in the character of Jesus be explained. His was the case of a dual personality of conflicting inheritance. One day he would say: “Lay up for yourself treasures” – that was the Jewish blood speaking . The next day he would say: “I come to bring a sword” – that was the noble German blood of a Teutonic ancestor. It is logical, it must be true, for it was reasoned out by one of our most rational professors.’//
Hastings, Milo M. (2014-10-01). City of Endless Night (pp. 238-240). Hesperus Press. Kindle Edition.
All of this looks like the craziness that the Nazis and Volkisch Germans would develop during the 1920s, except Hastings is outlining it in 1920 and ascribing it to the Wilhelmine German Empire. As a kind of intellectual historical “time capsule” this raises some interesting questions about how much of intellectual precursor to the Nazis was already in the air before the Nazis.
Then there is this description of Germany, when the narrator makes his way into Berlin:
//Yes, I was walking in utopia, a nightmare at the end of man’s long dream – utopia – Black utopia – City of Endless Night – diabolically compounded of the three elements of civilization in which the Germans had always been supreme – imperialism, science and socialism.//
Hastings, Milo M. (2014-10-01). City of Endless Night (p. 54). Hesperus Press. Kindle Edition.
I enjoyed this book, but almost as much as a view into the world between the lines of the history books, the world that people actually lived in.
Some of the book reads as parody, such as when he describes the Socialism of the Working Class:
//‘Certainly,’ said Hellar, ‘it is the natural mind of man! Skepticism, which is the basis of scientific reasoning, is an artificial thing, first created in the world under the competitive economic order when it became essential to self-preservation in a world of trade based on deceit. In our new order we have had difficulty in maintaining enough of it for scientific purposes even in the intellectual classes. There is no skepticism among the laborers now, I assure you. They believe as easily as they breathe.’
‘Then how,’ I demanded in amazement, ‘does it come that they do not believe in God?’
‘Because,’ said Hellar, ‘they have never heard of God.
‘The laborer does not know of God because we have restored God since the perfection of our caste system, and hence it was easy to promulgate the idea among the intellectuals and not among the workers. It was necessary to restore God for the intellectuals in order to give them greater respect for the power of the Royal House, but the laborers need no God because they believe themselves to be the source from which the Royal House derives its right to rule. They believe the Emperor to be their own servant ruling by their permission.’ ‘The Emperor a servant to labor!’ I exclaimed; ‘this is absurd.’//
Hastings, Milo M. (2014-10-01). City of Endless Night (p. 200). Hesperus Press. Kindle Edition.
Eventually, the narrator discovers the weak point of Berlin, falls in love, falls in with German revolutionaries and finally escapes to the outside world.
I had never heard of Hastings before, but I found this to be an engaging and interesting read, both from the perspective of history and as a bit of archaic science fiction. I’m surprised that I hadn’t heard of Hasting before, frankly. It seems that he deserves at least a footnote in the history of science fiction.