Pretty fantastic, under-hyped early science fiction. It tells the story of the discovery of a small population of intelligent newts, and how the introPretty fantastic, under-hyped early science fiction. It tells the story of the discovery of a small population of intelligent newts, and how the introduction of human influence first affects the newts, in ways both good and bad, and then how the newts affect human society, again for good and ill.
The structure is alternately engaging and off-putting, but in the classical sense of speculative fiction, where the author is introducing a (usually technological) change in society and extrapolating the effects of it, this is kind of the ideal. It also reaches back to an earlier, Swiftian model of science fiction, which uses the fantastic to satirize aspects of contemporary society; this book has vicious take-downs of colonialism, racism, and the rise of fascism in Germany (a social phenomenon that would eventually threaten the author's life and lead directly to his brother's death).
It takes the form of little vignettes that provide a glimpse into the interactions between people and newts, moving over a long period of time and many characters to tell the story of a changing world. The best vignettes are in the early going, with funny, interesting characters that tell self-contained stories (Captain van Toch, in particular, is a vivid and hilarious creation). The middle section is given over to newspaper clippings and technical reports and so on which allow the story to move quickly through time, but can be kind of a slog to get through.
The third and final section tries to go back to the vignettes, but is mostly the author telling us in broad strokes and narration what happens, until the final vignette where (view spoiler)[the author breaks the fourth wall and admits that he's not happy with the world he has imagined, and struggles to find a way to redeem humanity's future while remaining true to the logic of his tale. (hide spoiler)]
The only character who makes it through most of the book is Mr. Povondra, a bit player in the story of the newts who plays a minor but crucial role, (view spoiler)[ which he then exaggerates to make himself first the hero in a new golden age for humanity and then the villain. (hide spoiler)] He's an amusing figure, but not a particularly deep one, and the lack of characters that we really care about is somewhat to the book's detriment.
I also wish we got a better sense of Newt culture, as many of their behaviors and decisions seem incomprehensible, but that is clearly intentional on Capek's part, as he is creating a creature that is both genuinely intelligent and frustratingly alien. Since the story is told from many perspectives, we often get contradictory information about the newts, which we are meant to chalk up to various observers seeing mostly what they want to see.
Ultimately, this is a pretty fantastic and quick read; a fascinating literary oddity. Recommended.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more