Kaph's Reviews > The Coming Race

The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
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's review
Jan 16, 2012

did not like it
bookshelves: 1000-books, a-whole-new-world, g1000-scifi-and-fantasy

Verdict: A soporifically dull albeit uniquely demeaning utopian travelogue from the Victorian mind that brought you ‘It was a dark and stormy night’

Though I’ve always had a soft spot for Bulwer-Lytton's infamous opener (on account of the joint influences of L’Engle and Snoopy) I can’t say I went into this with the highest of expectations. I’ve read enough public domain by now to know that Victorian authors can be a mixed bag, the general rule being if you’ve never heard of a certain work there might be a reason for it. I was further disheartened when the story began in America, the land where literature goes to die. Still, the author was English and I was promised subterranean neo-humans so optimism remained and I dove into The Coming Race.

The subterranean utopia proved excessively easy to find (hint: it’s just below you. Verne this aint.) and the chapters came short and swift which was a good move on the part of Bulwer-Lytton's as it gave a sense of progress to a narrative which was stultifyingly boring. The Coming Race (The Aun) were boring. They were calm and perfect and zen. Everything was wonderful because they all had magic wands which ran on some (ostensibly) natural energy call vril, but nevertheless they acted all superior about it. Yeah, you know what, Aun? If we had magic powers we’d all live in an idyllic utopia with no poverty, unemployment or unhappiness too. That or we’d wreak Godzilla-esq destruction upon the surface world in bitchin wizard duels. Come to think of it, it would definitely be the latter and it would make for a much better story.

Why you would invent a culture so bhuddistically bland they spurn art and literature and then write for pages on end about them is beyond me. They live in total harmony with the world as they control it. All their animals are small and cute and the ones that aren’t are instantly disintegrated. They don’t drink, they don’t eat meat and they can fly but somehow make it dull. Personal distinction is considered in bad taste and their religion is so vague it makes Shinto shrines look like Notre Dame. Additionally, the narrator, in some sort of anti-journalistic impulse, takes it upon himself to really dig deep and document the dullest aspects of life imaginable. Halfway through a chapter about Aun vowel conjugations I literally passed out onto my keyboard and learnt a valuable lesson about reading at work.

The only whispers of a plot come in the form of an inscrutable romantic entanglement seeped in a completely unique future-chauvinism. That might not be the right word, but there might not be a right word. Let me explain. You see, the female Aun (the Gy) are the physically superior sex in this, the coming race. Rather than turning the tables on the surface world and making men the second sex, this attribute combines with a sort of Victorian “Be nice to the silly woman, it’s just that dammed wandering uterus of hers getting her all crazy-like,” condescension. The result is that the Gy must woo the Aun, promising them favours and not to interfere in their hobbies in exchange for marriage AND be the silly sensitive sex which needs to be protected from its own stupidity. For example, while the men dare not interfere with a Gy courting whomever she wants, should this partner prove offensive to the men they have no trouble killing him later with their magic death wands.

This, you see, was the predicament our narrator found himself in after winning the affections of not one but two virginal Gy. Naturally, as these women were tall and intelligent, he was repulsed. This mattered not to their fathers who told him very serenely he must die if he threatens to pollute their vegan gene pool. One of the ladies thinks she’s found a way around this and proposes that only their souls marry to which our narrator diplomatically replies he could not live with the disgrace of being a husband and never a father. Rawr. Unfortunately that’s as titillating as our story gets. It’s a shame too because, as far as I can tell, the Gy and the Aun are equally ambivalent about sex so I would have appreciated some explanation as to why this coming race hasn’t exterminated itself through procreative lethargy.

I’m not sure why this book made my 1000 books list. Maybe its awkward stabbings at women’s lib were scandalous for its time, I duuno. All I can say is I found it dull and befuddling. Like The Trial(hateful) and the The Man Who Was Thursday(glorious), I have decided that this too is part of a set of diametric twins. Namely, The Coming Race is the evil twin of Wells’ The Time Machine, taking the same elements and structure and corrupting them into literary stodge. The Time Machine got a 5 so this gets a 1. Them’s the rules.

Title The Coming Race by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton
When March 2012
Why It was written by mister ‘dark and stormy night’ himself
Rating 1
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