Oct. 24th, 2010

zeborah: Zebra against a barcode background, walking on the word READ (read)
Anno Domini 2000; or, Women's Destiny (1889) by Sir Julius Vogel

Vogel bases this utopia on three principles, which he helpfully lays out in the epilogue:
  1. there's no reason women can't do everything men can [except for a telling blind spot he has regarding participation in and leading of the armed forces];
  2. there's no reason the various British colonies shouldn't form a British empire;
  3. there's no reason we shouldn't eliminate poverty [on the grounds that a) it's easy enough to give everyone basic sustenance and lodging, and b) this won't eliminate ambition but rather stoke it because ambition increases the higher up the foodchain you get, and the poorest people are actually too poor to have energy for ambition].
Having fixed all these things, the various colonies force Britain to give Ireland the same self-determination they have, people stop learning Latin and Greek and with the time no longer thus wasted advance the sciences instead, and the House of Lords becomes ashamed of holding their position due only to their birth so dissolves itself.

The plot hinges on the remaining inequality of sexes - that is, the fact that the emperor's heir defaults to his male before his female progeny. Two reasons oppose any change to this: a) it would mean changing the Constitution, and this seems a dangerous precedent; and b) the heir has to be ready to lead the armed forces so obviously it can't be a woman. [You see what I mean about this being a blind spot. It never once occurs to Vogel that a woman could actually lead the armed forces.]

Our Heroine has purple eyes, is beautiful and intelligent and an up-and-coming 23-year-old politician, and everybody loves her. Unfortunately "everybody" includes "Nice Guy" Reginald who's sure she'll eventually love him back if he stalks, slanders, commits treason, and kidnaps her enough. Spoilers: (skip) She thwarts the treason, inherits a stunningly successful gold-mining operation, becomes universally adored, and (after being made a countess and then the Duchess of New Zealand) marries into the position of Empress. Because she's just that awesome.

Oh, and there's artificial magnetism, self-acting elevators, silent telegraphs, sustainable energy, and a potted history of the development of the aircruiser. When Vogel writes, "Strange to say, the inventor or discoverer [of the final stage of the aircruiser] was a young Jewish woman not yet thirty years of age", the "strange" part is almost certainly her youth; most of the awesome scientists mentioned in the book are female, and the awesomest guy is Jewish.

While pro-Irish and pro-Jewish (ah! just found he was Jewish himself), he's pretty silent on non-white folk. The Jewish guy was possibly partly "Asiatic" or possibly that was just a synonym for Jewish; the description was confusing. A Lord and Lady Taieri are mentioned, but I'm not sure whether they're Māori or just named for the gorge (cf a "Lady Cairo") as they get no description at all. And the inhabitants of Antarctica are, alas, described as "docile, peaceful, intelligent" and "unsophisticated" "Antarctic Esquimaux", related to the Māori and assimilated to the climate with "a thick growth of short curly hair" covering both faces and bodies.

But we must not forget Antarctica itself! "A large island, easily accessible, which received the name of Antarctica, was discovered within ten degrees of the Pole, stretching towards it, so that its southern point was not more than ten miles from the southern apex of the world. From causes satisfactorily explained by scientists, the temperature within a hundred-mile circle of the Pole was comparatively mild. There was no wind; and although the cold was severe, it was bearable, and in comparison with the near northern latitudes it was pleasant." Also, they dig up bountiful supplies of ivory there.

Read more on Sir Julius (contains spoilers, not all of which are accurate) and the novel itself. (ETA: Wrong link; try this one instead - on the right nav bar it lists various formats.)

Update the dialogue (keep the Victorian costumes) and I reckon this would make an awesome movie.

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