Swiftly (the novel)
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It is 1848 and the British Empire has grown rich exploiting Lilliputian slaves - the finesse of their working allowing unheard of feats of minature engineering; even Babbage's computing device has been made to work.
But now the French have formed a regiment of previously peaceful Brobdingnagian giants and invasion looms.
In a world where humanity is both smaller and larger than it once was, love and hate loom large. Mankind discovers itself at the centre of scale. Lilliptians are twelve times smaller than us but there are those twelve times smaller than them, and twelve times smaller again and so on. And the scale of being goes up from Swift's giants also...
A rip-roaring 19th century adventure, a love story and a thought-provoking pre-atomic SF novel about our place in the universe.
[Reviews To Follow]
[Commentary To Follow]
Where does it go, the melancholia, when some startling event evaporates it, sublimes it into vapour that dissolves into the wind? Bates's downheartedness vanished. He washed, shaved, dressed, ate and bustled from his rooms in an hour. Everything had been turned topsy-turvy, and the evil spirit squatting spiderish in his head had somehow been shaken free.
He hurried. D'Ivoi had been his only contact with the French, and perhaps by limiting his contact to a single individual he had, at some level, believed that he limited his treason too. And for a day or two the very notion of a French victory—of French troops marching up the Mall—was too shocking for him to think about it at all. But the idea percolated through his mind anyway, and soon he was almost welcoming it. It would at least bring his cause to fruition. The Lilliputians would be freed, the Brobdingnagians reprieved from race-death.
He was up, up, up.
He went to his club, and wrote three letters. Then he caught a cab (a rare expense for him) and visited a sympathetically-minded gentleman in Holborn. He spent the evening with a gaggle of churchmen, duck-like individuals who paced about the room with their heads forward and their hands tucked into the smalls of their backs, talking ponderously of God and Grace and Sin. He told the sympathetically-minded gentleman little, but he told the churchmen all. Their worry, it transpired, was not of French political rule so much as the danger of an oppressive Catholicism being imposed as the official religion. Bates was too excited, too elevated in spirit, to worry about this.
'Are you certain that these events are going to come to pass?' one of the clerics asked him. 'Are you sure?'
'I am sure,' gabbled Bates. He tended to talk too rapidly when the mood was on him, when his blood was hurtling through his body, but it couldn't be helped. 'Now that they have declared themselves for the humanity of the Lilliputians and Brobdingnagians, all of the civilised world will support them, surely. And their alliance has meant that they could recruit a regiment of giants to fight us. To fight the English. Moreover,' he went on, wide-eyed, 'they have perfected a device, a machine, a thinking machine. Have you heard of Mister Babbing?'
'Do you mean Babbage,' said one elderly churchman, a whittled, dry-faced old man who had been a main agent in the campaign since its first days. 'The computational device?'
'The French have perfected it,' said Bates. 'And with it they have constructed new engineering devices, and plotted new techniques of war-making.'
'It is credible indeed.'
'The computing device has been perfected!'
On the Saturday he attended a tea-party at which he was the only male present. He sat on a chair too small for him, and listened politely to half-a-dozen wealthy matrons and maidens expatiate upon how beautiful the little people were, how marvellous, and how wicked it was to chain them with tiny chains and make them work in factories. Bates did not mentioned the Brobdingnagians, of course, who lacked the daintiness to appeal to this class of person. But he smiled and nodded, and thought of the money these women might gift to the cause.
One woman confided in him. 'Since my husband passed through the veil,' she said in a breathy tone of voice, 'my life has become divided between these darling little creatures, and my cats.'
The Sunday, naturally he went to chapel. But he could not bring his mind to focus on the sermon. Something fretted at its margins, some piece of thought-grit. These darling little creatures. But, Bates thought, there was so much more to the Lilliputians than this! They were messengers, in a manner as yet uncertain to him. He had not managed to distil the thought thoroughly enough through his brain to fully understand it, but he felt it, he felt it genuinely and thoroughly. Messengers. There was something about them, something special, that deserved preservation in the way few ordinary-sized people did.
She had sat next to him, with purple crinoline and a lacecap covering her hair, but with these intense, beautiful air-blue eyes, and had said: these darling little creatures, and my cats.
Cats preyed on them, of course. One of Bates's acquaintances said that he had first become interested in their cause after watching two cats fighting over a stray Lilliputian in the kitchen of his uncle's house.
And so it slid again, dropping like leaves from a tree until the tree has lost all its leaves. Bates went to bed Sunday night with a heart so heavy it registered not only in his chest, but in his throat and belly too. And waking the following morning was a forlorn, interfered-with sensation. The urge not to rise was very strong: merely to stay in bed, to turn the heavy-body and heavy-head and lie there. So it was that after a spurt of energetic living Bates's was again usurped by melancholia.
* * *
His rooms, on Cavendish Square, looked over an oval of parched winter grass and four nude trees. Some days he would sit and stare, emptying one cigarette after another of its smoke, and doing nothing but watching the motionlessness of the trees.
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