Sunday, February 5, 2012

With the Night Mail: A Story of 2000 A.D. (Rudyard Kipling)

With the Night Mail: A Story of 2000 A.D.
Rudyard Kipling
University of Toronto Libraries
Fiction, Sci-Fi
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: In a world where dirigibles are as common as carriages, where war itself has been rendered obsolete, take a memorable journey across the Atlantic with a postal flight. Included with this tale are advertisements and articles from the contemporary periodical where it appeared.

REVIEW: This one lost out on a solid Good by a proverbial gnat's wing. One of the first sci-fi stories that relied on immersion (dribbling bits of information through the text) rather than infodumping (stopping the narrative dead in its tracks to explain itself to the reader), it feels surprisingly modern for such an inherently dated story. Kipling obviously took his time, mapping out the technology and the future world of the story - even allowing for changed cultural attitudes on gender, religion, and nationalities. The tech-intensive dirigibles would fit right in with today's steampunk resurgence. The articles and advertisements at the end add to the milieu of his "future." Unfortunately, the main story itself (which only covers half of the book) lacks a point. It partially succeeds as a "slice of life" glimpse into a blimp-dominated retro-future world, but the characters are too thin to care about and the technobabble gets a bit thick now and again. On the whole, it's highly imaginative and well crafted. If the actual story had been more interesting, I'd have gladly boosted the rating.
(To be honest, I found myself thinking that With the Night Mail would make a great basis for a steampunk role-playing game; this is the kind of thing game makers used to throw in with game manuals, back before a good, mood-setting game manual became a lost art in the industry. It's by a known author, it plays into a modern trend, and it's public domain... come on, programmers! Make it happen!)

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