Saturday, 2 September 2017

Forty Years with the Damned, Or, Life Inside the Earth: A Novel (1895) by Charles Aikin

This is one of those instances where the chronicler of the obscure is left having to confess that no amount of digging has been able to produce anything at all about the author of the work in question. The publisher himself seems very obscure, and online sources can't even agree on his name, though the book quite clearly mentions Regan Printing House.

The novel in question, from a cursory glance, would seem to come from a somewhat amateur publication. There are instances of repeated words, missing characters. The writing itself would also suggest someone dabbling rather than an experienced hand.

In short, this is formally a story about a paradisical after-life existence inside the Earth, in a place called Surey. However, seeing as this is a Utopia of the most sickening sense, the author decides, after subjecting us to a full chapter of extremely tedious and long winded descriptions of theatres and opera houses, to not focus on this Utopia overmuch, instead letting people either speak of their past lives or to follow the main character on a spirit journey to Mars.

These are a mixed bag. For example, the only story taking place inside the Earth, dealing with the attack on Hell, is over-brief, lacking in detail, and is over before it's pretty much started and in contrast, the story of a Southerner pursuing his eloping daughter and then shooting her husband while drunk ends up having more substance and holds a stronger interest.

The Martian story is the most interesting, and one would almost hope that Aikin focused only that, as the spirit-intervention of the main character is extremely brief, circumstantial and could be easily supplanted.

On the other hand the story focusing on the Toltecs and Aztecs is the most confusing, as Aikin seems to just treat them as Medieval Europeans, being knights-errant, houlding tourneys on horseback with lances and the like, and it's one of the more odd goofs of the writing, which also includes such statements as "black people are by natural law motivated to serve white people even in the after life", "no one will ever reach the North Pole", or a completely meaningless incident where the main character runs into a conclave of Sirens talking about all the bones of the victims displayed in their palaces, which information the main character learns only to leave and for it to never come up again.

And then the hunter who had all this narrated to him wakes up from a dream.

I will not gratify this last development with a reply.

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