NORDENHOLT’S MILLION (1923) – Written by J.J. Connington (Pen name for Alfred Walter Stewart). This is a riveting but downbeat Future History novel with many story elements which were ahead of their time.
The tale begins in England in “the near future” but no precise year was given. Airplanes are much more advanced than they were in the 1920s however. Jack Flint, an automobile manufacturer, was visiting his scientist friend Professor Witherspoon when ball lightning struck an experimental bacteria culture, mutating it.
The mutant strain spreads worldwide very quickly owing to the everyday nature of air travel in the alternate future of this story. The bacterium wipes out crops across the globe, and destroys the soil, making regrowth of vegetation impossible for years. Food shortages are becoming commonplace with the expected riots and accompanying breakdown of the social order that such a calamity would bring.
The British government summons major political figures plus captains of industry to an emergency summit meeting to plot strategy. The U.K. has only 12 weeks’ worth of food supplies left by this point and HMG wants to avoid the chaos erupting in other nations.
Political squabbling gets in the way of effective action, presenting an opening for the ascent of Stanley Nordenholt, a sinister, George Soros-style tycoon who tricks and blackmails the government into playing along with his callous plans for the world under the guise of “saving” it.
Abandoning the overwhelming majority of the population to starvation and disease, Nordenholt establishes a settlement of 5 million “deserving” people in the Clyde Valley. This settlement will retain all the available food and will ruthlessly bar “unauthorized” people from the Valley (now called the Nitrogen Area).
Jack Flint, as yet oblivious to the callous nature of Nordenholt’s plot, agrees to oversee certain operations of the new settlement. As he gradually becomes aware of what sort of monster Nordenholt is, he simultaneously falls in love with the man’s niece Elsa. His desire to be with Elsa overcomes Flint’s conscience when the reality of Nordenholt’s plans becomes impossible to ignore.
Stanley Nordenholt is effectively the dictator of this small pocket of humanity, which may well be the only humans to survive the worldwide disaster. Nordenholt and his hand-picked survivors will live under a strict caste system with Stanley and his family (including Elsa) at the top. Nordenholt’s thugs have brutally raided the rest of the UK, seizing all cattle and other food supplies.
The megalomaniac also plans to pre-empt any possibility of the outside world attempting to enter or besiege the Clyde Valley. To that end his army destroys railways, airstrips, media outlets, hospitals and roads. Nordenholt’s army also spreads propaganda, claiming that the Clyde Valley is crawling with a new Plague and thereby discouraging millions from even trying to get there.
Jack Flint rises to become Stanley’s right-hand man and gets engaged to Elsa. Unfortunately for him, his fiancée learns the truth about what Jack and her uncle have been unleashing on the rest of the world. She cuts off her ties to both of them and refuses to go through with the marriage.
Flint, conscience-stricken and curious, ventures out to see the outside world for himself. In London he sees emaciated masses of people lying around waiting to die and being preyed upon by hungry animals and vermin. Mad dancing reminiscent of the Black Plague Era breaks out among those healthy enough to move.
Brutal gangs roam the country, subsisting on cannibalism and alcohol. They hunt weaker survivors for sport. Jack barely survives this expedition but does make it safely back to the Clyde Valley.
Eventually the bacillus runs through its life cycle and in a matter of months the soil will be able to be reclaimed and replanted, but the overwhelming majority of the world’s population are dead. In the Clyde Valley the slave laborers at the bottom of the caste system begin to rebel, sabotaging the infrastructure and their places of work.
Ironically to our 21st Century eyes, civilization is saved by the advent of nuclear energy, which the story depicts as ushering in a Golden Age which brings the survivors together. Nations in the far north also had surviving communities, as did Japan and parts of America.
Jack Flint has become a better man by story’s end, but Elsa will not forgive him, so he turns his attention to rebuilding the world. ++
FOR TEN MORE EXAMPLES OF ANCIENT SCIENCE FICTION CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/2014/03/03/ten-neglected-examples-of-ancient-science-fiction/
FOR WASHINGTON IRVING’S 1809 depiction of an invasion from the moon click here: https://glitternight.com/2014/05/05/ancient-science-fiction-the-men-of-the-moon-1809-by-washington-irving/
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