On 'Vrilism' and genocidal science fiction (3)


Stapleton was an interesting and highly original writer, but also a dedicated worshiper of ‘manna’, power with overtones of the supernatural.  Actual Fascism or Nazism was too crude for this thoughtful and original man, but in Star Maker he plays around with fascist and communist ideas in various guises.  In Last And First Men, there is never much in the way of coexistence between alternative humans.  A war between humans and Martians ends with the Marian aggressors destroyed, and later the humans take over Venus and wipe out the existing water-dwelling inhabitants.

In the USA, E. E. 'Doc' Smith was a much cruder writer and puts similar ideas in a far more blatant form.  His Skylark series includes several cases of ‘race cleansing’, improving a superior race by removing the dross and ‘criminal elements’.  It also culminates in the extermination of an entire galaxy of chlorine-breathing creatures, though only because their intention is aggressive.  He takes a broadly white-racist view, and like Burroughs, he is content that ‘lesser breeds’ shall have their suitably lesser place if they behave themselves.  His Lensman series is milder: a superior breed of human emerges but takes a kindly view of the older sort.

Genocide—indeed specicide—is found in James Blish's A Case Of Conscience.  Aliens on another planet are found living kindly and virtuous lives without benefit of religion.  The protagonist, who is both a scientist and a Catholic priest, decides that this example of godless virtue is morally subversive and must be diabolical in origin.  This is the end point of the original short story: it was later expanded into a book, in which the planet is blown up and the subversively virtuous aliens wiped out.  There is no suggestion that Blish himself approves of the decision

Frank Herbert—'Dreamer of Dune'—was notable for his exclusion of both Christianity and democracy from his imagined future.  A small surviving sect of Jews pop up for no apparent reason in the last book he finished, possible to show that he had nothing against them.  Mysticism, elitism, commerce and drugs are the dominant themes.  Plus a concern for nature and ecology, but a ‘green consciousness’ which admired savagery and desolate wildernesses.  Herbert has no trace of Tolkien's admiration for the small, gentle and benevolent side of life.  

Herbert was also loosely associated with the whole Republican/Libertarian trend.  As indeed was Robert E. Heinlein, but Heinlein also absorbed some leftist ideas and was mostly not a Vrilist.  The whole thing fed into 1960s culture—Heinlein’s been blamed for an apparent influence on mass murderer Charles Manson, though I’d say he was probably innocent on that count.

In Herbert’s work, small manipulative elites are a common theme, for example the ‘Department of Sabotage’ in a series of not-very-good books including Whipping Star.  The same idea is found in another variant in his first literary success, The Dragon In The Sea, centring on psychologists seeking covert control of their own side as well as fighting the enemy.  Dragon In The Sea has been credited by some with foreseeing the oil shortage, but oil wars were part of World War Two, Hitler's biggest strategic problem.  It may even have fed into World War One, after Britain switched its ships from coal to oil and found that it had too few secure reserves within the vast empire it already held.  The desire by the British elite to break up the Ottoman Empire and take places like Kuwait and Iraq may be the main reason why Britain rejected German attempts to make peace and let the war in Europe run its full destructive course from 1914 to 1919.  (1919 not 1918: Britain continued the blockade of Europe and ensured that Germany was starved into a humiliating surrender when they had thought they were getting a peace on the basis of President Wilson’s idealistic principles.)

The mind is often mightier than the gun.  A false idea of nature allows people to do the most abominable things without feeling too bad about it.  The ideas that emerged as New Right in the 1980s had been nurtured and popularised for a lot longer than that.