Monday, July 12, 2021

The People of the Ruins by Edward Shanks

The Stokes 1920 dust-wrapper
The People of the Ruins is a sort-of scientific romance by Edward Shanks (1892-1953). It was first serialized in Land and Water from 19 October 1919 through 12 February 1920; then published in book form by Collins of London on 23 September 1920.  An American edition followed on 30 September 1920 from Frederick A. Stokes of New York.  

The set-up of the novel is fairly simple. A few years into the future, in 1924, a callow lecturer named Jeremy Tufts witnesses an odd scientific experiment which causes an explosion. When Jeremy reawakens, it is one hundred and fifty years later. Everything about the world has devolved since the Troubles, which were beginning just as Jeremy had been knocked out. Jeremy finds a simpler world, less technology, less science, and with a medieval-like setting. And classes still exist, and Jeremy's knowledge brings him to the aged leader of the London area, called the Speaker, who wants Jeremy to repair ancient war technology like cannons. Jeremy becomes enamored with the Speaker's daughter, so a romance is added into the mix. For most of the book, it feels almost like a "cosy" post-apocalypse. But by the end--presumably the only way the author could think to end the story--Jeremy has come to realize that civilization is completely dead.

The book is clearly a reflection on the Great War, which had ended not long before Shanks started writing his tale. And it warns of the evils of socialism and communism. But it seems a curiously narrow viewpoint. As a novel it is plodding, and only intermittently engaging. It seems to have inspired a variety of reactions, perhaps the most representative being the viewpoint of The Dial, in calling it "pleasant if not nutritious reading" (February 1921). But to me even that might be a bit generous. I'm glad to have read and finished the book, but I don't feel much inspired to pursue the author further. 

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