In the late 19th and early 20th century, before science fiction and fantasy was pushed into a ghetto, the most literary and respected authors would write fantastic tales without a thought for labels and genres. Rudyard Kipling was no exception! This collection contains a selection of Kipling stories that push and cross the boundaries of the mundane, everyday world. Included are “With the Night Mail” and its sequel “As Easy as ABC”, two renowned dystopian tales that have strongly influenced the vision of other writers. Kipling’s SF is an essential book that demonstrates a profoundly different aspect of this master storyteller.
The A.B.C., that semi-elected, semi-nominated body of a few score persons, controls the Planet. Transportation is Civilisation, our motto runs. Theoretically we do what we please, so long as we do not interfere with the traffic and all it implies. Practically, the A.B.C. confirms or annuls all international arrangements, and, to judge from its last report, finds our tolerant, humorous, lazy little Planet only too ready to shift the whole burden of public administration on its shoulders.
Isn�t it almost time that our Planet took some interest in the proceedings of the A�rial Board of Control? One knows that easy communications nowadays, and lack of privacy in the past, have killed all curiosity among mankind, but as the Board�s Official Reporter I am bound to tell my tale.
At 9.30 A.M., August 26, A.D. 2065, the Board, sitting in London, was informed by De Forest that the District of Northern Illinois had riotously cut itself out of all systems and would remain disconnected till the Board should take over and administer it direct.
Every Northern Illinois freight and passenger tower was, he reported, out of action; all District main, local, and guiding lights had been extinguished; all General Communications were dumb, and through traffic had been diverted. No reason had been given, but he gathered unofficially from the Mayor of Chicago that the District complained of �crowd-making and invasion of privacy.�
As a matter of fact, it is of no importance whether Northern Illinois stay in or out of planetary circuit; as a matter of policy, any complaint of invasion of privacy needs immediate investigation, lest worse follow.
By 9.45 A.M. De Forest, Dragomiroff (Russia), Takahira (Japan), and Pirolo (Italy) were empowered to visit Illinois and �to take such steps as might be necessary for the resumption of traffic and all that that implies.� By 10 A.M. the Hall was empty, and the four Members and I were aboard what Pirolo insisted on calling �my leetle godchild��that is to say, the new Victor Pirolo. Our Planet prefers to know Victor Pirolo as a gentle, grey-haired enthusiast who spends his time near Foggia, inventing or creating new breeds of Spanish-Italian olive-trees; but there is another side to his nature�the manufacture of quaint inventions, of which the Victor Pirolo is, perhaps, not the least surprising. She and a few score sister-craft of the same type embody his latest ideas. But she is not comfortable. An A.B.C. boat does not take the air with the level-keeled lift of a liner, but shoots up rocket-fashion like the �aeroplane� of our ancestors, and makes her height at top-speed from the first. That is why I found myself sitting suddenly on the large lap of Eustace Arnott, who commands the A.B.C. Fleet. One knows vaguely that there is such a thing as a Fleet somewhere on the Planet, and that, theoretically, it exists for the purposes of what used to be known as �war.� Only a week before, while visiting a glacier sanatorium behind Gothaven, I had seen some squadrons making false auroras far to the north while they manoeuvred round the Pole; but, naturally, it had never occurred to me that the things could be used in earnest.
Said Arnott to De Forest as I staggered to a seat on the chart-room divan: �We�re tremendously grateful to �em in Illinois. We�ve never had a chance of exercising all the Fleet together. I�ve turned in a General Call, and I expect we�ll have at least two hundred keels aloft this evening.�
�Well aloft?� De Forest asked.
�Of course, sir. Out of sight till they�re called for.�
Arnott laughed as he lolled over the transparent chart-table where the map of the summer-blue Atlantic slid along, degree by degree, in exact answer to our progress. Our dial already showed 320 m.p.h. and we were two thousand feet above the uppermost traffic lines.
�Now, where is this Illinois District of yours?� said Dragomiroff. �One travels so much, one sees so little. Oh, I remember! It is in North America.�
De Forest, whose business it is to know the out districts, told us that it lay at the foot of Lake Michigan, on a road to nowhere in particular, was about half an hour�s run from end to end, and, except in one corner, as flat as the sea. Like most flat countries nowadays, it was heavily guarded against invasion of privacy by forced timber�fifty-foot spruce and tamarack, grown in five years. The population was close on two millions, largely migratory between Florida and California, with a backbone of small farms (they call a thousand acres a farm in Illinois) whose owners come into Chicago for amusements and society during the winter. They were, he said, noticeably kind, quiet folk, but a little exacting, as all flat countries must be, in their notions of privacy. There had, for instance, been no printed news-sheet in Illinois for twenty-seven years. Chicago argued that engines for printed news sooner or later developed into engines for invasion of privacy, which in turn might bring the old terror of Crowds and blackmail back to the Planet. So news-sheets were not.