Renowned as a writer of classic adventure stories such as The Call of the Wild and White Fang, Jack London also had a parallel career as a writer of science fiction and fantasy. In Leonaur’s three volume The Collected Science Fiction & Fantasy of Jack London, his SF and fantasy novels and shorter works are brought together for the first time. In the early twentieth century the USA diverged from the path of the history we know. Viewed from 800 years in the future, through the pages of an ancient manuscript, we learn that huge business conglomerates became all powerful, and ordinary people little more than slaves - the property of a despotic regime that controlled their lives. Those savage and inhuman times are vividly depicted in The Iron Heel, one of Jack London’s finest novels. Also in this volume are five shorter works that demonstrate both the scope of London’s imagination and his concern for the future of our world.
All was quiet on the streets -- too quiet. Chicago lay dead. There was no roar and rumble of traffic. There were not even cabs on the streets. The surface cars and the elevated were not running. Only occasionally, on the sidewalks, were there stray pedestrians, and these pedestrians did not loiter. They went their ways with great haste and definiteness, withal there was a curious indecision in their movements, as though they expected the buildings to topple over on them or the sidewalks to sink under their feet or fly up in the air. A few gamins, however, were around, in their eyes a suppressed eagerness in anticipation of wonderful and exciting things to happen.
From somewhere, far to the south, the dull sound of an explosion came to our ears. That was all. Then quiet again, though the gamins had startled and listened, like young deer, at the sound. The doorways to all the buildings were closed; the shutters to the shops were up. But there were many police and watchmen in evidence, and now and again automobile patrols of the Mercenaries slipped swiftly past.
Hartman and I agreed that it was useless to report ourselves to the local chiefs of the secret service. Our failure so to report would be excused, we knew, in the light of subsequent events. So we headed for the great labor-ghetto on the South Side in the hope of getting in contact with some of the comrades. Too late! We knew it. But we could not stand still and do nothing in those ghastly, silent streets. Where was Ernest? I was wondering. What was happening in the cities of the labor castes and Mercenaries? In the fortresses?
As if in answer, a great screaming roar went up, dim with distance, punctuated with detonation after detonation.
“It’s the fortresses,” Hartman said. “God pity those three regiments!”
At a crossing we noticed, in the direction of the stockyards, a gigantic pillar of smoke. At the next crossing several similar smoke pillars were rising skyward in the direction of the West Side. Over the city of the Mercenaries we saw a great captive war-balloon that burst even as we looked at it, and fell in flaming wreckage toward the earth. There was no clew to that tragedy of the air. We could not determine whether the balloon had been manned by comrades or enemies. A vague sound came to our ears, like the bubbling of a gigantic caldron a long way off, and Hartman said it was machine-guns and automatic rifles.Suddenly a change came over the face of things. A tingle of excitement ran along the air. Automobiles fled past, two, three, a dozen, and from them warnings were shouted to us. One of the machines swerved wildly at high speed half a block down, and the next moment, already left well behind it, the pavement was torn into a great hole by a bursting bomb. We saw the police disappearing down the cross-streets on the run, and knew that something terrible was coming. We could hear the rising roar of it.
“Our brave comrades are coming,” Hartman said.
We could see the front of their column filling the street from gutter to gutter, as the last war-automobile fled past. The machine stopped for a moment just abreast of us. A soldier leaped from it, carrying something carefully in his hands. This, with the same care, he deposited in the gutter. Then he leaped back to his seat and the machine dashed on, took the turn at the corner, and was gone from sight. Hartman ran to the gutter and stooped over the object.
“Keep back,” he warned me.
I could see he was working rapidly with his hands. When he returned to me the sweat was heavy on his forehead.
“I disconnected it,” he said, “and just in the nick of time. The soldier was clumsy. He intended it for our comrades, but he didn’t give it enough time. It would have exploded prematurely. Now it won’t explode at all.”
Everything was happening rapidly now. Across the street and half a block down, high up in a building, I could see heads peering out. I had just pointed them out to Hartman, when a sheet of flame and smoke ran along that portion of the face of the building where the heads had appeared, and the air was shaken by the explosion. In places the stone facing of the building was torn away, exposing the iron construction beneath. The next moment similar sheets of flame and smoke smote the front of the building across the street opposite it. Between the explosions we could hear the rattle of the automatic pistols and rifles. For several minutes this mid-air battle continued, then died out.