Welcome to Part Two of The Mark Steyn Club's latest Tale for Our Time - a rare venture into sci-fi by Rudyard Kipling. As first-month Founding Member Randy Stafford writes:
Science fiction author and critic James Gunn argued that, if Kipling had continued writing science fiction, his sophisticated techniques, unseen in the genre before, would have given him the place later occupied by Robert A. Heinlein in literary history.
Ah, but he had other fish to fry. So I've put together two related science-fiction stories for an audio double-bill of futuristic Kipling. With the Night Mail: A Story of 2000 AD was written in 1905 and is exactly what it says: an account of the transatlantic mails between London and Quebec at the dawn of the new millennium. Tonight's episode picks up where yesterday's left off. In this new age of rarefied sky-high transportation, the distinctions of old-time shipping traffic seem to have been transferred intact to the clouds:
Ahead of us floats an ancient, aluminum-patched, twin-screw tramp of the dingiest, with no more right to the 5,000 foot lane than has a horse-cart to a modern town. She carries an obsolete 'barbette' conning-towerâ€”a six-foot affair with railed platform forwardâ€”and our warning beam plays on the top of it as a policeman's lantern flashes on the area sneak. Like a sneak-thief, too, emerges a shock-headed navigator in his shirt-sleeves. Captain Purnall wrenches open the colloid to talk with him man to man. There are times when Science does not satisfy.
'What under the stars are you doing here, you sky-scraping chimney-sweep?' he shouts as we two drift side by side. 'Do you know this is a Mail-lane? You call yourself a sailor, sir? You ain't fit to peddle toy balloons to an Esquimaux. Your name and number! Report and get down, and beâ€”â€”!'
'I've been blown up once,' the shock-headed man cries, hoarsely, as a dog barking. 'I don't care two flips of a contact for anything you can do, Postey.'
As I said in yesterday's introduction, With the Night Mail is a tale of the future explored mainly for its technological excitements. Seven years later, Kipling revived the Aerial Board of Control for a meditation on its socio-cultural implications, as we'll hear tomorrow night.
Tales for Our Time is an experimental feature we introduced as a bonus for Mark Steyn Club members, and, as you know, I said if it was a total stinkeroo, we'd eighty-six the thing and speak no more of it. But I'm thrilled to say it's proving very popular, and looks like it'll be around a while. If you're a Club member and you incline more to the stinkeroo side of things, give it your best in the Comments Section below.
We launched The Mark Steyn Club almost two years ago, and I'm immensely heartened, as our second birthday approaches, by all those SteynOnline supporters across the globe - from Fargo to Fiji, Vancouver to Vanuatu, Surrey to the Solomon Islands - who've signed up to be a part of it. As I said at the time, membership isn't for everyone, but it is a way of ensuring that all our content remains available for everyone - all my columns, audio interviews, video content, the longer cultural essays, all our movie features and songs of the week: In fact, if you loved the pre-Club SteynOnline, there's now more free daily content than there's ever been. None of it's going behind a paywall, because I want it out there in the world, being read and being heard and being viewed, and maybe changing an occasional mind somewhere along the way.
So I thank those longtime readers, listeners and viewers who've volunteered to be part of that - and in return we provide a few bonuses. If you've enjoyed our monthly Steyn Club radio serials and you're looking for a present for a fellow fan of classic fiction, I hope you'll consider our special Gift Membership. And do join us tomorrow for the second of our adventures with the Aerial Board of Control.