Reviewing the Handheld Press edition of What Might Have Been on 24 November 2017 in The Times Literary Supplement, Gerri Kimber wrote: ‘The volume’s excellent introduction by Jeremy Hawthorn offers a welcome addition to the otherwise general paucity of critical material on Bramah. As Hawthorn concludes: “What Might Have Been offers humour, social commentary, political polemic, futuristic prediction, and thriller-type excitement.”‘
Civil war is brewing in this Edwardian speculative political thriller, between the Conservative resistance and a Labour government inflicting a socialist nightmare on British society. Ernest Bramah’s What Might Have Been (1907), better known as The Secret of the League, is now republished with 7000 words restored and a critical introduction by Jeremy Hawthorn.
It is 1907 in the Collateral Age in Britain. There is mixed flying above the promenade in Hastings. The telescribe flashes messages instantly to its subscribers, and a recent naval battle has been won by an Englishman’s daring. But civil war is brewing, between the Conservative party of decent tradition and the Labour government inflicting a socialist nightmare on British society. Daily life is about to change in this Edwardian speculative fiction of the near future, and it will not be for the better.
What Might Have Been: The Story of a Social War (1907) is Ernest Bramah’s long-forgotten novel of Conservative resistance to Labour rule. It has long been celebrated for its vision of a futuristic society and politics, but was quickly bowdlerised of its more savage political satire, and republished in 1909 as The Secret of the League. Bramah mixed hard-hitting social realism and intricate office espionage with riotous political satire, and accurately predicted the invention of the fax machine and the ascendancy of Labour politics. What Might Have Been is a political thriller packed with high adventure, on the roads with a nail-biting Buchanesque car chase, at sea in a battle that C S Forester could have written, and in the air with dramatic rescue missions.
Now, for the first time since 1907, What Might Have Been is available at its original length, with 7000 words restored to recreate this lost landmark in British speculative fiction. The critical introduction by Jeremy Hawthorn sets out the novel’s history, its themes and its connections with Bramah’s more famous literary works, The Wallet of Kai Lung, and Max Carrados.
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Published: 30 October 2017