(reduced from £13) 30th October 2017 Handheld Science Fiction Classics 1
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. This satirical speculative novel of political resistance is better known in its abridged form as The Secret of the League (1909). It mixes science fiction, social realism and office espionage, and accurately predicted the invention of the fax machine and the ascendancy of Labour politics.
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.”‘ 24 November 2017, The Times Literary Supplement
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The first edition of Ernest Bramah’s What Might Have Been to be published at its original length since its first appearance in 1907. It’s a political thriller, with a nail-biting Buchanesque car chase, a sea battle that C S Forester could have written, and dramatic rescue missions in the air. The flying machines are both delightful and dramatic.
The critical introduction by Jeremy Hawthorn (see his most recent books here and here) sets out the novel’s history, and its connections with Bramah’s more famous literary characters, the Chinese sage Kai Lung and Max Carrados the blind detective.
Watch our video, in which we try to decide whether What Might Have Been is an action thriller, science fiction or political dystopia. And if you’re interested in the cover, watch this short conversation with the Mary Evans Picture Library about how we chose it.
Jeremy reads here from the section ‘Hastings permitted mixed flying’.
‘Abounds in humour and wit … ridicules political correctness … prescient in his predictions about scientific devices … less accurate here is the invention of humans who fly with detachable folding wings made of metal, invented by the delightully named Wynchley Slocombe, with the notion of flying women being the subject of heated debate in the House of Commons.’ – Times Literary Supplement
From Harry Wood’s review in Foundation: ‘Caught between a range of sub-genres and causes celèbres, What Might Have Been is a curious novel that certainly deserves reconsideration. Despite providing a cutting and pessimistic assessment of the socio-political climate in Edwardian Britain, and offering a chilling vision of near-civil war, Bramah’s work nevertheless manages to strike a welcome satirical tone.’
‘This clever portrait of what must have been prevailing emotions of the time – fear of social change and revolution, enthusiasm for new technologies and the dread of looming wars – is a well-constructed and delightfully written work that relies as much on its finely delineated character descriptions as its fear of the social abyss. Through car chases, bombardments, riots and perilous flights over a stormy southern England as the opposing forces battle for the soul and future of the country, even a hint of a love story, so necessary to books of this period, sealed in the flames of a burning Chelsea home, the reader will be kept glued to the page. A superb critical introduction by Jeremy Hawthorn sets out the novel’s history, its themes and its connections with Bramah’s better known works, The Wallet of Kai Lung, and Max Carrados. It also offers a welcome addition to the otherwise general scarcity of material on Bramah – an intensely private man about whom little is known – and offers no judgement on his own political stance, which George Orwell, for one, was later to suggest approached fascism.’ – Crime Review