Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Hampdenshire Wonder

J  .D. Beresford 1911
Eyre & Spottiswoode

In an effort to ‘touch the roots of Science Fiction’, our book club is reading as many of the Pre-Golden Age classics as we can reasonably stomach. This might be a noble, but vain effort. But dammit, we’re going to try. I know you are anxiously awaiting my review of ‘Herland’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
According to the ‘Anatomy of Wonder’, which is an amazing reference for science fiction fans, this odd tale is the origin of the Superman Myth. Wikipedia gives him a hat-tip for creating the wunderkind. I’m not sold on this, certainly the New Testament may have something to say about this.
The book opens on a train where the narrator encounters a strange babe in the arms of his mother. To put it bluntly, the lad has a huge head and crazy eyes.

I thought the child was a freak; an abnormality: and such things disgust me."

Anyone who meet the eyes of this “Very Remarkable Child” is entranced and shaken. The only person who is immune to his gaze is the ‘Harrison idiot’  (his term), a man who was born with an overlarge head as well.
The narrator, whom I would label an unreliable one, then disappears for  a few years while the lad grows into a creepy toddler. There is nothing truly remarkable about his parents other than his father, Ginger, is a cricket wunderkind. For some odd reason, the author spends 23 pages of the book describing in minute detail the accomplishments of Ginger and the ins and outs of cricket bowling (pitching). This was for the most part incomprehensible.

If you are interested in pre golden age science fiction, read this book. What I can say is that I was initially unimpressed. Upon reflection, I would say my feelings are mixed.
I will tell you that the epilog is the best part. I kept thinking throughout the book that this would have been much better if Lovecraft would have written it.                                                              

1 comment:

  1. Nice review Tom, I think the thing we discussed that got left out was the complete lack of an action plot. Just a strange, slice of life type story. The kid changes nothing, not much happens to him until the end - it's a real puzzler. Odd book, but memorable. I also enjoyed the philosophical name dropping in the first chapter. Basically, you could just read the first chapter as a short story, and it would be one of the greats...