April 19, 2008

Ozians just like Indians

In A Barnstormer in Oz, Philip José Farmer gives us a "realistic" Oz tale in which America's military is poised to invade Baum's magic kingdom. Here's how one Amazon.com reviewer describes it:
The Not-so-wonderful Land of Oz, July 10, 2000
By Dave Deubler (Pennsylvania)

This book's subtitle unabashedly proclaims it to be "A Rationalization And Extrapolation Of The Split-Level Continuum", a bit of obfuscation which prepares us for this attempt to bring logical scientific analysis to the astounding world of Frank L. Baum's beloved Oz books. Whether such a thing should actually have been attempted is clearly a matter of taste, but it seems likely that fans of the Baum books who also enjoy science fiction will find this novel an amusing blend of wild fantasy and desperate rationalization. The hero is Hank Stover, a World War I veteran flier and barnstormer (and coincidentally, son of the legendary Dorothy), who flies his Jenny (a Curtiss JN-4H biplane) into a mysterious emerald haze and comes out in the wonderland described by his mother many years before.
What's interesting is how Farmer identifies America's invasion of Oz with Europe's invasion of America. Here's Glinda the Good Witch discussing the problem with Hank:She paused, looking as if she were contemplating the past. Then she said, “It was very fortunate that neither you nor your mother were carrying any diseases when you came here. But I know that these foulnesses sicken and kill many of you. And if these are brought in, well...”

She grimaced as if she were seeing visions of hell.

“My people would be defenseless. They would be swept away by the thousands, perhaps all or almost all would die. Be honest, wouldn't that happen?”

Hank thought of the American Indians who had died from the diseases contracted from the whites. He thought of the Polynesians who had been struck down by tuberculosis, smallpox, scarlet fever, and syphilis when the whites came.

“I don't think they'd be wiped out. Your Witchness,” he said. “But the results might be horrible. Devastating.”
But that isn't the only problem the Ozians face. As Glinda explains:“There is more than disease to it. Even if there were none, you people would destroy our society. You'd bring in your religions, your customs, your institutions. You'd change us for the worse.

“And we have so much gold and silver, so many precious stones. Your greed would ravish the land. But, in order to make your piracy lawful, to make the robbery accord with your images of yourself as honest and lawful and God-fearing, you'd find a pretext for declaring war on us. You'd send in your armies and conquer us. Then you'd start the rape.”
Comment:  Yes, if Oz were real and America could invade it, I bet that's what would happen.

As for the rest of the book, it's full of interesting ideas--some better than others--but the execution is only average. Rob's rating: 7.0 of 10.

For more on the subject, see The Indian-Oz Connection.


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
Philip Jose Farmer is one of the seminal SF writers of the recent age, without whom we modern writers would have been much lesser than we are. He DOES everything, dripping with new ideas and concepts that had been overlooked by the original writers of Doc Savage and Tarzan and Skylark and John Carter of Mars, and almost everybody else! Would that any of us ever could be worthy even of carrying his pencil box! Beside Farmer, Harlan Ellison is a hack, and he would be the first to say so. Ray Bradbury was a lucky dreamer, and he will tell you that himself! The late Arthur C. Clarke would have told you that he was happy he even lived in the same universe as Philip Jose Farmer. Of course everything that Farmer does has varying receptions, BUT THAT DOESN'T PREVENT HIM FROM WORKING! When we lose Philip Jose Farmer, we will know it for a long, long time...
All Best
Russ Bates

dmarks said...

Great review/post. I read this novel when it was first published, which is a long time ago now.