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Book Review

Book Cover

The Question Mark


Author: Muriel Jaeger
Publisher: British Library
205 pages
RRP: £8.99
ISBN: 978 0 7123 5298 7
Publication Date: 18 July 2019

The British Library continues with their ongoing plan to publish Science Fiction, which may have dropped below most people’s radar. A case in point is The Question Mark by Muriel Jaeger (205 pages) which was originally published in 1926.

Books which examine the ramifications of a utopian society have a long tradition, stretching back to Plato’s Republic (380 BC) through Thomas More’s Utopia (1516); it is More who is accredited as creating the word ‘Utopia’. Much of this fiction had been a barely hidden critique of the time when the book was published, But with H. G. Well’s and his contemporaries the dialogue changed to an examination of the human experience in these societies.

Published six years before the seminal Brave New World (1932) Jaeger tells the story of a man plucked from his obscure and docile existence in England 1925 to find himself transported to the twenty second century. At the time of writing, The Russian revolution was barely nine years old and although it was born out of fire and died an ignoble death, the idea of socialism remained a powerful one, even an ideal to strive for. Such ideas continued through print and television. You could make a case that the egalitarian society of Star Trek is based on a socialist model.

The book's protagonist, Guy Martin, is a wholly unremarkable character, afraid to stand up for himself, his personal impression of his own character is equally as bad as that held by his work colleagues. He wakes up in the far future to discover a world where all want has been removed from the planet. In theory all are equal and all provided with what they require.

Jaeger uses the narrative to look at exactly how a species deprived of conflict and strife will develop. To this end she pairs Martin with Ena, the daughter of the family he is staying with. It is through his interaction with Ena that the reader comes to the realisation that rather than unlimited progress the race is becoming placid and ineffectual, one could almost see them as proto-Eloi.

It is not the best written novel, but it does have some prescient ideas. The Power Machine is a device issued to the whole population. As well as providing the energy to run machines, it is also a communications device and a proto-computer, very similar to modern smart phones.

The book comes with an excellent eight and a half page introduction by Dr Mo Moulton, Senior Lecturer, History Department, University of Birmingham, who places the book in its historical and cultural niche. The introductions are always worth reading in this series and I have on occasion enjoyed the introduction more than the book. The book also contains the original preface by Jaeger, who discussed the stories genesis.

It’s a nice historical curiosity, if not the greatest book written on the subject of Utopias.


Charles Packer

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