RogerBW's Blog

The Doom of London, F. White 16 March 2022

1903 anthology of short stories (first published in Pearson's Magazine), in which various catastrophes are visited upon London.

There's something of a theme to them, even beyond that; generally someone has been warning about the possibility for some time, and has the solution immediately at hand, if only the authorities would have the vision to allow him to put it into practice. Often the greed of rich men makes things worse, while the common people can be trusted to do the right thing.

In "The Four White Days" a heavy snowstorm and freezing temperatures are made worse by an attempt to corner the market on flour and meat, but it's when the coal wholesalers try to make a massive profit (the gas mains that would provide another source of heat having failed in the cold) that the real revolt starts. (Of course, the mob insist on paying a fair price for their coal…)

"Fact is, perils that might beset Londoners have long been a favourite speculative study of mine."

"The Four Days' Night" sees a fog combining with smoke from a huge petrol fire to produce a blackout across London that stops people even from being able to read road names (though it doesn't seem to produce any lung problems). It's partly solved by bombing it from an experimental aeroplane, though the rain does the real work. The revolutionary proposal to prevent a repetition is to "abolish all fires throughout the Metropolitan area".

"The Dust Of Death" is a polemic against extending London by dumping rubbish to make building land, because that rubbish is full of disease. (Fortunately there's a magic electrical steriliser available. What this will do to the plants in people's gardens is not mentioned.)

"A Bubble Burst" is a relatively conventional tale of stock market manipulation, with a speculative bubble, a faked telegram delivered after the line's had one of its periodic failures, causing a cascade of share-sales and runs on banks. The least speculatively scientific of these stories, and thus the most plausible. (See also Joseph Kennedy's comment that when the shoeshine boy was giving him stock tips he knew it was time to get out of the market.)

"The Invisible Force" has the miraculous Tubes under London filled with gas thanks to a cracked main, and then detonated when the traction current is turned on in the morning. Which means of course that there's loose electricity leaking all over the place.

Lord Barcombe glanced at his own watch, to find that it was racing furiously.

"By Jove!" he whispered excitedly, "we're in danger here. The air is full of electricity. I went over some works once and neglected to leave my watch behind me, and it played me the same prank. It affects the mainspring, you know."

"The River Of Death" is another polemic:

The knowledge a century hence that London derived its water supply from an open river into which many towns conveyed its sewage will be recorded with pitiful amazement.

The fear of disease combined with a hot summer causes even more water restrictions, and rioting (in White's polite style of course).

Overall this is a pleasing set of stories, and I enjoy White's style, though character is largely lacking; these are much more about the events than about the individuals.

I was pointed at this by BigJackBrass. Freely available from Roy Glashan.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog.

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