Fear of Flying: The Fiction of War 1886-1916

Michael Paris looks at how science fiction and popular literature shaped personal prejudices and political agendas about 'destruction from the skies'.

Throughout Europe, the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War generated considerable apprehension about the changing nature of warfare. The ease with which Prussia defeated France was attributed as much to the new technology of war as it was to superior training and motivation. Railways, sophisticated rifles and new forms of artillery were all deemed to have played a major part in the Prussian victory. During the next decades, those Europeans concerned about the developing nature of warfare attempted to define how these technological advancements would be used in future conflicts and considered what other new and even more terrifying weapons might be created by industrialised nations.

One expression of this concern was the science fiction novel about future warfare. Beginning with Sir George Chesney's classic invasion story, The Battle of Dorking , published in 1871, such novels became a popular sub-genre in the decades before 1914. The submarine, the super-battleship, the tank and wireless-telegraphy all became commonplace weapons in the work of polemical novelists who urged their governments to take note of this or that potential weapon and develop its use for the next great war. But perhaps the most dramatic of all these developments was the flying machine – a weapon which would radically alter the whole nature of future warfare.

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