The Cinder Buggy - part 20 - Chapters XXXIII, XXXIV and XXXV; H. G. Wells; Things to Come; new plot developments and the expansion of the steel industry
Click here for Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 of my review of The Cinder Buggy.
Chapter XXXIII appears to an anti-climax both for the triangle (see part 15) and for New Damascus. "And New Damascus unawares was delivered to its fate (p. 287)." The triangle resolution did not include the elements that Ayn Rand usually included in her triangles.
Chapter XXXIV contains descriptions of new technology and new machines. These machines and the prosperity they brought were the result of the conclusion of the Enoch-Aaron conflict.
Fancy a tool larger than an elephant keeping vigil before a row of furnaces, pacing slowly up and down, apparently brooding, and then at the right moment opening a door and plucking forth a block of incandescent steel weighing many tons, neatly, with not the slightest effort, and nowhere in sight a human being![p. 290]
Fancy another tool to drudge and fag for this one! It comes running up, stands still while the other gently lays upon its back the white-hot slab, then runs and dumps it on a train of rollers.
These descriptions are reminiscent of the film sequences in H. G. Wells' Things to Come (1936) that showed miraculous new machines bringing new prosperity at the end of that film's thirty + year war. [Cinder Buggy preceeded Things to Come by 13 years and the novel upon which it was based by nearly a decade.] The difference was that H.G. Wells' machines truly were a miracle, as Wells' entire post-war world was created by conquest and was based on the dream of one-world socialism. By contrast, Garrett's machine descriptions in Chapter XXXIV resulted predictably from the profits generated by innovation and competition in the iron and steel industries.
The world of today has moved away from the competitive, profit driven scenarios described by Garrett and is coming very close to the vision of H.G. Wells. Yet the only miracle machines we see enable new forms of texting while improved manufacturing takes a back seat. The western world has seen an unprecedented decline in manufacturing in the time since the world began moving toward the Wells' utopian vision.
Garrett describes the world that Wells' utopia would ultimately replace:
Man's environment was made over twice in one generation. Nothing was built but to be built again on a greater scale. It seemed impossible to make anything big enough. Wonders were of a day's duration.[p. 288.]
In twenty-five years the country's population doubled. [see Part 9 and Part 11]. In the same time the production of things unto the use, happiness and discontent of people increased five, ten, twenty fold. Man had now in his hand the universal power of steel. It extended his arms and legs unimaginably, grotesquely.
The production of metallic fibre increased more than one hundred fold. Railways were built which if placed end to end and run around the globe would have circled it six times. Those already grown when the steel age came were not yet old when a ton of freight was transported more than 2,500 miles annually for each man, woman and child living on American soil. Food was cheaper and more abundant than ever before in the life of man because the railways, pursuing the sun, had suddenly opened a virgin continent to bonanza farming.
The balance of Chapter XXXIV is not a narrative, but an essay on the type of men that brought the steel revolution to America.
Chapter XXXV returns the focus to the activities of John and Thane. In describing the changing fortunes of steel companies, Garrett provides a new way to present the idea of buying low and selling high:
The time to buy steel plants was when the sky was visible at Pittsburgh; the time to sell them was when the smoke was so dense that the sun at midday resembled a pickled beet.[p. 293.]
Garrett generally moved effortlessly between historical essay and narrative, as he did in Chapter XXXV:
The barbaric invasion that overturned Roman civilization was more obvious as a spectacle but no more extraordinary, no more unexpected, and perhaps as it shall turn out, no more significant, than America's economic invasion of the world in the steel age.[p. 294]. Garrett could write as if he lived 1,000 years in the future, summarizing the rise and fall of his own civilization. These passages have more impact today - 90 years later. We have seen the rise and the fall of our steel (and every other) industry and are beginning to place those events into the broader context of the life of western civilization. When Garrett wrote these words (and this story) in 1923, the steel industry remained strong and was relatively new in the United States. Today we have seen it come and go (it is more accurate to say it was cast out). Garrett's words now resonate louder because we are learning what we have lost. Garrett's words achieve more impact with the perspective of time.
The balance of Chapter XXXV introduces three new characters and includes them in new activities with the old characters. These pages appear to make the narrative awkward, as new conflicts arise with little apparant connection to the prior conflicts. My own conclusion is that Garrett enjoyed the historical essay portion as the main focus of his work and sought to fit a plot into his essays. He did not succeed in fitting the plots to his essays as seamlessly as did Ayn Rand. As I have written before, the New Deal had not yet arrived to give Garrett's plots the same clarity from which Rand's plots benefitted.
Click here for part 21.
Labels: Cinder Buggy