An inorganic future


The title “The Coming Race” is a surprisingly paradoxical title. At one point it conveys the narrative’s interest in the future as in the coming of a new race, meaning that the white man as we know it is not the final step of evolution. Simultaneously the story is about a man who finds an underground city with a history parallel to ours, however, they have existed for far more centuries. A parallel race of man, the Vril-ya, whose ancient history seem to be a distant future of man. Thereby positing posthuman ideas within a Victorian historical narrative. Bulwer-Lytton’s posthuman ideas range from the concept of Vril, an incredible energy force that can destroy life, give life, cure diseases etc.; the special language of the race; architectonics that resemble ancient Egyptian pyramids; an automaton city controlled with the touch of a special staff and perhaps automaton inhabitants.

The rest of my essay will focus on the relationship between the narrator and the other race. When put before a race of superior strength, intellect, machines, etc. the narrator becomes barbaric and he is in some cases treated as a pet by the daughter Zee. This reflects the Samuel Butler’s speculation that if robots became superior then man would become their inferior pets. That is of course, only part true if you do not accept that the other race is in fact almost entirely robotic. Some parts of their body are revealed as automaton. For example the wings that electrifies the narrator when he touches them. I would like to venture that the other race represents an entirely automaton body. Amazed by the flight sequence the narrator throws himself at his guide’s neck and he is again jolted back by electricity even though the guide is not wearing his wings at that time. Is the coming race, meaning the Vril-ya and the future of man, actually entirely inorganic?

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Jelica Veljovic

You stressed some of the most important parts of the posthuman ideas in the novel – the relation between material and machinic body, and therefore it would be nice to consult Mark Seltzer and his book “Bodies and Machines”, and of course, notion of the cyborgization of human. It seems as if today we were approaching that prosthetically and technologically improved bodies ourselves, and therefore I think that your question at the end of the essay is also on the right spot.

Lara Eva Sochor

I completely agree with you on the paradox nature of the novel’s title. Though I myself have not read the Vril-ya to be automatons, but rather technologically altered versions of their forefathers, or Ana as they call them, I can see how your question at the end is relevant, especially if one is faced with a society so wholly dependent on their technology as the Vril-ya on theirs.