The description of the curious race of beings in The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton embodies a perspective of humanity rooted as much in the 19th century as it is in imagining critical futures for mankind. Reflecting on the possibility that we as humans may not be as superior as we would like to believe, it offers a glimpse of early posthuman ideas taking root, namely a reevaluation of humanity’s place with respect to other species.
The “Ana” have formed a society which in most respects appears to the protagonist as surpassing the triumphs of humankind. What is interesting about the developments within the Ana society is that they appear to all coincide with an evolution engaged with technology. For example, the initial advancement made by their race when they moved underground was to create lamps to provide light, demarcating them as a people distinct from their forebears above ground. The remarkable peacefulness of their society is owed to harnessing the power of “vril”, akin to an electromagnetic force giving even the juvenile members of the Ana to kill with the least of effort, equalising all citizens and enabling the eradication of violent conflict.
Bulwer-Lytton’s vision of a parallel society superior to that of the one that he knew reveals a combination of resignation and horror at the discovery that the human could be other than ideal. This text serves as a marker of how thinking on humanity has shifted over the past century, becoming less concerned with proving our dominion over all things.