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  • Yehoshua Paul

1928 - Armageddon 2419 A. D.

1928. In the Republic of China, the Northern Expedition is finally at an end. The National Revolutionary Army (NRA) conquers Beijing, ending the reign of the northern warlords, and the Nationalist Government, led by the Kuomintang party, is now nominally in charge of all of China. Their leader is Chiang Kai-Shek, the commander in chief of the NRA. He successfully united both factions of the party the previous year, after purging all Communists. With all of China under their control, the new government announces that the first stage of the Chinese revolution, military unification, is officially over. It is now time to begin the second stage- political tutelage under Kuomintang direction.

This is the beginning of the Nanjing Decade, a relatively stable period, which introduces the first elements of modern progress into Chinese society. Foreign services officers negotiate diplomatic recognition from western governments and begin unravelling the unequal trade treaties bankrupting China. Both governmental and non-governmental reforms are introduced, such as the Rural Reconstruction Movement which aims to revive Chinese villages, and the New Life Movement which promotes cultural reform and a neo-Confucian social morality. At the same time, the Kuomintang government, under Kai-Shek’s control is very factionalized. All opposition is brutally suppressed thanks to his direct control of the army. The Communists which had previously been purged, are also experiencing a revival thanks to Soviet backing. Finally, Japan is making some very aggressive moves, such as the takeover of Manchuria, and the government is powerless to stop them. And yet, despite all these very significant changes to the Chinese landscape, most Americans and Europeans still view the country as populated by inferior “Yellow Devils”, useful for playing the role of the villain in propaganda material and science fiction pulp novels, such as Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D.

The leaders of the Northern Expedition gather on 6 July 1928 at the mausoleum of Sun Yat-sen (the first Kumointang leader) to commemorate the completion of their mission.

Philip Francis Nowlan (1888-1940) was an American science fiction author, best known as the creator of Buck Rogers. Before writing, Nowlan had a brief background in acting. While attending the University of Pennsylvania, Nowlan was a member of the Mask and Wig club, an all-male musical comedy troupe, and had significant roles in their annual productions. After graduating, Nowlan began working as a newspaper columnist and married Theresa Junker. They had ten children. Nowlan also began writing for science fiction pulp magazines, and in 1928, his most famous character, Buck Rogers was introduced as Anthony Rogers in Armageddon 2419 AD, a science fiction novella published in Amazing Stories.

After the novella was published, Nowlan decided to serialize the story as a newspaper comic strip. Anthony became Buck, and in 1929 Buck Rogers in the 25th Century A.D. comic strip debuted in 47 newspapers across the United States. The series turned out to be immensely popular, and it was later adapted into a radio show, a 12 part movie serial, and a 1979 television series (which I used to watch as a kid), as well as toys, video games, and role playing games. Buck Rogers became an important staple of American pop culture, and he is credited with helping make swashbuckling adventures in space popular (the character's first adventures in space were recorded in the newspaper strip). Rogers popularity also inspired other newspapers to invent their own science fiction newspaper strips, the most famous imitator being Flash Gordon. None of all this would have happened if Rogers hadn’t saved the entire planet from the Airlords of Han first.

Armageddon 2419 A.D. tells the story of Anthony Rogers, a former soldier working for the American Radioactive Gas corporation. In 1927, while investigating an abandoned coal mine in Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania, Rogers triggers a cave-in. Now trapped in the mine, he falls unconscious as a result of radioactive gas. When he wakes, up almost 500 years have passed. It is now 2419. In this new world, the United States does not exist anymore, and Americans are a hunted race forced to hide in forests. Fortunately for Rogers, the first human being he encounters is Wilma, a member of the Wyoming Gang in whose territory he awakened. After rescuing her from an ambush, she tells him about how the world changed.

After the Great War, the European nations banded together to break the might of the United States. They succeeded, but both continents were left vulnerable. Sensing weakness, the Russian Soviets formed a coalition with the Chinese, and took over Europe, triggering an economic collapse in the United States which relied on global trade for its power. The Mongolians then proceeded to subjugate the Russians and with their fleet of airships armed with disintegrator rays took over the world. Using these rays, the Hans destroyed the American cities, and drove the now scattered savage Americans into the forest where they were forced to band into gangs for mutual protection. This was several centuries ago.

The center of world power is now in inland China, and America is an unimportant province populated by floating Han cities and savage American gangs hiding in forests. The Americans though are not ones to quietly accept their fates, and under the cover of the forests, have started quietly rebuilding their civilization; all the while working on bridging the technological gap. A day of reckoning is coming and Rogers with his twentieth-century knowledge of war strategies (he learned it first-hand by surviving the Great War) has arrived at the perfect time to make a difference in the struggle. With his help it looks like the Americans might finally have a chance of landing a serious blow against their Mongolian oppressors. But first he needs to find out who is the hidden traitor trading scientific knowledge to the Hans.

The book itself is a fairly decent pulp novel with fast-paced action and not too lurid a love affair. The plot itself is fairly self-contained and serves as a decent introduction to the world of 2419 A. D. I got to learn how the world had reached its present state, the current status of the American survivors and the new gang-based civilization which was being created, and the new technologies which were being deployed by both sides. Rogers first adventures in this new time period were a lot of fun to witness, and reading the book, left me with a strong sense of more. The only frustrations I experienced were some overly technical descriptions of the fictional futuristic technologies and Nowlan’s decision to merge Hans (Chinese) and Mongolians into a generic Asian menace. The last one really annoyed me. If you’re already going to the trouble to build a heavily detailed new world 500 years in the future, you might as well get your facts straight, but that’s probably just me. 1928 Americans weren’t reading pulps to learn more about Oriental cultures.

The Omer today is kingship in eternity, and Armageddon 2419 A.D. is a very apt reminder that pulps of the past are more than capable of predicting the kingdoms of the future. 1928 begins with the Kuomintang unifying China under their rule (Mongolia is already an independent puppet state of Soviet Russia). Ninety-one years, and one Communist revolution later, China is now a dominant world power and the United States is in decline. 400 years from now, who’s to say they won’t have floating cities and disintegrator rays? I’m not too worried though. No kingdom in this world lasts forever. Empires rise and empires fall, whether it be George Washington, Buck Rogers or Futurama’s Philip J. Fry who topples them. It’s their memory that lasts forever. This is the true kingship of eternity, the legacy you leave for future generations. The more you invest in it, the longer it will survive – no matter how hard the Han disintegrator rays try to destroy it.

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