“The Island of Unreason,” Edmond Hamilton, 1933

“The Island of Unreason,” Edmond Hamilton, 1933 — A man commits the unreasonable act of wanting to finish a project to conclusion, even though it should be handed off to someone more talented.  He’s sentenced to an unknown period on the island of unreason. There they eat animal flesh, fight for women, can’t cooperate enough to build cities, choose their own mates, and barely manage to build shelters. He’s offered a way out, but he chooses to go back, apparently for love.

Comments: Pat ending in which the rival is subdued by the arrival of another woman (a pert blonde; he and the rival form a truce due to the arrival of women. A contrast of two extremes of reason/unreason, as defined by Hamilton. Read in The Best of Hamilton.

Author: Wikipedia: “Edmond Moore Hamilton (October 21, 1904 – February 1, 1977) was an American author of science fiction stories and novels during the mid-twentieth.”  “World-wrecker” Hamilton was an extremely prolific writer, particularly of space opera, and appeared frequently in Weird Tales.  He was close friends with many prominent genre writers, including Jack Williamson, and was married to Leigh Brackett, a science fiction writer and a screen writer of several notable screenplays.

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About jennre

Lifelong sf fan, first-time blogger
This entry was posted in 1926-1939, primitive/civilized, violence. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to “The Island of Unreason,” Edmond Hamilton, 1933

  1. The interesting thing, intellectually, about the story is that it’s IMHO a dig at Technocracy, especially the happy shiny version of the idea popularized by Hugo Gernsback and his disciples. The nastier aspect of the Directorship is that the bureaucrats, through the Eugenic Board, even assign mates: they don’t only have the negative power of forbidding matings of which they disapprove, which while obnoxious from our POV is common in a lot of Interwar science fiction. Compare and contrast with Heinlein’s “Coventry” (1940), which is pro-Technocratic.

    I also noticed that Hamilton really doesn’t put forth a better alternative. Life on the Island of Unreason is unregimented, but it is also “nasty, brutish and” [in reality would be] “short” (to apply Hobbes to the issue). I don’t see how Hara’s plan to invade the mainland can possibly succeed, given that he’d be outnumbered by at least a million to one, and I don’t even see why it would represent an improvement over the Technocratic society (it would just be horrible in different ways).

    I completely agree with you that the solution to the conflict between Allan and Hara is very much deus ex machina (for that matter, so is his victory in the fistfight — Allan may have fallen in love with Lita but this still shouldn’t be enough to let him KO a bigger man with a history of violence including recent experience at exactly the form of fighting in which he engaged). What’s more, it’s done in a way which depicts women as mere props: at least Lita gets a personality, while the “pert little blonde” doesn’t even get a name! How hard would it have been to give the girl a name and at least a couple of lines?

    I also wrote a review of “Island of Unreason” on Fantastic Worlds. Hope that you like my take on the tale.

  2. jennre says:

    Terrific comment. Thanks for the observations, especially regarding the female characters, and thanks also for the link to your detailed review, which I’m recommending to those interested in this story. — jennifer

    • Thinking about it, the prejudice displayed in “Island of Unreason” is less against women than it is against secondary or tertiary characters. Lita and Hara both have distinct personalities, because they have to interact with Allan (as love interest and antagonist respectively). Hara’s girlfriend doesn’t, because she’s only introduced at the last moment and doesn’t get any explicit dialogue. This total focus on the main character is common to interwar science fiction: if the story were written today, Hara’s girlfriend would get a name and a little dialogue. Actually, Hamilton giving her a description went beyond the norm for a tertiary character.

      It’s difficult to say how sexist are the two societies depicted. We only see male authority-figures in the technocracy, but then we don’t get to see too many people in the technocracy as a whole. I’d guess that most of the bureaucrats were male, but that would be only a guess. On the Island, mating by right of battle is a key plot element: what we don’t get to see is how the women game their anarchic system.

      Hamilton wasn’t terribly sexist for his time and place, but his time and specific place (technophilic young men of the Interwar Era) was pretty sexist by our standards. A lot of the science fiction of that era utterly avoided not only romance but even female characters, under the assumption that the target audience was utterly uninterested — or positively embarassed — by such things. One reason why — in the stories which did feature women — the “fight-for-your-mate” scenario was so popular was that it was a simple and dramatic way of demonstrating love, and one in which the often-socially-awkward readers could imagine themselves the protagonists (especially since these protagonists were often physically more formidable than the actual average readership).

      Allan totally fits this model: he’s a strong, brave, smart technophilic young man whose own social awkwardness is implicitly responsible for his exile. It would have been easy for the 1933 reader to imagine himself in Allan’s place.

      Hamilton himself would have fit this model in every respect other than social awkwardness – he was a reasonably athletic, smart technophilic young man (a bit of a teenaged prodigy, and intellectually-active in his later years — and he was a bit of a misfit. He at least in his later stories wasn’t particularly sexist — how could anyone be who courted, married and wrote stories with the brilliant Leigh Brackett? — but this story was written before he even met her, and his writing after he met Leigh Brackett shows that she greatly increased his understanding of female characters.

      Anyway, it’s at least not that bad in terms of gender issues for its era.

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