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Bramah, Ernest

Entry updated 19 May 2021. Tagged: Author.

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Working name of UK author Ernest Brammah Smith (1868-1942) for all his writing; he is best-known for two series, the Max Carrados sequence [see Checklist below] about a blind detective, all of whose Perceptions (except of course sight) are enormously enhanced by rigorous training; and a series of tales in which the Chinese Kai Lung displays his skills as a professional story-teller – often to stave off some unpleasant fate, like Scheherazade. Although only two Carrados adventures involve supernatural elements, the blind hero's extraordinary abilities – such as reading small print with his fingertips and shooting accurately at targets perceived only by sound – verge upon Superpowers. The Carrados story of greatest sf interest is "The Strange Case of Cyril Bycourt" (in Max Carrados Mysteries coll 1927), featuring a Technofantasy haunting whereby psychic emanations from a former plague pit – now the site of an electrical generator – somehow travel along the power lines to trouble the small boy of the title.

The China which Kai Lung inhabits has numerous features of the fantasy Land of Fable [for this and Myths of Origin below see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], and many of the embedded tales which he tells are fantasy, featuring such tropes as dragons, ghosts and other Supernatural Creatures, Identity Exchange, an impossible quest to the Moon, and Transmutation; all are told in an ornate manner which ironically and often hilariously exaggerates the old Chinese tradition of understatement and flowery politesse. Several are humorous Myths of Origin, for bamboo, Chess, tea and willow-pattern crockery. The main sequence begins with The Wallet of Kai Lung (coll 1900; cut vt The Transmutation of Ling 1911 chap) and ends with Kai Lung Beneath the Mulberry-Tree (coll 1940); the included tangential novel The Moon of Much Gladness: As Related by Kai Lung (1932; vt The Return of Kai Lung 1937) uses the elaborate mannerisms of Kai Lung – who does not appear in person – to spoof contemporary Western ("barbarian") detective fiction; of the posthumous collections and resortings [see Checklist], Kai Lung Raises His Voice (coll 2010) usefully assembles all the remaining series stories.

Bramah's one sf novel is What Might Have Been: The Story of a Social War (1907 anonymous; cut rev vt The Secret of the League: The Story of a Social War 1909 as by Bramah), is set in an Alternate History version of Britain in 1907 under the rule of a socialist government. In his preface to the tale, Bramah joshingly suggests several Jonbar Points to explain his world, the most recent being Napoleon's victory at Waterloo. The Satire of the left (and indeed the right) may seem moderately tedious, as it extends for many pages; but some of the Technology is of interest, including a telephone system that sends faxes, and solo Flying via belted-on mechanical wings (with accompanying English concern for propriety: "Hastings permitted mixed flying."). The sequel, a brief Future War tale called "The War Hawks" (September 1909 Pall Mall Magazine), is collected in The Specimen Case (coll 1924). A Little Flutter (1930), though making considerable play with an unlikely five-foot-two-inch (1.6 metres) bird known as the Patagonian Groo-Groo, is essentially a nonfantastic social comedy, complete with side-swipes at George Bernard Shaw. [DRL/JC]

Ernest Brammah Smith

born Manchester, England: 20 March 1868

died Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset: 23 June 1942

works

series

Kai Lung

Max Carrados

individual titles

nonfiction (selected)

about the author

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