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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 8 November 2003
I am grateful to have discovered this extraordinary book. I am not usually a reader of science fiction/fantasy and the name Katharine Burdekin (or Murray Constantine) meant nothing to me. 'Swastika Night' is a tour de force of imaginary power and rational extrapolation. Every detail of this nightmarish vision is worked out with implacable logic and passionate conviction. I look forward to discovering more of this author's works and am astonished that she is not more widely known.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
"Swastika Night" was published in 1937, although the fact that "Murray Constantine" was a pseudonym for Katharine Burdekin was not revealed until the early 1980s (Burdekin died in 1963). The chief interest in this dystopian novel was that Burdekin was telling the story of a feudal Europe that existed seven centuries into a world in which Hitler and the Nazi achieved total victory. The novel begins with a "knight" entering "the Holy Hitler chapel," where the faithful all sing the praise of "God the Thunderer" and: "His Son our Holy Adolf Hitler, the Only Man. Who was, not begotten, not born of a woman, but Exploded!" With such a beginning it is hard not to look at "Swastika Night" as a nightmarish version of the Germany and England that would result from a Nazi victory. Given the time in which she was writing, two years before Hitler's forces invaded Poland and officially began the Second World War, it is equally obvious that Burdekin is simultaneously an indictment of Hitler's political and militaristic policies and a warning of the logical consequences of the Nazi ideology.
Burdekin depicts a world that has been divided into the Nazi Empire (Europe and Africa) and the equally militaristic Japanese Empire (Asia, Australia, and the Americas), a demarcation that raises some interesting issues all by itself. Obviously in the Nazi Empire Hitler is venerated as a god and all books and documents from the past have been destroyed so that the Nazi version of history is all that remains (the similarity is more to the efforts of the ancient Egytpian pharoahs than Orwell's idea of the continuous revision of the public record). With all of the Jews having been exterminated at the start of the Nazi era, it is now Christians who are the reviled object of Nazi persecution, as well as those who are "Not Blood." Burdekin's protagonist is an Englishman named Alfred (suggesting parallels to England's legendary king Alfred the Great), who rejects the violence, brutality, and militarism of Nazi ideology because it results not in boys rather than men.
However, the fact that Hitler lost World War II does not mean that "Swastika Night" does not speak to contemporary readers in an important way. After all, we have not been progressing towards the dystopian vision of George Orwell and "Nineteen Eighty-Four" is still the mos widely read dystopian novel around. Burdekin's novel also explores the connection between gender and political power. Part of Hitler's deification is because he was never contaminated by contact with women, and In contrast to the "cult of masculinity," Burdekin depicts a "Reduction of Women" in which all women are kept ignorant and apathetic, their own function being for purposes of breeding. She clearly say the male apotheosis of women as mothers as being the first step on the slippery slope to the degradation of women to mere breeding animals. Despite the obvious comparisons to "Nineteen Eighty-Four," it is the contrast between the womanless world of "Swastika Night" and the woman-centered utopia of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "Herland" (or even Virginia Woolf's "Three Guinesas," published in 1938) that most students of utopian literature are going to want to pursue.
Once World War II began "Swastika Night" became a historical footnote, especially since its pacifism would have been considered an impractical response to Hitler once war was declared. But today the feminist arguments regarding hypertrophied masculinity and the correlating reduction of women that are as much a part of the work as the condemnation of Nazi ideology makes it well worth consideration by contemporary readers.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 11 March 2009
If you like dystopian novels like "Brave New World" or "1984" I recommend you read this one, which was actually written before those two. Its starting point is what would have happened if the Nazis had won World War II. The story covers several topics and the main character raises important questions about the part culture plays in gender roles and the definition of beauty. History before the war has been re-written, books destroyed, thinking as an individual discouraged, Hitler has been turned into God after his death by this new religion, social classes are clearly defined as well as the difference between germans, non-germans, and christians, leaving all women reduced to an animal state restricting their role to breeding, their beauty also eliminated and they are only tolerated for the sake of continuation of the species. I don't want to give the story away but just a taste of it:

"There are two things women have never had which men have had, of a developing and encouraging nature. One is sexual invulnerability and the other is pride in their sex, which is the humblest boy's birthright. And yet, until they can get back those two things, which they lost when they committed their crime and accepted men's idea of their inferiority, they can never develop their little remaining spark of self-hood and life. We know it's still there, or they wouldn't be unhappy now." p. 108

Food for thought...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 10 December 2012
I have long felt that Katharine Burdekin's 'Swastika Night' surpasses the other dystopian science fiction of its time, in what was perhaps the most fertile era for the genre. It is a great book and deserves to stand among the classics. How tragic that this author is not popularly known! I think the final insult for this author, as if to rub salt into an already painful wound, is that it is incredibly difficult to get hold of her more obscure works, either at an affordable price or at all.

'Swastika Night' presents a harsh social world some seven centuries into the future. It is a world dominated not so much by men but by maleness, but the men have superior status and the women are - for the most part - submissive and penned in the most horrendous conditions. The only criticisms I have of this novel are, first, that Burdekin's extrapolation seems a little esoteric and not fully-believable - though her perception is undeniable - and second, I also think that perhaps too much time is spent in static dialogue between two of the leading characters. Nevertheless, the story is well-written and once the central issues are resolved, it moves along at a pace. I really cannot add any more without exhausting the superlatives available (which would be well-deserved). The rest of this review is a more detailed summary of my thoughts on the meaning and messages in the story, and in particular how I think this novel transcends a strictly gender and class critique. I will try not to reveal too much here, but be warned there are some clues as to the plot so don't read the rest of this if you could do without spoilers.

Like most, on first reading I took the novel itself as a gender and class critique but having re-read it more recently and reflected on my own experiences, I think the author is also trying to tell us something about knowledge - specifically, political knowledge. Burdekin was not just extrapolating, in a sense - like Orwell some years later in Nineteen Eighty-Four - she was also commenting on the present and society as it is. In our determination not to recognise wrongs and injustices around us, we like to construct spatial and temporal buffers: "that sort of thing happened long ago but wouldn't be allowed here" and "that sort of thing happens over there but not here." These are ways to promote a kind of 'coerced contentment' - which has its own totalitarian quality - and in that sense, I think the characters of 'Swastika Night' are in some ways freer and luckier - even more human - than we are. We may not suffer Hermann's illiteracy or Alfred's frustrations, but for all that, Hermann and Alfred at least have seen down the rabbit hole, have experienced adventure and have lived - which is more than can be said for many in our society, in our time.

The Knight, the crucible of the story, holds in his hands the font of all knowledge, literally in every sense. What does he do with it? He hides it, sharing the knowledge only with his issue. Unlike Alfred, he sees knowledge as an unmitigated burden, but unlike Hermann, he also recognises the power of knowledge, its ultimate ability to help a person become himself. What is interesting is that Alfred, too, is ambivalent about knowledge. While recognising its spiritual power, he treats the knowledge that is imparted to him as dynamite, hiding it in a cave as if it is something explosive and dangerous not to be touched except with the greatest care. And haven't we all seen and recognised this tendency even in the Potemkin village of contemporary politics? People really do not like political knowledge - they prefer to be lied to - and they will hoot and wail at any politician, or other public figure, who attempts to impart real knowledge to them. That is the truth. Burdekin, I feel, is incredibly astute in this respect.

And here is where I respectfully disagree with Daphne Patai (who wrote the Foreword and has studied Burdekin's work extensively). I think Alfred's reaction, in hiding the book and following the Knight's instructions to the letter, represents not the capitalisation of his rebellion, but rather his own tragic submission to the Knight and to Germany. All political systems need mechanisms of controlled opposition and intellectual suppression. By hiding the knowledge, Alfred himself becomes a 'conservative' - he makes his peace with the system, so to speak - even if he does not know it himself. It is a preface of Orwell's literary device, doublethink. That said, the Knight's own motives were as ambivalent as Alfred's. He takes the aeroplane ride with Alfred and puts his life in Alfred's hands. He is submitting wildly to chance, knowing that without issue he is very much in the lap of the gods anyway. The 'democratising' gesture of handing the book to Alfred - the 'lower class man' - is also a proverbial roll of the dice. There is every chance that knowledge will die out in the hands of Alfred or his issue, but there is also the possibility it won't, that Alfred will pass on the knowledge successfully.

What a great novel, but I suspect - sadly - Burdekin's other works will be hard to find other than through a specialist publisher.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICEon 2 November 2003
"Swastika Night" was published in 1937, although the fact that "Murray Constantine" was a pseudonym for Katharine Burdekin was not revealed until the early 1980s (Burdekin died in 1963). The chief interest in this dystopian novel was that Burdekin was telling the story of a feudal Europe that existed seven centuries into a world in which Hitler and the Nazi achieved total victory. The novel begins with a "knight" entering "the Holy Hitler chapel," where the faithful all sing the praise of "God the Thunderer" and: "His Son our Holy Adolf Hitler, the Only Man. Who was, not begotten, not born of a woman, but Exploded!" With such a beginning it is hard not to look at "Swastika Night" as a nightmarish version of the Germany and England that would result from a Nazi victory. Given the time in which she was writing, two years before Hitler's forces invaded Poland and officially began the Second World War, it is equally obvious that Burdekin is simultaneously an indictment of Hitler's political and militaristic policies and a warning of the logical consequences of the Nazi ideology.
Burdekin depicts a world that has been divided into the Nazi Empire (Europe and Africa) and the equally militaristic Japanese Empire (Asia, Australia, and the Americas), a demarcation that raises some interesting issues all by itself. Obviously in the Nazi Empire Hitler is venerated as a god and all books and documents from the past have been destroyed so that the Nazi version of history is all that remains (the similarity is more to the efforts of the ancient Egytpian pharoahs than Orwell's idea of the continuous revision of the public record). With all of the Jews having been exterminated at the start of the Nazi era, it is now Christians who are the reviled object of Nazi persecution, as well as those who are "Not Blood." Burdekin's protagonist is an Englishman named Alfred (suggesting parallels to England's legendary king Alfred the Great), who rejects the violence, brutality, and militarism of Nazi ideology because it results not in boys rather than men.
However, the fact that Hitler lost World War II does not mean that "Swastika Night" does not speak to contemporary readers in an important way. After all, we have not been progressing towards the dystopian vision of George Orwell and "Nineteen Eighty-Four" is still the mos widely read dystopian novel around. Burdekin's novel also explores the connection between gender and political power. Part of Hitler's deification is because he was never contaminated by contact with women, and In contrast to the "cult of masculinity," Burdekin depicts a "Reduction of Women" in which all women are kept ignorant and apathetic, their own function being for purposes of breeding. She clearly say the male apotheosis of women as mothers as being the first step on the slippery slope to the degradation of women to mere breeding animals. Despite the obvious comparisons to "Nineteen Eighty-Four," it is the contrast between the womanless world of "Swastika Night" and the woman-centered utopia of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "Herland" (or even Virginia Woolf's "Three Guinesas," published in 1938) that most students of utopian literature are going to want to pursue.
Once World War II began "Swastika Night" became a historical footnote, especially since its pacifism would have been considered an impractical response to Hitler once war was declared. But today the feminist arguments regarding hypertrophied masculinity and the correlating reduction of women that are as much a part of the work as the condemnation of Nazi ideology makes it well worth consideration by contemporary readers.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Chillingly conceivable, this novel offers a grim picture of our future world. Written from a feminist perspective with ideas mirrored in Virginia Woolf's literature of the same period, Burdekin uses her considerable writing skills to depict a world in which women have been fully subjectivated; Nazism has now conquered almost half of the world and it is masculine aggression which is the driving force behind every action.
This novel is a must for anyone interested in dystopian/utopian fiction.
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on 15 October 2014
This incredible book written in the 1930's is a feminist science fiction novel set 700 years in the future where Hitler is worshipped as a giant blond God and women are reduced to caged breeding animals despised by men. The world is dominated by two superpowers Germany and Japan between which a Cold War exists. The story unfolds after the chance discovery of an image of a smiling Hitler holding a young girl in his arms.

Katharine Burdekin writing under the pseudonym Murray Constantine accurately forecasts later actual events e.g. Germany's attack on the Soviet Union and Japan's attack on the USA. This book is a lost classic and deserves wider exposure.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A fascinating and compelling read exploring the utter subjugation of woman under and beyond Nazi doctrines. Brutal, frightening and disturbing. Ask any woman , 'how far has society actualy come'?
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on 18 October 2014
whilst this book is fascinating in its subject matter, written as it is in 1937, it is poorly written and has a weak story line. however, it is very prescient in its view of German supremacy throughout Europe and the type of society that would have evolved, but many of the ideas are naive and therefore flawed. Overall, I did not really enjoy the book but thought that it raised a number of issues which were useful for our book club.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 6 June 2011
I was puzzled by the presence of something called "Swastika Night", published in 1937, on a list of feminist SF. Puzzled enough to order it, and to be amply rewarded for the gamble.

Burdekin, writing under a male pseudonym as "Murray Constantine", tells of a world 800 years after the Nazis conquered Europe and Africa, splitting the world with the Japanese. Almost all culture has been suppressed, and technology seems no further advanced than the 1940s. Women have been entirely subjugated, kept only for breeding: the world is a "Nazi paradise" of masculinity and preparation for war. Thought has been replaced by Hitler-worship, work, and preparation for war. This recognition of the logical outcomes of Nazism, at a time when many non-Germans hoped to compromise with it, or use it against Communism, demonstrates real insight.

There's a story, too.

It reads rather like Huxley's Brave New World, with a deceptive and beautifully crafted simplicity of style, holding the reader's interest through lengthy conversations. There's very little action, just enough to demonstrate the character of the protagonists and start the disruption of the established order. There is betrayal, necessary for a conclusion, but hope is not lost.

A man like me, with a limited knowledge of feminism, can learn some basic truths from this; like all good SF, it's really about the modern world. Things have changed since 1937 - but not all that much.
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