The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Coming Race describes a young American’s adventures among the Vril-ya, an underground civilization far more advanced than his own. Sometimes the “utopian” Vril-ya society is the object of satire; at other times, the narrator himself is the object. Published anonymously, the book was written at the end of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s career, five years after he became a peer. His political outlook by that time was decidedly conservative.

The narrator, who never gives his real name, descends a chasm in a mine shaft to the Vril-ya world. “The engineer,” his only companion, falls to his death, and his body is carried off by a giant reptile, leaving the narrator alone and with no way to return to the surface. Subsequently, he encounters Aph-Lin, who will be his host among the Vril-ya. Using the powerful force called vril, which has a telepathic component, Aph-Lin and his daughter, Zee, teach the narrator their language and learn his. They refer to him as Tish, the term for the frogs kept by children as pets. This is his position among the Vril-ya, against whose power he is helpless.

The narrator relates such aspects of Vril-ya culture as the use of vril, the “fluid” that allows the Vril-ya to fly, to control automata that perform manual labor, to heal, and to destroy. Vril literally denotes civilization. Underground societies that do not possess vril power are considered barbaric, and the narrator, who lacks the evolved nerve...

(The entire section is 595 words.)