Tomorrow The World

The Prohaska saga ends at — for Austria-Hungary — the most appropriate place; which is the beginning. Growing up in a small town in Moravia, right in the very centre of central Europe, the young Ottokar Prohaska, son of a postal official, overdoses on adventure stories and becomes determined to go to sea even though he has never seen salt water in his entire life. He enters the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Naval Academy at Fiume in 1898 to learn the basics of seamanship and navigation: in which he so distinguishes himself that in the year 1902 he is chosen to take part in a six-month scientific cruise to the south Atlantic by the Austrian steam corvette “Windischgrätz”: in fact a clumsy, ill-constructed sailing ship with a steam engine which is seldom used since the hard-up Austrian War Ministry is extremely reluctant to provide the coal for it. Once at sea, the real purpose of the expedition turns out to be the claiming of an Austro-Hungarian colony in West Africa, the Habsburg Empire having missed out on the partition of Africa and now thinking that colonies might be a good idea after all. But others aboard have their own private agendas: notably the sinister Professor Skowronek — later much admired by Heinrich Himmler — who is working on a system for classifying the entire human race according to their skull dimensions.

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After duly claiming part of Liberia as a colony, the ship sails on to Brazil, then South Africa, but is later diverted to explore the waters of Tierra del Fuego in a search for a Habsburg archduke vanished there some ten years earlier. The missing archduke duly found alive, in good health and turned so embarrassingly eccentric in the meantime that it becomes necessary to lose him again, the expedition proceeds across the Pacific to claim yet another Austrian colony: this time the island of New Silesia which has thus far only escaped being claimed by some other European power because the natives are such ferocious cannibals that expeditions sent to claim it have seldom returned. A landing party is duly sent ashore, with Cadet Prohaska as standard bearer. The natives win once again, Cadet Prohaska ends up unwittingly eating a roasted slice of his former captain, and is saved from being eaten himself only by the intervention of a kindly Catholic missionary and the providential outbreak of a civil war on the island led by two rival English missionaries.

“Hilarious… devastatingly acute. It’s a book to cherish and reread.” — The Historical Novels Review

“Biggins writes with a fine sense of the sea and a truly marvelous wit.” — Booklist

First published by Secker & Warburg, London in 1994. Mandarin Paperback published in 1995. Published again in 2006 by McBooks Press, Ithaca NY.

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