This is the Centenary year of G. K. Chesterton’s novel Man Alive!, an early satire on Social Science, and a philosophical romance. Chesterton was born in London in 1874 at the very beginning of our modern world. He appeared simultaneously with domestic electricity and mass communication. He was to become the modern world’s first critic. Between 1904 and 1914 he published five fantastic, as opposed to fantasy novels (including The Flying Inn). They begin in our familiar world which is then stretched preposterously with an eerie logic. Chesterton is a novelist of ideas, and, like a classic sci-fi writer, asks what would happen if a concept was followed through to its conclusion. The result is usually both absurd and dangerous, all the more so if the concept was originally rational and well intentioned.
Of the fantastic novels The Man Who Was Thursday has become a classic, while the other four have dropped from sight. Novels of ideas are traditonally gloomy and introspective. Since Psychology was one of the new schools of thought Chesterton refused to believe in, his are exhuberant. Nevertheless in Innocent Smith, the childish madman protagonist of Man Alive there is something of a self-portrait that is more revealing of Chesterton than even his Autobiography. Man Alive at project Gutenberg.