Jumpdrives & Cantrips

Blast From the Past: The Eskimo Invasion (1967)
September 19, 2008, 2039
Filed under: Misc | Tags: , , , , ,

The Eskimo Invasion Ah, 1967… the Vietnam War is in progress as hippies gather for the Summer of Love, a certain professor (John Archibald Wheeler) coins the term “black hole” for the first time, the world’s first heart transplant is performed… and the Eskimos invade? Not quite, but it appears as a title by science fiction author Hayden Howard, who wrote The Eskimo Invasion, published in November 1967 by Ballantine Books (New York). The book was nominated for the 1967 Nebula in the best novel category.

I first found The Eskimo Invasion at a book sale and was simultaneously taken aback and amused by the title’s pure inanity. I picked it up with the intention of never reading it–I just can’t manage it–but the intention of using its existence as an exemplar of cultural stereotyping (the book itself may very well break this down, though I don’t feel the need to find out). However, there comes a time when books that won’t be read must move on regardless. I figured I might as well preserve this one partly for posterity’s sake.

Cover blurb:

“Homo sapiens can atomize himself into extinction–but there are other kindly extremes just as deadly…”

From the back of the book:

Dr. West was puzzled, frustrated, and mad.
He knew something was wrong up there in Boothia Sanctuary, but what?
Why, really, did the government want to keep him out? He didn’t for a moment believe the spurious political excuse of preserving a “cultural sanctuary” intact. What were they hiding? What could possibly be wrong with a harmless, lovable group of Eskimos?
Dr. West could never leave a puzzle alone. Besides, if he went up there, maybe he could get proof.
Of something.
Unfortunately, even when he did, no one believed him…

And it only gets more over the top, as you can see from the inner lead-in:

It was a happy scene…
The winter wastes; the igloos; cheerful, laughing, roly-poly faces–his friends, the Eskimos–the gentlest, most warm-hearted people in the world.
And they were cheerful, laughing, gentle, and warm-hearted.
And busy, active, playful.
In fact, when Dr. West tried to take a census, he couldn’t be sure that he hadn’t counted the same ones several times over.
Or had he?
And if not, how could they all be so very young? Where had they all come from?
But it was still a happy scene.

More than forty years later, and even the title is offensive. What a difference time makes, eh?

5 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Is it just me or does that description sound suspiciously like Hobbits? Dr. West = Gandalf and the Eskimos = Hobbits…

Comment by SMD

Read it. When the blurbs match what’s in the book, it’s a mistake. Believe me, even back in 1967 a book didn’t get nominated for a Nebula without a good reason.

Comment by Alan Kellogg


Hey, Sara, you have a lot of reviews now. I’ve started a new blog, Young Adult Science Fiction. If you let me know which of the books you’ve reviewed would be most appealing for teens, I’ll link to those reviews on the blog.

Comment by Kimber An

SMD: Yeah, it’s more than a little paternalistic a la Gandalf, I agree. That’s part of why I just can’t stomach reading it.

Alan: I actually tried, and the prose is very well put together, but the content is pretty out there. The whole cultural thing doesn’t sit well with me (my first degree is anthropology and I think about these things a little too much sometimes), and I even tried scanning later portions of the book to see if I’d be interested. All I got out of it was that the villain was gloriously over the top as well. I also unfortunately have problems reading the majority of earlier SF due to various personal preferences in style and content.

Kimber An: Well, I can try, but seeing as I was reading my dad’s “adult” SF back when I was in elementary school and I still read “children’s books”, age ranges in reading never meant all that much to me 🙂


Comment by admin

I’d like to encourage you to read this book, as it’s quite fascinating and not prejudicial as you seem to assume.

Authors rarely get to choose titles or cover blurbs, but what this title refers to is that the Eskimos were invaded (by an alien element)which produced a bizarre, child-like subgroup called Esks. Dr. West was fascinated by them because they were NOT like other Eskimo people (or any other people), and isolated on a sanctuary for some unknown reason.

When he marries an Esk from the compound, the impact of that alien invasion in his wife and then their children affects him personally and things get more bizarre and interesting.

By the way, the author was aware at the time he wrote the book–in 1967–that there was new thinking about birth control and fear of overpopulation. This affected the what-if scenario in this book.

The setting in Alaska was realistic because he needed to choose a remote area where that strange subgroup could be effectively isolated until Dr. West discovered them.

The author, now 85, was a public school teacher. He enjoys interacting with and learning from people of many different cultures, and is a poet as well as story-teller. He married my mother after his retirement, and I was privileged to read his own copy of The Eskimo Invasion. I expected that to make me biased, but I found his book to be quite an engrossing read.

Comment by LWS

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