From the webmaster: If you, as a book reader, are not aware of the Google copyright settlement, you should be.

  email me donate FORUMS search site site directory  

== This site also has forums--why not take a look and even post to them? Life is short: have some fun!  ==

Great Science-Fiction
& Fantasy Works

science-fiction & fantasy literature:
a critical list with discussions

Science-Fiction and Fantasy Books by
Ernest Bramah

Standard Disclaimer:

This is a brief discussion of Ernest Bramah and, of course, of some speculative-fiction books by Ernest Bramah

This discussion and list does not necessarily include every book by Bramah: it includes only those books that I both know and like. Just as with the author list itself, omission of a particular item may mean I didn't think highly enough of the omitted item, or it may simply mean that I have not yet sufficient familiarity with it. (In a very few cases, I have listed some books merely on the strength of my opinion of the author: all such books are clearly marked below, as throughout these lists, with a hash mark (#) before the title so you know what's what.)

I don't pretend that this discussion is a deep analysis. My intent is no more than to give you a rough idea of what kinds of tales Bramah tells, how those tales are usually told, and what makes them and Bramah worthy; in sum, to help you rank Bramah (and the works by Bramah listed here) on your personal literary "to do" list.

A Few Words About Ernest Bramah

While Ernest Bramah wrote many books in many fields, our focus is on but a half dozen, all more or less concerned with a gentleman named Kai Lung, an itinerant teller of tales in "a China that never was." The Kai Lung books are an exercise in pure style: there are no messages, deep or otherwise. For them to rank five stars--Grand-Master level--implies, correctly, that they must offer wondrous pleasures.

The books are drollery. Their foremost attraction is the wonderfully dry and ironic wit expressed as the Western exaggerated concept of the modesty, indirection, and courtesy of expression in Chinese. Here, for example, Kai Lung is waylaid by a gun-toting highwayman (gun-toting? I did say "that never was"):

"O illustrious person," said Kai Lung very earnestly, "this is evidently an unfortunate mistake. Doubtless you were expecting some exalted Mandarin to come and render you homage, and were preparing to overwhelm him with gratified confusion by escorting him yourself to your well-appointed abode. Indeed, I passed such a one on the road, very richly apparelled, who inquired of me the way to the mansion of the dignified and upright Lin Yi. By this time he is perhaps two or three li towards the east."

"However distinguished a Mandarin he may be, it is fitting that I should first attend to one whose manners and accomplishments betray him to be of the Royal House," replied Lin Yi, with extreme affability. "Precede me, therefore, to my mean and uninviting hovel, while I gain more honour than I can reasonably bear by following closely in your elegant footsteps, and guarding your Imperial person with this inadequate but heavily-loaded weapon."

The language itself is so superlatively delightful that it alone would make these books a perennial delight. While I do not here ordinarily quote others about works, Hillaire Belloc, himself a master of light English prose and droll verse, in his Preface to the second book, Kai Lung's Golden Hours, said the needful things so admirably that it would be foolish not to quote him:

The time in which we live affords very few such moments of relief: here and there a good piece of verse, in the New Age or the now defunct Westminster: here and there a lapidary phrase such as a score or more of Blatchford's which remain fixed in my memory. Here and there a letter written to the newspapers in a moment of indignation when the writer, not trained to the craft, strikes out the metal justly at white heat. But, I say, the thing is extremely rare, and in the shape of a complete book rarest of all.

The Wallet of Kai Lung was a thing made deliberately, in hard material and completely successful. It was meant to produce a particular effect of humour by the use of a foreign convention, the Chinese convention, in the English tongue. It was meant to produce a certain effect of philosophy and at the same time it was meant to produce a certain completed interest of fiction, of relation, of a short epic. It did all these things.

It is one of the tests of excellent work that such work is economic, that is, that there is nothing redundant in order or in vocabulary, and at the same time nothing elliptic--in the full sense of that word: that is, no sentence in which so much is omitted that the reader is left puzzled . . . . The Wallet of Kai Lung satisfied all these conditions.

Indeed and indeed. Bramah's drollery, however, was not limited to the language. He also used that artificial circumambulatory prose to make gentle mock of various social conditions and manners of his time. Distill this down to plainer language if you will:

"Suitable greetings, employer of our worthless services," remarked their leader, seating himself upon the floor unbidden. "Those who speak through the mouth of the cringing mendicant before you are the Bound-together Brotherhood of Colour-mixers and Putters-on of Thought-out Designs, bent upon a just cause."

"May their Ancestral Tablets never fall into disrepair," replied Wong Ts'in courteously. "For the rest--let the mouth referred to shape itself into the likeness of a narrow funnel, for the lengthening gong-strokes press round my unfinished labours."

"That which in justice requires the amplitude of a full-sized cask shall be pressed down into the confines of an inadequate vessel," assented Fang. "Know then, O battener upon our ill-requited skill, how it has come to our knowledge that one who is not of our Brotherhood moves among us and performs an equal task for a less reward. This is our spoken word in consequence: in place of one tael every man among us shall now take two, and he who has before laboured eight gongs to receive it shall henceforth labour four. Furthermore, he who is speaking shall, as their recognised head and authority, always be addressed by the honourable title of 'Polished,' and the dog who is not one of us shall be cast forth."

"My hand itches to reward you in accordance with the inner prompting of a full heart," replied the merchant, after a well-sustained pause.

Well, one can produce that sort of thing endlessly from the Kai Lung books. In fact, if just the really worthy bits were strung together, they'd make, um, a full half dozen books' worth.

One of the six, the first three are much more commonly known (and available) than the last three. Indeed, the fourth, The Return of Kai Lung was originally published as The Moon of Much Gladness, and no where in it--either in the tale proper or, as sometimes happened, as a framing device for the tale--do we find any least hint of the honorable storyteller; but the book is so very definitely of the same sort and flavor that the publisher--and we, its readers--can (and do) simply take it for granted that it is being recounted by that venerable teller of tales, hence the re-titling (which, however, doubtless augmented sales). It is a novel, and while utterly sidesplitting, is so in a way like but significantly different from the others, with a truly delightful premise--but I can say no more about it without badly spoiling the reader's fun. The fifth, Kai Lung Beneath the Mulberry Tree, is once again definitely Kai Lung, but differs somewhat in flavor from the earlier ones, containing some less-comic tales; Bramah here appears to be working at creating what once flowed easily from his pen, but the result is still a fine book. The last book is some Kai Lung tales that had previously appeared at various times in magazines but had not before been collected; it is scarce (and correspondingly expensive), and I have not yet read it, but don't doubt that it is up to the masterly standards of the rest.

I should be done here, but I can't resist. Here are not even quotations--just a few representative chapter titles from some of the books:

  • The Degraded Persistence of the Effete Ming-Shu (my favorite)
  • The Propitious Dissension Between Two Whose General Attributes Have Already Been Sufficiently Described
  • The Incredible Obtuseness of Those Who Had Opposed the Virtuous Kai Lung
  • The Ill-Regulated Destiny of Kin Yen, the Picture-Maker
  • The Concave-Witted Li-Loe's Insatiable Craving Serves a Meritorious End And Two (Who Shall Be Nameless) Are Led Toward a Snare

Just go get the books and read them.


Other Ernest Bramah Resources

Ernest Bramah Resources on the Web

The Ernest Bramah News website is a good starting-place to look for Bramah information on the web. There is a nice little Bramah appreciation by David Langford (Crime and Chinoiserie), and another by Cosma Shalizi. Also, there exists an online forum, the Ernest Bramah Message Board.

Those with an interest in Bramah's non-fantasy "Max Carrados" mystery books will find this essay on the plausibility of a blind detective at Jessica Amanda Salmonson's fine Violet Books store's site.

Ernest Bramah Resources in Print

Aubrey Wilson has penned a biography, The Search for Ernest Bramah; it is said to be well-written and interesting.

Notable Science-Fiction and Fantasy Books by Ernest Bramah *****

You loaded this page on Saturday, 8 August 2020, at 08:33 GMT
it was last modified on Thursday, 1 January 1970, at 00:00 GMT

Site Mechanics:

Search this site:

Custom Search
(the usual Google search rules apply)
Please consider making a

Via PayPal--most credit cards accepted

(To whom? Why? How? Click here to find out.)

Site Directory:

 The site's Front Page

(essential one-time reading)
Introductory Material:
 a quick site overview and some mechanical details
 the criteria used to make these lists
      (A long page, so also available in two parts for those with slow internet connections.)
            · Apologia: Part 1
            · Apologia: Part 2
    Site Organization:
 what's where, and why


(the heart of the site)
The Authors:
    Author List
 (just a lightly annotated list of the authors here--not the best place to start)
    Master Authors/Books List
 (the centrum of this site, but a big page--there are alpha subpages available)
   A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
    Specialty Lists:
 several author "sub-lists" (such as the 5-star greats)
    Author Links:
 links to useful external pages or sites for each listed author
    More Books:
 yet-unread candidate books by authors already in these lists
    Other Candidates:
 authors, and books, that--pending actual reading--seem likely candidates for these lists


(typically gotten to
by author)
The Books:
    All Listed Science Fiction & Fantasy Books
 (a long file to download)
    Preferred Editions:
 for those books having such (a work in progress)
    The Other Books:
 all cited books not in the master fiction list, collected in one place
    Overlooked Gems of Science Fiction & Fantasy:
 wonderful works sadly under-known
    Light-Hearted Science-Fiction & Fantasy:
 there's more than you might think
    Religiously Themed Science Fiction & Fantasy:
 something the field handles wonderful well
    Science Fiction & Fantasy For Younger Readers:
 a selection from these lists of appropriate works
    100 Great Works of Science Fiction & Fantasy:
 using an expansive definition of "works"
    "Guilty Pleasures" of Science Fiction & Fantasy:
 sometimes even gourmets just want a big bag of potato chips


(new, used--find any book, anywhere in the world)
About Buying Books From Here:
    Buying Books New:
 · about buying books from Amazon
 · searching for new books at any Amazon division
 · international book-buying considerations
    Buying Books Used:
 searching for used books anywhere in the world
    Our Speculative-Fiction "General Store":
    About the Science-Fiction Book Club:
 info & online signup

(often the most interesting part of any site)
Miscellaneous Topics & Info:
 an ever-growing collection of, yes, musings
    Obiter Dicta:
 collected miscellaneous
    "That Other Genre":
 crime/mystery fiction
    Science-Fiction & Fantasy Art and Illustration:
 online galleries of diverse works
    Other Sites:
 sites that have noticed this one
    The English Language:
 a few thoughts on its modern rape
 read this if nothing else whatever
    Change Log
 what was done when
    Your Host:
 a comically little about me
 you can help support this site
 some things said about this site by others


(on- or off-topic, there's a forum here for you)
The Discussion Forums on This Site:
    The Forums:
 the forums "front page", with a menu of forums--or jump to one direct:

Site Info:

owl logo This site is one of The Owlcroft Company family of web sites. Please click on the link (or the owl) to see a menu of our other diverse user-friendly, helpful sites.       Pair Networks logo Like all our sites, this one is hosted at the highly regarded Pair Networks, whom we strongly recommend. We invite you to click on the Pair link (or their logo) for more information on getting your site or sites hosted on a first-class service.
All Owlcroft systems run on Ubuntu Linux and we heartily recommend it to everyone--click on the link for more information.

Comments? Criticisms? Questions?

Please, e-mail me by clicking here.

(Or, if you cannot email from your browser, send mail to

All content copyright © 1999 - 2020 The Owlcroft Company.

This web page is strictly compliant with the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium)
Extensible HyperText Markup Language (XHTML) Protocol v1.0 (Transitional).
Click on the logo below to test us!

So if your browser experiences any difficulties with this page(or, really, even if it doesn't seem to),
just click on the logo below to find out all about (and even get)--

Get the Firefox browser!
(It's free!)