In the early days after its construction in the 1730’s, “Saville Street” was home to officers of the British military. The next century it became the first home of the Geographical Society of London (today known as the Royal Geographical Society, RGS), which was granted its Royal Charter under Queen Victoria. The RGS was responsible for financing such notable expeditions as David Livingstone’s sojourn into Africa, which lead to the discovery of the Nile’s source (named Lake Victoria) by Sir Richard Burton and John Speke. The RGS moved its headquarters in 1913, which was also the same year that women were first allowed to join.
During the Victorian era, Saville Row become strongly associated with the tailoring trade, and today the street is lined with stores selling natty men’s fashion. On a literary note, Jules Verne gives Phileas Fogg, the hero of Around the World in 80 Days, the address of No. 7 Saville Row. There isn’t a lot to see today, so for me, the most compelling thing about visiting this area ended up being the nearby Burlington Arcade.
If you have heard of this site, it is probably because of Around the World in 80 Days. Phileas Fogg’s journey began at The Reform (as it is colloquially named) over a game of cards, and ended in dramatic fashion on the same spot. The Reform was also featured in politically-minded novel entitled Phineas Finn, which was released as a serial by notable Victorian author Anthony Trollope from 1867-1868.
The club was founded in 1832 as a liberal bastion for people to exchange radical ideas in response to the conservative Whig Party that had held power in London for decades. For many years it was the unofficial headquarters for the Liberal Party, and boasts a huge library filled with contributions from its members. Unfortunately, the inside of the club is off-limits to non-members except for select groups that can visit during a special architectural festival in September, and the exterior is nothing special. But, you can see a few photos of the interior on their website.
Whenever I go a-searching for used science fiction books I run across several by Philip Jose Farmer, but I could never find any in his “Wold Newton” series. The books I could find seemed to be all about space travel and other worlds, but his Steampunk books take place in the alternative past right here at home. I eventually had to order The Other Log of Phileas Fogg online, and I was so excited when the new edition arrived at my door, especially because of the sweet airship on the cover. I am sad to report though that the dirigible of the futuristic past does not actually make an appearance anywhere in the story, and that is only one of several letdowns about this book.
I expected this story to be written like a series of journal entries, but rather it is through the lens of an “expert” interpreting a secret journal and often correcting Verne’s story as much as adding missing pieces. But, one thing Farmer does do is give Fogg his missing back-story. According to this book Fogg was the foster son of an alien and learned special abilities, like the trick of controlling his negative emotions, that aid him on his trek and go a long way to explaining the enigmatic Fogg.
For the past two hundred years there has been a secret war waged between two competing alien species and it is being fought right below the noses of the human race. Both sides have lost the ability to reproduce because their numbers are so few and their females dead, so they take in human foster children like Fogg and Passepartout on one side and Detective Fix and Captain Nemo on the other. The aliens have advanced technology to aid their surrogates and according to Farmer this foreign machinery is the origin of Nemo’s Nautilus. Fogg’s dash around the planet has nothing to do with a wager, but is actually in pursuit of a teleportation device that both sides need for their (apparently same) plots of benign sublimation for the human race.
As I said in my review of the original Around the World in 80 Days (read it here), there are many gaps in Verne’s story that are begging to filled and Farmer was certainly endeavoring to do so. Unfortunately, his approach reminded me of the worst kind of fan fiction where a story gets nit-picked apart to such an extent that it stops being fun to read. For instance, Farmer makes a point of saying something should only take 5 minutes when it took Fogg 10, and harps on the fact that Verne never specifically mentions that Fogg carries a watch.
And then, rather than offering interesting explanations or insights from the “other log,” Farmer commits that cardinal writing sin: the rhetorical question. There are sometimes 6 or more in a row! Maybe this is just me, but I was always told that an author should never, ever do this even once without immediately answering it, and even then it is considered lazy writing. Farmer also makes a point of saying that the book is not a novel, but then writes long stretches of dialog that would never have been recorded in a diary and so have no place in the narrator’s interpretation. I also felt that giving all the credit of the technological advancements to the aliens was a disservice to Verne’s characters and the ingenuity of inventors during the Industrial Revolution.
So in the end, I don’t think I’d recommend this book any more than I would the original in terms of pure literary delight, but it is a great example of Steampunk and someone having fun with classic literature of the Victorian era.
Have you read any Philip Jose Farmer? What did you think?
I have been “poorly” as they say here in Britain, meaning that I have been under the weather for a few days, so I didn’t make it into the city yesterday as I had planned. But, with all the trains, planes and automobiles lately I have gotten plenty of reading done in anticipation of my upcoming articles for the ezine, so here is a book review to tide you over until I can start posting about London in earnest.
I chose to do an in-depth article on Around the World in 80 Days mostly as an excuse to watch the 1956 movie again that I remembered from my childhood, but of course I needed to start with the text itself. I won’t go into a lengthy synopsis here because I will be doing that for my upcoming Sourcebook, so I’ll skip straight to the review.
I really expected to adore this book and it had all the makings of greatness, but all and all I’d say this one isn’t a must-read for a Steampunk or a Jules Verne fan. The voice of the narration is inconsistent and swings between third-person omniscient and totally opaque, especially when it comes to Detective Fix who is pursuing Fogg through his journey on suspicion of bank robbery. I also felt like the action, the real meat of the adventure, was often treated as a footnote with very little description whereas the reader must sit through several pages of Mormon history and detailed itineraries of exactly where their train is stopping. For instance, Passepartout is taken hostage by the Sioux during the trek across America, but all we know if the daring rescue is that Aouda and Fix paced a lot while waiting.
There are definitely gaps that would be fun for an author to try to fill, and indeed Philip Jose Farmer attempted to do just that in his novel The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, which is the next book I will review.
I started making Steampunk-inspired clocks about a month ago using mixed metals, fabric and scrapbook paper. This one is definitely my favorite so far and the only one I have kept for myself. The rose in the center of the clock mechanism acts as the second hand and rotates as the clock ticks. (You can see my posts about Steampunk scrapbook paper by Graphic 45 and Die Cuts with a View by clicking on the links.)
This clock was a gift for my sister-in-law because she collects vintage maps and loves to travel. (Please forgive the image quality. I’ve been messing with the camera settings for a while and I can’t get it to cooperate, but it is high time I got to post some of my own art!)
This last and most recent clock was a wedding gift for a friend.
Any feedback or questions are very welcome, feel free to leave me a comment below.