I recently learned a totally amazing word. “Vellichor” was invented by John Koenig to mean “the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time…” I am sure many of you have experienced this even if you didn’t have the word for it. I have been away from the United States for a year now, I am definitely in used bookstore withdrawal. I miss going on my little treasure hunts for science fiction and fantasy books, and of course, Steampunk books in particular. It seems an especially apt word for today’s review of a book that is also focused on the passage of time (or in fact, times).
I managed to pick up a yellowing copy of The Warlord of the Air just before I left America, and I have been carting it around from country to country. I finally got a chance to read it on a long day of travel as I was leaving Sofia, Bulgaria and it was well worth the wait. This is the first in Michael Moorcock’s A Nomad of the Time Streams trilogy, which were published between 1971 and 1981.
The tale is framed as a story that was told to Moorcock’s fictional grandfather of the same name, who recorded Bastable’s adventure while on holiday on a tiny island in 1903. He sees Bastable for the first time when he is forcibly ejected from a ship where he had stowed away, and is left to fend for himself. As much out of boredom as charity, “Moorcock Sr.” takes the stranger under his wing and invites him to come back to his hotel for a meal. After some coaxing, Bastable starts to tell him about his life, and they end up locked in the room for three days while the story is recorded.
At the outset, Bastable is on a peace-keeping mission for the British army in 1902. He and a few other officers are invited into the sacred city of Teku Banga to negotiate with the king who reigned over this millennia-old society. They are led into the labyrinthine Palace of the Future Buddha and drugged by their host. When Bastable realizes the trick, and the others flee the chamber where they are eating with the king, and soon become lost in the tunnels under the palace. Something happens to him in the pitch-blackness and he loses consciousness.
When he awakes, he simply believes that there has been an earthquake, but the truth is far stranger than he could have imagined. The city around him lies in ruins, but this is old destruction and his clothes hang off him in aged tatters. Eventually, he finds out that he was been somehow transported to the year 1973, but no 1973 that you or I might recognize. The British Empire has continued to grow and flourish in the absence of WWI, spreading “civilization” throughout the globe. But as Bastable finds after joining the Airship police, the peace is only surface-deep and in many places terrorists and rebels are trying to throw off the yolk of oppression.
Alternate histories are some of my absolute favorite stories to read, and this one did not disappoint. It was fairly short, but also very insightful, which is an excellent combination. Moorcock has a unique perspective on history, both real and invented, and I definitely recommend that you give his work a try. I recently started reading a new compilation of short stories called The Time Traveler’s Almanac, and I was also thoroughly delighted by Moorcock’s Pale Roses. I look forward to getting back to the States in a few months, where I can resume my hunt for the rest of Moorcock’s books in the series.
Have you ever read anything by Moorcock? What did you think?
One of my all time favorite literary characters is Professor Challenger, who I’m afraid is forever doomed to be overshined by Conan Doyle’s better known protagonist, Sherlock Holmes. Challenger is every bit as smart as Sherlock, but is both more pompous and more energetic than the great detective, and I find myself laughing out loud at his over-the-top confidence and sharp wit on a regular basis while reading.
The Poison belt came out in 1913, and centers on the same cadre of adventurers from the first book. They are having a reunion at Challenger’s country home a few years after their great discovery of the The Lost World. Unfortunately, what is meant to be a lovely weekend is interrupted by nothing less than the end of the world as we know it. It begins with what appears to be an infectios disease, but Professor Challenger riddles out the truth, that aether is to blame.
The prevailing theories during the “steam era” about the medium that makes up our universe all centered on aether. It fills those empty spaces between everything, and influences the effects of light and gravity. During the story our planet passes through a belt of this mysterious substance that is totally antithetical to animal life, and there is no telling how long we will be subject to the effects of the this poison belt. Our heroes watch as one by one the people in the fields, the birds in the sky and the horses pulling carriages all drift into their final rest, while they attempt to prolong their own lives for a few precious hours within an oxegenated environment.
I don’t usually like to give away the endings or twists in the books I review, but it is evident that the human race must somehow survive considering the reader is in fact both human and alive, but while reading the protagonists see no means of escape and spend much of their time reflecting on the meaning of life and human beings’ place in the universe. This may seem a depressing subject matter, but Conan Doyle does a good job of keeping the meloncholy in check and balancing it with the banter of the characters and the giddiness that comes from the aether entering one’s system.
It’s a nice, short little book which is widely available for free download because it is no longer in copyright. The Mister and I read it in a matter of hours and we both really enjoyed it. I can’t wait to read the next Challenger title, The Land of Mist.
I ran across this book promo for piece by G. D. Falksen the other day and I am definitely intrigued. The third installment came out in 2015.
Have you ever read anything by this author?
Even though all three of Casandra Clare’s Infernal Devices books came out between 2009-2013, I didn’t get around to reading the third one until now. This is not to say that I wasn’t excited to find out the conclusion, but I didn’t get a chance to pick it up before I left the English-speaking world for a spell. You can imagine my elation when I found an ample English language section in a local Sofia, Bulgaria bookstore the other day and Clockwork Princess was waiting for me! Even though it comes in at 507 pages, I tore right through it in a couple of days. It is a totally satisfying wrapping-up of the plot lines from the first two books.
The book begins with a confrontation between the London Institute and the giant worm demon that Benedict Lightwood has become due to his affliction with “demon pox.” His sons, Gabriel and Gideon, as well as Will’s shadowhunter-in-training sister, Cecily, accompany Will, Jem and Tessa to the Lightwood estate. In the interim since events of Clockwork Prince came to a close, the Magister and his automaton army seem to have vanished, leaving little for Will to focus on besides the engagement of his best friend, Jem, to the love of his life, Tessa. The battle is a welcome distraction until at the end when Jem collapses due to his long-standing illness.
It turns out he has been taking his drugs far too quickly in an attempt to be worthy of Tessa’s love, and he has burned out his entire year’s supply in a matter of weeks. The Magister has bought up all of the remaining drug in the entire city, leaving the shadowhunters at his mercy if they want Jem to live. Tessa is the key to the Magister’s nefarious plot for domination over the shadowhunters he believed have wronged him, but her actual purpose is still a mystery. On top of the threat from the outside, trouble is also brewing for the head of the London Institute, who didn’t turn out to be as compliant and meek as the Consul believed she would be. Internal politics, passionate romance and the threat of utter annihilation combine into a great climax for a wonderful trilogy.
Clockwork Angel Review (Infernal Devices 1)
Clockwork Prince Review (Infernal Devices 2)
I was born in the 1980s, but a little too late to really remember its pitfalls (like huge hair and shoulder pads) or its triumphs (the advent of the music video, and of course, Steampunk) first hand. Luckily for us, this was a time when tons of weird, wonderful and sometimes experimental television and movies were being made, which captured some of the essence of that era. The 1970s and 80s saw a revival of a film technique that was pioneered by Thomas Edison’s manufacturing company in 1908: clay-animation. You can see their film, A Sculptor’s Nightmare, here.
The very first stop-motion film of all time, which employed moving toys, was made in 1897. Samuel Langhorn Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain, lived until 1910, so it is entirely possible that he saw the first clay-animation film and probable that he saw earlier stop-motion films as well.
The Adventures of Mark Twain was made in 1985 and is a trippy clay-anmation sojourn through the works of Mark Twain. There is a little bit of biographical information, but mostly it is a chance to showcase his contributions to literature. The viewer is swept away along on an airship adventure along with some of Twain’s best-known characters, Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher. Twain was born near the passage of Halley’s Comet in 1835, and always said he believed he would leave this world again the next time it passed in 1910 (he died the day after it returned), so the film revolves around him trying to keep his “appointment” and visiting some of his greatest works along the way.
Though it may seem morbid that he is racing to his own death, the film is wonderful combination of stunning visuals, abstraction and humor, which totally downplays the seemingly morbid plot line. Though I should warn you that even though this is an animated film, and so you may be thinking it was made for kids, the depiction of “The Mysterious Stranger” is pretty terrifying. Adults would get much more out of this movie than kids, especially if they have read any Twain at all.
- Jules Gabriel Verne was born on Feb. 8, 1828 and died from complications of diabetes on Mar. 24 1905.
- He was on track to become a lawyer when he started writing articles and fiction for magazines, as well as penning plays.
- In the English speaking world he was regarded as a children’s writer during his lifetime, probably because of the popularity of his genre fiction, which was often abridged when translated. Nowadays of course he is considered one of the “fathers of science fiction,” along with H. G. Wells. As far as I could find, the two of them never met in person, which isn’t too surprising consider their age gap (Verne was 38 years old when Wells was born).
- Verne’s imagination was captured by travel and the trope of the “castaway” early in his life. As a child, he had a teacher whose husband had been lost at sea and believed he would some day be found living life like Robinson Crusoe (published 1719). He often stranded his characters on islands during their adventures, such as in In Search of Castaways (1867-1868), The Mysterious Island (1874), and Two Years’ Vacation (1888).
- Verne made lots of famous friends during his lifetime. His close relationship to Alexandre Dumas Jr. and Sr. helped him as a playwright early in his career. He was also a buddy of the noted French explorer and geographer Jacques Arago whose accounts of his travels around the globe helped to lead Verne to his path as a travel writer.
- He fell in love with Honorine de Viane Morel, the sister-in-law of a good friend, in 1856. In order to provide enough financial security to marry her, he went into finance. But there was no way Verne was going to totally abandon his first love, his literary career. He woke early in the morning to write before heading to the office.
- Two years later, at the age of 30, Verne got his first chance to leave France. That year he traveled to the British Isles, and upon returning to Paris he wrote a semi-biographical novel called Backwards to Britain, but it was not published until 1989. In 1861 he visited Sweden, Norway and Denmark and missed the birth of his son, Michel the same year. After he found literary success, he purchased a succession of larger and larger vessels which he used to travel all around Europe.
- Unfortunately traveling became difficult for Verne after an incident in 1886. His nephew, Gaston, suffered from paranoia and shot his uncle in the leg (or foot, depending on the account) and Verne never fully recovered. Luckily for his fans, this did not stop him from continuing to write sometimes two novels a year.
- According to one article I found, there is a lot of evidence the Verne plagiarized large portions his most well-known work, Journey to the Center of the Earth. He was sued by Leon Delmas in 1863, and the court case was not resolved until 1874.
- With the help of Verne’s son, some of his books were published posthumously.
- Several of Verne’s manuscripts and plays were found in a safe 1989, so have only recently seen the light of day. Among these was a novel called Paris in the Twentieth Century, which was initially rejected by Verne’s publisher, Pierre-Jules Hetzel, because of its pessimistic view of the future. The story is set in a dystopian 1960 (97 years after it was written), and predicted the invention of many things that ended up being absolutely correct such as gas-powered cars, fax machines, elevators and sky scrapers.
Verne’s most note-worthy works
I’ve been writing about Verne off and on since I started this website, so I won’t reproduce all of my reviews and info again verbatim.. Here are links to those articles:
The Mysterious Island movies in 2005, 2012 and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island 2012, which actually served as a sequel to the Journey to the Center of the Earth film. I have not yet read the book myself, but plan to some time in the future and will add a link then 🙂
Are you a fan of Jules Verne? What’s your favorite book?
It’s time to return again to our regularly scheduled Jules Verne programming. It doesn’t look like I will make my original writing goal for this weekend, but I will hopefully get to 10,000 words by the end of the month, so I will keep posting things after my tribute to Verne is over.
Voyage au centre de la Terre is the third Verne novel I have read, and so far it is my favorite. There are multiple translations and the names of the main characters are different depending on which one you read. I read the version where the narrator is called “Harry Lawson” rather than Axel Lidenbrock. According to Project Gutenberg, this 1871 translation is the one that is most widely circulated, but it is also not as true to the original text as the 1877 version. Apparently what I read was somewhat abridged, but was still about 470 pages.
So here’s a very brief synopsis: Harry starts his story by setting the scene of his life with his eccentric uncle, whom is most often referred to as “the professor.” But the story really gets going when the professor discovers a coded message scrawled in an antique text he has just purchased. The former owner was a 16th century alchemist named Saknussem who left behind directions to the finding the exact center of the Earth.
The enthusiastic professor drags the reluctant Harry along for the ride to Iceland, where Saknussem’s tunnel is located. With the help of a taciturn Icelandic hunter, they embark on an incredible journey of discovery into the depths beneath our feet. Along the way they encounter living fossils from bygone ages, a huge subterranean sea and a multitude of other wonders.
There were two main reasons that I liked this book more than 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Around the World in 80 Days. First, the first-person narration by Harry was often very humorous, especially when it came to his own misgivings and cowardice. Second, this story was not bogged down by minutiae. There were only a few Latin names dropped in here and there, and because Verne was pulling this place out of his imagination rather than reporting on a real locations, it freed him to be able to drive the action any way he pleased. It would be nice to read a version that has gone through a modern editing process to get rid of the redundancies that so often occur in these old serials. For instance, the phrase “my uncle, the professor” occurs several times, and the Icelander is referred to as “Hans, our guide” almost without fail, as if there would be some other Hans wandering around hundreds of miles below the Earth’s crust. I am sure it helped readers of the original serial over the course of the year it took to read the whole thing, but it does get to be a bit repetitive when reading it as a novel.
The science in this book doesn’t stand the test of time quite as well as others from this period, but for when it was written it was right in the middle of the scholarly debate concerning the origins of life on Earth. In the 1860s, academics had only recently abandoned the straight Biblical interpretation of our origins in light of the discovery of fossil hominids in unexpected strata. There were also distinct schools of thought concerning the nature of the planet itself, the inner workings of which were not fully explained until the theory of plate tectonics was put forth almost a century later.
Perhaps this is the reason, not to mention the enormous sets that would be required, that Journey to the Center of the Earth has only rarely been adapted to film and television compared to Verne’s other works. The first film was made in 1959, but it wasn’t remade in English again until the 2008 re-interpretation which put a contemporary uncle (Brendan Fraser) and nephew (Josh Hutcherson) on the path described in Verne’s novel rather than following the narrative as it occurred in 1864.
In this made-for-TV flick part of the mystery of the island comes from relocating it from off the coast of New Zealand to the Bermuda Triangle. According to the movie, ships regularly disappear from this spot because of a rift in time that sucks in travelers. This allows the story to include not only 17th century pirates and refugees from the American Civil War, but also some ladies from the present. I really enjoyed this twist because it was a chance to call attention to how much has changed in the last century and a half. There are culture clashes even between fellow Americans because of advances in technology and social norms.
Ever since the 1961 version, the trend with movie adaptations of The Mysterious Island seems to be to add some kind of creepy critter to up the ante when it comes to danger and action to what is really a pretty subtle story about a group of castaways. In both the 1961 the 2005 version, all of the animals on the island grew to huge proportions. In this one, in addition to a giant octopus blocking their escape by sea, the island is overrun by apelike creatures who (spoiler alert) turn out to be Nemo’s disenfranchised crew.
The writing had a few holes and the acting was pretty hit or miss, but it was a fun movie all the same. I, of course, like “bad” movies so I will probably put with more than your average movie viewer. You can watch it on Netflix or through youtube below.
This mockbuster was made to piggyback on the major motion picture release the same year of Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, which was a sequel to the big budget Brendan Fraser movie, Journey to the Center of the Earth that came out in 2008. I’ll bring you reviews of those as well, so stay tuned during March for even more Verne and adaptations!
Fun Facts and Context
- Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours was Jules Verne’s 11th novel, and like many of the time it was first presented in a serialized format before it was compiled into a book in 1873. It was accompanied by the illustrations of Alphonse de Neuville, a French painter known for his depictions of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871).
- Verne served in the Franco-Prussian War, and doing research for this book likely served to take his mind off of those events.
- The dates of Fogg’s return to England coincided with the final date of publication for the original serial. Because of this, some readers believed they were reading a real travelogue rather than a fictional story.
- Many people associate a hot air balloon trip with this story, but in fact there was no balloon in the original text. This is likely because the 1956 Disney film added an additional stop in Spain to the tale and the protagonists reached it by balloon. Jules Verne did write about a daring escape by balloon, but it wasn’t until The Mysterious Island was published in 1874.
Timeline and Synopsis of the Story
- September 28, 1872: Bank of England is robbed. 50,000 GBP is stolen. This is the equivalent of four million GBP or 6.2 million USD today.
- October 1, 1872: Phileas Fogg hires Passepartout as his new valet after his old valet gets the temperature of his shaving water wrong. Fogg goes from his home on Savile Row to the Reform Club as usual, and during a discussion about a new stretch of railroad in India he is drawn into a bet with his friends. With the hefty sum of 20,000 GBP (1.6 million today) on the line, he agrees to travel around the world and return at the same time 80 days later on December 21, 1872.
- October 2, 1872: Fogg and Passepartout leave England by train.
- October 9, 1872: After a brief stopover in France, the travelers reach Suez, Egypt and meet Detective Fix for the first time. He is on the trail of the bank robber, and Fogg’s erratic behavior and passing resemblance to the vague description of the burglar make him a suspect. They leave Suez by ship with Fix in tow.
- October 20, 1872: The travelers arrive in Bombay, India, two days ahead of schedule. Passepartout wanders into a temple and is chased out by the monks for not removing his shoes. He arrives at the platform and boards a train bound for Calcutta just in time.
October 22, 1872: Fogg’s train can go no further because the railway is unfinished, despite what the newspapers say. They manage to hire a guide called Parsee and an elephant named Kiouni to carry them on toward Calcutta.
- October 24, 1872: While traveling through the jungle, the travelers encounter a ceremony where a young bride, Aouda, is being prepared to follow her aged husband into death. She cannot struggle because of the influence of drugs, so she is rescued by Fogg and another traveling companion after Passepartout creates a diversion by posing as the deceased man’s body and “rising from the dead” to scare the natives. They escape by means of their trusty elephant and continue to Calcutta.
- October 25, 1872: The travelers arrive in Calcutta with five hours to spare to remain on their original itinerary despite the delay. As soon as they arrive Passepartout is arrested for his transgression in Bombay and both he and Fogg are taken into custody. They use some of Fogg’s considerable cash resources to pay off his valet’s debt and make the noon ship bound for Hong Kong. Aouda continues on the journey because India is no longer safe for her, and she knows of family living in China. Fix, still without a warrant but with high hopes for Britain’s Easternmost colony, tags along in secret.
- November 7, 1872: The travelers arrive in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, Aouda’s family member had already moved away from Hong Kong years earlier. While out getting supplies for the next step of the journey, Passepartout gets news of an earlier departure time for their vessel. Fix still has not received his warrant for Fogg’s arrest and is determined to keep him from leaving British soil. Fix invites Passepartout out for a farewell drink and gets him to try opium. The valet becomes so besotted that he falls asleep and Fogg does not hear about the new travel arrangements. In his delirium, Passepartout says the name of the disembarking ship and is brought there and installed in his master’s cabin. He awakes the next morning to find that he has left his master behind, but determined to rejoin him somewhere along his route and alert him to the danger that Fix represents. Fogg hires a small vessel called the Tankadere to carry he and Aouda to Shanghai to catch the ferry to Yokohama at its next port.
- November 13, 1872: Passepartout arrives penniless in Yokohama, Japan. He seeks for ways to continue his journey to America to intercept Fogg by offering his services to the owner of a traveling circus. He is hired as an acrobat and during his first performance is astounded to see Fogg and Aouda in the audience, having also arrived in Yokohama after flagging down the American vessel in the port of Shanghai. Fix continues to travel with Fogg, who is covering all of his expenses.
- November 23, 1872: Fogg and company pass the 180th meridian, which marks the halfway point of their circumnavigation of the planet.
- December 3, 1872: The travelers reach San Francisco and are caught up in a political rally where Fogg has a confrontation with an American named Colonel Stamp Proctor. Fix steps in to help because he needs Fogg to return to England before he can be arrested. The company boards a train that evening intent upon using the Transcontinental Railway to reach New York.
- December 7, 1872: Fogg runs into Colonel Proctor on the train and a duel ensues. It is interrupted by an attack on the train by the Sioux tribe. Passepartout is taken hostage and Fogg, Fix and Aouda are left behind when the train continues on its route as they attempt to devise a rescue mission. With the help of American soldiers stationed nearby, Fogg retrieves Passepartout and the travelers are forced to continue by way of a wind-powered sledge to Omaha in hopes of catching another train.
- December 9, 1872: Arrive in Omaha and board a train for Chicago.
- December 10, 1872: Arrive in Chicago and board a train for New York.
- December 11, 1872: Arrive 45 minutes late for their steamship from New York to Liverpool.
- December 12, 1872: The party boards a ship bound for Bordeaux with little hope of arriving in London before the December 21 deadline, but it is the only ship leaving with a destination even close to England.
- December 16, 1872: Fogg proceeds to buy the ship from the captain and throw all of the wooden parts into the furnace to fuel their journey. He redirects the ship to bring them to Liverpool, England.
- December 21, 1872: With six hours to reach London in order to win the bet, Fogg and co. arrive in Liverpool. They would have just enough time to beat their deadline, but now that they have finally arrived on English soil, Fix arrests Fogg. It doesn’t take long to find out the real bank robber had been caught during the mad dash around the world, but the short delay is just enough to lose the wager for Fogg. He arrives in London 5 minutes late.
- Actually, December 21, 1872: The party gained an entire day during their journey, but they have yet to realize it. Aouda proposes marriage to Fogg and he heartily accepts. They intend to marry that very day and send Passepartout for the parson. When he arrives at the parson’s door he says he cannot perform the ceremony at that time because it is Sunday and he was busy on church business. Passepartout races back to Savile Row and whisks Fogg away to the Reform Club, where he arrives exactly on time to win the wager.
References in Steampunk Literature and Other Media
- Philip Jose Farmer wrote The Other Log of Phileas Fogg as part of his Wold Newton Universe. In it, Fogg is the foster child of an alien and Captain Nemo is aligned with another race of aliens. The bet and journey around the world were an elaborate cover story to disguise Fogg’s quest for an alien artefact that would change the tide of the war between the two competing races.
- It has been adapted for film five times since 1919, the most recent being in 2004, where martial arts expert and comedic actor Jackie Chan played Passepartout opposite Steven Coogan (Night at the Museum, Despicable Me 2) as Phileas Fogg in a new adaptation of the novel.
- It has been adapted for television four times since 1972, including a Japanese version where all the characters are animals.
- It was adapted for the stage for the first time in 2001 by Mark Brown. He has also written a sequel for the stage for another Victorian classic in the form of The Trial of Ebenezer Scrooge.
- In 2014, a game called “80 Days” was launched by Inkle Development Company. It is an interactive game that blends the story and retro-futuristic technology.
- Also in 2014, Ben Steele released a version of Around the World in 80 Days (a Steampunk Reimagining) with illustrations by Josh Ross. It includes “lost” content and a board game.
- The International Steampunk Symposium in April of 2015 is going to feature the theme “Around the World in 48 Hours” as an homage to Verne’s work.
Jules Verne died in March of 1905, so to commemorate his many contributions to the science fiction canon that have inspired myriad interpretations within Steampunk, I am devoting all of March to Verne-themed books, movies, artwork and characters.
Here are few things to look forward to this month:
Steampunk Sourcebooks for Around the World in 80 Days and Jules Verne himself
Reviews of two adaptations of The Mysterious Island
Unveiling a brand new 3D paper illustration by yours truly
Book reviews of two classic Verne tales
But there is still space in my editorial calendar for a few more things, so feel free to make suggestions! Have you ever dressed as a character from a Verne novel and you’ve got a photo you want to see on my blog? Do you know some fun facts you think others would enjoy? Let me know : )
Gail Carriger asks and answers an interesting question in her Parasol Protectorate series: “What if the supernatural was integrated into every day life?” Against the backdrop of Victorian London, the acerbic “spinster”, Alexia Tarrabotti, finds herself in a world that has done just that. Vampires and werewolves have been accepted into society, with some even acting as agents and advisers to the crown.
The supernatural set all have an overabundance of “soul” which allows them to survive the transition to immortal. Alexia, on the other hand, was born without any “soul” at all, which means her touch mitigates the abilities of others. When science meets the supernatural, Alexia finds herself in the middle of scheme to understand the inner workings of the soul, and how to use this knowledge to wipe out the immortals, including her werewolf paramour, forever.
This was a very fun book and I would definitely recommend it. Alexia’s inner monologue made me giggle, especially as she tries to navigate her relationship with the werewolf Alpha. To borrow a phrase from The Princess Bride, this is definitely “a kissing book,” so if you aren’t looking for romance in your Steampunk you might want to steer clear. That being said, I thought the dialog was intelligent and witty, and the world that Carriger creates is extremely entertaining. Starting in 2012, Soulless was also adapted as a graphic novel with artwork by Rem.
I will definitely be picking up Book 2, Changeless.
Have you read any of the Parasol Protectorate books? What did you think?
Sometimes, Steampunk books are serious challenges to the ideals of the Victorian age and tread on the dark side, and other times they are silly fun. Letters Between Gentleman, by award-winning “chap hop” artist Professor Elemental and accomplished author Nimue Brown, is most definitely the latter.
As implied by the title, this book is presented as correspondence between the mad genius, Professor Elemental, and his hapless benefactor. The sister of said benefactor is concerned for her brother’s welfare in light of the string of accidental deaths at the hands (mechanical, animal or some combination of the two) of the Professor’s creations. So she hires a private detective, Algernon Spoon, to look into their association. The book is also populated with the Professor’s “Notes to self” on a range of topics including the best way to preserve beheaded badgers and his on-going battle with the mice he trained to take dictation.
The format left a little to be desired, but on the whole I really enjoyed reading this book. I regularly laughed out loud at throughout at the crazy inventions, cease and desist letters from would-be clients and humorously exaggerated gender norms. Some books carry their readers along on a tide of action, but I kept on reading this one because it was purely entertaining.
Letters came out in September of 2014 and is available now as an ebook or hardcover.
If you aren’t familiar with the Professor’s music videos, check out the animated piece featured on Disney’s Phineas and Ferb below, or watch any of several posted on his website.
I ran across this one in a second-hand store months ago, but I hadn’t had the chance yet to read. Whitechapel Gods was always pulling at me from the bookshelf (I think it was those smoldering eyes on the cover), and I finally had time to oblige over the holidays. A six-hour round trip bus ride gave me plenty of time to consume and digest this very colorful creation by S. M. Peters.
But when I say “colorful” please do not picture a rainbow. This is a dark tale of humankind caught in the middle of a millennia-old struggle between beings of great power who use their influence to wage a battle of head versus heart, logic versus love. The world is a very different place, and people are turning into machines either by choice (the “crows”) or by infection by a baffling disease that changes your internal organs into gears and sprockets. The author paints a vivid and often disturbing picture what is going on behind the scenes of an alternative Whitechapel during Victoria’s reign. No seriously, if you have a developed imagination but not a strong stomach, I would think twice about reading it. I will just say that the word “pus” appears several times, and leave it at that.
Even though there is definitely Steampunk technology to offer, this book dwells strongly in the metaphysical. It is an intriguing mix of science fiction and philosophy, with many of the battles occurring in the realm of the imagination and not on the Whitechapel streets, though there is a fair amount of that going on as well. The protagonists were well-developed and multifaceted which led to some interesting twists in the plot. I felt the ending was a bit too tidy, though that may not be the best choice of word considering very few of the characters make it to the end, but it was satisfying.
I would definitely recommend this book to a mature reader, especially someone who is looking for something a little more toothsome than the whimsical tales often found in this genre.
Jeff VanderMeer is a heavy-hitter on the Steampunk book scene, and, along with co-author Desirina Boskovich, he released a new book in October entitled The Steampunk User’s Manual: An Illustrated Practical and Whimsical Guide to Creating Retro-futurist Dreams.
“Steampunk, the retro-futuristic cultural movement, has become a substantial and permanent genre in the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. A large part of its appeal is that, at its core, Steampunk is about doing it yourself: building on the past while also innovating and creating something original. VanderMeer’s latest book offers practical and inspirational guidance for readers to find their individual path into this realm. Including sections on art, fashion, architecture, crafts, music, performance, and storytelling, The Steampunk User’s Manual provides a conceptual how-to guide that motivates and awes both the armchair enthusiast and the committed creator. Examples range from the utterly doable to the completely over-the-top, encouraging participation and imagination at all levels.” (From the Amazon page)
I have a copy of his Steampunk Bible, but along with several other volumes it had to be left behind in the US when I moved to Europe for the year. Luckily, I have family visiting in the Spring who will bring it to me, and maybe if I ask Santa really nicely he will leave the User’s Manual in my stocking this year.
Have you read anything by VanderMeer? Please share your thoughts below!
Sherlock Holmes is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous character, but definitely not his only one. I have noticed that some of the newer renditions of Mr. Holmes show him as, at best, suffering from Asberger’s syndrome, and at worst, a monumental jerk. If you have read Conan Doyle’s books, you would know that this is not actually consistent with Sherlock’s character, but it is spot on for the (sometimes) hero of The Lost World, Professor Challenger.
Challenger, like Holmes, is a genius, but he doesn’t spend his time hanging out in London. He is an adventurer, a trail-blazer and a scientist extraordinaire (and doesn’t he know it!) who will use his intellect to thwart his academic enemies, and his fists to back up his intellect. I thoroughly enjoyed his turns of phrase and clever barbs throughout The Lost World even more than the premise of the story itself, and he was a great foil for the young and inexperienced narrator.
Like Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, Conan Doyle explores the prospect of a place that time has left behind. When Challenger’s assertions of its existence are called into question, the National Geographical Society mounts an expedition to investigate his claims that there is a plateau in South America where dinosaurs still roam the earth. And not just dinosaurs! There are all kinds of blasts from the past that have wandered to the secluded spot over the years, some of them remaining unchanged and some of them evolving along a whole new line.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. This is another one that the Mister and I read out loud together and that was a great way to experience it. The dialog between Challenger and his rival scientist, Summerlee, is fantastic, and there were many times I laughed out loud. I also know just enough biology to appreciate the rival points of view and interaction of species. I can’t wait to read the next Professor Challenger title, The Poison Belt.
Have you ever read any Professor Challenger stories? What did you think?
Kit Cox, also known in Steampunk circles as Major Jack Union, has a new book out on October 23. I was lucky enough to get an advance copy, and it is the perfect way to kick off my Halloween Extravaganza. Where his first book, How to Bag a Jabberwock: A Practical Guide to Monster Hunting, is more of a a how-to for aspiring protectors of the Crown, The Monster Hunter is a novel about a young boy coming of age amidst the threat of these monsters.
Benjamin Jackson Gaul is half-British and half-Indian, but doesn’t fit in to either place. His only real friend growing up is his mother, whom he loses at the tender age of 12 to a terrifying encounter with a mysterious creature despite her obvious, though unexpected, fighting skills. He passes a year in silence, wracked with guilt and questions that his storybooks cannot answer. He knows if he will ever get to the bottom of his mother’s death he will need to learn more than he can in Ceylon, and when offered a chance to move to England he jumps on it. After almost a year on the sailing ship the Hallowe’en, he arrives in 1885 at the Garden Orphanage in Kent, where a strange illness is affecting the children. With the help of a Gypsy girl and armed with books and good intentions he tries to solve the mystery, and finds out more about his mother’s fate along the way. The most important book he possesses is the journal of Major Jack Union, the older brother of his caretaker Nanny Belle, which paves Ben’s way to becoming the next monster hunter.
For an adult, this book won’t take up much more than one long afternoon, but it will be a fun afternoon! At 200 pages and written in simple language, it is best described as a young adult book. This is in no way meant to be a slight, I love YA fiction, and I am happy to find more of it to add to my Steampunk Book list. The opening chapter is extremely well done and the image of monster attack is very strong in my mind and helps compel the reader onward to find answers with the protagonist. I loved accompanying Ben on his journey across the sea and into the wide world that words and books can open a mind to. I just checked Major Jack Union’s facebook page and he recently announced the completion of his second manuscript in the Adventures of Benjamin Gaul series, so you can also be sure there is more to come. I always love a good series 🙂
The Monster Hunter will be released on Amazon on October 23, but you can already order your copy if you want to get it before Halloween.
Have you ever read anything in the Union-verse created by Kit Cox? I’d love to hear what you think!
That’s right folks, it’s time for a monster mash. One popular way to “punk your steam” is to add elements of the supernatural to the tales from history, offering explanations that incorporate ghouls such as vampires and werewolves rather than what the history books say, as well creating brand new narratives where monsters play a role. Also, the Victorian era saw the birth of Spiritualism, the belief that spirits of the dead could and often did communicate with the living. All Hallows Eve, which has now been shortened to Halloween, celebrates the creepy and costume, and Steampunk seamstresses and seamsters, make-up artists and makers the world over use it as a chance to showcase their talents and share their knowledge.
Halloween has always held a special place in my heart, and in fact I launched this blog on October 31, 2013, so October is also my countdown the my first blogging birthday. Join me all month long for reviews of Steampunk movies and books that feature monsters and witches, costume construction tips from the sessions I attended at Weekend at the Asylum, LARP-ing games to give you an excuse to dust off your costume early, and other spooky fun surrounding the history of ghost stories and the practices of Spiritualism.
Do you have a scary or supernatural Steampunk story or photos of your Halloween creations that you would like to see appear on this blog? Send them my way at ForWhomTheGearTurns@Gmail.com. I can’t guarantee that I will post everything I receive, but I would love to get some submissions from readers. Make sure that you include the name you would like your creation attributed to as part of your email.
I’ve read a few books lately as part of my research for my Steampunk travel zine that I have only been luke warm about: Around the World in 80 Days, The Other Log of Phileas Fogg and The Difference Engine. So you can imagine my utter joy at finding a book that I can’t say enough good things about, and that book is Phoenix Rising.
Published in 2011 by co-authors Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris, Phoenix Rising is the first of a series that now numbers five novels and several volumes of short stories about the mysterious Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. It chronicles a newly formed partnership between a Kiwi field agent with a taste for explosives, Eliza D. Braun, and a stiff and proper bookworm/mechanical genius, Wellington Books. Down in the archives of the Ministry, unresolved cases go to languish in the gaslight. That is, until Braun is exiled to those hallowed halls after her, er, enthusiasm (spelled d-y-n-a-m-i-t-e) gets the best of her on a mission in Antarctica to bring back the kidnapped Books. Braun’s former partner was working on something big, and now that case is simply being filed away, something Eliza cannot allow. There is a malevolent power rising in England, and their symbol, the phoenix, seems to be popping up around every turn…
This was a great, action-packed read. There is just the right mix of tension, both sexual and political, and awesome gadgets to satisfy your Steampunk needs. I thoroughly enjoyed the unfolding of the two main characters as they discovered each other, and I look forward to finding out more through their eyes in the next installment, The Janus Affair (check out the trailer below!).
A big part of my Steam Tour is finding out about the historical events and people who influenced the time period reflected in Steampunk books. I love the idea of alternate histories, and many times that is at the core of Steampunk novels, such as The Difference Engine by sci-fi greats William Gibson and Bruce Sterling.
If you are like me and you don’t have a good handle on the real history, I would recommend a quick glance at the wikipedia article about this book before you begin it. There is a great summary there of where and how the alternate history of the novel diverge from real events. I didn’t do this before I started reading and I spent a lot of the book wondering about fact and fiction.
In short, it tells the tale of the trajectory of the world if the computer age came in the 1800’s. The political structures all over the world are deeply effected by Charles Babbage’s completion of his mechanical computers (called Analytical Engines) in 1824, and there are numerous references to a fragmented United States (including a communist Manhattan) as well as historical figures such as Lord Byron, Ada Byron (the “queen of engines”), and Laurence Oliphant in different roles. The English politicial system has been completely dismantled and a meritocracy put up in place of hereditary lordships. The story is mostly told through the eyes of Edward Mallory, a “savant” who discovers the first huge dinosaur bones, giving him the nickname “Leviathan Mallory.”
There were a lot of things I really liked about this book. The descriptive language was excellent and Ned is a great character on whose coattails to ride through the adventure. I loved the shift in politics in response to technology and the parallels between then and now when it comes to the power of information. The authors clearly put a lot of thought into both logically and imaginatively extending the repercussions of the rise of computer technology long before we experienced it in our timeline.
On the whole, the story felt a bit fragmented because there are three distinct characters that get followed and the treatment is uneven. The first person you explore this world with is Sybil, and her story comes to an abrupt halt right as it gets really interesting. Then Mallory comes onto the scene and his story is great, but I couldn’t help but wonder where Sybil had gone to. Mallory’s tale comes to a head and he gets what he wants, but he is not actually the agent of change so even though there is a stand-off and big ‘splosions (whoo-hoo!) it felt sort of anticlimactic. Lastly, we trail Mallory’s one-time ally Laurence Oliphant for a little while on his political espionage. Each section was full of wonderful prose, but as a full story it ended up feeling kind of jerky and a bit too long.
That being said, I think it is definitely worth a read for the wonderful writing and imagination of the authors.
Have you read this book? What did you think?
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 have seen several adaptations of R. L. Stevenson’s novella, including an amazing British series called Jekyll that follows one of the not-so-good doctor’s progeny in modern times. One of the amazing parts of the story of this book is how it immediately caught the imaginations of the public and was adapted for the stage within a year of its publication. But I realize recently that I had never actually read the slender tome myself.
Unfortunately, the big reveal that Henry Jekyll (properly pronounced JEE-kill, I recently learned) and Edward Hyde are one and the same is the one part of the tale that is always consistent across all adaptations, so it is impossible for the story to titillate and surprise in the same way it would have been for readers in the 1880s. The idea of a split-personality has long been linked to this piece of literature, and the names of the title characters are part of our vernacular.
BUT, this doesn’t mean the book isn’t worth reading. I really enjoyed Stevenson’s prose, and it is always interesting to return to the source. I surprised to find that in the original that nature of Jekyll’s original “sins” that lead him to want to extricate his two halves from each other are never mentioned, and the details of Hyde’s antics are equally left to the imagination. In order to stretch the story into a full-fledged play or movie the adapters have had to fill in some of these details, which can really alter the tone and nature of Hyde. For instance, in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Hyde reveals to Mina that Jekyll occasionally had ‘impure thoughts’ about boys, and his overwrought Christian guilt made him consider himself a great and terrible sinner when really he was a pretty boring and upright citizen.
In the foreword to the collected works of Stevenson in which I read the mere 60-page novella, Claire Harman recounts a story of Stevenson seeing a theatrical adaptation in 1887. He is all but horrified to see Hyde depicted as “an unbridled womanizer” because, as Stevenson wrote to John Paul Bocock, “The hypocrite [Jekyll] let out the beast in Hyde… who is the essence of cruelty & malice… these are the diabolical in man– not his poor wish to love a woman.”
I found the ambiguity in the story itself very intriguing, and it seems ripe for someone to explore not only the exploits of Hyde during his short life, but Jekyll’s past and his other experiments that are only hinted at in the original. I was also surprised to see that the Hyde of the original story is nothing like the huge monster versions in Van Helsing and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but a tiny, young and underdeveloped man who does not have amazing strength, but unbridled passions.
When I started writing For Whom The Gear Turns I thought maybe, just maybe, someday a literary agent would contact me and offer me a free book to read and review. You can imagine my surprise when after only blogging for 6 months it happened! I worried a little that this would color my view of The Iron Jackal (Book 3 of The Tales of the Ketty Jay), especially after the giddy rush I got from opening the package when it arrived. But in the end, it gave me a giddy rush all on its own.
Chris Wooding has been writing the Tales of the Ketty Jay for several years, he is all the way through Book 5 in the UK. But, it was his US agent who contacted me, and told me that they were going to start with Book 3 for the American release on June 1. I was a bit skeptical about starting in the middle of a series, but it meant being dropped into a fully formed and complex world that was a joy to explore and made me even more interested to go back and read the earlier books. There are airship pirates, complicated relationships, daemon-imbued walkie talkies and multi-faceted cultural and political systems that overlap and contradict in a very realistic way. What’s NOT to like?
This tale focuses on the captain of Ketty Jay, Frey, but the story is told through the eyes of the entire crew as they take turns enriching the story with their insights and foibles. It all starts when this rag-tag band is enlisted by Frey’s “its complicated,” Trinica the pirate queen, to steal an artifact of unknown origin and purpose off of a moving train. It reminded me a little of one of my all-time favorite episodes of Firefly, only I really doubt that Frey would ever return the goods like Malcolm Reynolds no matter what they are. In this case, the artifact turns out to be a weapon that seems both ancient and futuristic at the same time, but when Frey lets his ego get the best of him and lifts it from its case the real adventure begins. The weapon pricks his palm and leaves behind the most dreaded of pirate iconography, “the black spot.”
As scary as the Kraken is, I think the daemon that pursues the bearer of the spot in Wooding’s world is even more terrifying. The Iron Jackal is a sinister amalgamation of flesh, machine and the bearer’s darkest secrets and most painful regrets. Frey is haunted by the voice of a man he left to die and the eyes of the woman he abandoned to pursue his life of piracy. But even with his dark past, his loyal crew will stop at nothing to help their captain return the artifact to its resting place to save his life and the family they have built aboard the Ketty Jay. If only they knew where that resting place was…
I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a fun read, but doesn’t mind some moral ambiguity. Frey is by no means a “good guy” by nature, but his Archer-like humor and quest for redemption in Trinica’s eyes make him a very compelling hero. The rest of the crew also gets to be fully-formed people with loves, losses and secrets all their own, so in the end it is really an ensemble piece rather than a story just about Frey. There are some nuances of the political issues that I am sure that I have missed because of not reading the earlier books, but it still definitely holds together as a stand-alone novel and a great place to start exploring Wooding’s work.
Hubby and I were on our way home from getting fingerprinted (part of the Bulgarian visa application) and I spotted a Half Price Books on the map. I had barely said the word “books” before we were turning into the parking lot and turning a totally boring errand into a nice afternoon out.
I told my companion to go frolic in the Ancient History section while I perused the art books and I found one that I can’t wait to explore! It is called A Practical Step-By-Step Guide to Making Pop-Ups and Novelty Cards: A Masterclass in Paper Engineering, which is a term that I had never heard before. I have been struggling to find a way to describe the work I do with paper, and I think that is a fitting descriptor. I am really looking forward to finding new ways to make things pop out of my shadow boxes, and the book is full of pictures so it is easy to follow.
Next, I hit the Sci-Fi section and pulled up my Steampunk Books page to help me comb the shelves for new books. I am happy to report that I got a hold of my first Phillipa (Pip) Ballantine novel, Phoenix Rising, the first in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series.
Sometimes when I go to a bookstore I search alphabetically through my book list, but after the B’s I put down my phone and drifted through the titles, touching the spines. I ended up with two more books to add to my growing list, Devices and Desires, by K. J. Parker and Whitechapel Gods by S. M. Peters
(Has anyone else noticed that authors don’t seem to have first names anymore?)
Devices and Desires is the first in a speculative fiction series called “The Engineer Trilogy.” From what I gather from other reviewers, it takes place in a dystopic land where deviating from the established blueprints can bring a death sentence. At over 700 pages and with warnings of its density echoing in my ears I think I will set this one aside until after I have done my Steam Tour reading.
Whitechapel Gods caught my attention of course because of Jack the Ripper. I have started to look into which tours and sites I want to do in order to write my Ripper article for Steam Tour so the neighborhood was on my mind. In S. M. Peters’ novel, Whitechapel has become a walled-off, steam-driven hell for its residents, and chronicles the story of the new resistance.
When hubby and I reconvened at the cheap DVDs (The Brothers Grimm for $6 :)) he had a wonderful reference book in hand. Lighter Than Air: An Illustrated History of Balloons and Airships. It has wonderful chapter titles like “Clouds in a Bag” and “The Fabulous Silver Fishes” and tons of images of different kinds of flying machines. I am designing a flying machine for my novel right now so this book will be perfect for figuring out how I want it to work.
What’s your newest treasure from the bookstore?