Thursday, 1 November 2007

Welcome to Voyages Extraordinaires!

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the brand new Voyages Extraordinaires: Scientific Romances in a Bygone Age weblog. For those of you familiar with our previous incarnation as a website, I hope you'll enjoy this new incarnation and the new opportunities for content that it affords us, without those pesky bandwidth limitations (on your end) and declining storage space (on mine). For those of you who are not so familiar, allow me to describe what it is you'll find behind this paper moon.

Actually, let us first say what you will not see here: you will not see endlessly reiterated costume photoshoots, DIY project tips or manifestos on how important and revolutionary the latest post-Goth fashion trend is. There are plenty of other blogs, fora and magazines for that sort of thing, if it is your pleasure. What you will see here, we hope, are things that inspire you, spark your dreams and your imagination, and which will help you look at the breadth of history and the depth of space with that precious sense of awe and wonder.

What we are about are Scientific Romances... It is more than an outdated term for Science Fiction, for "Science Fiction" is a far too prosaic term for fiction about science. What we seek out is the Romance of Science, the poetic probing of the mysteries of Space, Time, Nature and possibly even Divinity (for, as they used to say, theology is the Queen of the Sciences). Simply put, despite its flaws and ours, we're awestruck and dumbstruck in love with the majesty of Creation.

Scientific Romances - whether from the pen of a gifted writer, the camera of a gifted filmmaker, the hand of a gifted builder or the mouth of a gifted orator - are ultimately a hymn to the beauty of the world. It begins with tales of adventure and ends with a night out under the moon with a telescope or a hike out in the nearest national park. In the words of G.K. Chesterton, prophet of wonder,
It is one thing to describe an interview with a gorgon or a griffin, a creature who does not exist. It is another thing to discover that the rhinoceros does exist and then take pleasure in the fact that he looks as if he didn't.

Over the course of this weblog, we'll be enraptured by both griffins and rhinoceroses.

The greatest example of the spirit of Scientific Romance is also its founder: Jules Verne. It was the French master who embodied the new and marvellous age of Steam by crafting books about the wonders of the world as well as the benefits and dangers of technology against rousing stories of exploration and daring-do, whether under the sea in an electric submarine, in the skies in a new model airship, or plumbing the centre of the earth with rope and sweat. Of his own work, Verne said,
My object has been to depict the earth, and not the earth alone, but the universe, for I have sometimes taken my readers away from earth, in the novel. And I have tried at the same time to realize a very high ideal of beauty of style. It is said that there can’t be any style in a novel of adventure, but it isn’t true...

In the introduction to his review of Scientific Romance films of the 1950's and 60's, Sci-Fi journalist Rod Bennett expanded on this and its critical difference from Science Fiction:
On the day I started writing this article, a warm fire crackled in the hearth, snow fell outside the window, and a cup of English tea steamed at my elbow. A setting like that — a cozy, human spot with friends and family near by — really puts me in the mood for just one thing: Science Fiction. You heard right. Science Fiction. Of course, I don't mean just any Science Fiction. I don't mean the sort of thing where characters named "Zargon" from places called "Hydra-Gamma III" listen to bald-headed creepozoids in silver BVDs rant about "pure logic." No, the kind of science fiction I'm thinking of is different. Warmer. Richer. More human. On this kind of science fiction adventure, you don't want skin-tight leotards and chrome bikinis. You want big wool sweaters, hiking books, English tweed and pith helmets, with ankle-length skirts and parasols for the ladies. Yes, this is a special brand of science fiction — my favorite kind. Ever since I was a kid, I've always loved the sort of movie where a proper Victorian professor journeys from the smoke-filled adventurer's clubs of London to some impossible lost world in his own gilded or wrought-iron invention. The kind of story that somehow seems to bypass some of the dead-ends of certain other science fiction; seems to allow us to ponder the kind of mysteries science fiction explores so well without asking us to leave our roots in the past behind. I loved it then, and I still love it today.

The name "Scientific Romance" itself denotes the combination of things... Science and Romance. Stories of adventure with a flair of style. Exotic exploration in civilized comfort. Moving into the future without leaving the past behind.

These sort of Extraordinary Voyages work their best in the same broad era of Jules Verne. Shall we call it the Victorian Era or the Vernian Era? At any rate, we take these armchair adventures through the lens of the nostalgic myth of the past, fully cognizant of its negative aspects but unapologetic in our love for its beauty and style. At times it might go back as far as the invention of the printing press in the 1430's and at others it might come as close as the 1930's Golden Age of Travel. Usually, though, we'll be rooted in that Romantic, high Victorian-Edwardian world of the Crystal Palace and the Belle Époque. As noted by aesthetic philosopher Walter Benjamin, "The grey film of dust covering things has become their best part."

These adventures will take us around the world for a much longer duration than 80 days. We'll sit in explorers clubs, wilderness lodges and grand railway hotels. We'll scale mountains, from the Rockies of North America to the Montes of the Moon. Our journeys will take us up the Nile and down the Mississippi, in the footsteps of Sir Richard Burton and Lewis and Clarke. The Art Deco wonderland of Hollywood awaits, as do the geisha and temples of Meiji and Taisho era Japan. We'll board the steam trains of the Orient Express and the Galaxy Express. We may even enjoy some Mai Tai's under the watchful eyes of Hawaiian Tiki gods before descending into the flaming mouths of Pele's volcanoes. From the Matterhorn to Maple White Land to the Mountains of Madness, the world and all points beyond is our oyster.

Quite the Voyages Extraordinaires! We'll also take this journey through the British lens by looking at Imperialist Adventure films and literature. We'll see how people of this time envisioned their future through Victorian-Edwardian Retro-Futurism. We'll even explore the dark side of the Romance of Space, Time, Nature and Divinity through Sublime, Gothic horror. A little Pulp Fiction might get thrown in there, and we'll definitely share our love of silent and early cinema through the 10's, 20's and 30's. There will be movie reviews, essays, quite a lot of embedded video, and perhaps a few home videos. And most of all, we hope you'll enjoy the trip!

Without further ado, it seems like the best place to begin is at the beginning, with that French maestro Jules Verne and his contemporaries Georges Méliès and Albert Robida in the imaginative Art Moderne Paris of a perpetual fin de siècle. Welcome, once more, to Voyages Extraordinaires: Scientific Romances in a Bygone Age.


Tinkergirl said...

The very best of luck with your future endeavour! I'm glad you'll be free of the bandwidth problems you had at your last place - may I update my links to you here?

Ottens said...

I'll certaintly enjoy this new approach, and will be checking in on regular basis to see what new material you have discovered. May I congratulate you on this new venture and wish you all the best!

Cory The Raven said...

Thank you Tinkergirl and Ottens!

And yes Tinkergirl, you may absolutely update the link to this place ^_^ I just couldn't resist posting a link to Brass Goggles on here myself!

Drew said...

OK I'm hooked!

Clockwork Crow said...

Much more suiting to the appropriate feel, Cory. I'm looking forward to this...

Anonymous said...

Could you please tell me where come from the illustrations on this article ?

Cory Gross said...

The illustrations are screen captures from Disney's Man in Space, Man and the Moon and Mars and Beyond TV episodes, all of which can be found on the Walt Disney Treasures: Tomorrowland DVD.