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Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Those Fatal Filaments by Mabel Ernestine Abbott

Subtitled "A wonderful invention and the story of why it was never perfected", Those Fatal Filaments by Mabel Ernestine Abbott explores one of those turning points in history when the inventor faces down the prospect of great discovery with even greater costs. There are things that Man Was Not Meant to Know, including the thoughts of other men... and especially the thoughts of women. 

The following is the complete text of Those Fatal Filaments as it appeared in volume 41 (1902-03) of The Argosy magazine. Click on each page for a larger version.


Saturday, 12 September 2020

Announcing "Science Fiction of the British Empire: A Victorian-Edwardian Anthology"

The next volume in my series of Victorian-Edwardian Scientific Romance anthologies has been released!



The British Empire was largely accidental. During the 17th and 18th centuries, a small island nation accrued a patchwork scattering of commercial monopolies, isolated ports, utopian experiments, and surrendered colonies. By the time of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, the British Empire was the largest the world had ever seen. The shape of the Empire was amorphous, its machinery unwieldy, its values contradictory, and its legacy ambivalent. Science fiction developed along with it, to celebrate and critique the imperial project. This volume features rarely reprinted stories from across the United Kingdom, India, Bangladesh, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, including the “Poet of the Empire” Rudyard Kipling, Indian nationalist Shoshee Chunder Dutt, New Zealand Prime Minister Sir Julius Vogel, Catholic theologian G.K. Chesterton, Muslim feminist Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain, Canadian satirist Stephen Leacock, military alarmist George Tomkyns Chesney, and “Jeeves and Wooster” creator P.G. Wodehouse.

To order Science Fiction of the British Empire: A Victorian-Edwardian Anthology, visit Amazon or click on the image above. If you can also share this post or the link on your social networks, leave a review on Amazon, and rate Science Fiction of the British Empire, that would go a long way to helping spread the word!

Thank you very much for you support of this blog for all these years and for your purchase of my new anthology.


Wednesday, 2 September 2020

The Crown of the Continent: Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park

"Far away in northwestern Montana, hidden from view by clustering mountain peaks, lies an unmapped corner—the Crown of the Continent."
These words, penned in 1901 by famed naturalist George Bird Grinnell, introduced the world to the natural majesty of the area known today as the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park. It is comprised of two national parks in two countries - Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada and Glacier National Park in the United States - linked by their ecosystem, geology, cultural history and scenic beauty.

St. Mary's Lake, Glacier National Park.

Upper Waterton Lake, Waterton Lakes National Park.

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

The Monster of Lake LaMetrie by Wardon Allan Curtis

The Monster of Lake LaMetrie is an early Weird Western tale and one of the earliest extant examples of truly Weird Fiction applied to the Western, rather than "merely" inputting a scientific or supernatural concept. Published in Pearson's Magazine in September 1899, this short story by Wardon Allan Curtis, it is subtitled as Being the narration of James McLennegan, M.D., Ph.D. and is framed as the extracts from a diary sent to Professor Wilhelm G. Breyfogle, University of Taychobera, from McLennegan by way of Captain Arthur W. Fairchild of the US Army. 

McLennegan, being a scientist and having heard of strange occurrences in Lake LaMetrie, takes trip up to these high Wyoming regions with his constitutionally ill friend Edward Framingham. On McLennegan's part, the appeal is a phenomenon of bubbling and broiling at intervals in the lake's middle, after which are found odd specimens of plant and animal washed ashore. The plants are those that might only be found today in coal fossil deposits. The fish populating the lake are bony ganoid types long-extinct. Framingham, an intelligent and astute person with a scientific mind, is admittedly more interested in the fishing and the rarefied air in which he hopes to find relief from his dyspepsia.

There is little rest to be had after McLennegan makes his great discovery. A flitting at his elbow causes him to lash out with his machete, nearly severing the head of a massive Elasmosaurus. It rose, he believes, during the particularly violent flooding and broiling of the night before and confirms for him the suspicion that the lake is somehow connected to the primordial interior of the earth. Nevertheless, he now has one dead Elasmosaurus in danger of lashing out in its death throes, so he removes it brain for study.

The shock comes when he finds the beast still alive days later. It is lying on the beach where he dissected it, but it is still breathing and, furthermore, the wound in its head is healing. So durable and primitive is this marine reptile's physiology that it may very well survive the removal of its brain! Another happenstance pulls this experiment into Frankenstein territories: Framingham, overcome with his worst bout of fever yet, attempts to kill himself with a slash across the neck. He only partially succeeds, for his body will die but his brain lives yet. Given a living Elasmosaur body without a brain and a man's brain with a dying body, McLennegan does the only logical thing.

What follows is a brief but surreal exploration of Victorian anxieties about evolution and the distance between the human intellect and bestial instinct. The Monster of Lake LaMetrie is also a provocative metaphor for the uncivilized character of Western expansionism. Though the Wild West was not so wild as legend makes out - the most deaths any one town saw during the whole settlement era was five, and the year of the Gunfight at the OK Corral was Tombstone's bloodiest ever with a deathtoll of three - it was still a rough and unforgiving existence. It could take the brightest minds and, as though transplanting them into a prehistoric monster, preoccupy them with the basest needs of survival. That is until the civilizing powers of the government and the military pacify the landscape.

Without further ado, Wardon Allan Curtis' The Monster of Lake LaMetrie as it appeared in Pearson's Magazine... Click on each page for a larger version.



Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Roy Rogers: King of the Cowboys

A big country requires big people to settle it... Big people with big stories... And the frontier of North America is just that kind of a place. It is a vast stretch of land of almost incomprehensible breadth, from the pine forests of Canada in the north to the rainforests of Mexico in the south, from the Mississippi River in the east to the rivers of the California Gold Rush in the west. Spanning three countries and the bulk of a whole continent, there is enough space there for every dream and every tall tale. 

Like the tall tales it gives rise to, the Wild West is a diverse land that skirts the boundary between fiction and reality. The endless reaches of Great Plains and Painted Deserts, the big skies of Montana, the towering mesa and Rocky Mountains, and the depths of the Grand Canyon all seem like something out of a fantasy... As they did to the first Native Americans who crossed over from Asia in the twilight days of the Ice Age and the first European settlers who crossed over by riverboat, stagecoach and rail. Against this background played out some of the most dramatic conflicts of history, from the Northwest Mounted Police's March West to the Trail of Tears, Custer's Last Stand to the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. And like that final confrontation between the Earp lawmen and the Clanton outlaws, those events and figures of history slowly and surely enter the realm of myth to the point where we may even forget that the likes of Davy Crockett, Sitting Bull, Calamity Jane, Sam Steele, Geronimo, and Wild Bill Hickok actually lived. Or that the likes of Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill and Slue-Foot Sue didn't. 

The West is a land of strange contradiction. Its mythic imagery of freedom came with the oppression of Indigenous peoples. Always seen as a land of opportunity and untamed exploration, the settlers came by Conestoga wagon only to be followed by the steel of the railway. And the more tamed the West became, the more the legends grew. Where would John Henry be without the tracks to test his strength against, or the steam hammer to contest? Some of the biggest legends have come out of the most settled period, whether Lone Ranger on the radio, Zorro in the dime novels, or Roy Rogers on the silver screen.
 
 
Roy Rogers, Trigger, and Dale Evans


Roy Rogers, like his predecessor and chief competitor Gene Autry, blurred the lines between myth and historical reality. Regardless of the setting, time, occupation, or any other consideration, Roy Rogers was the character. Trigger was the horse. Gabby was the sidekick. Dale Evans, at least, got to play different people. 

How much was the character and how much was the man will probably always be a mystery for as long as anyone thinks about it. It probably didn't bother Leonard Slye much. Slye was born in Cincinnati in 1911 and lived both in the city and on the farm for a good part of his youth. After both he and his father tired of working in an urban shoe factory, the family moved out to California in 1930. In 1933 Slye joined up with Tim Spencer and Canadian singer Bob Nolan and to form the Western music group The Sons of the Pioneers. Though largely subsumed into Country music today, Western music has a distinctive history and sound. The handiest rule of thumb is that Country music comes from east of the Mississippi while Western comes from that vast, wide country to the west. The two genres have different geographic and ethic origins, and vastly different styles when one's ear is tuned to them.  One quick way to tell Western music is the relative absence of a twangy accent, slide-guitar, and Bluegrass influence, opting for a cleaner acoustic guitar sound, harmonious vocals, and lyrical content reflective of cowboy poetry. In the next three years, Hugh and Karl Farr, and Lloyd Perryman joined up. Pat Brady was brought in to replace Slye when he went off to a new career in the flickers. 

 
Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers


The Sons of the Pioneers were introduced to film in 1935. As a back-up cowboy to Gene Autry, Slye performed both under his name and as "Dick Weston." When Autry went AWOL from the studio in 1938, Slye was thrust into the spotlight of the film Under the Western Stars in his new identity as Roy Rogers. His stock and trade were the hour-long b-movie Westerns that preceded a-list movies in theatres, in the day when a dime bought you an entire afternoon of cartoons, newsreels, a b-movie, and the a-list feature. 

As Roy Rogers, his popularity skyrocketed. Having control over the licencing of his likeness and silken voice, it is anecdotally stated that no other name of the time was as well-known - or marketable - save for Walt Disney. Rogers also proves an interesting, and dare one say "postmodern," character in piecing together the romantic construction of the Wild West and its intersections with identity and Hollywood. Thankfully, with so many of his multitude of films being in the public domain, the Internet Archive allows Rogers to be continually, perpetually accessible.

 
 
Gabby Hayes and Roy Rogers.


In Billy the Kid Returns (1938), Roy Rogers is a deputy sheriff masquerading as a Robin Hood-like Billy the Kid in order to rout the cattle barons who are terrorizing homesteading farmers. Rogers becomes, essentially, the agent of the Wild West's domestication; at one point, a newspaper headline flashes "end of the open range predicted." Two other common themes come out through Billy the Kid Returns. The one is when Roy Rogers portrays a historical character, like he does in Young Buffalo Bill (1940) and Young Bill Hickok (1940), though neither film really has anything to do with them. In the case of Billy the Kid Returns, Rogers directly replaces the historical figure with his own persona as a plot point. The other is that of Rogers in disguise, his use of deception in order to secure a higher good and the sublimation of his true self beneath an assumed identity. In Jesse James at Bay (1941) he plays a virtuous version of the outlaw Jesse James and a nefarious doppleganger. In Billy the Kid Returns, he is Leonard Slye being Roy Rogers the man being Roy Rogers the character being a US Deputy being Billy the Kid. 

In Sheriff of Tombstone (1941) he's back to lying for the greater good. This time he plays Sheriff Brett Starr, late of Dodge City, who has moved to Tombstone and assumed the identity of gunslinger turned would-be-corrupt-sheriff Shotgun Cassidy. Therein he becomes embroiled in a plot by the mayor - who hired Shotgun - and the other town bigwigs to cheat the populace out of their silver mines. It's the bad guy, Black Bart, who is using deception and dual identity in Nevada City (1941), where is attempting to drive a wedge between the stagecoach and railway lines. Roy, playing Jeff Connors, does get caught up in false accusations left and right as the agent of reconciliation between the companies. In the end he aids, once again, in the settlement of the West. This one also features a gorgeous steam train on which Roy has a thrilling, car-hopping fight. Roy spends a good deal of time on the lam in Bad Man of Deadwood (1941) as well. He begins as the trick shooter for Gabby's snake oil sales outfit, but they find that the town of Deadwood is overrun with a mafia-like collusion of businessmen. It's up to quick drawing Roy to become the only real justice the town has seen. Another case of mistaken identity puts Roy in the position to administer justice in Sunset on the Desert (1942). 

The Arizona Kid (1939) takes place in a more specific place and time: Missouri, beginning in 1861. Roy and Gabby star as Confederate scouts hunting down the rogue raider McBride, who is wanted for having dishonoured the South with his ungentlemanly habits of looting and pillaging every farm along the way. Nowadays, seeing cleanshaven Roy Rogers in a Confederate uniform is jarring... One might as well see him in the black of the Gestapo. In Hollywood of the time, the ambiguous ending of the American Civil War was still being played out. It may be said, in an era of continued racial disparity and North-South, Republican-Democrat political divide, that the Civil War never really ended. The Golden Age of Hollywood, however, was only one generation removed from the conflict. The children and grandchildren of Confederate soldiers would have been his fans. For Roy, what that means is that he played a "good" Confederate, reinforcing "Lost Cause" mythology by pursuing Southerners besmirching the cause, and giving him an opportunity to sing spirituals with African-American slaves. 

Roy and Gabby lose the Confederate grey in Southward Ho (1939), when the Civil War ends and the two return to Texas. Gabby becomes part-owner in a ranch with a Union commander that he humiliated during the war. This odd coupling turns more sinister when faux-blues show up to loot the countryside. Roy becomes the agent of American reconciliation after it becomes apparent that the men are acting without the knowledge and permission of the commander. 

Roy and a pretty pale sidekick who is not Gabby hook up with the Arizona border patrol after serving with Roosevelt in Rough Riders' Roundup (1939). In Come On, Rangers (1938) Roy plays a former Texas Ranger getting the unit back together. Roy does his part to protect wildlife from a female-lead gang of poachers in Springtime in the Sierras (1947). 

Other films available for viewing include South of Santa Fe (1942), Sunset Serenade (1942), Idaho (1943), Silver Spurs (1943), The Yellow Rose of Texas (1944), Cowboy and the Senorita (1944),  Utah (1945), Bells of Rosarita (1945), Bells of San Angelo (1947), On the Old Spanish Trail (1947), Night Time in Nevada (1948), and Under California Stars (1948). Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers kept a healthy relationship through the decades. They joined with Roy in the 1942 film titled Sons of the Pioneers and guest-starred on The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show 20 years later, with some 45 films in between. At the height of their fame, they were enlisted by none other than Walt Disney to feature in one of his musical anthology films.  

Times were notoriously tough for Disney through the 1940's. Though Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs catapulted him to even greater fame, follow-up features like Pinocchio and especially Fantasia failed to capture the same popularity. The animator's strike struck in 1941, tensing up the studio at the same time that World War II shut off the European film market. In order to survive, Disney slimmed down its cinematic offerings, releasing a string of "package film" anthologies. Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros came out during the war, as a product of Disney's Latin American goodwill tour and post-strike vacation. These begat Make Mine Music in 1946 and Fun and Fancy Free in 1947, the latter comprised of two straightforward half-hour cartoons and the former being a pop-music version of Fantasia featuring the likes of Benny Goodman, Nelson Eddy, Andy Russell, and the Andrews Sisters. Disney looked to refine the format of Make Mine Music with 1948's Melody Time. Donald Duck and José Carioca of the Latin American films returned in Blame it on the Samba, the Andrews Sisters narrated Little Toot, Freddy Martin and His Orchestra provided the Bumble Boogie, and Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers sat around the campfire telling Song of the South's Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten the story of Pecos Bill. The piece, the climax of Melody Time, begins with a melancholy ballad entitled Blue Shadows on the Trail, indicative of the Sons' two biggest hits Tumbling Tumbleweeds and Cool Water, also released in 1948. The cast reprised their roles for the RCA-Victor album, with even more inspired and hilarious moments of cowboy storytelling. It is freely available from the incomparable Kiddie Records Weekly. Click on the cover below to download it.
 


The Sons of the Pioneers eventually returned to the Disney fold where they backed-up Rex Allen on the shorts The Saga of Windwagon Smith (1961) and the feature film The Legend of Lobo (1962). BY then, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans had been long fixtures on television, starting with the The Roy Rogers Show, which ran original half-hour episodes from 1951 to 1957 on NBC that were rebroadcast on CBS from 1957 to 1964. They attempted an hour-long series in 1962 called The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show, but it lasted less than a season. The move to television reflected changes in the film industry. Television supplanted theatres as the venue for news broadcasts and short form entertainment like cartoons and b-movies. The Saga of Windwagon Smith was one of Disney's last theatrical cartoon shorts. The b-movie Westerns starring Roy, Dale, and Trigger became perfect fodder for a weekly TV show. 

Trigger himself got an origin story in My Pal Trigger (1946). Roy Rogers is sent to prison after a false accusation that he killed Gabby's horse Golden Sovereign. Roy wanted to breed his horse with Sovereign, but Gabby refused. That year later, Roy returns with Trigger, the son of Sovereign, and seeks the chance to clear his name. This dramatic origin covers Trigger's real history: this palomino stallion always was a Hollywood stunt horse. He began life in 1932 as Golden Cloud, making his silver screen debut as Maid Marian's steed in 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood. Roy was offered the chance to use any of five rented horses and chose Golden Cloud. Later that year he bought Cloud outright and renamed him Trigger. Trigger lived a ripe 33 years, after which he was taxadermied and mounted in the now-defunct Roy Rogers Museum. Trigger and the museum's contents were put up for auction in 2010, where the celebrated horse fetched the sum of $266,500.

Both man and horse are, in a sense, a Hollywood riddle. The Roy Rogers brand, the character, came to stand for the most upright, honest American values carried over from a rugged and bygone era. Yet the man was a celebrity made possible by glitz and glamour (as glitzy as his sequined outfits later in life). His films betray this: regularly Rogers is unjustly on the run from the law or using deception on behalf of justice, and just as regularly he is being the very agent of the frontier's domestication that he bemoans in song. On screen and in life he was a man of great integrity, but his films are a meta-philosophical layering of everything as upright, rugged and honest as a non-alcoholic cocktail. It is almost as though he knew, beneath all that charm and silken-voiced verse that Roy Rogers and the Old West could not coexist. Just as Leonard Slye constructed Roy Rogers, Roy Rogers had to construct a New West to suit him. In that process, he became a legend of the Wild West, somewhere between the tall tales and the historical figures.

Roy and Trigger doing what they do best, along with
The Sons of the Pioneers, in Hollywood Canteen (1944)

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Geoffrey's Planklaggephone by Ellis Parker Butler

Ellis Parker Butler, the eminent American humourist and author of Pigs is Pigs and An Experiment in Gyro-Hats, strikes again in this story of invention gone awry published in the September 1909 issue of Cosmopolitan Magazine. It is presented here as it was originally published, with illustrations by Horace Taylor. Click on the image for a larger version.

And a note on dialect: the character Casey is supposed to be Irish.  


Wednesday, 5 August 2020

The Fugitive Futurist

In this 1924 short by French director Gaston Quiribet, an inventor is on the run from spies seeking his singular contraption: a device that shows the future. By exciting the ether, it can show visions of London's possible fate, including a flooded Trafalgar Square, billboards in the Strand, a dirigible lifting off from the Parliament, and a monorail crossing the Tower Bridge. Plenty of amusing trick photography in this brief tour of retro-futuristic fantasies. 


Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Hans Christian Andersen's In a Thousand Years

Most famous for his moralistic fairy tales like The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen, Hans Christian Andersen was not too aloof of Retro-Futurism to supply a quick satire in the form of the short story In a Thousand Years. Published in 1853, it severely overestimated the length of time before mass aerial transport and packaged vacations would reduce travel to Europe to a matter of days. More often, naive fantasies tend to underestimate how long it takes to affect change - a lunar colony by 1986, abolishing private automobiles within ten years - but Andersen would have been perfectly fine putting his story a mere 100 years in the future. Anyone who has loaded onto a bus for a whirlwind tour of Europe, Japan, India, or South America could easily relate. They might even miss the satire.


Wednesday, 22 July 2020

The Future of the Earth, According to Cosmo

The Future of the Earth by Nobel Prize-winning Belgian poet and playwright Maurice Maeterlinck was originally published in the March 1918 volume of Cosmopolitan. As futurism, it is not very specific with technological, social, or evolutionary hypotheses. But in the context of the Great War raging on around it, it is a marvelous sermon. "It is well, sometimes," he says towards the end of his article, "to tell ourselves, especially in these days of distress and discouragement, that we are living in a world which has not yet exhausted its future and which is much nearer to its beginning than to its end." It is advice still worth heeding. 

Accompanying the article is a magnificent illustration titled The Earth with the Milky Way and Moon by Wladyslaw T. Benda.




Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Pirates of 1920

Never mind the Caribbean! These are the pirates of the future! Pirates of 1920 gives an (incomplete) glimpse into how 1911 imagined buccaneers to plunder the riches of the high seas a whole nine years hence. Airships were ubiquitous in film and, by this point, in real life. It was only natural to explore how the technology might be misused by ne'er-do-wells rather than employed in the service of exploration and discovery, ala Georges Méliès. 

Méliès' final Scientific Romance, Conquest of the Pole, would be released only a year after Pirates of 1920, which is fitting in a way. Both films have taken the short trick film of cinema's earliest years to their greatest length. Around 20 minutes is the most they can sustain before becoming the full-length feature films of the Twenties, expanded with more engaging plots and larger effects budgets. This is one of Scientific Romances' last hurrahs.



Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Disneyland's Tomorrowland '98

Welcome to Tomorrowland. Photo: Cory Gross.

The problem with the future is that it keeps happening. As it was originally conceived by Walt Disney, Tomorrowland was to be a permanent World's Exposition nestled into his Magic Kingdom. Set in the faraway year of 1986, guests could learn about advancements in science and technology in an entertaining format from America's industrial giants. But the future keeps happening and Tomorrowland kept falling further and further out of date. When it first opened in 1955, Autopia tapped into the emergent culture of the automobile in post-war America. Today, its far from futuristic gasoline-powered cars are only maintained as an artifact of nostalgia. In 1986, the science-focused Adventure Thru Inner Space was outright replaced with Star Tours, a Star Wars-themed attraction. This shift towards overt science fiction franchising was complemented with another George Lucas-produced attraction titled Captain EO, starring Michael Jackson.

To overcome this problem in Disneyland Paris, Imagineers invested fully in a Retro-Futuristic theme pulled from Jules Verne. It featured a walkthrough attraction based on the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a version of Space Mountain based on From the Earth to the Moon, and a brass and copper Victorian World's Exposition aesthetic. This worked so well at the time that it furnished inspiration for another Retro-Futuristic remodel in Walt Disney World. Rather than a Vernian theme, the Magic Kingdom's "New Tomorrowland" was made to evoke a galactic spaceport out of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Twice successful, Imagineering turned their attention to the original Tomorrowland in Anaheim.

And then something went wrong.

Few attempts to reinvigorate the original Disneyland in Anaheim, California, have been as universally condemned as the 1998 remodel of Tomorrowland. This would-be Retro-Futuristic masterpiece was hampered by budget constraints and poor management, resulting in controversial choices and broken down rides that spelled doom not only for the remodel, but for the integrity of  Tomorrowland as a whole. Nevertheless, despite universal condemnation, there was still much to recommend about Tomorrowland '98, at least in theory if not execution.

Photo: Jeff Keller.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Collodi's The Adventures of Pinocchio

By 1881, the Italian author Carlo Collodi had already achieved renown as a translator of fairy tales when friends piqued his interest in writing his own. A short story about a little wooden puppet come to life was published in the children’s section of a Roman newspaper, which evolved into the serialized Adventures of Pinocchio. The first 15 episodes ran through 1881 and 1882 before Collodi was invited to write an additional 21 chapters for publication in a book in 1883.

In the original serialized form, Pinocchio is an outright brat whose short life ends with being hanged until dead at the conclusion of chapter 15. Collodi dispenses with trying to explain how Pinocchio is alive. Much like ourselves, he merely is and the rest must suffer the consequences. Among his miscreant acts is to flee from Geppetto the moment he is given legs, squish the Talking Cricket that tries to moralize at him, sell off the A-B-C book that Geppetto bought for him (by trading off his only coat) in exchange for tickets to the Marionette Theater, and finally to run afoul of the Fox and the Cat, who are ultimately responsible for his assassination. Pinocchio's was a hard life poorly spent and easily lost.


Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Disney's Atlantis: The Lost Empire and its Sources

It was very appropriate, and most likely unknowingly so, that Disney set 2001's Atlantis: The Lost Empire, in 1914. Indeed, in many ways it could not truly have been otherwise: the middle Victorian era saw the beginning of an explosion of interest in the lost continent that would not subside beneath the waves again until the 1960's. In the decade spanning 1895 to 1905, there were no less than 16 fiction novels, standing alongside countless ostensibly non-fiction pseudoscientific and spiritualist explorations, which solidified the Atlantis we know today: not as a holdover of ancient myth, but as an artifact of Victorian cultural anxieties.

Trailer for Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)


Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Florence McLandburgh's The Automaton Ear

"Seeing is believing." Taken broadly, that old axiom articulates the virtues and limitations of empiricism. The "sight" is the information that can be gleaned through the use of the physical senses of sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing. A functional empiricism underlies two of the most important ventures in democratic society: science and justice.

In justice, it is the requirements of physical evidence and reliable, corroborated witnesses. It is also implicit to the principles of legal impartiality, presumption of innocence, and trial by jury, which together signify the importance of sufficient evidence adjudicated objectively. Looked at this way, it is easy to see how the concept of "social justice" is increasingly antithetical to actual justice... Under "social justice," guilt is presumed on the basis of assigned group identity (which is itself guilty of collective group crimes) and emotion supplants evidence in the court of public opinion.

In science, only what can be observed about the physical universe is what can be taken as valid information about it. Of course there are more ways than science to perceive insights about the experience of existence - such as aesthetics, ethics, and religion - but science deals with a particularly narrow subject matter, being the physical universe. Many of the same processes are at work in science as in the processes of justice. Physical evidence is an obvious requirement, as are multiple independent researchers to corroborate findings. The trial by jury becomes the peer reviewed scientific journal, where findings must first pass the editorial board whereupon they are published for the rigorous dispute of the scientific community. At all points, objectivity is desired and the transparency of the Scientific Method encourages multiple researchers to check up on each other's work.

To carry on its experiments, science has produced ever more elaborate tools to increase the scope of the physical senses. What is the telescope, after all, but a giant eye that allows one to see further (and in more spectra) than the normal, unaided eye? The connection between time and space creates the mind-rattling conundrum that what we see through a telescope is not what is happening right now, but rather, is a glimpse into the past. All those beautiful images brought to us by the Hubble Space Telescope are actually images of things that happened millions, even billions, of years ago... However long it took the light from those nebulae to reach us here on Earth. Where our telescopes read a barren rocky exoplanet 500 million light years away, it may, at this very moment, be teeming with its own brand of dinosaur that we won't see for another half-a-billion years.

Now what if we could do that for sound?

In a sense we already do. The first thing an alien civilization is going to hear from us are the first  radio broadcasts from a century ago. This was illustrated dramatically in the beginning of the 1997 film Contact. Florence McLandburgh wondered this same question quite early on in the history of Scientific Romances. Her 1873 short story The Automaton Ear sticks closer to home in its depiction of a scientist who builds an elaborate ear trumpet designed to amplify the faint vibrations of terrestrial events millennia ago.

However, despite this entire preamble, the subject of The Automaton Ear is not the device itself nor its cultural and scientific ramifications. Instead, it is a character study of scientific monomania. It is the autobiography of a mad scientist.

Most Victorian-Edwardian Scientific Romances begin with an outside observer being inducted into the mysteries of the scientist or explorer. The archetype is Professor Arronax, Conseil, and Ned Land being taken aboard Captain Nemo's submarine. Passepartout was the entry point into Phileas Fogg's trip around the world, and Ned Malone was the entry point into Professor Challenger's lost world. The scientist or explorer is almost always the Other who dominates the story told by a narrator. Only in a handful of rare circumstances, like H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, is the scientist themselves the narrator.

I would imagine that, in most cases, this literary device exists to build a sense of intrigue as the mystery of the scientist and their invention unfolds. More likely than not, there is also an underpinning of writers recognizing that it is easier to write about a genius than to pretend to be one. The greatest flaw that writers of geniuses fall into is sub-genius characterizations who tend to come off as undeservedly egotistical Mary Sues.  It's difficult to pass off a character as the most brilliant poet or scientist or whatever, if the writer is clearly not. 

McLandburgh bypasses this problem by setting out to examine the deleterious effects of monomania on her inventors' mind. It is less about the ways and means of the invention itself than on the obsession that drives him to madness.

The Automaton Ear was first published in Scribner's Monthly in May 1873, then again in Florence McLandburgh's only published book, The Automaton Ear and Other Sketches, in 1876.  It appears here as it did in Scribner's. Click on the image, and then right-click and tap "Open image in new tab," to see a larger version.


Wednesday, 10 June 2020

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

In 2019, legendary comic writer Alan Moore and artist Kevin O'Neill completed the two decade long odyssey of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Over 20 years, the sassy Brits brought new and enduring attention to the genre of Retro-Victorian Science Fiction through an encyclopedic pastiche of European fiction. Main plots tied together such diverse works as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, King Solomon's Mines and Allan Quatermain, Dracula, War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu, Princess of Mars, Gulliver's Travels, The Time Machine, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, Orlando: A Biography, 1984, Doctor Who, The Avengers (the British television series), Mary Poppins, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Lost World, Carnacki the Ghost-Finder, Metropolis, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the stories of Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter, and The Tempest. Something of a literary arms race developed between Moore and scholar Jess Nevins, who maintained an online set of annotations listing the references replete in virtually every panel. Sometimes high and sometimes low, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was a paean to the wonder of imagination and the glories of literature.



The epic began in 1999 with the publication of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume I. The six-issue series by America's Best Comics (an Alan Moore vanity label published by Wildstorm Comics, which was itself a subsidiary of DC Comics) was one of the highlights in the explosion of Retro-Victorian Science Fiction around the turn of the 21st century. That same year, Wild Wild West and Disney's Tarzan both entered movie theatres. They were preceded and followed by Back to the Future Part III (1990), The City of Lost Children (1995), Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001), and Treasure Planet (2002), The Difference Engine (1990), Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time (1992) and its sequel Dinotopia: The World Beneath (1995), Disneyland Paris' Discoveryland and Tokyo Disneysea's Mysterious Island, The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne (2000) and The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. (1993), and the Sakura Wars video game franchise. It was an embarrassment of riches unmatched since, and I credit League of Extraordinary Gentlemen specifically with catalyzing my then-diffuse interest in the genre that has since consumed my life.


Wednesday, 3 June 2020

The British Empire According to Players Cigarettes

The following series of 50 cigarette cards produced by the Imperial Tobacco Co. of Great Britain for Players Cigarettes purports to show interesting scenes from across the vast expanse of the British Empire. It is a fascinating glimpse not only into the cultures that made up the empire upon which the sun never set, but also into how British imperialism was celebrated. 

In modern times is difficult to understand, and rightly so, the mindset in which imperialism was considered a source of pride rather than shame. People in the west today often shy away from words denoting any kind of excess of nationalism or patriotism, perceiving them as racist affronts to multicultural values, let alone holding a belief that for their culture to dominate and exploit others was a manifestly good thing. Yet empires from Babylon to Rome to Britain have arguably been history's dominant vehicle of cross-cultural exchange. The movement of goods and peoples across a unified political body exposed the average person in them to a variety of cultures, foods, religions, arts, and ways of life. This is not to excuse or deny the horrors of imperialist regimes, but simply to recognize that empires are complicated entities. 

There is a more interesting question implicit to the sort of exercise in imperialism that these cards represent. It would be easy to dismiss them as artefacts of a disgusting episode in recent human history... It is more challenging to ask of the extent to which modern ideas of multiculturalism are themselves a colonialist, imperialist project.

These cards are from the amazing Digital Collections of the New York Public Library. Click on a card for a larger view.



Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Edwardian Fashion of the Space Age

According to the philosopher behind the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes, there is nothing new under the sun. Innumerable are the Internet commentators ready to point out there is nothing original, but rather, only those things that have been forgotten long enough to be recycled. Yes, nearly everything has been done before, and usually better. That includes retro Victorian-Edwardian fashion.



Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Edward Bulwer-Lytton's The Coming Race

To be pitied is the writer whose satire of Utopian fantasies is mistaken for the actual thing. Even more to be pitied are the people who take his Utopian vision and make it a key belief in their esoteric religion. Such is the case of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1871 novel The Coming Race was not only one of the most popular novels of the 19th century but whose story of a technologically-superior subterranean civilization inspired theosophists and Nazi occultists. 

It wasn't for any lack of trying on Bulwer-Lytton's part. In a friendly letter he explicitly wrote "I don't think people have caught or are likely to catch the leading idea of the book, which is this: - Assuming that all the ideas of philosophical reformers could be united and practically realised, the result would be firstly, a race that must be fatal to ourselves; our society could not amalgamate with it; it would be deadly to us, not from its vices but from its virtues. Secondly, the realisation of these ideas would produce a society which we should find extremely dull, and in which the current equality would prohibit all greatness."  Nevertheless, his underground civilization of Vril-ya captured imaginations in the 19th century with its possibilities. Those who wished for a mere interesting Scientific Romance were rewarded, as were those "philosophical reformers" who considered that incompatibility with modern society as a good thing. Then there were those who took things a little too far.

Illustration from The Coming Race depicting the
underground society and its winged citizens, the Vril-ya.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Lillie Devereux Blake's A Divided Republic

There are a handful of good reasons to read the utopian ideals of the past. One might simply be the aesthetics of Victorian retro-futurism, seeing how people of the 19th century actually did envision the things we take for granted today: our televisions, computers, the Internet, mass transit, and so forth. Sometimes it is to play a little game of what they got right and what they got wrong. But deeper than that, they are an opportunity to understand the "interior world" of different philosophies and worldviews... To understand not only their ambitions for people and society, but what they think of people and society in general. Nested into utopian fantasies are theses on human nature, human failing, and human interaction.

It is one thing to analyze failed Victorian worldviews through Victorian fiction... It is another to analyze worldviews that are still carried with us today, worldviews which never left or which get perennially resurrected. This is even more pertinent when the worldview is not simply a failed worldview of the past, but a worldview that is currently failing us today. And that is what brings us to Lillie Devereux Blake's A Divided Republic

Published in two parts in the February and March 1887 issues of The Phrenological Journal and Science of Health magazine (which is interesting enough in itself) and eventually reprinted in her 1892 anthology A Daring Experiment and Other Stories, A Divided Republic argues for women's suffrage by proposing that women simply up and leave. En masse, the ladyfolk of the Eastern United States migrate to the territories of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. In return, the men from those territories are shipped back East. Left to their own devices, male society rapidly deteriorates until they literally beg to get the women back. 

At the root of Blake's thought experiment is the idea of what we would today recognize as "identity politics." This philosophy, which has regained considerable traction in the last decade, fundamentally rejects the idea of individual personhood and dignity. In its place, identity politics holds as axiomatic truth that individuals are reducible to actors on behalf of identity collectives. As actors for identity collectives, individuals work to reinforce structures that maintain power for the collective. In this worldview, there is no such concept of human rights because there is no such concept as human beings. Rather, identity collectives are conceived of having or lacking "privileges" which are exercised by the collective as a collective. 

Though self-evidently wrong, more serious and considered forms of identity politics manage to focus on identity collectives that may actually give shape to behaviour, like religion and philosophy, political affiliation, or nationality. Less well-considered forms will at least base identity on tangible assets like economic class or ethnicity. The worst and most self-evidently false forms of identity politics focus on crude physical attributes, namely race, gender, and sexuality. These physical attributes are believed to form coherent blocks of political interest, usually in dialectic opposition to collectives with other attributes, i.e.: Men vs. Other (Women, Trans, Nonbinary), White vs. Other ("People of Colour"), Straight vs. Other (LGBTQ2+AA), Cis vs. Other (Trans, Nonbinary, etc.).

In what way are they self-evidently wrong? For the simple fact that people are individuals and never, in the entire history of humankind, have skin colour, genitals, or where people stick those genitals ever formed a coherent block of political interest. For the approximately 8,000 years that "white people" have existed, they have always been divided by ethnicity, nationality, economic class, political affiliation, philosophy, and religion, not to mention the naked interests of personal self-preservation. In the entire 19th century, there were approximately 7 years, added together, where there wasn't being a war being fought somewhere in Europe. Mark Twain once quipped that no one has spilled more French blood than other Frenchmen. For thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans to the shores of Africa or the Americas, Indigenous people fought with each other. Many of those resumed in terrifying ethnic conflicts after Europeans pulled out, such as the Rwandan Genocide. The Spanish were only able to conquer the Aztecs because they were assisted by other Indigenous nations who were sick of the Aztecs' bullshit. The evil of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade would have been impossible without the crucial first step of African peoples being captured and sold by other Africans. In the United States, slavery was abolished after 1.8 million "white people" fought a civil war against 750,000 other "white people." The term "People of Colour" is especially bizarre, as though Zulu and Japanese and Pakistani and Apache are all the same thing. These truths are so self-evident that even proponents of identity politics themselves realize it, inventing concepts like intersectionality theory. By admitting that people are shaped by a nearly infinite variety of intersecting identity vectors, it becomes apparent that the ultimate end of intersectionality theory is individualism. Everyone is different, and the only way to deal with individual people is as individuals. Intersectionality theory is a tacit admission that identity politics doesn't work as a model of reality. Identity politics is racism rebranded as "social justice," and the only antidote to racism is individualism, not more racism.

That "white people" and "People of Colour" and men and women and gay people and straight people and cis people and trans people fall everywhere across the political, religious, ethnic, national, and economic spectrum is distinctly highlighted by a story like A Divided Republic. Blake's story hinges first on the notion that women, as an identity collective, would just all agree to leave as one united body of coherent political interest. That simply would not happen. Gender does not form coherent blocks of political interest, especially where it would come to completely abandoning husbands, fathers, children, and alcohol. According to a 2013 survey, only 23% of American women identified as feminists (with 8% identifying as anti-feminists), even though 82% believe in equality of the sexes. One of the most shocking outcomes of the 2016 US election is that 42% of women voted for Donald Trump, which rises to 62% for "white" women without a college education.

Blake goes on to portray life in the respective republics. The male republic is, of course, every crude stereotype of men. It is a brutish, careless, reckless, vice-riddled society deprived of its civilizing members. By contrast, the female republic's greatest problem is boredom. A society composed entirely of women would be far too civilized... Without a need for police, courts, and jails (and saloons), the female republic could turn its attention fully to the moral, physical, and intellectual perfection of its members. The type of culture described briefly by Blake was given a fuller treatment in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 1915 novel Herland, where it was also granted more of a critique (albeit possibly unintentionally). Perfection is dull and eventually the women are excited to hear that the men are willing to make every concession just to get the women back. It would be unthinkable that women might have conflict between themselves, because that would imply that women are individuals with their own personalities, ambitions, and problems apart of the interests of the collective. It was also unthinkable that amidst architecture, engineering, and mountaineering, one of the things they might also pick up now that there are no men to stop them is alcohol. 

A Divided Republic is a short story... this critique is almost as long as the story itself... so one cannot reasonably expect Blake to give more nuanced portrayals of the benefits and challenges of her two republics. Yet when forced by brevity to distill her idea down to its most basic form, it is this: the essential characteristic of women as an identity collective is morality and the essential characteristic of men as an identity collective is barbarism, and therefore men need women to civilize them, and therefore men owe women the vote and the veto over men's lives. The idea that women are inherently more moral, more pure, more honest, and more civilized still permeates identity politics to this day, along with the patronizing idea that women are also weaker, more naive, more vulnerable, and less capable of managing their own affairs, thus requiring the paternalistic involvement of the State in every aspect of their lives in order to keep them safe. What they need to be kept safe from, of course, is men, who should apparently be packed with a WHMIS label. 

Of course women were rightly entitled to the vote and to full legal equality. But that entitlement was not owed on the grounds that women as an identity collective are just better than men. They were rightly entitled to it because they are human beings, fellow individuals who are no better and no worse than men. Unfortunately, despite a brief flirtation with a properly ordered idea of social justice rooted in individual dignity -  "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." - the kind of identity politics expressed in A Divided Republic have taken hold again.

Without further ado, A Divided Republic by Lillie Devereux Blake, as it appeared in The Phrenological Journal... 
  

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Clement Fezandié's Through the Earth, Parts III and IV

The bold experiment of drilling a tunnel through the earth complete, parts III and IV of Clement Fezandié's Through the Earth follow young William Swindon's experiences as he makes the perilous first voyage. In a footnote, the author assures us that his text has been double-checked for accuracy by a professor of Applied Mechanics, and what he describes is a fairly accurate impression of artificial weightlessness created through extended freefall. It's much the same process used by NASA to train astronauts, though in the real-world case it is induced by plummeting a special airplane into freefall. It is also how space shuttles and other bodies achieve orbit. Technically they are constantly falling towards the earth, but the earth curves away beneath them before they can land. 

These chapters appear as they originally did in the March and April 1898 editions of St. Nicholas Magazine, with illustrations of William A. Mackay. After the serial completed, Fezandié and St. Nicholas Magazine's parent company, The Century Co., republished it as a book with some additional chapters of background and incident. 



Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Clement Fezandié's Through the Earth, Parts I and II

What would be the most efficient way to pass from one side of the earth to the other? That's the old trick of the two dimensional map: you'd think it would be a straight line, but on a globe that translates into the curved line of airline flight paths. In the 19th century, there was no expedient way to circumnavigate the globe. Jules Verne showed that it could theoretically be done in 80 days, but the average traveler would be spending many more months at it. 

But what if you could just go through the earth?  

That is the question being broached by Clement Fezandié in this four-part serial that was published in the January-April 1898 volumes of St. Nicholas Magazine. The first two parts, presented here as they originally appeared, with illustrations by William A. Mackay (more famous for his role in developing ship camouflage for the US Navy), focus on the theory and construction of a tube from New York to Australia through the earth's core, and how people and freight may be moved along such a hazardous route.

Click on each page to see a larger version, and join us again next week for parts III and IV! 


Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Free Book Offer - Death of a Bounty Hunter - A Supernatural Steampunk Western

"I’m in this story, but it’s not about me. It’s about a bounty hunter who comes face-to-face with something we all do: guilt and shame, and the desire to run from them. Not because we're cowards, but because sometimes we just can't stomach ourselves. The Gatling guns, the Occult, the paranormal, and even the demon spawn—all those things are just along for the ride."

From the authors of the Amazon Top Selling time travel novel Timeslingers comes, Death of a Bounty Hunter. Blending paranormal, steampunk, and western genres, Death of a Bounty Hunter creates something altogether different.



To celebrate their new release, Jay Sherer and Nathan Scheck are offering the Kindle e-book version of Death of a Bounty Hunter for free on the next four consecutive Fridays (or discounted to $0.99 every other day). All they’re asking for in exchange for a complimentary copy of the novel is an Amazon review. No obligation, but that’s what they’re hoping you would do after reading it! 

From the Authors:
As Pinkerton Agent Geraldine Abernathy might say, “We live in strange times.” And due to the stay-at-home orders that most of us still face, Nathan and I felt like it was time to give you something to show that we’re all in this together. 
That’s why we chose to release Death of a Bounty Hunter early and at a steep discount (and if you download it on 04/17/2020, free!). 
We hope you love it. If you do, we would appreciate it if you’d consider doing the following (all optional—the choice is yours—but both are incredibly helpful to us): 
That’s it! Stay at home, read Death of a Bounty Hunter, and hang in there! We’ll all get through this together! 
Sincerely,
Jay Sherer and Nathan Scheck

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Cinématographe Lumière



The following string of films reconstructs the first ever public film screening, presented by the Lumière Brothers at the Salon Indien du Grand Café in Paris, France. The very first performance was a private affair on December 28th, 1895, with public performances following a few months later.

Auguste and Louis Lumière were acquainted with photography from a young age, being the children of an accomplished photographer in his own right. After their father passed away in 1892, the brothers were free to explore emerging technologies like those pioneered by animator Émile Reynaud. In 1895 they patented the cinématographe and ushered in the age of modern film.

The playlist for their quite profitable public performances featured, in order: La Sortie de l'Usine Lumière à Lyon ("Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory", also the first film they made), La Voltige ("Horse Trick Riders"), La Pêche aux poissons rouges ("fishing for goldfish"), Le Débarquement du Congrès de Photographie à Lyon ("the disembarkment of the Congress of Photographers in Lyon"), Les Forgerons ("Blacksmiths"), Le Jardinier (l'Arroseur Arrosé) ("The Gardener," or "The Sprinkler Sprinkled"), Repas de bébé ("Baby's Breakfast"), Le Saut à la couverture ("Jumping Onto the Blanket"), La Place des Cordeliers à Lyon ("Cordeliers Square in Lyon"--a street scene), La Mer (Baignade en mer) ("the sea [bathing in the sea]").

I apologize for not being able to provide the rich surroundings of a fin de siècle salon in which to enjoy the following shorts, but a weblog can only do so much...


Wednesday, 8 April 2020

La Charcuterie Mécanique and Sausage-Making in Silent Film

Ostensibly the world's first Science Fiction film, La Charcuterie mécanique (1895) by the  Lumière Brothers is a relatively simple trick film with a humourous little twist at the end... An inauspicious beginning for one of the great cinematic genres. It would be up to Georges Méliès to really develop it into something. That said, mechanical apparatus for making a variety of unpalatable sausages would become a sub-genre of its own in succeeding years. Making Sausages (aka: The End of All Things, 1897), The Sausage Machine (1897), Fun in a Butcher Shop (1901), and Dog Factory (1904) all followed suit.   

La Charcuterie mécanique (1895) by the Lumière Brothers.

Making Sausages (1897).

Fun in a Butcher Shop (1901) by Edison Studios.

Dog Factory (1904) by Edison Studios.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Early Canadian Futurism: Tisab Ting, The Storm of '92, and The Dominion in 1983

Unlike its neighbour to the south, Canada has no strong history of Scientific Romances. It has only really been in the last 40 years that the Dominion has developed a strong voice in Science Fiction as a whole. Even then, amidst the Robert J. Sawyers, A.E. van Voghts and William Gibsons, there is still plenty of ambivalence towards the genre. The great dame of Canadian literature, Margaret Atwood, still seems undecided on whether to allow her works to stoop to being called SF. 

The oddity of our lack of Scientific Romances comes into sharper focus when considering that Canada is, truly and uniquely, an invention of the Victorian Era. From earlier historic roots among Indigenous peoples, fur traders, and early French and British settlers, the Dominion of Canada as a single political institution began life with Confederation in 1867, when the independent colonies of Upper and Lower Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia unified. In 1870, the Hudson's Bay Company sold its vast western holdings to the fledgling nation, all of which became the North-West Territories. Other colonies joined later, and other provinces were carved out of the NWT. Perhaps the most influential member was British Columbia. It joined Confederation in 1871 by the promise that within a decade, a Transcontinental Railway would be built connecting the Pacific coast to the Atlantic.

Not only is Canada a product of the Victorian Era, but it is even more so a product of the Steam Age. Perhaps no country on earth owes as much of its existence to the construction of a single railway. The driving of the last spike at Craigellachie, British Columbia, in 1885 linked Vancouver to the mouth of the St. Lawrence Seaway at a distance of some 5000 kilometres, allowing for the fast movement of immigrants, troops, and tourists through the rugged Canadian northwoods and beyond. Thanks to Canadian Pacific Railway's fleet of Royal Mail Steamers, the well-heeled could travel from England to Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand by way of Canada, journeying halfway across the world without ever leaving the British Empire.    

Imperial pride reflects in two of the earliest Canadian futurist tales... The only three early Canadian futurist tales to speak of. The Dominion in 1983, The Storm of '92, and Tisab Ting; or, The Electrical Kiss share the same essential conceit of showing the status of Canada in the decades hence. Published in 1883, 1889, and 1896 respectively, all dared to make technological and political predictions while imposing Victorian attitudes upon the 20th century.


Sunday, 29 March 2020

Announcing "Science Fiction of Antebellum America: An Anthology"

With the world under quarantine thanks to the Spanish Flu Covid-19, it seems a good time to offer a literary respite through the publication of my second anthology of 19th century science fiction. I am hereby announcing Science Fiction of Antebellum America: An Anthology!



Science fiction and the United States of America were created together. The same Enlightenment ideals that gave rise to the United States also gave birth to science fiction, and the genre developed along with the country. Pioneering authors like Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Fitz-James O’Brien, and Washington Irving experimented with this new kind of story to capture the fears and ambitions of a new country, a new frontier, and a new era in human history. This companion volume to Science Fiction of America’s Gilded Age collects the earliest satires, hoaxes, macabre tales, lost world fantasies and fairy tales that established the genre of science fiction in the heady days between the American Revolution and the American Civil War. Science Fiction of Antebellum America also includes a new introduction by yours truly.

To order Science Fiction of Antebellum America, click here. My first book, Science Fiction of America's Gilded Age, is also still available. If you would be willing to share this post on your social networks, leave a review on Amazon, and rate Science Fiction of Antebellum America, that would go a long way to helping spread the word! Thank you very much for you support of this blog for all these years and for your purchase of my new anthology!

P.S.: I'm always one step ahead with these... Later this year I'll be releasing an anthology on science fiction of the British Empire! 

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Importing the Tourists: Canada's Banff National Park

If we can't export the scenery, we'll import the tourists.
This simple and pragmatic quote, spoken by William Cornelius Van Horne, vice-president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, not only articulates something fundamental about the creation of Canada's first national park but also something fundamental about Canada itself.

Banff National Park at dusk. All photos by Cory Gross unless otherwise noted.

Unlike its neighbour to the south, Canada was not founded on any high ideals about "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." On the contrary, Canada's comparable motto has been "peace, order, and good government"... A much more prosaic ambition, though certainly no easier to achieve. Canada's history is largely economic instead of ideological, a larder of natural resources to be exploited by European industry rather than a new "Promised Land" of liberty.

The first of these industries was the fur trade. The lure of luxurious fur and an expanded French empire drove Samuel de Champlain to establish Quebec in 1608. "Canadien" coureur des bois did a brisk business in beaver fur, independently trading with local Indigenous peoples, until Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Médard Chouart des Groseilliers ran afoul of Quebec's governor in 1659. Soured to France, the pair turned to England and King Charles II, who signed the charter of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1670. That company, which still exists as Canada's iconic department store chain, followed waterways into the heart of the continent, expanding the British Empire as they went. 

The formation of the Dominion of Canada was also largely economic. In 1867, a quartet of independent British colonies joined together in "Confederation" to solidify trade and reinforce British sovereignty against a rapacious United States. Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick were joined in 1871 by Prince Edward Island and British Columbia. Lying between Ontario and British Columbia was a fair bit of space, monopolized by the Hudson's Bay Company. Anticipating the integration of British Columbia, the government of Canada bought the Hudson's Bay Company's interests in 1870. According to the Royal Proclamation of 1763, full title to the land could only be obtained from their sovereign inhabitants, leading to a series of treaties from 1871 to 1921 between the Crown and the Indigenous peoples of what is now Western Canada. It was from these "North-West Territories" that the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, and the territories of Yukon and Nunavut, were eventually carved out  (Newfoundland did not join Canada until 1949).      

British Columbia, isolated on the Pacific coast, only agreed to join Confederation on the promise that a railway would be built connecting them to the markets in the East. After various and sundry political scandals, the Canadian Pacific Railway finally began construction in 1880. Anticipating a decade-long project, it was actually completed in five years. The CPR still holds the record for the most amount of track laid by hand in a single day. As one can imagine, laying down that much track that quickly is very expensive. When the last spike was driven on November 7, 1885, in Craigellachie, British Columbia, the Canadian Pacific Railway slipped immediately into the tourism business.

Another view of twilight in Banff National Park.

Central to the CPR's strategy was the creation of a new national park. The world's first national park was Yellowstone in the United States, established on March 1, 1872. Within a decade Northern Pacific Railway laid tracks to park's northern gateway, and within the next two decades built up an infrastructure of luxurious lodges like Old Faithful Inn, Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, and Lake Hotel. This didn't escape the notice of Canadian Pacific, and in the course of building the railway through the Canadian Rocky Mountains they accidentally happened across exactly the attraction around which to build a national park.

For as long as Indigenous peoples have lived in Western Canada, they have known of the hot springs that bubble up from beneath the Canadian Rockies. One of the oldest settlements in the country was found by archaeological surveys on the shores of Vermillion Lakes. 10,700 years ago, Indigenous bighorn sheep hunters camped near hot springs that emptied into the lake, maintaining open waters even during the depth of winter. Early European explorers came across them through the 1850's and 1870's, but they were brought to public attention when railway workers Frank McCabe and William McCardell descended through the roof of a hot spring cave. They attempted to set up a spa by the cave and its nearby open-air hot spring pool, prompting a legal battle into which the Government of Canada (by the CPR's invitation) intervened to establish Banff Hot Springs Reserve in 1885. This was expanded to "Rocky Mountain Park" in 1887, and finally expanded and renamed to Banff National Park in 1930. Banff was Canada's first national park and the second oldest extant national park in the world after Yellowstone.

A panorama of Vermillion Lakes, with Sulphur Mountain to the centre
and the distinctive peak of Mount Rundle to the left.