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! 
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!