Tag Archives: victorian

Wendy Van Camp featured on CHANGES Vlog Series

Changes Vlog

On January 7, 2015, I was interviewed by Sally Ember, Ed.D. on her YouTube video series entitled CHANGES. This is an hour long freeform conversation between authors and the host that range on a variety of subjects. Our conversation was about science fiction books, literary conventions, steampunk as a genre and a little about myself as an artisan jeweler and author.

I hope you will join me on CHANGES and enjoy the program.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-OOvBXtGRM

Steampunk: Learning the Genre

Nathan Fillion in Steampunk GarbA popular subgenre of science fiction and fantasy is known as steampunk. It features steam-powered technology with the decorative sensibilities of the 19th century Victorian era. Steampunk stories can also be considered a sort of alternate history where the British Empire continued on to be a major power in the world and their empirical style of culture and manners still hold sway in a future world.

It is often thought that the origin of steampunk as a genre began with H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. The stories of the adventurer explorer or the gentleman inventor who travels through the world or in time via their abilities and education and bring British culture to other peoples is a trope that is common in many steampunk stories. While Wells and Verne were certainly part of the inspiration of steampunk as a genre, they were writing alternate history or true science fiction of their times. In other words, looking to how the future may be based on the technology of their own times, much as science fiction writers do today.

The origins of steampunk was actually back in the late 1980s with a trio of authors in Southern California. Tim Powers, James Blaylock and K.W. Jeter were a group of friends that met to talk about their writing. They developed a style of science fiction that was influenced by victorian fantasies of the past and taking it to the next level. The name for what they were doing came about when Jeter wrote a letter to Locus Magazine in 1987.

Dear Locus,

Enclosed is a copy of my 1979 novel Morlock Night; I’d appreciate your being so good as to route it Faren Miller, as it’s a prime piece of evidence in the great debate as to who in “the Powers/Blaylock/Jeter fantasy triumvirate” was writing in the “gonzo-historical manner” first. Though of course, I did find her review in the March Locus to be quite flattering.

Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like ‘steam-punks’, perhaps.

—K.W. Jeter

If you look at the “gonzo-historical” books of these three authors, such as Power’s Anbuis Gates, Jeter’s Morlock Night, or Blaycock’s Homunculus, you will see that while all the novels are flavored with the Victorian era’s culture there is no fixed time period or even technology. Steampunk is not about the aristocracy, although they are often present and it is not always about steam powered gadgets either. Sometimes the Victorian idea of the supernatural takes precedence. If you tire of Steampunk stories that feature nothing but airships, goggle wearing heroines or characters that go around with steampowered batman belts, fear not. Look at the origins of the genre and you will discover that these conventions did not appear until much later.

Today, the term steampunk can refer to any of the clothing fashions, jewelry, and art objects that have a particular Victorian flair. Steampunk design emphasis’s a balance between the form and function, somewhat like the arts and crafts movement did, there is a blur between the line of tool and decoration. Examples include computers keyboards and electric guitars that are redesigned to employ materials such as polished brass, wood, iron and leather with Victorian conventions, rejecting the norm of current day industrial designs. Many of the costumes feature corsets and goggles, the color brown, or antiqued British military uniforms.

The best way to learn more about the genre is to read books by the three original authors and then expand out to newer authors of the genre. It will gain you a better balance about the genre and help you avoid falling into the cliches that have developed over the past ten years since the genre has gone more mainstream. Below are some of the places that I frequent to keep up to date with the steampunk movement.

The Steampunk Forum at Brass Goggles
This is an active forum where all aspects of steampunk are discussed. Clothing, art, music, writing and events. If you are looking for examples in costuming or simply want to know where the local steampunk groups hang out, this is a good place to start.

The Steampunk Empire
This online community is one of my favorites. The forums, photos and places to connect with fellow steampunk enthusiasts are many. I learn about new conventions from this site all the time.

The Gatehouse: Online Dieselpunk and Steampunk Magazine
I’m new to this magazine, but I like what I see. It covers more of the literary side of steampunk and goes into what steampunk and dieselpunk are. I find it a good resource for writers wishing to enter into the genre and for readers who want to learn more about the origins of what they are reading.

Book Review: The Lost World

Book Name: The Lost World
Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
First Published: 1912

Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1859. Both of his parents were of Irish descent. Given support by wealthy uncles, Doyle went to a Roman Catholic Jesuit Prep School and then onto college. Despite attending a Jesuit school, he would later reject religion and become agnostic. After college, he went on to medical school. It was during this time that he began to write short stories. He enjoyed writing adventure stories set in far away locations such as Africa or South America. He also wrote many non-fiction articles, his first was titled Posion and published in the British Medical Journal (1879).

Doyle went on to practice medicine as a doctor on a Greenland Whaler named Hope of Peterhead in 1880 and after his graduation from university, became a ship’s surgeon on the SS Mayumba that journeyed along the West African coastline. In 1882, he joined a former classmate to practice medicine in Plymouth, but eventually opened his own practice. He was unable to find many patients at first and to pass the time, he once again took up writing short stories. It was at this time that he began to develop the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, a fictional series for which he is very famous and was later knighted for.

In 1885, Doyle married his first wife, Mary Louise Hawkins, who was the sister of one of Doyle’s patients. They had two children together. Mary suffered from tuberculosis and died in 1906. Doyle met and fell in love with Jean Elizabeth Leckie years before his wife Mary died, but had simply remained friends with Jean out of faithfulness to his first wife. Once he was free, he married Jean after a year’s mourning period. They had three children together. Jean passed in 1940.

Doyle was active in the politics of his day. One of his many causes was being a supporter for the reform of the Congo Free State led by the journalist E.D. Morel and diplomat Roger Casement. During 1909 he wrote The Crime of the Congo, an article where he denounced the horrific goings on at this colony. It is thought that these two men, along with Bertram Fletcher Robinson, were the inspiration for the characters in his serial novel The Lost World. Later, Doyle turned away from Casement and Morel when they joined the pacifist movement during the Great War. When Casement was later found guilty of treason during the Easter Rising and faced the death penalty, Doyle attempted to save him, but his arguments that Casement had been driven mad by his circumstances went unheeded.

Doyle died of a heart attack in 1930. There was some controversy about where he was to be buried since he was not a Christian and considered himself to be a spiritualist. Eventually, he was interned with his wife in New Forest, Hampshire. The inscription on his grave reads in part:

Steel true
Blade straight
Arthur Conan Doyle
Knight/Patriot, Physician, and man of letters

The Lost World begins with Edward Malone proposing marriage to the woman he loves, Gladys Hungerton. The problem is, she does not love him. To put him off, she bids him to go prove himself in the world, to allow her to inspire him to do great deeds. If he does this, she will consent to marry him. Malone sets off to do this “noble quest” in order to win her heart.

Malone is a reporter for the Daily Gazette and asks his editor to give him a dangerous assignment. He is told to interview Professor George Edward Challenger to discover if the man’s claims of the uncharted territories of South America are true. There is some risk in Malone’s going for the Professor has assaulted other journalists that have gone before him.

After a scuffle, Professor Challenger admits to his discovery of living dinosaurs in South America and he invites Malone to join him on another expedition into the area in order to prove his story. Malone accepts and they set off along with Professor Summerlee, another scientist, and Lord John Roxton, an adventurer and guide. After a great deal of travel, they reach the jungle plateau where Challenger claims the dinosaurs live. As the team enters the plateau, one of their Indian guides, who’s brother was killed by Roxton, destroys the bridge back to the base camp, trapping them with no way back. The other Indian guides, who were superstitious of the plateau and didn’t wish to go further, all leave. Only Zambo, their “devoted negro” remains at the base.

The exploration team meets several challenges in “the lost world” of the jungle plateau. They are attacked by pterodactyls in a swamp, Roxton finds a blue clay that fascinates him, finally part of the team is captured by a race of ape-men. They discover that the Doda ape-men are at war with a tribe of humans, known as Accala, who live on the other side of the plateau. The Doda hold them captive because they are interested in the guns that the team owns. The Doda rightly feel that these weapons would tip the war in their favor.

Roxton manages to escape the Doda, and meets up with Malone. They mount a rescue for their party and the other humans that are held captive by the Doda, and arrive in time to prevent the execution of one of the professors. The reunited team travel to the human Accala tribe and help them defeat the Doda. The Accala now control the entire plateau.

The Accala are as impressed with the traveler’s guns as the Doda were. They do what they can to prevent the team from leaving, however a tunnel is discovered that leads to the outside world. Challenger, Malone, Roxton and Summerlee are able to escape the plateau and return to their base camp where Zambo and a large rescue party awaits.

The quartet return to England and present a report including pictures and the journalism report by Malone. Challenger brings a little more proof for his story this time, a living pterodactyl. It escapes and flies out over the Atlantic Ocean. The quartet meet for dinner some time after the dinosaur debacle. Roxton explains his interest in the blue clay. It was filled with diamonds. He proposes that they split the gems between them.

Challenger plans to open a private museum with his share. Summerlee decides to retire and categorize fossils. Roxton wants to return to the plateau for more research and adventure. Malone returns to Gladys to tell her of his great deeds and new wealth, only to find that she had married a clerk while he was away. Malone then decides to join Roxton’s new expedition since there is nothing left to keep him in London.

The Lost World has been an influential book over the past century. It was one of several novels during this time period that concerned the subject of finding a lost world filled with dinosaurs. Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island (1874) and Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot (1918) are the three main examples. These novels were all very popular in their day and have inspired other novels down through the years including Michael Crichton’s The Lost World (1995) that became the basis of the Jurassic Park series of films. Doyle’s book is credited as being the spark for the television series Land of the Lost as well as several movies down through the decades.

The novel itself has not aged well, but if you are a fan of retro science fiction, it is likely to become a favorite. There are problems with continuity in the book, the lack of female characters except as sexual objects is disconcerting, and the treatment of other races as inferior to whites certainly shows that the Imperialist English mindset is very much part of the narrative of this book. All of these issues are something that you need to keep in mind if you decide to read this novel. I feel that the historical qualities of this retro science fiction story outweigh these issues.

You need to remember that there are still parts of the Amazon that are uncharted and unexplored even in this modern day and age. Looking at satellite maps of Brazil you see little more than solid green where the national parks are. In these plateau areas, where visitors can only enter on foot, you might look at the photo map and think to yourself “there be dragons”….or perhaps, even dinosaurs! The spirit of adventure is still very much alive in this retro science fiction novel.

The Lost World Book CoverIf you are interested in reading The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, you can download a free copy of the novel at Project Gutenberg.