This steampunk themed office was created by Three Rings Design, Inc. Their office space is features individually customized desks, a pool table with a wall sized ‘world domination’ map, a video game room with giant squid pillows, and a secret door to the Captain’s Lounge. Read more about it at Apartment Therapy.
Tag Archives: steampunk
Book Review: A Christmas Carol
Book Name: A Christmas Carol
Author: Charles Dickens
First Published: 1843
Charles Dickens was thought of as the “literary colossus” of the Victorian age. He was an English writer and social critic who penned some of the world’s most memorable fictional characters and stories. During his lifetime his work enjoyed great popularity and fame and today his genius is recognized by critics and scholars everywhere.
Dickens began life by being forced to leave school to work in a factory pasting labels on pots of boot blacking for six shillings a week after his father was thrown into debtors’ prison. Soon after, his mother and younger siblings followed his father into the prison and young Charles was sent to live with an old woman that he later immortalized in one of his novels. Eventually, an inheritance was gained by his family and his father was able to be released from prison. The family all moved in with their friend Elizabeth Roylance and slowly regained a more normal life for themselves. However, his mother insisted that Charles continue to work in the factory. The boy was livid and it is thought that his views that men must be the master of their family and women keep their place in the household sphere was originated by this event. Dickens did gain a formal education of sorts, but most of his learning came by his own initiative.
As Dickens grew to adulthood, he found work as a clerk at the law office of Ellis and Blackmore. He taught himself shorthand in his spare time and soon after left the attorneys to become a freelance journalist. One of his relatives was also a reporter at Doctors’ Commons and offered to share his box so that Dickens could report on the legal proceedings there. Dickens remained for a period of four years. This hard knocks education was later incorporated into his novels such as Nicholas Nickleby, Dombey and Son and Bleak House, where the vivid portrayal of the bureaucracy of the English legal system did much to enlighten the general public of his time.
Dickens worked as a political reporter for many years until he landed the editors position at Bentley’s Miscellany where he wrote a serial known as the Pickwick Papers. During his time as editor, he also wrote his first novel, Oliver Twist, as a serial. He also wrote and oversaw four plays during this time period. Gradually, his success as a novelist began to grow and when he left Bentley’s Miscellany, he earned his income via his novels, all written in serial format for various publications and later converted into novel form, lectures and other philanthropic endeavors.
He met and married Catherine Hogarth and they had ten children together. Dickens edited a weekly journal for twenty years, wrote fifteen novels, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles. He lectured and campaigned for children’s rights, their education and other social reforms. He died at the age of 58 of a stroke and is buried in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abby in London, England.
Dickens’ novella, A Christmas Carol, is considered one of the most influential stories ever written. It remains as popular in present day as it did in Victorian times. The well known classic tale has a simple plot about how a man becomes mean spirited over time due to age and lack of human interaction. He is Ebenezer Scrooge, who has lost the joy of living and cares only for earning the cold hard dollar. Enter three ghosts, one of the past, one of the present, and one of the future. Ebenezer travels through time and space, to alternate realities and revisits key points in his life. In the end, the man that views Christmas as “bah humbug” is redeemed via positive choices in his life.
Charles Dickens weaves a tale that was unique to his time. During the rise of industrialization in England, the old traditions of agricultural society were on the wane. A Christmas Carol helped to rescue the holiday and set a guideline to the modern world of what the spirit of this holiday should mean. There are wonderful contrasts built into the story of hot/cold, company/loneliness, wealth/poverty, or heaven/hell, and throughout the novel are detailed descriptions of Christmas and what it means to those that celebrate it. Since he was writing during Victorian times when the concepts of Christianity were well known and understood by the general population, he did not spend much time in explaining quotations from the bible or talk about how Jesus was a part of Christmas. English Victorians would have understood these concepts without being reminded and so he allows religion to become more of a backdrop of his tale. I sometimes wonder if this is what makes this tale more powerful to us today in this more secular time when Christian ideas are not as prevalent in our public society.
The ghostly visitors that change Ebenezer’s life forever are not particularly Christian in nature. They simply offer him information that allows him to understand what he has done and what the consequences of those choices are. The ghost of Christmas past is youthful and spring like. Christmas Present is a happy spirit that simply wishes to spread joy. Christmas Yet To Be is a somber spirit, perhaps hinting at the bitter end that awaits Ebenezer if he does not see the error of his ways. One of the main Christian tenants is that a sinner may be redeemed if he honestly repents. The ghosts allow Ebenezer to make that choice for himself.
Like many people of my generation, I saw the movie first and then later live plays of this classic work before I read the actual novel. Through the various media, this tale has woven into our culture and has defined what we consider the spirit of Christmas to be. I understand that many people like to read this novel either to themselves or share it out loud with their families during the holiday season. I believe that it is a tradition that I will join in the future.
This classic novel is one of the very first that was transcribed from the bound paper version into ebook form. A Christmas Carol is available for free download at Project Gutenberg. The original illustrations by John Leech are included in the download.
Victorian Visions of the Future
My current trilogy of novels is in the steampunk/sci-fi genre. One of the fascinating aspects of writing in this genre is when you imagine yourself as part of Victorian culture with the social morals and customs of this age that has come and gone, but with advanced technology that is based upon the idea that the steam engine was the driving force behind all the technology instead of the combustion engine or solid state electronics. The result is a technology that is rich in the ornate decor of Victorian England, combined with fanciful inventions and the introduction of modern cultural ideas against the backdrop of more old-fashioned morals. It makes for a rich writing environment.
How might the true Victorians have viewed their future and what sort of inventions could they have imagined to come along to enhanced their lives? Remarkably, I spotted a group of vintage French Victorian postcards created between 1899 and 1910 that depicted what life might be like for the then current day Victorians in the year 2000. I found the answer to this question to be both quaint and intriguing.
We take mechanized farming for granted in the 21st century, but during Victorian times, the concept of machines handling the heavy lifting of the farmer must have been straight out of science fiction. I think that this concept is fairly close to the reality that we live today, although the postcard looks much prettier than what is now the real thing. Notice that the farm is laid out as if it was still being worked by hand, but with the machines added in as more an after thought. A far cry from today’s farming techniques.
Thanks to the Apple iPhone, real time face to face phone conversations are now growing to be more commonplace around the world. This marvel of present day science was once just a glimmer of an idea. Notice that in the postcard, technology that was common during that time period is depicted and slightly altered to give the new way of communicating its life. While their imagining was larger than our present day phones, I have to say that their way was a bit more grand and picturesque.
Thankfully, we of the 21st century have not automated the barber shop, but I love the octopus armed machine that this artist had imagined. This industrial machine is front and center in the shop, and I can see it going out of control like in a B rated horror movie.
Electric scooters, mopeds and other small wheeled vehicles are commonplace today. I am sure I’m not the only woman to have to dodge a child speeding through the park on a motorized or electric skateboard. Here the Victorian artist took the common scene of ice skaters and took it to the next level of technology. The idea that the wheels would allow the skaters to go other places than a rink might not have occurred to him since at that time all skating took place on ice only. I love the guy in the background who took a fall. That would be me at the skating rink!
Move over Captain Nemo, here is a Victorian vision of how to power a submarine before the age of the combustible engine or nuclear power. Looking at this image, I wonder how the artist thought that the future Victorians might capture and train these giant denizens of the deep to carry their underwater ships?
Of the entire group, this is my favorite Victorian image. That of the Zeppelin French Air Force in battle. The Zeppelin is one of the more consummate symbols associated with the steampunk genre. Even in Victorian times, it was a symbol of power and state of the art technology.
Finding images from the past is certainly inspiring and these antique postcards are certainly helpful if you are interested in writing in the steampunk genre.
Book Review: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
Book Name: 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
Author: Jules Verne
First Published: 1870
Jules Verne was born the son of an French attorney in Nantes, France. As a boy, Verne developed a great love for travel and exploration, which was reflected in his science fiction writings. His interest in storytelling often cost him progress in other school subjects. It is rumored that the child Verne was so enthralled with adventure that he stowed away on a vessel going to the West Indies, but his voyage of discovery was cut short when he found his father waiting for him at the next port of call.
As Verne grew to adulthood, he began to write libretti for operettas even as he was studying in law school. When his father discovered that he was not attending to his law studies, his educational funds were cut off. Jules Verne turned to being a stockbroker to make his living, a profession that he hated. Around this time, he met and married Honorine de Viane Morel, a widow with two daughters. Honorine encouraged her husband to do what he loved, to write.
Verne’s writing career improved when he met Pierre-Jules Hetzel, an important French publisher, after being rejected by many other publishers. Verne and Hetzel formed a successful writer-publisher team until Hetzel’s death. Verne was prone to be overly scientific and melancholy in his writing, Hetzel forced the author to be more upbeat and to add in more adventure and less science. The combination proved to be gold. Verne began publishing his novels two years after the birth of his son and generally published two books a year after that point. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was one of his more famous works and one of the earlier novels that he published.
The novel begins in 1866 when a mysterious sea monster is sighted by ships of several countries. In New York City, an expedition to track down and kill the menace is formed by the US government. Professor Pierre Aronnax, a renoun french marine biologist, is invited to join the expedition at the last minute. Aronnax, his assistant Conseil and harpoon master Ned Land set sail from Brooklyn aboard the naval ship Abraham Lincoln and travel around Cape Horn and entering the Pacific Ocean.
The monster is discovered and the ship enters into battle. During the fight, the three men are thrown overboard and find themselves stranded on the “hide” of the monster. Much to their surprise, they find that the animal is a metal ship. The men are captured and brought on board the strange vessel where they meet its creator and commander, Captain Nemo. The vessel is an electrically powered submarine known as the Nautilus which roams the oceans to carry out marine biology research and to serve as an instrument of revenge for her captain. Nemo and Aronnax form a friendship as Aronnax is enthralled by the undersea views, despite the fact that Nemo has forbidden the three passengers to leave the vessel. Only Ned Land continues to plan their escape.
The title of 20,000 leagues under the sea does not refer to the depth that the electrical submarine dives, but rather the distance that the vessel travels in the ocean during the story. The passengers of the Nautilus see the coral reefs of the Red Sea, the shipwrecks of the battle of Vigo Bay, the Antarctic ice shelves and the fictional sunken nation of Atlantis. The crew does battle with sharks and other marine life and the ship itself is attacked by a giant octopus.
In the end, Nemo’s vessel is attacked by a ship from Nemo’s home nation. The battle pushes Nemo into an emotional depression and in his grief, he allows the Nautilus to enter a whirlpool off the coast of Norway. During this distraction, Aronnax, Conseil and Land manage to escape the submarine and return to land. However, the fate of Captain Nemo and the Nautilus remains a mystery.
I can’t remember a time when I did not know of and love the stories of Jules Verne. So many of his stories have been adapted into movies, his characters have been adopted into other novels, and there was once a ride in Disneyland based on the book. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was the first of his novels that I read, prompted by seeing the Disney movie by the same name starring Kirk Douglas (who sings!) produced in 1954. This movie is likely the most famous of numerous films based upon this book. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is considered one of his “Voyages Extraordinaires” novels which also include Around the World in 80 Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Mysterious Island, and From the Earth to the Moon. Many of the inventions that Verne wrote about are now real technology that we see everyday. Verne paid attention to the state of the art scientific information of his time and embellished upon it with his vivid imagination to create his fantastic worlds of the future. If you have not read Jules Verne, I urge you to look into his novels. You’ll see long ago dreams that now have become the shape of life as we know it.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is considered in the public domain and is available for free download at Project Gutenberg or at your local public library.
Book Review: The Time Machine
Book Name: The Time Machine
Author: H.G. Wells
First Published: 1895
The Time Machine was H. G. Wells’ first novel of literary importance. He would go on to write The Island of Dr. Moreau and The War of the Worlds soon after. At the time of his writing of The Time Machine, he was a young man of 29 years, a hard working former apprentice to a draper who felt the class system in England all to keenly. Gaining access to books through the connection of his mother who worked in service as a lady’s maid, he was able to gain an understanding to the classics of literature from her employer’s private library. He would later become a socialist, a supporter of women’s suffrage and become a man who loved to fight for causes. H G Wells would marry twice and carry on several affairs with women artists and authors, having several additional children out-of-wedlock in addition to his two sons by his wife Amy Robbins.
The idea for time travel came from a student debating society at Imperial College in London. The debate was on new scientific ideas about the nature of time and from there, Wells spliced science fact into his fascination of government and the effects of the English class system. During the period that he was writing the novel, he was renting a flat with his soon to be second wife, Amy Robbins. His landlady disapproved of the relationship and would spend time outside his window in the dead of night making rude comments about Wells and his private living arrangements. It is said that much of the Morlocks, the villains of the story, were based on this woman’s personality!
The Time Machine is the story of a victorian scientist and inventor from England. He is entertaining dinner guests in his home and reveals to them that he has built a machine that can travel through time. The time traveller leaves the dinner party to test his device and travels into the far future where he discovers the Eloi, a tribe of simple people that have no concept of work and seem to have little curiosity about their environment. The time traveller speculates that they are a peaceful communist society, the result of humanity overcoming nature and evolving to where intellect and strength are not advantageous for survival.
During his efforts to communicate with Eloi, and in particular an Eloi woman named Weena, the time machine is stolen. The time traveller realizes that the machine has been dragged into a close by building that resembles a sphinx. During the night, he is threatened by the nocturnal Morlocks and within their underground home he finds the technology that makes the Eloi way of life possible. The Morlocks control the Eloi to their advantage, using the simple people as their livestock.
The Morlocks, fearing the strangeness that the traveller represents, using the captured time machine to bait the traveller into an underground trap, little realizing that once he gains access to his machine, he is able to use it to escape them. The traveller pushes forward in time to the end of the world before he returns back to his origin, arriving a scant 3 hours later in the evening to the astonishment of his dinner guests. He relates his adventures to his guests and produces two exotic blooms from his pocket that he claims were given to him by Weena as proof. The following day, the time traveller prepares to make a second journey, promising to return in a half hour, but in the end he does not and after three years of waiting, the original narrator of the story realizes that he will never be seen again.
My first exposure to this classic science fiction story and author was via the 1960 movie The Time Machine starring Rod Taylor. It was a special effects giant of its day, winning an academy award for stop-motion photography. I was completely enamored of film and it led me to seek out the book by H.G. Wells. From there I started to read more of his scientific romance stories and became hooked on his writing. Later, I would also become a fan of the 1979 movie Time After Time where the characters Herbert George Wells and Amy Robbins supposedly meet and fall in love in the 1970’s before they return via time machine to Well’s Victorian era where he is inspired to write his famous science fiction novels. The character of George Wells in the movie is very much as real life H G Wells might have been in personality.
H. G. Wells is considered one of the progenitors of the science fiction genre and of scientific romance in particular. His views on the future were not always pleasant, but in his writings there is such a sense of reality that you can believe his reasoning and accept his views as a logical progression of where humanity might go. I personally find that the book has a steampunk feel to it, although it was created decades before the steampunk movement in literature began. The author and the protagonist of The Time Machine originate during victorian times and the story concerns an inventor of a fantastic machine that likely runs on steam like technology. Perhaps in a way, The Time Machine could be considered a forerunner to the steampunk sub-genre.
You can download a free copy of The Time Machine at Project Gutenberg. It is one of the very first novels that they transcribed for the project.