Tag Archives: literature

7 Essential Lost Worlds of the Victorian/Pulp Eras

Yeah, see a theme going here? Hey, i’m on a kick and i genuinely love exploring literary and creative mythos.

Before we get started i just want to quickly state that the demo for the 1st Act of the Dieselpunk Opera is basically done. I can’t work on it anymore. It would be best if i put it down for awhile and moved on. I’m just awaiting some basic tracks i asked a guitarist friend of mine to lay down for it and then i’ll post it here for a limited time. 3-5 days. You will be able to listen to the 1st Act demo for 3-5 days then i will remove it. The same will probably the happen for the 2nd Act. They’re demo versions and they’re not actually ready to be truly out there.

Now, on to business. The idea of the modern fantastical Lost World is more or less traced to 1888’s King Solomon’s Mines. While lost cities and civilizations had certainly existed before this, from Swift’s Lilliputians in Gulliver’s Travels to Plato’s invention of Atlantis, these were used very specifically as satire and metaphoric demonstration. King’s Solomon’s Mines gave birth to a meme that would blossom and peak in the pulp fiction period.

After the 50s science fiction transformed the Lost World into science fiction epicness and i believed the meme evolved into something similar but more expansive. Let’s look back on some of the greatest pre WW2 Lost Worlds.

7. Kukuanaland from King Solomon’s MInes.

This list is in chronological order so let’s start with the work that invented the Lost World meme. Allan Quartermain is the victorian precursor to Indiana Jones. Truly and seriously, you can draw a direct line. In the mid 1880s lost civilizations were in fact being discovered.

Sir H. Rider Haggard’s brother told him there was no way he could write a novel as good as Treasure Island, so Haggard bet his brother 5 shillings he could. The result was a book published in 1885 that was a blockbuster, created a new genre of fantastic fiction, the Lost World story, introduced a character that was as well known for decades afterwards as Indiana Jones is now and has been adapted into at least 6 movies.

Kukuanaland is somewhere in the south east Congo region.  The inhabitants have a well-organised army and society and speak an ancient dialect of IsiZulu.  Kukuanaland’s capital is Loo, the destination of a magnificent road from ancient times. The city is dominated by a central royal kraal.

Quartermain, an adventurer based in Africa, is hired to find an aristocrat’s brother who has disappeared while trying to find the fabled mines of King Solomon.  They find an uncharted land on the other side of a mountain range called Suliman Berg, using a map drawn in blood by a dead 16th century Portegeuse explorer.

6. Kafiristan from The Man Who Would Be King by Rudyard Kipling

First of all, go right now and watch the 1975 film starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine. The Man Who Would Be King. It’s awesome.

Two British adventurers in India travel to some remote part of Afghanistan and try to become kings of a region there. I’d tell you more but really, go watch the movie or read the book. I never read the book, honestly, so.. you know i can only recommend the movie.

The really crazy thing about the tale is that it’s inspired by true stories,  the exploits of James Brooke, an Englishman who became the first White Rajah of Sarawak in Borneo; and by the travels of American adventurer Josiah Harlan, who was granted the title Prince of Ghor in perpetuity for himself and his descendants.

5. Maple White Land from The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Yes, Sherlock Holmes’ creator and author actually wrote other books. The Lost World was a major success when it came out in 1912 and nailed the meme down bit more.

A professor claims to have discovered dinosaurs in South America which no one believes. After years of ridicule a team joins him to prove the claim true or false. They go deep into the Amazon and find a plateau (where naturally the natives will not go). THEY go, because, well, it’s a crappy story if they don’t, and low and behold: dinosuars! Blue clay! Race of Ape Men! Humans living on the other side of the plateau with whom the ape men are at war! Capture! Rescue! Adventure!

4. Almost Everything Ever Written by Edgar Rice Burroughs But For Brevitiy’s Sake We’ll Say The Land That Time Forgot.

The Land That Time Forgot is the most cemented and stereotypical story Burroughs wrote in the Lost World genre, with dinosaurs and all (Lost Worlds often have Dinosaurs) but the Tarzan and John Carter of Mars novels are endless tales of lost worlds, cities and civilizations. It’s kind of Burroughs’ hallmark.

This one has an island in the South Atlantic, dinosaurs of course, various races of near human primitives, captures, escapes, etc.

3. The Savage Land from Ka-Zar by Manvis Publishing, Timely Comics and Marvel Comics

I know who Ka-Zar is, but that’s because i used to be a comics nerd. Ka-Zar was a Tarzan rip off who started in the pulps in the 1930s. It ran for 2 years, from 1936 to 37. In 1939 the tales were put into comic form by Timely Comics, who eventually became Marvel Comics. The comic series Ka-Zar was featured in was Marvel Comics and Marvel Mystery Comics, although Timely was not yet Marvel. Got it?

Thus Ka-Zar and his lost world, the Savage Land, populated by dinosaurs and strange ruins and other Tarzan-esque tropes lived on into the 40s where he then faded into obscurity.

In 1965 Timely was now Marvel and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby pulled Ka-Zar and his Savage Land out of the dustbin and revamped him. They put the Savage Land in Antartica, hidden underneath by extra terrestrials. Ka-Zar has had his own comic series a number of times, in the 70s, 80s and 90s.

2. Aquilonia or The Hyborian Age from Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian

Robert E. Howard wins the creativity award for his Lost World. He made his lost world a lost age of the earth, and invented an entire world history, map, races, geography…. he built an entire world. Nowadays we live in a post Tolkien literary world where we expect this. Fantasy books are expected to do this and even beyond books they build detailed worlds. Video games invest huge amounts of creativity into world building on a level that encapsulates visual details undreamed of. But Howard my friends, was the first. The first to really commit to building an entire world in which his stories would operate.

Robert E. Howard built the first fully realized and thought out fantasy world. His Conan character ran about it (as did a few others like Kull). He wrote out an entire history and essay so that the world would be consistent throughout the stories. His main sources of inspiration were Bullfinch’s The Outline of Mythology and Clark Aston Smith’s Hyperborea cycle. Howard and Smith and even H.P.Lovercraft were all friends and all them were hugely in favor of borrowing from each other’s works in any degree. Howard borrowed Lovecraftian monsters as well, although adapted them more for a Conan yarn.

Here’s an overview of Howard’s essay outlining Hyboria which was published until well after his death. It may seem strange me putting on so much of this, but as someone who loves to write back story himself, usually just for fun knowing it will never get used, i just LOVE this stuff, enjoy reading this and this is the guy who put fantasy back story on the map, so respect should be paid.


According to the essay, at the time of this cataclysm a group of primitive humans were at a technological level hardly above the Neanderthal. They fled to the Northern areas of what was left of the Thurian continent to escape the destruction. They discovered the areas to be safe but covered with snow and already inhabited by a race of carnivorous apes.  The apes were large with white fur and apparently native to their land. The stone age invaders engaged in a territorial war with them and eventually managed to drive them off, past the Artic Circle. Believing their enemies fated to perish and no longer interested in them, the recently arrived group adapted to their new, harsh environment and its population started to increase.

Hyborian ancestors

One thousand five hundred years later, the descendants of this initial group were called “Hyborians”. They were named after their highest ranking god deity, Bori. The essay mentions that Bori had actually been a great tribal chief of their past who had undergone deification. Their oral tradition remembered him as their leader during their initial migration to the north though the antiquity of this man had been exaggerated.

By this point the various related but independent Hyborian tribes had spread throughout the northern regions of their area of the world. Some of them were already migrating south at a “leisurely” pace in search of new areas in which to settle. The Hyborians had yet to encounter other cultural groups but engaged in wars against each other. Howard describes them as a powerful and warlike race with the average individual being tall, tawny-haired, and grey eyed. Culturally they were already accomplished artists and poets. Most of the tribes still relied on hunting for their nourishment. Their southern offshoots however had been practicing animal husbandry on cattle for a number of centuries.

The only exception to their long isolation from other cultural groups came due to the actions of a lone adventurer, unnamed in the essay. He had traveled past the Arctic Circle and returned with news that their old adversaries, the apes, were not in fact annihilated. They had instead evolved into apemen and according to his description were by then numerous. He believed they were quickly evolving to human status and would pose a threat to the Hyborians in the future. He attempted to recruit a significant military force to campaign against them. But most Hyborians were not convinced by his tales and at last only a small group of foolhardy youths followed his campaign. None of them returned.

Beginnings of the Hyborian Age

With the population of the Hyborian tribes continuing to increase, the need for new lands also increased. The Hyborians started expanding outside their familiar territories, beginning a new age of wanderings and conquests. For five hundred years the Hyborians spread towards the South and the West of their nameless continent.

They encountered other tribal groups for the first time in millennia. They conquered many smaller clans of various origins. The survivors of the defeated clans merged with their conquerors, passing on their racial traits to new generations of Hyborians. The mixed-blooded Hyborian tribes were in turn forced to defend their new territories from pure blooded Hyborian tribes which followed the same paths of migration. Often the new invaders would wipe away the defenders before absorbing them, resulting in a tangled web of Hyborian tribes and nations with varying ancestral elements within their bloodlines.

The first organized Hyborian kingdom to emerge was Hyperborea. The tribe that established it entered their Neolithic age by learning to erect buildings in stone, largely for fortification. These nomads lived in tents made out of the hides of horses, but soon abandoned them in favor of their first crude but durable stone houses. They permanently settled in fortified settlements and developed cyclopean masonry to further fortify their defensive walls.

The Hyperboreans were by then the most advanced of the Hyborian tribes and set out to expand their kingdom by attacking their backwards neighbors. Tribes who defended their territories lost them and were forced to migrate elsewhere. Others fled the path of Hyperborean expansion before ever engaging them in war. Meanwhile the “apemen” of the Arctic Circle emerged as a new race of light-haired and tall humans. They started their own migration to the south, displacing the northernmost of the Hyborian tribes.

Rulers of the West

For the next thousand years the warlike Hyborian nations advanced to become the rulers of the Western areas of the nameless continent. They encountered the Picts and forced them to limit themselves to the western wastelands which would come to be known as the “Pictish Wilderness”. Following the example of their Hyperborean cousins, other Hyborians started to settle down and create their own kingdoms.

The southernmost of the early ones was Koth which was established north of the lands of Shem and soon started extending its cultural influence over the southern shepherds. Just south of the Pictish Wilderness was the fertile valley known as “Zing”. The wandering Hyborian tribe which conquered them found other people already settled there. They included a nameless farming nation related to the people of the Shem and a warlike Pictish tribe who had previously conquered them. They established the kingdom of Zingara and absorbed the defeated elements into their tribe. Hyborians, Picts, and the unnamed kin of the Shemites would merge into a nation calling themselves Zingarans.

On the other hand at the north of the continent, the fair haired invaders from the Arctic Circle had grown in numbers and power. They continued their expansion south while in turn displacing defeated Hyborians to the south. Even Hyperborea was conquered by one of these barbarian tribes. But the conquerors here decided to maintain the kingdom with its old name, merged with the defeated Hyperboreans and adopted elements of Hyborian culture. The continuing wars and migrations would keep the state of the other areas of the continent for another five hundred years.

1. No Human Actually Knows The City’s Name And Would Probably Go Stark Raving Mad If They Did, But The Area Is Generally Known As The Mountains Of Madness from H.P. Lovecraft.

Although written in 1931 this signature Lovecraft story wasn’t published until 1936. It is the ultimate Lost World.

By the time you’re done with Lovecraft the idea of berserk man eating dinosaurs tearing towards you with teeth gnashing will seem quaint and relaxing.

What do you want me to say? It’s Lovecraft. It’s a seminal piece of his Cthulhu Mythos and one of the his most reknowned and recognized works. The Lost World he makes up is… well it’s not like you can describe the damn thing. That’s kind of the point. The geometry is… impossible. There’s an entire history and it’s a cosmological terror rooted in doomed existentialism. If you haven’t read it… i mean, come on. It’s a gospel of geek canon.

It was also down in musical form by the Tiger Lillies, who as we’ve stated in the past we are quite endeared with here at The Steampunk Opera.

That’s it, campers! Our day’s quota of fantastical candy munchies in the form of Lost Worlds.

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Posted by on October 18, 2012 in Uncategorized


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7 Of The Most Popular Pulp Heroes

Before comic books, after the penny dreadfuls, were the pulps. From the beginning of the 20 century they rose in popularity and from the 1920s to the 1940s they dominated the fantastical and the imagination of youth.

Many of the famous characters of the pulp days are gone to one degree or another, although a few have name recognition that remains today. Here are 7 of the most popular whose adventures inspired the heroes, comic character and fantastical stories which came after.

7 Operator #5:

Operator #5 was a pre James Bond secret agent with wild adventures who was very popular in the 30s. However what really sets him as notable was that when writer Emile Tepperman took over in book 21, he took the possibilities of the pulps further then anyone else in the industry.

Tepperman was responsible for the 13 interconnected novels (starting with #26) that make up The Purple Invasion, a series in which the Purple Empire (an unnamed European power which is a thinly veiled Germany) conquers the United States after conquering the rest of the world. Operator #5 leads the insurgency against them. The saga is often looked upon as the War and Peace of pulps.

In a rare bit of continuity for the pulp magazines, America did not find itself fully recovered in the first novel following the end of the Purple Invasion. Instead, America was still reeling from the bloody war, and found itself vulnerable to yet other would-be conquerors. A new serial dealt with the invasion of the US by an oriental power, obviously Japan, led by the “Yellow Vulture.”

Jimmy Christopher was a secret agent, codename “Operator No. 5” for the United States Intelligence in a series of fast paced stories about America’s enemies who pledged war, death and bloody destruction in their efforts to take over America. The enemies were many, but often from countries with fictional names.

Christopher had two trademarks: a skull ring and a rapier which was kept curled inside his belt. He was aided by a number of people in the various wars: Diane Elliot, his girlfriend; Tim Donovan, who quickly grew from a youngster to a two fisted young man; Nan Christopher, his twin sister; John Christopher, his father who was a retired operative known as Q-6; Chief of Intelligence Z-7; and friend “Slips” McGuire, among many others, some of whom gave their lives for America.

6. G-8:

G-8 was a heroic aviator and spy during WWI. He had 110 books published during the 30s and early 40s.

His stories were often outlandish, with many supernatural or science fiction elements. G-8’s true identity was never revealed. He had a girlfriend, a nurse who aided his group, and her name as well was never revealed. He had an English manservant named Battle and two wing-men, the short Nippy Weston, who flew an aircraft numbered 13, and the tall and muscular but superstitious Bull Martin, whose aircraft was numbered 7. Both of them were Americans. His adventures entailed fighting against the lethal super technology that was constantly created by the Kaiser’s mad scientists. Reoccurring villains included Herr Doktor Krueger, the Steel Mask, and Grun.

5. The Spider

The Spider: Created to capitalize on the success of The Shadow, and stated by Stan Lee to be one of his inspirations for Spider Man, The Spider was huge during the 30s and early 40s.

Similar to the character of The Shadow, the Spider was in actuality millionaire playboy Richard Wentworth (who had been a Major in World War One), living in New York and unaffected by the Great Depression. It should be noted that beginning in the 30s ALL the heros of pulps were secretly millionaires. Interesting, no? I’m sure in the depths of the Great Depression there was some wish fulfillment in there. Anyway, Wentworth fought crime by donning a black cape, slouch hat. Later came vampiric makeup or face mask and a hunchback figure with grizzled hair to terrorize the criminal underworld with extreme prejudice and his own brand of vigilante justice.

The stories often involved a bizarre menace and a criminal conspiracy and were often extremely violent, with the villains engaging in wanton slaughter of literally thousands as part of sometimes nationwide crimes.

4. The Phantom

The Phantom: While some vague name recognition still echoes down today, a crappy newspaper comic and REALLY crappy movie or two, it may come as a surprise that back in the day The Phantom was a two fisted detective bad ass and immensely popular, rocking the pulps for 20 years. First published in 1933 he was the very second pulp hero published.

The Phantom is actually the wealthy Richard Curtis Van Loan. In the first few issues of the title, The Phantom is introduced as a world-famous detective, whose true identity is only known by one man — Frank Havens, the publisher of the Clarion newspaper. Richard Curtis Van Loan is orphaned at an early age, but inherits wealth. Before WWI, he leads the life of an idle playboy, but during the war he becomes a pilot and downs many German planes.

After the war, Van Sloan has a difficult time returning to his old life. At the suggestion of his father’s friend, Havens, he sets out to solve a crime that had stumped the police. After solving it, he decides he has found his calling.

He trains himself in all facets of detection and forensics, and becomes a master of disguise and escape. He makes a name for himself as the Phantom, whom all police agencies around the world know and respect. When dealing with law enforcement officials he carries a platinum badge in the shape of a domino mask as proof of his true identity. The initial stories were less about a detective than an adventurer using disguise and lucky escapes to conclude his cases.

3. Buck Rogers

Buck Rogers: Begun in 1928, Buck Rogers invented the space hero. INVENTED him. Without Buck there is no Flash Gordon, no Star Wars… the idea would of course have come through someone else had Buck never been born, but because of his success it is he who is the inspiration for all that came afterwards.

Buck Rogers first appeared in Amazing Stories in 1928 in a story called Armageddon 2419 A.D. The character blew up and soon grew out of the pulps and into just about every other media there was: Serial films series, comics, radio (in 1932 the first science fiction radio program in the states) a TV series in the 50s and another movie and TV series in the 1970s. He isn’t listed higher simply because his stay in the pulp fiction books was very short lived. He is most known through other mediums.

The character first appeared as Anthony Rogers, the central character of Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. Born in 1898, Rogers is a veteran of the Great War (World War I) and by 1927 is working for the American Radioactive Gas Corporation investigating reports of unusual phenomena reported in abandoned coal mines near Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania. On December 15, there is a cave-in while he is in one of the lower levels of a mine. Exposed to radioactive gas, Rogers falls into “a state of suspended animation, free from the ravages of catabolic processes, and without any apparent effect on physical or mental faculties.” Rogers remains in suspended animation for 492 years.

Rogers awakens in 2419. Thinking that he has been asleep for just several hours, he wanders for a few days in unfamiliar forests (what had been Pennsylvania almost five centuries before). He notices someone clad in strange clothes, who is under attack. He defends the person, Wilma Deering, killing one of the attackers and scaring off the rest. On “air patrol”, Deering was attacked by an enemy gang, the Bad Bloods, presumed to have allied themselves with the Hans.

Wilma takes Rogers to her camp, where he meets the bosses of her gang. He is invited to stay with them or leave and visit other gangs. They hope that Rogers’ experience and knowledge he gained fighting in the First World War may be useful in their struggle with the Hans who rule North America from 15 great cities they established across the continent. They ignored the Americans who were left to fend for themselves in the forests and mountains as their advanced technology prevented the need for slave labor.

2. Doc Savage

Doc Savage. Popular beyond compare in his heyday, dominating the pulps for 16 years (from 1933 to 1949)

Doc Savage’s real name was Clark Savage Jr.  He was a physician, surgeon, scientist, adventurer, inventor, explorer, researcher, and a musician. A team of scientists assembled by his father deliberately trained his mind and body to near superhuman abilities almost from birth, giving him great strength and endurance, a photographic memory a mastery of the martial arts, and vast knowledge of the sciences. Doc is also a master of disguise and an excellent imitator of voices. “He rights wrongs and punishes evildoers.” He’s described as a mix of Sherlock Holmes’ deductive abilities, Tarzan’s outstanding physical abilities, Craig Kennedy’s scientific education, and Abraham Lincoln’s goodness.  His character and world-view is displayed in his oath:

Let me strive every moment of my life to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit by it. Let me think of the right and lend all my assistance to those who need it, with no regard for anything but justice. Let me take what comes with a smile, without loss of courage. Let me be considerate of my country, of my fellow citizens and my associates in everything I say and do. Let me do right to all, and wrong no man.

His office is on the 86th floor of a New York City skyscraper, implicitly the Empire State Building, reached by Doc’s private high-speed elevator. Doc owns a fleet of cars, trucks, aircraft, and boats which he stores at a secret hangar on the Hudosn River, under the name The Hidalgo Trading Company, which is linked to his office by a pneumatic-tube system nicknamed the “flea run.” He sometimes retreats to his Fortress of Solitude in the Arctic — which pre-dates Superman’s similar hideout of the same name.

1. The Shadow.

The Shadow.  The Shadow dominates them all. For one thing he was the first pulp hero. Secondly, EVERYONE after was trying to piggy back on his success. Almost every character mentioned was begun to capitalize on The Shadow. Begun as the Narrator for a radio show featuring detective stories, listeners began asking for magazines featuring this mysterious voice.

“The Shadow’s real name was Kent Allard, a famed aviator who fought for the French during WWI. He became known by the alias of The Black Eagle but after the war, decides to wage war on criminals. Allard fakes his death in the South American jungles, then returns to the United States. Arriving in New York City, he adopts numerous identities to conceal his existence.

One of these identities—indeed, the best known—is Lamont Cranston, a “wealthy young man about town.” In the pulps, Cranston is a separate character; Allard frequently disguises himself as Cranston and adopts his identity (“The Shadow Laughs,” 1931). While Cranston travels the world, Allard assumes his identity in New York. Unlike the later superhero comics, the violence was much more pronounced and The Shadow held two pistols with which he would blow away his adversaries.

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Posted by on October 16, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Philip K Dick: The Penultimate Truth

YEARS ago i went through a big Philip K Dick phase. I read all of his books in about a 1 year period. There was a great little sci-fi bookstore near me and several times a week i would buy one of his novels and a couple Sam Adams then sit in the evening and read the entire book in a single sitting. Which actually worked because for awhile he himself would write the books in a single, very long, amphetamine induced sitting.

He does has issues as a writer which can get rather annoying or which you must simply roll with and chalk up to his idiosyncricies. However his imagination is stunning and the ideas he throws out and toys with are the reason he enjoys such a large, rabid cult following and why he is endlessly plundered for movie premises.

Years after my phase with Philip K Dick ended i picked up and read a biography on him and the biography was absolutely fascinating. I had already known a bit about the “event” which seriously messed with his headspace, and which every book from Valis onward was based on. This “event” shook Philip K Dick’s already neurotic take on reality and thrust him into living out one of his own novels for the rest of his life.

What i didn’t know was how many details from his books were actually based on details from his life and what a very strange person he really was. Now a documentary about him made in 2008 is online and i present it to you here today. It’s got some really stupid “framing device” involving special agents because… i don’t know you just can’t get right to the point? But ignore that and this is a very good documentary about an iconic author who eventually… went crazy? Had a genuine religious experience? Had SOME experience which he couldn’t explain but which lead to him basically being one of his own characters in his own real life, exploring his favorite theme of reality itself being absolutely uncertain?

(note, the “band” i’m in, that is Ah Pook The Destroyer which is actually just musician/composer Matthew Broyles and myself are trying to see if we can get permission to use Valis as our next literature inspired album. I would LOVE for us to tackle Valis as an album. Our last one was Lovecraft’s The Silver Key.)

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Posted by on June 3, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The History Of Steampunk, Part 1: The Books.

I believe it’s time to do a multi-part series on the history of steampunk. (i may or may not do the entire thing consecutively.)

First of all, barring the 1960s TV show Wild Wild West (we’ll get to it) the roots of the subculture began as a few literary experiments in the 1970s.

Although Jules Verne and H.G. Wells would indeed have to be declared the fathers of steampunk, as they actually wrote science fiction in the victorian era, steampunk is also a reimagining of the past or a parallel reality with a different history. The key point is that instead of throwing science fiction ideas ahead in time, as was mostly the case during the entire history of science fiction (with some exceptions for pulp writers such as Edgar Rice Burroughs and Lovecraft who would establish advanced civilizations in the very distant past) steampunk took relatively recent history about a century old which everyone knew, and throw backdated science fiction into it, reimagining both science and history.

warlord in the airMichael Moorlock’s 1971 Warlord Of The Air was the official “first” steampunk book. It wasn’t in the past, it was in an alternate 1973 (where a character from 1903 in our world is thrust unexpectedly), but it did establish numerous aesthetic themes which would blossom.

The British Empire is still the ruling Empire of the world, there have been no world wars, and dirigibles cover the skies. Steam power is the dominant energy source as opposed to gas and oil. There is world peace of a sort, but colonialism is still the norm. He ends up fighting against imperialism, yadda yadda and there’s two more sequels making it a trilogy. I actually read this when i was at summer camp one year as a kid. It was… you know. All right.

In 1972, Harry Harrison wrote A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! which interestingly enough ALSO takes place in a parallel 1973. The War of American Independence was won by the British, who once again, still have en Empire that rule the world. In this case, an engineer, the grandson of the traitorous George Washington, who was of course hung, has been hired to build a tunnel connecting Britain to the American colonies since travel by ship is still the dominant method.



One last 70s writer that should be mentioned is Philip Jose Farmer, who wrote two faux biographies about famous Victorian fantastical characters Tarzan and Doc Savage in which he claims an asteroid which fell in Wold Newton was responsible to genetically altering the occupants of a passing coach and their descendants which include also Sherlock Holmes, James Bond,  Phileas Fogg, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Allan Quatermain and the list goes on. (i imagine this must have been an influence upon Alan Moore’s League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen.)


These are the 3 main precursors to the literary invention of steampunk. The actual appearance of steampunk as we know it today,a dn the 3 books that truly led to the current subculture, appeared in the 80s. (almost)

In 1979 K.W. Jeter wrote Morlock Nights, a novel where the Morlock from Time Machine, steal said machine and return to Victorian England to wreak havoc. The book is a little nuts… King Arthur appears to rescue England and the London sewers are the last remnants of Atlantis, but nevertheless, Jeter actually coined the term ‘Steampunk’:

“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 ‘steampunks,’ perhaps…”\

Tim Powers’ 1983 Anubis Gates is particularly notable in that not only does it feature a group of  time travelers going back to Victorian London to hear a lecture in a pub by Samuel Coleridge and getting involved in Egyptian magic and secret societies,  but it’s also, imo, the first actually readable book mentioned (with the exception of Farmer, but he was working off existing material). No offense, but if you were to ask my opinion, i might say something to that effect and be quite serious.

Powers wrote 2 others books in this series, and within the trilogy most steampunk basics are established.


In 1986 James Blaylock published Humunculus. Set in Victorian London the book is “darkly atmospheric, Homonculus weaves together the stories of Narbondo — a mad hunchback who works tirelessly to bring the dead back to life, of the members of the Trismegistus Club — a surly group of scientists and philosophers who meet at Captain Powers’ Pipe Shop, and of the homonculus — a tiny man whose powers can drive men to murder.” at least according to Amazon.



This next one is of THE book that put steampunk on the map. Without this, these others would have come and gone and no movement would have come from it.

William Gibson and Bruce Sterling both well known names to every modern speculative fiction reader, in 1990 co wrote The Difference Engine. it takes place in 1855 and computers powered by steam exist. Lord Byron is prime minister, and Disraeli a hack writer. A race for a set of perforated computer cards during an uprising by technology hating Luddites is the basic plot (and it gets plenty complex from there). With this book, the steampunk literary genre was on the map.




One last one bears mentioning.

There have been many steampunk laden books to come out, and after this point, we are effectively done with the history of steampunk and are into the actuality of the genre. However, there is one more book that has so impacted the growth the steampunk, it cannot be ignored

league of extraordinary gentlemen

Alan Moore’s League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Comic fans will get a look of ballistic rage and start to seizure if you mention that blasphemous excrement of a movie, so don’t. The series of graphic novels are out of the park superb. They take all the fantastical characters of literature set in Victorian and Edwardian times and weave them together in a dazzlingly exciting and fun way. From Allan Quartermain to Mr. Hyde, Fu Manchu to Dr. Moureau,  the series cannot be over recommended or understated in it’s impact on steampunk during the first decade of the 2000’s.

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Posted by on March 1, 2011 in Uncategorized


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