For those of you who know me well (or even not so well), my current Day Job is in sci-fi publishing. And with that comes some great opportunities. Last year, I interviewed Cherie Priest at Dragon*Con. More recently, I sat down with Scott Westerfeld at the gorgeous King’s Carriage House in New York City for a one-on-one chat about his Leviathan trilogy:
In addition, tonight I participated with several other notable steampunks in Average Intelligence’s podcast. For those who had missed out, you can still listen to the whole thing here.
Cahina was created by Leo Charles Dessar and appears in A Royal Enchantress (1900). Dessar (1847-1924) was a New York judge who was a part of the corrupt Tammany Hall political system.
There was a real Cahina (alternatively, “Kahena” or “Kahina”), a Queen of the Berbers in the 7th and 8th Century C.E. who fought against the Muslim invasion. Gibbons wrote about her in Volume 2, Chapter 514 of his The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:
The Greeks were expelled, but the Arabians were not yet masters of the country. In the interior provinces the Moors or Berbers, so feeble under the first Caesars, so formidable to the Byzantine princes, maintained a disorderly resistance to the religion and power of the successors of Mohammed. Under the standard of their queen Cahina the independent tribes acquired some degree of union and discipline; and as the Moors respected in their females the character of a prophetess, they attacked the invaders with an enthusiasm similar to their own. The veteran bands of Hassan were inadequate to the defence of Africa: the conquests of an age were lost in a single day; and the Arabian chief overwhelmed by the torrent, retired to the confines of Egypt, and expected, five years, the promised succours of the caliph. After the retreat of the Saracens, the victorious prophetess assembled the Moorish chiefs, and recommended a measure of strange and savage policy.
“Our cities,” said she, “and the gold and silver which they contain, perpetually attract the arms of the Arabs. These vile metals are not the objects of our ambition; we content ourselves with the simple productions of the earth. Let us destroy these cities; let us bury in their ruins those pernicious treasures; and when the avarice of our foes shall be destitute of temptation, perhaps they will cease to disturb the tranquility of a warlike people.” The proposal was accepted with unanimous applause. From Tangier to Tripoli the buildings, or at least the fortifications, were demolished, the fruit trees were cut down, the means of subsistence were extirpated, fertile and populous garden was changed into desert, and the historians of a more recent period could discern the frequent traces of the prosperity and devastation of their ancestors. Such is the tale of the modern Arabians.
In the foreword to A Royal Enchantress Dessar wrote that he was struck by Gibbon’s passage: “the meager account of this beautiful Prophetess Queen of the Berbers was inspiring, yet irritating: it suggested so much, yet told so little.” From this Dessar spun an entertaining historical fantasy.
Sculpture of Ji Gong in Ling Yin Temple. Click for source.
Jigong appears in Wang Mengji’s Jigong zhuan (Jigong Drum-Song, c. 1859), Guo Guangrui’s Pingyan Jigong zhuan (Storyteller’s Jigong, 1898), and the thirty-eight sequels to Storyteller’s Jigong which appeared in China (mostly Shanghai) between 1905 and 1926. No information is available on Wang Mengji. Guo Guangrui (?-?) may have been a scholar in Yannan.
There was a real Jigong. Daoji (?-1209 C.E.) was an eccentric Buddhist monk who ate meat and was a regular customer of prostitutes. Daoji did good works along the coastal parts of Zhejiang Province. He became enormously popular with the common people, who called him “Jidian” (“Crazy Ji”), and his fellow monks saw him as a miracle worker. But because Daoji was subversive and disrespectful toward mainstream Buddhism, Daoji was disliked by the Buddhist establishment. After his death he was almost immediately incorporated into popular culture. He became “Jigong,” “Sir Ji,” a figure of folktales, oral performances, and eventually literature. The cult of Jigong spread even to Malaysia, where he was a popular figure for many centuries.
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea 1871 title page. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
Did Verne create “steampunk” characters in his novels? Though I cannot define Verne as being a steampunk writer, I can say that Verne’s works, while written in a cut and dry cataloguing style, nonetheless emphasizes moral and social qualities as much as it does scientific ones. Given these circumstances, I will consider what are considered important values that a person should have according to the characters in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea 1 and The Mysterious Island. 2 Moreover, by investigating the value systems these characters hold, we can compare how they hold up to the characters in today’s modern steampunk books.
Tokeah, or The White Rose opening page
Tokeah was created by “Charles Sealsfield” and appeared in Tokeah; or the White Rose (1829). “Charles Sealsfield” was the pseudonym of Karl Anton Postl (1793-1864), a German novelist. Sealsfield’s life is for the most part a mystery, largely of Sealsfield’s own making. He was a Moravian monk who fled from Metternich’s regime in Austria and emigrated to the United States under mysterious circumstances. He wrote journalism and a number of novels. Historically Sealsfield is important in German literature as a post-Sir Walter Scott writer of historical novels. Sealsfield attempted to widen the scope of his historical novels beyond what Scott had attempted and wrote about political movements on the national level in addition to individual characters. Tokeah began the tradition of German novels about the American frontier, a tradition which became a cultural obsession and which has only slightly diminished today.
Tokeah is the chief of a band of Oconee Indians in Georgia. Tokeah and his men discover a white baby girl, and they bring her to Copeland, a white trader, for safekeeping. After seven years of war with Anglos Tokeah takes the girl back from Copeland and renames her “the White Rose.”
The Almirante Latorre (Chilean Navy), as the HMS Canada by the time this photo was taken. This was one of Chile's first modern battleships, built in the early 1900s. Click for source.
“A Question of Reciprocity” was a serial written by Robert Duncan Milne and appeared in San Francisco Examiner, November 15-22, 1891. Milne (1844-1899) was a San Franciscan journalist and writer whose alcoholism first destroyed his substantial talent and then killed him. During his lifetime Milne was the best of the surprisingly large number of science fiction writers of end-of-the-century San Francisco.
The new Chilean government, brought to power by a revolution, refuses to pay for a huge new battleship that the previous government had ordered. The battleship is instead purchased by a group of Chilean business magnates. They are embittered with the United States because of America’s economic and political policies with Chile, and they have decided to use the battleship to recoup some of their financial losses by holding part of the United States for ransom.
Hajji Baba enjoys the company of Zeenab. After Ḥabl al-matin Persian tr., Calcutta, 1905, opp. p. 142. Caption & Image courtesy of Encyclopaedia Iranica. Click for source.
Hajji Baba was created by James Morier and appeared in Hajji Baba of Ispahan (1824) and Hajji Baba in England (1827). Morier (1780-1849) was a British diplomat, adventurer, and author. He first went to Persia in 1807 and visited it and surrounding countries several times over the next decade. His desire to write something in the Persian style of Arabian Nights produced Hajji Baba of Ispahan.
Hajji Baba is a charming rogue, someone who began life as a barber/surgeon but whose wanderlust and desire for money led him to leave home on a caravan when he was only sixteen. But the course of roguery doth ne’er run smooth, and he is almost immediately captured by a band of Turcoman bandits. Hajji Baba lets himself be captured a second time by a shahzadeh (prince) and is taken to Meshed, where he becomes a water carrier. Hajji Baba sprains his back carrying water–his boastfulness leads him to take on far too much weight, including that of his main rival–and so he becomes an itinerant vender of smoke. But he cuts his tobacco with dung once too often and is caught by the Mohtesib (“the Mohtesib is an officer who perambulates the city, and examines weights and measures, and qualities of provisions”) and bastinadoed for his fraud. So Hajji Baba becomes a dervish, telling colorful stories and shaking down listeners for money; he stops in mid-story, just when things are getting good, and asks for donations in exchange for his continuing. He then becomes a doctor to the Shah of Persia, a position he loses due to an imprudent love affair.
And so on and so forth, for hundreds of pages, through colorful stories and attractive boasts and genial swindles and painless mendacity and jovial hypocrisy and maidens fair and wry observations at the foibles of the mighty and the poor.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Ayesha was created by H. Rider Haggard and appeared in She: A History of Adventure (in The Graphic, Oct. 1886 to January 1887, and then as a novel in 1887), Ayesha: The Return of She (1905), She and Allan (1921), and Wisdom’s Daughter(1923). Haggard (1856-1925) was a prolific, popular, and influential novelist whose works are still read for pleasure today.
She: A History of Adventure is about Ayesha, She Who Must Be Obeyed, the Queen of the Amahagger people of Africa. Centuries ago Ayesha (pronounced “ASH-sha”), then the “mighty Queen of a savage people,” met and fell in love with Kallikrates, an Egyptian priest who had fled Egypt with his love, the Princess Amenartas. Kallikrates would not leave Amenartas, however, and the enraged Ayesha kills Kallikrates. The pregnant Amenartas flees, but the heartbroken Ayesha remains, mourning Kallikrates and waiting for him to return. Amenartas meanwhile charges her descendants with avenging Kallikrates’ death. She takes place in the modern day as Cambridge Don L. Horace Holly and his adopted son Leo Vincey discover that Leo is the descendant of Amenartas. Holly does not initially believe it, but Leo does, and the pair travel to Africa, accompanied by their servant Job, to find the truth behind the story.
Kala Persad was created by “Headon Hill” and appeared in The Divinations of Kala Persad (1895), a collection of short stories. “Headon Hill” was the pseudonym of Francis Edward Grainger (1857-1924), an English author of romance, mystery, and detective fiction.
Kala Persad is a wizened old Indian man, “at least sixty…he must have been a grown man as far back as the Mutiny days.” Persad is being pursued by a trio of “bad Mahometan budmásh” (evildoers) when he stumbles across Mark Poignand, an Englishman who has come to India to investigate possible murder attempts against a friend. Poignand, an overly-self-assured young man, does not do much to save Persad. Poignand simply stands there and watches as the murderers, “seeing that they had a Sahib to deal with, vanished without more ado across the adjoining fields.” Persad is so grateful for Poignand’s “help” that he solves the mystery of who was trying to kill Poignand’s friend. After that, Poignand presumes on Persad’s gratitude and returns to England with him.
Hawkeye was created by James Fenimore Cooper and appeared in Cooper’s five Leatherstocking novels, including The Last of the Mohicans (1826). Cooper (1789-1851) was one of the major early American writers, although he is known today primarily for Last of the Mohicans.
Set in 1757, The Last of the Mohicans is about Natty Bumppo, a.k.a. “Hawkeye,” and his adventures alongside his friends Chingachgook, a Delaware Mohican, and Uncas, Chingachgook’s son. Against a backdrop of the events of the French and Indian War (1756-1763), Hawkeye, Uncas, and Chingachgook battle Mingo Indians and the wily, evil Magua, and help Major Duncan Heyward, an officer in the British Army, and Cora and Alice Munro, the daughters of Colonel Munro, the commandant of Fort William Henry. At the end of the novel Magua, Cora, and Uncas are all dead, Heyward and Alice are engaged to be married, and Chingachgook and Hawkeye are mourning the coming demise of “the wise race of the Mohicans.”