Hay’s Gallery and “The Navigators”

IMG_1734The Tower Bridge is worth visiting all on its own, but when I spent a day exploring the area I also found some other great things to tickle your Steampunk fancy. I could see on the map that St. Katherine’s Marina was nearby, and on my way I found a hidden treasure tucked away inside a Hay’s Gallery. In it’s heyday in the 19th century, the then-named Hay’s Wharf received 80% of the tea shipments bound for the Pool of London. Today the amazing glass ceiling provides shelter to restaurants, homes and shops in Victorian-era buildings, as well as an amazing sculpture called “The Navigators.”

The combination fountain and sculpture by David Kemp was installed in 1987 and has a decidedly Steampunk feel. The 60-foot homage to the shipping history of the area is made of bronze which has been pleasantly oxidizing. Some parts of the piece have been selectively polished, and the pool has been painted blue which detracts somewhat from the artist’s original intention to combine “Gothic fantasy, sea monsters, man & machine in this Kinetic Sculpture”, but it is still a lovely piece installed in a historic setting that reflects the Steampunk aesthetic from around the time the term was coined. (http://www.davidkemp.uk.com/the-navigatorslondon-bridge/)

The Victoria and Albert Museum Part 3: International Exhibitions

The site of the Victoria and Albert Museum was purchased largely through the proceeds from the Great Exhibition of 1851, which was the first international exhibition of its time, though not the last. Many of the wonderful items showcased at these types exhibitions that were held all over Europe during the 19th and 20th centuries eventually found a home at the museum and are still on display today. When walking through the exhibit halls I felt like I was on a scavenger hunt looking for these pieces of history which were seen by millions of people during the course of exhibition and are still breathtakingly beautiful to behold over 160 years later. One of the appeals for me about Steampunk and the era that gave rise to the aesthetic is the emphasis on craftsmanship, and there is no shortage of that at the V&A. Here are two pieces of the most impressive pieces that I encountered during my visit.

This “cathedral in wood” was a gift from the Austrian Emperor, Franz Ferdinand, to Queen Victoria. According to the museum label, it’s decoration reflected the debate about the unification of all German-speaking peoples under one rule. The bookcase had to be at least 20 feet tall, which means it just might hold the entire literary collection of one Steampunk fan 🙂 In the center there is a Belgian altarpiece on display that looked like it had been carved out of the most delicious dark chocolate, but it was also made of wood. These two pieces were not originally shown together, but they both made cameos at the Great Exhibition. The altarpiece reflects the revival of the Gothic style that is often seen in Steampunk works, and makes it a lovely addition to the imposing bookcase.

This symphony in metal is called the Hereford screen, and was on display at the International Exhibition of 1862. Like the altarpiece above, this was a way of harkening back to the Gothic era when churches employed magnificent screens like this one. The choir would stand behind large and ornately carved wooden screens, but this one was intended to showcase new advances in metal-working techniques as much as celebrate the Gothic style. There are several figures on the screen, which is over 10 meters high. The figures could very well have been cast in bronze, but instead were created by using newly-discovered electroplating technology that employed plaster molds and electricity to bend copper to the artist’s will. This is truly an example of old-meets-new in the Victorian era, so it definitely piqued my Steampunk interest.

Have you spotted any pieces of the Great Exhibition or the International Exhibition in London? Please share!

 

Victoria and Albert Museum Part 1: Incredible Iron

Some people might think the V&A is not up their alley if they hear the focus is on ‘decorative arts,’ but believe me when I tell you this is not a place where you are going to be inundated with doilies and end tables. Personally, I love the decorative arts because these are the objects that people really did touch, see and experience in their everyday lives, including architectural features. In addition to the fabulous clothing and sumptuous household goods, there is an amazing gallery of just samples of ironwork.

There are still lots of examples of wrought and cast all over London (which will get their own post soon), but these items have often been painted and repainted so many times that the delicacy and detail that can be achieved when working in metal has been totally obliterated. This is not so at the museum, where everything from window grates to railings to candlesticks have been preserved for posterity. If you are a fan of metal, you should definitely make sure you stop by the Victoria and Albert Museum if you are visiting or living in London.

Here is sampling of what I saw when I visited.

Steampunk Book Review: War of the Worlds

To help me get ready for the H.G. Wells Sourcebook I am going to write for Steam Tour: An American Steampunk in London, I decided to read several of his scientific romances. I read the Time Machine and The Island of Doctor Moreau several months ago, but it is always interesting to read an author’s whole canon in quick succession. My goal is to read War of the Worlds, First Men in the Moon, Tales of Space and Time and The Door in the Wall at minimum before the ezine comes out, but if you think I am missing something even better than what is on that list let me know!

My experience with War of the Worlds was a bit backwards, because I read League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 2, and the events of that book are closely related to Wells classic tale, and very faithfully adapted it turns out.

Like many of Wells books, this story started as a serial in magazines rather than as a novel from the beginning. The serial ran during 1897 and it was later compiled into a book in 1898. It is divided into two parts, The Coming of the Martians and Earth Under the Martians. The name of the Surrey-based narrator is never revealed, and he tells the harrowing adventure through his eyes as well as through his brother’s account of what happens to London itself when Martians descend and start an invasion.

Public domain WoftheWOne thing that I love about Wells stories is how much of the scientific knowledge of the times he includes in his tales. For instance, the arrival of the Martians is preceded by strange explosions visible on the surface of the red planet, and it takes the Martian pods several weeks to arrive to the outskirts of London. It then takes over a day for the metal to cool down enough for the pods to open. In the meantime, people have started to gather and even sell refreshments around the first pit where they crash-landed. I love that detail, and I absolutely believe it would happen that way. Soon, the festival atmosphere turns to terror when the Martians assemble their deadly heat ray, our narrator only escaping because he had been sent on an errand and was not in the pit with the scientists who first try to make contact. Through a series of near-misses and some quick thinking, the narrator survives the first wave of attacks by the be-tentacled Martians and their huge fighting machines, and tells the story of (in his view) the apex of society falling to pieces in the face of a cold and calculating enemy. He is surprisingly pragmatic about the whole affair, often likening the human race to insects or rodents who are disturbed by the machinations of people. This is not true of most of the people he meets on his way though, and there are several different kinds of madness worked into the narrative.

This is a tale of invasion, but also of devotion between a husband and wife, which took me by surprise. I have only just started to look at Wells personal life, but he carried on a number of affairs during his second marriage after divorcing his first wife, so the commitment shown by the narrator seems inconsistent with what I know of the author.

Woking homage by War of DreamsThe first time I ever heard of War of the Worlds it was the story of its broadcast on Halloween 1938. The accounts vary, but in the days following several newspapers reported a wave of fearful folks who believed a real invasion was taking place. They opted to present 40 minutes of the hour-long tale as a series of simulated news bulletins, and this coupled with a lack of commercial breaks added to the realism. There was a disclaimer at the beginning of the show, but anyone who tuned in late could have gotten the impression that they were hearing something that was going on in real time. Most likely, the newspaper accounts of a panicked populace were blown out of proportion because of the competition between traditional print media and the new radio technology. (What?! The news was sensationalized? Never!)

I can definitely see why this book has been adapted and re-adapted several times and in different media. The aliens and their technology remains alien and stands the test of time better than say, First Men in the Moon. It is definitely worth a read, not just because it is a classic but because it is a genuinely interesting social commentary that transcends the time in which it was written.

Have you read it or seen a movie version? What did you think?

Steampunk Book Review: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 2

League_of_Extraordinary_Gentleman_volume_2_cover

Your favorite cohort of Steampunk heroes is back in another installment of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen!

Our story starts on the surface of Mars where literary heroes Gulliver Jones (Lieut. Gulliver Jones: His Vacation, 1905) and John Carter (Princess of Mars, 1917) are organizing a resistance against an alien race of foreign origin that is trying to invade. All too quickly their struggle ends with the aliens on their way to the homeland of those who oppose them: Earth.

We meet up with Ms. Murray, Allan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, The Invisible Man and the ever so dubious Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde when they are called in to investigate an impact crater in the countryside. Tentacled aliens make short work of the white flag waving humans who try to make contact, and the league retreats for the evening. The Invisible Man slips unseen through the darkness (like a dark unseeable slippy thing) to meet with the aliens in secret, and through the ingenious use of scribbling pictures in the dirt he becomes their ally. After getting his intell, the aliens mount an attack from craters all over England using the giant walking tripods they built to protect their soft, molluscky bodies.

While Nemo and Hyde keep London safe from the attacking hordes, Mina and Allan are sent on a mission to retrieve a special weapon from the infamous Dr. Moreau (The Island of Dr. Moreau, 1896). Relationships are reshaped and bodies broken in the pages leading up to the exciting conclusion of this installment of Alan Moore‘s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  

I liked this book, but I preferred the first “LXG”. There were some very interesting moments between Hyde and Mina, and between Mina and Allan, but I wanted an enemy that was less unambiguously evil than killer aliens that just wanted to blow stuff up. The double crossing and false identities in the first one made for an interesting and complex story, which was really what I was looking for in my sequel rather than a romantic entanglement between the doddering Quartermain and Mina. (Yep, there is totally grandpa sex in this book) I usually really like to see my characters grow and change, but it is tricky with this concept of bringing all of these fully-formed characters together because too much deviation by Moore could feel like a betrayal to the original.

In addition to the main story, there is an additional material like the New Traveller’s Almanac that informs the reader all about the world of LXG and more literary reference fun.

If you haven’t read it, check out my reviews of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 1.

Steampunk Book Review: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 1

Vol 1 Cover art
Vol 1 Cover art

Steampunk is all about literature, and nowhere else will you find so many Victorian-era characters rubbing elbows as in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen from Vertigo. The creator, Alan Moore (whose brilliant mind also brought us The Watchmen) and illustrator Kevin O’Neill take their audience on a wild ride which spans several classic works of science fiction and creates a way for them to occupy the same universe.

The story opens with the corpulent Campion Bond (an ancestor of James Bond) who convinces Mina Murray (aka Wilhemina Harker’s maiden name in Dracula, 1897) to go on a recruitment mission on behalf of the British government. She picks up the opium-besotted ex-adventurer Alan Quartermain (King Solomon’s Mine, 1885) with the help of Captain Nemo and his submarine the Nautilus (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 1870). After a jaunt into The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) for the title character and a school run by notorious fictional dominatrix Rosa Coote to pick up The Invisible Man (1897), the league is ready for action.

They head next to London’s East End, where the nefarious Fu Manchu (referred to only as “The Doctor” for copyright reasons) has stolen a valuable mineral that allows heavier than air flight. He is at war with another crime lord on the West End (none other than Professor Moriarty of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, 1894), and the conflict is on the verge of costing countless lives. Can the heroes beat the bad guys, and the clock, to save the day?

This is a really fun book and I definitely recommend it for fans of Victorian-era fiction. Over the many iterations of the series literally hundreds of literary figures and places grace the pages, so it is kind of like a who’s who of Victoriana. I occasionally have issues with some of the liberties Moore takes with core character traits, but otherwise it is a great display of imagination. As a bonus, if you get the first volume you also get 30 pages of cover art, games, stories and fake historical factoids in the spirit of the Victorian era.

Alan and Sundered Veil
Alan and Sundered Veil

Fair warning, Volume 2 goes darker, dirtier and deadlier, and you can read all about it next week when I review it!

Have you read this book? What did you think?

A Little Steam With My Comics This Weekend

I am traveling this month to such exotic locales as Michigan and Washington DC, and while I was reading the Washington Post this weekend I ran into two comics that I wanted to post. This first one gave me a nice little chuckle and is from the strip WuMo.

Before Electric Eels
Before Electric Eels

The second had a little Steampunk thrown in. Check out the decked out doggie in the third panel of this Prickly City strip by Scott Stantis.

Prickly City
Prickly City