Monday, January 8, 2018

Two new vintage gaming guides

If you're looking for ways to entertain yourself or your family during these cold winter days, or if you have made a New Year's resolution to learn something new or challenge your mind, Monroe St. Press has just released two new titles that may be of interest. 

The Blue Book of Chess by Howard Staunton was among the first comprehensive guides to the game of chess, composed by the British chess master (1810-1874) who organized the first international chess tournament in 1851 and popularized the "Staunton Design" for chess pieces still used today. First published in 1870, a later edition in 1910 added games and strategies used by other chess masters such as Emmanuel Lasker, Wilhelm Steinitz, Paul Morphy, and Adolf Anderssen. Monroe St. Press has reprinted the 1910 edition complete with diagrams and instructions. 

Meanwhile, Cassell's Book of In-door Amusements, Card Games, and Fireside Fun (third edition, 1881) features hundreds of games and activities for all ages, including: 
– classic party games such as Charades, Simon Says, and Blind Man's Buff
– rules for numerous card games including poker, whist, euchre, vingt-un (Twenty-One/Blackjack), and many variations
—directions and diagrams for do-it-yourself toys, puzzles, and crafts
—word and number puzzles and brain teasers 
—sleight of hand magic tricks
This book is a great resource for families, classrooms, historical presenters and reenactors, and for Victorian or Steampunk-themed events. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

As we enter a new year....

.... Monroe St. Press takes a quick look back at 2017. 

We released 9 new titles this year, branching out into genres such as utopian/dystopian, non-fiction and satire: 

-- The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens
-- The Iron Heel by Jack London
-- Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson
-- Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss
-- The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe
-- Around the World in 72 Days by Nellie Bly
-- The Ladies' Guide to Perfect Manners by Eliza Leslie
-- Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini 
-- To Venus in Five Seconds by Fred T. Jane 

Events that Monroe St. Press took part in this year were Winter War 44 in Champaign, Ill.; the Geneva Steam Convention in Delavan, Wis.; Heroicon in Decatur, Ill.; the Big River Steampunk Festival in Hannibal, Mo.; and Archon in Collinsville, Ill. 

We plan to return to all these events in 2018, and also plan to make another appearance at Cog County Faire in Montello, Wis., which we attended in 2016. 

New titles for 2018 are already in the works, including vintage gaming books. We hope to add more non-fiction titles that could be used as reference guides for Victorian and Steampunk aficionados, historical reenactors, and others interested in preserving or learning more about the era. 

Thanks to everyone who has visited our website, Facebook page or vendor table/booth this year! Hope your new year is as prosperous and creative as you wish it to be. 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

A rare and witty sci-fi satire

The author of Monroe St. Press' latest release is best known as the founder of the Jane's series of reference books on warships and  aircraft. But Fred T. Jane was also known during his lifetime (1865-1916) as a fiction author and illustrator in his own right. 

To Venus in Five Seconds: An Account of the Strange Disappearance of Thomas Plummer, Pillmaker (1897) pokes fun at the conventions of what was then known as "scientific romance", such as lost/hidden worlds, Egyptology, super-intelligent aliens, impossibly handsome Anglo-Saxon heroes, etc. 

The title itself parodies the full title of Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon, Direct Course in 97 Hours, 20 Minutes.  It recounts the improbable adventure of a young medical student with (as the reader is repeatedly reminded) a "splendid physique" but not so splendid intellect, who finds himself transported to Venus by a mysterious "lady doctor". 

In his quest to return to Earth, our hero faces multiple obstacles such as blinding sunlight, giant bug-like creatures, humanoid vivisectionists bent on capturing him for ghastly medical experiments, and tedious scientific discourses.  

Venus was one of several speculative fiction works that Jane wrote and illustrated. His other works include Blake of the "Rattlesnake" (1895), a future submarine war adventure; The Incubated Girl (1896), in which a young woman is hatched from an egg found in an ancient Egyptian tomb; and The Violet Flame (1899), an end-of-the-world tale. 

Contemporary works that Jane illustrated include George Griffith's Angel of the Revolution (1893) and Olga Romanoff/The Syren of the Skies (1894). His interest in and talent for drawing ships eventually prompted him to publish All the World's Fighting Ships (1898), the first in what would become an annual series of  guidebooks to naval vessels and military aircraft. 

To Venus in Five Seconds is now available at Amazon for $5.99.


Monday, November 27, 2017

The Victorian Era's "Miss Manners"

Our newest offering at Monroe St. Press is The Ladies' Guide to Perfect Manners by Eliza Leslie (1787-1858), one of the first recognized domestic experts in antebellum America. 

Originally published in 1853 as "Miss Leslie's Behaviour Book", the Ladies' Guide covers almost every subject of interest to the middle/upper class woman of the era -- entertaining family and friends, travel tips, shopping, correspondence, how to address and introduce others, imparting good manners to children, and much more. 

Born in Philadelphia, Eliza Leslie spent six years of her childhood in England. After her father's death, her mother managed a boardinghouse. These experiences likely influenced her tips on how travelers and boarders should behave courteously toward other guests and staff. 

Miss Leslie attended a cooking school operated by Elizabeth Goodfellow, a well-known confectionery/bakery owner in Philadelphia. This experience inspired her to collect and publish her favorite recipes (then referred to as "reciepts") in her book  Seventy-Five Reciepts for Pastries, Cakes and Sweetmeats (1828). The success of this book led to her publishing others, including her best known work, Directions for Cookery, in its Various Branches (1837), which stayed in print through the 1890s. 

In the 1840s she began branching out into popular literature. She published an annual collection of fiction titled The Gift: A Christmas and New Year's Present, which included short stories and poems by Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others. She also contributed to Godey's Lady's Book, the Saturday Evening Post, and other popular periodicals. The effects of her fame as a writer are addressed in one chapter of The Ladies' Guide, which discusses how to communicate courteously with authors. 

While much of the book's advice addresses now-obsolete or rarely used forms of transportation and technology (such as maintaining coal or wood stoves or traveling by steamship) and inevitably reflects the ideas, culture and prejudices of her era, there is much that is still useful and practical. It also can be used as a reference work by Victorian and Steampunk aficionados and historical reenactors. 

The Ladies' Guide to Perfect Manners is now available at the Monroe St. Press website. Cost is $10. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Where no man (or woman) had gone before

Our two newest releases—one fictional, one autobiographical—provide a glimpse into the burdens, dangers and excitement of traveling around the world by ship (and later, by rail) in the Victorian Era. 

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838) was Edgar Allan Poe's first and only full-length novel.  Around the World in 72 Days (1890) recounts New York World reporter Nellie Bly's attempt to beat the fictional circumnavigation record set by Phileas Fogg, the hero of Jules Verne's novel Around the World in Eighty Days.

Poe's tale of a whaling ship stowaway who finds himself caught up in a maelstrom of mutiny, shipwreck, starvation, and terror originally appeared as a serial in the Southern Literary Messenger magazine. After Poe either quit or was fired from the Messenger, he reworked the story as a standalone novel with several elements that were popular at the time: early attempts to explore the Arctic and Antarctic regions; the "hollow Earth" theory that portals to a secret world inside the Earth's core could be found at one or both poles; and tales of notorious real-life sea disasters and mutinies. 

Unfortunately for Poe, Pym did not sell well and received generally negative reviews, which discouraged him from attempting to write another novel. After Poe's death in 1849, however, other prominent authors in America and Europe paid homage to the story in various ways. Verne's 1897 novel An Antarctic Mystery is a sequel to Pym, as is A Strange Discovery by American author Charles Romyn Dake (1899). Today some scholars regard Pym as one of Poe's best works.

As for Verne, when he published Eighty Days in 1873 travelogues were a popular literary genre. The advent of steamships, railroads, mass media (newspapers, magazines) and telegraph communication, along with well-publicized discoveries and expeditions to remote parts of the world, stoked interest in faraway places and in the accounts of those who explored them. 

Several well-known travelogues predate Eighty Days, including Voyage autour du monde (1853) by Verne's friend Jacques Arago; Round the World: Letters from Japan, China, India and Egypt (1872) by American William Perry Fogg; and The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain (1869), which outsold all of Twain's other works during his lifetime, including Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn

When Bly (born Elizabeth Cochrane) set out to recreate Phileas Fogg's journey, she had already made a name for herself as one of the first modern-day investigative reporters. Among other notable "scoops", in 1888, she exposed unsanitary and abusive conditions at a New York insane asylum by posing as a mentally ill, homeless woman and getting herself committed to the facility for 10 days. 

Bly's editors at the World were initially reluctant to allow a young, unaccompanied female journalist to take on the challenge of beating Verne's 80-day record. When they finally agreed, Bly arranged the trip with only a few days' notice and boarded an Atlantic steamship bound for England on Nov. 14, 1889. On the very same day, another female journalist, Elizabeth Bisland of The Cosmopolitan magazine, departed by train for the West Coast in her own attempt to beat Verne's record traveling in the opposite direction (east to west). 

In the end, both women beat the 80-day mark; Bly completed her trip in 72 days and six hours while Bisland (delayed by a missed connection and slow passage across the Atlantic) did so in 76 days. Bly diverted from her initially planned route to visit Verne at his home in Amiens, France, where he said he would "applaud with both hands" if she beat Fogg's record. Verne also sent a congratulatory telegram to Bly upon her return to the U.S. in January 1890. 

Although Poe and Bly, like most English-speaking Victorians, tended to regard non-Western cultures with a blend of fascination and suspicion, their colorful and at times gripping accounts give readers a valuable snapshot of the many "frontiers" that still existed in the Victorian Age. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Victorians In Space

While most sci-fi fans are familiar with H.G. Wells' classic The War of the Worlds, they may not have heard of an obscure, fan-fiction style sequel that proved, in some ways, to be just as groundbreaking as its predecessor. 

Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett P. Serviss, now available from Monroe St. Press, started out as a serialized tale published in the New York Evening Journal in 1898. Here, a team of scientists and inventors led by Thomas A. Edison meets with world leaders in the aftermath of War of the Worlds' Martian invasion to plot a counterattack on the Red Planet. 

Armed with disintegrator guns that Edison invented, along with telephonic communications, airtight space suits, and electrically powered spacecraft, the Earth fleet (which includes a number of real-life scientists and scholars) sets out on a mission to insure that Mars never threatens Earth again. Along the way, they explore the Moon and the Asteroid Belt, encounter alien beings, and make shocking discoveries about the history of Earth. 

Edison's Conquest was not published in book form until 1947, almost 50 years after it first appeared in print. It reflects then-current but now outdated scientific ideas of its day, such as the notion that "canals" possibly built by intelligent beings could be seen on the Martian surface. 

But it also contains some amazingly prescient features: it was among the first science fiction tales to depict airtight space suits, laser-like weapons, hand-to-hand combat between humans and aliens, astronauts walking/floating in space, and spacecraft powered or operated by reversing its electro-magnetic polarity. It also was among the first stories to advance the idea that aliens built ancient Earth monuments such as the Egyptian Pyramids.

Serviss, a graduate of Cornell University, was a noted astronomer and lecturer. He wrote science articles for popular magazines and traveled the U.S. in the 1890s,using state-of-the-art lighting and other effects to simulate how Earth might look from space, and what it might be like to stand on the Moon or other extraterrestrial bodies. He also wrote at least 10 books on astronomy, stargazing and the solar system. 

Serviss was, in essence, the Carl Sagan of the late Victorian Era (both were Cornell graduates) and his depiction of space flight is surprisingly accurate for having been written more than 60 years before the first humans went into orbit: 

... the great planet beneath us hung unspeakable in its beauty. The outlines of several of the continents were clearly discernible on its surface, streaked and spotted with delicate shades of varying color, and the sunlight flashed and glowed in long lanes upon the surface of the oceans...
   As we gazed upon this magnificent spectacle, our hearts bounded within us. This was our earth—this was the planet we were going to defend—our home in the trackless wilderness of space. And it seemed to us indeed a home for which we might gladly expend our last breath. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Tale of Two Dystopias

Two Edwardian-era dystopian novels that were excerpted in our anthology Unto This Last are now available from Monroe St. Press in their entirety. 

Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson and The Iron Heel by Jack London were published one year apart, in 1907 and 1908 respectively. Both told tales of future societies in which trends and ideas that were current at the time they were written had come to their ultimate conclusion—with disastrous results. 

In Lord of the World, a charismatic but elusive American politician, Julius Felsenburgh, averts a world war in the early 21st century and is immediately hailed as the literal savior of humanity. Granted unprecedented authority over the nations of the world, he sets out to impose his vision of universal brotherhood and harmony—and to insure that any who cling to "superstitious" beliefs are gotten out of the way. Meanwhile, an English priest, Father Percy Franklin, finds that he might be all that stands between Felsenburgh and his diabolical plans. 

The Iron Heel is written in the form of a memoir by Avis Everhard, wife of revolutionary Ernest Everhard, spanning the years 1912 through 1918. This manuscript is discovered 700 years later (in the 26th century) by a scholar who adds commentary explaining various events mentioned in the manuscript—some historical, others fictional. Avis recounts how she, Ernest and others who sought to liberate the exploited working class encountered brutal resistance from an entrenched "Oligarchy" of the wealthy and powerful, and how this class struggle tore America apart. 

The two authors not only wrote from opposite sides of the world (London from his ranch in California, Benson from his parsonage in England) but from opposite sides of the political and social spectrum. London, best known for his stories of human and animal survival such as The Call of the Wild and White Fang, spent his youth as a manual laborer and was largely self-educated; Benson was one of three sons of the Archbishop of Canterbury and enjoyed an upper-class lifestyle and education. London was an atheist and socialist; Benson, an Anglican turned Catholic priest. London firmly believed that Marxist socialism was the solution to poverty, war and other social problems of the day; Benson just as firmly believed it would only lead to worse problems. 

As divergent as these two novels are, they both proved to be groundbreaking examples of the modern dystopian genre and set patterns that were followed by later writers. George Orwell praised The Iron Heel as a very accurate prophecy of the rise of Fascism, and Orwell scholars cite it as an influence on 1984. Both books also foreshadowed, sometimes in eerily accurate fashion, the rise of totalitarian states such as Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. 

Both titles are $10 and can be purchased through the Amazon link at our website.