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. 








Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"Magical" Weekend at Geneva Steam Con

On the weekend of March 10-12, Monroe St. Press took part in its second event of the year, Geneva Steam Convention at beautiful Lake Lawn Resort in Delavan, Wis.

With a theme of "Mysticism, Mystery and Magick," this gathering emphasized the Victorians' interest in the supernatural, the unexplained and the unexplored, along with the typical Steampunk interest in the mechanical and whimsical.



At this event Monroe St. Press debuted its newest title, "The Mystery of Edwin Drood",  Charles Dickens'  final, unfinished serial suspense tale, which numerous readers, authors and other artists have attempted to complete ever since its publication in 1870. One attempt involved (literal) "ghostwriting" (more on that in a moment).




Lake Lawn's fascinating history, pictured and described in these displays, dates back to 1879 when the original hotel served as a winter home for circus performers. In the 1920s it became a summer retreat for employees of Commonwealth Edison. Opened to the public in 1929 and opened year-round in 1942, Lake Lawn once hosted nationally known Big Band shows and radio broadcasts. More recently the resort went through various ownership changes and foreclosure before local investors brought it back to life. The resort property itself also contains dozens of Native American burial mounds believed to date from the Hopewell era (500-1200 A.D.)




As with any Steampunk gathering, there are plenty of creative and eye-catching costumes on display, along with period-themed or period-inspired activities. You can enjoy high tea in the afternoon followed by a "steerage" party (with Irish band Dublin O'Shea) in the evening. In keeping with this year's theme there were also tarot card readings and other forms of fortunetelling offered.




There were also various panel discussions and demonstrations.... including one by yours truly on "The Spiritualist Frontier" -- an overview of the rise and decline of the Spiritualist movement in the United States during the 19th century. During this period, in English-speaking countries, there was intense interest in the idea of communication with departed spirits and in the mediums who claimed to possess this ability. Public seances, trance lectures and automatic writing were among the manifestations of Spiritualism that attracted the most attention.

In one well-known instance, Thomas P. James, a Vermont printer, claimed in 1872 that Charles Dickens had spoken to him from the beyond and chosen him to finish The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Over five months, James added more than 200 additional pages, written in longhand and allegedly dictated to him by Dickens, to the story. James' "complete" version of Edwin Drood was published in 1873 to mixed reviews--some believed it to be an accurate representation of Dickens' style, others thought it amateurish and melodramatic. You can read the James version of Drood at this link.  James' contribution to the story begins with Chapter XXI on page 218.

Finally, Monroe St. Press wishes to recognize some of the people who took the time to visit our table, learn more about what we do and purchase our titles.


Art and Cathy from Racine, Wis., picked up a copy of Angel of the Revolution (1893) by George Griffith, an action-packed tale of an unstoppable airship fleet waging the "war to end all wars" in the (then) near future of 1904.




MK Wiseman of Mequon, Wis., checks out Across the Zodiac (1880) by Percy Greg, a pioneering "space opera" tale of a journey to Mars.


Lara from Grayslake, Ill. bought both of our George Griffith titles -- Angel of the Revolution and its sequel The Syren of the Skies (1894), set in the year 2030, when the peace imposed by the Brotherhood of Freedom is threatened by a vengeful descendant of the last Czar.




Finally, Holly and Andrew from Chicago stopped by after my Spiritualism presentation to get a copy of Unto This Last, an anthology of utopian and dystopian tales from the Victorian and Edwardian eras -- many of them set in the year 2000 and beyond.


Monroe St. Press thanks everyone involved with Geneva Steam and Lake Lawn Resort for making this weekend enjoyable. We plan to be back next year, when the theme will be Heroes and Villains!










Saturday, February 25, 2017

NEW -- The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Our newest Monroe St. Press title is The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Charles Dickens' final, unfinished serial "whodunit", that has continued to fascinate readers for nearly 150 years.




Dickens wrote Edwin Drood as a serial to be published (as were many of his other famous works) in monthly installments. When he died on June 9, 1870, at age 58, three installments had already been published and he had completed three more which appeared after his death.

However, he had planned to write 12 installments, so the story was only about half completed, and the mystery at its heart—the disappearance of the title character one stormy Christmas Eve—remained unsolved.

Almost immediately after the final installment appeared in September 1870, other authors tried their hand at finishing what Dickens had left undone. Some wrote serious versions of the story and attempted to imitate Dickens' style as closely as possible; others wrote humorous or satirical versions; and one author claimed he had literally "ghostwritten" his version with the assistance of Dickens himself —speaking from the Great Beyond.

The story also inspired a mock "trial" in 1914 in which literary figures such as G.K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw took part; at least four movie versions and two television series; and a popular musical in which the audience determines the culprit.

This edition includes original illustrations by Luke Fildes, created for the serial version of the story, and an afterword examining later attempts to solve the "mystery".  It's now available at Amazon at a list price of $10.00.

Watch this blog for more exciting announcements and upcoming projects by Monroe St. Press!








Winter War 44

Monroe St. Press's first event of 2017 was the Winter War 44 gaming convention held in Champaign, IL Jan. 27-29.

This annual gathering of tabletop, miniature and role-playing game enthusiasts is one of the longest-running in the Midwest. The relaxed atmosphere, comfortable accommodations and wide variety of games available make this event an excellent choice for a winter weekend getaway. Here's just a sampling:



This game, titled Operation Catapult, recreates a 1940 British strike against French ships off the coast of Algeria to prevent those vessels from falling into German hands.




Several railroad-themed games were featured, including Railways of the World: Canada and Mexico, where the object is to successfully haul freight across North America from Churchill, Manitoba (Polar Bear Capital of the World) to Veracruz, Mexico, on the Gulf Coast.


Historically-themed games created by the Avalon Hill company were also popular. This is a big-board version of Kingmaker, set during the 15th-century War of the Roses in England, pitting the House of Lancaster against the House of York for control of the throne.


Josh Medin (left) and Doug Atkinson (right), both of Champaign, with the haul of Monroe St. Press books they purchased (thanks, guys!)



Other vendors attending Winter War included D 20 Stitchery, makers of dice/game piece bags in numerous colors, styles, patterns and themes.....



... and Elaine Oldham of Champaign, multi-talented creator of fantasy-themed art.


Individual game demonstrators and teams were on hand to guide participants in playing new games. Here the Asmodee Demo Team shows off Legendary Inventors, a card game in which players assemble teams of famous scientists and inventors (Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, etc.) in a contest of intelligence and innovation.


Finally, we have Academy Games' "Freedom: The Underground Railroad", in which players assume the roles of historical Abolitionists and work together to move slaves from Southern states to freedom in Canada. However, they must successfully elude slave catchers (symbolized by the colored pegs) to accomplish their goal.


We thank everyone who stopped by our vendor table during the weekend and we're already looking forward to returning for Winter War 45! For more information about this event check out its Facebook page.




Saturday, December 31, 2016

A look back at 2016





As the year draws to a close, here is a quick summary of Monroe St. Press' activity during 2016: 

— We released 7 new titles: The Wreck of the Titan, or, Futility by Morgan Robertson; The Syren of the Skies by George Griffith; Unto This Last by E.M. Spencer; Floor Games & Little Wars by H.G. Wells; The Steam Man of the Prairies by John Spencer; The Light Princess by George MacDonald; and The Happy Prince and Other Tales by Oscar Wilde.  Our newest offerings include original anthologies of popular Victorian genres (Unto This Last features utopian/dystopian fiction, while The Steam Man of the Prairies is a collection of 3 dime novels) and children's literature. 

— We established our website and this blog. 

— Events in which Monroe St. Press participated this year included the Heroicon gaming convention in Decatur, IL; Cog County Faire III in Montello, WI; two St. Louis Swap Meets on Cherokee Street; the Big River Steampunk Festival in Hannibal, MO; the Spoon River Drive in Lewistown, IL; and Steampunk Flights of Fancy at the World Bird Sanctuary near St. Louis. Look for us again this year at Heroicon (May 19-21), Big River (Sept. 2-4), and at the St. Louis Swap Meet (TBA). 

New events on our 2017 calendar include Winter War 44, Jan. 26-28 in Champaign, IL; Geneva Steam, March 10-12 in Delavan, WI; the Capcon Gaming Convention, July 15 in Springfield, IL; and Archon, Sept. 29-Oct. 1 in Collinsville, IL.  

Our "resolutions" for 2017 include adding more shorter works, including collections of novellas or short stories, to our stable of titles; more titles for children; and perhaps some vintage informational works on topics such as war gaming, aircraft, etc. We're open to any suggestions or recommendations regarding titles or authors you would like to see made available.  

Thanks to everyone who visited our booth or our website this year. We made many new friends for which we are grateful, and we wish you all a happy and prosperous new year!