Sunday, September 22, 2019

Eric Brighteyes: Granddaddy of Sword and Sorcery

Monroe St. Press' latest paperback release, Eric Brighteyes by H. Rider Haggard, is among Haggard's less famous but still influential adventure stories.  

While Haggard is best known for his stories set in contemporary or ancient Africa (King Solomon's Mines, Allan Quatermain, She), Eric Brighteyes, published in 1890, was set in medieval Iceland and written in a style resembling that of the Viking/Norse sagas. 

The first modern English translations of the original sagas had appeared in print in the 1860s. Icelandic scholar Eirikur Magnusson of Cambridge University taught the Old Norse language to William Morris and collaborated with him on translating several classic sagas, including The Story of Grettir the Strong (1869) and Volsungasaga (1870).  Magnusson and Morris also worked on a six-volume collection of translated sagas published between 1891 and 1905. 

Haggard traveled to Iceland in 1888 and wrote Eric Brighteyes shortly after his return. He also composed an in-depth introduction outlining the history and purpose of the sagas, and how they blended history and fiction: 

From generation to generation skalds (storytellers) wandered through the winter snows, much as Homer may have wandered in his day across the Grecian vales and mountains, to find a welcome at every stead, because of the old-time story they had to tell. Here, night after night, they would sit in the ingle and while away the weariness of the dayless dark with histories of the times when men carried their lives in their hands.... To alter the tale was one of the greatest of crimes: the skald must repeat it as it came to him; but by degrees undoubtedly the sagas did suffer alteration. The facts remained the same indeed, but around them gathered a mist of miraculous occurrences and legends.

He dedicated the book to Empress Frederick of Germany (Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa), eldest daughter of Queen Victoria and widow of Emperor (Kaiser) Frederick III. Frederick had just been diagnosed with throat cancer when his father, Wilhelm I, died in March 1888, and he was ill for most of his 99-day reign. The Empress had told Haggard that her husband "found pleasure in the reading of my stories". Knowing that his writings had brought "an hour's forgetfulness of sorrow and pain" to the dying Emperor was, Haggard wrote, a knowledge "far dearer than any praise". 

Those who read and were influenced by Eric Brighteyes included J.R.R. Tolkien, who cited it as an inspiration for The Lord of the Rings, and Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian. It contains numerous plot and character elements that became common in 20th- and 21st-century sword and sorcery, including inter-family and inter-tribal warfare and supernatural influences wielded by a priest, sorceress or similar figure.  It even includes a "red wedding" similar to that portrayed in George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series, which formed the basis for the TV series Game of Thrones

The Monroe St. Press edition of Eric Brighteyes also includes numerous vintage illustrations drawn by Lancelot Speed. 

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Announcing Team Monroe St.

Join Team Monroe St. in our quest to hasten the day when diseases such as Huntington's, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and numerous cancers are cured. With your contribution to our efforts, our loved ones could live longer and healthier lives.  

All it requires is the unused power of your computer, smartphone or other internet connected device. 

Folding@Home (FAH) is a distributed computing project that harnesses the available resources of personal computers owned by volunteers all over the world to tackle one of the greatest challenges in modern medicine and biology.

What is "Folding" and Why Is It So Important?

"Folding" is the process by which organic proteins — the substances that make up our bodies' cells and vital organs — are formed into molecular chains that make them functional. Understanding how these proteins take shape, and modeling the myriad shapes these proteins can take, could shed light on how diseases such as cancer develop and how they could be cured or prevented. 

However, analyzing the billions of possible folding combinations is a task beyond the capability of any single computer to handle in a reasonable amount of time. In 2000, Stanford University researcher Vijay Pande, PhD, launched a distributed computer network to handle the complex mathematical calculations required for protein folding research. Thus, Folding@Home was born. 

Solving Problems Faster

Current FAH director Greg Bowman, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics at Washington University in St. Louis, says the project enables otherwise insurmountable research tasks to be completed far more efficiently.

"To model just one millisecond of folding, even for an average-size protein, on a top of the line MacBook Pro would take something like 500 years," Bowman said in an interview. "But with Folding@Home, we can split these problems into many independent chunks. We can send them to 1,000 people at the same time. Running those calculations in parallel, we can take problems that would have taken 500 years and instead solve them in six months." 

Putting Your Computer To Work

FAH currently has more than 110,000 volunteers using their home/personal computers and other devices to perform these intense calculations. Its goal is to recruit 1 million folders. 

Participants can choose the types of research they would like to contribute to — from cancer or Alzheimer's to antibiotic resistance. Many have signed up in honor of someone who is living with or has succumbed to one of the diseases being researched. Participants can also form or join teams whose statistics are tracked as a whole. 

FAH links your home computer or mobile device to software that works with Windows, Mac, Linux or Android operating systems. The calculations use only the portion of your computer's power that is available at any given time — more when your device is idle, less when it is being used. 

You can continue to use your device for other tasks while the folding calculations are performed in the background. Your device can perform the calculations at night or while you are away at work or school, all the while helping medical and biological researchers come closer to their goals. You can also devote to this effort a spare or slightly outdated device that you are not currently using regularly. 

Think of it as YOUR chance to play a part, however small, in solving one of the greatest scientific challenges of our time... comparable to putting humans on the Moon or Mars! 

Get Started!

For more information on FAH, or to sign up, visit 

If you would like to join Team Monroe St., our team number is 235367. You can also submit further questions or suggestions to our contact link above or to our Facebook page. 

Sunday, August 11, 2019

A hidden gem of detective literature

The newest title in the Monroe St. Press collection is The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, published in 1868 and regarded to this day as a trend-setting work of detective fiction. 

In 1848, relatives and friends of heiress Rachel Verinder gather at the family estate to celebrate her 18th birthday. On that day, Rachel inherits ownership of the Moonstone, an exotic (and possibly cursed) diamond bequeathed to her by her deceased uncle. When the Moonstone vanishes from her room that night,  an exhaustive investigation begins into who took the gem, and where it might be found. 

Although it was not the first English language detective story — Edgar Allan Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and similar short stories predated it by more than 20 years — it is reckoned by some literary scholars/critics to be the first full-length English-language detective novel to attain popular success. Figures such as T.S. Eliot, Dorothy Sayers and G.K. Chesterton considered it among the greatest British mystery stories of all time; in 2014 the British newspaper The Guardian ranked it No. 19 on its list of 100 Best Novels. 

The Moonstone established a number of conventions that remain staples of detective fiction to this day: 

— its setting on an upper class English country estate 
— the involvement of a professional investigator whose skill contrasts with the ineptitude of the local police
— introduction of "red herrings" and false suspects to keep the reader guessing 
— an elaborate reconstruction of the crime
— a final, shocking plot twist 

Author Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) was a novelist, playwright and essayist who worked closely with Charles Dickens and served as an editor of Dickens' periodical All the Year Round.  His other well-known works include The Woman in White (1859) and No Name (1862). Many of his writings touched upon issues considered sensational by Victorian standards, such as divorce, illegitimacy and the disadvantageous position of women in legal matters. 

The Monroe St. Press edition of The Moonstone is available at this link.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Monroe St. artists on Bandcamp

If you have visited our Music Page recently you may have seen links for our artists That That Is and Aerostat on Bandcamp. What sets Bandcamp apart from numerous other online music companies that have risen to prominence in the past 20 years? 

Bandcamp allows artists and recording labels not only to upload their music, but also to control how they sell their work, as well as the pricing of their work, and to sell associated merchandise. Artists can also offer their work in physical formats, including CD and even vinyl records. 

Since Bandcamp was founded in 2008, more than 3,500 labels and 600,000 artists have sold music or merchandise through it. The company operates on a "fair trade" music policy in which revenue is split approximately 10-15% to Bandcamp, roughly 5% to processing fees, and 80-85% to the artist. Since, as its website states, "we only make money when artists make a lot more money", it's become a hotspot for emerging artists of all kinds. 

Standalone music streaming companies have, in the past decade, continued to lose money and industry-wide recording sales have continued to decline. Many, if not most, artists no longer make any substantial income from recording sales. Ethan Diamond, one of Bandcamp's founders, stated in 2017 that "the seemingly inevitable upshot of these two trends (declining streaming and recording sales) is that the majority of music consumption will eventually take place within the subscription rental services of two or three enormous corporations, who can afford to lose money on music." In turn, he added, these corporate giants will increasingly dictate what music is recorded and heard. 

But Bandcamp was and is determined to buck those trends.  In 2017 Bandcamp enjoyed its sixth straight year in the black, along with double-digit growth in every aspect of its business. Digital sales increased by 16% for albums and 33% for individual tracks. Even more astonishing was its growth in physical sales: vinyl album sales increased 54%, cassettes 41%, and CDs 18%.  

"We want a music platform to exist where the playing field is level, where artists are compensated fairly and transparently, and where fans can both stream and own their music collections," Diamond said. 

Bandcamp also is generally more consumer-friendly than other music services. Browsing, sampling and choosing music at the site is easy and enjoyable. You may also discover new artists and artists outside of the mainstream music industry that you might not have found otherwise. 

These reasons and others are why Monroe St. has included Bandcamp among the marketplaces through which we make our works available. To explore Bandcamp and its offerings, visit

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Recent and upcoming events

Monroe St. Press rounded out a busy spring season with back to back events in Montello, Wis. and Bloomington, Ill. 

Cog County Faire VI, held May 31-June 2 at White Lake Beach Resort in Montello, featured old-fashioned carnival-style entertainment and games, lake cruises, and plenty of time to relax and catch up with old and new acquaintances. 

We were especially pleased to see some returning customers, including Marie, Eric and their 7-month old daughter Ingrid from Minneapolis, who received a signed copy of the futuristic anthology Unto This Last. 

As always, thanks to White Lake Beach Resort for hosting this event every year and making all "time travelers" feel welcome!

The very next weekend (June 7-9), we took part for the first time in Cogs & Corsets: A Steampunk Happening in downtown Bloomington. 

Vendors were originally scheduled to set up outdoors but due to strong winds, many (including Monroe St. Press) took advantage of an opportunity to move to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts. This historic building, formerly the Scottish Rite Temple, is best known for hosting the American Passion Play but also hosts numerous other events. We enjoyed the surroundings and our visitors, including some we've seen at other events, and hope to return again next year. 

Outside of the Center is a unique sculpture monument, titled "Convergence of Purpose", honoring Abraham Lincoln and his connections to Bloomington. The statue shows Lincoln flanked by two close friends who were Bloomington residents: David Davis (1815-1886), a fellow circuit riding attorney and eventual Supreme Court Justice, and Jesse W. Fell (1808-1887), a businessman and land owner who helped establish what is now Illinois State University in Normal. Davis and Fell encouraged Lincoln to run for the U.S. Senate against Stephen A. Douglas and also took part in his 1860 presidential campaign. Lincoln frequently kept important papers under his signature stovepipe hat and is depicted pulling documents out of the hat.

At the base of the statues are plaques commemorating speeches and presentations that Lincoln made in Bloomington, including the "Lost Speech" of 1856 and a lecture in 1858 at which Lincoln remarked: "Man is not the only animal who labors; but he is the only one who improves his workmanship. This improvement, he effects by Discoveries and Inventions" — an appropriate focus for a steampunk-themed celebration.  

We'll be returning to Bloomington for our next scheduled event, the FlatCon gaming convention Oct. 11-13 at the Interstate Center. Watch this blog and on our Facebook page for more details!  

Sunday, April 14, 2019

First Big River Comic Con

On April 13, Monroe St. Press took part in the first Big River Comic Con in Hannibal, Mo. This event drew at least 4,000 people to the Tabernacle of Praise Recreational Complex for a full day of demonstrations, seminars, cosplay and special appearances by artists, actors and other performers. 

Organizer Darin Logue noted that while many people had told him that the Hannibal/Quincy/Tri-State area wasn't populated enough to support a full-scale comic con, the response before and during the event proved otherwise. At least 800 people showed up just in the first hour and attendee traffic was heavy for most of the day. 

Nearly every character, superhero or villain from the various comic book and film/TV universes was represented: DC (Superman, Batman, Harley Quinn, Green Lantern, etc.), Marvel (Spiderman, Hulk, Captain America, Captain Marvel, Thor, Guardians of the Galaxy, etc.), Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Ghostbusters, Doc Brown (Back to the Future), Michael Myers (Halloween), and many others. 

Vendors in attendance, in addition to numerous comic book and fandom/collectible vendors, included Tech Outreach of Hannibal, which creates and sells memorabilia created via 3D printing. 

We extend special thanks to Logue and his crew of volunteers who made this event happen, and to the Tabernacle of Praise Church for providing their facilities when flooding closed the originally planned venue. 

Thanks also to everyone who stopped by the Monroe St. Press table and took home a copy of one of our books, a business card or a book list. As was the case two weeks ago at the Steampunk Spring Faire, we had some returning visitors/customers from the Big River Steampunk Festivals... this year, however, we will be taking part in the Festival as guests rather than as vendors. 

Big River Comic Con 2020 is already in the works—and may be extended to 2 days due to the overwhelming response to this year's event. 

After doing 2 events in 2 weeks we're taking a bit of a hiatus, but our next two events are literally back to back— Cog County Faire (May 31-June 2, Montello, Wis.) and Cogs & Corsets (June 7-9, Bloomington, Ill.) 

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Victorian Desktop Publishing: A Brief History of the Typewriter

The following is the script for a seminar I had planned to present at the Big River Steampunk Spring Faire.

By Elaine Spencer 

The Victorian Era or the “Belle Epoque” was, as we know, an era of world-changing inventions.... the telegraph, telephone, photography, automobiles, phonographs, electric lighting, etc.  One of those inventions that doesn’t get a whole lot of notice these days, but which still influences our lives and is enjoying a bit of a renaissance, is the typewriter.  

Advertisement for Remington brand typewriters at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries.

As with the automobile, telephone, and telegraph, a number of people contributed insights and inventions that eventually resulted in ever more commercially successful instruments. Historians have estimated that some form of typewriter was invented 52 times as thinkers tried to come up with a workable design.

The first patent for a device similar to the modern typewriter was issued in England in 1714 to one Henry Mill. The patent documents describe the device as “an artificial machine or method for impressing or transcribing of letters...  whereby all writing whatsoever may be engrossed in paper or parchment so neat and exact as not to be distinguished from print”. Mill touted the device as being “of great use in settlements and public records” since the impressions it made were “deeper and more lasting than any other writing, and not to be erased or counterfeited without manifest discovery.” 

In 1802, Italian Agostino Fantoni invented a typewriter that would enable his blind sister to write. Six years later, another Italian, Pelligrino Turri, invented a typing machine that used carbon paper. In 1829 American William A. Burt patented a machine called the “Typographer” that used a dial rather than keys to select characters. While this device is sometimes described as the “first” typewriter, Burt never found anyone willing to produce it commercially — probably because it worked slower than writing by hand. 

First Successful Typewriters

By the mid-19th century, the increasing pace of business communication had created a need for mechanization of the writing process. Stenographers and telegraphers could take down information at rates up to 130 words per minute, whereas a writer with a pen was limited to a maximum of 30 words per minute. Numerous attempts to develop viable printing or typing machines were made in Europe and America, but it was not until the 1870s that inventors finally came up with a model that enjoyed any kind of commercial success. 

The Hansen Writing Ball, the first mechanical typewriter marketed in Europe. 

The first was Rev. Rasmus Malling-Hansen of Denmark, who invented a machine known as the Hansen Writing Ball.  He developed his device by making a porcelain model of the keyboard and experimenting with different placements of the letters until he found a configuration that yielded the fastest writing speed.  The Hansen model was the first typewriter that was able to produce text faster than it could be written by hand. It won first prizes at the Vienna Exhibition of 1873 and Paris Exhibition of 1878 and was still being used in offices in London as late as 1909. 

However, the first typewriter to enjoy significant commercial success was invented by three men from Milwaukee — Christopher Latham Sholes, Carlos Glidden and Samuel Soule. In 1868 Sholes, Glidden and Soule were granted a patent for “a new and useful improvement in typewriting machines.” 

The Sholes-Glidden Typewriter produced by Remington in 1873. 

Their prototype was adopted by Remington & Sons, then known for making sewing machines, which began producing them in 1873. This machine was the first to have what is known as a “QWERTY” keyboard in which the letters in the top left row are Q,W,E,R,T,Y. The placement of the letters was designed to keep the most frequently used letters as far apart as reasonably possible so that the machine would not jam.  This configuration eventually became the standard and remains the standard today for electronic keyboards. 

One major difference between 19th century and 20th century models was that in the earlier models, the typebar was located under the platen and the user could not see what he or she was typing until several carriage returns brought the text into view. The Underwood company came out with a frontstriking or “visible” typewriter in 1895; this model also helped popularize the four-row keyboard with numbers and symbols at the top. 

Ad for Underwood’s “visible” typewriter.

At the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, keyboard typewriters such as the Remington model had some competition from  “index” typewriters that used a pointer or stylus to choose letters from an index. Although slower than keyboard machines index typewriters were, at first, lighter, more portable and less expensive to produce. But index typewriters never moved beyond a niche market and by the 1930s they were no longer being produced — at least in the English-speaking world; they are still used in Japan and China. 

The Columbia brand index typewriter, 1880s.

Victor brand index typewriter

By about 1910, the "manual" or "mechanical" typewriter had attained the standard design still familiar to many today.  Each key was attached to a typebar that had the corresponding letter molded, in reverse, into its striking head. When a key was struck the typebar hit a ribbon (usually made of inked fabric) and made an ink mark on paper wrapped around a cylindrical platen. The platen was mounted on a carriage that moved left or right,  and the paper is advanced vertically by the carriage-return lever into position for each new line of text. A small bell goes off a few characters before the right hand margin to warn the operator that it was time for another carriage return. Other familiar features such as tabs, margins stops and shift keys had also become standard — and so had the loud clickety-clack of the typebar striking the paten. 

Ad for Remington Noiseless 8 model typewriter, with a diagram indicating each part.

The first “noiseless” or "silent" typewriter went on the market in 1917, produced by the Noiseless Typewriter Company and later by Remington and Underwood. Its main feature was a mechanism that slowed down the typebar so that it didn’t strike the paper and paten as hard; while it reduced noise it didn’t entirely eliminate it. Noiseless portables continued to be manufactured until the 1960s.

The basic groundwork for the electric typewriter was laid by the Universal Stock Ticker, invented by Thomas Edison in 1870. This device remotely printed letters and numbers on a stream of paper tape from input generated by a specially designed typewriter at the other end of a telegraph line. The first electric typewriters that used a motor to power the typebar were created in the 1920s. In 1933 IBM bought the company that made them and IBM remained the leader in electric typewriter development for the rest of the 20th century. 

Although typewriters were superseded by electronic word processors in the 1980s and the last Brother model typewriter rolled off the production line in 2012, antique typewriters remain in demand. Many writers prefer them for writing because they provide fewer distractions than computers hooked up to the internet, and because of the more tactile aspects such as the “thunk” of the keys, the “clack” of the typebar, and the “ding” of the impending carriage return. Even today the typewriter is known as the “thought machine”. 


Originally I had planned to engage in a "type in" writing exercise using a manual typewriter and inviting others to bring their own typewriters. That did not work out, but the exercise is presented here for your edification and amusement....

A Do It Yourself Steampunk Story

(Your name) was born (time, place) and grew up in (place, dimension etc.) At an early age he/she was tutored in the art of (doing something odd) by Professor (name)(noun). In search of adventure, (your name) left (your birthplace) for (a far flung destination) where they met up with (noble title) (name) (noun) and (did something amazing). 

Later, (your name) discovered that the dastardly Count (name) von (noun) and his mad scientist companion, Dr. (name) (noun), had built a fleet of unstoppable (adjective) (nouns) in their attempt to conquer the (name of place)-ian Empire.  With the help of scrappy companions (names of friends), (your name) improvised a fantastical (adjective) invention known as the (noun)-erator that (verb ending in “ed”) the Count’s plans for world domination. 

(Your name) now lives in (somewhere fabulous and unusual) with their (living companions). When not writing a tell-all memoir or attempting to perfect (an invention/scientific endeavor), (your name) likes to (do some sort of unusual and creative hobby).