Posts Tagged ‘blog: true stuff from old books’.

A Brief Survey of Victorian Science Fiction

At Chicon the other week, I moderated a panel on Victorian and Edwardian science fiction. I’ve read some of the classics — Verne and Wells and so on — but I was excited to moderate this panel because it meant I could ask questions of my far more informed co-panelists, Randy Smith and Matthew Bennardo.

Randy was a charming gentleman and incredibly knowledgeable about the subject. (I can’t seem to find that he has a website, or I’d link to it.) He’s working on compiling a reprint anthology of period genre fiction, which I eagerly await. He also recommended a book that sadly seems to be out of print: Science Fiction by Gaslight: A History and Anthology of Science Fiction in the Popular Magazines, 1891-1911. In 1974, editor Sam Moskowitz sought out and reprinted only stories that had never before been reprinted. This is one I’ll be seeking out at my local library! (And so can you.)

Matt’s my friend and Machine of Death co-editor, as well as a short story writer of growing renown. He’s also been pursuing an informal research survey of period genre fiction, and mentioned many titles during the panel that I was unaware of. At my request, he’s been kind enough to compile an abridged list of titles for you to check out. Here’s what he has to say:

Over the course of the Victorian and Edwardian science-fiction panel, about 50 books and short stories were mentioned or discussed. It’s not possible to reproduce all the discussion here, but the list makes a fair starting point for those who may be looking for a general introduction to the science-fiction of the period.

This list has many shortcomings. It is nowhere near comprehensive. In fact, the panel largely jumped over the well-known catalogues of writers like Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. This doesn’t mean that the unnamed books by those writers aren’t worth reading. But most readers are likely to already be aware of many of them, and the discussion veered more often towards some less commonly read works.

In a few places, the list strays from all reasonable definitions of “Victorian” and “Edwardian”. Some books and stories that fall into different periods were discussed as points of comparison. I’ve included all those that I remember, whether or not they are technically “Victorian” or “Edwardian”.

Finally, the list is not very diverse — it consists almost entirely of books written by American, English, and French men. Mary Shelley and Charlotte Perkins Gilman are the only women mentioned, and no writers from other countries make an appearance.

Bear in mind that this list was generated organically during a conversation, and wasn’t intended to be a full survey of the field. The titles, authors, and dates are all correct to the best of my knowledge, but I have not attempted to correct omissions in this post. However, I have sorted the works into broad categories in an attempt to provide at least some context for them. Where free etexts are available, I have linked to them.












I’m very grateful to Matt for compiling this list, and I hope it’ll inspire you to check out some (freely available) period fiction you might not otherwise have run across!

I’ll mention as well one other thing that the panel brought up: there is a lot of genre fiction by non-English-speaking writers that has never been translated. Matt is currently doing what research he can to try and compile a list of possible non-English-language works that might qualify for consideration as part of this same historical canon, but of course this effort is hampered by the obvious difficulties — finding the texts to begin with, and translating them once found. Still, I hope that his search bears fruit! I’d love to read some turn-of-the-century Romanian science fiction.

This is also a fair place to mention that even the translations we do have of non-English-language works may not always be reliable. The works of Jules Verne are notorious for having been translated many different times with wildly varying faithfulness — a fascinating topic that deserves a post by itself. (See this article for more background on the Verne translation controversy.) That same website lists all the various published English editions of Verne, rated by faithfulness of translation. William Butcher has released several new and highly-regarded editions of Verne’s most famous works, which are available as free PDFs on his website.

NEW BOOK UPDATE. My new collection Emperor of the Food Chain will be out soon! Here’s the release schedule:

SEPT. 15-16 : SMALL PRESS EXPO, Bethesda MD. I’ll be there to sign and sketch!

SEPT. 17-30 : ARTIST EDITIONS will be available online in my TopatoCo store. Since some of my earlier books are close to being out of print, we have set aside a limited number for Artist Edition 5-packs. But once these are gone, they’re gone!

My other new books will go online at this time too — the Machine of Death Disposable Edition and the animal-themed Classy Lady Like You Will Love The Smell Of My Butt — as well as a few other new trinkets and doodads.

SEPT. 21 : REGULAR EDITIONS (with no sketch included) will become available online in my TopatoCo store.

Artist editions will stay available through SEPT. 30 only. Two weeks to get a sketched-in copy! I’ll be making two trips to TopatoCo to do sketches, so any Artist Editions ordered by 9/21 will ship right away; any ordered after 9/21 will ship around October 8. While I’m at TopatoCo, I’ll also sign or personalize any poster or print you order for free! So if you’re about to order a poster or print, hold off until Monday.

I’ll link to everything once it goes online! Hope to see you this weekend at SPX!

True Stuff: Old Timey Ads

I have a new tumblr! It’s called Old Timey Ads, and it’s just what it says on the tin: old-timey ads, short articles, funny images and the like from old books and periodicals, usually with a bit of commentary.

If you like the True Stuff from Old Books series, check this out! It’s similar, shorter, more frequent, and snarkier.

Old Timey Ads on Tumblr:
All entries also post to the @wondermarkfeed Twitter account
And there’s an Old Timey Ads RSS feed as well.
(I also have a personal tumblr.)

So far I’ve been posting multiple times per day! We’ll see how long that lasts. But I’m having lots of fun unearthing strange, funny, and remarkable things that maybe aren’t worth a long blog posts, but that I want to share anyway. Check out Old Timey Ads!

True Stuff: Friedrich’s Horn Furniture

Apropos to my recent post about The Grizzly-Bear Chair, reader Jessie B. wrote in to share this Horn Chair from the collection of the Baltimore Museum of Art. It’s attributed to Wenzel Friedrich, one of the great longhorn furniture makers of the nineteenth century.

Friedrich was born in Bohemia, but moved to San Antonio and became a cabinetmaker. Between 1880 and 1890 he created chairs, hatracks, tables and more out of horns. This Longhorn Museum site describes a Friedrich chair featuring a “horn-veneered seat frame, inlaid ivory star, back seat cushion, with cat hide covering”:

More info on Friedrich here. And the Internet Archive has preserved a delightful engraved catalog of his pieces from 1890 (click for bigger):


This chair is very useful and comfortable, contains 24 horns, cane seat, walnut frame, with best tilting iron, price $60.00.

Any style chair made into office chair, additional cost $10.00.

Awarded first premium at Southern Exposition, Louisville, Ky., 1886, for Best Horn Furniture.


Contains 42 horns, guaranteed strong and comfortable, will make cushion backs if preferred. Upholstered in jaguar skin, price $200.00; in silk plush, price $175.00. Sofa, without horn veneered frame, upholstered with fox and catamount skin like No.2 chair, price $150.00; in silk plush, with fringe, same price. [Note: The points of the horns in this sofa have been tipped with acorns.]


The style and general outline of this Hat Rack will impress you at once with their striking originality and pleasing effect. It contains 36 horns; all frame work is horn veneered, has best French plate mirrors, beveled edges, also a drawer. The cane receiver is silver plated metal, price $275.00.

Awarded First Premium at International Exposition, San Antonio, Texas, 1888, for Artistic Horn Furniture.

Browse the entire catalog here!

AMERICA: Where immigrants can show up, work hard, and make a career out of the creation of horn furniture. I bet the Statue of Liberty would shed a proud tear if she could.

True Stuff: The Grizzly-Bear Chair

Allyson B. sent me this picture of a BEAR CHAIR:

The caption reads: “THE GRIZZLY-BEAR CHAIR. Presented, Sept. 8, 1865, to Andrew Johnson, President U.S., by Seth Kinman, the California Hunter and Trapper.”

Google is our friend today! Here is an article that explains that the Grizzly-Bear Chair had a feature in which “by touching a cord, the head of the monster grizzly bear, with jaws extended, would dart out in front from under the seat, snapping and gnashing its teeth.” There are lots more pictures at that link, too!

And here’s the NY Times from December 9, 1885:


From the San Francisco Call, Nov. 29.

A unique character is Seth Kinman, the grizzly bear hunter and Presidential chair presenter, now stopping in this city. He is a tall man, 70 years old, straight as an arrow, dressed in buckskin from head to foot, with long silver hair, beard, and shaggy eyebrows, under which and his immense hat a pair of keen eyes peer sharply.

He is the Nimrod of this coast, the great elk shooter and grizzly bear hunter of California, who has presented elk horns and grizzly bear claws from animals that have fallen before his unerring rifle to four Presidents of the United States — Buchanan, Lincoln, Johnson, and Hayes — and has “the finest of all” to present to President Cleveland next Spring. He claims to have shot in all more than 800 grizzlies…

[...] The chair presented to President Johnson was made of the bones and hide of a grizzly.

Mr. Kinman is quite a violinist, and has several instruments — one of his own manufacture, the neck of which is made from one of the bones of the head of a favorite mule, that was very fond of his playing and would leave its feed to listen to him every time. The bow used with it is string with hairs from the musical mule’s tail.

Apparently this guy was quite the character, a real celebrity of his day. Kinman Pond in northern California is named for him. For much more of Kinman’s “grizzly bar huntin’” and “Injun skelpin’”, here’s a lengthy feature on the hunter in the 1903 book California Sketches.

But I guess I’m most interested in this guy’s fixation with chairs. He is the most fearsome bear hunter and Indian fighter in the West, and he is best known for making absurd chairs for Presidents.

“Yeah, I kilt me some Injuns,” he spits, his icy eyes peering out from beneath his furry hat, “but what I’m mos’ proud of is that recliner I done made for Rutherford B. Hayes.”

True Stuff: The Latest American Scandal

With reference to my ongoing series about intellectual property debates of the 1800s, I’m going to hold off the next installment for a bit — I’ve found so much stuff of interest that it’s taking longer than I thought to read and digest it all.

So watch for that to return in the coming days! But today I present something I found quite by accident while researching the other stuff. This is an editorial column from the British Spectator magazine, 1873:


[...] A belief in the corruptibility of American politicians has of late years been very widely spread in Europe, perhaps unduly spread, but until this month it was corrected by an impression that the Senate, at all events, was pure… There was a belief that they would not betray their trust for money. The revelations in the American Credit Mobilier case, and the Pomeroy case show, however, that this belief was ill-founded; that the position of Senator, the highest in the Union next the President’s, is sometimes bought and sold; that the Legislatures which elect the Senate may be corrupted; and that in the Senate itself there exist men whose votes can be regularly purchased for a moderate sum of money.

Politicians have occasionally been corrupt throughout history; we know this. The editorial summarizes the two contemporaneous scandals mentioned — in the first, Congressman Oakes Ames sold bunkum railroad stock to other members of Congress; in the second, a Senator was accused of accepting bribes for votes — and then mentions something else familiar to all of us:

It is certain also that “lobbying,” i.e., the practice of carrying bills by bribery, has reached the Senate, that several men have grown rich there without cause, and that one man, Mr. Pomeroy, of Kansas, has been convicted of buying his seat, in order, as everyone admits, to sell its powers. The revelations are of the most frank character, and though they do not cover a majority of the Senate, or anything like it, they do cover names heretofore generally respected.

Anything more disheartening could scarcely be conceived… When once such a practice becomes general, the work of Legislation is sure to fall to men who make a trade of it; who, profiting by their work, attend to it and make a monopoly of it; and the control of a great country may be abandoned…

[...] The vice is fatal, and if it spreads only a little more, we shall yet see the fall of the mighty American Republic, and of the brightest hopes of the race now covering the globe. There is no conceivable reason why Australians should swindle less than Americans, or why Englishmen under the same conditions should be better than either, and all good or far-sighted men would give up the democratic cause as a hopeless fallacy.

[...] We see some faint reason to believe that…the ultimate cause of the popular toleration for conniption is popular ignorance. The electors do not believe their representatives corrupt. They are not addressed on the subject by representatives from other States, the discussion is seldom raised by men they respect, they are compelled to trust the newspapers, and the newspapers on questions of personal character have utterly lost their confidence. So malignant and universal is the abuse showered on politicians in the Union, that an accusation of theft is accepted as an expression not of the writer’s full conviction, but of his political dislikes.

[...] But we cannot deny that each of these revelations, necessary as they are if there is ever to be reform, is a severe blow struck against democracy. Grant the electorate innocent, and we must still concede that it is excessively stupid. It looks as if average, half-educated workingmen, such as make up the constituency of Kansas, while they can be trusted to fight for their country, and even to see that slavery is an evil, cannot be trusted to discern the character of their representatives. They select in ordinary times a “bad lot,” and when selected do not look after them with anything like adequate keenness and intelligence. If they remain poor, that is no credit to them, and if they become rich, that is no cause of suspicion, for they may have been speculating in stocks.

[...] We never feel sure, as we read these stories in American papers, and French papers, and German papers, that the English guarantee against a repetition of them in this country is not caste pride, the strongest argument for aristocracy in some sense or other it would be possible to suggest. It is a disheartening thought from our point of view, but we never deny a fact, and there the fact is that any man who offered £1,200 or £12,000 to any English Peer or county member for his vote would be summarily ejected from the room. There are “lobbyers” among us, too, but they refrain from putting temptation into that crude form, and they are powerless against the caste.

Here the writer of the editorial sums up by saying, “Whatever else we may be guilty of, at least we Brits have a haughty sense of aristocracy that keeps us considering ourselves above the taking of bribes!”

BONUS LINK: More on lobbying, and the scandalous works of politics in general, may be found in the 1869 book The Sights and Secrets of the National Capital, by John B. Ellis:

It is very common for the lobbyists to approach public men through their families. Mrs. A. or Mrs. B. will receive magnificent presents from persons who are but little more than casual acquaintances. Their first impulse is to return the articles, but they are so handsome, and just what they have been wanting so long, without being able to afford them out of their husbands’ incomes — for the lobbyists are careful to inform themselves what will be most acceptable — and so, after a little struggle, they decide to keep the gifts.

Of course some especial civility must be shown the givers of the presents. This is done, and the first point of the lobbyist is gained. In a little while the wife is won over. She thinks the scheme an excellent one — and honestly thinks it, too — and it will be so beneficial to the country! She does not like to meddle in her husband’s affairs, but she will mention the matter to him. The better-half of the official being thus secured, the remainder can and does make but a feeble resistance, and his aid is secured for the scheme.

Later in that same book, on the duty of the President: “His immense patronage makes him the object of the efforts of many unprincipled men. His integrity is subjected to the severest trials, and if he come out of office poor, as happily all our Presidents have done, he must indeed be an honest man.”