I own a LOT of old science fiction books, almost all of them purchased ridiculously cheaply at library book sales, rummage sales, and used bookstores. I can stroll through my library (by which I mean: my tiny, grimoire-crammed apartment) and peruse the shelves forever; actually, that’s about the only thing I CAN do in this apartment, as all the space is occupied by tomes of every conceivable size) – and sometimes, I run across something I acquired before I really knew what Steampunk was, and I say, “GOOD HEAVENS! IT’S A LOST TREASURE OF STEAMPUNK!”
Which brings me to this new segment in my blog: “Neglected Steampunk Novels”. And today’s book is The Other Log Of Phileas Fogg, by Philip José Farmer.
This is a Wold Newton book; and that, in and of itself, is fascinating. Long before the Expanded Universe or other present world-spanning and genre-spending ideas, Wold Newton (a real-life fallen comet whose consequence, in this Universe, was to create extraordinary abilities in those near it) – was a genre about whose characters, Wikipedia asserts:
“As well as Tarzan and Doc Savage, both Lord Peter Wimsey and Sherlock Holmes are descendants of the original families. Other popular characters included by Farmer as members of the Wold Newton family are Solomon Kane; Captain Blood; The Scarlet Pimpernel; Sherlock Holmes’s nemesis Professor Moriarty; Phileas Fogg; The Time Traveller (main character of The Time Machine by H. G. Wells); Allan Quatermain; A. J. Raffles; Professor Challenger; Richard Hannay; Bulldog Drummond; the evil Fu Manchu and his adversary, Sir Denis Nayland Smith; G-8; The Shadow; Sam Spade; Doc Savage’s cousin Patricia Savage and one of his five assistants, Monk Mayfair; The Spider; Nero Wolfe; Mr. Moto; The Avenger; Philip Marlowe; James Bond; Lew Archer; Travis McGee; Monsieur Lecoq; and Arsène Lupin.”
I won’t go too far into the plot for “The Other Log”–but Phileas Fogg is a fascinating Steampunk character. In the original book, we know so little about him – he’s oddly wealthy, he has very specific habits, he has the aplomb of a stereotypical British Victorian gentleman, and he races ’round the world, theoretically in defense of the technological capabilities of modern life and on the odd theory that the world is predictable–and he essentially bets all of his means on doing so.
Philip José Farmer does something very Steampunk here: He sees a story which has, not exactly plot loopholes, but deep gaps in who and what and why, and he invents them. He builds hitherto unconsidered reasons for Fogg’s actions and movements, layers them perfectly with the original novel, and creates meaning out of what had been emptiness–essentially, thin air.
It’s a joy to watch, and a joy to read, and a thoroughly Steampunk tale. It’s a fascinating book, and well-worth inclusion in your own library (or, in my case, my “giant mountain of tomes”.
Stay tuned to this blog for more neglected Steampunk ideas, thoughts about Steampunk in general, humor, inspiration, and, of course, tea.