Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Year in Review 2014

Once more we have reached the end of another year on Voyages Extraordinaires: Scientific Romances in a Bygone Age, and quite the monumental year it was. The biggest event happened off the blog, of course: I got married! Ashley and I were wed on August 29th in nearby Banff National Park. In addition to posting about it here, we also shared photos and a honeymoon report on our Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy weblog. That weblog is still going strong as well, after a brief and ill-conceived interruption when we hooked up with the Internet's preeminent Disney-bashing website.

Here on Voyages Extraordinaires, our year began as it usually has with Doctor Who. Having run out of First Doctor episodes (and with the latest season being must-avoid TV), our attention turned to the audio-dramas. The most notable of these was The Beginning, telling the story of the Doctor and Susan's first adventure after swiping an old Type-40 TARDIS.

In February, I finally got to feature something I've wanted to for some time: Dinotopia! If you've never read Dinotopia: A Land Apart From Time, The World Beneath, and Journey to Chandara, do yourself a favour and ask for them for Christmas.

From March onwards, I tried a little experiment, which was to go beyond our typical theme months to spend an entire month delving into a particular work and rooting out its sources and inspirations. The first was the video game Bioshock Infinite (and I did voice my views on an ongoing controversy in gaming culture later on in the year) and the second was the film The Adventures of Mark Twain. With respects to Bioshock Infinite, we examined its roots in American Exceptionalism, New Religious Movements, and the City Beautiful Movement (as well as waxing on the game's beauty and what could have been). This study was implicitly extended into the following month when we looked at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, which was also an influence on the game. As a bit of a preamble, we looked at the work of American artist Thomas Cole, particularly his epic paintings The Course of Empire, The Voyage of Life,The Past and The Present, and The Cross and the World.    

The Adventures of Mark Twain is one of my favourite movies and my affection for it lead me on to reading the works of Mark Twain himself. Among the stories referenced in the film were Tom Sawyer Abroad,The Mysterious StrangerCaptain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven, and some of his meditations on Halley's Comet. The space between Bioshock Infinite and Mark Twain was bridged by Walt Disney, the Gay Nineties and our return to Main Street USA (and commenting on Mechanical Kingdoms, The Disney Gallery's Steampunk exhibition). This "American Series" ended mid-year with our return to space, including the quite good novel A Honeymoon in Space and the pretty not good novel A Columbus of Space.

After taking September off to get married, we came back in October with a look at Vincent Price and Roger Corman's Edgar Allen Poe films for American International Pictures. In November, I got the chance to share some of my studies into Jacques Offenbach's Voyage Dans la Lune operetta and how it may have influenced Georges Méliès.

Which brings us up to today. Most recently, we debuted Voyages Extraordinaires' new companion weblog Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World and Vintage Dinosaur Fiction. And we switched to a new biweekly schedule! There is one more post for this year, on Christmas Eve, and then join us in the new year with our new format.

Thank you all once again for your ongoing support of Voyages Extraordinaires! It is sincerely appreciated. We could not have shared this journey of seven years without you to share it with!

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Introducing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World

Voyages Extraordinaires has a new companion weblog: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World and Vintage Dinosaur Fiction!

In this new weblog - which will publish at least once a month or so - we will explore the seminal novel of prehistoric adventure and its original 1925 silent film adaptation, as well as other adaptations and classic Victorian-Edwardian prehistoric fiction and dinosaur films from the silent and early talkie eras.

News of updates will be shared on our Facebook page, so if you're already a member stay tuned for that. Otherwise, don't forget to take a look at our new weblog and bookmark it at

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Our New Schedule

So that I may enjoy the Christmas season with my new wife, Voyages Extraordinaires is going to be going on its brand new schedule starting this December. Based on the feedback we received when the question was posed, we are going to be going to a biweekly schedule. Next Wednesday we'll be publishing a genuine article, and then again with our Year-in-Review on Christmas Eve, and then again on January 7th, and so on.

In the mean time, enjoy your Christmases, Hanukkahs, Kwanzaas, and Solstices!

Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Lost World: Collector's Centenary Edition

With Christmas coming up, I thought it would be a good time to call something to the attention of Victorian-Edwardian Scientific Romance, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and dinosaur fiction fans once again.

Published in 2012 for its centennial year, John Lavas of the University of Auckland has compiled the definitive collectors edition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World. This edition includes the complete text of my favourite single Scientific Romance novel, as well as a profuse series of original illustrations by Lavas, and supplementary essays by a number of scholars.

Lavas has himself supplied a biography of Conan Doyle. Dana M. Batory writes on the real-world inspirations behind the classic novel. Consequently, much of The Lost World in based in real geology and geography, which geologist Norman J. Snelling discusses, drawing from his past field work in South America. Educator and historian of palaeontology David Spalding looks at the literary precursors to The Lost World. And both lastly and leastly, yours truly, Cory Gross, writes on later adaptations of The Lost World with a focus on the 1925 silent film version.

If you're a reader of Prehistoric Times Magazine, then you've already had the benefit of sampling John Lavas' writings on The Lost World in the Fall 2014 issue. Do yourself the favour (or do the favour for someone you care about) and order the full book!

Original illustrations by Harry Rountree. 
Original illustration by Zdeněk Burian.
Original illustration by John Lavas.
This self-published, limited edition must be ordered from John Lavas directly. He can be reached via e-mail at J.lavas at The edition is priced at $140NZ plus Shipping and Handling. Paypal and personal cheques are accepted. Questions can be answered and details can be provided upon request.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Merry Frolics of Satan (1906)

Georges Méliès once more conflates astronomy with astrology and technological wizardry with the more traditional kind in his 1906 film The Merry Frolics of Satan. Though ordinarily seen in excerpted form, focusing on the celestial carriage ride, it is actually one of Méliès' longer films. In it, a young engineer and his servant pester an alchemist for the means to travel across the planet, and get much more than they bargained for.

Ever the consummate stage magician, Méliès loves misdirections, redirections, and disguises. His alchemists and magicians rarely act only in the single capacity. In A Trip to the Moon, they are alchemist-astronomers... Relatively benign. In The Merry Frolics of Satan, the alchemist turns out to be the Devil himself (played by Méliès of course). The engineer ought to have looked at the fine print when signing his deal for a magical talisman that would enable to him to fulfill his dream of a high-speed global adventure.

Returning home, the engineer (Crackford, according to the script) drops the talismans, which transform into steamer trunks, out of which pop pairs of footmen and more steamer trunks, out of which pop more footmen and steamer trunks. One almost catches the whiff of The Sorcerer's Apprentice in this segment. The footmen proceed to place all of Crackford's furnishing and family in the steamer trunks, then transform them into a diminutive steam train. Off they go through town, to the jeers and lobbed vegetables of disdainful townsfolk. They should have turned around, because they don't get too far before a disaster claims the bridge over which they were travelling and the cars in which Crackford's family were riding. He has no time to be stopped by the tragic loss of his family, however. There is a journey around the world that he must make!

Next they arrive in a quaint Italian town and an inn-keeper... You-Know-Who... offers to put them up for the night. Méliès once more performs one of his "haunted inn" or "haunted room" skits, reminiscent of 1903's The Inn Where No Man Rests. Seeking escape from the ambulatory furniture and demonic acrobats, Crackford and his manservant hijack a horse-drawn carriage, which is in turn hijacked by the Devil. Mephistopheles transforms it into an infernal carriage pulled by a skeleton horse, and then uses an automobile to push it up Mount Vesuvius. An eruption projects them into the Heavens, where Crackford sees sights beyond his wildest imaginings. He is soaring through the celestial spheres, past comets and planets, and such sights undreamed of.

Then a storm ends it all. The carriage is dashed on a thundercloud, and the intrepid explorers are thrown back to Earth. Crackford is relieved to be home, but the deal is not yet done. Satan comes to claim his soul, the film ending with Crackford being turned on a spit in Hell.

The Merry Frolics of Satan was a free adaptation of a stage play by Victor de Cottens and Victor Darlay, form whom Méliès had previously supplied short films as part of their féerie stage revues. He altered the name and some of the sequences to avoid litigation, but it's fair enough, since the entire setting is a rendition of Faust set to the Edwardian Era. In particular, Méliès is sending up the fever for exploration and world travel that captured the minds of the upper classes. His Faustian character is not even looking for arcane knowledge of the supernatural, only a way to make it around the world pretty fast. Méliès' fantastic journeys usually end up in disaster, but in this case, it ends up in full-on damnation.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Our Fairytale Wedding

Since we only plan on getting married once (not counting vow renewals), we'd like to share some more of our wedding photos with you. I know calling it a "fairytale wedding" is fairly stereotypical, but considering that we lacked a pumpkin carriage and did a good part of the planning and organizing on our own, I think we did pretty well.

Our wedding took place on August 29th, 2014, in Banff, Alberta, Canada. For anyone counting, our ceremony venue was Tunnel Mountain Meadow, and photos were taken there, at Cascades of Time Gardens, and the Banff Springs Hotel. Photography was provided by K&E Imaging of Calgary.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Long Distance Wireless Photography (1908)

Long Distance Wireless Photography constitutes another of Georges Méliès' long line of trick films. An inventor welcomes an elderly couple to his workshop to see his innovations on wireless photography, and there isn't too much more to say about it than that. Hilarity ensues!

Méliès consistently dances between magic and science, fairyland and industry. Like much Science Fiction to follow, he uses the imagery of science and technology to produce the stuff of the supernatural. Long Distance Wireless Photography could just as easily have taken place in the den of a sorcerer or prestidigitator, but this time he chose the lab of that most miraculous of magicians, the engineer.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Addendum on GamerGate and the Death of Liberalism

In the week since my post on GamerGate, Toxic Marxism and the Death of Online Liberalism, two items came across my telegraph that I felt worthy of note. It's not the shameful report by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (and subsequent unprofessional conduct by their reporters) that squandered the praise heaped on them for their sober reporting of the Ottawa Parliamentary shooting, or the shameful (in its own way) fact that it takes arch-conservative media to actually release a fair article about GamerGate. Nor is it the questionable priorities of #shirtstorm. One was a hateful screed written by an anti-GamerGate advocate and another was news of an oil company using liberal, SJW-type rhetoric to sue protesters for protesting. I wanted to make mention of these as telling evidence for the points I was making in my initial essay regarding the violent rhetoric of anti-GamerGate supporters and how leftist rhetoric actually sides with corporate interests to interfere with social progress.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Inventor Crazybrains and his Wonderful Airship (1907)

Georges Méliès once again treats the viewer to the fever dreams of scientific pioneers in 1907's Inventor Crazybrains and his Wonderful Airship. In this number, a wistful, would-be inventor falls asleep amidst his plans, blueprints, and chalk drawings for a dirigible airship when sleep overtakes him. Fairies and sprites cavort as they infiltrate his mind to fill his sleeping moments with images of his airship taken flight. Méliès' heavens are as lovely as always, with visions of stars as lovely maidens pass by the ship. Only an errant comet or firework ends the somnambulistic flight, stirring the inventor from his slumbers and putting him in a frenzy of destruction around his humble flat.

By itself, Inventor Crazybrains is short and cute. In context it becomes a little melancholy. 1907 was nearing the end of Méliès' filmmaking career, and not long thereafter, in a fit of depression, he would destroy many of his own works. Perhaps we see something of a self-fulfilling prophecy in this film, as a man with wonderful visions of fantasy realms despairingly ends his own career?

Sunday, 9 November 2014

On GamerGate, Toxic Marxism, and the Death of Online Liberalism

Besides a sarcastic post two weeks ago, I've been silent on the controversy surrounding GamerGate. This has been for a couple of reasons, but it seems that even neutrality is a being staked out as belonging to one side or the other. At the very least, if silence is complicity, then I cannot be silent in the face of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia, or bullying and threats of violence. Nor can I be silent on the troubling aspect of this "either you're with us or you're with the terrorists" sort of logic, and the deeply problematic philosophy that girds it up.

One reason I've been silent so far is that even though I can be fanatically devoted to certain games, I don’t identify as a "gamer." I’m also not much of a "joiner." There are certain technical labels I cannot avoid, like which country I am a citizen of, but I'm not a member of any political party, I identify as neither liberal nor conservative, and I’m neither pro-GamerGate nor anti-GamerGate. I'm just some guy who would like to do right by others who also has a blog on Victorian-Edwardian Scientific Romances, which sometimes includes video games.

That said, my past experience with the cesspool of Steampunk culture has made me sympathetic to other people who are seeing their hobby… their passion… hijacked and exploited by cynical self-promoters masquerading under the rhetoric of high ideals. That experience and my disaffection with labels has also instilled in me a discomfort with the apparent inability of modern liberalism (or progressivism or leftistism or whatever you'd like to call it) to treat people like actual human beings, at least in its online form. A lot of that, I think, may be laid at the feet of Karl Marx and the influence his ideology continues to wield amongst leftists, even on this 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. For people who have kept track of the 20th century, that is extremely problematic, and I fear that it is leading to the demise of anything resembling genuine liberal virtues like peace, justice, charity, reconciliation, multicultural understanding and freedom for the oppressed.