Science Book Club Episode 7
One of the great things about the ‘League’ is that you can play in all different sorts of conceptual areas.
I suppose with ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ in general, and with the ‘Nemo’ series in particular, we have been imagining a world where every conceivable fiction actually existed and happened in the same world, in the same continuum, which includes all of those wild inventions that were cropping up in nineteenth century literature. Things like The Steam Man of the Prairies, which was a very early robot that was kind of like a cross between a robot and a train and just sort of trundled across the deserts. This idea – because copyright laws were a lot more lax then – this idea was quickly stolen by the writer of the, um, I think it’s Frank Reade Jr and Jack Wright. These were imaginary scientists of the…up to about 1915, 1910, so this was proto-science fiction. It was before the big science fiction boom of the twenties and you had these preoccupations with the as yet unexplored Arctic. A lot of science fiction stories are set around there.
It’s more…these are not necessarily devices that ever existed, although some of them do. I know that one of the characters that we used in the Nemo story ‘Heart of Ice’ was the boy inventor Tom Swift who was the first, I think, science fiction character. I think he originated around about 1910 and, um, Tom Swift actually created lots of things but one of the things he created was the electric rifle which he used to, I think, kill elephants. He wasn’t a particularly pleasant character, he was a very…sort of, gung-ho, all-American, neo-fascist in many respects but Thomas Swift’s electric rifle, um, when…I forget exactly when the taser was invented but they chose the name because it was essentially the same design as Tom Swift’s electric rifle. They put an ‘A’ in there, to make it Thomas A Swift’s Electric Rifle because TSER doesn’t really work.
One of the great things about the ‘League’ is that you can play in all different sorts of conceptual areas. You can connect them up together, sometimes amusingly. I know that one of my favourite bits, a couple of my favourite bits in the ‘League’, was that I managed to situate the human head surrounded hut of the ivory trader Mr Kurtz next to the kingdom of Babar. The horror, the horror.
And it’s just brilliant, the way you can just put these kinds of things together and, um, I mean, we did have…we did an almanac that was actually trying to place all of the fictional locations in literature on a real map of the world and we were talking about the south seas where, according to H.P. Lovecraft, is Captain Marsh’s island where he discovered these strange, semi-aquatic, sub-human creatures called Deep Ones that have thick bubbling voices and live at the bottom of the sea, are thousands of years old, and I noticed that also in the south seas there would have to be Zara’s Island from H.M.S. Pinafore. And I thought that it wouldn’t be beyond the bounds of conceivability that Captain Corcoran from H.M.S. Pinafore may have actually rounded up a bunch of these inhuman fish-like creatures and perhaps taught them to sing, albeit in thick inhuman bubbling voices, and I’d actually written a couple of verses of:
“When I was a boy, an eldritch book
Informed me I’d inherited the Innsmouth Look.
I’d gills and wide-spaced eyes, you see,
And I frolicked at the bottom of the deep blue sea.
(He frolicked at the bottom of the deep blue sea)
I went to the ocean depths so willingly,
And now I am a tentacled monstrosity.”
Yeah, there’s lots of interesting juxtapositions you can do in the world of the ‘League’. It’s an endless source of fun and, as long as Kevin’s up for it, I should imagine that we’ll probably be doing it for years and years and years yet.
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