Today I am excited to host JP Medved who will help us find a little outside reading direct from the 1800sbut currently free online! For my day job, I am an Instructor of English at a college in Florida. I study the Gothic writers, but I have to admit that while I know these authors, I am not familiar with these stories. What great finds! Thank you so much for stopping by, JP! Now, get reading!
5 Forgotten 'Steampunk' Stories From the 1800s That Are Free to Read Online
You're probably aware of many “VSF” masterpieces that, if written today would be counted as seminal Steampunk works; H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and From the Earth to the Moon and, of course, Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars. What you may not be aware of is that there are many, lesser known, but no less awesome, stories and books of Victorian Science Fiction that are almost all, due to copyright, free to read now online.
Below are five of them:
1. The Angel of the Revolution: A Tale of the Coming Terror by George Griffith
You want airships? Forbidden love? Worldwide revolution? This novel's got 'em in spades. When penniless inventor Richard Arnold succeeds in creating the world's first flying machine, he's desperate that it not fall into the hands of power-hungry governments who will use it only for war and subjugation.
A chance meeting with Maurice Colston, a wealthy socialist revolutionary who introduces him to an underground organization called The Brotherhood of Freedom, sets Richard on the path to “war with Society.” The Brotherhood's leader, Natas, accompanied by his beautiful daughter Natasha, seeks to free the world from the tyranny of the current order and, with Richard's flying machines now at his disposal, quickly puts his plan into motion. As a World War between the Anglo-Tuetonic Alliance and the Franco-Slavonian League heats up in Europe, the revolutionaries build a fleet of powerful airships from a secret valley in Africa.
Written before the horrors of Stalin's Russia or Mao's China, this idealistic take on world socialism nonetheless is a thrilling story with plenty of the hairbreadth escapes, dastardly betrayals, and wondrous technology you'd expect of any steampunk epic.
2. Edison's Conquest of Mars by Garrett Serviss
An unofficial sequel to H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, this novel, written in 1898, tells the tale of the aftermath of the alien invasion of Earth. The world leaders, including Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm, President McKinley and Emperor Mutsuhito, unite the planet in an effort to thwart an expected second invasion. The hero of the story, Thomas Edison, reverse engineers Martian technology and, 100 years before Orson Scott Card wrote Ender's Game, a human armada directed by a lone genius sets out to utterly decimate the home world of the alien invaders before they can return.
Featuring death rays, Victorian space ships and “air-tight suits,” and electric-repulsion powered anti-gravity devices, this tale is sure to thrill any fan of wild and weird steampunk technology.
3. The Disintegration Machine by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Sir Conan Doyle is more well-known for his other Victoriana which, if not strictly VSF, informs to a great degree modern steampunk literature. This little-known short story takes up the tale of his second most famous hero, Professor George Challenger from The Lost World. In it, Challenger is invited by a mysterious inventor named Theodore Nemor to witness a new invention: a device capable of completely disintegrating matter into its constituent atoms and then reassembling it. Nemor is looking to sell this device to the highest bidder, which Challenger fears may be a despotic government.
While Conan Doyle's other works are very well known, this short story dealing with a potentially disastrous invention is a hidden gem of Victorian Science Fiction sure to appeal to fans of steampunk.
4. Hartmann, the Anarchist; or, The Doom of the Great City by E. Douglas Fawcett
Written in 1892, this VSF tale centers around mad scientist, and literal anarchist bomb-thrower Rudolph Hartmann. Thought dead after a failed bombing attempt years before, Hartmann returns to London with a vengeance. His massive airship, The Attila, is poised to conquer all of Victorian civilization and “hurl tyrannies into nothingness.” As the death toll begins to mount, however, the protagonist of the tale, a socialist politician named Mr. Stanley who initially bought into Hartmann's vision and is now trying to escape the destruction wrought by The Attila, must try to deliver a letter from Hartmann's dying mother that just might end the madness.
A ripping yarn for anyone interested in steampunk “aeronefs” and their potentially deadly uses.
5. The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer by George Chesney
This 1871 novella details a future invasion of Britain by an unnamed continental power bearing a strong resemblance to Imperial Germany. In it, this unnamed nation decimates the British navy with a secret superweapon described as “fatal engines.” This proto-Prussia then succeeds at landing an army on the English coast and continues inland until it is met by a hastily raised defense force of poorly trained auxiliary troops at the market town of Dorking, in Surrey. What follows is the Battle of Dorking, narrated by a volunteer who witnessed the whole thing, as he tells his grandchildren 50 years after the event.
A cautionary tale written 40 years before Britain and Germany went to war in France, this novella will appeal to the more military-minded steampunk enthusiast.
Bonus: Savrola: A Tale of the Revolution in Laurania by Sir Winston Churchill
Ok, this is not technically “VSF” since it doesn't include any weird technology, alien invasions or secret underground civilizations, but I had to include it nonetheless. Chuchill is more well known for his no-fiction works like The River War and A History of the English Speaking Peoples and for, well, saving Western Civilization from the Nazis, but he did author one work of fiction. Written when he was just 23, and published in 1899, this novel describes a revolution in the fictional country of Laurania, led by a fiery young democrat named Savrola against the newly established tyrant Antonio Molaro.
Full of rousing speeches, brutal battles, and colorful characters, this is an adventure tale for anyone who likes political intrigue mixed up with Victorian ideals and rousing military clashes.
What else would you included on this list? Are there even better hidden VSF gems out there that I overlooked? Add them in the comments below!
Author Bio: J.P. Medved is the author of the Clockwork Imperium series of steampunk short stories including To Rescue General Gordon, Queen Victoria's Ball and The Great Curry Contest, as well as the standalone steampunk short In the Shade of the Ishtar Trees: A Tale of the First Venus War, all currently available for sale on Amazon. You can learn more about him and his work at his website: www.jpmedved.com.