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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1981

“The most ignorant person at a reasonable charge, and with little bodily labor, may write books in philosophy, poetry, law, mathematics, and theology, without the least assistance from genius or study.” Jonathan Swift, in Gulliver’s Travels (Actually, Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships) . 1726.

I've produced the beginning of an alphabet of –Punkisms for variations of robot.machine/computer past and futures, science fiction indicators of possibility. Why should we stop at "Steampunk" when there's FuturePunk and DeadPunk and such to be had? So, please find folllowing a few possibilities, and accept them in the playful way in which they are offered–also, the very abbreviated descriptions of the science fiction works desscribed are open to interpretation. And please give this a "pass" for the over-abundance of hyphens.


ActorPunk: Walter Miller, 'The Darfsteller' (1954), human actors are replaced by robots on stage, as compared to being replaced by digital figures online. Some steps have been made with great care over the years by “perfecting” the imaging of women in magazine advertisement—in this way even the models who appear in the ad and are modified find it impossible to live up to the expectations of what their ads depict.

Anti-technologicalPunk-topia: Samuel Butler, Erewhon, (1872).

AutomatoPunk: Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano (1955), like Brazil and 1984, but with machines.


BiologoPunk: Philip K. Dick, 'Autofac' (1955), machines find that they can reproduce themselves in a '50's iron-bio kind of way.

BrainPunk: Miles J. Breuer, 'Paradise and Iron' (1930).


ConsciousnessPunk: Philip K. Dick, Vulcan's Hammer (1960) and the development of computer consciousness. Also David Gerrold, When Harlie Was One (1972);
Frank Herbert, Destination Void (1966); Harlan Ellison, 'I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream' (1967); Robert Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966), and many others.

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This semi-wincing image was found in George Gould's Righthandedness and Lefhandedness (Lippincott, 1908)–it is rather innocent, suggesting a study of penmanship posture; but taken out of context, it is quite something different, something with a bit of threat in it. In- or out-of-context the author really meant to have the chin buried into the chest as a proper attitude.

Right handedness098

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1975 Follow Me on Pinterest

The idea of creating an economy from a previously dead clientelle–the very after-market dead person–is relatively new. Once a middle class or lower working class with disposable income was created, celebrating the care of the dead was a paying option opened to the millions of families who were not the fastidious and celebratory wealthy. Once the notion of having other people take care of the dearly departed became a part of the popular ritual of dealing with the dead, an entire new industry was born–spawning other related and associated industries for supplying the dead-care-givers with amenities and notions and necessities of a previously unthunk and unthinkable nature. For example, the idea of needing to shave a corpse became an issue after it became fashionable to allow several days or more to pass between death and burial. Beards and hair grow in death, so the people caring for the body and its display now were ordained an issue of economy in nultiple shavings of a corpse. Now that may or may not have been an issue, but it was certainly presented as a possibility by the incredibly-named "Razorless Post- Mortem Shave Co."

Deadpunk shave

{Many thanks to reader Max W for providing the information for the correct information for the citation of the above image–the magazine is Casket & Sunnyside for January 1912, and there are ample references to it in Charles Addams and Jessica Mitford.] The worry for the consideration of the cost of a shave (15 cents) for a dead person seems quite an inescapable weirdness and luxury. The weirdness of the name of the company nearly obscures it common nature–it isn't exactly the Acme Corpse Company, but it is close to it, and it addresses just one small bit of minuatiae of deadness in the vast sea of Dead, Inc.

The sellers of the razorless post-mortem shave equipment didn't receive a patent for their process–nor did anyone else, for that matter, at least so far as I can determine.

Here are some further examples of Dead, Inc/DeadPunk patented death appliances:

Post-mortem skull examination facilitator:

Postmortem Underwear for the prevention of dead leakage and deodorization:

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Jean-Jacques Lequeu (1757-1825), a French architect of fabulously distanced sight, produced this breathtaking image in 1792. The Tomb of Lars Porsena, King of Etruria (the great Etruscan king, d. ca. 500 BCE ), is just one of hundreds of works by Lequeu, a re-discovered architectural genius who worked during the same era as other visionary architects such as Etienne Boullee (1728-1799), Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806), Louis-Jean Desprez (1743-1803), Francois Barbier (1768-1826), Charles Bernard (1765-1818), Francois-Joseph Belanger (1747-1818), and others, though these guys are the most famous. As a matter of fact, I think, almost all of these architects were re-discovered—Boullee, perhaps the most famous of the lot, was found again not in his buildings but in his visionary drawings that he deposited with the National Library. But Lequeu—found again in the same way–it seems had to be rescued from an even greater obscurity than the others. He tried to expose a unity that he saw in the world, some secret sort of unity, that he saw all around him, and which was unseen by everyone else in creation—at least until the 20th century.

Lequeu started out in a staid and brilliant way, a successful architect in his own right, and student of Scoufflot, designing ancient-inspiration buildings for the super rich. But along came the Revolution and away went his career—he wound up a surveyor and a cartographer until his retirement in 1815, after which he enters social and historical oblivion, until he finally dies in total obscurity ten years later (or so, the date is unclear). His post-revolutionary vision was as phenomenal as his success in selling his ideas were dismal. Well, this is really a cheap shot—his imagination was shockingly large, enormous, his designs fantastic and beautiful, and completely unexpected, and they seemed to grow larger/loftier and more interesting as time wore away at him.

I think that as Lequeu was cleaved away, cell by cell falling through the floorboards of his single rented room, he reached further into time and deeper into space than almost any architect of that hundred-year period. I also think that he was very well aware of his genius being seen as pure eccentricity—his dozen or so self portraits are among the most bizarre that I’ve ever seen (before 1900).


The odd thing in all of this is that in this brilliance there is still a reluctance to leave the Baroque, and this at a time when just about everyone else—beginning around 1750—was abandoning it. So much of the work of the other visionaries mentioned earlier freed themselves of the Baroque—not entirely true, not true at all, for the unique creations of Lequeu, who (as in the Tomb of Lars Porsena) included more than a few bits of the practice even in his most incredible works.

Somehow Lequeu saw the Lars Porsena tomb as a 650-foot tall (!!) structure, with impossible insight and filigree. Extraordinary. (In the upper corners of the drawing of the tomb Lequeu included a design for a coin and also the plan of the structure. The original tomb of Lars Porsena, according to Pliny the elder in his Natural History, XXXVI, 19, 91ff, was a 15 meter high rectangular base with 90 meter sides–completely destroyed in the wars in the first century.

Perhaps his most sensational creation (and one which was devoid of all Baroque influence, as it turns out) was his Meeting Place at Bellevue. It is almost impossible to believe that it is am 18th century creation—it is as harmonious ( armonia) as it is asymmetrical. It looks deeply 20th century, and looked as far into the future as it was deeply unknown.

JF Ptak Science Books

"Sometimes a book is just entirely bad, and sometimes it is entirely nothing. It is impossible for a book to be both very bad and very nothing. Impossible. Except for this book, whose badness is exceeded only by its nothingness, and vice versa ". –Oscar Wilde

And so into this black hole of imaged Wildeian description we go, into a very real-ish book.

I found a novel tonight, bought long ago and long ago mostly lost. It was written by a doctor who worked in the District Hospital in Lima, Ohio, and written in 1934. The Lima Hospital was the largest poured concrete structure in the world when it was built in 1915, and stayed so until the Pentagon was completed. The hospital was established for the criminally insane, had 14"-thick walls, and reinforced steel bars laid into the walls that went "right down to bedrock".

It was somewhere in there that this doctor wrote something that was really so toweringly bad that it escapes comprehension. I own the carbon copy of the unpublished work, which is typed on 14×8.5" sheets of paper, front and back, running 94 pages. It is a very crowded affair, with 90 lines of single-space typed lines, making the work about 115,000 words long.

There wasn't enough space evidently for paragraphs, which gives the work a kind of insistent, casket-cramped cruelty. To read it takes your breath away for its dullness–the book moves so weirdly and at the same time so very slowly that it doesn't move at all even while moving.

Manuscript insane one

A few months ago I found the seven-foot-long scroll of the book's plan–a work of crowded magnificence of nothing and confusion, being very orderly at the same time. It went to a friend of mine who created artwork around it, and as it happens made a very noticeable appearance in a very significant yearly show in NYC last week. I was stunned to find that there was actually a text to go with the scroll-outline–it emerged from the warehouse this week, so perhaps this too will find a very celebrated life as art as well. Certainly the book would go nowhere on its own as a book, though it stood a chance at surviving on the grounds of its considerble design weirdness, which is of a complexified beauty.

Manuscript insane two

In the meantime, before all of the letters slide themselves off the page from sheer boredom and before the thing is resurrected as a magnificent artistic effort, I'll share some ianges of the extra-ordinary book of reversed brilliant badness. I've also culled a few imaginary descriptions of the book from writers known and not:

Potboiler scribbler:

"He couldn't speak. He could barely see. Blinded by the flames ignited inside his eyeballs from the novel in his lap. The words were like molten lead, sucked off the page by his eyes, forming a vacuum in his brain. It was a bad book".

The first-time published novelist's approach:

"He couldn't speak the words of the thoughts in his head, because they and all of his breath were stolen by the magic of the complete badness of the book in his lap".

Gertrude Stein:

"The book was bad and bad, and bad was the book. Even the badness of the bad was bad, a whole new insight into being bad. It was the bad book by which bad books are called bad".

Ernset Hemingway:

"He didn't read the book so much as he looked through it. It was easy–there was nothing there. As bad as it was, it could get no worse. So he shot it, and poured a drink".

You might wonder what this book is about. Me too.

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

Weak women061
Women, weak women, women with iron-poor blood, were sought by the manufacturers of Nuxated Iron, a small-bottled mottled mess that promised to increase vigor and iron levels, mostly through miracle. It turns out that, according to various early studies, there was a very small amount of iron in the concoction, as well as small amounts of strychnine. An E.O. Barker, M.D., reported to JAMA in 1923 that a small boy he attended who had taken 32 of these Nuxated Iron tablets died from strychnine poisoning. There was no benefit from the iron, evidently; I wonder what the long term effects of small dosage ingestion of strychnine led to? ["Weak Women" ad for Nuxated Iron from Illustrated World, November 1920/]

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

This lovely if not very convincing argument was produced and directed by "a German engineer, Herr" (Enrst) Horgiger, of Munich. He attempted to wed belief and mythology and astronomy, providing a worlds-in-collision explanation for the Flood. From the caption to the drawing I do not know if it is The Flood of Noah, as it occurs in the book of Genesis in the Bible, or the flood of Apollodorus, or Hygenius, or of the Eridu Genesis (some 2000 years or so before Genesis) or the flood of Atrachasis (of about 1650 bce) or the flood of Gilgamesh (of about 1100 bce), or if it is the flood of Emhil, or Zeus, or Allah, or Yahweh, or the other 150+ great floods of mythology categorized by James Frazer in his astounding but unreadable books. But it is a flood, and his reason is that a wandering body in space came into temporary orbit around the Earth with a resulting gravitational soup that caused the waters to rise up after which the flood occurred and the orbiting sphere to break apart.

The flood 1925057
As I said, it is a pretty picture, with a nice deep blue background that my scanner won't capture.

Source: The Illustrated London News, 21 January 1925, "A New Theory of the Flood: How it Might Repeat Itself".

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1965

In this episode of the Strange Things in the Sky Department there are a number of posts dealing with Strange Earths–sometimes there are strange Earths int he sky, above the Earth. And so on. In this small offering we see a green-sea earth viewed by Martians from, well, Mars. It is the cover art for sheet music "A Signal from Mars", composed by Raymond Taylor and arranged by E.T. Paull in 1901. Somehow the Earth is being illuminated by a small canned power source of high energy light that must have the energy of a pulsar, and there's a five-pointed star that is added for unknown effects. There's mot much more that can be said, except that the music (sampled below), which is a ragtime march, has nothing to do with Mars so far as I can tell. Mars was certainly in the news when this sheet music was published in 1901–Percy Lowell had taken it upon himself to interpret Giovanni Schiaparelli's 1877 of "canali" on Mars as "canals" rather than "channels" and convinced himself that what he was seeing with his superior instrumentation were indeed structures built by engineers of another race on another planet. So, perhaps "A Signal from Mars" was much like the Atomic Motels in 1945 and Radium Cakes in 1897–folks just used a popular name in the news to excite interest in their own work via association with repetitive references.

Earth from Mars martians[Source: the Library of Congress] This is a detail from:

Earth from Mars

Another curious image of Martians with telescopes comes from Puck magazine in 1904:

Martians and earth in background

[Source: the Library of Congress.]

Martians pointing telescopes at the Earth is a much more preferable situation than Martians pointing gigantic cannons:

Strange things in sky--martian guns

This is the cover art by the fabulous Frank R. Paul for Stanley D. Bell's "Martian Guns" found in the January 1932 issue of Wonder Stories.
There's really no way to determine how big the gun is except to say
that it is probably "big"–there's just nothing to place the thing in
perspective, as the figures in the foreground, being Martian, don't have
a specific height. They could be 6' tall, or 60'–perhaps they're
only 1/10 of an inch tale, and the projectile they're firing to the
earth is so devastatingly powerful that size doesn't matter.

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