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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post

Steampunk inventions984

I found these images browsing through The Illustrated London News for April (date obscured) 1853. In my experience seeing articulated, steam-driven robots in the mid-19th century is pretty unusual. There’s an earlier image (from about 1849) that shows a robot like the one pictured above, though it was actually a man in a robot suit, a person driving a machine–the image above of “the Stream Ploughman” is clearly a stand-alone robot, as we can see through the thigh area, though it does have human attributes, like a semi-face and the capacity to whistler while it worked.

Other posts on early robots in this blog include: Mall-Mortuary Faces on Patent Drawings of Robots, 1936-1976; The Edenless World, the First Female Robot; Endless Eve, 1936; Durer’s Beautiful Monsters, for example.

The caption may idetify this as an airship, but there are no signs here of ho wthis thing would get aloft. And I have no idea what the dog is doing there.

Steampunk inventions990

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JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post Part of a series on Strange Things in the Sky

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This is a quick addition to the Extra-Earth category of this blog–and an amazing one. In the other examples the extra-Earths appear simply appear , with little or no interaction between the two. In this instance we have one Earth attacking the other.

Extra earth

There is no necessity for this to make much or any sense, what with the purple sky and, of course, the extra-Earth–but the attacking rocket taking off from the extra-Earth extra-Florida (or thereabouts) seems to grow in size as it gets closer to its target. After all, the attacking extra-Earth is less than 300' away from what has become an enormous and marauding space vehicle (judging from the distances in relation to the buildings) which is now longer than the extra-Earth-America is wide. But in the world where a miniature extra-Earth can attack a standard-sized-Earth, this would be a minor quibble.

Honestly, I think I like to write about such things for the joy in having to think of a title for the post.

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1867

Montague B. Black (b. 1884), an artist and illustrator, pulled the curtain back from the future back there in 1926 to what he thoiught might be the following scene of London in 2026:

A detail reveals an interesting airship:

London 2026 detail
The airship (of an undetermined power source) has an ad on the side of it reading "Overland Line, London-Sydney"–and by "overland" the artist is not thinking of the old-time "overland" as in prairie schooners and such, but quite literally "over the land". We can also see an ad on the side of a building for an "Underground to Scotland, Glasgow 2hrs 45 mins". There are also named buildings such as the London Bridge Air Depot and the Airtaxi Ltd. The skyscrapers really aren't all that enormous–I see one or two perhaps in the background that might be a hundred stories or so, but the buildings in the foreground are definitely of modest expectation.

There are however dozens of flying machines in the sky, though with the exception of the three large airships, a hundred years has not paid too many benefits to the other aircraft.

Black did create an interesting poster for the White Star line, featuring a certain famous luxury liner–of course the man was just like anyone else, and could not see into the future for the Titanic, nor could he imagine slightly accelerated designs for aircraft. He did manage to portray a transportation system that would be heavily dependent on air travel. That said, he left plenty of room for speculation on the future of the Underground, as we can see in all of this future-glory that no matter the amount of accomplishments in the sky, trains would still be running underground. Black got those two things right, at least.

London titanic

JF Ptak Science Books Post 1688

The New York City harbor looks pretty rough in this picture, tall whitecaps with surprising little reflected in what should be pretty choppy water, meaning that light should be reflecting everywhere, a difficult collection of reflected reflections.

America invaded086[Image source: May 1917 issue of the uncommon magazine, Illustrated World.]

The submarine, battleship and zeppelin menaces were real, at least in Europe or in the Atlantic–the aeroplanes far less so1. But the applications of these fears directly to American shores were still very distant things, particularly when it came to an attack on New York City–except of course that the U.S. had just declared war against Germany, finally, just a few weeks before this issue was published.

America invaded b088
The war began for real in Europe in August, 1914, so the fighting had been going on there in fratricidal earnestness for two and half years, costing millions and millions their lives and limbs. America had been isolationist and non-interventionist up until this point, remaining sweatily on the sidelines, until the capture of the infamous Zimmerman telegram2, which was a coded message sent from Germany (the German Empire) to Mexico (and taken by the Brits as it was sent, the crypto-boys of Room 40 breaking the thing) suggesting that Mexico join in a war against the U.S. It hit the American press on 1 March, and the story exploded–literally. This is what the beginning of war looks like, sometimes:

File:Zimmermann Telegram.jpeg

So perhaps there was some amount of yellow journalism involved here, and some inflationary propaganda as well, and some good-old profit-taking on a half-sci-fi story–on the other hand, the German Empire did just sink 800,000 gross tons of shipping during the 30 days of April (1917), so sub fears were in general real and palpable. The issue of them sighting the Staten Island Ferry though was quite another matter.

The first American soldiers would arrive for fighting in June. The whole thing would be over in 17 months, which is well less than half of the time that the U.S. spent in WWII.

The United States would suffer 116,000 military deaths during its part of the war–a small fraction of the overall military deaths (9 million) and a smaller part still of overall deaths including civilians (totaling 16 million). There would be 205,000 American wounded in this conflict, a little less than 1% of all war military casualties.

It would be interesting to see the coverage in England of the American invasion fears.


1. This was not so much a war of bombing than it was for air-to-air combat; bombing became more of a realm of aircraft in the suppression of indigenous populations by occupying powers in the 1920's, and then in Fascist Spain in the mid-1930's, and then graduating as it were in WWII.

2.. The telegram was named for the Foreign Secretary of the German Empire, Arthur Zimmermann,, who sent the thing out on January 16, 1917. President Wilson delivered his war address to Congress on 2 April 1917.

A military death pie chart for the Entente Powers [source, Wiki]:


JF Ptak Science Books Post 1687

See also: Invasion Routes to the U.S. and this blog's most-viewed posting (with over 500k hits) Maps of the Invasion of America, 1942 .

America has almost never been invaded. I should clean that statement up a bit: the United States has almost never been invaded. America–which included North/Central/South once upon a time long in the dim past–was constantly invaded until the invasions no longer counted themselves as such, which I guess means that the “invasion” forces became “resupply”. (Perhaps an invasion is over once you surpass a certain ratio of houses : forts.)

“Invasion” does not include “attacks”. A few guys getting off a Nazi sub and wandering around until they got picked up (with some (all?) being executed) does not an invasion make. 9/11 was not an invasion, though the subsequent invention of impending and pervading fear was–that’s why we have “storm centers” rather than “weather reports” on broadcast news–but even that fear business was more home-grown than anything else.

The Japanese Army were on two small islands in the Aleutian chain (which may have been closer to Tokyo than NYC) for a bit in WWII–also does not make for an invasion, even if they were there for a long time. Or even if they were still there. Nor does sending hundreds or thousands of paper incendiary balloons across the Pacific an invasion make.

UFOs don’t count, either. (I still find it remarkable that such a large percentage of the hundreds of thousands of “sightings” has the UFO with landing or whatever lights on it. I figured out at one point that there has been a report on one of these critters every ____ minutes since Roswell. And in all of those hundreds of thousands or reports, if you took them all and stacked them one on top of the other, they would reach perhaps the height of a grain of sand.) The Beatles don’t count, either.

What also doesn’t count (but probably should) but which is not military–not really, though it may have the impact of a military force at some time in the future–are Chinese-made imports of, well, everything. At Thanksgiving I wondered how much of a dinner could be composed of foods that were shipped from China and to no great amazement an almost-complete table of food could be set, plus napkins, flatware, plates, candles, tablecloths, tables, chairs, paper turkey decorations, carpet, flooring, wallpaper, paint for the walls and ceiling, screws for the Chinese-made door hinges, lighbulbs, tubes for the McIntosh preamps, all of the clothing worn by the guests, and so on. The electricity is still American-made. The fact that Mott’s Apple Juice is coming from Chinese apples is a bad sniff of the future. The country of origin is usually on juice bottle necks-check it out.)

Certainly something that does count is the invasion by Great Britain of the United States in the War of 1812–they invaded long and deep enough to burn the White House and cause general havoc. We won that one. But of course the Brits were otherwise involved on the Continent.

Perhaps this non-invaded bit explains why the most-viewed post on this blog (with at last 500,000 views, 340k alone coming from the post being carried by was a LIFE magazine article from 1942 on the possible invasion routes to the U.S. Maybe the volume was driven by war-gamers, though I suspect it was made up largely of the curious who weren’t used to seeing “Invasion of” and “America” together in a military sense.

Maps from 1942 of the never-was Nazi invasion of North America
Maps from 1942 of the never-was Nazi invasion of North America
Maps from 1942 of the never-was Nazi invasion of North America

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(An another set of maps from Fortune magazine for September 1935, a predecessor to the above, and from my post here):

But now for the real stuff: a map of the 54 invasions of Great Britain (and "the places at which foreign troops have landed on British soil since 1066 (and all that), seen in the Illustrated London News for 27 March 1909):

Invasion--Us and England120

And then this, where the WWII invasion routes were turned around:


This map pretty well tells the story of the perilous situation of Europe and England at the beginning of June, 1940. It appeared in the Illustrated London News on the heals of Churchill's "Blood, Soil, Sweat and Tears" speech, and was a very frank presentation of the wearing of the war. By this point in the war Nazi Germany had successfully invaded Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, sweeping across Europe in a broad westward movement, backing up British and French troops all the way to the sea at Dunkerque, where a monumental rescue operation ("Operation Dynamo") saved them. (There was an enormous amount of materiel left there on the beach, a devastating loss for the British Expeditionary Force, nearly crippling it.) This was a bad time for the Allies, this part of the war coined by Winston Churchill in 18 June 1940 in the House of Commons by: "The Battle of France is over. I expect the Battle of Britain is about to begin". There was very little good that came of these few months for the U.K and the Allies, though four things do stand out: (1) as I just mentioned, the saving of 300,000+ troops at Dunkerque; (2) the resignation of Neville Chamberlain, (3) the coming of Winston Churchill as Prime Minister of the U.K., and (4) the first deciphering of the Enigma at Bletchley. Other than that, the situation was dim, and these invasion routes (published at t he very time that Germany was studying such a feat in its "Operation Sea Lion", or " Unternehmen Seelöwe"). The endgame at Dunkerque took place almost four years to the day of the invasion of Europe, when the intent (though not placement) all of these arrows were turned around for the Allied operation at the Normandy beaches on 6 June 1944..

And so, there it is–a presentation of several maps showing invasions, real and imagined

JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post [Part of a new series on the History of Fear]

There just seemed to be something going on with women and clothing and sex and fear and sci-fi trouble, or at least so on the covers of a spectrum of pulp publishers in the 1930's-1950's. Perhaps this had nothing more to do with anything than having a pretty woman posing next to the UNIVAC II in a 1959 issue of Computers and Automation. In any event, I stockpiled some of these images and collected them under the Fear-Sex heading, and for right now all I'm going to do is pass them along.

Are they really sexualizing danger? I have no idea what the content was of these issues, but from the looks of things, I'd throw hazard to the wind and say "yes", at least to the visual aspect.

(Don't forget to have a peek at an earlier post on Women in Sci-Fi Past-Future Distresses, here.)

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JF Ptak Science Books Post 1680 Part of a new series on the History of Fear

Perhaps you become scared of what is taught you or is available to you, or made available, or dreampt. Perhaps you can dream not-so-terrible things unless you have been exposed to them in one form or another, already. I can certainly recall from my childhood things that made me feel fear, and they weren't very fearful–not really–at all, though they were at the time, because there was no way for me to process the weird adaptations to my imagination.

Certain things are taught to children as a matter of course, I guess, certain fearful things, like for example the oldish child's prayer ruminating on a sleeping death, or some exacerbating tale from the brothers Grimm–how else are children to come up with the ideas of not waking up or being boiled alive or eaten by a witch?

And so I wonder about the fear factor imaged and implied in these early wonder/sci-fi magazines, meant for distribution to high-adolescents and adults. They simply do not look so terrifying, though I guess it is because the true business end of FearSell USA Inc had not yet been prioritized in the national economy–and certainly it was orders of magnitude away from approaching anything that we have today. Even the constant state of storm/terror available to us in a relentless flow from a simple avenue like The Weather Channel must be a testament to the dept of our fear depravity.

The stories–or the ideas of the stories, anyway–seem scarier to me now than the images of them on the covers of these magazines. It would be an interesting thing to make a timeline of fearful images to see how these things changed over the decades. Or centuries.

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