I’ve always loved the gas-lit streets of Victorian England, swathed in their constant claustrophobic pea-soupers and populated by screws, peelers and muck snipes. As a child, it seemed such an exciting world, so different to our own and yet so peculiarly similar. After all, our great grandparents were Victorians weren’t they? The alien shore of the past was still within our reach.
My family’s religious heritage probably helped. I was brought up in a Salvationist home, our line going right back to the early day’s of William Booth’s movement. Even growing up in the 70s, the Salvation Army of the day had much in common with its Victorian roots – the uniforms, military terminology and brass bands. The links to yesteryear were firm.
Then a few years ago, I first heard the phrase Steampunk, that strange sub-division of speculative fiction that re-imagines the Victorian age. What if the denizens of the late 19th century had technology from beyond their years – robots, computers and even spaceships? In this fantastic world you are just as likely to encounter an alien as you would an unfortunate in the grimy district of Whitechapel.
It was like coming home. You see, I had been a fan of Steampunk long before I’d even heard the term, thanks largely to a cult British TV series known as Doctor Who. For years I had followed the time-travelling Doctor back to Victorian Britain to encounter mummies from Mars, static electrical space-portals and the devilish Peking Homunculus.
Then there was Hammer Horror. Those late night fright-fests watched when Mum and Dad thought I’d gone to sleep introduced me to Christopher Lee menacing the likes of Terry from Minder in a strange world where bosoms always seemed to be heaving and the night sky looked suspiciously like funny-coloured daylight. Baron Frankenstein was up to no-good in stiff collars and even more mummies stomped and smashed their way through balsa sets. Sublime.
Both Hammer and Doctor Who also introduced me to the occupants of 221B Baker Street as Tom Baker swapped his scarf and capacious pockets for a deerstalker and Cushing and Lee romped over Surrey, doing their best to pretend it was Dartmoor. By the time Jeremy Brett made his first, oh-so-beautifully arrogant appearance I was hooked.
So here, is my occasional tribute to steampunk, steampulp, gaslight fantasy, neo-victoriana or whatever you want to call the ever-growing and ever-changing genre. Along the way we’ll take in Holmes, horror and maybe even some proper history to boot.
It’s going to be the most singular adventure.
Drive on cabby!