At Work with Twain, Millar, Vowell, and more

It’s been a busy November, so I’m giving a few updates about my writing.  Stuff I’ve done rather than write blog entries here:

None of these qualifies as a major, long-term project (except the Vowell event, which was planned over months, but over the first week of November).  All put together, however, it’s been pretty wild juggling.

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Steampunk Images from Hannibal

Just posting some photos from the Big River Steampunk Festival in Hannibal, MO.  My parents went up there over Labor Day weekend and snapped these.

As I said in an earlier post, it’s nice to see one of America’s best nineteenth-century tourism towns (thanks, Mark Twain!) has embraced steampunks with open arms.



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Doctor Who’s Connecticut Yankee References: Season 9, Episode 1

My UC Davis class on Mark Twain’s technocratic writing ended the weekend before the Season 9 premiere of Doctor Who.  I re-read A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court just weeks prior, not knowing that writer/producer Steven Moffat, actor Peter Capaldi, and director Hettie MacDonald would frontload Season 9 with Connecticut Yankee easter eggs.

Episode 9:1 features the Doctor performing in front of a medieval English crowd.  Not Camelot, but definitely the same look and feel.  The references fly by fast, but here’s what I caught on my 2nd viewing today:

  1. The Doctor brings a tank with him to what appears to be a duel.  Hank Morgan, the time-traveling hero of Twain’s work does much the same, winning a joust by lassoing and shooting his competitors.
  2. The Doctor is called “Magician” and seems to embrace the title despite the fact that his powers come from science.  Again, Morgan’s charade in Camelot rests on his ability to pass off 19th-century science as magic.
  3. The Doctor, like Hank Morgan, seems to be a master showman, going all theatrical with his entrance and his announcements.
  4. The Doctor mentions that he’s helped build a well while he’s been in medieval England.  The reconstruction of a well is one of Hank Morgan’s biggest technological achievements in Chapters 22 and 23 of A Connecticut Yankee.  In fact, Morgan really beats Merlin at his own game in those scenes, so it’s a major plot point.
  5. The Doctor mentions that he’s introduced the word “Dude” several centuries early.  “Dude” is one of the Americanisms that Hank Morgan uses prominently throughout the text.  It’s mentioned several times, even making its way into one of Dan Beard’s wonderful illustrations from the original 1889 text.  Check out this drawing of Morgan as he begins a knightly quest:

The Iron Dude

I’m not one to assume all apparent coincidental similarities are intentional, but these are enough to make me think I’m not the only one who’s re-read CY recently.  Any word from Mr. Moffat?

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Mark Twain’s Town Discovers Steampunk

I recently returned from a Mark Twain conference in Hannibal, MO, and I noticed a change in Twain’s hometown since the last time I was there in 2011.

There’s a lot more steampunk stuff.

The town is already a tourist destination, with several blocks restored to their 1840s-era look. Twain’s home, his father’s law office, the homes of citizens who inspired characters like Huckleberry Finn and Becky Thatcher are all standing.

With all the original architecture, it’s a logical place for steampunk gatherings.  Twain’s home in Connecticut, for example, already hosts steampunk-themed events.

In just four years, however, it seems Hannibal has embraced steampunk in a big way.  The store at the Mark Twain Museum Shop features a steampunk window display, including a poster for an annual Labor Day weekend convention: the Big River Steampunk Convention. Check out the Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher armed with clockwork ray-guns in the image on the right!

museumstore  festivalsmall

The Boyhood Home Museum has steampunk paper dolls and jewelry, with the sign below for explanation to literary tourists unfamiliar with the genre.


The photo below is from Mrs. Clemens Antique Shop.  They have an entire area of Victorian-era clothing and steampunk gadgets.


So what do I make of this?  It’s probably just another example of how mainstream steampunk has become.

But it’s also a great example of an existing 1800s-era historical site connecting with existing fandom in a logical, synergistic way.

The conference itself was excellent. The online PDF schedule on the conference site lists all the presentations and presenters, a fine collection of Mark Twain scholars from academia and beyond.

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Tor’s “David Bowie is Sci-Fi and Fantasy”

I’m providing a link to this awesome article by Bridget McGovern about David Bowie’s influence on F&SF.

It does a great job of nailing latter-day Bowie references in The Venture Bros. and Neil Gaiman’s work.  The list of his supporting roles alone makes it worth the read: Tesla, Pontius Pilate, Andy Warhol… does any actor have a better list?

And, yes, the article also features links to Flight of the Conchords’ “Bowie’s in Space” video.

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Mystery Science Theater and the Replacements

I just read a great post on the Replacements/Paul Westerberg facebook page with a connection between my favorite band and science fiction.

Filmmaker Hansi Oppenheimer spoke to Joel Hodgson, creator of Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Apparently, Hodgeson told her he followed the Replacements’ “business model.”

Both the band and the TV show came out of Minneapolis.  There were at least two references to Replacements members in the banter between robots Crow and Tom Servo during the show’s run.

If we look at the ‘Mats and MST3K, it’s clear there are similarities.  Shoestring budgets.  Seemingly seat-of-the-pants decision making.  An ability to blend really dumb humor with smart, insightful humor.  The Replacements business model isn’t about mainstream success as much as redefining the definition of “successful.”

Oppenheimer co-wrote and produced the excellent Replacements documentary “Color Me Obsessed.” Her new film is going to be about women in fandom entitled “SQUEE!”  Sounds cool based on this interview.  She really understands fan culture, so I’m sure it’ll be great.

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Mark Twain “Travel and Technocracy” Class at UC Davis

The course announcement for my UC Davis “Studies in an Individual Author” class on Mark Twain went live a few weeks ago.  I’m posting the link and a screen clip here.

We’re focusing on travel and technocracy, especially stories where travelers assume superiority over their hosts because their real/perceived advantages in technology.  We’ll cover Huck Finn (travel and the promise of freedom), move to A Connecticut Yankee (travel and the use of technology as coercive force), and Tom Sawyer Abroad (Twain’s subversive take on technocratic dime novels), and read Twain’s non-fiction for context.

The course will be during Summer Session II through the Department of English at UC Davis.  We’ll cover three novels and one travel book (with lots of short stories and essay interspersed) in just six weeks!

Twain Travel

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