The Five Year Mission: 4.5 years left and ticking

I recently realized I inadvertently gave myself a deadline by invoking the tag-line from Star Trek as the temporal boundary for this PhD project. I know others studying the same material will likely cross the academic finish line before I do, but given my commitments to family and teaching, completing the dissertation any sooner is, to put it in Vernian terms, a Journey Through the Impossible. Speaking of which, I received my copy of the once-exceedingly-rare play by Verne through just a few weeks ago, and am reading through it. I would be interested to see a group like Legion Fantastique tackle that script, even if it was only for a reader’s theater. It’s effectively a late-nineteenth century summer blockbuster, with romance, humor, adventure, and opportunities for big special effects throughout. Highly recommended for the Verne fans out there.

To update everyone on the progress of my research:

I completed the first year of my PhD in April. This was the coursework year, which I was able to tailor slightly towards my long-term research. In the fall, I took a directed reading course on Victorian Science Fiction, which became mainly a course in Jules Verne’s writings. I was also able to write a paper on steampunk Star Wars for one of my other classes. In the winter semester of 2009, I was only able to take one class which would help my research. While the course was not directly concerned with my topic, a large amount of the reading list was Romantic, Victorian, and Edwardian period. I read Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, and Herman Melville for the first time. It was interesting to note how much (or how little) impact these authors have had on the style of steampunk writers. The course was about a turn to religion and ethics in the philosophy of Levinas and Derrida. The philosophy was brought into “conversation” with the literary works, and accordingly, will likely be brought into conversation with steampunk at some point.

The paper I wrote for my directed reading course on Verne, “Finding Nemo,” was also the research I presented at both Steam Powered last fall and the Eaton conference this Spring. Verniana, the online journal of Jules Verne studies is doing a special issue dedicated to the Eaton conference, and “Finding Nemo” will be among the papers featured in that issue. My steampunk Star Wars paper, “Steam Wars,” was submitted to the Journal of Neo-Victorian Studies last month.

In the wake of my coursework year, I’ve been doing a lot of reading, at least, for someone still holding down a full time job in addition to research. Here is a list of the works, both novels and short stories I’ve read since the end of the semester, some of which have already been explored here at the blog, while others are awaiting reflection or review:

The Hollow Earth by Rudy Rucker
The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock
Mainspring by Jay Lake
Clockwork Angels by Lea Hernandez
“The Shoal” by Liz Williams in The Mammoth Book of New Jules Verne Adventures
“Steampunch” by James Lovegrove in Extraordinary Engines
“The Lollygang Save the World on Accident” by Jay Lake in Extraordinary Engines

Currently Reading:
Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon
The Difference Engine by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson
Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
Journey Through the Impossible by Jules Verne

I did a huge buy in April of all the works I had identified as immediately salient to my research, through Amazon and Indigo. It’s been wonderful having access to all these works finally, especially the older, out of print ones. One of my most recent acquisitions was Burning London by Joe R. Lansdale, and I’m very excited about the impending arrival of that book.
I will get around to analyzing more of those steampunk myths and legends images soon enough. It’s just nice to finally be really kicking the tires and lighting the fires, or in steampunk terms, getting the gears moving. Thanks to everyone who has joined the journey by emailing, commenting, or facebooking: welcome aboard. Only 4.5 years to go.


  1. My own Lit prof at Cham-bana (a.k.a. The University of Illinois at Urbaba-Champaign) was a huge fan of Journey Through the Impossible and assigned several excerpts for analysis. I, too, would love to see it staged.


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