The Wonderful Machine Age: Batteries

Batteries not included. That’s okay. It’s a minor inconvenience but easily remedied. Batteries are cheap and plentiful.

However, that was not always the case. Prior to the invention of the dry cell, all we had was the wet cell and a messy affair it was. Jars of acid with metal plates suspended in them. Not something useful to power your flashlight, smoke alarm, or radio. Let alone your computer, iPod, or hearing aid. Yet the wet cell made the telegraph possible and the automobile.

The term “battery” was coined by Benjamin Franklin to describe the linked Leyden jars he used for his electrical experiments. The first true battery was invented in 1800 by Alessandro Volta and was called the voltaic pile. It was a stack of paired copper and zinc discs, each pair separated from the others by cloth or cardboard soaked in brine. The brine functioned as the electrolyte.

While crude, the voltaic pile provided a fairly steady and reliable current and proved valuable for conducting experiments, such as the electrolysis of water.

The first practical wet cell for commercial and industrial application was invented by John Frederic Daniell in 1836. It was used to power the first telegraph systems. Daniell’s battery provided a steadier current for longer periods of time than the voltaic pile.

Over the years many improvements were made to the wet cell. Perhaps the most significant was in 1859 when Gaston Planté invented the lead-acid battery. The significance of his invention is that the battery was rechargeable by simply reversing the current. Previous wet cells were not capable of being recharged. The lead-acid battery is the type of battery used in the first automobiles to provide current to the spark plugs.

However, the battery we all know and love, the dry cell, came into being in 1886 with Carl Gassner’s zinc-carbon battery and in 1896 the National Carbon Company began producing an improved version on a commercial scale. The convenient and portable power source sparked a wave of portable electric devices, one of the first being the flashlight (or electric torch).

The battery is something about which we don’t think twice. We almost always have spares on hand to power the host of gadgets we also mostly take for granted. In my study I have the following battery-powered devices: smoke detector, two clocks, laptop computer, lamp, flashlight, iPad, iPod, digital recorder, cassette recorder, speakers, cellphone, iPod dock, and radio.

Additionally in the house there are more smoke detectors, more clocks, remote control devices, carbon monoxide detectors, camera, more flashlights, watches, calculator, car, GPS. And I’m probably overlooking something. For those who have kids, about a zillion toys can be added to the list. And let us not forget such things as pacemakers and hearing aids.

Let’s face it, modern life would not be possible without the battery, specifically the dry cell — which was invented in The Wonderful Machine Age.

So we retro-futurists should quit winding up our clockwork mechanisms and start using batteries. They’re the future, man.

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #38

Two Sundays ago I concluded Chapter One of Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch. The chapter has gone through a few edits since its revelation in all of those 8 sentence snippets. The novella will come out the 9th or 16th of October and will have had the benefit of several pairs of eyes and an out loud read.

For today, I thought I’d continue on with Chapter Two. And so without further ado, here are the first 8 sentences from “Chapter Two: Milly” of Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch.

When Hart checked at the ticket counter in Miami, he discovered the Pan Am flight he wanted didn’t take off until eight the next morning. He bought a ticket for one of the five remaining seats and then left the terminal to find a cab. Two were waiting. He picked one and, after the cabbie put his suitcase in the trunk, told the fellow to take him to the nearest hotel by the Pan Am seaplane terminal. The cabbie informed him he could do that and off they went.

Within minutes, Hart found himself, suitcase in hand, standing before the entrance to The Mango House Hotel. The place was a three story stucco building painted a hideous shade of pink. Hart thought a moment and decided he’d never seen a mango that color and wondered why the owners hadn’t called the place the Flamingo Palace.

To be continued!

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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The Rocheport Saga

The Troubled City (The Rocheport Saga #4) is now LIVE!!! Check out My Novels page for the links to the vendors who carry it.

In addition to The Troubled City joining the ongoing saga of Bill Arthur and the Rocheport crew, I’m running a sale on the first three books of the series. Now is the time to get a copy if you haven’t previously.

The Morning Star (Book 1) is 99¢.

The Shining City (Book 2) is $1.99.

Love Is Little (Book 3) is $2.99.

The sale prices are good through October 4th. Check out My Novels page to see the vendors who carry the books.

If you want to know about the series, I blogged a bit about it in my September 22nd post.

I hope you enjoy reading the series as much as I did writing it!

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The Troubled City (The Rocheport Saga #4)

The Troubled City (The Rocheport Saga #4) is coming in a few days to an ebook vendor near you!

Below is the cover and first half-dozen pages to pique your interest.

The Rocheport Saga was the first “book” I wrote after learning about the “plotless” novel. That is important, because I can’t plot the story out before hand. Try as a I might, I just can’t do it. Plotting for me is not unlike the old woman who sang a folksong to a song collector back around the beginning of the Twentieth Century. When she was finished singing and he recording, she said the song was now dead. Plotting kills the story for me.

Hence The Rocheport Saga is a massive, sprawling manuscript (over 2200 handwritten pages) and has no real plot. It is the fictional autobiography of a man after the world as we know it has come to an end. There are story arcs, but no real plot per se. Just the plot we all live out every day of our lives over the course of our lives.

Each book in the Saga, is edited from the original manuscript. I clean up the text, sometimes add new elements from things I’ve learned since writing the original, and work the manuscript into a conveniently sized novel. I’m guessing there could be up to 10 books in the series.

I’m considering putting in a cast of characters, because if you pick up a volume other than the first and start reading you will probably not understand who is who and what is what for at least some of the book. Other parts will become obvious after some reading. That is one advantage of self-publishing, I can tweak things to make the book better whenever I want.

The novel is in the form of diary entries. In The Troubled City, we start with the hero, Bill Arthur, the leader of Rocheport, going on a month long exploration to see what is out to the west of the little town of Rocheport, Missouri. What becomes quickly apparent is that there are three factions: one opposed to Bill, one supporting Bill, and those in the middle. When Bill returns to the city, he finds it slowly sinking into chaos and discovers no matter what he tries he seems incapable of stopping Rocheport from imploding. That is until he finds help from a person who will dominate the central books of the series.

The cover art is done by my wife. Enjoy the sample and look for the novel later this week!

The Troubled City copy

The Third Year After That Day

March 23rd

From the diary of Melanie Hanks:

Dad and Mert said goodbye early in the morning (Merty even gave me a hug and a kiss) and rode out of town on their horses through the north gate, with Andy and Kayla. Most everyone was there to say their goodbyes. Mom, Helena, Ash, George, and I waved until they disappeared from view. That’s when the dogs started whining, especially Asta. Mermaid nuzzled Helena’s hand to get her to pet her.

Just two days ago we were all standing in the same place, saying our goodbyes, and waving until they disappeared from view. Only to have them all return yesterday with two dozen people from Boonville, who decided they wanted to move to Rocheport for a better life. Now, Dad, Mert, Andy, and Kayla have left us again and I have a feeling this time we won’t be seeing them so soon.

There were lots of tears, today. I think others were thinking the same thing. Mom and I wiped our eyes and cheeks. Rain and Raine were crying. Emma, too. Cassie tried to hide it, but I saw her wiping her eyes. Reverend Rhonda’s cheeks were wet. We might never see them again and that scares me. Dad tried to make light of that fact, but it is true. The world is a dangerous place. Merty has always been there and now he’s my only family. Well, my only real family. I love Bill and Sally and call them “Dad” and “Mom”, but they aren’t my real parents. If Bill and Mert don’t come back, I guess I’ll have to love Sally, Helena, Ash, and George all the more. They’ll be all I have.

Not everyone was sad. I noticed Billy-Rae Thornpot was smiling and Reverend Powers didn’t have that mean look on his face. Steven Crane was even laughing. I think Harry Wirtz is going to have his hands full.

Our friends made sure we knew they’re here for us. Rhonda, Harry, Jerry, Jocelyn, Ralph, Cheryl, James, and Mary are good people, as my real dad would have said. I think they really will be there, if we need the help.

The Wrodkowskis walked home with us and Mom said they could stay, if they wanted, we have plenty of room. Rain and Raine were very happy and accepted the offer.

We and the Wrodkowskis went to Reverend Rhonda’s church service and afterwards, at the community dinner, that’s when the crap hit the fan. Reverend Powers found out there are a bunch of Catholics in the Boonville group and even a priest. He like totally lost it. Even Rachel, his wife, had a tough time getting him to calm down. And Steven Crane had to be right there all totally psyched out. It was Billy-Rae Thornpot who finally got them quieted down.

I felt so embarrassed. I mean like what are all these new people going to think? We’re all a bunch of psychos? Sometimes adults act so dumb.

After dinner, everyone helped the people from Boonville get settled. Billy-Rae even got Reverend Powers to help. He didn’t help the Catholics, though. Just the Baptists. I heard Harry Wirtz grumbling about “selective treatment”. “People are people,” he said. Apparently Reverend Powers doesn’t think so.

Most of the new people are older. There are a couple kids and three teens. There’s Zibby. Kinda hard to forget a name like that! She’s tall, like five-ten, and pretty too. She has long, kinda frizzy red hair and a few freckles. She acts like she totally knows what she’s doing. Her full name is Zibby Pandora White. She’s eighteen. Grace and Blair are the other teens. Grace is nineteen, about my height, with brown hair and eyes. Blair is eighteen. He’s kinda cute. Tall and broad shouldered. Blond hair and blue eyes. I’d like to get to know him.

From the diary of Bill Arthur:

We rode west and instead of going to Boonville, turned north to New Franklin. There are somewhere between twenty and thirty people living there. Mostly along the river. They greeted us warily and we decided it would be best if we moved on.

North of New Franklin is Fayette. Home of Central Methodist University and Morrison Observatory. The town itself is pretty much abandoned. The survivors having moved to the east shore of Rogers Lake and built a small village of shacks and tents surrounded by a palisade. There are around eighty survivors: fifty former students, the remaining being townsfolk.

They were quite friendly and eager to learn about the world beyond their doorstep. We ended up sleeping in the city park because things are very crowded within the palisade.

The people of Fayette seemed to be a harmonious group. At least they didn’t admit to any infighting and I didn’t sense any. They were growing their own food, hunting, and fishing. It’s nice to know there are people who can get along.

What I found disheartening was that while the former students might have been on their way to being prepared for life in the world before That Day, they were totally unprepared for life in the world after That Day. The ones enabling the community to survive are the older folks. The ones who grew up in the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. The ones who have some idea of how things work. Practical knowledge learned on the job or from their parents.

I suggested they glean what they can out of the college library. Preserve any books which tell how things work. They are the key to the future. The leaders of Fayette appreciated the suggestion.

March 24th

From the diary of Bill Arthur:

In the morning we bid farewell to the people of Fayette and rode west to Glasgow, a small town on the Missouri River. We found the people very friendly and eager to learn any news we had to share. They use bicycles to get around and have a couple horses which they use for farming.

Thirty-one people call Glasgow home and appear to be doing okay for themselves. Unlike us, they seem to have avoided large scale turmoil and strife. Makes me wonder how effective a leader I am. The people of both Fayette and Glasgow working together for everyone’s mutual benefit, while we are constantly fighting and bickering.

The surrounding countryside was farmland which is now reverting to grassland and forest. What was once covered in crops, is now giving birth to stands of saplings. We’ve seen no one in the open countryside. My guess is the solitaries have either died, been killed, or joined with some group.

We’re two and a half years into our new age and the survivors are clustering together, forming new communities out of the old. Doesn’t mean renegades and bandits aren’t about. There’ve always been Vandals, Huns, Vikings, you name them — the ones who’d rather take the fruits others have planted instead of planting their own. Today is no different. Mostly because people are people. That Day didn’t change who we are.

March 25th

From the diary of Melanie Hanks:

At the town hall meeting tonight, Reverend Powers, as usual, was a pain. We sang our anthem and even sang “Love is Little”, but when the time for new business came up Reverend Powers stood and demanded to know why the community wasn’t consulted concerning the Boonville people.

Harry Wirtz, who’s the leader while Dad is gone, looked really mad, although you couldn’t tell it from his voice. “Bill made the decision based on what he saw and what those people needed.”

Powers didn’t give up. “He should have discussed their situation with the community first.”

“Well, he didn’t. And since Bill isn’t here, we’re going to sit on this until he gets back,” Harry said.

Steven Crane jumped up. “What if he doesn’t come back?”

“We’ll deal with the issue then,” Harry answered.

From the look on their faces, Reverend Powers and Steven Crane didn’t like Harry’s answer but they didn’t say anymore about it. Good thing the Boonville people weren’t at the meeting.

March 26th

From the diary of Melanie Hanks:

At breakfast this morning, the Wood family and four others were sitting with Reverend Powers’ group. That doesn’t look good. The last thing we need is for more people to join Reverend Powers.

Zibby asked if she could sit with me. I said sure.

“I hear your dad is Bill Arthur, the guy who invited us to come here.”

“Yes. He’s my adopted dad.”

“Oh, sure. Lucky for you. No one took me in. I’m by myself. Some of the people back in Boonville helped me. Mostly, I just help myself.”

“I’m sorry. I mean not having anyone and all.”

“Thanks, but I’m okay. Your dad’s the one in charge, right?”

“He’s the leader.”

“Cool. I like you, Mel. We’re going to do alright.”

We talked about stuff and then went to school.

At dinner, Zibby, Blair Novak, and Grace Parchette sat with our family and the Wrodkowskis. The four of us were at one end of the table. I found out Zibby and Grace are Catholic, although Zibby doesn’t really believe it anymore.

Zibby said, “Blair, Grace, and Michael — he’s over there — and I kinda hung out together back in Boonville. We got a house together here.”

“You all live together?” I asked.

“Yeah, now we’re going to,” Zibby said.

Grace added, “We aren’t boyfriend or girlfriend. Just friends. No sex.”

“Oh, I see,” I said.

Zibby laughed. “I hear you guys have some crazy arrangements over here. At least that’s what John Wood said. He got it from that Reverend dude. The nutso.”

I practically snorted my milk at Zibby’s description. “Yeah. Powers is a pain in the butt. Doesn’t like anything. He and Dad don’t agree on much and if Powers doesn’t agree with you, look out.”

Zibby didn’t say anything. The look on her face suggested she was filing the information away. Grace and Blair just shook their heads and said it sounded like their group in a lot of ways.

We went on talking. What I didn’t like was how Zibby kept wanting to get into family stuff. Like she was prying. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t have a family? I don’t know. I just didn’t like it. When dinner was over, Blair said he was glad he made the move and was looking forward to getting to know everyone. He made me feel kinda mushy inside.

From the diary of Bill Arthur:

Glasgow is thirty-six miles away. I think it a bit much to hope for regular trade and communication with them. The travel time has to be measured in days now and there is so much to do. To spare three or four people for several days is something of a luxury and yet I don’t want to not follow up on our contact. At some point we are going to have to reach out and begin trading with other communities and sharing information and technology.

Of course we don’t have to be limited to horses. We could start making steam-powered automobiles and trucks. Or expand Jerry’s still and make more alcohol. The alcohol could be directly used in modified gasoline engines; combined with soybean or sunflower oil, maybe even corn oil, to produce biodiesel; or used in external combustion engines to produce steam. Because we have plenty of solid fuel, I’m inclined towards building steam-powered vehicles fired by solid fuel, rather than liquid. To produce liquid fuel from grains, seeds, and beans requires a lot of work. That is why we didn’t have it in the old world. It wasn’t overly cost effective. But we do have plenty of internal combustion engines around and we don’t have to fuel all of them. So it is an idea. This could be a community project. The Costigan’s Needle for Rocheport.

That science fiction novel keeps sticking in my mind. Those people stranded in another dimension, stopped their infighting by focusing on building the machine that could get them back home. We can’t go back, just as it turned out they couldn’t go back. But we can focus on the future. I want cars, not horses and buggies. Maybe building our own cars and trucks could be what pulls us together.

One valuable piece of information we got from the folks in Glasgow was confirmation as to the location of two salt licks. Eleven miles south of Glasgow is the famous Boone’s Lick site and across the river is Saline County, which was so named for the numerous salt licks that were once very actively used. The only ones that are easily identifiable are those in the Blue Lick Conservation Area, south of Marshall. Although the Glasgowites thought there were a couple others not too far to the west of them. They were not aware of anyone currently processing salt.

We bade them farewell, wished them luck, and rode west. The first town we came to was Gilliam and it was abandoned. Rusting cars. Houses slowly falling into ruin. The surrounding farmland was like all the other farmland we’ve seen. Slowly returning to forest.

Riding farther west we came to Slater and like the people in Fayette the Slater survivors had relocated to the shore of Slater Lake. Forty-some people form the community. They’ve built two dozen huts and have four tents surrounded by a wall of cars and logs. Hunting, fishing, and some extensive gardens are enabling them to get by. They invited us to stay and eat with them, which we did. Afterwards, they let us pitch our tents within the compound. We exchanged news about our respective areas. They’ve had turf wars with the people in Marshall over hunting and scavenging areas. Their own community has been pretty stable. Some leadership issues early on, but they were able to get them resolved.

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Moving Into Autumn

It’s mid-September, which means autumn is underway in Minnesota. The summer heat and humidity has pretty much left us. Temps have cooled down and we’re waiting for the leaves to change.

My summer has been very busy. My pencil and keyboard are never quiet. I thought I’d give you all a peek into what I’ve been up to and what will be coming out in virtual and actual print in the coming months.

The Rocheport Saga

My post-apocalyptic steam-powered future series, The Rocheport Saga, is moving right along. The Troubled City, Book #4, is in the final proofread. I should publish it by the end of September. Once it’s published, I’ll begin editing Book #5.

Love is Little (The Rocheport Saga #3) and The Troubled City should be out in paperback by the end of the year.

Justinia Wright and Cozies

I love mysteries, but I’m fussy at the same time. I like private eye mysteries, preferably told by the ‘Watson’ character. I’m currently reading the Bertha Cool/Donald Lam series by Earl Stanley Gardner, written under the pen name of AA Fair, and the Sharon McCone series by Marsha Muller. Both are very good.

What I like most about mysteries, isn’t the puzzle — it’s the characters. So my mysteries are heavy on the lives of the characters and what I call puzzle lite.

My own private detective, Justinia Wright, has new cases cooking. The novel, But Jesus Never Wept, will hopefully see publication in October. I’m in the middle of typing it and doing the initial edit. I’ve also written two short stories which feature cases predating Festival of Death, the first Justinia Wright novel. These I’ll publish in October. And I’ve started on Justinia Wright #4.

I’m hoping to have the Justinia Wright series available in paperback early next year.

I don’t like cozies. At least generally speaking. Clerical sleuths, like Father Brown, are an exception. Having written that, the Muse gave me a cozy character and setting. Now what on earth am I going to do with that? Write the story, of course.

So in addition to working on the fourth Justinia Wright novel, I’m working on a cozy. I’m not sure how the cozy will turn out. So I’m not saying much about it at this point.

Rand Hart

On this blog and on 8 Sentence Sunday on dieselpunks.org, I’ve been serializing the first chapter of my dieselpunk adventure novella featuring a new character, Rand Hart. Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch is with the beta readers and I’m looking to publish it in October.

I’m always puzzled when people ask me where do my ideas come from. Where do I find things to write about. I’m puzzled by these questions because stories are everywhere. One just needs to look. Everyone’s day to day interactions are stories waiting to be told.

Rand Hart is actually a take off of another character I created years ago and who is still in the drawer. I like dieselpunk and thought a gambler set in a dieselpunk world would be interesting. And so Rand Hart came into being. A retro version of my original character.

So where’s the story? The year is 1938 in the story. I started looking online for interesting events that happened in 1938 and stumbled on the May Pajama Putsch in Brazil where the Integralists tried to topple the government of Getúlio Vargas. Add the fact that a beautiful Brazilian movie star was involved and this was a perfect setting for a story.

Finding a story isn’t hard. What’s hard is finding the time to write all the stories.

Forget the Zombie Apocalypse

I’m not a fan of zombies. I think them ridiculous. I do, however, like post-apocalyptic novels; in particular, the cozy catastrophe kind. Okay, so the world as we knew it came to an end. Now what? It’s the ‘now what’ that I’m interested in. What happens after?

The sci-fi classic Earth Abides by George R Stewart was my first foray into the cozy catastrophe. I didn’t even know they were called that until recently. Other classics are When Worlds Collide and After Worlds Collide by Wylie and Balmer, The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, and the TV series Survivors created by Terry Nation. There are more, of course, and many are worth reading.

The Rocheport Saga is a cozy catastrophe. And who can write just one? A year ago I wrote a novella with some thought of it being the initial installment in a series. The series hasn’t yet materialized. Nevertheless, I’ve decided to go ahead and publish the novella. Look for Magdalena’s Tale sometime in November or December.

Lady Dru

Lady Dru fans needn’t despair. I haven’t forgotten you. Our intrepid reporter has some new adventures cooking. I’m thinking next year we’ll see at least two new tales From the Files of Lady Dru Drummond. We’ll also see more retro-futurism appear in the stories.

I was born in the ‘50s and I remember some of the wonderful things predicted for us back then. And, yes, I’m still waiting for my flying car.

Odds and Ends

Also coming down the publishing pipeline will be a vampire short story and a Cthulhu mythos story. Maybe December for those. As well as a couple other short stories of the macabre.

In addition, I’m trying to get all of my books uploaded to Draft 2 Digital which will make them available on Kobo, iTunes, Nook, Oyster, and Scribd, as well as the 17 vendors for those who have Tolino, Germany’s answer to the Kindle.

My psychological/supernatural horror novella, Do One Thing For Me, is now live on iTunes, Kobo, Nook, and Oyster.

I’m loving retirement. At long last I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do. We spend so much time doing things that are not important to obtaining our heart’s desire. We live sidetracked lives.

Simple living naturalist guru John Burroughs wrote we need to live lives that matter. The question is matter to whom? I think our lives must matter to ourselves first and foremost. If my life doesn’t matter to me, it sure as heck isn’t going to matter to anyone else.

I think writing is fun. But it isn’t all play. Every writer, whether he or she realizes it, is presenting his or her view of life, his or her world view. Writing is philosophy, whether we realize it or not. At base, my books are about people who must deal with life and who come away with some sense of how they are going to continue living so that, at the very least, their lives matter to them. And hopefully others.

Is that any different than what we should be doing?

May your autumn or your spring, for those of you on the other side of our wonderful world, be a fabulous one. Make the most of your day. For each one only comes once.

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #37

Last week we stopped in the middle of Rand Hart’s rumination over von Osler’s offer of a sweet pile of deutsche marks to make a simple delivery. Today we continue his ruminations and finish the chapter. It’s quite a bit over 8 sentences, however I just couldn’t see dragging out the scene for one more Sunday and post a mere 6 sentences next week. I hope y’all don’t mind. 🙂

He pursed his lips. If he was lucky, he might be able to get in some poker or backgammon on the Miami to Rio flight and sweeten the job even more. There were usually at least a few high rollers making the trip. It wasn’t every day he got the chance to make this much money from a simple delivery. Once he got back to the States, there’d be plenty of time to enjoy his great big pile of cash.

Hart turned his attention back to the German. “Five thousand for tickets and expenses.”

Von Osler considered for a moment and then agreed. “Fifty-five thousand to ‘run my errand’ I believe you Americans say.”

“We say that.”

Hart looked out the window of the giant airship. The sky was blue with a big old cumulus cloud drifting along. The ocean was calm, placid even.

“Okay, Mr von Osler. I’ll do it.”

This brings chapter one of Rand Hart to an end. I’ve finished the story and am now in the process of editing and at present it is with the beta readers. The tale is a 21,000 word novella. At present. I’m hoping to publish in October.

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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The Wonderful Machine Age: Socialists, Communists, and Labor Unions

“In order to gain and to hold the esteem of men it is not sufficient merely to possess wealth or power. The wealth or power must be put in evidence, for esteem is awarded only on evidence. … Conspicuous abstention from labour therefore becomes the conventional mark of superior pecuniary achievement and the conventional index of reputability… Labour [is] unavoidably become dishonourable, as being evidence of poverty.”

Thorstein Veblen coined the terms “conspicuous leisure” and “conspicuous consumption” in his 1899 book The Theory of the Leisure Class. The above quote, taken from the chapter, “Conspicuous Leisure”, points out the goal of every Victorian middle-class gentleman: to have so much money he needn’t work and was therefore able to buy whatever his heart desired.

The fabulous wealth generated by industry during the Machine Age spawned an entire class of people who didn’t work. They lived off their “living” and displayed their wealth in the most ostentatious manner possible.

Every coin, however, has a flip side. And while the Machine Age gave rise to a wealthy class, that wealth was generated on the backs of poorly paid laborers.

The lot of those in service was low wages, long hours, rudimentary living conditions, and the fear of being sacked with no reference.

Factory workers lost hands, arms, legs, or their lives working around machines with no safety guards. Lung disease was common amongst miners and textile workers. All in addition to receiving low wages, without any benefits.

It is reported that when the Titanic was sinking, the passageways from the lower decks were blocked to prevent any but the rich from getting a seat on the lifeboats.

When Marie Antoinette supposedly uttered those famous words, “let them eat cake”, it wasn’t because she was mean—it was because she genuinely thought the peasants had simply run out of bread and didn’t want to eat the cake they had. Ignorance of the plight of the peasant didn’t prove to be bliss in her case. And the lack of concern for how the middle class and the wealthy got their money at the beginning of the Machine Age, gave rise to powerful political and social dynamics that are still with us, long after the Machine Age came to an end.

Labor Unions

To improve working conditions, workers began to organize. In the US, the National Labor Union was founded in 1866. It was not overly successful and disbanded in 1874. It did, however, pave the way for more successful unions, such as the many railroad unions, the Knights of Labor, the American Federation of Labor, and the Industrial Workers of the World.

In Britain, unions were legalized in 1871 and were responsible for the founding of the Labour Party in 1900 to represent their interests in the government.

The story of the labor movement is too long to be told here. The significance of the movement to my mind was it’s largely successful attempt to get a bigger piece of the pie for workers. The people who produced the goods that generated the wealth for the Leisure Class, we’re entitled to a fair wage, fair benefits, and safe working conditions.

All of which we take for granted today. Fair wages, fair benefits, and safe working conditions are no longer up for discussion. They are now the norm and I think that is good. The laborer is worthy of his hire, the New Testament says. And it took labor unions to make honest Christians of many industrialists.

The scene in the movie Metropolis where the hero, the naive son of a wealthy industrialist, sees the factory workers, portrayed as automatons, and then himself works at a machine, I think tells it all.

Socialism

The horror that was so often the late 19th century and early 20th century workplace and the wasteful opulence of the minority Leisure Class versus the majority Working Class, gave rise to Socialism — a social and economic system advocating social ownership or control of the means of production and the replacement of production for profit with production for use.

A socialist economy eschews the accumulation of capital and favors a system whereby goods are produced to satisfy individual and social needs.

Various forms of Socialism existed prior to the Machine Age. The form in which we see it today began as the Industrial Revolution ramped up the production of goods and successful business owners and industrialists grew rich, along with investors who didn’t work for a living. The notion that wealth should be shared by all gained adherents amongst the working class. How the working class should get their fair share was not universally agreed upon. But that they were entitled to more than what they were getting was universally agreed upon by Socialists.

The income tax (usually in a progressive form), worker-owned businesses, cooperatives, minimum wage, “free” public education (paid for by taxes), and “free” healthcare (paid for by taxes) are all ideas based on Socialist ideals.

Communism

Like Socialism, Communism existed in many forms prior to the Industrial Revolution. Vladimir Lenin advocated a particularly violent form of socialism which had its origins in the thought of Louis Auguste Blanqui, where a small band of revolutionaries should seize the government and then use the power of the state to enforce Socialism.

Lenin blended Blanqui’s views with those of Karl Marx to form the social-political-economic theories of the Communist Party. Marxism-Leninism has characterized the thought of Communists since the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Rising out of the Machine Age, Communism produced or was responsible for a multitude of horrors in the 20th Century. Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Nikolai Ceausescu, Kim Jong-il, Mao Zedong, and we must always remember Adolf Hitler rose to power in part as a crusader against Communism.

Some Thoughts

The Industrial Revolution and the Machine Age which followed were perhaps the greatest catalysts for social and political change since the invention of farming, which turned humans from wandering hunter-gatherers into civilization builders.

The Machine Age accelerated the urbanization of the Western world. Most people today live in cities and their sprawling suburbs and think their food comes from a store. They have little connection to the earth. How can they surrounded as they are by concrete, glass, asphalt, steel, plywood, and particle board? Is it any wonder people have little concept of what it means to protect the environment? Or why consumerism runs rampant, fueled by governments seeking economic growth? Growth which succeeds because people are no longer in touch with the earth, only the greed of their primal hunter-gatherer natures.

The Machine Age resulted in wonderful inventions which have enriched our lives — but it also had a dark side: dehumanization. I think this is in part why we have noir films and literature, why dissonance in art music became so prevalent from the 1920s onward, why totalitarianism became a reality in the ‘20s and ‘30s and continues in our democratic societies today as governments extensively monitor their citizens. And perhaps an even more insidious form of totalitarianism has arisen in the Digital Age with corporations such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Amazon monitoring everything we do in order to try to control our behavior — all so someone can sell us something. Max Headroom?

Labor Unions, Socialism, Communism, and even Fascism and Nazism were all attempts to deal with the dark side of the Machine Age. And they did, with mixed results.

Today’s world has been built on yesterday’s and done so with mixed results.

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #36

Von Osler wants Hart very badly to be his deliveryman, as we saw last week:

“I have a person who will make the delivery. But…” Von Osler shrugged. “He is not as skilled, creative, or lucky as you are. With you…? Let us say it is like having four jacks instead of four eights.”

Are 53,000 deutsche marks going to change his mind from spending some time at home? Hart turns the offer over in his mind:

Hart turned his gaze towards the window and the ocean beyond. He’d been hoping to spend some time at home. Enjoying his money. Now, however, fifty-three thousand deutsche marks were staring him in the face. And just to deliver a little box. By noon on the eleventh. He wouldn’t have much time. Probably have to catch a red eye out of La Guardia or Floyd Bennett tonight for Miami and then a three day flight on a Pan Am clipper.

To be continued!

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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The Wonderful Machine Age: Mass Marketing/Consumerism

Then I saw in my dream, that when they were got out of the wilderness, they presently saw a town before them, and the name of that town is Vanity; and at the town there is a fair kept, called Vanity Fair. It is kept all the year long. It beareth the name of Vanity Fair … because all that is there sold, or that cometh thither, is vanity… One chanced … to say unto them, ‘What will ye buy?’

John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress was published in 1678. His description of Vanity Fair predates the Industrial Revolution by eight decades and the Machine Age by two centuries. And yet nothing characterizes the Machine Age and the Modern Era so much as the question, “What will ye buy?”

Mass marketing and the accompanying Consumerism began in The Machine Age. And as it began, so did the hue and cry arise for us to return to a simpler life and eschew the call to “Buy! Buy! Buy!” Writers such as John Burroughs, David Greyson, Edward Bok, Ralph Borsodi, and Theodore Roosevelt wrote books and articles and gave speeches extolling the virtues of a life without “stuff”. And all the while the Ad Men appealed to our sense of need.

I know for myself there is life before iPad and life with iPad. I confess, I prefer life with iPad. Although I could live without the iPad, it would be much more difficult to dispense with the world wide web altogether. I’ve become used to having volumes of information at my fingertips that would have been difficult for even my local research librarian to glean a mere 40 years ago.

The Stoic philosopher Seneca, very much a voice for our age, counseled his friend that wealth was not in and of itself bad. What was bad was thinking we can’t live without it or that we should have it.

With stuff comes anxiety and the modern age is filled with anxiety. Thoreau’s image of the man pulling a massive barn-sized wagon down the road with all of his worldly possessions piled high in it comes to mind. There is something a whole lot simpler about a backpack.

How then did Mass Marketing and Consumerism arise? They arose out of the scale of production and the means to produce tens of thousands of an item, whereas previously only a hundred or two had been produced. They arose out of the dreams of our Victorian ancestors of what constituted progress and plenty.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, goods were generally produced at home or in small shops. What today we call cottage industries. Local artisans and craftsmen produced goods to order in addition to what they produced for themselves. The extra money helped to supplement what was produced on the farm.

For example, in the American Revolution muskets and rifles were produced by hand. The British government contracted with gunsmiths to produce a certain number of weapons in a given period of time. An agent then went to the gunsmith’s place of business, collected the weapons, and paid the smith. The same was done for uniforms before the big textile mills were built.

The process was slow and costly. Production of goods was often secondary to the main livelihood of the producer, which was usually farming. With the advent of steam power and the invention of machines to manufacture goods, the scale of production went up. Instead of maybe ten or twenty pairs of socks a cottage industry could produce by hand, the mills could produce ten or twenty thousand in the same period of time or less.

This, however, caused a problem for the manufacturer. He simply had too many items on his hands. The cost to him to produce a thousand was often greater per item than to produce ten thousand. The economics of scale gives us a lower cost per item the more we produce because it is cheaper to buy in bulk than singly. So what was a manufacturer to do with the extra goods? Enter the Ad Man and the Salesman and the call, “What will ye buy?”

An interesting article is “The Commercial Christmas”, which gives a quick look at how the Victorians commercialized the holiday. And by 1890 editorials were appearing in The Ladies Home Journal complaining of Christmas being too commercial.

Today we have, through the world wide web, everything at our fingertips and ad agencies convince us we just can’t live without _________ (you fill in the blank). The amount of consumer debt is frightening. In the US, as of 31 March 2015, household debt was $11.85 trillion. Of that credit card debt was $684 billion. And as of the end of 2013 28% of Americans had more credit card debt than savings and only 51% had more emergency savings than credit card debt. And this doesn’t include other debt, such as school loans, car loans, and mortgages.

Consumerism is alive and well. Every government in the Western World worries when consumers stop spending and every developing country’s government  tries to figure out how to get its people to buy. The modern world is built on consumerism.

So why don’t we see more of this in our retro-future novels? Clearly the Steampunk and Dieselpunk real life worlds saw the beginning of mass marketing and consumerism and were in large part formed by them.

Is it a case, perhaps as with television, they are so much with us we see no fictional value in them?

I think of the short-lived, late ‘80s sci-fi TV show Max Headroom. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show, it was a satirical and cyberpunk look at ourselves “20 minutes into the future”. The first episode, entitled “Blipverts”, explored mass marketing. [Spoiler alert here.] People were mysteriously exploding. It was discovered that Network 23 was using high-intensity commercials which had the ability to overload people’s nervous systems, causing them to explode.

Of interest is that the atmosphere of Max Headroom was about as depressingly noir as one can get. I think it was cyberpunk at its finest.

Surely there is something in this the steampunk or dieselpunk writer can use. After all both steampunk and dieselpunk are children of cyberpunk. I see both subgenres ignoring major expanses of territory which need to be explored. Where is the inventiveness of Jules Verne and H G Wells? Or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Fritz Lang (the movie Metropolis from 1927).

Both subgenres are science fiction and from my observation (of my own work too), both have degenerated into using highly selective tropes to produce works which are simply mysteries or romances or adventure yarns set in an alternative historical universe. There is nothing wrong with this. I just think there is so much more. Something like “Blipverts”.

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