Lady Hay Drummond-Hay (September 12, 1895—February 12, 1946) was a star journalist who became the first woman to circumnavigate the globe, and she did it in a damned Zeppelin. She went on to report from war zones like Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) and Manchuria (now part of China), fell into a tumultuous romance with a fellow reporter, and was eventually captured by the Japanese during WWII.
…swim the English Channel.
Gertrude Ederle (October 23, 1905 – November 30, 2003) was a competitive swimmer, Olympic champion, and at one time held five world records. If there was a world record for coolest nickname she would’ve held six, because hers was “Queen of the Waves.” When Ederle set out to become the first woman to swim the English channel, she used motorcycle goggles and sealed the edges with wax to keep the salt water out of her eyes. Due to unfavorable and violent wind conditions twelve hours into her 14 hour and 34 minute journey, her trainer shouted at her to get out of the water and into his boat. She reportedly popped her head up from the water to simply ask “what for?”
…travel around the world in less than 80 days.
Nellie Bly (May 5, 1864—January 27, 1922) asked her editor at the New York World if she could take a stab at turning the story Around the World in 80 Days from fiction to fact. Using railways and steamships, Bly chuggah-chuggahed and toot-tooted the nearly 25,000 mile trip in just 72 days, meeting Jules Verne and buying a monkey along the way. If her name sounds familiar but these stories don’t, it’s probably because you’ve heard about how she once faked a mental illness so she could write an exposé on psychiatric asylums. Or maybe it’s because of her famed coverage of the Woman Suffrage Parade of 1913. Or maybe it’s because you’re a big fan of farming and industrialist patents and heard she invented a novel milk can and a stacking garbage can. Nellie Bly did a lot in her short 57 years.
Follow these Tumblrs for more Women’s History:
Stuff You Missed in History Class (@missedinhistory) is not exclusively about women, but hoo boy, it turns out most history classes aren’t great at teaching us about women’s history. You’ll learn a lot here.
The New-York Historical Society (@nyhistory) has been pulling articles, artifacts, and documents deep from the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library this Women’s History Month.
In November 1889,
American journalist Nellie Bly began her record-breaking 72 day trip around the
world. She was inspired to take this trip after reading Jules Verne’s 1873
novel, Around the World in Eighty Days. Bly traveled mostly by steamships
and railroads with the journey taking her through England, France, Pakistan,
and Japan. On January 25, 1890, Bly returned to New Jersey 72 days and 6 hours
after her trip began.
Nellie Bly became a media sensation and a board game was
created to celebrate her accomplishment. Gamers of 1890 would spin the dial and
travel around the board until they reached the end. They would also want to
avoid certain squares on the board which saddled them with delays similar to
those Bly encountered, such as waiting for a ship to depart. If you look
closely at the game board, you can see that a stormy day would take you back 10
The “Flying Houses” are inspired by a poetic vision of old Paris, by Jules Vernes, Albert Robida, Moebius, Hayao Miyazaki, Albert Lamorisse, Wim Wenders, Federico Fellini, Marcel Carné, Jean Cocteau and a lot of others references. These buildings are also inspired by poor and cosmopolitan neighborhood of Paris where lives Laurent Chéhère. Through a tragic and melancholic report, they testify poetically and subtly of an alarming contemporary reality by revealing meanders and concerns of a class impoverished by the society, in particular the Gypsies and the immigrants. The author isolates these buildings of their urban context and releases them from the anonymity of the street to tell the life, the dreams and the hopes of these inhabitants.
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Top Misconceptions People Have about Pulp-Era Science Fiction
A lot of people I run into have all kinds of misconceptions about what pulp-era scifi, from the 1920s-1950s, was actually like.
Science Fiction was about optimistic futures.”
Optimistic futures were always, always vastly outnumbered by end of the
world stories with mutants, Frankenstein creations that turn against us, murderous
robot rebellions, terrifying alien invasions, and atomic horror. People don’t change. Then as now, we were more interested in hearing about how it could all go wrong.
To quote H.L. Gold, editor of Galaxy Science Fiction, in 1952:
“Over 90% of stories submitted to Galaxy Science Fiction still nag away at atomic, hydrogen and bacteriological war, the post atomic world, reversion to barbarism, mutant children killed because they have only ten toes and fingers instead of twelve….the temptation is strong to write, ‘look, fellers, the end isn’t here yet.’”
movie Tomorrowland is a particulary egregious example of this tremendous
misconception (and I can’t believe Brad Bird passed on making Force Awakens to make a movie that was 90 minutes of driving through the Florida swamps). In reality, pre-1960s scifi novels trafficked in dread,
dystopian futures, and fear. There was simply never a time when optimistic scifi was overrepresented, even the boyish Jules Verne became skeptical of the possibilities of technology all the way at the turn of the century. One of the most famous pulp scifi yarns was
Jack Williamson’s The Humanoids, about a race of Borg-like robots who so
totally micromanage humans “for our own protection” that they leave us with
nothing to do but wait “with folded hands.”
scifi often featured muscular, large-chinned, womanizing main characters.”
the image often used in parodies of pulp scifi: the main character is a
big-chinned, ultra-muscular dope in tights who is a compulsive womanizer and talks
like Adam West in Batman. Whenever I see this, I think to myself…what exactly
is it they’re making fun of?
more normal than you think to find parodies of things that never actually
existed. Mystery buffs and historians, for example, can’t find a single
straight example of “the Butler did it.” It’s a thing people think is a thing
that was never a thing, and another example would be the idea of the “silent
film villain” in a mustache and top hat (which there are no straight examples
of, either). There are no non-parody examples of Superman changing in a phone
booth; he just never did this.
my favorite description of pulp mag era science fiction heroes is that they are
“wisecracking Anglo-Saxon engineers addicted to alcohol and tobacco who like
nothing better than to explain things to others that they already know.” The
average pulp scifi hero had speech patterns best described as “Mid-Century American Wiseass” than like Adam
West or the Lone Ranger.
nearest the Spaceman Spiff stereotype came to hitting the mark was with the
magazine heroes of the Lensmen and Captain Future, and they’re both nowhere near close. Captain Future was a
muscular hero with a chin, but he also had a Captain Picard level desire to use
diplomacy first, and believed that most encounters with aliens were only
hostile due to misunderstandings and lack of communication (and the story makes
him right). He also didn’t seem interested in women, mostly because he had
better things to do for the solar system and didn’t have the time for love. The Lensmen, on the other hand, had a ruthless, bloodthirsty streak, and were very much like the “murder machine” Brock Sampson (an attitude somewhat justified by the stakes in their struggle).
“Pulp Era Scifi were mainly action/adventure stories with good vs. evil.”
This is a half-truth, since, like so much other genre fiction, scifi has always been sugared up with fight scenes and chases. And there was a period, early in the century, when most scifi followed the Edgar Rice Burroughs model and were basically just Westerns or swashbucklers with different props, ray guns instead of six-shooters. But the key thing to remember is how weird so much of this scifi was, and that science fiction, starting in the mid-1930s, eventually became something other than just adventure stories with different trappings.
One of my favorite examples of this is A. Bertram Chandler’s story, “Giant-Killer.” The story is about rats on a starship who acquire intelligence due to proximity to the star drive’s radiation, and who set about killing the human crew one by one. Another great example is Eando Binder’s Adam Link stories, told from the point of view of a robot who is held responsible for the death of his creator.
What’s more, one of the best writers to come out of this era is best known for never having truly evil bad guys: Isaac Asimov. His “Caves of Steel,” published in 1953, had no true villains. The Spacers, who we assumed were snobs, only isolated themselves because they had no immunities to the germs of earth.
“Racism was endemic to the pulps.”
It is absolutely true that the pulps reflected the unconscious views of society as a whole at the time, but as typical of history, the reality was usually much more complex than our mental image of the era. For instance, overt racism was usually shown as villainous: in most exploration magazines like Adventure, you can typically play “spot the evil asshole we’re not supposed to like” by seeing who calls the people of India “dirty monkeys” (as in Harold Lamb).
Street & Smith, the largest of all of the pulp publishers, had a standing rule in the 1920s-1930s to never to use villains who were ethnic minorities because of the fear of spreading race hate by negative portrayals. In fact, in one known case, the villain of Resurrection Day was going to be a Japanese General, but the publisher demanded a revision and he was changed to an American criminal. Try to imagine if a modern-day TV network made a rule that minority groups were not to be depicted as gang bangers or drug dealers, for fear that this would create prejudice when people interact with minority groups in everyday life, and you can see how revolutionary this policy was. It’s a mistake to call this era very enlightened, but it’s also a mistake to say everyone born before 1970 was evil.
scifi writers in the early days were indifferent to scientific reality and
played fast and loose with science.”
is, by an order of magnitude, the
most false item on this list.
fact, you might say that early science fiction fandom were obsessed with
scientific accuracy to the point it was borderline anal retentive. Nearly every
single one of the lettercols in Astounding Science Fiction were nitpickers
fussing about scientific details. In fact, modern scifi fandom’s grudging
tolerance for storytelling necessities like sound in space at the movies, or novels that use
“hyperspace” are actually something of a step down from what the culture around
scifi was in the 1920s-1950s. Part of it was due to the fact that organized scifi fandom came out of science clubs; Hugo Gernsback created the first scifi pulp magazine as a way to sell electronics and radio equipment to hobbyists, and the “First Fandom” of the 1930s were science enthusiasts who talked science first and the fiction that speculated about it second.
In retrospect, a lot of it was just plain obvious
insecurity: in a new medium considered “kid’s stuff,” they wanted to show scifi
was plausible, relevant, and something different from “fairy tales.” It’s the same insecure mentality that leads video gamers to repeatedly ask if games are art. You’ve got nothing to prove there, guys, calm down (and take it from a pulp scifi aficionado, the most interesting things are always done in the period when a medium is considered disposable trash).
the best examples was the famous Howard P. Lovecraft, who published “The Shadow
out of Time” in the 1936 issue of Astounding. Even though it might be the only
thing from that issue that is even remotely reprinted today, the letters page
from this issue practically rose up in
revolt against this story as not being based on accurate science. Lovecraft
was never published in Astounding ever again.
ever wanted to find out what Star Wars would be like if they were bigger
hardasses about scientific plausibility, check out E.E. Smith’s Lensman series.
People expect a big, bold, brassy space opera series with heroes and villains
to play fast and loose, but it was shockingly scientifically grounded.
fair, science fiction was not a monolith on this. One of the earliest division
in science fiction was between the Astounding Science Fiction writers based in
New York, who often had engineering and scientific backgrounds and had
left-wing (in some cases, literally Communist) politics, and the Amazing
Stories writers based in the Midwest, who were usually self taught, and had
right-wing, heartland politics. Because the Midwestern writers in Amazing
Stories were often self-taught, they had a huge authority problem with science
and played as fast and loose as you could get. While this is true, it’s worth
noting science fiction fandom absolutely turned on Amazing Stories for this,
especially when the writers started dabbling with spiritualism and other
weirdness like the Shaver Mystery. And to this day, it’s impossible to find many Amazing Stories tales
Remembering Jules Verne on his deathday, March 24th 1905. Jules Verne was a lifelong fan of Poe, having read them as a boy. Poe’s writings influenced his own, taking in a mix of the real world and the fantastic. In particular, Poe’s 1844 story, The Balloon Hoax caught Verne’s attention.
The Disastrous Production of Howard Hughes’ 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Disney’s 1954 production of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues by Richard Fleischer has long been the definitive cinematic version of the story. But it was not the first to enter production. In 1946, famous billionaire Howard Hughes attempted to make the film, following “The Outlaw” which would become his final completed film as director. The production would become one of Hollywood’s greatest disasters, taking the lives of over 90 actors and crew, costing nearly half a billion dollars (adjusted for inflation), destroying an entire island, and almost causing a third world war.
As the second world war drew to a close, Hughes was setting his sights on what he intended to be his magnum opus. Verne’s book had long been an inspiration to Hughes, in part inspiring his ventures into nautical enterprises, including the construction of the “Mahogany Mackerel,” one of the largest ships ever to sail. A party was held to mark the start of production at one of Hughes’ seaside homes outside of San Francisco (the mansion is now the home of director David Fincher), and was sadly marred when a drunken Hughes began shooting into the air with his crossbow and killed an albatross, which fell into the punch bowl.
The party featured the intended stars of the film, actors Gene Kelly, Gregory Peck, and Orson Welles who would portray Captain Nemo. It was an early blow to the film when all three actors departed the production on its first day due to infighting over an unsuccessful orgy the prior week. This caused a massive production delay during which Hughes bought up over 50 warehouses (including the world’s largest building at the time) to hold the sets and specially built water tanks until casting was replenished.
Two of these warehouses burned down (including the world’s largest building fire at the time), destroying the sets which then had to be rebuilt. By the time Hughes decided to cast unknown actors in the lead roles, ten more major set pieces had rotted away delaying the production further. Finally in October of 1948 the new sets and all actors were in place on the luxurious island of Bikini Atoll. The crew was to arrive at the shooting location on October 26th but was delayed by weather. This turned out to be a good thing as the United States conducted an unannounced nuclear test on October 27th, annihilating the island and the sets completely. The island is still not inhabitable to this day, and Howard Hughes, who owned the island, was compensated only $212 (adjusted for inflation) for his losses by the government.
Undeterred, Hughes began again with fresh sets, and new actors as the previous group had long since departed by 1950. This time, production finally began and footage was shot. It was never developed however because despite the expenditure of $800,000 (adjusted for inflation) on pyrotechnics for the first scenes shot, nobody had thought to temperature-protect the film canisters, which were opened at the lab and found to have melted completely into what amounted to large plastic hockey pucks. Hughes filmed the scene again, at the same cost, and then a third time when he was not satisfied with a background extra’s hair. This new footage too was lost when it was captured by rebellious 1950s teenagers who held it for ransom. They asked only $50 (adjusted for inflation) but Hughes refused to pay on principle.
The actors and crew were even more upset than Hughes that their work had been for nothing and so began the “Leagues Riots” of 1951. What sets remained were once more burned down, this time in protest. The lead actors were rehearsing in the sets at the time and all died of smoke inhalation. Hughes was also injured in an unrelated accident on the same day when he flew an experimental plane on its first test flight. He managed to steer the wayward jet back to his own property but missed the runway and instead crashed into another set, which had already been rigged for pyrotechnics the previous night, resulting in the loss of the set, pyro, plane, Hughes left pinky toe, and over 30 million dollars in production costs (adjusted for inflation).
Then the real problems began.
Hughes replaced the lead actor with Sam Normanjensen, once thought to be an great star on the rise. Unfortunately he was also a serial killer known then as the Sherman Oaks Ripper. He had killed 17 actors before he was cast, and filmed for only two weeks before he slaughtered and ate the spleen of one of his co-stars. Hughes was exonerated of any negligence but only after 50 million dollars (adjusted for inflation) in court fees and settlements with the actors family, one member of which visited the set on a later filming day to fire his pistol randomly at the remaining cast in anger, killing two more, wounding Hughes who lost his right testicle, and destroying a filming balloon that was the largest air vehicle ever built at the time (adjusted for inflation).
It was then that the Verne family withdrew their rights from the plagued production. Another legal battle cost in the millions, and by the time it was over in 1952, the sets had once again rotted away and had to be rebuilt. By that time, the Disney production was under way and Hughes spent millions more to spy on and sabotage the rival production. Several Disney employees fell victims to car bombs, others to arsenic poisoning, and one to auto-erotic asphyxiation, but Hughes was not considered responsible for that particular event. Walt Disney, of course, declared war.
The “War Between The Sets” began in 1953 as Hughes forces were driven off by Disney’s hired guns, the Mouseketeers which in those days were a fully armed paramilitary force. This skirmish took seven lives, but it was only the beginning. Hughes used his government contracts to secure two bombers and arms weighing in excess of 500 tons, all of which were dropped on Disney owned installations. Disney’s retaliation was severe. Hughes hotels burned days after, there were so many fires that Vegas and LA were both lit as bright as daylight even at midnight from the blazes. Hughes responded with bombings and drone strikes, with “drone strikes” in 1953 referring to dropping bees on ones enemy. One such strike which killed Disney’s allergic son, Walt Disney III (There was no Walt Disney II as Walt felt that talent skipped a generation). The conflict at one point threatened to spill over into Russia’s Southern American interests, leading the president to demand Hughes back down before turning the cold war into a nuclear conflict.
By the time a truce was called, Disney’s film was in theaters and Hughes was ready to call it a loss. He became reclusive and wasn’t seen much in public from that time on. Disney continued to be one of the largest entertainment companies in the world, and remains the producer of the most definitive adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.
The book has not been adapted since, but David Fincher’s new version begins filming next week on a budget over 200 million dollars. Sadly, the production has already seen its first fatality, when fireworks during the production party at Fincher’s San Francisco home went astray and killed an albatross.
We at FIJMU wish Fincher the best of luck on his upcoming production. He’s going to need it.