Nick Ottens created The Gatehouse and the Gatehouse Gazette, one of the first and only magazines devoted to dieselpunk and steampunk, in 2008. The Gatehouse became Never Was in 2018. Nick also writes for the Atlantic Sentinel and Forgotten Trek.
If you liked Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (our review here), you’re going to love The Game. This little-known, underappreciated 2014 spy series has a plot worthy of John le Carré and an impressive cast.
Brian Cox, who stars as the Rupert Murdoch-inspired media mogul Logan Roy in Succession, is the director of MI5. Victoria Hamilton, who played the Queen Mother Elizabeth in the first two seasons of The Crown, is the secret service’s Soviet expert. Paul Ritter, who so brilliantly portrayed the man most responsible for the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the eponymous 2019 HBO miniseries (our review here), and who sadly died of a brain tumor earlier this year, is cast perfectly as an sly, ambitious bureaucrat.
The central character is Joe Lambe (Tom Hughes), a young MI5 agent who stumbles on a communist plot to undermine British democracy.
Set in 1972 (Tinker Tailor takes place in 1973), the six episodes of The Game are a treasure trove of Cold War tropes. There are defectors and moles, secret American nuclear weapons, the “letters of last resort”: the prime minister’s instructions to the commanders of Britain’s four nuclear submarines in case of a Soviet nuclear attack. The IRA is involved.
Harold W. McCauley (1913-77) was a prolific illustrator of pulp and science-fiction magazines, drawing covers for the likes of Amazing magazine, Fantastic Adventures, Imaginative Tales and Mammoth Detective.
McCauley studied at the Art Institute of Chicago with James Allen St John, who stirred a passion for fantasy and science fiction in the younger man. McCauley later also studied at the American Academy of Art in Chicago.
He was unable to serve in World War II due to poor health. Immediately after the war, he was hired by the Chicago-based publishing house Ziff Davis, where he drew the many covers and illustrations he is now remembered for in the retro-futurist community.
I’ve restyled our message-board community, the Never Was Lounge. The black-and-yellow colors and neon sign harken back to the glory days of the Smoking Lounge, which was our message board when we were still The Gatehouse. When The Gatehousebecame Never Was, the Smoking Lounge was renamed the Never Was Lounge.
The lounge opened in January 2008. When Brass Goggles launched their own steampunk forum that year, we had hoped to merge with them, but it soon became clear that they would not allow discussion of dieselpunk, politics or anything risqué or controversial, so there remained a good reason for the Smoking Lounge to exist.
Others came and went. SteamPunk Magazine (no longer published) ran their own community for a time, The Gaslamp Bazaar. It is gone. Gothic Steam Fantastic had a forum. It is gone. Wings of Steam created a community. It is gone. There was a Retrofuturist Society. It is gone. Club of Clockwork Gentlemen is still online but dead. Dieselpunks.org closed in 2020 after almost a decade. Now even The Steampunk Forum at Brass Goggles is down. (Some of its members can be found on Spare Goggles.)
The lounge has been online without interruption, and I intend to keep the lights on for as long as I can pay the bills. Why don’t you stop by and say hi?
We continued our partnership with Sea Lion Press, the world’s first publishing house devoted exclusively to alternate history. We republished stories and reviews by Ryan Fleming, Matthew Kresal and Adam Selby-Martin from their blog, and they republished several of ours. Kresal won the Sidewise Award for Best Short Form Alternate History this year for “Moonshot,” published in the Sea Lion Press anthology Alternate Australias.
Stephen Beale asks if steampunk hasn’t become too reliant on Facebook:
As much as steampunk fans depend on Facebook to connect with one another, it’s fair to say that many of us have a love-hate relationship with the platform. Much of this relates to concerns about data privacy as well as Facebook’s alleged role in exacerbating a range of social ills, including political polarization and the spread of misinformation about COVID-19.
I agree. I quit Facebook when the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke. Never Was doesn’t have a Facebook presence. (The Facebook page of our predecessor, The Gatehouse, still exists, because Facebook refuses to delete or rename it.) It’s a challenge. It’s harder to keep in touch with people. We still receive many visitors from Facebook when users share one of our stories there. We’re probably missing out on readers because we don’t promote our content on Facebook ourselves.
Benedict Cumberbatch is predictably outstanding in The Courier, a Cold War thriller about an accidental British spy. Rachel Brosnahan, of The Marvelous Mrs Maisel fame, puts in a strong performance as his CIA handler. The production design is gorgeous; the story almost unbelievable, but it’s true.
Greville Wynne (Cumberbatch), a seemingly unremarkable businessman, really was recruited by the British secret service at the height of the Cold War to ferry messages from a Soviet defector in Moscow: Oleg Penkovsky (played aptly by Merab Ninidze), a colonel in the military intelligence GRU.
Penkovsky, the highest-ranking Soviet defector at the time, provided the West with crucial information about the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal and strategy at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s not a stretch to argue, as the movie does, that the Penkovsky intelligence Wynne brought to London helped avert World War III in 1962.
The lost empire of Tartaria is the most delightful conspiracy theory. It posits that a technologically advanced civilization spanned Eurasia and perhaps parts of North America until as recently as a century ago, when it was erased from history. What’s left of Tartaria are ornate and seemingly out-of-place structures, from opulent churches in Russia to the Shanghai Bund.
The theory stems from disappointment in modern architecture. We once had fabulous Art Deco skyscrapers, Beaux-Arts train stations and Second Empire post offices. Now everything is a glass-and-concrete box. What happened?
The theory is that Americans and Europeans didn’t build those monuments. They are the legacy of a Tartarian Empire that emanated out of Northeast Asia.
Are we supposed to believe that eighteenth-century mapmakers drew a vast “Tartaria” in that region out of ignorance? Surely not! Tartaria was real, and it was the most powerful empire of its time. The Great Wall of China was built not by the Chinese to keep the barbarians out, but by the Tartarians to keep out the Chinese.