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Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines

Mortal Engines has one good idea: put cities on wheels. The rest of the movie is a succession of clichés.

Humanity has nearly destroyed itself in the equivalent of a global nuclear war. What remains of Western civilization are bandits and imperialists. In the East, peace-loving people thrive behind the protection of an enormous wall. Angry girl Hester Shaw (Hera Hilmar) eventually mellows and falls in love with well-intended but naive boy Tom Natsworthy (Robert Sheehan), who together avert doomsday at the last minute.

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Why a Message Board Is Better Than Facebook

When I got involved in diesel- and steampunk, most of the online communities were message boards. Now most are on Facebook.

It has not been an improvement. Interactions in message boards were much more civil and informative than they typically are on Facebook (or Twitter for that matter). Message boards were never enormous, so you could become a well-known member and make friends. Some of the fellow alternate-history aficionados I met in message boards are still acquaintances and in some cases Never Was contributors.

The problem with Facebook is that everyone is on it. But that is also its power. It’s why most people, when they want to create a community, create a Facebook group.

That’s not what we did for the Never Was Lounge. Here’s why.

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When the World Held Its Breath: Divide and Conquer

“We have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten structure will come crumbling down” was Adolf Hitler’s reassurance to his followers as he chose to embark on the invasion of the Soviet Union. The German dictator was confident that his mortal enemy was as weak as it was degenerate, the pseudoscience of Nazi ideology and racial theory providing the justifications for their leader’s optimism rather than any basis in reality.

Hitler’s optimism has since become one of the most famous examples of hubris in history with his deluded boast coming back to haunt him four years later as his regime fell apart in the face of the Red Army moving ever closer to Berlin.

But did the Germans miss a chance to destroy the Soviet Union from within? In the early days of Operation Barbarossa the Germans were often welcomed as liberators by local populations in the Baltic states, Belarus and Ukraine. The Baltic states had only recently been annexed into the Soviet Union, against the will of the majority of their populations. In Belarus, the totalitarian nature of Stalinism had been particularly hard felt. Nationalist and religious sympathies were heavily repressed. Ukraine had suffered one of the worst famines in their history in the 30s. Many blamed the Soviet system for the Holodomor, directly or indirectly. How could the Germans be worse?

The brutality and scale of the German crimes within the occupied territories were worse than anything in human history. Tens of thousands of villages and entire cities were burned to the ground, often with few of the local population escaping alive. Millions were rendered homeless. Food from the occupied territories was siphoned off deliberately to engineer a famine, the so-called Hunger Plan that would aid the planned genocide of the Slavic peoples in order for them to make way for German colonists. Within a short period of time, the traditional offerings of bread and salt many German soldiers had received from Soviet peasants had morphed into partisan insurgency of unrivaled fury that would play a major part in the Red Army’s ability to eventually throw the Germans back.

If the Germans had embraced the anticipations of many within the occupied Soviet Union that the Wehrmacht had arrived to restore independence to their nations and revive Christianity, or at least held off on their genocidal occupations until their final victory, might they have been able to succeed in disuniting and ultimately unraveling the Soviet war effort?

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Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

The second Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them movie, The Crimes of Grindelwald, takes us to Paris in 1927 at the height of the Jazz Age.

As the title suggests, the movie continues to feature the plans of Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp), the greatest dark wizard of his time. While he is featured, their paths cross and we do see him plot, the movie equally revolves around the personal adventures of Newt (Eddie Redmayne), his friends and other characters, separately from what Grindelwald is getting up to.

If you haven’t seen the first Fantastic Beasts movie but are familiar with Harry Potter, you might be a tiny bit confused at some points, but not so much that you can’t follow the storyline. If you are wholly unfamiliar with the Wizarding World universe, however, the movie be more confusing. But I wouldn’t say you won’t be able to enjoy it.

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Changing the World: The Geography of Alternate History

In this great chain of causes and effects, no single fact can be considered in isolation.

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)​

Alternate history is all about contingency. In layman’s terms, asking “what if?”

We look at what did happen historically and we ask “what if it had happened differently?” What if a certain famous battle had been won by the other side? What if a famous statesmen or politician had never been born? What if a great empire had never risen? When we ask these questions we instinctively understand the notions of cause and effect — one event drives another; actions have consequences. What happens in history is contingent upon what events happened before.

If you change the past, you change the future.

Alternate history is a rejection of historical determinism. For it to be possible for events to have occurred differently to those in our own timeline, history cannot be predetermined. If you set your point-of-divergence back far enough, nothing in history is inevitable.

But what if some things are? What if certain circumstances in history actually do make certain outcomes inevitable, or at least highly likely? How might the deck be stacked in favor of our timeline, and what does this mean for alternate history and for the stories and timelines we want to write?

In this series of articles I’ll be exploring the concept of geographical determinism as it can be applied to alternate history — and specifically how physical geography influences the course of history.

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Dreams of Arab Unity

Proposals for unification of the Arab world are more than a century old. Sharif Hussein ibn Ali of Mecca, the steward of the holy cities of Islam, was the first modern Arab leader who sought independence for his people from the Ottoman Turks.

The British, who at the time controlled Aden and Egypt, promised to support Hussein’s ambitions if he would revolt against the Ottomans during the First World War; a promise Britain infamously reneged on.

It would be the first of many disappointments for pan-Arabists.

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Steampunk Has Its Own Cancel Culture

Noam Chomsky is probably the world’s most famous anticapitalist. David Frum is a former speechwriter for George W. Bush. I doubt they agree on much, but they agree free and open debate is vital to a democracy — and that it’s currently being attacked by the far left as well as the far right.

With 151 other leading intellectuals, including Margaret Atwood, Francis Fukuyama, Michael Ignatieff, Garry Kasparov, J.K. Rowling, Salman Rushdie, Gloria Steinem and Thomas Chatterton Williams, they caution in a letter to Harper’s that resistance to the illiberalism of the right must not harden into a dogma of the left.

Specifically, they worry that the “censoriousness” of so-called cancel culture is creating a “stifling atmosphere” in which authors self-censor their stories, books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity and editors are fired for publishing controversial opinions.

Their laments will sound familiar to anyone who has been involved in the politics of steampunk. The movement has been taken over by social-justice warriors, who brook no dissent from woke orthodoxy.

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Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer

Bong Joon-ho’s 2013 movie Snowpiercer, starring Chris Evans and Tilda Swington, didn’t exactly leave the door open for a sequel. Instead, courtesy of TNT, and streaming on Netflix internationally, we get a reboot with Daveed Diggs, of Hamilton fame, and Jennifer Connelly, who recently starred in the movie adaptation of Alita: Battle Angel (our review here), in the lead roles.

The series, which consists of ten episodes — a Season 2 is underway — follows the basic premise of the long-running French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, on which it and Bong’s movie are based: The world has become a frozen wasteland as a result of catastrophic climate change. Humanity survives aboard the 1,001 cars of Snowpiercer, a huge train built by the eccentric billionaire known as Wilford. (See Big Trains in the Snow.)

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Authentic Victorian Fashion Patterns: A Complete Lady’s Wardrobe

Authentic Victorian Fashion Patterns: A Complete Lady's Wardrobe

In my review of Patterns of Fashion 2, I mentioned that there are alternatives to that work. This is one of them. Authentic Victorian Fashion Patterns (1999) has all the garments a lady living in Victorian-era America was supposed to own. Plenty are geared toward the upper-class woman, but the books contains patterns for a variety of outfits.

All the patterns are reproductions from a dressmaker’s journal called The Voice of Fashion. (Of which this is not the only reproduction, but I digress.)

Personally, I find these patterns much easier to work with than those in Patterns of Fashion 2. Not only are we provided with a short introduction shedding light onto the cost of an American lady’s wardrobe, and what should be in it according to polite society at the time; the methods needed to turn these patterns into a garment that fits your body are pretty well explained.

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