Saturday, 23 May 2015

Steam Driven Oi

I am deeply ashamed. It took me literally days to figure out the title of Cardinal Cox's latest pamphlet. Days. And I actually have in my possession a worn paperback of John Sladek's collection The Steam-Driven Boy. I blame this virus I've had for weeks, I really do.

Any road up, what makes the Cardinal's latest effusion all more the interesting is that it is not a poetry pamphlet, as such, but consists of a short story with poetry trimmings. I'll reveal the delights of the former in a moment, but first, let us peruse the poems.

First up is 'An  Address to the Citizens of Middlemarch', its signatories 'General Ludd and Brother Enoch of the Military Council of the Invincible Army'. George Eliot meets Shelley's 'Masque of Anarchy', here, with its ominous warning to the toffs that if they push the plebs too far regrettable things may occur. It recalls (for me) O-level history on the Corn Laws and Peterloo, but also the lousy state we're in today, with food banks and zero hours contracts. Thus the first line, putting bankers before 'landlord and parasites upon the poor', jumps across the eras like a spark.

Still riffing on Eliot's classic, the second poem is 'Mr. and Mrs. Ladislaw Call'. We find the worthy philanthropists twenty years on, fervent Chartists and supporting mass education. It ends on a question, as is reasonable. The jury is very much out on whether noble spirits can 'cure societies many ills'.

Staying with the theme of progress and its pitfalls, there follows a faux-obituary of Plantagenet Palliser, Trollope's great statesman who died loaded with honours as Duke of Omnium and Earl of Silverbridge. There's a wonderfully surreal and yet bitterly felt tone to this one, especially in lines like 'Early in Palliser's career (...) Plantagenet was responsible for the removal of the right of sunlight from children'. If that recalls a certain milk-snatching stateswoman, well, it's supposed to. Any doubts on this point are settled by 'the Breathing Tax riots that spelt the end of Palliser's term in office'.

Having got this far you might be able to deduce that 'A New Prince for the Royal Family' does not exactly overflow with royalist sentiments. In marked contrast is 'Ode to the Steampunk Girls', a heartfelt tribute to 'the Princess of dirigible maids', though I'm not sure if dirigible is a word to use when praising a woman. Still, the Cardinal was ever bold in his lyrics.

We return to the theme of Victorian squalor and violence in the short story 'Soho Leaves'. This is one of the best original Gothic tales I've read this year. The narrator reveals that 'the doctor found me amidst his drugs' you'll probably guess. Suffice to say that in this reworking of Stevenson's classic tale, a supposed monster is revealed as a hero, while the virtuous gentlemen of the establishment (including one who stays mysteriously young) are shown to be monstrous. It's clever but also an example of intelligent rage against injustice, and again the parallels with our own times are clear, if not laboured.

Finally comes 'Anime Mash-up', an exuberant retrospective that in a few lines ranges over much early horror, mystery, and science fiction as re-imagined by Japanese animators. Van Helsing stalks the Golem in Prague, Verne plans lunar expeditions, and Laputa is our destination. Amazing adventures, fascinating people, strange notions, and a passion for truth and justice. What more do you want?

If you would like a copy, follow the usual rigmarole:

Send a C5 SAE to

58 Pennington
Orton Goldhay

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