The Mummy, Jane C. Loudon, 1828
I need to borrow a line from one of my favorite poets A. E. Housman. “It is in truth inequity on high” that Jules Verne is considered the father of steampunk, when Jane C. Loudon published The Mummy the same year that Verne was born. The Mummy out steampunks Verne’s entire oeuvre, and no one has even heard of it, not even fervent steampunk enthusiasts.
This book has it all. It’s a neo-Victorian, futuristic, sci-fi, political thriller, romance. A mummy steals a dirigible. A MUMMY STEALS A DIRIGIBLE. That plot element alone gives Loudon all the steampunk and sci-fi cred one can have. But if you need more proof that she’s the mother of the genre, know that steam driven technologies abound in The Mummy, including mechanisms that harness clouds to water crops and odd communication devices.
Like a lot of science fiction, this book is really silly. It takes place in the 22nd Century. Loudon’s ideas of the political climate in the future are hilarious. To summarize: the people revolt against the aristocracy and establish universal education. Once they are educated they feel like they shouldn’t have to do manual labor. With no laborers, there is no food. England is plunged into anarchy and, to escape the turmoil, the people seek out the former aristocrats and beg them to take back their ancestral homes and roles, because with no one to work for, no one will do any work. . . . So they establish a matrilineal monarchy. Now that the lower classes are educated, education is no longer fashionable. So, Loudon’s servant characters speak in unbearably pretentious monologues while the bluebloods speak plain English. Which is pretty funny the first time, but becomes wearisome.
The characters have amazing romantic names, including Edmund, Edric, Roderick, Elvira and Rosabella. Elvira and Rosabella engage in political intrigues; both are in line to become Queen. Roderick is the king of Ireland and the world’s most powerful imperial monarch. How hilariously Anglo-centric is that? Edric is essentially Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with reanimating a corpse, he travels to Egypt in an airship with a galvanic battery and reanimates the pharaoh Cheops. Just like good old Victor, Edric’s success causes him to faint, and the mummy runs off. The mummy steals the airship and somehow sails it to England, where he becomes deeply involved in the dispute over the succession. I have no idea why a reanimated Egyptian pharaoh would spend his time on British political intrigues. Interestingly, everyone is afraid of the mummy, because he’s scary looking, but he’s actually a wise, benevolent character.
The book is far too long and has too many characters, but overall it’s a fun romp. I enjoyed it.
Other than prejudice against women, I can’t imagine why The Mummy is not recognized today as a pioneering work of science fiction and the beginning of the steampunk genre.
You might like The Mummy if:
· you like science fiction.
· you like steampunk.
· you don’t mind long books.
You might not like The Mummy if:
· you’re a very serious person who likes tight plots and fast action.
Final thoughts: Anyone interested in steampunk or early science fiction should read this book and give Jane C. Loudon her due.