Against the Day – Part 3

As Part 3 of Against the Day opens, we find the Chums of Chance aboard subdesertine frigate Saksaul under the command of Captain Toadflax. They’re searching for the lost city of Shambhala. The Chums learn that Iceland spar allows them to use the Sfiuncino Itinerary as a map. They can go inside the map where the distances are marked in the dimension of time. Along the way, they stop at the city of Nuevo Rialto, where they encounter sand fleas the size of camels. The chums also learn that the lost city of Shambhala may not be the main objective of the Saksaul. It’s possible, they’re after oil instead of adventure.

We then return to Colorado briefly where Merle Rideout misses his daughter Dally. He begins a journey to places east and develops a fascination for movies. In particular, he’s caught up in how they manipulate time through the use of light. Meanwhile Frank Traverse has returned to the United States and is looking for his girlfriend Estrella in Nochechita. When he gets there, he has the feeling she’s in town, but somehow can’t see her. The reason Frank had left the United States is that he killed Sloat Fresno to avenge his father. Sloat’s partner, Deuce, who has married Frank’s sister Lake, is afraid of meeting the ghost of Webb Traverse. This fear forces him to admit his part in Webb’s murder to his wife.

We jump from Colorado to London and return to the adventures of the True Worshipers of the Ineffable Tetractys – the TWIT – along with Yashmeen Halfcourt and Lew Basignight. Yashmeen has been obsessed with Riemann’s Zeta Function decides to go to Göttingen. Her professor Renfrew wants her to be on the lookout for a professor called Werfner.

From here we join the steamship Stupendica where Dally Rideout is crossing the Atlantic with her mother Erlys Zombini. Kit Traverse is also there. When he and Dally meet, they remember their time in Colorado and they begin flirting with each other. Their romance is doomed as a result of the bilocation of this section’s title. The Stupendica is also the Battleship Emperor Maximillian with its own destiny. Kit finds himself working below decks on the Emperor Maximillian. After several adventures, he finds his way to Belgium. As Kit tries to figure out how he’s going to get to Göttingen, he is pegged as a nihilist outlaw. He begins to see that Belgium is a pawn of international affairs just as his home state of Colorado is.

The Chums of Chance are now in Brussels where handyman Miles Blundell encounters one of the Trespassers, who are voyagers through time. It’s pointed out that any study of time is ultimately a study of mortality. The Trespassers don’t voyage through time because of any technical knowhow. Rather they became time travelers when time was ripped open. The Chums hope the Trespassers might be able to help them find eternal youth, but Miles points out that the Trespassers don’t have that power.

Meanwhile, Kit Traverse falls in with a group of arms dealers while also falling in love with a woman named Umeki Tsurigane from Japan. The arms dealers realize the Chums’ airship, the Inconvenience is rarely seen. Only the Chums are seen and it seems to be a property of light. Umeki is working on using light as a weapon, splitting it into rays that are ordinary and extraordinary. Kit dreams about the weapon’s power, then tells Umeki about it. Ultimately, she leaves him to go to Japan.

Dally, aboard the Stupendica, arrived in Europe as expected and she travels with the Zombini family of performers across Europe. Eventually, she decides she must make her own way and asks to stay in Venice. Dally becomes associated with Hunter Penfallow, who we last saw associated with the Vormance Expedition in the last part. He tells her a story from the Gospel of Thomas that leads her to realize that one might find order when one expected chaos.

Back in London, private investigator Lew Basnight is put on the trail of an antique dealer named Lamont Replevin who supposedly has a map of the lost city of Shambhala. Lew is able to photograph it. Now, Kit Traverse and Yashmeen Halfcourt have converged in Göttingen. Kit’s funds from the millionaire Scarsdale Vibe are cut off, but Kit also realizes that Yashmeen has an incredible power. She can step outside of time itself. Yashmeen offers to help Kit find employment with TWIT. She also reveals that her father might be another person seeking the lost city of Shambhala. Kit meets with Yashmeen’s father and learns: “As for what lies beneath those sands, you’ve got your choice – either Shambhala, as close to the Heavenly City as Earth has known, or Baku and Johannesburg all over again, unexplored reserves of gold, oil, Plutonian wealth, and the prospect of creating yet another subhuman class of workers to extract it.”

In the United States, we follow Frank Traverse as he’s hired to run arms into Mexico. Frank begins to have dreams about his father Webb. At the same time, Frank’s brother Reef has been working as a dynamiter in Europe. He now knows that the millionaire Scarsdale Vibe is connected to his father’s murder and Reef feels compelled to hunt down Vibe. Reef ends up connecting with his brother Kit along with Yashmeen. Kit wants to go to Venice on Scarsdale Vibe’s trail. Kit and Reef attend a séance where the “speak” with their father, Webb, who tries to dissuade them from chasing down Scarsdale Vibe.

This part of the novel wraps up with Lew Basnight in London. He thinks he runs into Professor Renfrew, but it turns out it’s Professor Werfner. After consulting with his friends Nigel and Neville, Lew realizes Renfrew and Werfner are the same person, somehow separated through bilocation.

Keeping track of all these plot threads is definitely a challenge, but it helps to focus on the thematic threads. The Traverse brothers are seeking justice for their father, but justice may find itself tied to international politics. There’s the quest for Shambhala, which might be a quest through time as much as through space. There’s also the very notion of “bilocation.” People and places that may be two things at once, each with different fates. As Dally discovered in Venice, the world appears to be in chaos, but we may find order yet. In part 4, we’ll literally turn “Against the Day.”

As I’ve noted before, I see echoes of Pynchon’s steampunk experiment in my own writing. I see the exploration of the Wild West. I see the worldwide saga and I appreciate Pynchon’s fascination with math and science. To learn more about my steampunk saga, visit:

Against the Day – Part 1

This weekend finds me at Tell-Tale Steampunk in Baltimore, Maryland. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll make time to drop by and say hello! You can get event information at: In honor of being at Tell-Tale Steampunk, today’s post is about a steampunk novel I recently discovered.

I was first introduced to Thomas Pynchon’s writing during my junior year at New Mexico Tech. I took a course in the philosophy of science and we read Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow. It’s a dense novel and Pynchon is less interested in exploring traditional plots and character arcs than exploring themes through a series of set pieces. While there is a narrative arc, it’s not tied to a structure. Pynchon likes to play with language and his characters even break out in song from time to time. My philosophy professor gave me an “A” on my final paper about Gravity’s Rainbow and seemed genuinely impressed by how well I’d unpacked the novel. Because of the experience, I’ve long had something of a soft spot for Pynchon’s writing. I would go on to read his novels The Crying of Lot 49, Vineland and Mason & Dixon.

Recently, while getting ready for Wild Wild West Con, I learned that Thomas Pynchon had published a novel in 2006 called Against the Day, which many people consider steampunk. That was during the time when my children were young and I was busy being a stay-at-home dad, so I didn’t hear about the novel’s release at the time. Weighing in at almost 1100 pages, Against the Day is also Pynchon’s longest novel. Given my interest in both Pynchon and steampunk, I decided I needed to give the novel a read. Given the novel’s length and the way Pynchon’s narrative tends to wander, I thought it might be worth discussing the novel one section at a time. Against the Day is broken into five parts, so today I’m taking a look at Part 1: The Light Over the Ranges.

The novel opens as a team of boy adventurers called the Chums of Chance arrive at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 aboard their airship the Inconvenience. The Chums tend to be the thread tying the events of part one together. The Chums are ship commander Randolph St. Cosmo, second-in-command Lindsay Noseworth, handyman apprentice Miles Blundell, young Darby Suckling, and Chick Counterfly, who the Chums rescued from an encounter with the Ku Klux Klan. Rounding out their crew is the highly intelligent dog, Pugnax.

Through the Chums, we meet their mentor, Professor Heino Vanderjuice and the financier Scarsdale Vibe. Our businessman is concerned about Nikola Tesla’s plans to bring free electricity to all. He would like Professor Vanderjuice to find a way to counter Tesla’s work in Colorado Springs.

A private detective Nate Privett assigns his employee Lew Basnight to the Inconvenience to look for anarchists who may be trying to infiltrate the Columbian Exposition. Basnight also relays his misadventures escorting Franz Ferdinand around Chicago. The Chums of Chance also have an encounter with a photographer named Merle Rideout and his daughter Dahlia. We learn that Rideout’s wife ran off with a magician. The story follows Rideout to Colorado where he gets a job in the mines of the San Juan mountains.

The plot largely turns to Rideout’s adventures out west some six years after the fair and time with a dynamiter from the mines named Webb Traverse. Traverse is a rabble rouser and an anarchist looking to bring justice to the mines.

At the end of part one, we return to the Chums of Chance who are assigned to monitor Tesla’s experiments from the other side of the world, then must enter the hollow Earth to travel between the poles.

So far, the book has touched on familiar themes to Pynchon readers including labor rights, racial equality, and no small measure of scientific wackiness. The characters even break out in song a couple of times. It struck me in a few places how similar Pynchon’s set pieces are to events and characters in my Clockwork Legion series and other steampunk I’ve written. My novel Owl Riders opens at the World’s Fair in New Orleans. My story “The Falcon and the Goose,” scheduled to appear in the forthcoming Grease Monkeys anthology, is set on the railroad connecting the mining towns of Colorado where Merle Rideout and Webb Traverse meet. Merle and his daughter Dahlia remind me a little of Ramon and his daughter Alethea. Although younger, the adventuring spirit of the Chums reminds me a bit of the Owl Riders themselves from throughout the Clockwork Legion series and I couldn’t help but see a little of Professor Maravilla in Professor Vanderjuice. Unfortunately, Pynchon doesn’t give the women in his tale much to do so far. You can discover the Clockwork Legion series at:

Meanwhile, I look forward to seeing where Pynchon takes me as this journey continues. Part one is just about ten percent of the way through the novel, so I’m sure there are many twists and turns to come!