Raunch Reviews is a series about profanity. Not real profanity, but speculative swearing. Authors often try to incorporate original, innovative forms of profanity into our own fantastical works as a way to expand the worlds we build. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not. In this series, I examine the faux-profanity from various works of sci-fi and fantasy, judge their effectiveness, and rate them on an unscientific and purely subjective scale. This is Raunch Reviews, welcome.
The Profanity: “Jabber”/ “By Jabber”/ “Jabber &^%!”
I’m going to be honest, I really like “Jabber.” The word comes from the Bas-Lagian pietist Saint Jabber who is apparently some sort of deity within the world. That makes this term a straightforward oath and easily accessible to most English speaking populations (where blasphemous oaths like this are commonplace). Plus there’s something that rolls off the tongue with “Jabber.” It’s easy to say, doesn’t need to be shortened, and feels natural when read. Likewise, it can be coupled with other vulgarities, therefore expanding its use. One slight mark against it, however, is the lack of any worshipers. Most of the characters in Miéville’s book aren’t the church-going type, but even among the background we don’t see much in the way of a Church of St. Jabber. There’s an area of slums in the city-state of New Crobuzon named St. Jabber’s Mound but otherwise, it’s fairly quiet. So while “Jabber” is grounded within in-world history—any real offense is lost on the reader.
Have a suggestion for Raunch Reviews? It can be any made up slang word from a book, television show, or movie. You can email me directly with your recommendation or leave a comment below. I’ll need to spend time with the property before I’ll feel confident reviewing it, so give me a little time. I have a lot of books to read.
I remember squabbling with a friend at fourteen over video games. I told him that someday every video game would be, at its core, a role-playing game. I argued that it was the natural evolution of the platform. (We didn’t use terms like “evolution” and “platform,” but you get the idea.) He disagreed. Here we are, decades later and everything from shooters to sports games to driving sims has role-playing elements. This quote from Ballard reminds me of that argument. As humanity continues to progress, what was once science fiction is now just modern life. The lines between science fiction and today’s reality have blurred. We’re seeing that blurring within fiction as well.
The lifespan of most riverboats was short. The swirling waters and strong currents in a river presented many dangers. Snags and other obstructions beneath the surface could easily punch a hole in a hull, sinking a boat. Weather could also play a factor. Fierce storms wreaked havoc and winter ice would routinely destroy steamboats.
The natural world wasn’t the only danger. Packets were rarely inspected and with little governmental oversight, many became death traps. All were made of timber and powered by fire-heated boilers, deadly blazes and boiler explosions were common, and the loss of life and property could be catastrophic. Mark Twain’s younger brother Henry Clemens was killed in a boiler explosion on the steamer Pennsylvania in 1858, an event Twain details in Life on the Mississippi.
“A steamer came along, finally, and carried the unfortunates to Memphis, and there the most lavish assistance was at once forthcoming. By this time Henry was insensible. The physicians examined his injuries and saw that they were fatal, and naturally turned their main attention to patients who could be saved.”
My current project, Coal Belly, is a sprawling weird-west fantasy adventure set on a planet crisscrossed by interlocking rivers. Riverboats are necessary and ubiquitous, and with their use comes the hazards of operation. A world of riverboats means a world of riverboat wrecks and having a working knowledge of their dangers went a long way toward adding a level of authenticity to my manuscript.
Those packets which survived weather, explosion, and accident rarely operated long. Most boats were worked hard and maintained poorly, and that it took its toll on their lifespan. While a well-maintained riverboat can last decades, most of the boats that operated in the late-1800s lasted between two to five years.
In the 1800s photographic equipment wasn’t as commonplace as it is today, and most of it wasn’t quick enough to capture riverboat disasters as they happened. In place of photographs, many tragedies were depicted by drawings or etchings. You can see a few above. Photographers, however, did manage to capture images of wrecked boats after they had been damaged, sunk, or destroyed. I’ve assembled a gallery below, you can click on any image to view it larger.
Rotting away in the steamboat boneyard
A fire onboard the Captain Weber. Action shots like this are quite rare, most photos were taken after the destruction.
The half-submerged wreck of the Str. Uncle Sam
Wreck of the steamboat Tennessee, Missouri River, at Little Blue Island, Mo. Snagboat Missouri standing by 1908
The towboat Volcano sinks in 1929—it was later raised, rebuilt and renamed the Mengel, then sank once again in 1940.
A unique view of the wreckage of the Str. Golden Eagle in 1947
It wasn’t just midwestern rivers, wrecks littered the Columbia River as well.
Sunken remains of the Atha taken in 1918
Completed in 1925, this enormous excursion steamer burned when her fuel tanks exploded in 1947. Images like this are rare, since most photographers were not present during riverboat disasters.
On June 15, 1904, General Slocum caught fire and sank in the East River of New York City. An estimated 1,021 people died—New York area’s worst disaster in terms of loss of life until the September 11, 2001 attacks
The wreck of the steamer Tell City on the Ohio River, 1917
Trapped in the frozen Tennessee River, 1917
Remains of an unidentified steamboat destroyed by fire
Men inspect the wreck of the Steamboat Monitor – 1 of 2
Men inspect the wreck of the Steamboat Monitor – 2 of 2
Way’s Packet Directory lists four boats named the Jewel, best guess is the Str. Jewel cut down by ice in Mt. Vernon, IN on January 1918
The listing and half-sunk corpse of the Str. Eclipse
Winter flood wreck, 1918
The ragged remains of the submerged Columbia.
The pictures above have been collected over the last five years, so I am unsure where they all come (usually the Library of Congress.) But, they’re all old enough to be in the public domain. In some cases, I did some minor color correction and cropping. I’m happy to answer any questions folks have about any of these images or riverboats in general. (Sometimes it gives me a good excuse to research something.) You can send me an email or leave a comment below. I love comments.
A Riverboat’s Demise is the latest in my series of posts sharing my research for Coal Belly. You can check out the other riverboat-related posts with the links below.
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I’ve been ramping up my research for The Bell Forging Cycle, Book IV and while browsing through my Pinterest boards, I kept coming across the work of Chinese illustrator Zhichao Cai also known as Trylea.Since I found his work inspiring, I figured it’d be worth it to take a moment and share some of my favorite pieces with you.
When it comes to mood boards, I tend to like grimy and dank cityscapes occasionally interrupted with bright splashes of neon. So my eye is always drawn to pieces that show clusters of humanity. Trylea’s work has that, but it also differs significantly. It’s mainly due to his use of color. Even his densely packed cities are awash with a vibrancy that captures a unique and frenetic energy—it makes his work stand out, and his pieces serve as a good reminder that even in concept art we don’t need everything to be grim.
I included a small gallery of some of my favorite work below.
Yun Yunzhi – Tiangong Qingyang (Detail)
City in the Clouds
Izumochi – Moonlight Panorama
Song of Void Mountain
You can check out much more of Trylea’s work on his Zcool page, that seems to be where he shares most of his work. He also posts high-resolution versions as well as some process shots. It’s worth spending some time on his page. You can also find him on Behance, and he has some work on Art Station. If you’re not a member of any of those sites, I encourage you to join and give Trylea a follow.
If you like Zhichao Cai’s work be sure to check out some other illustrators and concept artists I’ve shared in the past:
Along with the launch, PBS Digital Studios—creators of some of the best content on YouTube—released a Great American Read-themed video on the comparison of films to the books they were based upon. It’s good. Watch it here:
The narrator is the very talented Lindsay Ellis. I’m excited to see her work with PBS and hope this is the start of more collaborations. I’ve been following her work since her Channel Awesome days, and I consider myself a fan.
For those who don’t know Ellis runs a channel where she does longer-format deep-dives into specific films or movie concepts. Her observations on storytelling are wonderful—a big reason why I am drawn to her videos. Some of my favs:
The natural world is weird, wonderful, and often terrifying. Case in point: this morning, I stumbled across the Clathrus archeri—a real-world Lovecraftian species of fungi. Its know more commonly as the “devil’s fingers,” but to me, it looks more like a chthonian spawn emerging from its egg. The sticky black gleba doesn’t help. Don’t believe me?
While originally from the Australasia the devil’s fingers have spread over the last century. Mycologists think that during WW1 the Clathrus archeri hitchhiked on Australian supplies for the war effort. Likewise, these stowaways have also shown up in California where it’s believed they arrived with shipments of bamboo. If the picture above hasn’t creeped you out, here’s a timelapse I found on YouTube showing one emerge.
Oh, and when mature they smell like rotten flesh. Because of course.