Are you a fanatic of the Gothic and fantastical literature from the Victorian era? Do you love Jules Verne and adore H.G. Wells? Like a bit of old-school steam with your new-school punk?
If you said yes to any of these questions, run — don’t walk — to Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble or your favorite bookstore and do yourself a favor: obtain a copy of Paul Marlowe’s “Ether Frolics: Nine Tales from the Etheric Explorers Club.” This collection
of nine short stories is a true jaw-dropping jewel of a book, and there’s a little bit of everything thrown in: mystery, comedy, romance, tragedy, and definitely the supernatural.
The first thing that struck me about “Ether Frolics” as I was reading the first section’s introduction was how Victorian the narrative was. Granted, much of the book is in first person, so that the reader is treated to what feels like primary source documents. This is especially effective because each story’s protagonist is somehow related back to the previous stories’ characters, and all of them are linked in some way to the noble but secretive Etheric Explorers Club based out of London. These characters are men, women, middle and upper-class, and each has a unique contribution to the EEC.
Canadian author Paul Marlowe has the incredible ability to not just replicate the feel of Victorian and Gothic literary classics, but also create variants and really play with the expectations and notions of that time. Each story feels delightfully real, and made me feel as though I were leafing through forgotten first-hand accounts of paranormal experiences from the late 19th-century. These short stories are so phenomenal that I dare not expose even a hint of their nature here, for fear of dulling the exquisite joy at each turn and twist. I will say that expertly woven into each tale is a definitive sense of humor and wonder, all dressed smartly in the vocabulary and style of Verne, Wells, Stoker, and Doyle. Each tale holds promise of the mysterious and partly unexplained, and by the end of the book I found myself wanting very much to join the Etheric Explorers Club myself.
I would happily recommend “Ether Frolics” to any and all steampunks, but especially those who like their boots laced up just so, their hats poised at the historically accurate angle, their monocles polished and their pinkies up at teatime. We all love a good tale of alternate history, but “Ether Frolics” goes one step further and actually made me reconsider my own notions of the Victorian age.
I fervently hope for more about the Etheric Explorers Club from Marlowe in the future, but till then, I’ll be in the corner studying historical accounts of the supernatural with a cup of fine Assam… pinky up, of course.