"Victorian Science Fiction"
Authors, Books & Movies

Shifting Sands

Player Guide

Edgar Rice Burroughs

I know you're thinking "Wait, Burroughs? He's not in the tagline. Why are you starting with him?" Because, if you only have time to watch a single movie to get an idea of the feel we mean by Victorian Science Fiction, this is the movie we most recommend.

  • John Carter (Disney, 2012) Perceived as a flop when released—or at the very least, an epic failure on the part of Disney marketing—it seems likely headed towards status as a beloved cult/niche film. Note that all details of Mars differ wildly from Space:1889, but this shows the sorts of elements we expect to include in the campaign.

Burroughs later went on to write many novels about Tarzan, but his first novel was set on Barsoom, his fictionalized version of Mars. John Carter is a former Confederate soldier, mysteriously transported to Mars. [I mean, REALLY mysteriously; no attempt at a mechanism or explanation given.]

Although you can buy the entire collection of Barsoom novels as an ebook for $3 or less, only if you are an OCD-type completist who reads very quickly should you read beyond the first three or four. [Again, the solar system in these books shares no details with that in Space:1889 / Shifting Sands.] Given the time period, they aren't nearly as objectionable as they might be for racism or sexism, although women are mostly prizes or item cards. And Carter WAS fighting FOR the Confederacy, so there's that.

  • A Princess of Mars (1912)
  • The Gods of Mars (1914)
  • The Warlord of Mars (1918)
  • Thuvia, Maid of Mars (1920)
  • The Chessmen of Mars (1922)
  • The Master Mind of Mars (1928)
  • A Fighting Man of Mars (1931)
  • Swords of Mars (1936)
  • Synthetic Men of Mars (1940)
  • Liana of Gathor (1948)
  • John Carter of Mars (1964) containing these two novellas
    • "John Carter and the Giant of Mars" (1940) Published under his name, although written by his son, who clearly couldn't be bothered to reread the existing novels and/or worry about contradicting previous plots.
    • "Skeleton Men of Jupiter" (1942)

Jules Verne

This man was clearly getting paid by the word. And must have written hundreds of words per day everyday for over fifty years, writing upwards of 70 books, plus many plays, poems, lyrics for operettas and songs, short stories, essays and miscellaneous non-fiction. According to Wikipedia, in France and most of Europe, he is considered a major literary author in France and most of Europe, although in English-speaking regions he is regarded as a writer of genre fiction or even children's books, due to the many highly abridged or altered English translations published of his works.

Books (clearly not an exhaustive list)

The Voyages Extraordinaires is a sequence of fifty-four(!) novels, written (according to Verne's editor) with a goal "to outline all the geographical, geological, physical, and astronomical knowledge amassed by modern science and to recount, in an entertaining and picturesque format … the history of the universe."(!!)

The following are titles which seem to likely to contain relevant ideas for Shifting Sands, in chronological order, not order of relevance.

  • Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864)
  • From the Earth to the Moon (1865)
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1869)
  • Around the Moon (1870)
  • A Floating City (1871)
  • Around the World in Eighty Days (1873)
  • The Mysterious Island (1875), a sequel of sorts to Twenty Thousand Leagues, in that it again features Captain Nemo.
  • Off on a Comet (1877)
  • The Steam House (or "The End of Nana Sahib") (1879) British colonists traveling across India in a wheeled house pulled by a steam-powered mechanical elephant.

Clearly, in the Space:1889 universe, Verne is still an active author, publishing tales of the newly-explored planets!

Movies / Adaptations

We have seen those with the date in bold (and probably own them); in italics, we have not.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

  • 1907: French silent film
  • 1916: American silent film; according to Wikipedia: the first motion picture filmed underwater, using a system of watertight tubes and mirrors to shoot reflected images of underwater scenes staged in shallow sunlit waters.
  • 1954: A Walt Disney film starring Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Paul Lukas and Peter Lorre. This is the only version we've seen to date--the design for the Nautilus is striking, and the battle with the giant squid is everything you would want. James Mason is an impressive Captain Nemo, although the less said about Kirk Douglas singing or getting drunk with his seal friend, the better.
  • 1985: Australian made-for-television animated film.
  • 1997: Hallmark TV movie.
  • 1997: Village Roadshow TV movie.

And supposedly there are productions in the planning stages!

Journey to the Center of the Earth

  • 1959: Starring James Mason, Pat Boone, Arlene Dahl. Yes, Pat Boone sings. I believe this was the first movie we saw where dinosaurs were portrayed by iguanas with stuff glued on their back or head (which we now know is standard for low budget movies in this ilk). Pretty bad, although special mention goes to Gertrude the duck (yes, a genuine duck).
  • 1967: Animated ABC TV series.
  • 1989: According to Wikipedia, a nominal sequel to the film Alien from L.A.; both of which are (very) loosely based on the novel.
  • 1993: TV movie featuring Carel Struychen, Tim Russ, and Jeffrey Mordling.
  • 1999: Miniseries starring Treat Williams and Bryan Brown.
  • 2008: TV movie starring Ricky Schroeder, Victoria Pratt and Peter Fonda. The characters and basic setting aren't from Verne's novel, but once they get under the Earth's surface, it's the same general sequence of giant extinct animals, giant mushrooms, underwater ocean, etc. I don't remember if there were iguanas with stuff glued on them, though. Pretty terrible, and Peter Fonda is phoning it in.
  • 2008: direct-to-video film produced by The Asylum.
  • 2008: Starring Brendan Fraser, Josh Hutcherson and Anita Briem and a bunch of effects clearly designed for 3D. Set in the present day, it's got the standard "center of the earth" tropes, but the effects are generally good, although the movie as a whole is paint-by-numbers predictable. Not good, but not terrible, either--we'd call this "stupid fun".

Mysterious Island

  • 1929: Starring Lionel Barrymore. The story is more of a prequel to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea than actually being based on Verne's Mysterious Island (which is a sequel to Twenty Thousand Leagues).
  • 1941: USSR (!) production.
  • 1951: Serial, which according to Wikipedia has aliens from Mercury as an additional set of villains.
  • 1961: [Jules Verne's Mysterious Island] starring actors you've never heard of, but special effects by Ray Harryhausen. The story is only loosely based on the novel and has several ridiculous holes as a result. The stop-motion effects are definitely the best part of the movie, even when they are silly--for example, the giant crab charging forward to attack (real crabs, of course, move sideways). Nice deerskin short-shorts on the girl-shoe-horned-into-the-story-so-there-can-be-a-love-interest, too.
  • 1973: [La isla misteriosa y el capitan Nemo] European miniseries featuring Omar Sharif as Captain Nemo.
  • 1995: Canadian television series. While we own it, we've only watched the first few episodes. Not bad for a TV series, though.
  • 2005: Hallmark Channel movie, starring Kyle MacLachlan, Gabrielle Anwar and Patrick Stewart as Captain Nemo. Filmed in gorgeous settings in Thailand, there's got to be some crazy story about how this came about. Effects are pretty ludicrous on a big TV, although I doubt they'd be convincing on a 19" screen either. MacLachlan and Stewart aren't bad, given how bad the material is. However, there is a subplot involving pirates with terrible over-acting that would be eye-rolling in Pirates of the Caribbean, and I mean the Disney RIDE, not the movie. Not a good use of your 172 minutes.
  • 2012: TV movie starring Pruitt Taylor Vince, and Loclyn Munro play unconvincing Civil War POWs who crash their escape balloon on a Mysterious Island, while Susie Abromeit and Gina Holden play stereotypical Valley Girls who crash their plane on a Mysterious Island. I hope that's enough to give you an idea of how terrible this is.
  • 2012:[Journey 2: The Mysterious Island] Sort of a sequel to the 2008 Journey to the Center of the Earth, starring Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine, and Josh Hutcherson. Michael Caine is in fine scenery-chewing form. More scenes clearly designed for 3D. The Rock plays ukulele and sings "What a Wonderful World" . But somehow this is one of the best movies we've seen of this bunch. [Which should indicate how awful the rest are.]

H.G. Wells

Despite The Time Machine being one of his best known works, There Will Be No Time Travel in Shifting Sands.

If you want dark, pessimistic Victorian science fiction (with a sauce of socialism), Wells is your author. He is now best known for his science fiction novels, although he wrote in many genres, including non-science fiction novels, history, politics and social commentary, textbooks, and rules for war games.

Selected Science Fiction Novels

  • The Time Machine (1895)
  • The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896)
  • The Invisible Man (1897)
  • The War of the Worlds (1898)
  • When the Sleeper Wakes (1899)
  • The First Men in the Moon (1901)
  • In the Days of the Comet (1906)

Movies / Adaptations

Again, we have seen those with the date in bold (and probably own them); in italics, we have not.

The Time Machine

  • 1960: The classic version, starring Rod Taylor, Alan Young and Yvette Mimieux.
  • 1978: TV movie, starring John Beck, Whit Bissell, and Priscilla Barnes.
  • 2002: Starring Guy Pierce, Jeremy Irons, Orlando Jones and Samantha Mumba.

The Island of Doctor Moreau

  • 1932: [Island of Lost Souls] A pre-Code production, starring Charles Laughton, Richard Arlin, Leila Hyams, Bela Lugosi and Kathleen Burke as the Panther Woman. H.G. Wells reportedly disliked the film, feeling the horror elements overshadowed the story's deeper philosophical meaning.
  • 1977: Starring Burt Lancaster and Michael York. I don't think I remember anything about this. Dig says it's just as terrible as the rest of the lot. Ok, it's not as bad as the Brando version, because nothing else is that bad.
  • 1996: With Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer. This is the Acid Flashback version of Wells' novel: Kilmer doesn't seem to have any interest in acting his role, Brando is busy doing crazy, inexplicable things, there are strange sequences that wouldn't even belong on an out-takes reel. It turns out that it's a surreal viewing experience because the production was such a notorious disaster that a documentary was made about it: Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley's Island of Doctor Moreau. We would only recommend this movie if you asked us for something where you would say "what the hell was that" when it was done.

The Invisible Man

  • 1933: Directed by James Whale and starring Claude Rains and Gloria Stuart. The invisibility effects are really remarkable.

A. Conan Doyle

His fame is based on the cultural impact of Sherlock Holmes, but it's his Professor Challenger stories that provide the fantastic elements source material for the Space:1889 universe. (Which is not to say that characters from the Holmes canon couldn't be used in Shifting Sands.)

Professor Challenger Works

  • The Lost World (1912) An expedition to a plateau in South America where prehistoric creatures, including dinosaurs, still survive. (Doyle's best known work outside of the Sherlock Holmes canon)
  • The Poison Belt (1913) The Earth passes through a cloud of poisonous ether.
  • The Land of Mist (1926) [So, there's a genre of "Christian novel" where the protagonist isn't a believer but encounters characters who are and whose words and lives convince the protagonist to convert at the novel's climax. Doyle does that here, but with spiritualism. Avoid.]
  • "When the World Screamed" (1928, short story) Challenger drills into the earth, theorizing the mantle is the shell of a sentient being. You can imagine how well that goes. No spiritualism, though.
  • "The Disintegration Machine" (1929 short story) About a machine which can disintegrate objects and reform them.

Many, many other authors have written stories about Professor Challenger as well.

Movies / Adaptations

Once more: we have seen those with the date in bold (and probably own them); in italics, we have not.

The Lost World

  • 1925: Silent film, starring Wallace Beery. We found this surprisingly good. Sure, the dinosaurs were iguanas with stuff glued to their backs, but we found them more convincing than in various other films done in the 50s though 80s!
  • 1960: Starring Claude Rains, Fernando Lamas and Jill St. John. Pretty terrible, and the iguanas with horns and fins glued to them managed to be less convincing than in the silent version. But the DVD did come with the silent version too, so we didn't completely waste our $12.
  • 1992: [Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World] Starring John Rhys-Davies and David Warner.
  • 1992 [Return to the Lost World]: Starring John Rhys-Davies and David Warner, yes, they managed to produce a sequel in the same year.
  • 1998: Cable TV movie starring Patrick Bergin.
  • 1999: TV series which ran for 3 seasons.
  • 2001: BBC two-parter, eventually merged into a full-length film, starring Bob Hoskins, James Fox, Peter Falk.
  • 2002 [Dinosaur Island]: Animated adaptation.
  • 2005 [King of the Lost World]: Starring Bruce Boxleitner. And apparently a giant ape, so this is probably closer to King Kong than The Lost World.


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