Iteration the Second - Derby Day.

To avoid this being a research info-dump, it'll have to be short and sweet. To be honest, there wasn't much in this chapter to sink my teeth into -- instead of a well-flushed-out storyline it seemed a teasing introductory. Disappointing, after the first rollicking iteration. Being the grammarian that I am, I really had to grit my teeth after the eighth use of the word "utter" within a two-page spread. And a solitary knifefight, too, with no fatalities. Sigh.

This chapter was almost entirely proper-name research for me - the first thing I did was check out Epsom. The Epsom Downs Racecourse, or its current location, is outside of Epsom proper, and probably equidistant to Leatherhead, from which our new protagonist, Ned Mallory, walked. Seems like a nice enough place for an afternoon -- but I'm not going to bother digging around too much, as I suspect I'll mostly turn up pictures of women with oversized hats and a bunch of pseudo-historical racing fanaticism that will make my eyes glaze over. Still, nice to get my bearings. (If you're a racing fan, feel free to berate me in the comments.)

Epsom Downs in 1877. (Source.)

Every time the authors make a specific stylistic reference my detective ears perk up. The gutta-percha our knife wielder's weapon was made with is a fairly familiar material in the 1800s, used not only to insulate telegraph wire but also furniture, jewelry and, obviously, weapon handles. And hey, what's a huckle-buff? Mallory tries in vain to order this drink from a concession stand on the racetrack grounds. The best source I've got is here: "Huckle and Buff, also called huckle-my-buff and huckle-my-butt, was a hot drink made with beer, egg and brandy. The term is mentioned in many manuscripts from the early 18th century." Of course the same page lists it as "Gin and Ale" -- so, which is it, brandy or gin? And nobody here mentions barley-water, which the barkeep at Epsom Downs seems to think is a prerequisite, at least for a version of a huckle-buff fit for a Surrey native. This one will require more offline research to sort out. And maybe some bar experimentation. For science.

The person I want to find out more about is this Professor Rudwick -- he had a short appearance in the first iteration, and his character is debated shortly here, albeit with use of the term "late." I take it we're still in 1855, and Rudwick has managed to expire between his meeting with Mick Radley in London and this Derby Day. Did I miss something in the first iteration? Was he somehow targeted by the Angel of Goliad? His conversation with Radley implied a meeting that must not have been kept (as Houston was too dead to attend), and an ongoing assocation with Babbage regarding "pneumo-dynamics," the principles of which have informed the technology behind the Zephyr's stunning win at the Derby.
Rudwick's apparent claim to fame is the discovery of Quetzalcoatlus, a prehistoric specimen found, in reality, in the 1970s, in Texas. One would assume that the advent of steam machinery would have made paleontological excavation a tad easier in the new world. A minor topic, but a good excuse for a picture.

Fanciful image of Quetzalcoatlus from jconway's deviantart.

I like the touches of occult mystery attached to the figure of Ada -- her (possibly drug-induced) absent-mindedness, the shadowy Society of Light, and the closing lines: "Ada is the mother. Her thoughts are closed." Her earlier speech is robotic, as though the words "Royal Society" triggered a subroutine within her -- she speaks like a museum machine that's been fed a coin. Her mention of "elaborate and scientific pieces of music" gets me most excited. I'm hoping for entire pages of speech of this sort in the future. I might plan an entire music/math/autism/drugs/logic post for later.

The majority of the chapter, though, was suspenseful stuff: Was Ada's companion and attempted captor the Collins person Rudwick mentioned in the first iteration? Is the glass vial his red-haired companion wielded going to appear later? I have the feeling Rudwick's death might go unexplained. This is the risk of reading things too thoroughly: Expectation... leads to disappointment. If you don't expect something big, huge, and exciting, it usually, um, I don't know, it's just not as... yeah.


  1. Several friends really dug the second iteration, but were cool to the rest of the book. One called it "The Adventures of Edward Mallory, Two-Fisted Palaeontologist!"

  2. Yes, he's quite an action hero. Gambles his entire net worth, jumps on some stranger's carriage after observing shady shenanigans (of a kind that I would frankly suspect was someone's weird S&M play embarrassingly spilling out into public), knocks a tooth out of the face of a knife waving maniac with his bare knuckles, drags a noblewoman out onto the Derby Downs and escorts her to a Royal box while bleeding into his boot from a deep laceration. Then he lies to the cops and wins a fortune! All in a day's work, ma'am.

    Makes me feel I should forgive him for the Brontosaurus, which historically turned out to be a mistaken assembly of bones, and the real animal, once untangled and reconstructed from that initial mess, is now known as an Apatosaurus.

    @Allana - Houston got shot, but I don't think he died. He's captured in the image at the end of the First Iteration, a blurred elderly man in the background. They make a point of naming him, and with Sybil in Paris in that picture, it has to be after the shooting. It was a small gun, and Sam Houston was a big guy. He survived the assault.

    There is definably something petroleum related going on between Houston, Rudwick, and Radley. Remember the medicine seller in the market, with her vials of Rock Oil? And Rudwick found his flying dinosaur in Texas. Digging in the ground. Something is going on there, and now two of those three are dead, but not Sam Houston.

    I want to read your proposed music/math/autism/drugs/logic post.

    And my final concurrence, re: your practical research into the constituent parts of Huckle-Buff...


  3. Oops, haha, you're right. I knew Houston wasn't dead; I think that was just wishful thinking. Plus it sounded cool.

  4. Oh! But how did I miss the other possibility - if Houston's men blamed Rudwick or Radley or any of their cohorts for the Angel's attack, they could very well have ambushed Rudwick at his meeting the next day. Anyone could've mentioned seeing Sybil with Radley and Rudwick at the club where they met... I like revenge.

  5. Something Bill wrote . . . file a knowing chuckle under the bookmark "head."

  6. Im more puzzled about how a "Spring-wind Cutts-Maudslay" look like, gentlemen.
    Can you help..English is not my natural langiuage, so i may be loosing something here.

  7. Allana: Gutta-percha is still used as tooth-filler. Dentists use it whenever you get a root canal, they pull out the nerves and they fill the gaps with gutta-percha.

  8. I was puzzled by the huckle-buff reference for many years and finally did some digging around (and some speculations!) and wrote a short article on it here.