Spring-Heeled Jack

Futuristic fiction sometimes raids the past for characters, instead of making up totally new ones. Thomas Edison was a popular one in the late 1800s, often cast as a heroic worldsaver and defeater of alien races through the might of invention. Hopefully, as time goes on, we’ll see Nikola Tesla (the guy who Edison stole his best ideas from) take his deserved place in the canon of SF; Matt Fraction has a graphic novel (‘Five Fists Of Science’) coming out on exactly this subject, namely Tesla teaming up with Mark Twain (seriously!) to bust Edison and his nefarious deeds.

But I digress; today I found this DamnInteresting article in my aggregator, about the quasi-fictional character Spring-Heeled Jack, a kind of proto-superhero/villain from Victorian London. ‘That name rings a bell,’ I thought. And it may well to other fans of current SF as well.

Spring-Heeled Jack (or at least a futurised meme-upload of him) is a minor character in Charles Stross’ ‘Accelerando’. This remixed Jack is a Scottish street punk with a pair of Russian army-surplus motorized combat boots, and a habit of mugging tourists for technology he can sell to buy fuel for his footwear. I won’t go into more detail – I wouldn’t want to spoil the fun for anyone who’s not read it yet, and anyone who *has* read it will surely remember Jack’s role in the story. You can read my review of the book, though. And then download the book for free (many formats available); Stross understands modern marketing, y’know. Trust me, it’s a good story. Geekcore SF, light-speed.

I know for certain there must be more of these borrowings-from-the-past. I’m sure Harlan Ellison (and quite a few others) put Jack the Ripper into SF settings. Dan Simmons used the poet John Keats and some of his unfinished works as the core inspiration and character for the Hyperion Cantos. Jeff Noon remixed Alice in Wonderland into Automated Alice. And of course Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Trilogy is replete with characters from the Enlightenment, from street rogues and vagabonds to kings and philosphers.

Can anyone out there point towards some more?

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