Review: Boilerplate – History’s Mechanical Marvel by Guinan and Bennett

Boilerplate - History's Mechanical Marvel cover
Boilerplate – History’s Mechanical Marvel cover

Throughout history, fans of literary science fiction have been presented with imaginative mechanical creations and wondrous adventures. But most of the time, these robots have been mere props or technological influences used to express scientific advancements of a more romantic future. We fans do not always get a chance to “look back” at the impact robots have had on history.

That is, until now. Boilerplate – History’s Mechanical Marvel by Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett is a retrospective investigation of a fictional robot I doubt many people knew ever existed. Just as Forrest Gump found himself immersed in some of the most prolific events in history, the steam powered phenomenon Boilerplate also left many footprints through history.

The character Boilerplate has a multifaceted history almost as complex as the history he is suggested to have traversed. As the story goes, Boilerplate was the brainchild of Professor Archibald Balthazar Campion first presented at Machinery Hall during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

Boilerplate with creator Campion in motorcar - Chicago 1893
Boilerplate with creator Campion in motorcar – Chicago 1893

Though Campion was a successful inventor credited with numerous patents, the mechanical marvel did not come along until after he had already become a millionaire. It should also be noted that the final result was due to his friendship with a few other brilliant minds.

Edward Fullerton (a quick interweb search yielded nothing on historical significance of this character) developed a hydrogen based fuel cell which replaced archaic power sources like coal. Frank Reade Jr. (hero from Luis Philip Senarens stories based on Harry Enton’s dime novels, including Frank Reade and His Steam Man of the Plains) was an obvious influence on Campion. But perhaps most notable was another well-known inventor named Nikola Tesla (the true father of AC and foil to a guy named Edison). The inclusion of these three gentlemen helps add credibility to the eyes of fans of the steam age.

As it turns out, Boilerplate – History’s Mechanical Marvel is indeed history book of sorts. Though some of the images and events are expressed in more of a tongue-in-cheek manner, many of the chapters look back at history through the imaginative eyes Guinan and Bennett and gives the readers a well-deserved cause to stop and think. What if?

Face it, history may have been altered greatly, be it for the better or worse, if a mechanical soldier could have been used in place of real living, breathing men in combat. That concept alone is what makes this book work. Every page is filled with in depth analysis of impacts such a creation could have presented. And when you throw in hundreds of illustrations to reinforce the story, well, it just makes the package complete.

To hear that a motion picture may be in the works with J.J. Abrams at the helm is reason enough to draw the interest of fans of steampunk and science fiction in general. But simply said, for a fun yet enlightening look at history and what might have been, Boilerplate – History’s Mechanical Marvel is a great place to look.

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