DUSK PETERSON: Historical speculative fiction

History-inspired mythic fantasy. Alternate history. Retrofuture science fiction. Love.

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Turn-of-the-Century Toughs is a cycle of diverse alternate history series about adults and youths on the margins of society, and the people who love them. Set in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the novels and stories take place in an alternative version of America that was settled by inhabitants of the Old World in ancient times. As a result, the New World retains certain classical and medieval customs.

Updated April 2018.



The cycle consists of the following series:

The Eternal Dungeon. In a cool, dark cavern, guarded by men and by oaths, lies a dungeon in which prisoners fearfully await the inevitable. The inevitable will be replaced by the unexpected. ¶ The Eternal Dungeon is an award-winning alternate history series on romance, friendship and family, set in a nineteenth-century prison where the psychologists wield whips.

Dungeon Guards. In the Eternal Dungeon, there are only two types of guards: skilled guards or dead guards. But one guard has been both. ¶ Dungeon Guards is an alternate history series about nineteenth-century prison workers who seek love and companionship as they fight together against danger.

Life Prison. They are imprisoned until death, and their lives cannot get worse . . . or so they think. But when an unlikely alliance forms against their captors, the reformers risk losing what little comforts they possess. ¶ Life Prison is an alternate history series on friendship, romance, and rebellion in nineteenth-century prisons.

Michael's House. In a world where temples are dying and sacred theaters have been replaced by brothels, what will happen when a hard-headed businessman joins forces with an idealist? ¶ Michael's House is an alternate history series on love in a Progressive Era slum.

Waterman. How can a youth from a bay island boarding school survive when he is sent to a futuristic prison? ¶ Waterman is an award-winning speculative fiction series of love in an alternative version of the Chesapeake Bay region during the 1910s and during the future as it was envisioned in the 1960s.

Dark Light. Only in the dark can one truly see the light. ¶ Dark Light is an award-winning alternate history series presenting book bundles of interlinked stories from Turn-of-the-Century Toughs.

Maps and geography

The geography of the "Midcoast nations" of Turn-of-the-Century Toughs is based upon the geography of the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States.

Map of the Midcoast nations

More maps of the Midcoast nations.

The Midcoast nations are as follows:

Yclau. Technologically advanced, the Queendom of Yclau espouses ideals of egalitarianism and encourages humane treatment of commoners and criminals. It is the birthplace of various reform movements. However, Yclau struggles with class divisions that are reflected in its punitive justice system. Yclau folk are believers in eternal rebirth, a concept that foreigners find puzzling.

Vovim. Considered the epitome of barbaric violence and ignorance by its neighbors, the Kingdom of Vovim is a multiracial and multiethnic home for various cultures who are united by their love of the gods and their devotion to the arts, especially theater. Vovim is located to the north and west of Yclau. Its ancient system of government finds itself under strain at the beginning of the cycle, leading to social upheavals.

The Dozen Landsteads: Originally the most politically advanced of the Midcoast nations, the Dozen Landsteads ends up being overshadowed by Vovim and Yclau. Religiously and ethnically, the Landsteaders are identical to the Yclau, but the Landsteaders remain stubbornly traditional, holding to a centuries-old system of ranking masters, liegemen, and servants. The official name of the bay-oriented nation is "The Alliance of the Dozen Landsteads," for the individual landsteads refuse to centralize their political power, other than through a high law that tries to settle differences between the leaders of the Landsteads. As a result, the Dozen Landsteads' greatest conflicts are usually internal . . . but that will change as pressure builds at the nation's western border.

Mip. This tiny, egalitarian nation north of Yclau, south and east of Vovim, and west of the Dozen Landsteads has long been the battleground for Vovimian and Yclau troops who try to control it. As a result, Vovimian and Yclau culture play a strong role in this land. Virtually ignored is Mip's native tribe, which is on the verge of extinction. However, the poor people of the Magisterial Republic of Mip take heart from the tales of the tribe's struggle to free itself from its oppressors.

Akbar. Located to the east of the Dozen Landsteads and Vovim, but usually not counted as part of the Midcoast nations, Akbar plays a cameo role in the first novel of Waterman.

Timeline and chronological list of all the stories in the cycle

A timeline is available for the series, which links to all the Toughs stories. It includes spoilers for political events but not for events in the lives of individual characters.

In Turn-of-the-Century Toughs, the period in our world between 1880 and 1912 is spread out to cover just under a century. The Waterman series combines elements of the 1910s with retrofuturistic imagery from the 1960s.

In the United States of America, the first two decades of the twentieth century are referred to as the Progressive Era. In England, the same period is called the Edwardian Era. In both countries and in other English-speaking countries, this period and the two decades preceding it were a time of intense interest in social reform. The social reformers sometimes looked to the past for inspiration and sometimes strove to depart from the past through new technologies and through changes in social structure. This era of social reform would climax in World War One, when traditional values eroded in trench warfare.

Turn-of-the-Century Toughs takes the social concerns and outward appearance of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and applies them to events in an alternative version of the Mid-Atlantic, one in which the New World was invaded and settled by people from the Old World in ancient times.

Communications, computers, and calendars

The ternary (base 3) system is used in the Dozen Landsteads (and was used in the early history of Yclau) for the alphabet, numbers, telelecommunications, calendars, and much else. The ternary system would also eventually be used in computers throughout the Midcoast nations. A page is available on Landstead ternary symbols and their meanings.


The Boer War and Turn-of-the-Century Firearms. Bibliography for Life Prison.

Islanders and Watermen of the Chesapeake Bay. Bibliography for Waterman.

Masculinity, Crime, and Everyday Life in Victorian and Edwardian Times. Bibliography for all of the series in the Turn-of-the-Century Toughs cycle.

Retrofuture: Visions of the Future, 1945-1975. Bibliography for Waterman.

Index page for all the bibliographies.


See the following blog entries made by the author on research for the cycle. In some cases, check for the subheadings within the entries.

Eternal Dungeon research.

Life Prison research. See also Commando research.

Waterman research. Earlier entries are labelled "Prison City research."

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