Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Girl Genius

Lately I've been reading through the Girl Genius archives, and I'm quite enjoying it so far. The art is great, the steampunk machines are extremely fun to look at, and the Jägerkin are simply hilarious.

For those of you wondering what the keyboard shortcut is for ä, it's Alt-228. Took me flipping ages to find it by trial and error.

Cheers chaps!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Why Human/Animal Hybrids are a Bad Idea

I'm usually quite the proponent of science. I eagerly await my robot slave and my car that drives itself. A recent post by a friend of mine, however, has made me realize that there's one place science shouldn't take us: human/animal hybrids.

Some of you out there may be saying "Why not? That would be awesome!" Allow me to illustrate. What you are thinking of, and hoping for, is this:
What you would end up with, however, is this:
I think I'll leave that one in the realm of fantasy, thank you very much.

(By the way, blame Google Image Search for this one.)

Brass Goggles

If you like Steampunk, you should be reading the Brass Goggles blog. It's electromagneteriffic!

I got quite a chuckle out of this recent post.

Oh, and if you don't have an RSS reader yet, you really should. I personally use Google reader, though if any readers have a preference for another reader, I will gladly hear what your favorite is.

The Sum of All Human Knowledge

I never meant to talk about Steampunk exclusively in this blog, so here's my first real divergence from that theme.

For once, I'm not talking about Wikipedia when I refer to the sum of all human knowledge.

Instead, I would like to talk about my old belief that everybody is constantly learning, so surely the sum of all human knowledge is constantly increasing. The world, in effect, is getting smarter, and I have to struggle to keep up by learning as much as possible. This is what it felt like when I was in school: everyone around me was always learning new stuff, so I had to learn those things, too, to stay ahead of the game.

It has become increasingly obvious to me that this is not the case on a worldwide scale. People on this planet are not getting any smarter. Any bit of knowledge that I gain puts me that much further ahead of the game.

Take, for instance, my knowledge of computers. Surely people all over the world are constantly using computers, so the sum of knowledge about computers is going up? Probably not, or at least, not to the extent you might think. For every person who figures out a shortcut or a scrap of HTML, there's someone who steadfastly refuses to learn how to use the devil box, and someone else who is just starting out and learning how to get the magical internet pixies to show him or her electronic mail.

My knowledge of history is the same way (and doubly so here in America). For every cool historical figure I learn about on Wikipedia, I'm gaining that much more information about something historical than most people have. Think about it: studies have shown that something like 30% of college students think that Martin Luther King, Jr., was arguing for the abolition of slavery.

If I come off as being snobby and rambling, just imagine me sitting in an armchair by the fireplace, curling my mustache around my finger with one hand while stirring my tea with the other, an open book on my lap. See, now I don't seem so bad, do I?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

They Should Have Been Steampunk

The steampunk world is full of marvelous inventions and terrible dangers, and the characters in it are suitably larger-than-life. Nevertheless, it is my belief that several historical people would have fit in famously with the airships and steambots. Everyone who follows steampunk should be familiar with the names of....

Charles Babbage: Steampunk couldn't exist without the man who invented a mechanical calculator in the 19th century, and designed a programmable computer. At the time, however, this was viewed as something of a curiosity, and he was better known as a none-too-important mathematician. He appears in Darwin's book, for instance, as a mathematician who is known for a strange sense of humor and for throwing dinner parties. No mention is made of the Difference Engine.

Lady Lovelace: A friend of Charles Babbage's, she designed the first computer program for Babbage's never-to-be-completed Analytical Engine. She is also remembered for being the daughter of Lord Byron. Today her name lives on in the Lady Lovelace argument that she put forth, stating that computers will never be capable of thought because they can only do what they are programmed to do.

Nikola Tesla: As the Leibniz to Edison's Newton, Nikola Tesla will always be known as "that other guy who also did similar things." Perhaps because he is not as mainstream as Edison, he has been lifted on the shoulders of steampunk aficionados as a sort of patron saint. Tesla's name can often be found on the names of all sorts of steampunk gadgets, often with wonderfully destructive capabilities based on Tesla's plans for a directed-energy weapon.

While not popularly associated with the genre, but in my opinion no less at home in the world, are:

Isambard Kingdom Brunel: Extremely famous in England and yet practically unknown in America, the brilliant engineer was so diverse in his talents and abilities that there is no doubt in my mind that the greatest airships of his age would have started life on Brunel's drawing-table. A genius and quite a character, Brunel in my mind's eye stands before the mooring ropes of a gargantuan, baroque airship, with his hands in his pockets, nonchalantly smoking a cigar.

Mary Kingsley: A woman whose courage was matched only by her sense of humor, she went bravely among the cannibal tribes of unknown Africa and faced each terrifying experience with a stoic determination and a glint in her eye. Based on her book, Travels in West Africa, I can only assume that, had she stumbled upon some long-slumbering brute god on her journeys, she would have stared it down and given it a stern talking-to for trying to devour her, or at least a sharp whack on the head with her oar.

How about you, O Readers? Who do you think would have engaged in an ornithopter joust, or a saber battle on the back of a steel behemoth? Leave your thoughts in comments!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Post-Science Fiction

I believe that one of the greatest things about steampunk, and one of the things that grants it such appeal, is that it is what I consider post-science fiction.

Think back on the science fiction from its golden age:nothing but ray guns, space ships, and jet packs as far as the eye can see. Kids could look at Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon with starry-eyed optimism, waiting for the day they, too, would be able to do the things their heroes did. When those kids grew up, they would fly to work in flying cars, sit at massive blinking computer terminals all day, and come home to their robot servants preparing dinner.

Then the real future came. Instead of jet packs, we got iPods; instead of ray guns, we got anti-lock breaks. Virtual reality fizzled. Cybernetic implants became Bluetooth headsets. The future is now, and the sad thing is, the future is real. It turned out to be driven not by a need to conquer the universe and expose its secret dangers, or a need to improve mankind and advance us to the next evolutionary step, but by the need to make a buck and pay for another yacht.

Steampunk sidesteps all this by giving us back our future in the only place it is safe: in the past. We don't have to worry about steampunk not coming true because it's already over. This also frees up the technology to be as incredible as the authors want. While science fiction geeks have had to struggle to try to explain how transporters and lightsabers are feasible, nobody has to argue for the existence of a electrogalvanized supramechanical disruptor array. Steampunk's impracticality is one of its greatest strengths.

So let us raise our articulated magnetogoblets to steampunk and post-science fiction. May our ornithopters always fly and our boilers never die until the Thames runs dry!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Happy Max Planck Day!

So what if Max Planck really only came into his own after the Steampunk era was over? We can't all be Charles Babbage, after all, and I'm sure that there are plenty of opportunities out there for people who want to write speculative fiction that asks: what if Max Planck had had his ideas as a younger man, and what if he had turned them to the service of the Society for Aetherospheric Exploration? I'll tell you what: black body radiation rayguns.

Happy 150th birthday, Max Planck! If your brain is being kept alive in a glass jar hooked up to a brass machine with tiny silver gears, then I hope the nutrition wafers they drop into your sustenance fluid are suitably festive.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Some People Who Get It

There are plenty of commendable gentlepersons out there who really seem to understand the steampunk phenomenon. Here are a list I have compiled of the better ones I have found on my journeys through the electrodigitalized aetherospheric networks:

This talented DeviantArt member has a gallery full of costume pictures:

Here is a Youtube video of a gentleman who makes steampunk-inspired customizations to computers:
and his site:

Iron Kingdoms. Think Dungeons & Dragons set in a steampunk world:

And finally, Last Exile, a steampunk anime I have been enjoying:

If any readers have suggestions to be added to this list, please let me know!


Saturday, April 19, 2008


As an appropriate way to begin this new blog, I felt it would be a good time to point out that it is my belief and hope that steampunk is emerging as the newest trend in society and culture. Arising from the goth subculture (as far as I can tell), steampunk draws on Jules Verne-inspired aesthetics to create a movement that combines all that's great about science fiction, alternate history, and goth.

For those who are wondering what all the goth references are about, ask yourself this: what's cooler, a rock-and-roll vampire in tight leather in a modern-day (or modern-night) club, or a vampire on the fog-shrouded, gas-lit streets of London with a long coat, top hat, and cane? And that's only a tiny side aspect of steampunk: the true appeal of it is in airships, steam-driven robots, colonels and majors and how much cooler everything is if you add "Her Majesty's" to its name.

Take for example the steampunk Star Wars phenomenon: everything becomes cooler when you add Steampunk to it, and seeing Star Wars in a new way can be simply mind-blowing.

Steampunk has something pleasantly anachronistic and aristocratic about it. It hearkens back to a time when people could still meaningfully achieve titles of knighthood and become lords, before such titles were handed out to rock stars and movie has-beens. Steampunk makes you realize how outrageously fun it is to speak in anachronistic modern interpretations of 19th-Century speech.

And come on, didn't I already mention the giant airships and steam-powered robots? Because seriously, what more could you possibly want?