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!

4 comments:

bluefish said...

I think Edison himself should have been steampunk. Also, some Wild West heroes like Buffalo Bill would work in well with the Steampunk world. It's not just about steam-machines, but about the cool Victorian-era people who live with them!

Lord Admiral said...

Buffalo Bill was a tool. If you're going to make someone from a Western into a Steampunk character, it should be someone cool, like Wild Bill or Doc Holliday, or even someone less widely known, like Dallas Stoudenmire.

Kawaika said...

I think Confederate leaders could also work well in Steampunk. (Wasn't one of the enemies in Turok a Confederate leader?)

Kawaika said...

Er, not that Turok = Steampunk...