Steampunk inspiration and resources

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A Very Unusual Duel

You can check out the rest of the Unusual Duel videos by Atlas Obscura here.


Music to Steampunk By: Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band

“Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band combines the rich musical history of the circus and the vagabond peoples of Europe with the raw energy of avant-garde jazz, the burning heat of funk and the irreverence and fun of today’s Vaudeville for a sound that is somehow familiar yet like no other. Label them anyway you like! Call them avant world fusion, call them experimental big band, call them gypsy steamfunk, call them circus noise! They may be tough to sum up, but it’s easy to tell you they’ll show you a good time and they’ll get a crowd dancing!” Read more

You can catch their next show on March 16 at the Steampunk World’s Fair in New Jersey!


Steampunk Book Review: The Poison Belt

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One of my all time favorite literary characters is Professor Challenger, who I’m afraid is forever doomed to be overshined by Conan Doyle’s better known protagonist, Sherlock Holmes. Challenger is every bit as smart as Sherlock, but is both more pompous and more energetic than the great detective, and I find myself laughing out loud at his over-the-top confidence and sharp wit on a regular basis while reading.

The Poison belt came out in 1913, and centers on the same cadre of adventurers from the first book. They are having a reunion at Challenger’s country home a few years after their great discovery of the The Lost World. Unfortunately, what is meant to be a lovely weekend is interrupted by nothing less than the end of the world as we know it. It begins with what appears to be an infectios disease, but Professor Challenger riddles out the truth, that aether is to blame.

book coverThe prevailing theories during the “steam era” about the medium that makes up our universe all centered on aether. It fills those empty spaces between everything, and influences the effects of light and gravity. During the story our planet passes through a belt of this mysterious substance that is totally antithetical to animal life, and there is no telling how long we will be subject to the effects of the this poison belt. Our heroes watch as one by one the people in the fields, the birds in the sky and the horses pulling carriages all drift into their final rest, while they attempt to prolong their own lives for a few precious hours within an oxegenated environment.

pb-04I don’t usually like to give away the endings or twists in the books I review, but it is evident that the human race must somehow survive considering the reader is in fact both human and alive, but while reading the protagonists see no means of escape and spend much of their time reflecting on the meaning of life and human beings’ place in the universe. This may seem a depressing subject matter, but Conan Doyle does a good job of keeping the meloncholy in check and balancing it with the banter of the characters and the giddiness that comes from the aether entering one’s system.

It’s a nice, short little book which is widely available for free download because it is no longer in copyright. The Mister and I read it in a matter of hours and we both really enjoyed it. I can’t wait to read the next Challenger title, The Land of Mist.


Take a Trip Down Memory Lane with the Earliest Footage of London

Yestervid is a super cool website that compiles footage from the earliest days of filmmaking. This montage features some of the oldest film and sound recordings around the city of London, and they have a map showing the exact location and camera angle for reference.


Steampunk Short: The Ouroboros Cycle Promo

I ran across this book promo for piece by G. D. Falksen the other day and I am definitely intrigued. The third installment came out in 2015.

Have you ever read anything by this author?


Steampunk Sourcebook: Charles Darwin

Student Days

  • young-charles-darwinCharles Robert Darwin was born in 1809 in Shropshire, England. He was the fifth born of Robert and Susanna Darwin’s six children. Both his paternal and maternal grandfathers, Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgewood, respectively, were famous for their abolitionist activities at the end of the 19th century.
  • He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh but became fascinated by the non-human world of biological studies. His first animal kingdom of choice to study in detail was marine invertebrates, but he also learned taxidermy from a freed slave named John Edmonstone in his early days at University.
  • Darwin was first introduced to the concept of evolution during his tenure with the Plinian Society, a club devoted to natural history at the University of Edinburgh. Darwin became deeply involved after his appointment in 1826, and was later elected to the council.
  • He worked for some time at the University museum classifying plants before his neglect of his medical studies annoyed his father so much that papa Darwin sent him to Christ’s College on the road to become an Anglican parson. But rather than steering him away from the natural sciences, Charles found a passion for beetle collecting and met several supporters of Natural Theology. This philosophy is about using reason to understand the nature of God (or the gods) and his/their creations (nature).

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World Traveler

  • In 1831, at the age of 21, Darwin joined a scientific expedition. It was only meant to last for two years, but in the end it lasted until 1836.
  • After some delays, the HMS Beagle embarked from England on December 27. The expedition circumnavigated the globe, and visiting far-off places with diverse ecosystems helped to further Darwin’s theories. He was not the official naturalist on the journey, but maintained a private collection.
  • The most well-known part of his journey was his stopover in the Galapagos Islands, but the fossils of extinct giant sloths on the South American mainland did just as much to fuel his new take on evolution theory as the famous finches.
  • Important Dates:
    • January 6, 1832: The Beagle makes it first stop on Tenerife Island, but the crew is not allowed to disembark because of the fear of cholera.
    • January 16, 1832: 23 days in the Cape Verde Islands, off the coast of Senegal, which at the time was a French colony.
    • February 28, 1832: All Saints Bay, Salvador, Brazil. Darwin and the Beagle’s captain, Robert FitzRoy, get into a heated argument about abolition after seeing enslaved Africans.
    • August 1832: During a survey of the Patagonian coast, Darwin found the fossil remains of huge creature that he could not identify. Experts back in Cambridge found them to be the bones of giant sloths. He also sent several teeth, beetles, and other smaller animals periodically from the expedition.
    • December 18, 1832: Darwin has his first encounter with native peoples.
    • March 1833: Falkland Islands. This area had only recently come under British control and the Beagle did survey work for the government. Darwin was intrigued by seeing a completely new set of fossils and decided to do comparative studies of all the specimens he had found so far.
    • May 1833: Darwin acquires an assistant, Syms Covington. Now that someone else was in charge of stuffing the specimens, Darwin was free to continue his detailed observations.
    • November 1833: Darwin spent time on and off the sea for a stretch of a few months and completed overland exploration and fossil collecting. His most compelling discovery was finding the bones of a giant ground sloth that were clearly below a seashell deposit. He was puzzled by how this could be possible, as the movement of the earth’s crust through plate tectonics and the number of times the earth underwent climate change were still unknown to science.
    • February 1834: Darwin turns 25, and FitzRoy names the highest peak in the area Mt. Darwin in his honor.
    • September 1834: Darwin is ill for several weeks with a fever. He stays at the home of a former classmate in Valapairiso, Chile.
    • February 20, 1835: A massive earthquake hits the region where Darwin’s group is studying and after investigating the island of Quiriquina he found that several land masses moved inches or even feet during the quake. This supported the theories of Charles Lyell, whose work was an important point of debate at the Plinian Society.
    • July 19, 1835: The Beagle takes on provisions in Lima, Peru, to get ready to cross the Pacific Ocean.
    • September 15, 1835: The Galapagos Archipelago is sighted.
    • November 15, 1835: The Beagle arrives in Tahiti.
    • December 21, 1835: Arrival in New Zealand.
    • January 12, 1836: Arrival in Australia.
    • February 5, 1836: Arrival in Tasmania.
    • April 1, 1836: Arrival in the Cocos Islands, Indian Ocean.
    • May 31, 1836: The Beagle sails around the tip of Africa and anchors in Simon’s Bay.
    • August 6, 1836: After years at sea, the Beagle finally sets it sights on England.
    • October 2, 1836: The ship arrives in Britain and Darwin heads directly for home after four years, nine months and five days.
  • Darwin published his first book, widely known as The Voyage of the Beagle, in 1839.

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Competing Theories of Evolution

  • Transmutation/Transformism: It got its name from clchemy and the attempts to change a base metal into gold. It was first introduced by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in his book Philosophie Zoologique (1809). In this theory, it was believed that “nervous fluid” drove organisms to greater and greater complexity. The idea that later generations could inherit the traits of their ancestors was also important, but focused more on individual change than any sort of larger, species-wide shifts.
  • Eugenics: The word arose in 1883, but the idea of improving the human race through controlling our breeding and research on the topic started much earlier in the 1800s. For instance, the castration of lunatics and criminals in order to keep them from passing on their unsavory traits was advocated for long before Darwin’s theories were published, but it was Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, who first coined the phrase. It gained popularity during the early 1900s, but lost favor after it was used by Ernst Rudin to justify the Nazi’s racial politics. Nevertheless, several countries adopted eugenics policies, starting with the United States in the early 1900s and ending with Switzerland in 1975.
  • Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation: This book was published anonymously in 1844. It applies the theory of transmutation to all things, including the solar system. It concluded that Caucasian people were the pinnacle of creation, and that God’s direct intervention was not necessary for species to change. Darwin would later regard it as the work that made people open to his theories. Prince Albert is said to have read it to Queen Victoria to get her up to speed with scientific knowledge. After his death in 1871, Scottish publisher Robert Chambers was revealed to be the author.
  • On the Origin of Species: Darwin had planned to release his treatise after his death, but he got word from Lyell that another Naturalist, Alfred Russell Wallace, was about to publish similar theories. Wallace was actually the one to accurately describe natural selection, and sent Darwin a short paper on the subject in 1858. Their theories were presented jointly at a Linnean Society meeting but did not receive the attention that was expected. Darwin could not attend due to the death of his young son by scarlet fever. His book was completed and published November of 1859. By the end of the 1860s, most scientists were in agreement that evolution had taken place, but there was no agreement as to the mechanism. The majority still believed that God was behind it, not natural selection.

References in Steampunk Literature

  • In The Strange Affair of Spring-heeled Jack (2010) by Mark Hodder, Charles Darwin is the villainous force behind a mysterious plot in an alternate timeline where Queen Victoria was assassinated in 1840. In the world Hodder created, the Technologists and Eugenicists (with Darwin as their leader) are at war.
  • In the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfield, Darwin not only discovered the forces behind evolution, but also its building blocks, DNA. In this alternate version of events, The Darwinists use genetics to creating living weapons in their war with the “Clankers,” who use technology.
  • If you like graphic novels, you can follow Edgar Allan Poe, Abe Lincoln, and Charles Darwin as three children with incredible destinies who find themselves kidnapped by a dimension-traveling cowboy in Charlie Darwin or the Trine of 1809. Hurried away to meet the Princess of Avalon – they discover just how extraordinary the world really is!
  • Many books use references to Darwin as a way to situate their stories in time. For instance, his name is mentioned in The Difference Engine as being among the new privileged class of intellectuals collectively called “savants.”

Steampunk Book Review: Clockwork Princess (Infernal Devices 3)

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Even though all three of Casandra Clare’s Infernal Devices books came out between 2009-2013, I didn’t get around to reading the third one until now. This is not to say that I wasn’t excited to find out the conclusion, but I didn’t get a chance to pick it up before I left the English-speaking world for a spell. You can imagine my elation when I found an ample English language section in a local Sofia, Bulgaria bookstore the other day and Clockwork Princess was waiting for me! Even though it comes in at 507 pages, I tore right through it in a couple of days. It is a totally satisfying wrapping-up of the plot lines from the first two books.

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Alternative cover design featuring Nina Dobrev

The book begins with a confrontation between the London Institute and the giant worm demon that Benedict Lightwood has become due to his affliction with “demon pox.” His sons, Gabriel and Gideon, as well as Will’s shadowhunter-in-training sister, Cecily, accompany Will, Jem and Tessa to the Lightwood estate. In the interim since events of Clockwork Prince came to a close, the Magister and his automaton army seem to have vanished, leaving little for Will to focus on besides the engagement of his best friend, Jem, to the love of his life, Tessa. The battle is a welcome distraction until at the end when Jem collapses due to his long-standing illness.

It turns out he has been taking his drugs far too quickly in an attempt to be worthy of Tessa’s love, and he has burned out his entire year’s supply in a matter of weeks. The Magister has bought up all of the remaining drug in the entire city, leaving the shadowhunters at his mercy if they want Jem to live. Tessa is the key to the Magister’s nefarious plot for domination over the shadowhunters he believed have wronged him, but her actual purpose is still a mystery. On top of the threat from the outside, trouble is also brewing for the head of the London Institute, who didn’t turn out to be as compliant and meek as the Consul believed she would be. Internal politics, passionate romance and the threat of utter annihilation combine into a great climax for a wonderful trilogy.

Clockwork Angel Review (Infernal Devices 1)

Clockwork Prince Review (Infernal Devices 2)


The Adventures of Mark Twain (1985) is an 80s-tastic way to Learn About this Great American Writer

I was born in the 1980s, but a little too late to really remember its pitfalls (like huge hair and shoulder pads) or its triumphs (the advent of the music video, and of course, Steampunk) first hand. Luckily for us, this was a time when tons of weird, wonderful and sometimes experimental television and movies were being made, which captured some of the essence of that era. The 1970s and 80s saw a revival of a film technique that was pioneered by Thomas Edison’s manufacturing company in 1908: clay-animation. You can see their film, A Sculptor’s Nightmare, here.

Humpty Dumpty Circus 1897The very first stop-motion film of all time, which employed moving toys, was made in 1897. Samuel Langhorn Clemens, better known by his pen name, Mark Twain, lived until 1910, so it is entirely possible that he saw the first clay-animation film and probable that he saw earlier stop-motion films as well.

Characters

The-Adventures-of-Mark-Twain-airshipThe Adventures of Mark Twain was made in 1985 and is a trippy clay-anmation sojourn through the works of Mark Twain. There is a little bit of biographical information, but mostly it is a chance to showcase his contributions to literature. The viewer is swept away along on an airship adventure along with some of Twain’s best-known characters, Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher. Twain was born near the passage of Halley’s Comet in 1835, and always said he believed he would leave this world again the next time it passed in 1910 (he died the day after it returned), so the film revolves around him trying to keep his “appointment” and visiting some of his greatest works along the way.

Mark-Twain-Mysterious-StrangerThough it may seem morbid that he is racing to his own death, the film is wonderful combination of stunning visuals, abstraction and humor, which totally downplays the seemingly morbid plot line. Though I should warn you that even though this is an animated film, and so you may be thinking it was made for kids, the depiction of “The Mysterious Stranger” is pretty terrifying. Adults would get much more out of this movie than kids, especially if they have read any Twain at all.

The-Adventures-of-Mark-Twain-Adam and EveI thoroughly enjoyed this film, which came out on DVD in 2006. When it was originally released in 1985 it had a very limited run, so I wouldn’t be surprised if few people even knows it exists.