Category Archives: steampunk

Steampunk – literature or lifestyle.

steampunk01_thumbI have a weakness for steampunk, even though I previously confessed to being horrified by the lack of original thinking that goes into it.

In my opinion, basic science has to exist. If an accepted rule of science is to be broken, it has to be explained. Steam powered vehicles … okay, if they are portrayed as evolved from the first attempts at such things. Converting water to steam takes heat and time, a character can’t leap into an unprepared vehicle and immediately accelerate to unheard of speeds.

In addition to the books, steampunk is being seen as a lifestyle choice. One I applaud, but doubt I could adopt. Even if I could, I suspect my beloved might have me committed.

One tenet of the lifestyle is the full liberation of women. Unlike the reality of the Victorian era, steampunk females can pursue any role in life they choose: engineer, spy, housewife, pilot etc.
The chosen mode of dress for the women combines sensual with the fantasies of the Victorian gentleman’s mind. To me, it seems they revel in creating an exciting, if somewhat impractical appearance. They preserve their fiercely defended right to independence, whilst suggesting a, ‘look, but try and touch at your peril,’ approach to life.

I recently started working on digital art and what started as a dalliance became a full-blown obsession. Drawn using Autodesk Sketchbook on an ipad, plus Adobe 123 Design. Like any creative piece, I know I could carry on ‘improving’ it, but there comes a point where you put it out and move on. I offer this as my first piece of steampunk art.


Credentials – Part 1

What creates the credentials to start writing?

Many authors always loved words and books from an early age. That wasn’t the case for me. I hated everything to do with school and teacher-led learning.

Throughout my education, I didn’t encounter a single book I enjoyed reading. I struggled through the Lord of the Rings, because everybody else raved about it. I completed it, but didn’t immediately sink into the world. That came much later.

p100Leaving school as soon as I could, I was in employment at 16. Rapid career shifts placed me working for the adding machine company – Burroughs, just at the point where they were making the move to electronic computing.

I certainly attribute my steampunk/ gearwheel tendencies to fixing mechanical adding machines. I had one client, a Jewish accountant company who possessed a black cased, manual adding machine they said it had come over from America in the war.

I loved that machine. I visited it to polish the case. (The new ones were grey crinkle covered steel, or worse, plastic.)  The black enamel would polish to a shine you could see your face in.

The keyboard had deeply inlaid keys worn smooth with use. Inside the case I lavished love with an oil bottle and a cloth so that it gleamed.

Of course, I shouldn’t have been giving so much attention to a single machine, I should have been out in the rain on the streets of Manchester with my tool bag, but what the heck. I don’t take full responsibility for the collapse of Burroughs. I was just a minor cog.

Ray, an older engineer, invited me around to dinner. I was stunned to see how many books he had on the shelf. He selected Harry Harrison, Stainless Steel Rat and suggested I tried it. He wouldn’t lend me his copy. Yes, he was one of those kind of readers.

I owned my 65p copy for over forty years. Where my beloved books went is another story entirely.

At the age of 23 I started on the track of light science fiction. I became one of those readers who is reluctant to lend a book out. I developed a hate for any who might consider putting a coffee mug ring on a cover.

Does Steampunk work?

steampunk1bSteampunk, is a genre of fiction usually set in an alternative Victorian “future.” Certain tropes: airships, mechanical gadgets and goggles tend to pepper the stories.

I confess to dabbling at writing and I’ve enjoyed a number of the stories. However, the amateur engineer in me finds many aspects too difficult to cope with.

One recent book had clockwork aircraft. Worse than this, the engines were assembled in a matter of hours from discarded metalwork by the ingenious goggle-wearing sidekick. I wish I could accept it, but it doesn’t work.

No amount of redesigning gear boxes will put a clockwork plane in the air for hours, if not days of flight.

So, when I can write about magic, happily read stories of vampires and werewolves, why does my head object to these things?

Surely, an essentially engineer-oriented genre should respect engineering fact

Rules can be bent, but not entirely broken.

Possibly the discovery of a new power source ‘unimaginum’ or some such might help an author explain what physics says is impossible and I can go along with that. I can also accept that steam power was never developed to its full potential. Maybe it was prematurely surpassed by oil and electric sources. Therefore, improvements beyond what is currently known is fine.

Fiction even allows complete bunkum. I’ll cringe slightly, but allow a pocket size bug to possess a mechanical brain capable of following verbal instructions. It’s fiction, after all.

I do find it offensive that clever devices are often assembled by near-idiots. To make the simplest gear train requires jewel-cutter accuracy. To pipe steam and efficiently power motion requires maths beyond all but 10% of the human race. The Victorian engineers were masters of mathematics and ingenuity. Give credit to these giants.

So, if I ever write a steampunk novel, I will have to abide by my own constraints. I’d also suggest that anybody writing in the genre should know what can be done, or produce an acceptable explanation when they break the rules of physics. Surely, readers deserve this?