Tag: steampunk

strap on those brass goggles

 “We’ll require a dozen men, split into three teams, and they’ll need to move quickly. The first group lets the primary tethers loose from the mooring mast. Don’t worry about the secondary ropes; you can easily cut those from the gondola’s balcony once you get some initial lift. The second group secures the main cabin. They’ll need to slowly vent air from the ballonets so that the hydrogen in the envelope can expand. Shift the levers slowly; the propellers don’t respond how you’d expect. Think of it like a boat, pushing through waves you can’t see.

You’ll need the final group in the engine room; two feeding the furnace, another one keeping the clockwork turning over. The gears aren’t much good to you later on, but a good kick-start now will inject the hydrogen where it needs to be and make your getaway all the faster. You can’t muffle the gears at this point, so keep a fourth man on look-out on those catwalks with a steam-rifle. That’s just in case any of the ‘ship’s crew is still on board. It sounds unlikely, sure, but many balloon-heisters have had their career come to an early end thanks to a light-sleeping Sikh holed up in the bosun’s cabin.

Once you’re in the air, redistribute ballast, then man the pumps on the fore and aft ballonets to stabilise the ‘ship. And like that, you’ll be gone, at cruising altitude in under an hour.”

Dirigible theft in London went down by 47% when Randall ‘Zeppelin’ Raines walked away from the balloon-life. But Zep Raines got dragged back into it all when his brother screwed up a deal for Robur, master-criminal and self-styled ‘Maître du monde’.

Robur sets an impossible task; steal 50 exotic airships and have them across the Channel to Franco-Bavarian airspace by 8AM Friday morning, or the Raines brothers are dead. And it’s already Monday, and Head Inspector Strock and his unit of bobby-golems are breathing down Zep’s neck.

With less than a week to pull off the biggest heist of his life, Zep assembles his old crew and attempts the impossible. Gone… in 60 minutes.  

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Vulgar Display of Genre (or, five rambling points in search of an overarching argument)

Some loosely connected thoughts of mine, converging at weird angles.

1. So there I am toddling aimlessly along and I find a review of a series of apparently rather good novels set in a steampunk Russia. My first thought is, ‘ooh, they sound rather interesting’, followed nearly immediately by the ever-so-slight feeling of terror that some of the locations, concepts or tropes I’ve been hacking away on in Ghosts… might somehow appear in these books and any effort I’ve spent on writing will be doomed, doooooomed, DOOOOOOOOMED. Which is faintly ridiculous; it’s set at the other end of a rather large country, in a different century, plus of course there’s not anything particularly steampunk about my writing in the first place. Although, that of course depends on how you define steampunk. It’s a term that – to steal a quote from somewhere, possibly the comments section in that very review – defines an aesthetic rather than a genre per se. If we approach steampunk as ‘speculative fiction with anachronistic technology’ we start to disappear down a definitional rabbit hole rather quickly.

2. In his quite interesting blog, Jay Kristoff has started a history-cum-definition of Steampunk. One portion of it goes as follows; ‘[this definition]… does leave out one of the most important parts of Steampunk to my mind; the word “punk” and all the associations thereof. But truth be told, the “punk” has really only been incorporated into Steampunk in recent times (despite the handle having been around for over thirty years), and not everyone involved is certain about the necessity of its inclusion.’

All perfectly reasonable, but it sure sounds like steampunk suffers from what I have come to know as ‘scope creep’. It’s bound to happen, of course; it’s a label, and you don’t need to have a licence to make, use or mis-use labels. All genres are going to suffer from this, but most are sufficiently broad and robust to withstand such challenges. Steampunk appears to be either overly narrow or misleadingly broad, which I can’t imagine working well. But, what does it mean for a label to ‘work’, anyway?

3. Back in the bad old days of first year uni, a ponytail-wearing Sociology lecturer compared theories to using a flashlight in a moon-lit forest. His proposition, extrapolated a little, was as follows: turn on the flashlight and you’ll see exactly where the path is. You’re unlikely to trip, and you’ll reach your destination safely. But, you won’t understand what else is in the forest except that you see in the torch-beam. Turn off the light and your eyes adjust to the moonlight. You see shapes in the darkness that you wouldn’t have been able to perceive before. You may stumble and fall a few times, but you might also come across some interesting things that those path-bound flashlight-wielding types won’t find. Neither approach is truly wrong or right; it depends on whether your goal is to reach a particular destination safely or explore the forest. Increasingly specific labels may work like the theory-flashlight; enlightening (no pun intended, seriously) yet limiting.

4. Another mini-parable, although the details on this one are a little iffier as I heard it second-hand. Essentially, someone I know was chatting to a friend’s 13-year-old son not too long ago and the young whippersnapper talked about his favourite bands, which included early ’90s Pantera.

Now, it’s both slightly confounding that there are 13-year-olds listening to Pantera nowadays. Doing some quick math, I would have been about the same age myself when the above album came out originally (albeit would have been knee-deep in Faith No More worship at the time; I am not the man to send your Pantera questions to, I will not have the answers you seek) – but what’s interesting to me here is that the kid described the band in modern terminology. Here’s where the story breaks down and I expose myself as a old fuddy-duddy; I’ve forgotten the term because it means nothing to me. ‘Grindcore’, I think (?). Anyhow, it’s a term that’s probably been created in the intervening years; labelling Pantera as such has some equivalence to labelling the Eagles as proto-alt-country or Jules Verne steampunk. You can do it, sure, but it creates narratives and connections that wouldn’t exist if you used another label (Eagles = soft rock, or simply Eagles = radio-friendly bogan tunes).

5. What good are labels if they obfuscate as much as they explain? Do all labels do this? Are sub-sub-genres useful for anyone beyond those already in the know – and even if they are in the know, would they all necessarily agree with the labelling, or instead split it into endless fractal descriptions?

steampowered!

Sorry, no proper entry today. A slightly grim day at work has left me drained of inspiration. But, before I forget…Steampunk can quite easily turn to pastiche – Goth, with a brown palette – but what if you just embraced the visual aesthetic, and then added crazy trapeze tricks? Then, you’d have this;

If you’re in Australia, and more specifically in Melbourne right about now, go and see Circus Oz. Friends took The Wife & I along a bit over a week ago and I was blown away. It’s been the best part of 25 years since I’ve been to a circus, and I don’t remember being particularly impressed as a kid – I think because I was expecting death-defying acts and I was confronted with stunning competence. This was something else entirely – witty, energetic, and nicely balanced to the all-ages crowd. And, all with no nets!

Russell Anderson

Russell Anderson is the man behind a number of ‘serious’ public art and design pieces across Australia. He is also the creator of purposefully over-engineered teabag-jiggling devices, one of which is pictured above, not to mention a gigantic bubble-making machine that looks hilariously implausible and implausibly hilarious.

Thanks to my brother for the link.