4 Steampunk Must Reads

For those of you with a literary bent, here are some amazing, and possibly overlooked, books dealing with Steampunk.

Doctor Grordbort’s Contrapulatronic Dingus Directory

Think of it as a Sears catalog for ray guns. Everything a planet-hopping adventurer could need. The author, Greg Broadmore, has thrown in the kitchen sink on this one. In addition to the various rayguns sold by his emporium (Dr. Grordborts Infallible Aether Oscillators) he has armored suits (like the Ignas Fraunhofer III Gas Driven Gadabout), robotic moving couches ( Chairlord 2200), along with straight up robotic servants (Automaitre D’). There are even some comics at the end to exemplify the exploits of Lord Cockswain. Buy it now.

 

Doctor Grordbort Presents: Victory (Dr. Grordbort Presents Victory: Scientific Adventure Violence)

More adventures with Lord Cockswain. The subhead says it all: Scientific Adventure Violence for Young Men & Literate Women. Mr. Cockswain aims to bring order to the galaxy by obliterating anything that personally offends him. And he’s got the rayguns to back him up. Filled with mock advertorials inviting you to join up with the “British Colonial Expeditionary Forces.” It also comes with a complete bestiary of Venus. Such a value!

 

The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter

Technically not out yet (May 11th) this proves to be a tremendous addition to any steampunk aficionado. Who could beat Will Shakespeare gone steampunk? The dialogue alone is worth the price of admission. Will Romeo have a mechanical arm? Will Hamlet be a cyborg? The possibilities are endless (as long as they contain gears and springs).

 

Bartleby’s Book of Buttons Vol. 1: The Far Away Island

Okay, so technically not a book, this iPad app will appeal to anyone who has a love for gears, levers, and of course buttons. Bartleby collects buttons. In this interactive tale, he sets off to a mysterious island to find a new button for his collection. There’s plenty of button pushing fun with this book. Plus, if you dig it, there’s a sequel: Bartleby’s Book of Buttons Vol. 2: The Button at the Bottom of the Sea.

Happy adventuring fellow gear-heads.

Tim Kane

Steampunk Shakespeare

What if William Shakespeare had lived in Victorian times? What would he make of mechanical engines and steam-power? That’s the premise behind The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter.

I discovered this contest by happenstance, trolling through the Twitterverse. The concept so intrigued me, I had to give it a go. Truth be told, this was the hardest story I’ve ever written. I had to balance good storytelling with accuracy to the Bard’s intent (and sometimes actual lines) while incorporating stempunk elements. It’s also the work I’m most proud of to date.

My contribution to the Omnibus was The Malefaction of Tybalt’s Mechanical Armature. I set a scene of Romeo and Juliet in post Civil War America. Why hadn’t anyone else ever thought to do that? Civil War is tailor made to the sort of family rivalry integral to the Shakespeare story. There were many possibilities, yet I opted to center my tale on Tybalt. He was an escaped slave whose sister was Juliet (still on the plantation). Romeo and the Montegues were the plantation owners.

Rather than take on the whole war, I set the story in Kansas (as state with leanings toward both side in the conflict). The town is run by the Capulets, who own a mining company. He’s also adept with mechanics and has built Tybalt a mechanical arm to replace the one that was sheared off in a cotton gin accident. (Romeo was running the gin, thus fueling Tybalt’s hatred).

I was incredibly nervous when submitting this story. What if the folks a Doctor Fantastique’s Show of Wonders didn’t pick it up? Where else was I going to sell a story about a steampunk Tybalt? I couldn’t really even reslant it. It was them or nothing. Luckily, it sold and many revisions later, the tale will appear in the omnibus May 11th.

Writing this tale also helped me reimagine a manuscript I’d written (and rewritten) over five years. One agent read though it and finally passed. It had potential, yet I couldn’t stomach rewriting it another time. It was going to go into the drawer forever. That is, until I realized I could tweak the tale and set it as a steampunk tale. This not only worked, but revitalized my interest in the manuscript.

The power of the Bard shines through, even when he’s dealing with cogs and top hats. Be sure to check out The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter, for sale May 11th.

Tim Kane

 

Steamypuff Girls (Powerpuff Girls Go Steampunk)

Just when I thought that Powerpuff Girls had done it’s finest pop culture reference ever (Meet The Beat Alls, complete with Beatles references and Yoko Ono), Craig McCracken created a vintage Powerpuff girls set in the wild west. I believe this may be the first steampunk cartoon made (back in 2004). It recreates the girls’ origins. This time they are created from sassafras, arsenic, and everything old fashioned. Chemical X is replaced with, what else, coal. They get their abilities from massive coal and steam powered rockets strapped to their backs.

The premise is simple. The girls fly after Mojo the Kid to bring him to justice. When their superpowers wane, the Professor simply shovels more coal into the girls’ contraptions. Finally, when the steampunk rockets are shattered (thanks to Mojo the Kid’s banana gun), the Professor invents “duly undercoated concentric tear-strip”, or duct tape, to repair the machines. Mojo punching ensues.

Watch this episode via this link (part 1, part 2). Enjoy.

Tim Kane

Must See Booths at the San Diego Comic Con

Every year the Comic Con hits town, I head down to the Exhibition floor to check out the vendors. Yes there are the mega-sized corporate booths like Lucasfilm and Marvel, but unless you sprint to them directly after the doors open, they’re mobbed. (In fact, I’m often amazed at how there are already lengthy lines when I arrive directly after opening hour.) I prefer to frequent some lesser known vendors.

Urban Vinyl
My first stop is the Urban Vinyl Toys area. This is always located in the upper left corner of the massive floor (find the map PDF here). If you’re not familiar with Urban Vinyl, it means toys that you’re not meant to play with. I know what you’re thinking. Huh? Why shouldn’t I play with them. This is an offshoot of the action-figure-in-original-package set. Only here, these toys are designed to be looked at, not played with.

Take Funko (booth 4829). Last year I bought a Thing bobble head. Sure I wiggle it once in a while, but most of the time it sits on my desk looking nifty and admired by my students. Yes I disagree that all Urban Vinyl toys need to be no touch items.

My absolute favorite is Conduct Happiness (booth 4832), creator of such slogans as “The Pea Pea Dance,” and “Pea in the Pool.” My daughter loves their Go Pea Go book. If I could, I’d buy everything at their booth. One of their neighbors is also a fav or mine: Mr. Toast (booth 4831). They make plush toys of unusual items, like toast and bacon. Basically, you can have your own plushy breakfast. (A bit like those ads at drive ins with the dancing hamburger and soda cup).

Cthulhu
Ok, I’m a sucker for anything old gods. Mostly I like the aesthetic, the tentacles and creepy vibe. For a general smorgasbord of items look no further than Adventure Retail (booth 4423, catty-corner to Urban Vinyl). They have plenty of stuffed old gods (we have a Nyarlathotep) and they even carry Cthulhu slippers (have these too). I’ve also picked up some Lovecraft audio books produced by Audio Realms.

All the way on the other side of the exhibition hall (quite a trek), you’ll find Badali Jewelry (booth 530 right next to the ZDN Zombie Defense Network). They have the most amazing Cthulhu jewelry. I own the Miskatonic class ring. This year they will reveal a new Necronomicon necklace.

Steampunk
Okay, last year I found an aisle that had three or four great steampunk vendors (I want to say there were on the fringes—far right or left of the floor), but seeing as the Comic Con hasn’t designated any stempunk section, I’ll have to hunt for it again. One vendor that is easy to find is Weta’s Dr. Grordbort (Booth 2615 sharing with Dark Horse). If you’ve never experienced Dr. Grordbort’s awesome ray guns, then you are not a true steampunker. These guns make you want to shed the internet for some steam and brass. So far I’ve picked up the tiny models of each gun (I still can’t afford the full sized ones).

That’s pretty much it. I wander around, looking for eye catchers. If I can afford it, I’ll try to extend my Fantastic Four collection. But seeing as one issue in this range starts at a Ben Franklin, I often can’t afford these pleasures.

Enjoy the Comic Con and remember, pace yourself. That’s a big convention center.

Tim Kane

Is the Steampunk Mechanical Hand a Reality?

Rasputin's Steampunk Hand

Okay, so the mechanical construct Rasputin wore in the first Hellboy movie was actually a glove, but it illustrates the dream of steampunk aficionados everywhere: The Mechanical Hand. With today’s robotic technology, we should have Luke Skywalker hands. Right? But what about the heyday of the Victoria? Could gears make the cut?

Victorian Prosthesis

It turns out there was a macabre looking Victorian prosthesis on display in the London Science Museum. This construct of steel and brass articulates at the elbow via a spring, and the wrist joint rotates and moves up and down just like the real McCoy. The fingers curl up to grip items. This was the actual appearance, so the arm was most likely concealed with a glove.

This doesn’t offer much support for the mechanical arm. Yet, if you travel back another 400 years, you’ll find the legendary Gottfried von Berlichingen (aka Götz of the Iron Hand).

The German "Iron Hand" Mercenary

This German mercenary lost his right hand from a cannonball in 1504. He commissioned a custom mechanical hand that connected to his elbow. This remarkable feat of engineering contained spring mechanisms, buttons, and levers that allowed the fingers to operate with amazing dexterity. It earned him is nickname: “that one of the iron hand” (mit to der eisernen Hand).

Strap on super gauntlet

Gottfried’s iron fingers were controlled with ten mechanical wheels. These were sensitive enough to grip a sword (for terrorizing wealthy nobles), or clutch a quill (to write those ransom notes).

Medieval Skywalker hand

So there you have it. Looking back at Army of Darkness, the machination banged out for Ash looks pretty plausible now.

Give me some sugar baby

My question, why don’t we have more cool mechanical prostheses? If a German noble could bang it out 500 years ago, why can’t we? This historical precedent bodes well for all those steampunk constructs.

Tim Kane

How Far Can a Hotel Soar? My Time at the Gaslamp Gathering Steampunk Convention

Today I had the privilege of traveling on the maiden voyage of the airship Z.R.A. Gaslight. (Ok, not exactly maiden). The inaugural flight was Friday, and I joined Saturday. And it’s not really an airship, but a steampunk convention, the first in San Diego.

This was my first steampunk convention. I’ve been to ComicCon for years. Even a Dark Shadows convention. I’ll have to say, these were the best attired conventioneers I’ve seen yet. Most of these things are a sea of T-shirts, sweat stains, and flip flops.

The steampunk denizens derive from a combination of costume makers, Victorian devotees, and Ren Faire folk. The costumes were intricately detailed. The aesthetic breeds on the excessively ornate. The time period, after all, is pseudo-Victorian. The exhibitor room was filled with vendors selling tiny baubles and pins, along with plenty of clothes.

Speaking of clothes, I feel that you shouldn’t go all cosplay unless you have a decent wardrobe to pull it off. Nothing’s worse than a half-assed attempt at costuming. That being said, I like to get in the theme a little. I wore a dress shirt under a multi-pocketed vest.

Now, I want to take a moment to stand in defense of vests. They rock. Mine had four tiny pockets on the front. I was able to tuck in my business cards, a few credit cards, a map, the parking ticket, and the new pocket watch I purchased at the convention. Everyone should wear a vest. They seriously need to come back in fashion.

Finally, I succumbed to the allure of the Victoriana and purchased a hat. In my defense, I plan to throw my daughter a Mad Hatter birthday party, so I’ll get more use out it. Now, partway through the convention, my wife and I broke for lunch. Over in the adjoining mall.

Filled with normal people.

There I was in a vest, with a pocket watch, and a tall felt hat. Yup, I blended in. But I was hungry, so I foraged ahead. I went to Nordie’s cafe and, like a respectable gentleman, I removed my hat. The lady behind the counter was amazed. She’d never seen anyone take off his hat in a restaurant before. Maybe the world needs a few more manners?

Ok, enough of me jawing at you. You want the pictures.

Steampunk Borg

League of Steam

The League of Steam is sort of like a ghostbusting team if they existed circa 1880. They “freed” my wife from a pesky ghost who had infested her. Oh, and they also had a pet zombie with a feeding tube and a buzzer to signal when he needed to be fed.

Zombie with a Fez

Amazing Steampunk fairy. Those wings are all carved from foamboard!

Tim Kane

Leviathan: Genetic Animal Machines Meet Deiselpunk

Just finished Westerfeld’s Leviathan. Awesome book. Right up there with the Uglies series. I had my doubts. I’m not much for historical fiction (even the alternate history flavor). But three chapters in, I was hooked.

What Westerfeld’s done that I haven’t seen elsewhere is create machines out of genetically altered animals. He has lizards that deliver messages like talking telegrams. Fabricated elephants pull carts through London. And, the big daddy of them all, the Leviathan—an airship composed of a hydrogen-filled sperm whale.

I couldn't find the picture of the Leviathan itself. But here's another hydrogen filled beastie, a medusa jellyfish acting as a balloon.

The mechanical aspects are actually dieselpunk rather than steampunk. The difference, you ask? Fuel is the answer. Dieselpunk uses gasoline (or in Westerfeld’s case, kerosene) to fuel their machines. Here’s an example of the Austrian walker, looking like a cross between Japanese mecha, and the walker from Star Wars.

The plot bounces between two teens: the son of Arch Duke Ferdinand of Austria (now on the run) and Darren Sharp (masquerading as a boy to join the Royal Air Force). Of course just the hint of a romance develops between the two when they meet. The book, like the Uglies series, ends with a set up for a sequel. (Although the ending isn’t so infuriatingly cliffhanging like the end of Uglies. I was only lucky to have started that series after all four books had been published.)

I couldn’t find any information on the sequel, but given production times, the manuscript’s most likely complete. It’s probably only being marketed and ready for distribution in the fall (a year from Leviathan’s premiere). But I could be off on this one.

At any rate, certainly pick up a copy. The book is stupendous.

Tim Kane