Steampunk from Alchemy to Zeppelins

My reading of Larry Niven’s “Fallen Angels” introduced me to the world of Fandom and Filk Music. eFanzines is a website that hosts many fanzines. I subscribed to the eFanzines stream with twitter and one of the first items I ran into was “One Swell Loop

One Swell Foop is the personalzine of Garth Spencer. This journal of recreational insanity supersedes The Royal Swiss Navy Gazette, which followed Sercon Popcult Litcrit Fanmag, which followed The World According to Garth, which followed Scuttlebutt, as I recall.

Browsing the issues I found in issue #1 this Steampunk A,B,C by Russ Quick & Garth Spencer, that previously appeared in the VCON 35 Program Book in October 2010.

Just the least sampling of topics in the fields of Victoriana and steampunk writing:
A is for Alchemy: a medieval mystical practice, frequently mistaken for an early, crude precursor to chemistry. Apparently some ancient Egyptians noticed some chemical processes, and the way some led to others, and confused these physical processes with spiritual issues. (It is remarkable how much interest in occultism appeared in the rationalist Victorian era, from astrology through spiritualism to lodges practicing ritual magic.)
B is for Babbage: the Lucasian professor of mathematics who attempted for many years to produce a Difference Engine (a mechanical computer). Apparently Charles Babbage kept on thinking of improvements to the design, and changing plans in midstream. The Difference Engine became a byword for an interminable project; Babbage eventually discovered his craftsman selling off the alloys and building materials for the machine. (Big surprise.)
C is for Cthulhu: an early 20th century author in Rhode Island, H.P. Lovecraft, who tried consciously to be a very 19th-century-style mannered fantasist, came up with adventure and horror stories about geologically ancient pre-human civilizations, peopled by creatures like Cthulhu so horrifying that the mere sight of them drove people mad. (Have movies and TV and special effects inured us to visual horror? Lovecraft’s heroes seem oddly vulnerable compared to us.)
D is for Darwin: Charles Darwin is famous for publishing his theory of evolution (almost simultaneously with another scientist); what is not so famous today is how incredible and even absurd the theory seemed at the time, like Velikovsky‟s theories of solar system upheaval seem today, and how hard Darwin had to work to provide a meticulous, unassailable case.
E is for Engineer: A good deal of 19th century “scientific romance” blurs the distinction between scientific research, technology development, engineering and invention, and for that matter, how the distinction is blurred between scientists, engineers, and fabulously rich industrialists. The actual histories of Britons and Americans in these professions ought to show how separate and uncooperative they were.
F is for Fitzpatrick’s War: A curiously steampunk vision of the 25th century, in which nuclear and electronic power have been sabotaged, and most English-speaking countries have formed a “Yukon Confederacy”strongly reminiscent of pre-industrial Britain. (by Theodore Judson, fromDAW Books)
G is for Gibson: William Gibson is co-author of The Difference Engine with Bruce Sterling. Based on the single question “What if the Difference Engine had been completed, and the Information Revolution began over a century earlier?”, Gibson and Sterling imagine an alternative 19th century, in which a rather sinister British Empire uses information-gathering and data processing to enhance its power at homeand destabilize rivals abroad.
I is for Inventors: The bane of merchants and industrialists everywhere. As John Wyndham puts it, just as an industrial enterprise is all set up and ticking over nicely, along comes an innovator to kick over your apple cart. The financial, legal and economic instability represented by true innovation may mean that even before the Information Revolution, someone decided there should be a brake on innovation in our society.
J is for Jeter: K.W. Jeter is one of the several authors of steampunk novels. In Morlock Night, several morlocks seize a time machine and threaten Victoria‟s London. In Infernal Devices, a hapless Everyman named George experiences Victorian steam-driven terrors involving clockwork automatons, fish people, the successors to Cromwell‟s Godly Army, and the Royal Anti-Society.
K is for Kinotrope: An early form of moving picture.
L is for Locomotive: Until the invention of a practical powered vehicle horse power – an average speed of 8 miles per hour – set a limit on transportation, both commercial and military; and on communication; and on the practical distance over which a government could extend its writ. Locomotives, and other innovations in transportation and communication, changed all that. It was remarked by a German statesman that the United States would inevitably break up into subsidiary competing states; he would have been completely correct, if not for the rise of locomotives, and other technologies.
M is for Moorcock: Michael Moorcock, one of the “New Wave” SF stylists of the 1960s, is known for three steampunk novels featuring the time castaway Oswald Bastable, thrown out of the 19th-century British Empire into several versions of the 20th century. In Warlord of the Air hefaces an anti-imperialist movement, which assembles an airship fleet and delivers an Infernal Device to Hiroshima, ending in catastrophe. In The Steel Tsar Bastable faces alternative versions of Joseph Stalin and NestoMakhno, who come to entirely different fates. In The Land Leviathan he sees a technologically advanced society fall to race wars everywhere, anisland of civilization preserved in South Africa under Gandhi‟s leadership, and a black conqueror establish his rule over North Americain much the manner of William the Conqueror.
N is for Neo-Victorian: In The Diamond Age, Neil Stephenson imagines a near future of competing subcultures, one of them the “NeoVictorians”, geographically distributed but modeled to a great degree onVictorian culture.
O is for Oneida: The Oneida Colony was one of the more well-known communal movements in the United States in the 19th century. The Oneida Colony, like many communes, eventually broke up due to a combination of factors, ranging from economic failure in the face of theoutside culture, to internal contradictions and conflicts in its internal culture.
P is for Progress: A shibboleth widely believed and endorsed in the Victorian era, like Common Sense, Freedom, Conformity, Integrity, Hypocrisy, and nice red uniforms. Note that “Progress” was never adequately defined, and to socialists and other marginals, it meant robbing Chinese coolies for British profit.
Q is for Queen Victoria: Not only the reigning monarch but a venerateicon of the British Empire, unlike some of her predecessors and successors. Known for settling into professional widowhood after PrinceAlbert passed on, and for passing on leukemia to some of her descendants.
R is for Repurposing: Turning one device into another, e.g. mint cases into stick drive holders, or cigarette cases into iPods.
S is for Science: We have a bad habit of thinking of “Science” as an all embracing, static body of knowledge, or (worse) as an authorized system of beliefs. “Science” is the practice of finding things out. There is not one body of knowledge, but many, and none of the bodies of discovered knowledge covers everything, nobody with any education claims that. But grade-school science classes do not seem to convey that very well, certainly not in the Victorian era.
T is for Tesla: Nikola Tesla was an extraordinary electrical inventor, and was also extraordinarily naïve, not to say ignorant, in matters of business, as witness his history with Thomas Edison. To this day cranks are still looking for “free energy” generators in the designs for Tesla coils.
U is for Uniforms: Canadian visitors to the United States, and time travellers visiting the Victorian era, may be astonished (or dismayed) at the prevalence of uniforms. It is rumoured that some people plot the return of the British Empire and nice red uniforms. (apologies to Colin Upton)
V is for Verne: Jules Verne is one of the most celebrated of 19-century writers of “scientific romances”. Verne’s distinction is that the vehicles and inventions he describes were always within the realm of the possible in his day. A reading of any of his works – Around the World in Eighty Days, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Mysterious Island, and so on – can be a shock to anyone used to our modern, almost cryptic idiom, because everything goes on at greater length, not just descriptions of inventions. Like Lovecraft and Wells, Verne also writes offhand asides about “races” such as minor regional groups in Europe, or aspersions about Orientals and Jews, that we can find uncomfortable today.
W is for Wells: Herbert George Wells is another of the most celebrated 19th-century SF writers. Wells‟ distinction is that, while his story premises were not always within the possible – time travel, space travel, species modification, invisibility, an entire blind community, and so on – he established a rule of including one fantastic element per story, then following all the consequences to their logical conclusion.
Y is for Yoshiuki Tomino: creator of Turn a Gundam, an anime steampunk production from Sunrise Studio (aired on Fuji Television).
Z is for Zeppelins: A number of lighter-than-air vehicles were designed in the 18 th and 19 th centuries, and even employed commercially into the 20th century: zeppelins are technically not only dirigibles (ships that can be steered and powered, unlike balloons) but are rigid, i.e., not held in shape by inflation. (The popular notion that the Hindenburg disaster spelled the end of the commercial airship industry ignores the facts that the ship only caught fire due to its waterproofing sealant; that it was forced to use hydrogen rather than helium for lift; and that contemporary commercial aircraft are apparently compelled to be convertible to use as high-speed military vehicles.)

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  • The Aesthetics and Beauty of Knowledge

    Shih was the opposite of facts and raw information; shih was the elegance of knowledge, the insight and skill to organize knowledge into meaningful patterns. As an artist chooses colours or light to make her pictures, a master of shih chooses textures of knowledge – various ideas, myths, abstractions, and theories – to create a way of seeing the world. The aesthetics and beauty of knowledge – this was shih.

    – David Zindell, The Broken God, 1993

  • Geek Attitude

    The attitude thing is about flexibility, portability, creativity, sociability and jamming (ran out of suitable “ity” words!). It’s about improvising – in the practical and musical senses of the word; not getting tangled in boundaries and the “right” way to do things.
    Definitely the only way to travel.
    Martin Delaney – “Laptop Music”.