Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Warhammer 40,000 movie in production

A little off the beaten track - "Warhammer movie? On a steampunk blog? Huh?" - but justified in two ways; firstly, the popularity of the WH40K universe amongst steampunk afficionados, and secondly, the very steam and diesel punk elements which underpin that universe.

A movie has been rumoured for years, with a fan movie produced (and unfortunately blocked by Games Workshop (GW), the owners of Warhammer), and countless mini-movies using elements of the GW computer in-game footage created by frustrated fans in the interim. Now, finally, an official WH40K movie - Ultramarines - is in production.

For those who have read the above with absolutely no understanding, enlightenment may be found over at the Strange Dreams blog. And guess what? Those who wish to know more may find just what they need over at the Strange Dreams blog as well!

Monday, 28 September 2009

Attack of the Show

Bizarrely, and most edifying, we discover that the adjoining Strange Dreams - Steampunk Art and Fiction has been featured on g4tv.com's Attack of the Show (AOTS)!
In their own words,

We go around the blogosphere to find blogs that deal with very specific things, and uncover the best and coolest there are to see.
Far be it for us to blow our own trumpet, as immodest as that may be! AOTS Presenters including Kevin Pereira, Olivia Munn, Layla Kayleigh show, on a weekly basis, that

There's the inside track, and then there are those who pave the inside track. Attack of the Show gets you inside, underneath, around, and behind the newest tech, the hottest games, the fastest-breaking news, and the oddest oddities from the fringe.
I'm not sure, but it may be that steampunk is being classed under the last criterium!

Rather marvellously, Dr Fabre's Heliograph is also featured, and deservedly so! It goes without saying that Jake Von Slatt's Steampunk Workshop should also feature large. I must admit, it is humbling to be in such lauded company, to say nothing of raising expectations overnight!

The Show's site may be found here, with the video here, or beneath for your edification!

Take a trek over to Strange Dreams, The Heliograph, and Steampunk Workshop to see what the fuss is all about!

Monday, 21 September 2009

Happy HG Wells Day!

Today, 21 September, sees what would have been the 143rd birthday of the genius of Herbert George Wells.

Today will see the usual material pulled out, with commentary upon his War of the Worlds and, possibly my favourite, The Time Machine, but I like to try and do something different here. Many will liken Wells to Jules Verne, but I will leave commentary upon that subject to the great HG and Jules themselves:

I do not see the possibility of comparison between his (Wells) work and mine. We do not proceed in the same manner. It occurs to me that his stories do not repose on a very scientific basis. No, there is no rapport between his work and mine. I make use of physics. He invents. I go to the moon in a cannon-ball discharged from a cannon. Here there is no invention. He goes to Mars [sic] in an air-ship, which he constructs of a metal which does away with the law of gravitation. Ca, c'est tres joli, but show me this metal. Let him produce it.
As well as being one of the most influential authors of his, and subsequent, time, Wells was also a great social thinker and activist, being an active Fabian. his reposte to Verne ran:

There's a quality in the worst of my so-called "pseudo-scientific" (imbecile adjective) stuff which differentiates it from Jules Verne, e.g., just as Swift is differentiated from Fantasia—isn't there? There is something other that either story writing or artistic merit which has emerged through the series of my books. Something one might regard as a new system of ideas—"thought."
Wells was about ideas, about how humans interact amongst themselves and with new development. His non-fictional writing is as interesting as his fiction. He was passionate about science, and about the possibilities which it unlocked for human potential - his publications upon war were concerned with minimising the impact which war had upon society, leading to his exploration of more efficient ways of conducting military actions and the use of technology to do so - notoriously the "Land Iron Clads", which he first published in 1903 (you can read it online here). He is also credited with being the inventor of recreational war gaming, and his Little Wars of 1913 may indeed have been the first miniature war game.

His writing on the future, upon the bettering of society but also upon the efficiency of the military war machine and the conduct of war, can be understood when you recognise that Wells was an ardent utopian. His Modern Utopia, The Shape of Things to Come, In the Days of the Comet are all brilliant, and Wells invented the dystopia with When the Sleeper Wakes (1899) and he explores the dark side of human nature in The Island of Doctor Moreau, a well as the fascistic authoritarianism in The Autocracy of Mr Parham and The Holy Terror.

His utopianism is probably most evident in his work on the League of Nations charter, and in his enthusiasm for a world state and, in a way which would be horrifying later in the twentieth century, eugenics. You can read excerpts from his New World Order here. He met world leaders, personally meeting and interviewing Stalin (a transcript is available here) and Roosevelt in 1934, in an attempt to bring about a better world, but ultimately he died a disappointed man, writing that it may be better for humanity to become extinct and replaced, a notion which he had harboured for most of his life (his thoughts on human extinction may be read here).

A brilliant article upon the life and works of Wells may be found here.

A piece on his influence on history may be found here.

If you fancy building yourself a model Land Iron Clad, try this.

The HG Wells Society may be found here.

Possibly the most faithful (but ultimately commercially unviable) rendition on screen of his War of the Worlds may be found here.

Oh, and if you use Google, and have wondered what all the crop circles and other strange logos have been about for the past month - it has all been leading up to today. The mystery is unravelled here.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Asylum - the UK Steampunk Convivial convention

Now that the time is fast approaching, an update to my previous post concerning the upcoming Steampunk Convivial in Lincoln on 11-13 September, 2009.

The home of the Annual UK Steampunk Convivial may be found here, and the latest news here and here. This has developed rapidly in the past few months, to the extent that epacks being sent out to ticket holders as I write!

The Steampunk Convivial will be taking place in the "Steampunk Quarter", beneath Lincoln Castle's walls. The entertainment looks quite mind-blowing, and is spread over three days. Friday night's entertainment includes a BBQ and Beer Festival (yay!); Saturday includes a host of events, from creative writing and DIY workshops to a treatise on Time Travel, with a steamfair and ending with the Empire Ball in the evening. The highlight of the day will be and audience with Robert Rankin and booksigning with phenomenal author Toby Frost (who also happens to be a denizen of the Gatehouse's Smoking Lounge!). Sunday will be more relaxed, with picnics and exploration. The Bazaar Eclectica will be running on Saturday, with traders and a 'bring and buy' sale. Live music will include the fantastic Vernian Process and Ghostfire, amongst others.

For those who are steampunk virgins (as it were), information and guidance on etiquette and dress may be found here.

This really is an event not to be missed. Full pricing information and tickets can be found here, and extremely reasonable they are too!

Heartfelt wishes and congratulations to the organisers for this momentous occasion!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

British Steam Car Challenge Team Smash Land Speed Record

Huge congratulations to the British Steam Car Challenge team, who, on Tuesday 25 August 2009, smashed the land speed record for a steam-powered car, reaching a top speed of 151.085mph.

The team consisted of members of the previous ThrustSSC Project, and initally hoped to reach speeds of 200mph, although the final design may be capable of 'just' 170mph. The average speed over two runs was 139.843mph, finally toppling the previous remarkable record of 127mph by Fred Marriott way back in 1906!

Speaking from Edward's AirForce Base, California, principal driver Charles Burnett III, from Lymington, Hampshire, (who drove both runs) commented:

"It was absolutely fantastic I enjoyed every moment of it. We reached nearly 140mph on the first run. All systems worked perfectly, it was a really good run. The second run went even better and we clocked a speed in excess of 150 mph. The car really did handle beautifully. The team has worked extremely hard over the last 10 years and overcome numerous problems. It is a privilege to be involved with such a talented crew, what we have achieved today is a true testament to British engineering, good teamwork and perseverance”
At 40 bars of pressure, with 400°C steam flowing through 3km of tubing at 40 litres a minute, Mr Burnett is a brave man indeed to drive such a machine. This is a major, and well deserved, achievement, and hearty congratulations go to the whole Team, who have proved yet again the power of steam in the modern age, with the pioneers of the Steam Age still at the frontier of steam technology!

Videos of the runs may be found here, with the BBC report and footage here. More details of the project may be found at their website here.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Manifesto for Slow Communication

A refreshing perspective on the modern age of communication from John Freeman, editor of Granta magazine, in an extract from his forthcoming book The Tyranny of E-Mail.

Steampunks love their technology, but, essentially, always with a backward glance - you have only to see the fantastic contraptions of Jake Von Slatt, and even the new Steampunk Tales application for the iPhone for immediate gratification of this. The Victorians believed in progress, and believed in their new technologies as a means to achieve this, bringing with it education, sanitation, transport, social housing and amenities along with the pollution and massive material and human waste which Industrialisation brought.

Things have changed. Essentially, those in the so-called 'advanced' countries, Freeman argues, have become enslaved by the new technology. Citing an example of a colleague's friend,

"He tells me he is now detained, night and day, in downloading every album he ever owned, lost, desired, or was casually intrigued by; he has now stopped even listen­ing to them, and spends his time sleeplessly monitoring a progress bar. . . . He says it's like all my birthdays have come at once, by which I can see he means, precisely, that he feels he is going to die."
Speed does not equate to efficiency, and the connection between technology and progress is a complicated one. Freeman calls for a Manifesto, a new approach, one in which the "technology is to be used for the betterment of human life", used more sensibly and coherently, and in a more controlled manner.

This notion has been lost, but is recognised in the Steampunk world. The recently re-ignited interest in De Profundis within the genre is only the most recent recognition of this phenomenon. The bleeding of steampunk ideals into the wider world continues!

Please, take a visit over to Mr Freeman's article, before it is too late!

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Happy Apollo Launch Day!

Today, 16 July, sees the 40th anniversary of the launch of the Saturn V rocket which took Apollo 11 to the lunar surface. Regular readers and compatriots will know my love of space exporation, retrofuture, and steampunk, and you can check out some of my other posts here or here.

The ensuing months will see a myriad of posts around the aether about the moon, about the mission, and about the verbal slip of Armstrong's on such a momentous occasion - although, to be honest, concentrating on not slipping down the ladder in order to make the first human impression upon an extra-terrestrial body with your foot rather than your backside is probably a good thing, overall.

The reinvigorated space missions, starting with GW Bush's statement of purpose in September 2004, promised to herald a new step in human space exploration, with robots and humans venturing into the solar system.

However, a main foundation of this new adventure - that of a permanent lunar base - is reportedly under threat. Detailed plans for a lunar base were developed in the 1980s , which would have seen semi-permanent bases established there between 2005-6. As per usual, however, other life events intervened.

Man is scheduled to return to the moon in 2020, and from there, push into the wider system, including Mars. Now, however, it appears that NASA is, due to the new financial climate, scaling back on its plans. The Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies of the House Committee on Appropriations heard in April that the moon may now be bypassed, with the concentration now on pushing out straight away. This will depend upon the 2010 budget. There are draft plans to delete the lunar base completely, and use manned asteroids instead.

That said, two new missions to the moon (LRO and LCROSS) are continuing, one objective being to determine the nature of any water on the moon. As we all know, water is vital for any exploration mission - it's crucial for survival, yet is bulky, heavy, and does not dehydrate! The more sources of water we can find in the solar system, the better the chances of humanity pushing out from this lonely and precarious ball of rock we call home.

In the interim, work upon the space station continues, as it also does upon the manned mars mission, including the spacecraft which will take our intrepid explorers to the Red Planet. Other organisations then NASA, including the Mars Society, MarsDrive, Haughton-Mars, Mars Institute, and Mars Foundation are pushing the envelope, as well as, reportedly, state missions including China, Japan, India, and Russia.

Our patron saints Mr Wells and M. Verne would be pleased to know mankind continues to view the stars and pursue ways of making their dreams a reality!

It could get crowded out there, guys!

Friday, 10 July 2009

Gatehouse Gazette 7

A little tardy, as usual, in announcing the marvellous new edition of the Gatehouse Gazette. This wonderful production is fast becoming a staple in the Steampunk genre and, with the unfortunate demise of The Willows, this may provide some solace for those who wish to explore the world of steampunk.

As usual, the Gazette is a smorgasbord of delights, this time with a slight twist, in that Issue 7 is themed around Metropolis and the City! To wit:

In response to the discovery of lost Metropolis footage, issue #7 is dedicated to this 1927 classic of silent film and the metropolis in general.

Of course there is a review of the original Metropolis, by Mr Marcius Rauchfuß, as well as an article about the 2001 anime of the same name, by Mr Sigurjón Njálsson. For the latest about what is going on in that other fine city, the Old Smoke called Londontown, we introduce Brigadier Sir Arthur Weirdy-Beardy of The Steampunk Club, while Mr David Townsend is off to farther realms once again, traveling by the Indian Pacific from Perth to Sydney, Australia.

We are also extremely glad to present an exclusive preview of Mr Toby Frost’s upcoming Space Captain Smith novel, Wrath of the Lemming Men!

And it almost goes without saying that this issue features all the columns and features that you might have come to expect from us: Ms Hilde Heyvaert writes her "Steampunk Wardrobe” about ethnic steampunk; Mr Craig B. Daniel dedicates his “Liquor Cabinet” to a story about beer, and Mr Guy Dampier is back with a Quatermass review. More reviews come from Hilde (Unhallowed Necropolis), Mr Trubetskoy (The Court of the Air and Outcry) and Toby Frost (Gormenghast).

Yet again, a triumphant achievement. I urge you to visit the Gatehouse, download the pdf, peruse the forums of the Smoking Lounge, take a drink from the robo-butler, and relax with a great read!

Happy Tesla Day

One could not let the day pass without marking the Main Man of Steampunk, the famous inventor of the Tesla Coil, Nicolai Tesla!

Born this day on 1856, not in Russia, as many may believe, but a Serb in Vojna Krajina (modern Croatia), Tesla is responsible for some of the greatest electro-magnetic and other inventions many people believe invented by other, possibly more well-reknowned, inventors, most notoriously radio (not Marconi!). His discoveries and achievements enabled the creation of the AC motor, polyphase distribution systems, and his inventions included the three-phase totating magnetic field generator. Tesla was quite possibly responsible for the success of the Edison Company, being employed to redesign and create systems and mechanisms for which the Company received the patents whilst Tesla remained on $18 a week, and digging ditches for them. His interests and later patents explored the fields of sleep-inducing machines, X-rays, plasma, mechanical resonance, and the transmission of electricity without wires.

Whilst I would otherwise not condone such a source for information, this site is a good starting point to Tesla's life and work. I would also point to the Telsa Foundation which seeks to continue his memory and work. Take a look at the TESLA Technology Collaboration of Germany while you're at it. There's also a documentary here.

For a more light-hearted view of Tesla, try this (wait til you're past the fire-spinner!), or, even better than Singing Tesla Coils, this, the Tesla Cage of Death!

Tesla repeatedly crops up in novels, movies, and television. A key character in Amanda Tapping's Sanctuary (first on the web, then on network) as a vampire, and appearing in the 2006 movie The Prestige, he remains a key figure of interest for novelists, including for Samantha Hunt's Invention of Everything Else and was a key plot device in the king of early steampunk and science fiction author HG Wells' First Men in the Moon. An excellent source of where Tesla may be found in popular culture may be found here.

Other Steampunks and punkettes will be marking this day, and I point you to the excellent Smoking Lounge for further discussion!

Monday, 22 June 2009

The Steampunk Race of the Century!

Sometimes, questions just arise which need investigating. The BBC programme Top Gear, a show about cars, tends to ask routine questions such as 'will this supercar win a race against this method of public transport from point A to point B', and invariably the supercar wins.

However, one of the recent episodes has taken this question to new and exciting extremes. Highlighting the seepage of steam and dieslpunk into the mainstream, had the best race ever. To wit:

"James grabs himself a gorgeous old Jaguar XK120 sports car while Richard chooses to torture himself on the brutal but rather fantastically named Vincent Black Shadow motorbike. Meanwhile, in an almost unprecedented move, Jeremy decides to take the train. But not just any old train; he's on the footplate of the Tornado, a brand new steam train built to the original blueprints used to create some of Britain's finest locomotives back in the heyday of the railways."
In the spirit of the 19th Century "Races to the North", BBC television's "Top Gear" programme threw down the gauntlet for the builders of brand new Peppercorn A1 Class Tornado and challenged them to a race from London to Edinburgh. On April 25th under the cover of some secrecy, in a thrilling contest that harked back to the great days of the 'fifties, the Cathedrals Express blasted away from Kings Cross at 7.30am on the 25th of April with Jeremy Clarkson on board. Meanwhile Richard Hammond, astride a classic Vincent motorbike, and James May, driving a Jaguar XK120, set off in hot pursuit on the A1 (road).
So, a race from London to Edinburgh featuring a classic motorbike, sports car, and steam train! The power of Steam versus the infernal combustion engine. Could you get more steamy than this!

There are various places where the honourable reader may view the race, and see who wins! Links include the Top Gear site itself (here); youtube (here) and, for those within the UK, the BBC iPlayer (here).

I look forward to the time where the race involves a steamliner, steamtrain, and dirrigible!

The Tornado steamtrain is the product of the project to build a Peppercorn class A1 Pacific steam train from original designs. The Project has been remarkable success, and you should visit their website for details. You can ride behind the Tornado engine by booking seats via Steam Dreams here.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Dorothy Levitt - "the fastest girl on Earth"

The term 'pioneer' is all too often used, particularly within the steampunk genre, as a generic term to describe people we admire. However, in the case of Dorothy Levitt, the term is wholly appropriate. Described throughout the aethernet as a 'secretary', Ms Levitt was a leviathan of early motor racing, and a trail-blazer where women stepped after her fiery path.

Her life outside of her amazing achievements is strangely undocumented, but it is suspected that she began her working life as a secretary for the engine and car manufacturers Napier & Son. Not content with motor racing, she raced speedboats, and seems to have been addicted to speed.

She burst onto the motor scene in 1903, winning her class at the Southport Speed Trials driving a 12 Hp Gladiator. In 1904 she raced an officially entered De Dion car in the Hereford 1,000-mile, but mechanical problems on the final day (which she repaired herself) prevented her winning a gold medal. In 1905, she won the inaugural British International Harmworth Trophy for speedboats at Cork, Ireland, achieving 19.3 mph.

In the same year, Ms Levitt established a new record for the 'longest drive achieved by a lady driver' - 205 miles - by driving from the De Dion showroom in Great Marlborough Street, London, to the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool in 11 hours, and completing the round trip in 2 days. She travelled without the aid of a mechanic , but with an official observer, her pet dog Dodo, and her trusty revolver. This was without the aid of a road map, road signs or petrol stations, none of which had not yet been invented - petrol was obtained from hardware stores and chemists. She rounded the year off by winning both her class and the Autocar Challenge Trophy at the annual speed trials in Brighton.

The following year of 1906 saw Ms Levitt break the women's world speed record by reaching a speed of 96 mph, followed by 91 miles per hour in a speed trial in Blackpool. She also set the Ladies' Record at the Shelshey Walsh Speed Hill Climb in a 50hp Napier (7790 cc), making the climb in 92.4 seconds, 12 seconds faster than the male winner and three minutes faster than the previous women's record. Her record stood until 1913. She was now the 'fastest girl on Earth'.

Forbidden from the new Brooklands circuit in Weybridge, (which rejected women drivers until 1908), in 1907 Ms Levitt won her class in the Gaillon Hillclimb in France, driving a 40HP 6 cyl Napier. In 1908, she won a silver plaque in the Prinz Heinrich Trophy at the Herkomer Trophy Trial in Germany, was second fastest of over 50 competitors at the Aston Clinton Hill Climb in Buckinghamshire, and completed the La Cote du Calvaire hill climb at Trouville in France.

Not content with her achievements as a racing driver, she enrolled to qualify as a pilot at the Hubert Latham School of Aviation in France.

An author and journalist as well, her book The Woman and the Car: A Chatty Little Hand Book for Women Who Motor or Want to Motor was published in 1909 to great acclaim, and she published upon motoring for the Graphic illustrated newspaper. In true pioneering style, she recommended that women use a hand-mirror to see traffic behind her - the rear-view mirror was not invented until 1914!

Women followed in her wheels, including her close friend Barbara Cartland. She deserves to be remembered, not just as a pioneering female driver, but as one of the greatest early racing drivers regardless.

For those with access, the BBC produced a remarkable film, Penelope Keith and the Fast Lady, with Penelope Keith (a stallwart of British television) retracing Ms Levitt's journey from London to Liverpool. Access via the BBC iplayer is available here.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Steampunk Space Exploration

Given the interest upon the topic of Steampunk Spaceships in my accompanying blog upon steampunk art and fiction, I thought perhaps further exploration upon the notion of a neo-Victorian Space Programme might be in order.

Fellow enthusiasts upon the subject of space exploration will be aware of the meta-narrative: that, despite previous investigations upon the possibility of flight beyond the atmosphere, it was the experimants and achievement of engineers under the auspices of the Nazi regime and the achievements of Wernher von Braun with NASA in the USA which saw man first standing on the Moon. The Russian space programme took an alternative route, based upon home-grown talent, epitomised by the genius that was Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky, about whom I have previously written in connection with the Space Elevator.

It is with Tsiolkovsky that the premise of a nineteenth century space programme lies. In true 'mad scientist' guise, Tsiolkovsky spent most of his life living in his log cabin in Kaluga 200 km south of Moscow, where he worked as a school mathematics teacher until retiring in 1920. Self-taught due to his deafness, and misanthropic my nature, he was viewed as eccentric by the locals, being an almost deaf old man walking along the street, mumbling something incomprehensible to himself.

Born in 1857, Tsiolkovsky was sixteen years old when he was struck by a fascinating idea: Why not use centrifugal force to launch a spacecraft from earth? He was the first to develop a theory of rocket flight and the first to consider hydrogen-oxygen to propel rockets. Tragically, however, the significance of his theoretical work upon flight and rocketry was not recognised until 1924, when Tsiolkovsky read an article upon Robert Goddard's work (Goddard pioneered the US research into liquid-fuelled rocketry), and re-published his own early works.

Tsiolkovsky was a true pioneer, and his 500 odd publications include multi-stage rocket design, steering thrusters, multi-stage boosters, space stations, airlocks, and closed-cycle biological systems for space colonies. The most important innovation, however, was his 1903 rocket equation which considers the principle of a rocket:

V = Vj ln(Mo/ Me)

where: m0 is the initial total mass, including
propellant, in kg (or lb) ; m1 is the final total mass in
kg (or lb) ; ve is the effective exhaust velocity in m/s or
(ft/s) or is the delta-v in m/s (or ft/s).

The equation shows that rocket vehicle velocity is directly proportional to the rocket exhaust jet velocity. The latter is essentially constant for a given rocket design, propellants, and operating conditions. It depends upon the amount of heat energy released during combustion, the combustion pressure, the combustion products, and the nozzle for expanding the gases. It is this equation which enabled homosapiens to leave the confines of his home planet.

Crucially, Tsiolkovsky's 1883 paper Free Space demonstrated his first conception of a manned space vehicle, with cosmonauts in weightlessness, an airlock, and gyrscopes for control.

In his 1903 paper, he wrote "Visualize . . . an elongated metal chamber . . . designed to protect not only the various physical instruments but also a human pilot . . . ." and pictured such a craft:

Tsiolkovsky appears to have been unaware of the ideas of Nikolai Ivanovich Kibalchich, the Russian inventor and unfortunate revolutionary. Whilst awaiting execution for his part in the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, Kilbalchich sketched and outlined his design for a solid-fuel manned rocket.

In an alternative Steampunk world, these ideas would have been taken forward much earlier, creating a space race and pitching the Polish Russian Tsiolkovsky against the American Goddard, who published his paper A Method of Reaching Extreme Altitudes in 1919, or even against the British William Hale, inventor and rocketeer, whose space programme would be based upon the work of William Congreve (the inventor and artilleryman whose pioneering work included The details of the rocket system (1814) and The Congreve Rocket System (1827)), and whose new form of rotary rocket improved on the earlier Congreve system by developing a spin stabilization technique. Hale's rockets were used in the American-Mexican and Crimean Wars.

In this world, Jules Verne's From the Earth to the Moon (1865) may have been reflecting contemporary technologies and society, and the literary genre of science fiction may not have been born! The various Empires would have colonies in space, and the planets of the Solar System claimed in the names of the Imperial Majesties, as illustrated by Tsiolkovsky's Dreams of Earth and Sky (illustration left)

For further information on the history of rocketry, try this, and on the pioneering work of Goddard and Tsiolkovsky, here. More on Kibalchich may be found here, and combined information on rocket pioneers here.
For an interesting, if little known, story of Victorian space flight, and a superb sequel to HG Wells' War of the Worlds, I recommend Garrett P Serviss's Edison's Conquest of Mars .

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Steam-powered Perfumed Gardens

Gardening and steampunk do not readily sit together in the mind's eye. However, the award winning Perfume Garden, designed by Laurie Chetwood and Patrick Collins, brings the two concepts together brilliantly at the annual Chelsea Flower Show in London.

The garden's inspiration was the discovery, by Chetwood, of an Elizabethan rosewater perfume recipe in the library of the Royal Horticultural Society - “Take eight grains of musk and put in rosewater eight spoonfuls. Three spoonfuls of damask water and a quarter of an ounce of sugar. Boil for five hours and strain.”

While the garden's floral and conifer design is core to most visitors, steampunks will be more interested in the WSP Group's , Gazeley's, and P&G Prestige Products' contributions. The garden is actually a “pocket perfumery”, with everything from growing plants to distillation, production, bottling and selling. Perfume from the flowers in the garden is being sold, with profits going to the RHS charity and Solar Aid, a charity which supplies energy to third-world countries.

Central to this is the perfumery itself, consisting of a cable-stayed mast supporting fabric ribbons arranged in concentric descending spirals. The actual perfume is produced by steam passing upwards through the ingredients, being distributed by the rotating spirals powered by photovoltaic cells. More details may be found here.

Again, modern design - this time for the outsides, non-industrial world - finds its inspiration from the Age of Steam!

Friday, 8 May 2009

The Union of Steampunk Pics and the Gatehouse

Two of the greatest Steampunk sites on the aethernet have joined forces.

The esteemed Mr Amat's Steampunk Pics blog, up till now hosted at blogspot, has been relocated to a specifically designed and constructed extension to the Gatehouse.

Steampunk Pics joins the marvellously welcoming home of steampunk, dieselpunk and decodence, and actively engaging and exciting forums hosted by Mr Ottens at the Gatehouse. Mr Armat's new home may be found here.

Mr Armat is also starting a new dieselpunk blog, to be found here.

Please, take the portal through the aether and visit these new sites, else your steampunk experience be limited!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

The passing of a Genius

With sadness, I'd like to mark the passing of a comic genius and genuinely Funny Man, Dom deLuise, the latest of some great actors, authors, and comedians to leave the stage in the previous six months.
Whilst not immediately recognisably steampunk, Mr deLuise appeared in many films which did feature steam or diesel punk elements, as indicated by his biography, including the great The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother.

A stalwart of Mel Brooks' films, and great partnerships with Burt Reynolds and Gene Wilder, his comic genius will be sorely missed. He was a real polymath, being an actor, comedian, chef, opera singer, and author.

Please, visit his official site and reminisce a life well spent!

Friday, 1 May 2009

Gatehouse Gazette 6

What could be more pleasurable over a summer evening than to sit and peruse the latest edition of the unmissable Gatehouse Gazette?

In the words of the esteemed Editor, Mr Ottens:

"Because the Gatehouse Gazette welcomes all kinds of “Tinkering with Time,” we dedicate this issue to the business of alternate history.

Some of our familiar contributors ponder what could have been: Mr Rauchfuß, for example, imagines how much better things would have been had Emperor Friedrich III lived just a tad longer while Miss Ella Kremper warns just how much worse the world of Brazil seems compared to ours. Mr Trubetskoy wonders why the First World War is so often overlooked in alternate history but offers a review of a book that touches upon the subject, if only in passing.

You will also find plenty of the usual in this edition: Mr Daniel’s “Liquor Cabinet”; “Local Steampunk” in Antwerp this time; Miss Hilde Heyvaert's “Steampunk Wardrobe” about the mad scientist look; and Ella’s “Hammer Horrors”. And we welcome a new columnist: Mr David Townsend, “Gentleman Traveler”!

Some old faces return to contribute once again: Mr Toby Frost, author of Space Captain Smith and its sequel, God Emperor of Didcot, provides a review of the fourth Call of Duty video game and Mr Guy Dampier writes the first in a series of articles about the Quatermass franchise."

Also, a piece about the band Ghostfire by Miss Andii (guest author), and an interview with Hilde Heyvaert about her clothing and costuming empire."

Thursday, 23 April 2009

St George and the Steamechanised Dragon

Upon this auspiscious Day, St George and the Dragon is presented in a Steampunk altenative world.

Part of the Steampunk Myths and Legends competition over at the CGSociety site, Cliff Cramp's work in progress is a wonderfully insolent image of the triumph of Steam Technology and Ingenuity.

Pop over here for more details and the image itself.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

The Adventures and Musings of Ms Angelica Boron, Steampunk Alchemist

A fascinatingly new Journal has made its appearance on the Aether, being the musings and occurences in the life of one Ms Anglelica Boron, steampunk alchemist, recently relocated to an undisclosed location from Miniwell.

Ms Boron, as she settles into her new locale, invites you to join her and interact with her explorations and adventures. More details may be found on the adjoining site here, and her journal found here.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Railway Walks of Great Britain

An interesting series on UK television, presented by Julia Bradbury, demonstrates how easy it is to lose sight of our heritage.

Railway Walks follows Ms Bradbury as she walks along the lines of now extinct and defunct railways which had formed part of the backbone of Britain, and the one of the foundations of the British Industrial Revolution.

Whilst the BBC programme may be viewed online via Ms Bradbury and the BBC iPlayer, those who may be interested in exploring some of the hidden treasures of the steam age may also find this site useful in finding where these old track-beds are. Alternatively, there are many books on local railway walks which are available through the aethernet.

What could be more pleasant now that Spring has sprung than to venture out from our soot-encrusted hovels and explore the wonders of a bygone age?

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Maker Faire - steampunk and retro-future heaven!

A new post on the Strange Dreams site, concerning the inaugural MAKER magazine's 'Maker Faire', held as part of Newcastle's ScienceFest - a 10 day festival celebrating creativity and innovation, with firebreathing steamdragons and retro-future robots wandering the streets.

Pop over to Strange Dreams for more details and footage of the BBC's visit to the 'fest!

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Floating Cities

The notion of living on the water has long been with homosapiens - from the wonder that was pre-conquest Mexico City, through the marvel that was medieval London Bridge, to the on-going beauty of Venice and the communities of 'bargees' which adorn the canals of Europe.

Nothing new to students of Utopia, now, a 'new frontier' is being opened up, stemming from this ancient obsession. Inhabitable land is decreasing, with the dual problem of climate change and increasing populations across the globe. If the latest research on global warming, as presented at the Copenhagen Summitt on 11 March 2009, is correct, and sea levels do indeed rise by up to 2.2 metres by 2100, floating cities may prove to be a solution - along with other measures, I would hasten to add! The above picture illustrates the 'Lilypad' concept of Belgian architect Vincent Callebaut.

Two organisations are currently exploring the viability of floating cities in very different ways.

The brainchild of Norman Nixon, Freedom Ship was established before 1999, with an amazing vision of a floating city which will repeatedly circumnavigate the world over a two year period. The original conception was seen very much in the guise of tax evasion, with the ship standing outside of the law, but Mr Nixon has gone out of his way to disabuse any investors or interested parties of these ideas. Unfortunately, Mr Nixon's company has recently been the victim of a fraudulent crime, resulting in the loss of a substantial amount of money.

The second drive is being guided by the Seasteading Institute, which seeks to determine the viability of alternative ways of living - "If people could create societies with different priorities - the environment, civil liberties, economic freedom, religious values - we'd be able to see how well these ideas actually work in practice. In some cases, certain approaches will work so well (or terribly) that everyone (or no one) will use them too. In others, it will turn out to be a matter of preference, in which case we'll be giving people the choice to choose to live in whatever small society is closest to their ideal." The manifesto "Dynamic Geography: Blueprint for Effective Government" outlines the vision of the Institute, which also has a competition for designs of seasteads.

Again, inspiration from the past is driving the solutions for the future...

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Asylum - UK steampunk convivial

A little slow on the uptake, here. I knew that there was the possibility of a UK Steampunk convention/get together, but things seem to be gathering pace, thanks to the intrepid activities of Time Tinker and Lady Elsie.

The Asylum UK Steampunk convention is to be held between 11th-13th September 2009 in the wonderful city of Lincoln. The venue will be across three sites, but based primarily at "The Lawn", a former Victorian Lunatic Asylum in manicured grounds in the heart of Lincoln's historical quarter.

Costs as they currently stand are envisaged as a full "members" ticket at £30, allowing access to the gig on Friday night (music by Ghostfire!), the core venue on Saturday and the First Annual Empire Ball on Saturday evening. Sunday is more ad hoc and is therefore likely to be free. Individual elements for those unable to attend/afford the whole weekend are likely to be: Friday gig: £9, Day Ticket £8.50, Ball £16.50.

The weekend coincides with Heritage Open Weekend, whereby public buildings are opened to the masses, enabling some of Britain's unknown and hidden archictural heritage to be enjoyed by a wider audience than the civil servants who work in these buildings.

More details may be found here. This looks to be building up into quite an event which we should all try to attend!

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Steampunk, Retrofuture, and Transport

Looking to the past for problems of the present seems a sensible way to work to me. With problems of over-crowding, pollution, global warming, disease and illness to name but a few of our current woes, increasingly, scientists and policy-makers seek inspiration from the past, and past visions of the future.

Updated windmills may provide energy, sustainable woodland may provide fuel, companion planting of crops may remove the need for pesticides and increase yields, as well as increasing wildlife, and airships are making a comeback, whilst plans for an alternative to a new runway at Heathrow include a floating runway in the Thames estuary.

"The Future Isn't What it Used to Be" (originally published as "Changing Travel Demand: Implications for Transport Planning", ITE Journal (Sept. 2005, Vol. 76, No.9, 27-33) by Todd Litmann, published by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute looks to the past for inspiration to solving the transport problems of the immediate future, drawing conclusions from the trends of the Twentieth Century for the issues of the Twenty-First.

An intruiging, practical-academic paper which raises some interesting questions...

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Time Traveller's Universal Translator

Not quite the usual Steampunk fair, but the implications for Time Travellers of any age are collosal.

For those who are already using the progeny of this discovery, apologies, but for those of the current continuum who are unaware of this device, I shall elucidate.

Researchers at the UK's Reading University have developed a model, based upon a lexicon of 200 words, which tracks how word usage changes over time, and when words diverge. According to Prof. Mark Pagel, "You type in a date in the past or in the future and it will give you a list of words that would have changed going back in time or will change going into the future. From that list you can derive a phrasebook of words you could use if you tried to show up and talk to, for example, William the Conqueror."

The algorithm also predicts which words are likely to become extinct in the future, negating the old problem, encountered by Time Travellers whose passion is the future, of sounding decades, even centuries, out of date when in conversation with contemporaneous denizens of, say, the year 2303AD.

More (immensely greater) detail may be found here; Prof. Pagel's research here; and more layman information here.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Extraordinary Voyages - Jules Verne and Beyond

Some time ago, I posted about the up-coming 2009 Eaton Science Fiction Conference, to be held at the University of California Riverside between 30 April and 3 May, 2009.

The keynote speaker of the conference is that scion of SF, Frederik Pohl, who is to receive the Eaton Lifetime Achievement Award. More pertinent to 'punks and 'punkettes, however, are the Steampunk sessions, Steampunk Verne and Steampunk after Verne, along with the presence of those Stempunk Leviathans Greg Bear, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Tim Powers, Rudy Rucker, Jeff VanderMeer, and Ann VanderMeer on the Steampunk and Extraordinary Voyages panel.

Whilst unfortunately unable to attend this exciting event, I will be keeping my eyes and ears open for any news, information, papers, or other media which may be forthcoming.

The programme may be found here, where you will find details of papers and presentations on topics as varied as Hollow Earth Theory and Mole Men to Michel Verne and film, Magritte and Verne to Warlords of the Air and Thomas Pynchon. Please, visit the site, and, if you are able to attend this serious but enjoyable academic conference, contact the organisers.

Jules Verne explodes

The European Space Agency's first Automated Transfer Vehicle - the most successful ever created by Europe - was, suitably, named after the most influencial author on steampunk and literary pioneer, Jules Verne.

The Jules Verne broke up on re-entry on 29 September 2008, after 6 months of missions re-supplying the International Space Station. The death of this pioneering craft was captured on video by NASA via cameras attached to their aircraft, launched from Tahiti and French Polynesia to film the event.

The Gatehouse Gazette

I am pleased to announce that the latest edition (number 5) of the excellent Gatehouse Gazette is released today!

"Commemorating the anniversary of the birthday of Jules Verne, the Gatehouse Gazette celebrates “Extraordinary Voyages” this issue!

Read an interview with the extraordinary fashion designer Miss Vecona and learn more about the adventure look from Miss Hilde Heyvaert’s “The Steampunk Wardrobe” column. She also tells you just how to be a good villain, that is, in a review of the book that does. So if you are scheming any evildoing some time soon, be sure not to miss out on it!This issue also sees the addition of two new contributors to the Gazette staff: Miss Ella Kremper with a review of Hammer Film’s 1958 film Dracula and Mr Marcius Rauchfuß who writes about all of interest to the steampunk enthusiast in the city of Munich. And this edition sees the third and final part of Mr Piecraft’s “History of Dieselpunk.” Read how dieselpunk and punk relate in his concluding installment!"

Download the Gazette in pdf here.

Friday, 20 February 2009

The Manifesto of Futurism

Today marks the centenary of the publication of the Manifesto of Futurism, on 20 February 1909 on Le Figaro.

A key inspiration for the development of art and science during the twentieth century, Futurism was born as a reaction to Romanticism. Its embracement of the modern, technology, youth and speed, brought with it unforeseen perils - with its rejection of the past, and its advocation of violence, Futurism had both anarchist and fascit elements. Il Duce embraced the movement, and Filippo Marinetti moved from the left to the right, becoming an active supporter of Mussolini, with his dream of dragging Italy into the new twentieth century.

Thrilling and dangerous, the Manifesto's 11 points celebrate rejuvination and vivacity, the embracing of the new, and the holistic nature of Futurism:

1. We want to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and rashness.

2. The essential elements of our poetry will be courage, audacity and revolt.

3. Literature has up to now magnified pensive immobility, ecstasy and slumber. We want to exalt movements of aggression, feverish sleeplessness, the double march, the perilous leap, the slap and the blow with the fist.

4. We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with great tubes like serpents with explosive breath ... a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.

5. We want to sing the man at the wheel, the ideal axis of which crosses the earth, itself hurled along its orbit.

6. The poet must spend himself with warmth, glamour and prodigality to increase the enthusiastic fervor of the primordial elements.

7. Beauty exists only in struggle. There is no masterpiece that has not an aggressive character.

8. Poetry must be a violent assault on the forces of the unknown, to force them to bow before man.

9. We are on the extreme promontory of the centuries! What is the use of looking behind at the moment when we must open the mysterious shutters of the impossible? Time and Space died yesterday. We are already living in the absolute, since we have already created eternal, omnipresent speed.

10. We want to glorify war - the only cure for the world - militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman.
We want to demolish museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism and all opportunist and utilitarian cowardice.

11. We will sing of the great crowds agitated by work, pleasure and revolt; the multi-colored and polyphonic surf of revolutions in modern capitals: the nocturnal vibration of the arsenals and the workshops beneath their violent electric moons: the gluttonous railway stations devouring smoking serpents; factories suspended from the clouds by the thread of their smoke; bridges with the leap of gymnasts flung across the diabolic cutlery of sunny rivers: adventurous steamers sniffing the horizon; great-breasted locomotives, puffing on the rails like enormous steel horses with long tubes for bridle, and the gliding flight of aeroplanes whose propeller sounds like the flapping of a flag and the applause of enthusiastic crowds.

With much which is laudable, Futurism also entails much which is anathema in today's world, as well as the early twentieth century, such as its advocation of violence and war, and its rejection of feminism. A lesson for those who embrace and desire what may be possible without considering the moral perils of making it possible...

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The Smoking Lounge

The Smoking Lounge community was created on January 8, 2008 and settled at its current location on the 14th.

Evolving from previous forums, including nov-net and delta.place, the Lounge is a forum “for all things Steam, Diesel, Retro and Pulp”, and everything within the scope of steampunk and dieselpunk, as well as retro-futurism, pulp fiction and film noir is welcomed.

With a warmly welcoming atmosphere, friendly and cordial denizens who are not afraid of respectable disagreements, the Lounge is a meeting place for those who wish to dabble in Steampunk and related sub-genres, as well as those who like to take their steam more seriously. Constantly updated, with on-going conversation on a wide range of topics (from appropriate attire for celebrating Mr Verne's birthday to the burning rage of Christian Bale via the allure of dirigable versus steamship travel and how nuclear fission is based upon Victorian science), the Lounge is currently divided into:

The Ætherscope , for discussions about Steampunk.

The Cafe Metropole, for all things Diesel and Pulp.

The Emporium, for fiction, fashion, and art.

Startling Stories, for role-playing games.

The Diogenes Club, for off-topic talk and debate.

I have been a member of the Lounge for less than a year, and have been made heartily welcome, and contributions, ideas, and general chat between members gives the Lounge an atmosphere reminiscent of the Salons, Coffee Houses, or Gentlemen's Clubs of bygone centuries.

If you are not a member already, we hereby invite you to kindly consider joining the Smoking Lounge.

To persuade you further, we present you this wonderful promo featuring Miss Hilde Heyvaert. Besides her sits the Lounge's official mascot, Shinto, atop an old Remington typewriter!

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Conquering the skies

Of interest to those deiselpunks amongst you, the British Broadcasting Corporation had recently put together this short film concerning the pioneering builders of those buildings which came to represent modernity and have become a mainstay of any modern city - the skyscraper.

Given that I suffer from vertigo, I have great admiration for those brave souls who worked on their construction with little thought to the death-defying tasks to which they dedicated themselves.

To say nothing of what the pioneers of cinematic comedy put themselves through!

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Iron Sky

The genius which flowed from Finland in the form of Starwreck continues unbounded. Now, rather than the Star Trek fondly and lovingly being parodied, they have Nazis firmly in their sights, the premise being that Nazis went to the moon in 1945, and have been building and biding their time, only to return in 2018, production is in full swing, and the team are in hyper-marketing-and-funding drive.

This is by no means a student movie! The production team includes the producer of Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark, Tero Kaukomaa, and best-selling author Johanna Sinisalo, so PLEASE visit their site, help if you can, buy the t-shirt, listen and watch the Signal (presented by the stunning Mariel Mettälä) and be part of what looks like being a phenomenal piece of work.

More images in Strange Dreams

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Steampunk Dalek comes to life

The original concept of the Steampunk Dalek has taken a step into another dimension, from the drawing page, to a model, and now to animation.

Flit over to Strange Dreams or here for a disturbingly moving experience the Dr has never endured!

Steampunk Spaceships

The exciting world of Victorian spaceships at your fingertips!
Please take a trip over to Strange Dreams for more on where to find delightful designs for steampunk modelling, and fill these long winter nights with the satisfying glow of demonstrating the glory of the Victorian Space Age.

A Gentleman's Duel

Please check out the Strange Dreams blog for this marvelously irreverent steampunk animation of national stereotyping, affrontry, romance, and slapstick from Blur Studio, a Venice, California, stable from whence ushers the animation for The Spiderwick Chronicles, Hellgate:London, HALO Wars, and Tomb Raider: Underworld.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The strange case of the Space Elevator

Originally conceived in 1895 by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, and inspired by the Eiffel Tower, the concept of the space elevator is a radical one. Essentially proposing a tether stretching from an anchor on the Earth into a low geostationary orbit, it would allow the conveyance of materials and personnel into space without the need for rockets.

If this could be achieved, then space exploration would take a giant leap ahead, enabling materials to be lifted into low orbit quickly and cheaply, and the building of a space port and building yard for inter-planetary ships. With the coming end of the life of the space shuttle, with limited viable alternatives (NASA has recently awarded contracts to two private companies to undertake haulage to the space station), interest in the space elevator has regained momentum, with an annual conference pushing the proposal forward.

At the most recent conference, a slightly madly ingenius idea of how to get centrifugal force to drive the elevator, rather than powering the lifts directly, was presented by Age-Raymond Riise of the European Space Agency.

More info on the space elevator can be found here. Information on the 'X-Prize'-like competition for the space elevator may be found here and on the LiftPort Group here.

In the twenty-first century, answers may yet be found in nineteenth century ideas.