What is #Steampunk ?

I had been wanting to post about my thoughts about “What is Steampunk?” for some time, but have hesitated as there are so many directions to go about it from. However, this post comes very close to my definition, and has the added benefit of being very well and entertainingly written (picnic-hamper-of-holding–I want one!)

Maybe I’ll write later about “What is not Steampunk?” or at least why we should keep that admonition to ourselves a bit more often.

Penny Blake

Select one hundred Steampunk enthusiasts at random from various corners of the globe, place them in a parlour with sufficient supplies of tea, cake (and of course a little La Fee Verte) and ask them to come up with a definitive answer to the universal quandary: ‘What Is Steampunk?’ and you will likely still find them in a state of cordial dispute when the final trumpet sounds and the apocalyptic horsemen clear their throats and ask politely if anyone would care to open the parlour door and take note that the world had, in fact, come to an end and could they all please be so kind as to step outside and commence panicking?

Of course apocalyptic prophesies have not yet taken account of the evolution of Steampunks.

At this point every Lady and Gentleman in the room will swiftly tip their last shot of absinthe into their cup of…

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Amazing Internet Archive of Historic Graphics

An American academic at Georgetown University, Kalev Leetaru, has started amassing what will ultimately be 12 million historic public domain images.

Located on flickr, the Internet Archive Book Image currently has 2.6 million images–photographs, graphics, maps, music, advertisements, bits of illuminated manuscripts–all downloadable copyright-free.  The images date from ca. 1500 to 1922 (when copyright restrictions begin).  The images are also searchable.

Some examples I found interesting on the first few pages of the archive.  I have a feeling that I’ll be perusing this site regularly.





Steampunk Architecture

Update:  I’ve updated this blog post on Steampunk Architecture with many more photographs.  The new post is here.

During the Victorian Era, the wide availability of water-powered and later, steam-powered, machinery made fabrication of architectural details much less labor intensive than previously. Creative ornamental details no longer required the skills of a wood carver, master carpenter, or stone mason, and many architectural elements could be factory-made and ordered from catalogues. In fact, architectural ornamentation became so inexpensive that several home styles in the US are known for their overabundance of gingerbread. Even industrial spaces were built with included ornamentation.

As the Steampunk Aesthetic relies heavily upon Victorian design, it follows that much of Victorian design could also be called “Steampunk”. And since, steampunk overlies a veneer of fantasy, whimsy, or imagination onto the wood, bricks, and cast iron of the Victorian, the more ornate the building the better.

So, what do I think are some examples of real-life Steampunk Architecture?

Continue reading

The Anaesthetized Queen & the Path to Painless Childbirth

A fascinating account of the early use of anaesthesia and just how much Queen Victoria hated pregnancy!

The Chirurgeon's Apprentice

L0058939 Clear glass shop round for Chloroform, United Kingdom, 1850-‘Did the epidural hurt?’ I ask Rebecca Rideal—editor of The History Vault—one morning as we sit outside the British Library.

‘Not really.’ She hesitates, clearly wanting to say more without divulging too much information. ‘I mean, it’s nothing compared to the labour pains. The hardest part was lying still while the anaesthesiologist administered the needle.’

Rebecca is one of many friends of mine who have now endured the pains of childbirth. Nearly all of them (with the exception of one) did so with the aid of anaesthetics and pain medication. Not one of them regretted it.

Of course, there was a time when women had no choice but to give birth naturally, and often did so while sitting up in a birthing chair. The experience was wrought with dangers, not least the risk of ‘childbed fever’ which claimed the lives of thousands of women, including Henry VIII’s wife…

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Encyclopaedia Caledonica–The Air War

Note:  From time to time, I will be posting selections from my upcoming books, or entries from various fictional sources on background information on the world of my book series. (Are these blogs canon?  Sure.  For now, at least.)  I’ll denote them by using the Fiction tag and coloring the text blue.

The entry in the Encyclopædia Caledonica (1876 Abridged Edition for the British Public) for the “Air War” is as follows:

At the outset of the year 1863, the circumstances of the various German States and Principalities were such that the Kingdom of Prussia was the most powerful, but not of sufficient influence to induce a union of the states. Wilhelm, the King of Prussia, however, sought a way to unite the Germanic states into a single empire with himself as Emperor. While a decisive military victory over a convenient foe might bring the other states under their leadership, the Prussian military, while powerful, did not possess sufficient men and materiel to provide a quick military triumph. Continue reading

A Desk that’s Bigger on the Inside


Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

I was going to title this blog post “A TARDIS Desk”, but I didn’t want to disappoint people seeking a desk looking like a blue box, what with the 8th season starting and all.

But this desk, and the other pieces of furniture that were displayed at the exhibit “Extravagant Inventions: The Princely Furniture of the Roentgens” that showed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York at the end of 2012, are bigger on the inside. And how they perform that trick is jaw-droppingly amazing.

Clever mechanisms open previously secret compartments. Turn a key and spring-loaded drawers open, and then somehow drawers within drawers pop out. Press a brass decoration and a writing surface appears, complete with pen stand and inkwell. Watch the videos on the link and be amazed at the beautiful pieces of furniture–desks, gaming tables, dressing tables, and more–and their unbelievably intricate performances.

The furniture was built by two German cabinetmakers, Abraham Roentgen (1711-1793) and his son, David Roentgen (1743-1807). Their works eventually brought them enough fame that David was appointed cabinetmaker to Queen Marie-Antoinette of France, Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, and King Frederick William II of Prussia. David especially became known for his innovative veneer marquetry and the pieces shown are, literally, fit for a king.

Another interest item in the show was an automaton of Marie-Antoinette that plays hammered dulcimer using a much more complex version of a music box mechanism to control the arms playing the music, as well as its eye and head motion. It was made by the Roentgens for King Louis XVI as a gift to his queen .

Although these treasures do predate by five decades what is usually considered the “Steampunk Era”, they fall so squarely into the Steampunk Aesthetic of beautiful gadgets. And it can’t be too hard to imagine Phileas Fogg sitting down at such a gaming table in the Reform Club and writing out the terms of his wager.