Thursday, September 30, 2010

Steampunk Character Type: The Suffragette

Both women and men can fulfill the Mad Scientist/Quirky Inventor or Adventurer character types in Steampunk, but there is one particular character type unique to women that took on particular importance during the late 1800s. The Suffragette arose with the drive for women's rights that took place throughout much of the Western Republics during the late 19th/early 20th centuries. We have women like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Muriel Matters, Louisa Lawson, Viscountess Nancy Witcher Astor, Emmeline Pankhurst, and the list goes on and on.
Susan B. Anthony

Though the historical Suffragettes crusaded for women's rights, there isn't a need to do the same in order to fall under the Suffragette character type. A fine example of this character type, in fact, is Alexia Tarabotti from Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series. Alexia is intelligent, independent, and though she's aware of her place within society she isn't hidebound by the societal mores she doesn't agree with.

The proper Suffragette character type is that type of woman -- intelligent, independent, and capable of ignoring established laws when they stand in her way. The Suffragette's of history were almost all very, very smart women who were focused on altering the established rules of society to give women all sorts of rights under the law that they didn't have before in the Western Republics.

Not every independent female character is a Suffragette-type, but many of them are. The character archetype of the Warrior Woman from fantasy novels is subsumed under the Suffragette umbrella within Steampunk, primarily because the drive for Women's Suffrage took place smack in the middle of the time period where much of Steampunk is set. Both character types can still exist in a Steampunk world, but the Suffragette is almost more natural because she understands the nature of the society she lives in and seeks to change it for the better.

In terms of real-life Steampunks, I can think of few better examples for the attitudes of the "punk" suffix of the word than the Suffragette. She quests for change in the world around her, to give a voice in government to groups that don't yet have one or to help change an attitude that has sent her nation spiraling down the proverbial tubes. She also might be a wife and mother, sometimes to a husband that shares her goals and sometimes to one that tells her she should give up and accept the world for what it is. However, the fictional Suffragette can't do that because she sees an injustice and something in her character forces her to right it.

I realize, as I write this, that I've created Moriah Rowani (heroine of CALLARION AT NIGHT) as a Suffragette character. She doesn't really start off this way, but eventually becomes a leader when she realizes the true depth of the wrongs going on in the city.

An alternate side is the Suffragette-as-villain; this might be someone who's had a psychotic break and is convinced that something's wrong with the world when it's really not, or someone who's taken their quest to the extremes of using fear tactics and hatred to change things. Granted, this is my personal opinion (and one you're welcome to disagree with).

Can you think of any other Suffragette characters in fiction?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Winners of The Dark Deeps Contest

All right, Princess Freers, here's the promised official announcement of the winners of an ARC for Arthur Slade's The Dark Deeps, The Hunchback Assignments Book 2:

Winner number one is ....

"After an evening of pipe-smoking and clever deductions peppered by witty remarks, nothing delighted Dr Watson more than sitting at his desk to record Holmes’ effortless fits of brain power for posterity. Or so dear gyroscopic Sherlock believed.

The truth was quite other, hidden in the basement of a little-known Gentlemen’s club ,The Smoke. Here, after limping down treacherous damp stairs, the good doctor smiled at the innumerable little eyes and hands and hearts(yes, hearts) awaiting his ministrations .Here ,in his cozy workshop by the rumbling steam engine that powered other gentlemen’s unavowable endeavours, De Watson’s delicate surgeon fingers fit together cogs and wheels, wound with copper wire, tensed with springs. Here, Sherlock Holmes’ gentle shadow built his army of clockwork toys, and gave them life. Every tiny copper heart beat for him."
 And, by popular Twitter vote, the winner of the second ARC is ...

K. Marie Criddle
"Black Beauty is a roguely, darish animal that won't sit kindly by and be traded around like a common gooseberry, if one catches one's drift. He wears a saddle of fine oiled leather and brass buckles from the finest of purveyors that purvey that type of stuff. His hooves have been modified with clanking, steam powered pistons that build and store energy for those much needed dashes through the bustling streets of London. Step gingerly, or your legs might not be too merry, Brass Beauty! The end. I'm too tired to think of more."
Thank you to Mia Hayson and Paul Singleton for rounding out the entrants, and forcing me to turn to Twitter for the final winner of the second ARC, seeing as your entries were simply too awesome for me to choose.

I'll have another contest here in October, so anyone who didn't win here is more than welcome to come back along for that one as well.

Nemone7 and Marie, please email me your mailing addresses so I can ship your books out to you.

The Fur Trade as Steampunk?

The fur trade played a major role in the North American economy for more than 300 years, beginning in the 1500s when the first European explorers traded with the Native American/First Nations tribes at seacoast trading areas and all the way up to about 1850. Up until the first planned move into the interior of North America in 1608, the Europeans were content to trade guns, cloth, and manufactured goods for beaver pelts and the furs of the fox, mink, otter, and marten.
Image taken from the Canpages blog

The fur trade in North America is divided into three periods -- the French Era, the British Era, and the American Era -- which are roughly bookended by three major conflicts in North America over the course of 250-year official history of the trade. The French Era ran from 1608, when Samuel Champlain ordered Etiene Brule to go live with the Huron tribe in order to learn their ways, up to the conclusion of the French and Indian War in 1760 when New France was taken over by Britain.

The British Era of dominance in the fur trade ran then from 1760 to 1816, with only slight interruption by the American Revolution. I say slight interruption only because the battles of the American Revolution centered on the eastern coastline of the continent, whereas the fur trade was focused around Grand Portage and the Great Lakes out around Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Some traders avoided areas south and east of the Great Lakes as a result of the Revolution, but business did not slow by any stretch of the imagination.

In 1815, the United States government forbade any foreign traders from operating inside the country. This expelled the British fur traders, and forced the North West Company (an organization focused on the fur trade) to depart from the areas now controlled by the United States. Thus began the American Era of fur trading in the U.S., which lasted until 1850 when silk hats and not the felt ones made of beaver pelts became fashionable.

Fort Chipewyan was founded in 1788 on
the shores of Lake Athabasca
in the Canadian North.

(Canada's First Peoples website)

The White Oak Society, Inc of Deer River, Minnesota has a complete timeline of major events in the North American fur trade on their website. That particular organization is also fascinating because they're a living history group that focuses on re-creating what the fur trade would've been like in 1798 -- right at the height of the industry, when the Hudson Bay and North West companies duked it out for dominance over the fur trade of North America.

The fur trade had far-reaching effects on North American society. Many of the French Canadians now living in the United States, for example, might be able to trace their family tree to a fur trader or trapper that lived around the Great Lakes in the 17th, 18th, or 19th centuries. The Metis people would not have existed without the French fur traders in Canada, as the Metis are the children of the French trappers and their First People wives.

We might have the stories of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone without the fur trade, but Crockett wouldn't have his famous coonskin cap if not for the popularity of furs when he was alive.

And lastly, the border between the United States and Canada might be different if the fur trade hadn't existed. A lot of the boundary line in the Great Lakes area was determined by which trading posts controlled which territory. The demarcation that separated U.S. territory from Canadian territory was drawn where it is today because of the fur traders on both sides of the line.

The fur trade is tied closely into the North American experience, and as result it can tie well into Steampunk stories set throughout the northwest United States and the majority of Canada. I can already imagine a group of itinerant fur traders driving their steam-powered wagon through the Saskatchewan (wow I'm kind of surprised I spelled that word right first try) wilderness toward the North West Company's trading post at Fort Chipewyan, where the mechanical weigher and counter will determine how much they get paid for their load of beaver pelts. It's definitely a story that could be distinctly North American, especially if you mix in a few words of French, Metis, and English into the various conversations.

You could even use the Steampunked fur traders as a microcosm to show how the advanced technology of Britain has changed their world, or give France the higher technology and see the French and Indian War go a different direction, with Britain losing her colonies in the Americas.

Things to think about, most definitely.

CONTEST ANNOUNCEMENT: There will be a separate post later today detailing the winners of the ARCs for The Dark Deeps.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Elisha Collier's Flintlock Revolver

The revolver concept is often attributed to Samuel Colt, whose famous revolvers were the ones that the U.S. Army used during the Indian Wars of the post-Civil War period. According to an apocryphal story about the invention of the Colt Paterson, Samuel Colt's first revolver, the invention was inspired by viewing the rotation of a ship's steering wheel on a voyage from the United States to England. Colt made a wooden model of the revolver based upon his observations, and would eventually produce the Patterson pistol upon his arrival home.

Elisha Haydon Collier's flintlock revolver,
patented in 1818 in Great Britain
Although Samuel Colt's revolvers took the world by storm, it was actually another American inventor by the name of Elisha Haydon Collier who invented an early form of the revolver. Elisha Collier's revolver differed from Colt's in several key respects, but the primary one was that Collier's revolver was a flintlock and Colt's used percussion caps.

Prior to Collier's 1818 patent in England, the only multi-shot pistols were the pepperbox guns, which were distinct in that each bullet had its own barrel. Collier's flintlock revolver was one of the earliest weapons that used a single barrel through which all the bullets would successively fire. The flintlock revolver also lightened the weapon and made it easier to load; not having to place one bullet per barrel cut down on the time to load the weapon significantly.

Though Collier's flintlock revolver was an improvement over the earlier pepperboxes, the design of the gun still presented several problems. As in the pepperbox guns, there was a possibility for a multiple spark from the flint to cause all the bullets in the chamber to ignite. With the pepperbox this wasn't so much of an issue -- each bullet had its own barrel and thus all could exit the gun at the same time -- but Collier's flintlock revolver didn't have that benefit, and thus explosions could still happen.

The other primary issue with Collier's flintlock revolver is the issue that all flintlock weapons had. The flint itself would wear down quickly, and thus needed to be replaced quite often. Also, the flintlock revolver could misfire if inferior gunpowder was used in its operation. The standard operation of the flintlock revolver wasn't much different from the flintlock muskets of an earlier time, except for the multiple bullets and the revolving barrel.

Collier's flintlock revolver fell out of favor by the 1840s and '50s, when Samuel Colt and Smith & Wesson developed their pure revolver concepts that used percussion caps instead of flintlocks as an ignition source. When Elisha Collier returned to his native Boston in 1850, Samuel Colt had taken an additional step of difference by mass-producing the Colt Paterson and other hand guns in factories rather than hand-making the weapons as Collier had done with his flintlock revolver.

The Victoria & Albert Museum in London has one of Collier's flintlock revolvers in its collection, as a bequest of Major Victor Alexander Farquharson, and their page devoted to the gun has a detailed description of its materials and dimensions. Perhaps the most interesting thing for the Steampunk writer is that the weapon is made of forged steel, brass, and wood. These materials are as standard to Steampunk as the day is long.

One can almost imagine an underdeveloped nation armed with flintlock revolvers and muskets against an invading force using steam-powered automatic weapons and pure revolvers. It kind of sounds like the way much of Eastern Europe fell to the Germans during the run-up to World War II.

Any ideas for how a flintlock revolver could fit into Steampunk? I'd love to hear them!

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Possible Basis for Miss Havisham

Today's random historical nonsense bit comes from The History Place, which I discovered on doing random Google searches. The story's very, very sad, but is a potential basis for the character of Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations. The full text is taken from The History Place's Strange but True! page:
Jilted in 1846 by shipping clerk George Cuthbertson, 21 year old Eliza Emily Donnithorne was condemned to a life more suiting a bat than a pretty heiress of aristocratic birth.

Probably driven away by her overbearing father, Cuthbertson would die in India during the Sepoy rebellion in 1858, while his fiancée in Sydney waited anxiously for his return.

Suffering a nervous breakdown due to her abandonment, Eliza insisted the wedding feast be left untouched on the long dining room table in the grand mansion, Camperdown Lodge, ready for festivities and ceremonies to commence once the absent groom arrived.

Her orders were complied with by her father, retired Judge James Donnithorne, over concern for her state of mind. Those concerns were amplified by Eliza's refusal to wear anything except her wedding dress as she whiled away the days waiting for her groom. Unknown to all, Eliza was in the early stages of pregnancy.

To avoid further scandal, her newborn baby was spirited away by the Judge who arranged for its adoption while falsely telling his daughter of its death. This blow, coupled with the subsequent death of her father, sent the pretty young woman over the edge.

After her father's funeral, all but two servants were dismissed. The imposing estate would be sealed off from the world for the next 40 years. Windows and shutters were permanently closed, drapes drawn, and the house was blanketed in total darkness. Expensive European paintings and furnishings were gradually blanketed in the dust of decades, falling to ruin anonymously while weeds and overgrowth consumed the outside of the once stately house.

A generation of neighbors were born, lived and died, believing the house to be abandoned. Oblivious to the passage of time, Eliza grew old. Her wedding dress decayed and hung off her withering body as she drifted like a ghost through the dusty ruins of her world.

She refused to leave the grounds or see anyone except her lawyer and minister, who described rotting chairs collapsing under them as the mistress of the house held court, sitting solemnly in her discolored wedding dress while candles cast eerie shadows on the walls. Merciful death finally arrived in 1886 when Eliza died of heart disease, a fitting end for a woman who suffered so long from a broken heart.

A generous woman, her donations helped build the local church where she was buried, while the bulk of her considerable estate was left to charities and her trusty servants.

It is believed novelist Charles Dickens heard of her abandonment and subsequent reclusion through one of his sons and based the character Miss Havisham in his novel Great Expectations on her.
Like I said, it's a sad story and yet one that is fascinating all the same. Reminds me of the sailor's widows in New England who had the widow's walk around the top of their ocean-side homes. I seem to recall more than a few widows who would go up to the roof of their home to watch for the husband that never came home.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Steampunk Character Type: The Adventurer

We've all seen them in fiction -- the Adventurer-Hero strikes a victorious pose with his fists on his hips and chest puffed out while the villain scrabbles away, defeated. But while this evokes images of the superheroes extant during the comic book Golden Age, and is the one that many of us can conjure up, I'm talking about Adventurers that occur in fiction significantly earlier.

Allan Quartermain. Tom Sawyer. Phileas Fogg. The Time Traveller. These are just a few of the Adventurer characters from classic fiction. As to the names from Steampunk novels? Well that's easy too -- Modo and Octavia (The Hunchback Assignments), Croggon Hainey (The Clockwork Century), Bergen (Whitechapel Gods) ... you get the picture.

We see the Adventurer a lot in Steampunk fiction, but what really typifies the character? How do we know when we've seen an Adventurer and not a regular person thrust into the story's primary plot line against their will?

The Adventurer is comfortable in dire situations. In fact, he almost prefers them to the the quiet supposedly idyllic life he once came from. The classic Adventurer were men (and the occasional woman) who went off into the world in search of far-off lands and peoples, sometimes with the intent to study them but more often to see the sights and see what would happen to them there. A sub-character type is the Adventurer Archaeologist (Indiana Jones), which is actually nothing like archaeology actually is anymore (but once was in the 19th Century).

The Voyages Extraordinaire of Jules Verne are rife with Adventurer characters which, seeing as those are Adventure stories, isn't really that big of a surprise. Phileas Fogg, Captain Nemo, Professor Arronax, etc and so on -- the characters that exist in Verne's stories are men of Action and Adventure. That's the kind of Adventurer-Hero many people have come to expect. He's the man of Action who acts without thinking, and yet somehow always manages to win the girl at the end of the story.

The spirit of Adventure that runs through the root works of Steampunk, and the genre's other basis in the pulp adventure novels of the late 1800s, make it clear that the Adventurer character type is here to stay.

What other traits can you think of that describe an Adventurer character?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Gatling Gun -- Steampunk Weaponry for Real

Doctor Richard Gatling's patent drawing
In 1861, Doctor Richard Gatling invented a six-barreled machine gun capable of firing 200 rounds per minute. This "Gatling gun," as it would be known, was designed with the express purpose of decreasing the number of men on the battlefield. In creating it, Dr. Gatling hoped that it would reduce the amount of bloodshed in war and eventually even end war all together. His thought was that the carnage his weapons wreaked would make armies reconsider before they marched to war. Gatling's own words written nearly two decades after the invention of the weapon bear this out.
Hartford, June 15th, 1877
My Dear Friend.
        It may be interesting to you to know how I came to invent the gun which bears my name; I will tell you: In 1861, during the opening events of the war, (residing at that time in Indianapolis, md.,) I witnessed almost daily the departure of troops to the front and the return of the wounded, sick, and dead. The most of the latter lost their lives, not in battle, but by sickness and exposure incident to the service. It occurred to me if I could invent a machine--a gun-- which could by its rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred, that it would, to a great extent, supersede the necessity of large armies, and consequently, exposure to battle and disease be greatly diminished. I thought over the subject and finally this idea took practical form in the invention of the Gatling Gun.
Yours truly,
R.J. Gatling
As history has proven, however, Dr. Gatling was way off the mark.

The original Gatling gun models saw use in dozens of wars around the world, from the Spanish-American War of 1898 to the colonial conflicts in Africa and other undeveloped nations. The colonial European powers made particular use of Gatling's weapon to bolster their fortifications against hordes of warriors. Once the destructive power of the Gatling gun was realized, the technology spread around the world like wildfire.

The Gatling gun was operated by a hand-crank, which meant that it wasn't the first truly automatic weapon (that title goes to the Maxim gun invented in 1884). Regardless of this lack of automation, the Gatling gun still holds the title of first machine-fed gun useful on the field of battle.

Prior to Gatling's invention, the most common multi-shot weapons were the French mitrailleuse and grapeshot fired from cannons. The problem with both of those weapons was that they had to be reloaded after every shot, so the high mass rate of fire was counteracted by the slow manual loading process.

The operation of the Gatling gun was different. From The American Civil War Home Page:
"The Gatling gun was a hand-crank-operated weapon with 6 barrels revolving around a central shaft. The cartridges were fed to the gun by gravity through a hopper mounted on the top of the gun. 6 cam-operated bolts alternately wedged, fired, and dropped the bullets, which were contained in steel chambers. Gatling used the 6 barrels to partially cool the gun during firing."
Mitrailleuse Gatling model APX1895
(Musée de l'armée, Paris, France)
That same site places the Gatling gun's rate of fire at 600 rounds per minute (100 rounds per barrel), but other resources have a stated rate of fire of 200 rounds for an unskilled operator. Though the weapon was used in the American Civil War, it was still new and the "unskilled" operator was probably the most common one to find at least in the early years. Besides that, the 600 rounds per minute rate of fire seems more a theoretical rate rather than a practical one.

It's worth noting that the Gatling gun wasn't really adopted by the United States Army until 1866, after the war ended. This can be tied to the many problems that the original 1862-patented design had. Among these was the jamming potential of the original design, which was prodigious because of the tapered barrels that ran the risk of not always aligning properly with the chambers. The bullet design that the first Gatling gun used -- a steel chamber full of black powder and primed with a paper percussion cap -- was both fragile and expensive, as self-contained brass bullets had not yet become available.

The 1866 redesign of the Gatling gun included those aforementioned brass cartridges among other improvements, which finally resulted in the gun being picked up by the U.S Army. The Gatling gun was used extensively in the conflicts of the latter part of the 19th Century, going so far as to make the journey to Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War in 1898. Gatling's weapon made its appearance at San Juan Hill among other battles.

In 1876, the weapon had reached theoretical rate of fire of 1,200 rounds per minute. It's important to note that this is a purely theoretical rate, as in practice it was more likely to achieve 400 rounds per minute. This is still an impressive rate of fire for a weapon that required a four-man team to operate. Its "Bruce"-style feed system, where one row of bullets could be loaded while the other was being fired, allowed for the greater increase in rate of fire.

The U.S. Army decommissioned all its Gatling guns in 1911, declaring them obsolete and dropping the rotating barrel technology for several decades. Then the 1940s rolled around, and new designs based on the Gatling model were developed for use on fighter planes -- thus the Vulcan Gatling gun was born, and eventually a lighter three-barrel version was even developed to use on helicopters. The design is still used on fighter jets today.
Inspection of the gatling gun of an A-10 Thunderbolt II, at Osan Air Base, Korea. (from Wikipedia, Photo by USAF Staff Sgt. Bradley C. Church)
As it relates to Steampunk, the Gatling design is the consummate multi-shot heavy weapon to use against massive numbers of infantry. Many of the "gun arms" of fantasy steampunk worlds such as the Wild Arms game are Gatling-style weapons; so much so when you use the phrase "gun arm," one almost immediately thinks of a set of rotating barrels.

Hook the crank to a steam engine that runs on high-pressure steam, and you have a purely automatic weapon that can potentially be fired by a man sitting in a giant robot. The best part about the Gatling gun is that Dr. Gatling was a consummate mechanical engineer, which makes his simple and effective design perfect for use in a Steampunk society where gearwork and steam power dominates.

How would you design a Steampunk Gatling-style weapon? What materials would you use?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Steampunk Author Interview: Arthur Slade

Arthur Slade, author of the YA steampunk novels The Hunchback Assignments and The Dark Deeps: The Hunchback Assignments Book 2, was kind enough to stop by to answer a few questions during his whirlwind blog tour to promote the second book. The Dark Deeps hit U.S. shelves this past Tuesday, September 14 (Wendy Lamb Books, $16.99). But that's enough from me, as I'm sure you're more interested to hear from Arthur. Without further ado, let me proudly present Mr. Arthur Slade!

Arthur Slade

What drew you to Steampunk?

I’ve been a sci-fi fan since I began reading novels (thanks to Heinlein and Bradbury) and I followed the rise of steampunk in the ‘80s with interest, so steampunk seemed like a natural “literary” choice for me. This series first started with the idea of writing books inspired by Victorian-era novels so it felt natural (and more fun) to push it in the direction of steampunk. It really combines sci-fi, fantasy, and horror--my three favorite flavors of fiction.

The Hunchback Assignments Book I and The Dark Deeps Book 2 are strong case-file adventures that begin the Hunchback series. Are there more plans for a multi-book storyline?

Yes. My intention is to write six or seven episodic novels. Each tells its own story, but the long “arc” will bring an answer to what happens between the conflict of The Permanent Association and The Clockwork Guild and how Modo adjusts to his role in society and his appearance.

What was the hardest part about writing The Dark Deeps?

The research. I want these books to be as believable as possible so I try to add as much historical detail and accuracy as I can. Researching submarine knowledge in the 1900’s was extremely interesting, but also a great big pile of reading. Plus, like every author, I get addicted to the research and forget that I’m actually supposed to be writing the book.  

Modo is an interesting choice as a main character. What drove you to choose a hunchbacked character as the hero?

There were several reasons. One was that I had recently reread The Hunchback of Notre Dame and was so moved by the book that I wanted to do an “ode” to it. The Hunchback Assignments grew from a publisher pitching me on writing a Sherlock Holmes type novel. I didn’t want it to just be Sherlock, so I substituted Quasimodo instead then changed it to a secret agent instead of a detective. That’s the literary influence. On a more personal level my daughter Tori was born with Down Syndrome (she died in 2008 due to complications from treatment for leukemia). In her short life she taught me how little I knew about people with handicaps and also how society often treats them as the “other.” Not one of us. So I was taken by the idea of having a hero with a handicap.

Doctor Cornelius Hyde, Griff, Modo, and Captain Monturiol all have their roots in classic novels of the Victorian Era. What other characters or concepts have you borrowed from that period for The Dark Deeps?

Captain Monturiol actually has a double inspiration. She is obviously inspired by Captain Nemo, but I also drew my inspiration for her from a real life 19th century submarine designer named Narcis Monturiol. He was a brilliant man and did invent a perfectly workable (and safe) submarine years before anyone else and nearly went mad trying to get his creation out to the public (he believed it would end war because it could sink all warships).

The socialist concepts of Monturiol’s Icaria are all influenced by Monturiol and his fellow socialists of the time. A group of socialists from Europe actually tried to create their own utopian country (called Icaria) in Texas. The project failed miserably. I just tried to imagine how different it would have been if they’d tried to build their country under the water.

Obviously this book is influenced by Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. He was such an intelligent and detailed writer that it helped me understand how much people in the Victorian age knew about science and nature and, of course, submarines.  

Both The Dark Deeps and The Hunchback Assignments have their basis in classic novels. Did you always intend to use classic stories as the basis for Modo’s adventures?

Yes, at some level. I don’t want to be limited by having to choose a novel or story to base the books on, but I do find so much inspiration from those books. After all you can draw a direct line back from the Sci-fi/fantasy/horror of today to the novels published in Victorian times.

Which character would you say is most like you?

Modo. Not that I have any shapeshifting abilities, but that he’s a reader and I’m a reader. Although maybe I need a bit of Miss Hakkandottir as part of my personality when it comes time to negotiate the next contract. 

In all the research you did to write The Dark Deeps and The Hunchback Assignments, what was the most interesting thing you discovered?

That would be hard to pin down. I actually kept finding so many interesting things that I created an Odd Victorian Factoids piece for my website ( I’d have to say the oddest and most interesting thing is that the flush toilet was made popular in Victorian times by a man named Thomas Crapper. Yes, crap meant the same thing then that it does now. So did he choose to become a plumber because of his name? Fate? Destiny? Fact is so much stranger than fiction.

What’s next for Modo and Octavia? For the Clockwork Guild?

The third novel is titled Empire of Ruins. It’s about Modo’s investigation of a rumored Egyptian temple in the Australian Rainforest that holds a powerful item called The God Face (this item will drive whoever sees it insane). Both the Permanent Association and The Clockwork Guild want it.  The novel finds its roots in “adventure” novels from the period (Allan Quartermain novels being one example). And it’s also inspired by the whole race for Africa and colonization of the rest of the “uncivilized” world.

What are you working on now?
Next will be the fourth book in the series, The Shadow of Notre Dame. Where Modo will return to Paris to discover more about his roots. I think he’ll be mightily surprised when he finds out that he’s actually French (having spent his whole life raised as an English gentleman).

Thank you once again to Arthur for stopping here along his blog tour promoting The Dark Deeps. If you want to follow Arthur on his blog tour, make sure to check out these blogs:

Previous stops on The Dark Deeps blog tour:
Friday, September 17 -
Saturday September 18 - Cynsations

Upcoming stops on The Dark Deeps blog tour:
Monday, September 20 - STEAMED!
Tuesday, September 21 - Steampunk Tribune
Wednesday, September 22 - Suvudu
Thursday, September 23 - Steampunk Scholar
Friday, September 24 - Through the Looking Glass

And I also have a surprise for you all: I have two ARCs of Arthur Slade's The Dark Deeps to give away to two lucky readers of Free the Princess. So here's what I propose: Come with the most inventive Steampunk twist on a character from a classic novel. The two most creative offerings will each win an ARC.

The Rules are thus: Put your entry in the comments of this post by week's end -- Friday, September 24 -- and I will announce the winners on Monday, September 26.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Victorian Fun Facts from Southern Illinois University

So in lieu of a more inventive post, which will be coming later today, I'm passing along some fun facts about the Victorian Era from the Southern Illinois University Museum:

When a woman entered a room, it was considered rude for a man to offer his seat to her because the cushion might still be warm.

People thought food digested better in the dark, so a dining room located in the basement was considered the best spot in which to eat.

A glance into a bedroom was considered improper if viewed by a visitor, so bedrooms were located on the second floor.

People were shy about having water closets, so they disguised fixtures as dressers and cabinets. Tubs were enclosed in wooden boxes that resembled large chests. People went to great lengths to hide toilets from view. In some homes, they were behind a curtain or screen, or even in a room of their own.

Children rarely saw their parents. A special trip was made to the nursery each evening, and the visit lasted about an hour.

Women made pictures, wreaths, and bouquets from their own hair or the hair of a family member to be framed and displayed in the parlor.

Some rocking chairs were designed to disguise a chamber pot. People had to be careful not to rock too quickly!

A lot of men used macassar oil to slick back their hair. Crocheted doilies, called antimacassars, were put over the backs of chairs to keep this grease from staining the furniture.

For a lady to show her ankles was considered very risque!

To control insects, many people kept a HEDGEHOG in the basement. It curled up and slept in the day, but roamed around the dark kitchen at night eating cockroaches and other insects.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Guest post at STEAMED!

If you haven't seen it already, Doctor Fantastique (from the zine Doctor Fantastique's Show of Wonders) and I are featured over at Suzanne Lazear's team blog, STEAMED! today.

Doctor Fantastique tells the story of how he came to head the Show of Wonders, and I struggle to keep the good Doctor on topic (which let me tell you is sometimes like attempting to store water in a sieve).

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Steampunk Character Type: The Mad Scientist/Quirky Inventor

Among my fascinations is the study of archetypes and stereotypes in fiction and life. Steampunk, for all the possibilities it provides, isn't immune to the creation of such character standards. In fact, one of the most prevalent Steampunk character types is the Mad Scientist or, if the scientist is a good character, what I've termed the "Quirky Inventor."

The distinction is important for several reasons: A Mad Scientist and a Quirky Inventor both create outlandish inventions that defy the laws of science, but the differences lay in how the invention is used. Where the Mad Scientist uses his inventions to gain power for himself or to prove someone wrong, the Quirky Inventor is more apt to use his science to help people or, in the more naive examples, believe that he's helping people.

A good example of a Quirky Inventor is Doctor Emmet Brown from the Back to the Future movies. His time machine was invented because he came up with the idea and wanted to see if he could make it work. The intentions behind the Delorian time machine were innocent -- building the device only -- but the end result of how it was used became the central conflict of the movies. Even at the end of Back to the Future, Part III, the steam-powered time train was created so Marty wouldn't worry about Doc and Clara.

By contrast, a standard Mad Scientist is someone like Doctor Moreau from H.G. Wells's The Island of Doctor Moreau. According to, one of my all-time favorite websites:
"The titular vivisectionist isn't as early as Frankenstein, but he played a major role in shaping the trope. He had Einstein Hair - decades before Einstein. He had the Mad Scientist Laboratory - his island (and he likely brought tropical island laboratories into vogue). Cast out from society, with only one assistant? Oh, yes. He did it all For Science but used extremely painful methods that would give any PETA representative nightmares. Turned on by his own creations? Of course. Several films adaptations even give him a beautiful daughter of his own creation. He also provided the beginnings of the Reluctant Mad Scientist - he never intended to get revenge on the other scientists who cast him out, and in his own mind he had noble purposes for his work; it's only his (possibly willful) ignorance of how torturous his methods are that makes him less than a sympathetic character."
For non-literary examples of the proper Mad Scientist, who is completely unrepentant and uncaring about who his science hurts, you don't have to look much farther than the Doctor Who series. Davros, who created the evil race of Daleks, is the prime example of the maniacally evil Mad Scientist who uses his brain power to further his own twisted goals.

Steampunk is rife with Mad Scientists. There's Doctor Cornelius Hyde in Arthur Slade's The Hunchback Assignments, Professor Minnericht in Cherie Priest's Boneshaker, the Hypocras Club/Order of the Brass Octopus* from Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, and John Scared in S.M. Peters's Whitechapel Gods to name a few. Wacked-out inventions that run on steam power or clockwork mechanics, strange uses of biology to develop new creatures, genetic anomalies made even weirder in the gaslight. Steampunk is very much the playplace of the mad scientist.

Take these madmen of science though, and give them a heart. Give them remorse and an aim to better the situation of their fellow man. Then you have a Quirky Inventor. He may have the same insane devotion to SCIENCE that the Mad Scientist does, but the difference is that the Quirky Inventor has a morality that essentially forces him to follow some variation on the Hippocratic Oath. Distilled down to its essence, the Quirky Inventor is a Mad Scientist who uses his brilliance for good and not for evil.

What other examples of Quirky Inventors or Mad Scientists do you know of in fiction or in real life?

NOTE: I avoided talking about Victor Frankenstein, the eponymous doctor of Mary Shelley's seminal novel, because he's an unique case in fiction -- many Mad Scientists don't reject their original aims like he did, which is the point of that story.

* Gail Carriger gave me the correct name of her Mad Scientist group on Twitter earlier this evening. Hence you see the correction.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Explaining Steampunk: A Practical Guide

If you're a fan of Steampunk, you will be asked what it is.

How do I know this? Because it's happened to me more times than I can count. People find out that I write Steampunk, either through me telling them or something they've seen on Twitter or on an online profile of mine, and they send me a Tweet or an email or comment on my blog to ask for clarification.

Of course, the issue I then run into is how to go about explaining Steampunk to someone who might not be very well-versed in science fiction topics. For those people who are fans of science fiction, I can generally relate it to something they already know a lot about -- my personal favorite is to say "Take cyberpunk and make it steam-powered." Granted, that's not the most exact definition but it more or less gets the point across.

My difficulties in explaining Steampunk to people then sparked an idea: "Other people must have similar problems in describing the genre to the uninitiated. Perhaps I could write something that would make it easier!"

So, without further ado, I submit for your approval "Messer Delman's Step-by-Step Guide to Explaining Steampunk."
  1. Determine how much science fiction knowledge the person has.
    1. Have they read a lot of science-fiction stories?
    2. Do they watch the SyFy channel on occasion?
    3. Do they get Star Wars and Star Trek confused?
  2. What type of person are they?
    1. Movie buff? (Go to number 3)
    2. Read a lot? (Go to number 4)
    3. Play a lot of video games? (Go to number 5)
    4. Watch a lot of anime? (Go to number 6)
    5. Watch a lot of science fiction TV shows? (Go to number 7)
    6. Read a lot of webcomics or graphic novels? (Go to number 8
  3. Movie buff: Have they seen any of the following movies? 
    1. Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1954 Disney version)
    2. Back to the Future Part III
    3. Wild Wild West
    4. Atlantis: The Lost Empire
    5. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
    6. Anything on this list?
  4. Reads a lot: Have they read any of the novels that are examples of the genre?
    1. Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
    2. The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyl and Mister Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
    3. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
    4. Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock
    5. Steamed by Kate McAllister
    6. Soulless by Gail Carriger
    7. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
    8. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
    9. Anything on this list?
  5. Gamer: Have they played any of the following?
    1. The Final Fantasy series -- specifically Final Fantasy VI
    2. Wild ARMs
    3. Skies of Arcadia
    4. Steel Empire
    5. Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magic Obscura
    6. Anything else on this list?
  6.  Anime watcher: Have they seen any of the following anime?
    1. Full Metal Alchemist
    2. Steamboy
    3. Last Exile
    4. Robot Carnival
    5. Steam Detectives
    6. Anything mentioned on Adam Heine's guest post a few weeks ago?
  7. TV viewer: Have they seen any of these television shows?
    1. The Adventures of Brisco County Junior
    2. Voyagers!
    3. The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne
    4. The Wild Wild West (1965 TV series)
    5. Anything else on this list?
  8. Webcomic/Graphic novel reader: Have they read any of these webcomics or graphic novels?
    1. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
    2. Girl Genius
    3. Iron West
    4. Steampunk
    5. Virtuoso
I can hear your next question: But Matt, what if they don't read/watch/play anything on your list?

In the case that the person you're explaining Steampunk to doesn't fall into any of my above categories, then here's a simple definition to get your point across without going into too much detail: Imagine a world where computers run on clockwork and cars are powered by steam. That's what Steampunk is.

My other favorite definition, and the one I told my Twitter-friend Alex Keller when asked for help defining Steampunk (his first novel, Haywired, is soon to be published in Britain -- all my friends across the pond ought to run out and buy it post-haste), is thus: Steampunk is 19th-Century science fiction written by 20th and 21st century authors who have the benefit of hindsight.

Both of those definitions, though serviceable, are also lacking in specifics. But specifics aren't what you want when you're explaining Steampunk to someone new to the genre. Otherwise you run the risk of overwhelming them and turning off their interest, which we very much don't want to do.

So that's my guide to explaining Steampunk. Are there any other ways you've had success in defining this genre we're all fans of?