Friday, May 28, 2010

The Religious Society of Friends

The Religious Society of Friends, commonly called the Quakers, are a religious sect of Christendom founded in England by George Fox in the mid 17th Century. Some modern groups of Quakers object to the word "Religious" in the title, and so the name is rendered simply "The Society of Friends."

The Quakers believe in a concept of "inward light." Fox was of the belief that everyone could feel the presence of God without intervention from a preacher. Among key Quaker beliefs now are (from the BBC):

  • God is love
  • the light of God is in every single person
  • a person who lets their life be guided by that light will achieve a full relationship with God
  • everyone can have a direct, personal relationship with God without involving a priest or minister
  • redemption and the Kingdom of Heaven are to be experienced now, in this world
In regards to their name, the official moniker is "The Society of Friends" or "The Religious Society of Friends." The name "Quaker" came about when George Fox was dragged into court on a charge of blasphemy. According to Wikipedia: "... Fox's journal, (Judge) Bennet 'called us Quakers because we bid them tremble at the word of God.'"

The Quakers played a significant role in United States and British history from their founding on. William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania (which, literally translated, means "Penn's Woods"), was a Quaker who founded the colony to give his brethren freedom of worship.

Because Quakers value equality of all humanity, they are strong proponents of human rights even today. During the 19th Century, they were prominent abolitionists, and in later years would become ardent pacifists as well. Their membership actually shrank until about 1860, when the practice of disowning Friends who married non-Friends ended. on Faith and Practice:
Unlike other Christians, Quakers do not have a creed, but they answer in quarterly meetings a set of Queries concerning their faith and practice. (Five editions of the Friends' Book of Discipline record the changes made during the Victorian period.) Queries of particular relevance to Victorian Quakers included those regarding opposition to paying church rates, bearing arms, smuggling, and slavery. Though John Bright resigned his cabinet post in 1882 in protest of the British attack on Alexandria (having opposed British policy in the Crimea three decades earlier), the peace testimony associated with twentieth-century Friends was not a prominent cause for Victorian Quakers.
Elizabeth Gurney Fry was by far the most famous British Quaker of the Victorian period. An interesting point of reference though, is that she actually stopped much of her philanthropic and charity work soon after Victoria ascended the throne in 1837. From the time Fry first visited the women prisoners of Newgate in 1813, to her death in 1845, she gained an international celebrity for her widespread charitable works. To the Victorians, she was an icon of philanthropic work and the later evangelism that swept the Quakers altered this only slightly.

Today, nearly four centuries after the religion's founding, there are 280,000 Quakers around the world. They're still prominent in human rights causes, extending to civil rights for any and all marginalized groups depending on their particular version of Quakerism. And there are different versions -- it's not nearly as stark as other Christian denominations (some Quakers may not consider themselves Christians except in a historical sense), but there are differences.

NOTE: If there are any Quakers reading this, please feel free to correct any incorrect assumptions I've made. I'm merely an interested outsider, and I want to give you folks the best treatment I can.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Who Wants to Enter a Contest?

We interrupt your regularly-scheduled blog post to bring you the following message:

Her Highness the Missus (HHTM) and I were lounging about the house on Sunday watching movies. I forget the exact circumstances, but I ended up referencing this faux diary entry from the Firefly episode Safe:
"(mock reading Simon's journal) Dear I was pompous and my sister was crazy." (flips page) "Today, we were kidnapped by hill folk never to be seen again. It was the best day ever." -- Jayne Cobb
We started crafting fake diary entries as a result. Hers were funnier than mine, of course, and if you've ever met HHTM and experienced her rapier-like Irish wit then you understand why that's a foregone conclusion. At the end of about three or four of these, HHTM says "This would make a good contest for your blog."

Therefore, I am officially announcing the first Free the Princess Fake Diary Entry Contest!

Here's the rules:
  1. Your diary entry must be three to four sentences long. 
  2. You are allowed as many entries as you can come up with.
  3. It doesn't have to be funny; if you can come up with a poignant entry in four sentences, then feel free to submit.
  4. You can write it from the perspective of any FICTIONAL character you choose. (If you write historical fiction then you're excused from this rule -- contact me otherwise if you want to write it from the viewpoint of a historical person)
  5. It must be posted in the comments of this post no later than 12 am U.S. Eastern Time on Tuesday, June 29, 2010.
The entries will be judged by none other than HHTM herself, since it was my lovely lady wife's idea in the first place. She is a hard one to impress, folks, so you'd better be in top form if you want to win this. 

Winners will be announced on Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Now, you might be asking yourself what it is precisely that you win. Truth be told, I've yet to figure that out, but I will confer with HHTM on what the prize pack should include. I'm thinking something along the lines of a partial manuscript critique (I'm neither published nor an agent, but everyone who's been edited by me has raved about the detail of my crits, so maybe that's a good prize to offer). 

Now, a note for all my readers in the Southeast -- I will be presenting at the Upstate Steampunk convention in Greenville, S.C. on Saturday, November 20, 2010 about my Roots of Steampunk blog series. If you're local-ish to South Carolina, and interested in hearing me blather on, go register at 

EDIT: Rules 2 and 3 were added because questions were asked.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Cockney Rhyming Slang

No one's quite sure when Cockney rhyming slang first came about. Some date it from the 17th Century, whereas others track it to Sir Robert Peel's 1829 Act of Parliament that crafted the modern police service (Sir Robert Peel is why one British slang term for police officer is "bobbie"). The theory goes that criminals created the slang to hide what they were doing from the peelers ("bobbies"). However, the problem with that is most of the early police force was recruited from the same streets the criminals were active in, so they would've grown up speaking the slang anyway.

John Camden Hotten's 1859 book A Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant and Vulgar Words tracks the origins of the rhyming slang to between 1844 and 1847, via research he did in Seven Dials -- a particularly notorious rookery (slum) so named because of a seven-faced sun dial at the meeting point of seven streets. The founders of the slang were two classes of street trader known as chaunters and patterers

Patterers were hucksters selling what Hotten called gewgaws and trinkets, penny gold rings, pennyworths of grease-remover, polish, blacking, plating powder and a paste which when spread on shaving strops sharpened razors till you cut through a broom handle with them and still split a hair.

Chaunters were also called paper workers or running stationers because they sold — and sang — ballads on penny broadsheets. Within two or three days of a gruesome railway or colliery accident, a hanging or a suicide, the hustlers would be there with their True and Faithful Accounts. It was gallows literature, with dreadful confessions of murderers and death bed speeches. "They converse in rhyme and talk poetry," Hotten said, but added their lives are lived far from Arcady. But they also suggest the reason why rhyming slang may have been more closely associated with the Dials than elsewhere, since it was home to the publishers of the ballads they hawked throughout England. Interestingly both chaunters and patterers were already using the newly invented railways: money was sent via the Post Office, and new ballads and gewgaws were despatched by rail.
In later eras, costermongers would make use of rhyming slang more than any class of people in England. But perhaps most interesting is that rhyming slang isn't Cockney in origin at all. "Cockney" as my British friends are welcome to correct me (I'm looking at you, fairyhedgehog) refers to someone born in the sound Bow Bells near the Church of St. Mary le Bow in the Cheapside section of London. The Dials, on the other hand, was located just outside Westminster.

So what does one need to do in order to speak in rhyming slang? Well, the key thing here is to use a second word in the two-word phrase that rhymes with the word you want to use. For example: "sugar and honey" was Victorian-era rhyming slang for "money." Sometimes only the first word of a phrase would be used -- so saying "sugar" meant money. "Give me some sugar, baby" from the Evil Dead movies takes on a whole new meaning doesn't it?

Similarly, "weeping willow" used to stand for Pillow, the slang for Cake used to be "shiver and shake," and Girl used to be "twist and twirl." Usually, according to the VictorianWeb writer, the rhyming second word is dropped and only the first word is used. "Titfer" means hat (from "tit for tat") and a Suit is a "whistle" ("whistle and flute"). There's some examples where a two-word phrase is retained though, such as in the case of "tea-leaf" meaning Thief.

The key thing to remember here is that rhyming slang is a living language. Words that are part of the slang now weren't necessarily part of the vocabulary in Victorian London. One example is "dog and bone" -- the slang word for "phone." Since the Victorians didn't know about the phone until Alexander Graham Bell invented it, the slang word for the device came much later.

If you decide to use rhyming slang in your story, then, take care to follow the one and only rule: make the second word rhyme with what you want to say. And that's really all you need.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

With the amount of times I've referenced Boneshaker (2009) by Cherie Priest on here you'd have thought I'd do a post devoted to the novel by now. Yeah, been meaning to save it for Gear Bits and Clockwork, but that was also because I'd intended to finish it a month ago. Other work got in the way, though. You all know how it goes. Anyway, enough of my rambling* and on to the book itself.

Boneshaker is Priest's seventh novel, but her first offering in the Steampunk category. Her previous novels are the Southern Gothic stories of Eden Moore (first novel is Four and Twenty Blackbirds), the rural fantasy Fathom, and the post-Civil War Gothic tale Dreadful Skin. Boneshaker was described by Scott Westerfield as "A steampunk zombie-airship adventure of rollicking pace and sweeping proportions," and I'm inclined to agree.

Some background on the world of Boneshaker. It's 1880, and the Civil War has lagged on for 18 years. Thirty years prior, gold was discovered in the Klondike (something Priest admits she advanced by a few decades -- historically the Klondike Gold Rush didn't occur until 1896), and the Russians who owned the area at that time wanted to figure out a way to drill through the ice quickly and easily.

In 1860, the Russians announced a contest -- 100,000 rubles to whoever could come up with a machine that could mine through ice in search of gold. Enter Leviticus Blue, a Seattle inventor, and his Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine (the Boneshaker of the title). Blue convinced the Russians to advance him a huge sum of money to craft the machine, and on January 2, 1863 the engine burst from the basement of the Blue home on Denny Hill and tore through the earth beneath downtown Seattle. The end results of this carnage was the destruction of several banks, and the release of a Blight gas that turned most people unlucky enough to breath it into rotters (Priest's version of zombies).

The action of the novel picks up seventeen years later, well after the wall went up that closed off the Blighted blocks from the rest of Seattle. We meet three characters to start -- Briar Wilkes, widow of Leviticus Blue; Zeke Wilkes, their son; and Hale Quarter, a historian who's writing about Briar's father Maynard and the history of the Boneshaker and Seattle's destruction.

Zeke enters the Blighted blocks under the false (according to Briar) impression that he can redeem the memories of both his father and grandfather. What he doesn't know is that the city inside the wall is chock-full of thieves, criminal overlords, scoundrels, undead, and a whole host of others who are only looking out for themselves. Briar discovers his design and is forced to enter the Blighted area herself to bring him out.

Suffice to say, Boneshaker includes pretty much every element I talked about through the entire Roots of Steampunk series. We've got the Gothic/Urban Gothic story involved through an unclear delineation between good and evil (Zeke is the only truly innocent one in the story; at least from Briar's perspective), the Detective story via Zeke trying to uncover history, the Wellsian Scientific Romance from the high steam technology, the Blighted blocks are a clear Dystopia, and the entire novel is an Alternate History.

This is classic Steampunk style done very, very well, folks. I've yet to finish reading the book, honestly, but I'm completely engrossed in wrapping it up. I mean come on: zombies, a mad scientist (Dr. Minnericht), criminals as heroes, and an entire city with dangers hidden by the Blight gas fog? How can I not love every second of it?

Suffice to say, you need to go read Boneshaker. And also pick up Clementine, which is going to be released on May 31. You know you won't regret it.

*Oh wait, that's what this entire blog is, isn't it?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What's My Motivation?

I've probably mentioned character motivations in a prior post numerous times, but in skimming my past musings on writing I've yet to come across a single post talking primarily about determining what motivates your character. Now, Nelsa Roberto is quite possibly the queen of determining motivation, but I'm willing to offer my humble thoughts on the topic if you fine folks are willing to read it.

One of the documents I crafted awhile back during my pre-planning for the Scene Development document was a sheet detailing the goals of each of my primary or secondary characters. This ended up being roughly six pages of profile work, but it helped me figure out what my heroine wants, why my villain wants to stop her, and what the goals of their individual allies are -- sometimes the goals of their allies were in line with those of the heroine or villain, and sometimes the goals were wildly different.

Why is figuring this out ahead of time a good thing? For two reasons really: first off, you get a deeper sense of who the character is. Second, you understand why the story happens the way it does. In CALLARION AT NIGHT, Moriah's motivation is the promise she makes to her father that she will find her mother's diary. By contrast, the villain (Lucian Rombard) is motivated by his desire to destroy the diary because he's convinced it contains information that will disrupt his plans to eliminate the half-breeds from the kingdom.

Rombard's original motivation for wanting the diary was because he thought it contained proof of something he'd already done. They I realized: "Wait a minute. He could just say the diary was a lie and kill Moriah. Why would he care?" So his motivation changed to something that makes more sense in the context of propelling the story forward.

My secondary characters important enough to appear multiple times also get the same treatment. In some cases, this involves half a page of text describing who they are and why they want what they want. This adds flavor to the world of the story, and allows me to occasionally place the goals in opposition to each other. In the case of Dmitry Radimov, a former commander in Naval Intelligence, this means his goal of revenge on the man who murdered his wife may get in Moriah's way of finding the diary. Why? Because the man who killed Dmitry's wife may be in possession of a clue.

Not all motivations are created equal, however. I've read a lot of fantasy stories where the motivation of the main character is nothing more than "it's the right thing to do." While this can work, on occasion, I've found that many times such a general motivation tends to not hold up under examination. It's fine in such seminal novels as Lord of the Rings though, because Frodo isn't the cliche fantasy hero. He's a hobbit with no battle skills whatsoever, no experiences outside the Shire, and is completely ignorant of most of the dangers he'll face on the way to his goal. And yet, knowing all this, he decides to hike across the world to destroy a ring that could end his way of life. Why? Because it's the right thing to do.

A super-heroine like Moriah (Gary Corby called her that one day, which made me realize that she kind of is a super-heroine), however, can't do something because "it's the right thing to do." The motivation doesn't hold the same weight because she's too close to a stereotypical fantasy hero. That's why it has to be something more mundane and personal motivating her rather than the greater good of the kingdom. Besides that, her personality wouldn't mesh very well with an altruistic motivation when the story opens. She's got too much hurt and anger threading through her actions.

What about your characters? What motivates them?

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Pneumatic Post of Paris

During the latter half of the 1800s, the electric telegraph revolutionized communication across Europe and the United States. The telegraph held particular importance in the financial world, where communications from the stock exchange sent across the wires could make or break an investor. However, there was still a delay for the information to get from the telegraph office to the stock exchange itself.

This potential money-losing delay prompted J. Latimer Clark's 1853 installation of a 220-yard pneumatic tube between the London Stock Exchange in Threadneedle Street and the Electric Telegraph Company's Central Station in Lothbury. By 1866, there were similar installations in Berlin and Paris. Numerous other major cities followed in their footsteps, and soon the pneumatic tubes carried individual letters and letters in bulk in addition to telegrams.

Carrying letters in bulk required larger tubes than single letters or telegrams did, and sometimes you'd see pneumatic tubes at a width of 3 inches in order to carry bulk letters. The tubes themselves worked via a pressure differential -- pressure dropped in front of the pneumatic canister, which propelled it along the tube at speeds approaching 25 miles per hour. The letters and telegrams were (and still are) always creased when they arrive, as they have to be rolled to fit in a tube.

The Parisian network, which is the subject of this post, had its first tube line put into place in 1866, between the telegraph offices at the Grand Hotel and the place de la Bourse. In 1867, this was extended into a one-way hexagon between the telegraph offices of place de la Bourse, rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, rue de Rivoli, rue des Saints-Peres, the Central Telegraph Office (rue de Grenelle), rue Boissy d'Anglas, and back to Grand Hotel.

A map of the Parisian network of pneumatic tubes from 1971..

During the decade between 1867 and 1877, a two-day tube was laid between Central and Bourse and several additional polygonal systems were hooked into the system. The system was opened to the public in 1879, and by 1881 it was decided to connect the whole of Paris to the network. The tubes that ran through the Paris sewers mainly consisted of 65-mm diameter tubing, but from 1888 on, there were more 80-mm tubes put in. The one-way tubes within the system were also swiftly replaced with two-way tubes. As of 1974, about one-third of the pneumatic post system used the larger-diameter tubes.

Sadly, the Parisian network of pneumatic tubes -- the Poste Pneumatique -- was only in operation until 1984. At its height in 1953, the network spanned 450 kilometers underground and carried 11 million pieces of mail per year. 

Imagine seeing this system at its height. This huge system of pneumatic tubes zipping mail to and fro around a massive metropolis while the telegraph clicks away in the next office over. The frenetic activity as your Steampunk hero goes into the pneumatic post office to send a telegram zooming to the halls of power. Kind of cool isn't it? 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Ettiquette for the Ball Room

One of the primary things to understand about the Victorian period is that manners and courtesy were a very big deal for those at the higher levels of society. You simply had to know how to act in public, or you were an unmannered, classless hooligan who would be snubbed by anyone who was anyone.

In 1880, Lucien O. Carpenter released the Universal Dancing Master, which includes a section on ettiquete for the dance floor as well as on the street. Some choice selections from

  • A lady or gentleman should finish their toilet before entering the room for dancing, as it is indecorous in either to be drawing on their gloves, or brushing their hair. Finish your toilet in the dressing rooms.
  • Always recognize the lady or gentleman, or the director of ceremonies with becoming politeness: a salute or bow is sufficient.
  • A lady should always have an easy, becoming and graceful movement while engaged in a quadrille or promenade. It is more pleasing to the gentleman.
  • A lady should never engage herself for more than the following set, unless by the consent of the gentleman who accompanies her. It is very impolite and insulting in either lady or gentleman while dancing in quadrille, to mar the pleasure of others by galloping around or inside the next set.
  • If a gentleman, without proper introduction, should ask a lady with whom he is not acquainted to dance or promenade, the lady should positively refuse.
  • Recollect, the desire of imparting pleasure, especially to the ladies, is one of the essential qualifications of a gentleman.
  • Ladies should not be too hasty in filling their program on their entrance to the ball room, as they may have cause for regret should a friend happen to enter.
  • An introduction in a public ball room must be understood by the gentleman to be for that evening only, after which the acquaintanceship ceases, unless the lady chooses to recognize it at any further time or place.
  • A lady should not attend a public ball without an escort, nor should she promenade the ball room alone; in fact, no lady should be left unattended. 
 I found an image file of the book itself on the Library of Congress's website, and the entire bit about etiquette notes takes up a good three pages before you get to the actual dance steps. However, if you want to understand anything about the Victorian Era in Britain, understand that propriety ruled pretty much everything. If a gentleman didn't tip his hat to a lady on the street he could potentially be shunned in society. It would be seen as very rude, and that man would probably not get an invitation to the ball that said lady's family was planning.

If you want a Steampunk example of just how much manners mattered in Victorian England, then read the inestimable Gail Carriger's Soulless and Changeless or George Mann's The Affinity Bridge. Carriger and Mann both whack the nail squarely on the head (hit the ball out of the park, oil the proper cogs, etc) in their descriptions of Victorian manners. The long lists of manners extant from this period is also why the Comedy of Manners genre exists. There are so many rules for social interaction that if someone is following two different sets of rules, then one is almost certainly going to slip up (I have no idea why I used the word "one" there).

Reading up on this has made me wonder -- how much has what qualifies as "good manners" changed from the Victorian period to today? Or is there really any change in what's considered polite, except for the situations being altered?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Affinity Bridge by George Mann

The Affinity Bridge by George Mann can easily be called a blend of Urban Gothic, Detective Fiction, and Scientific Romance into the milieu that becomes Steampunk. Mann, who is the head of a major British SF/Fantasy publishing imprint, takes tropes from each of the three aforementioned genres, and has a grand old time twisting them into one mystery after another.

Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes, his brilliant assistant, are charged with the tracking down of an escaped automaton, the investigation of a series of strangulations attributed to a glowing policeman, and oh yes, the plague of revenants ravaging London's slums.

Newbury himself is a detective in the vein of Sherlock Holmes -- brilliant, logical, fascinated by the new steam technology spreading around England, and slightly addicted to drugs. Of course, the Holmes enthusiasts among us will correct me that Holmes wasn't actually addicted. He merely experimented.

The story itself is in 1901 London, with airships and other steam-powered and mechanical innovations spreading quickly around the nation. Queen Victoria is kept alive by a rudimentary life support device of bellows and mechanical workings, and is still very much in the thick of the action. Newbury acts on her orders and hers alone -- as an agent of the Crown he goes where the Empire wills him to go. And Hobbes follows behind him, partially to help, but also to make sure Newbury remains a loyal servant.

The "affinity bridge" of the title is a link that allows for transference of a human consciousness from a living person into one of the story's ubiquitous automatons. Newbury and Hobbes uncover the secret behind this act in a factory belonging to some automaton makers, who are also connected to the plague revenants (zombies). We have Urban Gothic from the fog of the slums and the "hidden city" therein, the Detective Fiction piece from Newbury and Hobbes' investigations, and the Scientific Romance from the dark use of technology in the form of the affinity bridge.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this novel is that it ends up being very Victorian in language and grammar. It's a fascinating choice for Mann to make, and one that actually ends up working quite well when you get into the swing of the novel. Mystery, action, science, and a breakneck pace ... what more could you want?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Archives

I'm at the Archives today, folks!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Process of Developing a Writing Process

Awhile back, six rather talented authors did a blog chain to discuss their writing process. It was interesting, to say the least, to see the differences in the way Tawna Fenske, Sean Ferrell, Cynthia Reese, Kiersten White, Linda Grimes, and Nelsa Roberto all formulate their novels. Upon reading all of them, I found my own (current) process aligns more closely with Cynthia's than anything. She's a heavy outliner, and my Scene Development document kind of smacks of an outline without actually being an outline. Well, that and my propensity for research is so well-known around the Interwebs that certain people take advantage of me being able to find information quicker than a dog with its tail on fire runs to the well (I have no idea where that metaphor came from).

Anyway, reading that blog chain got me thinking about how my writing process actually developed. The answer? Rather haphazardly.

My history as a writer can be traced back to age 9, when I wrote my first (horrible) short story in a short-story series that never went anywhere. This would be the same short story series idea that stuck with me throughout high school (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but with Druids!), and I might turn it into a novel when I get a chance. After all, if the concept's stuck with me for this many years it's got to have the germ of something good there, right? (I haven't written anything with that MC for nearly a decade and I still remember her character history and the plot of her major story).

I started off as a hardcore pantser. I eschewed planning in any way, shape, or form in favor of just writing and seeing where the story took me. As time went on, and I started moving more into fantasy worlds, I discovered that I needed to do some research to figure out the things that I didn't know. The story that would eventually become SON OF MAGIC started off as one of those pantser tales where I made it all up as I went. But, as I got deeper into the story and started to write completed drafts of subsequent versions (I think there's a total of 7 different versions stuffed in a box somewhere), I realized there was no way I could possibly remember all the character arcs or plot points I needed to in order to keep myself consistent throughout the entire story.

So I started planning a little bit at a time. Notes here, an outline there. Until finally, last year, I read Susan R. Mills's series on Donald Maass's The Fire In Fiction. I also purchased his book, Writing the Breakout Novel, and discovered upon devouring both that "wait a minute, planning the thing out ahead of time makes so much more sense!" Of course, we've established previously that I like to think of things in a semi-logical manner. I say semi-logical because it makes sense in my head but generally doesn't do so when I explain it to other people ('course that could just be because I'm weird, but whatever).

Long post short (too late, I know), the development of a writing process or anything approaching one doesn't happen overnight. I don't write the same way now that I did when I was 15, or even the same way I did when I was 20. Of course the standards of my writing and the quality of it have improved through constant usage, but the process itself -- the background that allows the words to flow -- has also grown and evolved into something approaching what I can actually call a process. And I'll echo the talented authors linked to at the top of this post -- my process is not your process. What works for you, works for you.

But I am curious, dear readers, what stages did you go through before you found your process groove?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Steampunk Optics

This morning, upon skimming back on my previous posts about Steampunk tech and Steampunk in general, I realized that I hadn't yet touched upon the science of optics. Now, this is a fascinating topic (I say that about everything though, so take it with a grain of salt), because the science of optics itself traces its way 23 centuries ago to the third century B.C. and the ancient Greeks. Our old friend Hero of Alexandria is mentioned in the extant literature on the topic, as is Euclid (who you may remember from geometry class). Both of these men composed major works on the nature of light and reflection, which set the stage for later innovations into lenses for sight correction and telescopes.

Euclid theorized (wrongly) that sight worked by beams shooting from your eyes to the object itself. He also noted that light travels in straight lines and described the laws of reflection. Hero used a geometric method to prove that the path a ray of light reflected from a plane mirror takes is shorter than any other reflected path that might possibly be drawn between the reflected object and the point of observation. A circa 140 AD text attributed to Cladius Ptolemy also included a study on refraction.

It wasn't until 965 AD, and the work of Ibn-al-Haitham (sometimes called Alhazen in extant literature) that we see the beginnings of optics as we know it today. Alhazen worked with spherical and parabolic mirrors in his experiments, and was aware of a concept called spherical aberration (a point of light looks different on the outer edge of a spherical lens as opposed to the inner edge).

The 13th century saw the work of Robert Grossteste (a professor at Oxford) who theorized about the nature of light, his student Roger Bacon who worked with convex lenses to magnify objects, and Witelo's Perspectiva, which was destined to become the premier text on optics until the 17th century. 

Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, and Galileo Galilei -- the giants of optics -- all operated in the 1600s throughout Europe. In 1608, Hans Lippershey -- a Dutchman -- was the first one to build a working telescope. From here optics exploded with developments in knowledge of light and magnification all through the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries -- Kepler helped refine both the telescope and microscope, and from Newton's work on Optics, later scientists were able to discern a whole host of theories about light and the way it acts.

Well into the 19th Century, and still today, there are advances in telescopes and microscopes ongoing, which allows us to see farther into the distance of space and deeper into the microscopic realm.

So what does this mean for Steampunk? Glad you asked that question, dear reader (Yes I know you didn't ask. Work with me here).

It means that when it comes to magnifying instruments and the like, the sky is pretty much your limit. Gail Carriger has a device called "glassicals" in her Parasol Protectorate series, which amount to a set of glasses with lenses that flip down to allow ever-increasing levels of magnification. Because the science for all types of optical tech dealing with lenses existed (except for the fun electron microscope and varieties of other entertaining toys that allow you to see into people's bedrooms from halfway around the world), you have little to no historical fact stifling your creativity when it comes to magnification tools.

Case in point, Moriah at several points uses binoculars to spy on people. In a short story I finished writing last night, Dmitry (a side character in CaN) uses special goggles to see from a distance and protect his eyes. The moral of this lengthy post is basically that, when using optics, stay away from anything electric and you are good to go for a Steampunk extravaganza.

ADDENDUM: Here's a full timeline of developments in Optics.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Queen Victoria's Influence on the World

"Please understand that there is no one depressed in this house; we are not interested in the possibilities of defeat; they do not exist." -- Queen Victoria I of Great Britain

Queen Victoria I reigned for 70 years that were some of the most important in Western history. She ruled during the Industrial Revolution, and saw dozens if not hundreds of scientific innovations come into being. Forward-looking monarch that she was, Queen Victoria took an interest in many of the steam-powered advances that would shunt Europe and the United States into the modern age.

However, it's not her focus on science or the culture of innovation that existed in Great Britain where Queen Victoria's real influence lies. No, it's in her children with Prince Albert -- nine of them to be precise -- who married into some of the most powerful families in Europe and changed the course of world history forever.

Among her children:

Victoria Adelaide Mary, the Princess Royal, born November 21, 1840: The eldest of the nine, the Princess Royal also produced two monarchs herself. Her eight children with Frederick III of Germany included Kaiser Wilhelm II, German Emperor during World War I, and Sophie of Prussia, the Queen of Greece.

Albert Edward, King of England as Edward VII, born November 9, 1841 had six children with Princess Alexandra of Denmark, among them King George V, who reigned during World War I. He was also the uncle, by marriage, of Tsar Nicolas of Russia.

Alice Maud Mary, born April 25, 1843 married Louis IV, Grand Duke of Hesse, and among their seven children was Alexanda, the Tsarina of Russia.

Alfred Ernest Albert, Duke of Edinburgh and of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, born August 6, 1844 had five children with Marie Alexandrovna, Grand Duchess of Russia -- among them was Marie of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, who was Queen of Romania from 1914 to 1927.

Arthur William Patrick, born May 1, 1850: Among Arthur's daughters was Crown Princess Margaret of Connaught, who would eventually become Crown Princess of Sweden.

Beatrice Mary Victoria, born April 14, 1857: The youngest of the nine, Beatrice Mary wed Prince Henry of Battenberg, and had four children with him. One of these four was Victoria Eugenie (1887-1969), who was Queen of Spain from 1906 to 1931. The current king of Spain, Juan Carlos, is Victoria Eugenie's grandson.

Think about this -- Queen Victoria's children and grandchildren ruled Germany, Great Britain, Russia, Spain, and Romania when World War I broke out. Imagine, if you will, the sheer amount of letters that flew between Germany, Great Britain, and Russia during the run up to the hostilities in 1914. It's astonishing to consider that one family controlled much of the powerbase in Europe for more than 80 years.

If nothing else, think of the story possibilities this information presents. A family reunion among the royal houses of Romanov, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (now Windsor), Prussia, Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (Romania), and Bourbon (Spain) -- the great powers of Europe unified under one roof and talking like a traditional crazy family would. Or at least I think it's fascinating. But then this is me we're talking about, dear readers, and this shouldn't come as a surprise to you.

Oh! Next week is the first full week of my new scheduled posts. Watch this space on Monday for an examination of steam-powered or mechanical technology.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Warlord of the Air by Michael Moorcock

One of the earliest novels that can be considered Steampunk is its proper sense was Michael Moorcock's 1971 novel Warlord of the Air. The story is considered Alternate History, but has many of the same concepts that constantly appear in First-World Steampunk.

The conceit of the novel is that it was dictated by Oswald Bastable -- the main character -- to the true author's grandfather in 1903. What Warlord of the Air details is Bastable's adventures in an alternate version of 1973, where the First World War never happened and the great colonial powers never lost their empires. The story begins with Bastable's experiences in North East India in 1902 during an expedition to deal with Sharan Kang, a high priest at the temple of Teku Benga in a region of India that's supposed to be rife with magic and supernatural powers.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Bastable is shunted into an alternate version of 1973, where zeppelins rule the skies and the great empires of history dominate their spheres of influence still. Bastable at first marvels at the seeming utopias of Britain, Europe, Japan, and the United States, and the peace and tranquility that dominates the world for those great empires. However, he quickly discovers that the reason the world of the empires is so peaceful is through the colonial domination of other nations -- "the Indian starves so the Briton may feast" (94).

Bastable is horrified by the imperialist domination he witnesses, which eventually leads him to ally with a group of anarchists who are seeking to destroy the empires. In our own world, the First World War served to bankrupt Tsarist Russia and other old colonial powers, which allowed for many of the colonial possessions to gain their freedom. Since the alternate world of Warlord of the Air didn't experience the First World War with the (relatively) tame weapons of 1914-1918, the war that Bastable and his anarchist allies end up instigating between the empires is devastating. Bastable himself witnesses the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan by the anarchists and is overcome by his part in the deaths of millions of innocent people.

The atomic blast knocks Bastable free from the new world, and he wakes up in 1903 (but not his own 1903), where he meets the narrator of the framing story. By this point, Bastable is already addicted to opium to deal with his experiences and the sense of dislocation he has from being shunted between two alternate worlds. The novel ends with Bastable mysteriously disappearing; there's a "postscript" by Michael Moorcock detailing his "grandfather's" death on the Western Front in 1916.

Warlord of the Air deals a lot with the themes of colonialism and racism, and the theory that this is what could happen if the First World War didn't happen when it did. And yet, to not notice the political subtext of the story (and its commentary on colonialism) is to miss much of the point of the story. Mike Perschon (the Steampunk Scholar) brings up a very good point in his own (much better) post on this novel -- the story was written during the Vietnam War, and its choice of the eponymous Warlord's nationality may very well have much to do with the commentary Moorcock intended to make (the Warlord is Chinese).

Another point I agree with Mike on -- if this story is proto-Steampunk, there where has the political subtext and commentary gone in contemporary First-World Steampunk?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Busy Day

So yeah, unfortunately my brain's not focused too much on thinking up writerly-topics because of the insanity of work today.

But tomorrow's Secret Archives day, and I promise I'll post something there!

Monday, May 3, 2010

To Schedule or Not to Schedule

Yes, there's a purpose to my reference to Hamlet.

I've been focused on my Roots of Steampunk series for the past month and, while well-received, this means that my well of blog post ideas has somewhat dried up. Now, I have an inkling of a tingling of a thought about what's coming next, but I wanted to survey my dear readers before making a final decision.

So, my loyal readers, which would you prefer:

A schedule akin to Monday = Steam Tech, Tuesday = Writing Thoughts, Thursday = Steampunk Books, and Friday = Random Historical Nonsense/Fill-in-the-Blank? (Fill-in-the-Blank will include a survey of other Steampunkers on the Internet.)


Would you like me to start yet another month-long series, this time about pure Steampunk novels and not the antecedents of the subgenre like I've been doing?

Let me know in the comments!

ADDENDUM: Wednesday is my day at the Secret Archives, which is why it's not included in my schedule here.