Friday, July 30, 2010

Steampunk Linkapalooza

We're running another Steampunk Linkapalooza for all you fine folks on this, the last weekday of July.

Over at The Steampunk Tribune, Dr. Rafael Fabre reveals that Kaja and Phil Foglio, the brilliant Gaslamp Fantasists behind the Hugo-nominated webcomic Girl Genius have announced that the comic will be expanding into a number of different mediums. We're talking prose novels, audio books, Tor graphic novels, and even serialized overseas. This comic is probably my single favorite graphic-novel-type story in existence right now.

The Steampunk Scholar pulls a wrap-up of Canuck Steampunk Month complete with deep thoughts on Northerns (the Canadian version of Westerns), a revelation that he'll be doing a presentation on First Nations characters in a variety of Steampunk and Alternate History works at the Eaton Science Fiction conference in 2011. Is there any doubt why I say the Scholar (Mike Perschon) is smarter than me?

Nick Valentino, best known for his Steampunk book Thomas Riley, was interviewed over at the STEAMED! blog. Lolita Elizabeth took up the proverbial gauntlet, and quizzed the post-San Diego Comic Con Mister Valentino about his current book, the sequel, how and where he writes, and balancing both the writing time and the marketing time. The man himself also, earlier this month, announced the release of Dreams of Steam through Kerlak Publishing.

Boston-area Steampunks have Calista Taylor to thank for passing along notification of a Nemo’s Steampunk Art & Invention Gallery at Patriot's Place in Foxboro coming up on September 18, 2010. Admission is free for those folks who show up in Steampunk garb. Hmm ... I wonder if I can convince Her Highness the Missus to let me dress up. The event is presented by SteamPuffin and 5 Wits-Patriot Place.

And if you've been following my Tweets today, you'll already be aware of the rapid-fire fun Steampunk stuff that's going on, specifically that JJ Abrams is going to be making a movie based on the graphic novel Boilerplate, which is about a steam-powered robot created in the 19th Century that gets involved in all sorts of historical events.

News of a high-end Steampunked-out USB drive has taken the 'net by storm. Today's addition are stories about how much the drive is being sold for and the inspiration behind it. has a story about country band Sugarland's new Steampunk aesthetic on stage; they also derisively call Steampunk a form devoted to "creaky Victorian-era steam engine machinery." At left is a photo of Sugarland taken by Jennifer Tzar.

Now, I love love love Sugarland. But the assumption by Entertainment Weekly that Steampunk is something only nerds love is kind of insulting and narrowminded. But anyway, I digress.

One final event on the linkapalooza this week. If you're in the Minneapolis area between July 31 and August 29, stop into Stevens Square Park for The New Antiquarians, a mixed-media exhibition featuring work from fourteen different artists. Yes, this is Steampunk artwork there, folks. Oh, and if you happen to be in the Madison, Wisconsin area, could you also say hello the crew of the H.M.A. Badger for me?

Anything else I forgot to mention in the Steampunk awesomeness this week? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Certain Kind of Awesome

As you well know, I tend to avoid talking about my family on this blog. Seeing as my intent is to craft a Practical Literary Guide to Steampunk, I see no reason to mention my life outside of this area in this forum.

However, because I'm certain she'd get a kick out of it, I do feel the need to announce that today, July 28, is special because of a certain event that occurred today.

If you haven't guessed it by my oblique reference, let me spell it out for you -- today, July 28, is Her Highness the Missus's birthday.

Leave birthday messages in the comments, or send an e-card to that I'll then pass along to the birthday girl.

And happy birthday from me, my love. Thanks for nearly a year of happy married life.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

VIDEO: Guns, Germs, and Steel

Below is the first offering of the video series on Diamond's book Guns, Germs, and Steel that deals with why certain peoples advanced quicker than others. It's worth a look, if for no other reason that it's ridiculously fascinating.

Steampunk Technology and Culture: Why the Railways Developed

One of the things we forget, looking back at the proverbial march of history, is that many of the innovations we take for granted today were new and frightening at one time. The locomotive, the telegraph, the radio, electricity; the list goes on and on. And while I've spoken about two towering figures in the development of the railways in Britain (and by extension the rest of the world), it struck me recently that I didn't yet talk about the cultural impact of those very same railways.

"Hindsight is 20/20," as the old saying goes. Looking back at the early 1800s, when the first moves were being made toward steam locomotives and iron railways crisscrossing the countryside, we now can clearly see the economic and social benefit that steam locomotives provided. However, the people living in that time didn't have the benefit of knowing how much cheaper the locomotive would turn out to be, and how much of an improvement over canals and horse-drawn coaches this new technology actually was.

Consider how long the British people lived with the horse and the ship as the main modes of transportation. Horses had been used by the inhabitants of Britain since at least 1,000 BCE, and seaborne transit was almost a no-brained, given the nature of the landmass as an island. Most people knew horses and boats; they knew how to operate them and they knew what to expect from them. By the same token, very few people knew what to expect out of a steam locomotive. You'll recall the image I posted of Richard Trevithick's "puffer" that went along the railway at Penydarren -- no one had ever seen anything like it before that day in 1804.

People weren't certain that mobile steam engines were any better than horses right up until George Stephenson proved the point at Rainhill in 1829. Until that time, most of the railways in Britain were oak logs with a replaceable strip of beachwood nailed on top, set on iron sleepers. The horses walked on tracks of cinders in between the rails of the tramway. And this method worked for quite a few decades before the locomotives came around.

So what changed to make the railways suddenly a more viable option than horses pulling carts to a landing point at a canal, where the barges would float your goods down to market? Well, for starters, the Napoleonic Wars had something to do with it.

The Napoleonic Wars drove the price of horse feed through the proverbial roof. Gavin Weightman makes a stellar point in The Industrial Revolutionaries:
"It is a modern prejudice, it has been said, to imagine horses are a cheap form of power: in reality, the cost of 'running' them could rise of fall alarmingly with the price of hay and oats and the military demand for mounts. (119)"
Horses were expensive, and so too were the canals that crisscrossed the English countryside and carried goods to market. The canal companies were businesses as well, and had to charge exorbitant fees if they wanted to offer any dividends at all to their shareholders. Thus mine owners started to consider how they could transport their goods to market at the same or better speed than the canals, with a pricepoint much lower than the one they currently paid.

Even after Trevithick's success at Penydarren, and the dozen or so other collieries that slowly gained steam locomotives, most mine owners still weren't convinced that the machines were better that horses. Oh they accepted that there should be a cheaper way to transport their goods to market than using the canals, but it took George Stephenson's Rocket and his victory at Rainhill to truly prove that locomotives were better.

In 1831, the Liverpool-Manchester line that the Rocket was designed for carried, according to Weightman, "445,047 passengers, 43,070 tons of cotton and other merchandise and 11,285 tons of coal. (134)" Though the passenger total ended swinging back and forth like on a pendulum, the tonnage of merchandise carried by the Liverpool-Manchester line only increased.

By Queen Victoria's coronation in 1837, there were roughly 80 railway companies intent on adding track to the ever-growing rail network across Britain. In a single year, more than 1,000 miles of track were laid down across the English countryside. If any single innovation could be said to drive the Industrial Revolution, these dozens of miles of railway track laid down across England (and soon elsewhere in the world) could be pointed to fairly simply.

So why did the railways develop when they did, at the very base of it? Because of a combination of money, technical know-now, and the ability of financiers to see that this invention could make moving their product very, very easy indeed.

Steampunk Relevance

Much of early Steampunk deals with the culture effects of technology as well as the main story the author or authors wish to tell. Case in point is The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. The three interwoven stories in that narrative prove themselves as concerned with the effect technology has on the people of Britain as on the main story of discovering what the heck is going on with Ada Lovelace and the cards from the French computer. Michael Moorcock's Warlord of the Air does something similar, as he imagines differences between our world and that of the one Oswald Bastable falls into.

Technology and culture are inextricably tied together, as certain technologies only arise when the surrounding culture is ready for them and not before. A good example is this knowledge: the Romans knew how steam power worked. They had the technology to build a proper engine and set it crisscrossing the Imperial landscape. Why, you may ask, would they not do so and begin an Industrial Revolution in 102 A.D.?

The answer's simple: the technology didn't develop because the culture didn't need it to. Britain in the 19th Century needed the locomotive to develop. This is why that's where it came into being. The end result of all this is a simple question you need to ask yourself when developing a Steampunk world:

Would this technology happen in the culture I've created?

NOTE: An awesome book to read on the topic of why some countries became industrialized and others didn't is Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The East India Company

This is not intended to be a complete profile of all the East India Company's activities in India. People much smarter than me have written detailed books on the subject, so I see no reason to belabor the point here.

"The East India Company is, or rather was, an anomaly without a parallel in the history of the world. It originated from sub-scriptions, trifling in amount, of a few private individuals. It gradually became a commercial body with gigantic resources, and by the force of unforeseen circumstances assumed the form of a sovereign power, while those by whom its affairs were directed continued, in their individual capacities, to be without power or political influence." — Bentley's Miscellany 43 (1858)

On the very last day of 1600, a group of London businessmen put together the Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies, a business venture that would eventually become known colloquially as the English East India Company. This peculiar corporation would eventually become one of the governing powers of the world, controlling wide swaths of land that totaled a greater area than the whole of the United Kingdom prior to the Crown taking control in the 1800s. For nearly three hundred years, the East India Company was one of the premier trading corporations in silk, spices, cotton, and indigo from the Indian subcontinent.

The company enjoyed a monopoly until the latter part of the 1600s, when a rival company was formed and began trading in India. The two companies merged in 1708 to create the United Company of Merchants of England trading to the East Indies. The Company was challenged by foreign competitors in the form of the Dutch and the French. These challenges from foreign companies required the East India Company to form its own military and administrative departments, which in essence turned it from a business into an imperial power by itself.

The Company acquired Bengal in 1757, which expanded its territory, and for the next 16 years British policy in India was determined by meetings of the East India Company's shareholders. Parliament passed the Regulating Act of 1773, which reigned in the control the East India Company had over the Crown's colonies in East Asia, and eleven years later they signed the India Act into law.

The India Act of 1784, commonly called Pitt's India Bill, installed a Governor-General and a Board of Control that superseded the authority of the East India Company. This board operated as a collaborative effort between the Directors of the Company and the Crown, as represented by the Board of Control. Six directors sat on the board -- two from the Cabinet and four from the Privy Council.

In 1813, the Company's monopoly and all trading activities were officially halted with the Charter Act. It worked as the government's agency from 1834 until the 1857 India Mutiny. After the mutiny was put down, the Colonial Office took direct control of the Indian colonies. At last, in 1873, the East India Company disbanded.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Brief History of American Football

No, I'm not going all Anglophile on my readers with the specificity of the post title. I promise, really I do, that I'm not going to start using the word "football" to refer to what I've always called soccer. However, since my blog is read all over the world (I was kind of surprised when I found that out), I find that clarifying what I'm talking about never hurts.

The term "football" referred to a variety of games prior to the 19th century. Some of these, like soccer, were kicking games where you weren't allowed to touch the ball with your hands or run with it. Others were running games, where you were allowed to use your hands. Rugby was one of these running games, and what we Americans call soccer was one of the kicking games.

An apocryphal story of Rugby's origin states that in 1823, a player named William Webb Ellis, frustrated in the midst of a game of football being played at Rugby College, picked up the ball and ran with it. In the interest of enforcing the rules, the other players tackled him. The image I've included at right is a statue of William Webb Ellis located at the junction of Lawrence Sherrif Street and Dunchurch Road next to the Rugby school and across the street from the Webb Ellis museum (from

Some thus point to William Webb Ellis as the originator of the sport of Rugby, but seeing as there's no documented evidence of Webb Ellis ever performing that feat, the story has remained merely apocryphal. However, that hasn't stopped rugby aficionados from around the world hailing William Webb Ellis as the founder of the sport. Heck, the international committee that governs rugby named the rugby world cup title the "William Webb Ellis Trophy."

Why, you might be wondering, am I talking about rugby when this post is supposed to be about American football?

Well here's the problem -- American football as we know it today didn't properly exist until Walter Camp came around in the 1880s. Prior to that, elite Northeast colleges like Rutgers, Yale, and Harvard all played variations on either soccer or rugby ("kicking games" or "running games"). Rugby codified its rules in 1845, and cross the Atlantic to Canada, where it would eventually evolve into Canadian football. Canadian football had its own influence on American football, specifically through the Harvard-McGill game of 1874.

At that match, the Harvard players saw the squad from McGill University throwing the ball to each other during warmups. Harvard called a brief conference and they and McGill decided to play one running game and one kicking game. The Harvard team enjoyed the running game so much that they incorporated the system into their day-to-day playbook.

It's Harvard, in fact, that we have to thank for American football in its current form. Prior to the Harvard-McGill game of 1874, four prominent schools in the Northeast -- Columbia, Yale, Princeton, and Rutgers -- codified the first set of "football" rules in the United States. This game forbade running with the ball or touching the ball with your hands. That game became soccer.

Harvard didn't like this, or that the rules forbade aggressive physical contact on the field. The obstinacy of the Harvard Crimson led to first the game against McGill, and then the Harvard-Yale game of 1875, in which players were allowed to carry the ball. Those two games -- Harvard vs. McGill and Harvard vs. Yale -- set American football off and, well, running.

Even though interest in collegiate football spread across the Northeast and the rest of the United States, there was still a major problem. The rules changed from game to game, depending on the teams and what they agreed to. Some teams played with 15 men on the field, while others put 11 players on the field. This variation in rules across all the various teams lead to the founding of the Intercollegiate Football Association in 1876. The aim of the association was to codify the rules and make them consistent across all colleges with football teams.

Walter Camp (photo below from, a former Yale player, was in attendance at those meetings. Between 1880 and 1883, Camp introduced a laundry list of innovations as coach of the Yale football team. From
"Between 1880 and 1883 this coach of the Yale football team came up with several major adjustments to the game: an eleven player team, a smaller field, and the scrimmage –a player handing the ball backward to begin the play. An even more important alteration, if the offensive team failed to gain five yards after three downs they were forced to surrender the ball. Camp also established the norm of a seven-man line, a quarterback, two halfbacks, and a fullback. Thanks to Walter Camp, football as we know it finally took shape."
It's because of those innovations that Walter Camp is known as the Father of American Football. Without his influence, and that of Amos Alonzo Stagg, the Father of American Football coaching, we wouldn't now have the game we have today. Stagg himself also offered several innovations to the game.
"Stagg created a plethora of football firsts including the huddle, putting numbers on uniforms, the T formation, the punt formation and the end around. His is also credited with dreaming up famous “trick” plays like the hidden ball and the Statue of Liberty. Stagg invented several pieces of equipment still used in sports today including blocking sleds, tackling dummies and the batting cage for baseball." (
At last, on November 12, 1892, Yale All-American guard William Heffelinger became the first professional football player when a Pittsburgh football club paid him $500 to play against another team. Football clubs had sprouted all over the country by this time, and these clubs would eventually (through several intermediary steps) create the National Football League.

These weren't the last changes to occur to the game. The photo at right is of Knute Rockne (from in the common players' uniform of the early 20th Century. As you can see, there was very, very little in the way of protection. American Football has always been an aggressive sport, and dozens of men died on field between the 1890s and 1905, when President Teddy Roosevelt ordered the fledgling football associations extant at the time to either make the game safer or he would outlaw it.

New rules required seven men to be on the line of scrimmage, which ended a common play known as the Flying Wedge. In the years after Roosevelt's decree, more players also opted to wear protective pads and helmets, thus further reducing injuries.

In 1920, at last, 11 football clubs banded together to create the American Football Association. The group elected famed player Jim Thorpe as its president, and sold franchises for $100 to anyone who wanted one. Two years later, with 18 professional teams in existence, the AFA changed its named to the National Football League. And the rest, as the cliche goes, is history.

You may perhaps be asking what this has to do with Steampunk. One of the things I've noticed a lot in fiction is that writers tend to ignore certain aspects of culture; sport is chief among these. Granted, we can't always work sports into our novels like J.K. Rowling did with Quidditch in the Harry Potter books; however, there's nothing that says a writer can't have a character mention a sport in passing. Like, for example, overhearing a conversation in a bar. That could work very much in the writer's favor for adding flavor to the world.

And also: imagine how cool a Steampunk variant of American Football might be. Clockwork robots rushing downfield with the ball tucked in their mechanical arms while engineers control them from high above the stadium, the roar of the crowd staring through their far-seeing glasses to slow down the action. Oh the possibilities to play with this are endless.

Besides that, if you write a story set in Boston in 1875, it would behoove you to mention the Harvard-McGill game as something of a crowd pleaser (which it very much was). Those are just my thoughts, however. You are, as always, welcome to your own.

Monday, July 19, 2010

George Stephenson: Rocket Man of the Rainhill Trials

In 1829, with the Liverpool-Manchester Railway line nearing completion, the railway engineers settled on a contest to see what kind of steam engine -- stationary or locomotive -- would be best suited to traversing the recently completed rail line. To get the best contenders out on the field, the Railway Company charged with constructing the line settled on holding a contest. A sum of GBP500 was settled on as the prize, and the Railway Company was astounded to receive thousands of suggestions from around the globe.

Only 5 of these suggestions would eventually take the field, as every other potential competitor was eliminated due to the rigorous requirements of the trials themselves. This competition at Rainhill, roughly nine miles out from Liverpool, changed transportation as we know it today, and forever solidified that locomotives were the best form of motive power on the railways.

The competitors consisted of a machine that used horses on a sort of treadmill and four different kinds of locomotives (image at right). One of those locomotives was the Rocket, the creation of George Stephenson -- a former mine engineer that had spent the past 16 years working on all manner of steam engines. Stephenson had already gained fame as the designer of the Stockton-Darlington Railway line, which began operations in 1825.

It should come as no surprise then that George Stephenson's Rocket won the day at Rainhill. This victory over the horse-drawn machine and the other locomotives solidified Stephenson's prominence among the railway engineers; not to mention helped precipitate a veritable explosion in railways throughout England.

By the time Queen Victoria took the throne in 1837, there were 80 railway companies operating throughout the countryside. This railway boom resulted in 1,000 miles of track being laid in a single year. The first great Railway Boom was on.

Next week: Innovations that made the railways possible.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Steampunk Tattoos

My sincerest apologies for not keeping up with my scheduled posts this week. So far it's been a darn sight busier with my various other projects than I thought it would be.

In lieu of the two posts I've missed so far this week, I bring you this picture of Steampunk tattoos courtesy of Mr. Rick Daley:

Rick found them here:

Friday, July 9, 2010

Messr Delman's Aetheric Linkapalooza

I promised there'd be randomness afoot on Fridays with the new posting schedule. So today, instead of a post on a fun (or not so fun) historical event in my chosen era, I instead bring you random enjoyment from the Steampunk blogosphere and web.

First up is friend-of-the-blog Ay-leen the Peacemaker's interview with Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band from earlier this week. To those who don't know the story, Joshua A. Norton (1819 to 1880) declared himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico in 1857. He was a very interesting character to say the least, ignored as a non-danger by the U.S. government, incidentally.

Once again Mike Perschon (The Steampunk Scholar) offers a thoughtful critique of a Steampunk novel, this time in the form of Airborn by Kenneth Oppel. It's Canuck Steampunk Month over there and, seeing as Mike hails from Edmonton, there are few people better suited for it.

Over at Steamed!, Eden Bradley talks about creating an outfit for her pseudonym persona of Eve Berlin.

All my folks down in the Philadelphia have a new mission: Go to the Steampunk nights at Dorian's Parlor and tell me how cool it is. CultureMob has the continuing story. If that's not cool enough, then The Clockwork Dolls (cool Steampunk band) will be in attendance at this month's engagement.

A recent episode of SyFy's Warehouse 13 has H.G. Wells as a villain. Interesting concept that -- full story over at Movieline. Warehouse 13 doesn't play with its Steampunk possibilities near as much as I'd like, but it's still a fairly solid show.

The Traveler's Steampunk blog talks about a short Steampunk film by a Turkish film student.

The 2010 Steampunk Bizarre launches today in Hartford, Connecticut. According to The Steampunk Tribune, there will be a documentary team doing a work on Steampunk in attendance, as well as a performance by Veronique Chevalier.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Crazy Idea -- A Database for Writers

I was going to write my standard Steampunk Books post this week on The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia (it's awesomely surreal, you totally need to read it), but I got another one of my whack-job ideas instead and I wanted to run it past you all.

I've spent a whole mess of time over the past year filling Free the Princess with information I felt was useful in regards to writing, research methods, and various Steampunk and historically-aimed pieces. I know for a fact that there are similar writers' blogs out there who have edifying their readership as one of their blog aims (yes I'm looking at you Gary,  Stephanie, and Amalia); however, I see a problem with this. We're all basically working in our own little corners of the Internet, with no one place that a writer looking for information may be able to find it.

So my Crazy Idea (TM) is to create a sort of article database where anyone who wants to can search through a catalog of articles related to a whole mess of things. This can be original articles written for the database, or something linking to your blog from there. Whichever avenue you want -- it doesn't really matter to me.

This will eventually (I hope) spin off into sub-sites for different genres. Like historical fiction, mystery, commercial, etc. I plan to launch at least the Steampunk version underneath my Doctor Fantastique's Show of Wonders brand (oh, I haven't talked about my zine here yet? How silly of me. Go here for submission guidelines -- there's still slots open for Issue One and I'm actively hunting for writers to fill Issue Two).

Anyway, what you do think about my database idea? Like it? Hate it? Let me know!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Beginnings of Modern Japanese Culture

Saying the Japanese are industrious is like saying the sun sets in the west. In a recent post at Lit Soup, former agent Jenny Rappaport wrote about the reasons she'd miss Japan after her three-month sojourn there. Among them was: "The way that everyone really takes their jobs seriously. Even at a convenience store, they really want to do a good job. It goes beyond work ethic, I think."

In The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, Edward "Leviathan" Mallory is taken to a meeting with several Japanese men who demonstrate a tea-serving automaton developed in that nation, known as the Karakuri ningyō (a real device, by the way). The Japanese men then proclaim that Japan is the Britain of Asia, and will bring Industrialization to the East.

This isn't that tremendously far-fetched, truth be told, seeing as the Choshu Five (a group of Japanese men who illegally left Japan in 1863) spent their time at University College London learning how to construct innovations that would turn Japan into an industrial powerhouse. This of course started much later than the events of The Difference Engine, which takes place in 1855, as the Meiji Restoration didn't occur in Japan until 1868. The Choshu Five (image above right) would eventually become national heroes in their homeland, and the crash-course in industrialization they helped effect was so incredibly successful that Japan inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Russian Empire during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904.

Of course, the Choshu Five choosing to defy the Shogun and leave Japan wouldn't have meant a hill of proverbial beans if the Meiji Restoration hadn't happened. If one man can be said to have dragged Japan full-force into the Industrial Era -- then that man was most definitely Emperor Meiji (reign 1868 to 1912).

Emperor Meiji (pictured at left), unlike the Qing Dynasty in China, realized that he needed to change Japan if he wanted to remain an independent nation. He and his advisers sent Japanese scholars to Western nations to learn the mechanics and science of the Industrial Age. These men returned, and helped Meiji and the ruling elite effect sweeping changes through all strata of Japanese culture.

The Meiji Restoration could more truthfully be called a "revolution" because, while the Emperor did take back control from the Shogun, he didn't rule Japan directly. Instead, he was forced to accept the advice of a small coterie of men with revolutionary ideas that had done the real work in overthrowing the Shogun.

To give you a clearer picture: by the end of the Meiji period in 1912, Japan had (from a site hosted by Columbia University):
  • a highly centralized, bureaucratic government
  • a constitution establishing an elected parliament
  • a well-developed transport and communication system
  • a highly educated population free of feudal class restrictions
  • an established and rapidly growing industrial sector based on the latest technology
  • a powerful army and navy
The old han system of daimyos, bakufus, and other Tokugawa Shogunate institutions were swept into the past. Meiji and his crafted the first modern Prefectures, and solidified the allegiance of the daimyos by giving them state-approved governorships instead of lordships. The government took over the debts of the ruling elite, while still allowing them to keep their homes.

The old social classes of the Shogunate were declared null and void. Samurai no longer existed, and the daimyos lost all their power from 1871 on. Of course, this didn't sit too well with some members of the old system, and within a decade (when the leaders of the Meiji Restoration left to study the Western powers) there were rumblings from conservative quarters that there should be a good old-fashioned invasion of Korea. Luckily the Meiji Restoration leaders returned and quickly put a stop to that.

Meiji and his government honored preexisting treaties with the Western powers. Rather than try to fight them, and prevent an influx of new technologies, Meiji and his ruling elites welcomed the new science and technology will open arms. The Emperor realized that the only way to re-negotiate the unequal treaties that the Western Industrialized nations had inflicted on Japan was to turn the Land of the Rising Sun into a veritable powerhouse of industry and advancement.

Meiji and his ruling elite succeeded quite handily. In the span of 44 years, Japan was transformed from a mostly agrarian, feudalistic economy, to an industrial powerhouse with a thriving manufacturing capability, the first Western-style Parliament in Asia, and industries that exported product all over the world. If you want a better picture at Meiji's success in turning Japan industrial, here's a simple fact: In 1872 there were only 11 miles of railroad track in the whole of Japan. By 1913, the year after Emperor Meiji's death, there were more than 7,000 miles of track crisscrossing the Japanese islands.

Japan had arrived.

Monday, July 5, 2010

I've Been Working on the Railroad ...

It's a bit of failing on my part that I've yet to talk about locomotives in all my posts about Steampunk science and technology. A very, very strong case could be made that efficient steam locomotives are what really drove the Industrial Revolution to the heights it reached -- without the speedy transit a locomotive afforded, factories are limited to the banks of rivers with access to barges that would take their product downriver. This isn't strictly a problem for nations that possess a lot of waterways (England, the northeast United States, Japan, etc.), but it does mean that the real estate where they can place new industries is severely limited.

This is why locomotives became so important. Puffing steam engines would eventually crisscross the countryside carrying product from the rural factories to the commercial centers and off to the docks for international distribution. Having a rail network helped the Union defeat the Confederacy in the American Civil War, it assisted the British in their conquest of India, and made all sorts of things possible for all nations.

Prior to the 1800s, all the steam engines in existence worked on low-pressure or atmospheric steam. This was perfectly all right for the Newcomen engines in their jobs as water-pumpers for mines, but to transport a heavy load over any significant distance first required the development of high-pressure steam engines in order to work properly. The first successful person to do this was the British inventor Richard Trevithick, who ran his "puffer," as it was then called, on the tramway of the Penydarren ironworks in South Wales on February 21, 1804.

As you can see in the image I've included, the puffer was a very rudimentary steam locomotive. It worked to pull the line of cars along the tramway at Penydarren, but beyond proof-of-concept, the Trevithick locomotive would have to be improved before it really made an impact on transportation in England.

That impact came in 1825, when George Stephenson and his partners opened the Stockton and Darlington Railway for business in northeast England. To say the world would never be the same is an understatement.

NEXT WEEK: George Stephenson and the Rocket

Friday, July 2, 2010

China in the Nineteenth Century

A lot of Steampunk focuses on Victorian England, Mainland Europe, or the United States. The reasoning for this is fairly clear -- the Industrial Revolution began in England, after all, and Europe and the United States gained technological advancements at a rather rapid pace during this period. Also, seeing as the roots of Steampunk are firmly planted in the corpus of Victorian speculative fiction, it's impossible to not see why that's thus far been the focus.

However, there were other important countries in the world during the 1800s and early part of the 1900s. Not least of these was Imperial China, which unfortunately spent much of the century seeing its traditional government and culture flow away like the Yangtze River in the face of increased European influence.

Imagine if you will the scene at the start of the 1800s. China considers itself the preeminent power in the world, and forces all Europeans to trade in one place -- the port city of Guangzhou ( or Canton) -- and only with one of about a dozen co-hong, firms authorized to deal in "barbarian" goods. Any gifts brought to the Chinese court by the Europeans were considered tributes that the Emperor may or may not choose to acknowledge. To say it a different way, the Chinese considered themselves the lords of the manor while everyone else was just a serf.

The thought that the Europeans, and the British especially, would want to be treated as equals didn't even cross the collective mind of the Chinese government. China was the Middle Kingdom and everyone else was an inferior barbarian. This of course didn't sit all that well with the British. It didn't help that a whole lot of British silver was flowing toward China because of the English love for tea. Exports of tea from China to Britain grew by a factor of 30 between 1720 and 1830. To recoup all the money being spent on tea, the British East India Company needed to find a product they could sell to the Chinese. 

That product was opium. The massive opium trade the British began in China would eventually lead to the First Opium War of 1839 to 1842, which sparked to life (ostensibly) after the Chinese government ordered 20,000 chests of opium burned at the docks in Canton. At left is an image of a sea battle during the war.

From a website hosted by the University of Maryland:
"In 1839 the Qing government, after a decade of unsuccessful anti-opium campaigns, adopted drastic prohibitory laws against the opium trade. The emperor dispatched a commissioner, Lin Zexu ( 1785-1850), to Guangzhou to suppress illicit opium traffic. Lin seized illegal stocks of opium owned by Chinese dealers and then detained the entire foreign community and confiscated and destroyed some 20,000 chests of illicit British opium."
The British Navy trounced the Chinese fleet easily, and the Treaty of Nanjing ended the war in 1842. As a result of their decisive victory, the British gained Hong Kong, access to mainland China via a total of five ports, a HUGE indemnity from the Chinese government to cover the cost of the war, and the abolition of the co-hong merchant guild system. It also meant the government had to accept foreign powers on equal terms, and passed the responsibility of quelling rebellions onto the Chinese gentry.

The newly-gained British position in China set off a flurry of "me-too" sentiment from France, Russia, Germany, Japan, and others for similar concessions -- chief among these being the most favored nation status that gave them the same rights as any other country with spheres of influence in China. The European powers also wanted extraterritoriality, which means that the citizens of Britain could live in China under British law and not Chinese law. This effectively insulated the European nationals from the Chinese justice system.

It of course didn't help that the native population of China was 400 million due to new crops from the Americas and the very, very well-managed agriculture of the Ming dynasty or that the Qing dynasty had recently failed in its flood control measures in the post-Opium War years. This unleashed huge amounts of flood damage and food shortages on the populace.

Tie all this together, and you eventually come to the Taiping Rebellion of 1850 to 1864, when the peasants revolted under the leadership of a frustrated scholar named Hong Xiuchuanwho claimed he was the brother of Jesus Christ. "Hong inspired his followers with a revolutionary fervor that banned alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, held property in common, and called for the equality of all, including women. His movement swept over much of China before the government finally crushed it with foreign help. (from The Flow of History)"

The Second Opium War (1858 to 1860) occurred smack in the middle of the Taiping Rebellion years, and resulted in the sacking of the Summer Palace in Peking (the capital) by British colonial troops stationed in India. It's because of this event that the Bengali word "loot" joined the English lexicon.

At right is an image of the sacking of the Summer Palace by the joint forces of Britain and France in 1860. The palace would eventually be ordered destroyed by Lord Elgin, the British High Commissioner to China, in retaliation for the torture and execution of European and Indian prisoners (which included two British envoys and a journalist for The Times of London).

In the aftermath of the Opium Wars and the various rebellions beyond the Taiping came the Self-Strengthening Movement, which attempted to graft Western institutions and innovations on to traditional Chinese culture. Needless to say, the strength of Confucianism in the Chinese bureaucracy of the period made any attempt at modernization nearly useless. Between 1861 and 1894, the movement attempted to bring China fully into the Industrial Revolution. However, because of the aforementioned orthodoxy, the Chinese didn't recognize the validity of the political institutions or social theories that helped Europe and the United States become the industrial powerhouses they were.

Adding insult to injury was the carving up of Chinese territory. Britain took Hong Kong and Burma; tsarist Russia took Chinese Turkestan and part of Northern China; France took Cambodia, Vietnam, and Annam; in the post Sino-Japanese War era, China had to cede the Penghu Islands and Taiwan to Japanese control, and even Germany and Belgium gained spheres of influence in the country.

The end of Imperial China wasn't assured until the Hundred-Day Reform of 1898 was ruthlessly squelched when Dowager Empress Ci Xi staged a coup d'etat against Guangxu, the Qing Emperor, who'd been attempting to modernize the country. The Dowager Empress took over the country and, rather than improve things, she spent most of the country's money on a lavish lifestyle for herself.

With the anti-Christian and anti-foreign Boxer Rebellion of 1900, China was once more plunged into a war that ruined its fortunes and resulted in the execution of dozens of high-ranking officials and a requirement that the Chinese people pay war reparations to the European nations whose establishments were attacked during that period.

Imperial China would officially come to an end 11 years later, when Ci Xi was bounced from the throne room and Republican China was born.

Quick Announcement

Michele Emrath reminded me on Tuesday that I'd forgotten to announce the end of the Fake Diary Entry contest. But since it ended at 12 midnight that day I figured I was pretty much safe.

So now, I print out all your entries and hand them over to Her Highness the Missus for her decree as to which one is going to win.

Cross your fingers, entrants!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Perdido Street Station by China Mieville (2000)

China Mieville's Perdido Street Station (2000) is the first novel set on the fictional world of Bas-Lag, in the city-state of New Crobuzon. It's Steampunk, but of a fantasy bent rather than purely scientific as in alternate history Steampunk stories.

In an interview with 3am Magazine, Mieville himself summed up the novel like so: "It's basically a secondary world fantasy with Victorian era technology. So rather than being a feudal world, it's an early industrial capitalist world of a fairly grubby, police statey kind!"

This is a prime example of effective Second-World Steampunk; upon reading the story, you get a sense of the dystopic vision that is New Crobuzon -- from the hideous Remade, to the buglike Khepri and even more distinct arcane races that live alongside humanity. And of course there's the ruthless Parliament and their militia. After all, what dystopian society would be complete without a corrupt government?

The story of Perdido Street Station follows Isaac, a scientist, and Linn, his Khepri girlfriend. A Garuda, a creature from the deserts far away, comes to Isaac with a request to reattach the Garuda's wings. Apparently the wings were ripped off for a crime so terrible that the Garuda, Yagharek, claims it has no human equivalent.

Isaac of course accepts the challenge, and meanwhile Linn is running afoul of the vast crime syndicate operating in the city. The plotlines converge after Isaac begins study of a multicolored, unidentified larva that he gains though illegal channels. This caterpillar eats only a hallucinogenic drug called "dreamshit." Isaac of courses feeds the caterpillar copious amounts, and eventually births a slake-moth -- a creature that feeds off the dreams of sentient beings and leaves them in a catatonic state.

Perdido Street Station won a whole mess of awards: It won the British Fantasy Society's August Derleth Award in 2000, the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2001,the Premio Ignotus Award in 2002, and the Kurd Laßwitz Award in 2003. It also won the Editors' Choice Award in Fantasy in 2001.

Suffice to say -- China Mieville can weave a darn good yarn. This is a prototype for Second-World Steampunk stories, and its dark fantasy tones have served me well in my own writing.

NOTE: The cover is from the original UK printing of the novel.