Back to: You say sin, I say disease | Forward to: Apple's next step

A Zeppelin. Wearing a top hat. Smoking a cigar.

(This blog entry brought to you from the "if you whack the hornet's nest and it doesn't explode you obviously didn't whack it hard enough" department ...)

Steampunk. Is it a dessert topping or a floor wax? 

I've been continuing to think about the subject since my previous blog entry on the subject, and I've reached a tentative conclusion:

Steampunk has, some time between the initial wave of the mid- to late-eighties and the present, spun itself right out of SF and fantasy and become its own self-contained genre. (Hence the reaction I got. It wasn't the response you see to an internal dialogue occuring within a genre, it was more like the explosion of outrage that typically follows a perceived attack from outside.)

This happens from time to time. It's hard to contextualize paranormal romance within the pre-existing field of urban fantasy as defined in reference to, say, Emma Bull and Charles de Lint; while vampires and werewolves remain tropes that you can usefully deploy within SF or fantasy, paranormal romance brings its own distinct set of assumptions to bear on the monster parade and uses them to quite different ends.

But anyway. Steampunk has its own internal body of signifiers and cliches, and I've been trying to get a handle on them. The most obvious ones are the stock items that, when dumped on a book cover, tell the uninformed reader that it belongs to a given genre. It's not so long ago that any new SF imprint was guaranteed to have a rocket ship on the book spine, or a galaxy, or even a ray gun. Paranormal romance covers are still dogged by the cliche of a woman, face invisible and back turned, big tattoo on her butt or spine, with a sword, a gun, or a werewolf just to underline the message.

These days, steampunk is a new enough genre to still be finding its core signifiers, but I'm pretty certain if you designed a cover around a motif of a Zeppelin wearing a top hat while smoking a cigar everybody would get the message. (Goggles optional.) And at Novacon I asked various folks if they felt like designing the ultimate steampunk book cover for me. Here's Nelson Cunnington's take on the challenge:

CHALLENGE: Can you design the ultimate steampunk book cover? If so, post a link below! The prize will be ... uh ... I'll think of something. OK?



What about Alastair Reynolds's Terminal World, which has big old zeppelins all over the cover, and yet is anything but steampunk (well, at least nothing conventionally like steampunk)?

Still, I think you're on to something even with the few outliers.


Oh dear. Rule 63 applies to SF authors too? Asimov's famous song comes to mind.

I'm not a major steampunk fan and agree with a lot of your criticisms of it, but I would absolutely read that book.


Charlie -Typo snark - Hat, not heat. Delete this post after reading....


Pretty sure the goggles are not optional.


I would totally buy that Charlene Stro...^Hess book!


Interesting to note regarding the emergence of these 'new' genres, that in Waterstones they've lumped all the teenage vampire romance stuff under a sign saying 'Dark Fantasy'


Some of the Joe Lansdale books like "Flaming Zeppelins" may appear to be advance entries...


Nice cover, but they forgot to put her corset on the outside!


I do not see a zeppelin wearing a smoking top-hat in that picture. I feel robbed!


Link @ 1 appears broken (other links in other of Charlie's pages work) Just as well I wasn't drinking anything when I saw the illo, though .....


Comment link fixed by moderator.


The prize is that you write the story. It's the least you can do for trolling the 'Punkers.


This is the kind of challenge Warren Ellis throws to the ravening mob on his artists' community, Whitechapel.

Failing that, there's always B3TA. Er, yay! for images of depraved neovictorians...


I took Reynolds Terminal World for some sfish take on the steampunk genre. And had fun, reading it.


I take it that's the Baroness Zeppelin?


Yup. You nailed it again!


I agree, the goggles cannot possibly be optional.

(Charlie, can we please have full entries in the RSS feed instead of just the first paragraph?)


Ah. That would be Movable Type only adding above-the-fold content to the RSS feed. I'll poke at the settings and see if what you want is possible, but I prefer not to put all content (especially if I'm embedding images hosted on my own server -- not the case here) on the front page.


JWZ: I've tweaked the RSS code. Let me know if it fails disastrously for you next time I update the blog.


Hmm, I used an airship in my first published story. That said, I don't think I'd characterize that story as steampunk.

I'd like to see something that focused on child labor in a steampunk universe. I have this recurring image of children working on power looms to build the bladders for airships. I just haven't been able to flesh it out any further than that.

If I were going to do that, I might reference E. P. Thompson for inspiration.

Respects, S. F. Murphy On the Outer Marches


Funny, but zeppelins do nothing for me. Babbage engines, yes...

Sydney Padua's Babbage and Lovelace comic is my idea of steampunk*. It does feature cigars (a la Brunel) but few if any zeppelins.

  • Once one gets beyond the classics such as "The Difference Engine" and "The Anubis Gates."

Yes, I'm stupid. I know the zeppelins are there because they're now symbolic of something-or-other.

But I wish someone would use one of those serpentine airships they're building now days. They're so much cooler. More practical even.

Oops. Sorry I said anything.


Yes, I'm stupid. I know the zeppelins are there because they're now symbolic of something-or-other.

But I wish someone would use one of those serpentine airships they're building now days. They're so much cooler. More practical even.

Oops. Sorry I said anything.


Wow, jwz got out of the bar for a while... while remembering the wild old days of his newsgroup, that reminded me:

Charlie, your RSS is now in the newsgroup

Netnews lives! (sorta) I read you now in Emacs, in glorious green on black, and only have to suffer the web to comment.

I keep thinking some sort of steampunk-like-zeppelin logo would be appropriate were someone to write a bidirectional RSS comments-to-netnews gateway... it's a retro enough concept.

I had so wanted to just hit F to respond to this post.


Cigars a la Clinton would also work, methinks ...


Goggles are a necessary condition for steampunk, and almost a sufficient condition (in that their presence makes the observer think "oh, this must be steampunk").


I think you need to replace cigar with goggles and you've got it about right. I don't recall seeing too many cigars in steampunk apart from the Privateer Press stuff.


S. F. Murphy: "I'd like to see something that focused on child labor in a steampunk universe."

Cory Doctorow's, "Clockwork Fagin," fits the bill, sort of.


I think that you have a noble goal, but this whole contest is hopeless. You simply cannot beat the classics:

There might just be a woman out there who truly can achieve a higher state. Her name is Kate Beaton and she has already drawn these wonders:

She would be the one to draw the ultimate steampunk book cover. Alas, she is preoccupied with other things.


While its conscious atemporality may be science-fictional, Steampunk is not a subgenre of Science Fiction. Rather, it is an autogenous lifestyling trend which collaboratively self-designates its canonical cultural antecedents. (The matter hasn't been helped by the opportunistic appropriation of Jeter's "Steampunk", which has seen an obscure Found Object emerge as a powerful if sometimes inapposite memetic attractor with a tendency to promote bandwagoning.) Steampunk literature, like Steampunk music and fashion, is currently in its formative stage. Whether it will emerge as primarily a "literature of ideas" remains to be seen.


I like how you've got swords, guns and werewolves interchangeable there :P

I'm not an artist, sadly, but my ultimate Steampunk cover would involve a mid-air swordfight on a platform suspended from a zeppelin or similar, between a clockwork-extendable-lens-monocled aristo in a top hat and a corset-and-pants-wearing lady in goggles with gear-y scientific apparatus and green test tubes hanging from her belt. They clash swords in the middle of the cover, which is tilted in an upwards perspective so you can see the zep looming above them and the clockwork robot with the painted china mask face, green glow from its ribcage showing through the tattered remains of a dress it was wearing and wig hanging from one ear, clinging to the bottom of the platform beneath their feet...


Sorry, Maggie, but your seen has already been half written by SM Stirling, in a non steampunk novel.


One of my Steampunk game writing colleagues has an exercise he's done a couple of times for con panels, which goes something like this:

"Okay everyone, there's a fast-approaching sandstorm on the horizon. Everybody put your goggles on!"

Cue a few comedic minutes of chaos as a large portion of the audience hurriedly tries to figure out how to get their goggles off their hatbands and onto their faces.

Remember, folks: you wear the goggles. The goggles do not wear you.


You do realize that the first sentence of that wikipedia article identifies The Peshawar Lancers as steampunk, right?


The evolution of "steampunk" as a concept is really strange. A couple of years ago Jess Nevins and I were both on a convention panel on steampunk: he qualified for Fantastic Victoriana and I was there for GURPS Steampunk. We ended up talking almost entirely to each other; none of the audience, nor the other panelists, were on the same wavelength. For them, "steampunk" was overwhelmingly a design style applied to costumes and props; for us, it was a literary device of using the evolution of technology and the "shock of the new" in the Victorian era as an icon for the same things in the Internet era. Oh, I can see how minor elements that we found cool emerged to define "steampunk" for a new generation of its fans, but I still felt like a velociraptor confronting a parrot. . . .

But then, I remember being perplexed by Mike Ford talking about Powers and Blaylock in connection with GURPS Steampunk; I was a big Powers fan, but I never thought of him as having anything to do with the genre (neither The Anubis Gates nor The Stress of Her Regard is set in the Victorian era, and neither one has anything steam powered), which for me was the genre of The Difference Engine and In the Country of the Blind (the novel by Flynn, not the story by Wells). That is, I thought of it seriously as "cyberpunk's Victorian analog," whereas Powers and Blaylock seem to have been making an arcane literary joke.

I have very little visual design sense; I couldn't possibly be involved in the current movement.

Has alternate history split off as a genre of its own in the same way? It seems like we have AH novels that don't make the slightest use of sfnal devices for travel between timelines, but just develop the other timeline on its own, sometimes with a serious point of divergence, sometimes purely as an exploration of a historical question (for example, Kim Stanley Robinson's inquiry into Western exceptionalism).


@ 30 HOW did you say that again?

Generally, it is worth remembering that LSZ's didn't come along until well after 1900. You need to think Santos-Dumont and Cayley and others (Stringfellow) for 19th C powered flight


Sorry, Maggie, but your seen has already been half written by SM Stirling, in a non steampunk novel.


I'm aware the Wikipedia says steampunk.

And it is alternate history, involving a neoVictorian Raj. However, there are saris, not goggles.

So... as someone who has read the old steampunk and thinks of the new books as an interesting mashup of the Diamond Age and shiny vampires, Peshawar ain't steampunk.


Steampunk cover is based on color of brass and metal. Older man have beards and a top hats, hero (usually white young male without a beard) wears ordinary commoner clothes and ladies have dresses. Also there are gears and machined parts and clock-works. Robots, if there is any are brass covered and riveted ( no welding, except on bigger machines). Socially they are structured on double morality of victorian era. Villains usually do those things that were only whispered on 1800-1900 and heroes only do what is proper :) (even more than in real life). Plot is usually the same as in harlequin novels ( women like these "romantic" books).


"For them, 'steampunk' was overwhelmingly a design style applied to costumes and props; for us, it was a literary device...."

Substitute "Trekkiness" for "steampunk" to see how their view is the tail wagging the dog.


I wonder a little how "Dieselpunk" fits in. Might it be going the same way?

Climax of NaNoWriMo effort this year (furry pulp adventure in 1922): The heroine (who was earlier wearing a sari) pursues a Rolls Royce on her trusty Brough Superior.

Technology name-dropping is part of it.


Chris@38: I don't see how saris vs. goggles have anything to do with it. "Steampunk" to me is "what if?" fiction about unrealized Victorian era ideas for advanced technology, and about how they transform the cultures where they occur. Stirling is certainly providing that. The AH device he uses to delay the rise of post-Victorian technology, and the curious British India it gives rise to, give an unusual slant to his treatment, but it's still doing the stuff I read steampunk for.


"Dieselpunk"? Never heard of it. And if it does exist, I would hope that it would NOT consist of "Brough-Superiors chasing Rolls-Royces" (both of which represented gasoline-burning engines at their finest, one a motorcycle, and the other a luxury car).

"Antique Science Fiction", maybe.


"A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!", Harry Harrison, 1972 seems to have hit the mark a few years before the recent fuss over steampunk.


"Dieselpunk"? Never heard of it.

That's your problem, then.

(NB: The archetypical Dieselpunk movies would be "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow", possibly followed by the Indiana Jones trilogy (there is no fourth Indiana Jones movie).


Goggles say 'post-apocalyptic' to me. It's what you need to race that dune buggy through the desert.

'Post-apocalyptic' or 'Biggles'.

If a cover were dominated by rusted cogs I would assume the book was a steam punk novel.


A bit of Web crosslinking on that: a nice steampunky picture

Steampunk as a genre has influenced photography, I mean only in the sense of providing subjects or themes to make pictures of, but that is probably a mutually reinforcing process.


corset-and-pants-wearing lady in goggles Thought you might go a different way there for a moment. People seem to forget that men of the era occasionally wore corsets too. Don't think the s/punk cosplayers are going there though.

Charlie @45; a decent anime example of Dieselpunk is "Last Exile", it has broadside airship battles with infantrymen wielding steam-powered muskets, but the design ethos for the vehicles is Art Deco.


It is the Season of Panto and thus I do dare say ...

Oh Yes It/There is ! ...

" Famed archaeologist/adventurer Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones is called back into action when he becomes entangled in a Soviet plot to uncover the secret behind mysterious artifacts known as the Crystal Skulls. "

" Say it Ain't So " or No ..Will it or Not, IT does Exist.It is all a Plot Devised by The Secret Masters!

Departs in a Puff of Daemon King Smoke, whilst giving a Demonic Laughhhhhh !!!


ISTM the border between Dieselpunk and Atompunk is somewhat vague and porous; there are parts of "Sky Captain" for instance that look like early 1950's Popular Mechanics covers, which seems like a pretty good definition of Atompunk. Also, some of the robots are lifted directly from Amazing Stories covers of the 1950's.

It does really seem that all of these so-called genres are distinguished much more by visual styles and/or selection of props and costumes than by any resemblance to time and place or culture. Best not to try to refine your definitions too much; just wait a few years for the Sturgeon filter to remove the crap and see what remains.


"there is no fourth Indiana Jones movie"

Hey! I live in that alternate universe also!


You can always read Stratemeyer's original Tom Swift books (1910 - 1941) for clues on how the Edwardians really saw the future. Sadly I don't think the electric rifle made it into production but some of the other inventions were quite close to the mark.


Goggles are not necessarily a must. Steampunk is a big enough world that like sci-fi we can move on beyond the original stereotypes.


I am totally putting a sari-and-goggles wearing woman on the cover of Charlene's next novel....


That wikipedia page illustrates one of my major gripes with Steampunk. Namely, it's so damn Anglocentric. That's fine and all, if one is actually focusing on the Victorian age, but a lot of times it seems like authors forget about everything outside Great Britain. It's a bit grating, if you're not British or an American "colonial".

One of the more insulting examples was one novel (of which I can't recall the title) which placed the point of divergence at the Spanish Armada, which in that history defeated the English fleet and conquered the kingdom. This, according to the author, set back technological development because Catholic Spain became the dominant world power. It's insulting, because the entire cause of the Armada was, apparently, completely forgotten. Namely, the Dutch War of Independence. A conflict that turned the Netherlands into one of the most important superpowers of the time, which kicked Spain's butt all over the world. And that's quite a thing to forget about.

I must say, as a Dutchman, it's quite annoying to hear about the defeat of the Armada time and again as some crowning moment of British Glory, when the conflict it was part of is never mentioned. And if the following link is to be believed, it was largely down to coincidence, too.

Isn't that something for the Steampunk crowd, though? Immense, clockwork-powered floating bombs?


The book you mention sounds like Pavane, by Keith Roberts. Its PoD was an assassin killing Queen Elizabeth I in 1588. The resulting civil war in England let the Spanish armada proceed to win in a cakewalk.

An entertaining story, and steam-punky too. You are right in that it doesn't seem too plausible, though.


Actually, the Thomas A. Swift Electric Rifle is a shipping product...


After I posted a few comments on the economics, or lack thereof, in many steampunk worlds, I got the following response from various people with a few variants in synonyms, yet suspiciously, all comments were nearly exactly this:

"Oh, yeah, like, nobody ever has women voting or factory rebellions, and it's all Britain Britain Britain like nobody else was doing anything important in the sciences, so I'm not like ooh steampunk what a perfect world, I mean think of the pollution, really, but seriously, I do like the fashion spinoffs."

Fashion. Spinoffs. I. Quote.

Steampunk appears to be, more than a genre of fiction, a genre of personal clothing/accessory/music/belief choices. Like emo or hipster or whatever the new new new thing is.

Color my gast oh so flabbered.


I'm having trouble envisioning the cover but a title springs to mind: "The Alienist's Infernal Corset of Vice". Might be heading too far into a Gaslit Bondage genre though.


Sorry Charlie. Reality now is far more interesting than Steampunk.

What can beat Stuxnet, Wikileaks, financial contagion (hello Spain and Portugal) in Europe, and some artillery fire in Korea?

We might not have Zeppelins, but the X-34 is pretty neat. I feel like we're living in a wildly over-complicated James Bond plot. Throw in that bit about Foundation X buying the UK government, and we're golden.


Slipped a bit there. I didn't describe my story as Dieselpunk (in #41, but used it as an instance of the furkling around in the writer's virtual shed that does seem to lurk behind a lot of this stuff.

How much does the pulp-adventure element get applied to Steampunk? Rather a lot, I think. It's a part of the general feel of the old, "classic" stories the writers have been exposed to. It was a part of the environment when "Doc" Smith was writing The Skylark of Space. It is a thread that connects the general history-punk—I'm willing to exclude cyberpunk on that.

And it wouldn't be a huge leap to convert the Spruce Goose into a ekranoplan concept.

62: 35 - I'd pretty much agree about what makes a Steampunk novel Steampunk! That plus steam powered robots and aeronefs! (Best visualised examples in Jules Verne's "Clipper of the Clouds" and "Sky Captain..." [The British Empire aircraft carriers]). Various - There is a 4th Indy fillum, and "Temple of Doom" is still the worst of the series!

Correction: there are only two Indiana Jones movies. The proposed second film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, had to be canned after Kate Capshaw (who was down to play the female lead) unexpectedly took a vow of silence and quit the acting profession. Apparently no other actress was annoying enough for the role.

64: 63 - Actually, I could go with that idea. It's a bit like Star Trek films, but with the odd-numbered films being the good ones!

The cover for Stars of Empire (a new role playing game set in the Victorian) has Queen Victoria and her ministers being show her colonies in space through a telescope while a number of smaller cameos show scenes of space travel, claiming new territories and wars with alien creatures.

A number of the comments about steampunk worlds made above are directly addressed in the game. There are lots of things happening outside of the British Empire and the USA and economics was a real concern during development. I'm not sure if I can post links to some of the source material or not, since I'm new here. If people are interested please let me know.


Archaeopteryx et al: I've walked through the AU that is Fallout: Vegas, where you may encounter a heat-sealed fridge containing a skeleton wearing a fedora...


#Various - There is a 4th Indy fillum, and "Temple of Doom" is still the worst of the series!

Umm, I believe Charlie was doing an Obi-Wan handwave. I haven't seen the 4th, so as far I'm concerned there's 3, and "Raiders" will always be the best.


Thinking of the possible steampunk version of "Naughty Victorians", a smutpic noted for its extremely spirited rendition of "Titwillow"; since the filmmakers inexplicably failed to incorporated a coal-fired, steampowered Device as part of the plotline, and there were no goggles whatsoever.


Airships are not exclusively steampunk -- libertarians love them for some reason too.


Charlene, can you write an Urban Fantasy too? :)



Alas, The cosplayers have been there, done that, and have the uncomfortably boned T-shirt to prove it. Heck, most places that sell victoriana or steampunkish clothing will have a range of corsets for the masculine gender.


Andrew @69: It's not only libertarians, though admittedly, I'm a libertarian and I think airships are cool. But my fellow GURPS author Ken Hite, coauthor of GURPS Alternate Earths 1 and 2, maintains that airships are the marker species of alternate timelines generally. You look up, you see a dirigible, and you know you're in a parallel world.

Of course, that means that we were in a parallel world up until the 1930s. But you know, that explains a lot.


Though an infrequent visitor to Charlie's blog, I greatly admire his work and was inspired to take up the steampunk gauntlet.

Any and all comments are welcome.

Kind regards, Michael.


@71; Well, just shows how much attention I give to the cosplyers. ...But have any publisher's been brave enough to have corseted me non their covers?


Can I ask why you feel there's a hornet's nest and you must hit it?

Author K.W. Jeter came up with the term steampunk to describe what he and Blaylock and Powers and a few others were doing, vaguely, and mostly to get some of that cyberpunk interest headed their way. Like every other SFF term, it's been used by people to mean pretty much whatever they want it for, was used a lot for alternate history material in the 1990's and then happened to coincide with searching readers discovering historical fantasy on a bigger scale and a niche aesthetic style combining Victoriana/Sherlock with Goth that only really became a thing of note thanks to the Internet. I don't think the fiction being sometimes about impossible gadgets takes it out of the SF pool, or those sometimes being magical gadgets is taking works out of the fantasy pool. It's not really the same thing as romance novels that use paranormal or SF set ups, which is a natural extension of very tidy romance imprints, no different from suspense romances. Most authors who get called steampunk find the term addressed to their work confusing. Others enjoy it, but if you told them that their novels would now be known as the SFFH sub-genre of gigglysnark instead, I don't think they'd be crushed. It's still SFFH.

Things that are cool: a desk made to look like a frozen Han Solo, a computer keyboard that looks like an antique brass typewriter keyboard, a stuffed animal that is one of the creatures from Peter Watts' novels. Going with the keyboard I don't think requires a great psychological shift from the rest.


I did an academic presentation on the whole tangled mess at Worldcon. My take is modern steampunk is trying to graft too disparate things together, the limited steampunk literature of the 1980s and the modern arts-and-crafty movement, that really have not that much to do with one another. The 1980s steampunk was in large part having metatextual fun with literature of a roughly Victorian era (with Powers sneaking in largely by being friends with Jeter, and thus mentioned in the letter that coined the term), and is a fun genre, but to write (or read and enjoy) requires at least a passing familiarity with the inspiring literature (League of Extraordinar Gentlemen is kind of the ultimate extension of the genre). The aesthetic comes, as far as I can see, mostly from non-literary sources, and owes its popularity to a movement that has little to do with literature and a lot to do with making things. I like both of this antecedents, but all to often find the hybrid lacking the vigor of either, and is just an aesthetic skin that can be laid over practically any sort of story at all. Commercial literature being what it is, that is usually light adventure stories. And while it is pleasant to see light adventure stories given a new suit of clothes (a refreshing change from cod-medieval, classic space opera, regulation dystopic near future noir, etc) it isn't that exciting. Talented authors will, of course, write some very entertaining books with this new set of sets and costumes and props, and smart ones will say some smart things. But the trend itself disappoints, and I'm kind of ready for it either to say something really clever, or make way for the next new set of decorations (perhaps some 1970s glam, or Elizabethan fantasy?).

It is also interesting that steam is mostly absent as a real signifier of steampunk, Zeppelins are far reliable (though, as Will Stoddard says, Ken Hite has already noted them as the most reliable indicator of alternate timelines generally), as nice hats, brass, goggles, gasmasks. I find the later two particularly amusing - I am sure at least one of the sources for the prevalence of goggles and gasmasks in goth culture, through which they spread to steampunk, is surely Burning Man, but at BM both are, while ubiquitous, not a fashion statement but very utilitarian.


Can I ask why you feel there's a hornet's nest and you must hit it?

You've been away from the internet, haven't you? Just google for "Stross Steampunk" and you'll stub your toe on it soon enough.


Nicely done.

I recognise the Steam Flying Machine. The actual steam engine on that model is the CGI equivalent of a child's drawing, but pistons and valve-gear can be hell to animate.

It might not suit a big-name paper publisher's art department, but I can imagine that illustration on a POD or eBook, and better than a lot of stuff I do see.


Remember, Lindbergh was not the first man to fly non-stop across the Atlantic. Most of those who preceded him were in airships.

The British airship R34, and the German LZ126, both crossed the Atlantic before Lindbergh. The first scheduled passenger services were by Zeppelin.

It's not a ridiculous AH to fill the Hindenburg with Helium, or to have rigid airships criss-crossing the Pacific as well as the Atlantic.

Even in WW2 airships had a very useful advantage in endurance over aircraft, and the non-rigid blimps remained in US military service long afterwards, in such specialised roles as radar pickets.

(OK, I know most of you guys will know this sort of stuff.)

There's a reason that Zeppelins are such a strong AH indicator: they were so close to being a reality as the dominant mode of air travel. What sort of 20th Century AH can ignore them? (Well, lots, actually, but are Nazi SS Zombie hordes really interesting, or just the token shambling horror?)

Oh, I suppose Zeppelins are just a plot-token most of the time.


Remember, Lindbergh was not the first man to fly non-stop across the Atlantic. Most of those who preceded him were in airships.

Nor even the first to do so in a "heavier than air" machine; Surely no-one reading this blog is so "Merkin-centric" as to be completely unaware of Alcock and Brown's flight in a Vickers Vimy in 1919?

Lindbergh's main achievement was to be the first to make the flight solo as well as non-stop (and unrefuelled).


He did say 'most'.

(I think we can rule out those who tried flapping their arms, and I'm pretty sure it was about half a century before the first trans-Atlantic balloon flight.)

But even if Alcock and Brown just beat the very first airship to it, airships were soon carrying people across in industrial quantities.


They're less well-known (and maybe documented too), but there were also various "stopping" flights by flying boats/sea planes (dunno how many be each type) "hopping" between tender ships.

In any event, my point was that Lindburg did the trip "solo and non-stop", which I think we'll all agree that no powered airship (blimp or dirigible) has ever done?


Solo may be admirable, but it is also fairly pointless. (Though kudos for making a controlled landing.) The Alcock and Brown flight was more important, in that it was a heavy aircraft which could show the future direction for transatlantic freight and passenger traffic. Lindberg had to stay awake for way longer than any H&S inspector would ever allow.

The airships, though, they had capacity to really overshadow heavier-than-air solutions for everything except fast mail services for quite some time.


David, you're spot on catching the SFM. The characters are M3 and V3 in Daz-supplied dress. I rendered in Poser 7 and composed in Photoshop.

Daz are a great source for 3D content of all kinds -- and more all the time -- and it was the only way I could attempt what I envisioned without spending far too much time on the project. (Even so, It ate the better part of a day.)


@ 82 R100 cheif designer, Barnes Wallis. QUOTE: "R100 duly departed for Canada on 29 July 1930, reaching the Canadian mooring mast at the airport in Saint-Hubert, Quebec in 78 hours having covered the great circle route of 3,300 mi (5,300 km) at an average speed of 42 mph (68 km/h). The airship stayed at Montreal for 12 days and over 100,000 people visited the airship each day she was there, and a song was composed by La Bolduc to commemorate, or rather to make fun of, the people's fascination with R100. She also made a 24 hour passenger-carrying flight to Ottawa, Toronto, and Niagara Falls while in Canada.

The airship departed on her return flight on 13 August, reaching Cardington after a 57½ hour flight." ENDQUOTE


Or it might have something to do with WWI. Because other steampunk items are zeppelins and pickelhaube helmets, which also didn't see much use in the proper steam age. Or rather, I think the pickelhaube did, but it's iconic for the Kaiser's army in WWI (which, in turn, might be because Germany's actual, real helmet of the war is the stahlhelm we expect to see on Nazi's). Speaking of the Kaiser, he also regularly appears in steampunk stuff.

And all that might have something to do with the fact that the worlds steampunk enthusiasts want to display seem to take place in an alternate early 20th century.


"solo and non-stop", not just non-stop. There have been no solo dirigible or balloon flights across the Atlantic.


Or, we're in a parallel world now and airships are the natural way of things. I think that explains even more. :)


Not solo, though. It was also not the first airship, not by more than a decade, and it was after even Lindberg. Heck, the following year, there was even a scheduled service.

I don't believe any airship ever did the trip solo - because there's fsck all point to it. Lindberg's achievement was remarkable primarily not for the distance covered, nor even for the flight time, but for the fact he had nobody else in the cockpit to help. It was therefore important as a feat of human endurance.

That his name has somehow become associated with 'first across the Atlantic' is almost entirely down to his self-promotion. It is little more relevant to aviation than solo round-the-world yachting is to shipping.


Solo balloon: Joe W. Kittinger, 1984.

I'm not aware of a solo dirigible flight.


To give Lindbergh his due, his transatlantic flight was unusual in that it was NY-Paris, rather than the shorter Newfoundland to Ireland route that Alcock and Brown took. I suspect it was also a non-stop distance record at the time. More importantly, Lindbergh-mania kicked off an aviation boom in the US that poured funds into the industry.


But only a fortnight later, the next flight from that same airfield went to Germany. So if it was a non-stop distance record, it was a very short-lived one.

And that time, a passenger was carried.


Ok, don't agree with you about there being too much steampunk. I don't think it's as popular as you are proposing, and a lot of its current popularity comes from two sources -- the expansion of historical fantasy as a whole which includes many eras beyond the Victorian, which is part of the flush of fantasy readers stretching out into different types of fantasy, and the increase in SF in YA, starting with post-apocalypse and time travel, alt history stuff, and proceeding into space, to accommodate the wealth of new readers there. So its aesthetic is more grace note in the tumble than controlling the symphony, in my view, though perhaps went a bit ga-ga. Do agree with you about the romanticism and totalitarianism of the historic era, though it's worth noting that numerous social reform movements to give people more rights developed along with the development of science and medicine during that century. (Of course, better to have the social change without the repression in the first place.) Do agree with you about China Mieville's essay on Lord of the Rings, which it sounds like he regrets a bit.

What is going to be more popular the next couple of years is alien contact SF. So will be interested to see what you say about that. :)


Various #85 thro 92 -

I think the Picklehaube was an officer's "dress helmet", rather than actual combat issue, which simultaneously explains the iconic status and factual rarety in the field.

I think Lindberg's real achievement was in proving that HTA could make a commercially sensible crossing (rather than a "shortest hop" route), and, from Greg's figures, in about half the time a dirigible required.

Ok, at that time, a dirigible was the nearest thing there was to "heavy lift" flight, but, without playing about with lifting gas compressor systems, I don't see how you'd get a dirigible to handle 747. C-5, or the bit cargo Antoonov type loadings.


The pickelhaube was early-war, and later replaced by the iconic stahlhelm. Just as the British Army started using the Brodie helmet, and for much the same reason.

Here is a photograph of an ordinary German soldier of 1914

And another, in the trenches.


The commercially sensible crossing for a long time involved landing at Gander to refuel. This was only superseded in the 1960s, once fuel-efficient long range jetliners came on the scene.


Claiming the Gander route is "sensible" when the risk related to the mode of transport is almost a function of the number of times it takes off and lands, and almost independant of how far it travels between take offs, and you're imposing a doubling of that risk without linking to a point that people would want as a destination, is an "interesting" definition. ;-)


I know. My point is, however, that it's still associated with WWI (rather than the earlier conflicts where it actually belongs; the spike on top was meant to deflect sword-blows) is that the WWI stahlhelm is virtually identical to the WWII model, which in itself is iconic for that war.


I suspect that the then airline definition of 'commercially sensible' did not include falling out of the sky into the Atlantic as a result of running out of fuel.

(Your assumption that the risk is "almost independent of how far it travels between take-offs" might have a teensy little flaw in it, in that respect.)


I think one of the reasons so many people are into steampunk is that they're goths past time. Pretty close basic clothes and just some new accessories. (I have a lot of younger friends who have done this.)


I dread the thought that in 100 years that there will be a genre called "Cubicle Punk". All the characters will be dressed like rejects from "Office Space", raving about their important new iPhones and brandishing Taser Revolvers. Driving huge melted-plastic-looking Hybrid Suv's and racing to save the world from CERN's Large Hadron Collider run by the Nefarious Al Gore.


Your last post's condemnation of the genre for its failure to acknowledge how much the steam age sucked, and your tentative conclusion in this post, I think, misses the point of what in my opinion is driving the Steampunk Zeitgeist.

We spent the last century in an age profoundly shaped by a global economic system based on petroleum, an "Oil Age" if you will. Our collective subconscious knows that the Oil Age is coming to an end. The post-petroleum era we are lurching towards is a much more direct successor technologically to the Steam Age (really the coal age) than it is to the Oil Age. Indeed, in much of the world, the technology of the future with be powered with electricity generated with coal using engineering principles that existed (apart from a little bit of materials science and battery design technology) when the Titanic sunk. In 2011, the first mass production plug in electric cars will hit the market. In 1911, it was still not clear if the future automobile would be powered by an electric motor or an internal combustion engine. It turns out in retrospect that both answers were right, one after the other.


The following is my own humble submission:

(With apologies to Mr and Mrs Foglio, who have spoken strong words on the subject of steampunk and how Girl Genius is not it).


Why wait 100 years? I'm tempted to start writing it now. A warped version of the present is always fun, and it's not the same kind of minefield of misunderstandings that a warped version of the past is (until it becomes old, at least).



About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on November 27, 2010 4:26 PM.

You say sin, I say disease was the previous entry in this blog.

Apple's next step is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Search this blog