How to Make Steampunk Goggles (Part 2)

Ready to finish your steampunk goggles? Let’s go!

In part one of the steampunk goggles tutorial, we started with a pair of cheap welding goggles and applied Rub ‘n Buff to make the plastic look like aged metal. The plastic parts were then buffed and allowed to cure for about a week.

The end result looked like this:

I went ahead and added a few more layers of metallic colors for some more texture. I also took some gears from the Bag of Gears and glued them onto the knobs on the side. What’s more steampunk than a gear that serves no apparent purpose?

Now it’s time to tackle the straps and bridge. The goggles came with an elastic strap and plastic covered metal chain bridge. That’s not terribly Victorian. I’ve got a bag of scrap leather, though you could use faux leather, canvas, or other fabric for this. I started by cutting a thick rectangle slightly larger than the existing bridge piece and notching it on either side.

Next, I flipped the leather over, rough side up, and tacked the center down using Fabri-Tac. The end result should look something like a sideways letter I.

You’re going to take the finished strap and feed it through the notches on the sides with the glued portion pointed toward the inside. That’s going to make your bridge, and the thicker portions of the “I” shape will hold the bridge in place. Don’t worry if it looks ugly on the inside, nobody is going to see it once you screw the dark lenses back on. If it really bothers you, you can glue it down on the inside, but this isn’t structurally necessary.

Next, it’s time for the straps. When you disassembled the goggles, you should have saved and Rub ‘n Buffed the existing plastic buckles. You can use the old elastic strap as a template for the length and width of your leather (or canvas or faux leather, depending on what you decide to use). If you use scrap leather, you’ll want to thread your leather through so that the buckles actually adjust on the inside of the goggles. That way you can hide the rough side of the leather.

Don’t forget to put the side buttons and gears back on. You should also double check that your Rub ‘n Buff has completely cured and that you’ve rubbed off any excess (otherwise they’ll double as practical joke goggles when you try wearing them and end up covered in silver paint.)  Once you’ve done that, your goggles are suitable for wearing or mounting to your favorite Victorian-style hat.

Happy  costuming!


Her Majesty's Explorer: a Steampunk bedtime story

Have you seen the trailer for Emilie Bush’s new book Her Majesty’s Explorer: a Steampunk bedtime story? You can find more info about it on her blog:

About the book Her Majesty’s Explorer: a Steampunk bedtime story –

It’s a dirty job, but he loves it.

St.John Murphy Alexander walks the world exploring for the Queen. He sees the most extraordinary landscapes, creatures and weather. He gets very, VERY dirty. Exhausted, he returns to HQ and gets ready for a well deserved rest and some sweet dreams.

This gentle book, written by Steampunk novelist Emilie P. Bush and brilliantly illustrated by William Kevin Petty, is the perfect wind-down for your little adventurer.

The book, released February 28th (exclusively through, features an automaton explorer who loves his work, even though it makes him very tired and dirty. As a bonus, an additional bonus tale “Three Cheers for Steamduck” is included in the full color book.

“It’s something totally new,” Bush says. “In the vast body of Steampunk literature, picture books have been totally left out. Her Majesty’s Explorer not only fills that void, it overflows it with joy and wonder. Kevin and I are really pleased to have had the opportunity to work on this project.”


About the Author: Journalist and writer Emilie P. Bush has written two novels. Her first, Chenda and the Airship Brofman, was a “ripping good yarn!” and the tale was a 2010 Semi-finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. The Gospel According to Verdu picks up the epic tale where Chenda left off – high in the skies. Emilie P. Bush lives, laughs and writes with her family in Atlanta.

About the Illustrator: William Kevin Petty is the founder of Allied Aethernautics, LTD., a Steampunk illustration company and specializes in exceptionally detailed pencil sketches and acrylic paintings. His work has appeared in Steampunk Magazine and across the web. Capt. Petty, when he is not deployed with the U.S. Army, lives and draws in central Louisiana.

Verso Offers The Coolest Cases Ever

Verso Kindle Fire and iPad cases
Photo: Marziah Karch

When I pre-ordered my Kindle Fire, I also pre-ordered the Verso Prologue case cover pictured in the center of this photo. When it arrived, my husband immediately wanted a Kindle Fire, not because he was a huge Fire fan, but because the case was so cool. It instantly turns your Fire into a steampunk costume accessory. What’s not to love about that?

The Verso Prologue is a simple leather case that opens just like a book, and the Kindle Fire or Touch is held in place with elastic on the corners. The positon of the elastic means it works with a lot of devices. It won’t work with every device, so be sure to check the specifics on your device. It works great with the old Galaxy Tab, but the new Galaxy Tab 7+ does not work. I’ve tried. The elastic hits the volume button.

I visited with Lightwedge, the company that makes the Verso covers at a recent press event, and I got to preview their new line. It should be out by “back to school” time, so sometime probably in the summer. I can’t wait. They’ve added larger sizes, so iPad and larger Android tablet fans should jump for joy here. I know I am.

They’ve also added this very cool Victorian marbled paper look, one of which is pictured above in iPad size. I really wanted to just buy one on the spot, but apparently they’re sending them back to the manufacturer to get a better texture on them before they start mass production.

The whole idea of book-like covers for tablets is just super appealing. If you can’t wait for Verso, there’s the Twelve South BookBook series of cases, which also have side protection. Even more fun, you can follow these instructions to make your own iPad case. I think I may have to do that for a few of my tablets. They deserve some geeky cover love.


2012 Steampunk World’s Fair

Steampunk Festival Fears Mother Nature

Steampunk World’s Fair takes unusual step to keep inclement weather from raining on parade


This May, the Steampunk World’s Fair will hit Piscataway, New Jersey with three days of the largest steampunk festival in the country – last year’s fair garnered about 3000 guests in total. With a nation of steampunks fondly reminiscing on the jam-packed events of the 2011 event and expectations just as high this year, any inclement weather could only result in soggy sadness. But this year, Mother Nature will not stand in the way. In preparation for unwanted precipitation, the event has specifically planned a special set of programs to take place in the rain.

This solution may be unusual, but The Steampunk World’s Fair is used to travelling unorthodox routes. Three years ago, it was among the very first of Steampunk events to approach Steampunk gatherings from a festival, rather than a convention, standpoint. The performance-heavy event focuses on creating the boisterous, exuberant atmosphere of a carnival or faire, rather than the calmer atmosphere of a convention. Says event creator, Jeff Mach, “rather than a situation where, if it rains, we just ‘make do,’ we’re going to actually have activities and programs which will blow your socks off!” It will take a grand amount of planning to get the rain program on its feet, but organizers are excited about its potential, urging guests to “Hope for rain!”

Of course, if it doesn’t end up raining at the fair, there will be plenty of delightful activities for guests to revel in. In addition to the largest array of Steampunk performances available anywhere, festivals of the past have featured everything from Why Not Cake, an imaginative company of gourmet cake artists; to visits from award-winning author Leanna Renee Hieber. So stick an umbrella in your top hat, because the Steampunk World’s Fair promises imaginative entertainment, rain or shine.

More information on The Steampunk World’s Fair can be found at

Antikythera Mechanism Built Out of LEGO Bricks

I’m not even going to pretend I understand the finer details of this – but the fact that I’m not a mathematician doesn’t make this project any less awesome. Andrew Carol is an Apple engineer by day, but in his spare time? He’s busy creating things like an Antikythera Mechanism out of LEGO bricks. Modeled after the ancient Greek original, it calculates the date and time of solar and lunar eclipses over a hundred year period. With more than 100 gears and 7 differential gearboxes, it’s accurate to within a day or two. Carol covers the abstract math and the construction of the device in detail, in case you might like to try it.

Of course, not all of us are ready to tackle such a huge project. For those of us who would tear our hair out in large clumps trying to figure out those gear ratios have a little less time on our hands, Carol has created a smaller project that seems pretty easy to replicate at home. A compass built out of LEGO bricks. No magnet required. Based on ancient Chinese engineering, the device – called a south facing chariot – is part steampunk, part genius. New Scientist shares a step-by-step guide, complete with a parts list and a video of the compass being built. Guess what we’ll be tackling this week?

Steampunk: History Beyond Imagination! Premieres at Anaheim’s Muzeo

All pictures courtesy of the Muzeo

What might have been had events and technology happened a little differently? If we’d kept on as a steam-powered society instead of becoming an oil-based one?

“Steampunk: History Beyond Imagination!” at the Muzeo in Anaheim, CA explores exactly that. Visitors are drawn into an era when science and industry combined in new and fascinating ways to launch mankind into a future where ordinary human beings could do the impossible.

Interactive and informational displays help visitors explore the relationship between science fact and fiction in the Victorian era highlighting the work of pioneers such as Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace and Nikola Tesla alongside the visionary fiction of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. The exhibit includes a collection of replicas and artifacts, including original props and concept art, vintage books and comics, and a selection of art, sculpture, jewelry, fashion, photography and inventions.

A public opening will take place on October 23 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. with a ribbon cutting, Steampunk and Victorian characters, war game re-enactments, dance demonstrations, English tea and chocolate tastings, storytelling, crafts and more. The exhibit runs through January 8, 2012. The exhibit was created by Aeronaut Productions, LLC.

Admission to MUZEO is $13 for adults, $9 for children 12 and under, children 3 and under are free. Group and senior discounts are available. MUZEO is located in the heart of downtown Anaheim. For more information, directions, hours, and to purchase tickets online please go to, or call 714-956-8936.


Innocent Darkness Cover Reveal

I’m very excited to show you the cover for my new young adult book.

My Steampunk dark fairytale, INNOCENT DARKNESS, book 1 of THE AETHER CHRONICLES, debuts August 8, 2012 from Flux. For more information or to enter my cover reveal contest please check out the details on my blog.

Creating a Steampunk Costume for the Cosplay Newbie (Part One)

In September I attended a steampunk convivial in my home town, naturally this required creating a steampunk costume. For someone whose sewing experience at the point of buying my ticket consisted of reattaching a few buttons to shirts, that was a pretty daunting prospect.
Thanks to YouTube, Threadbanger and a lot of time on Google, I eventually managed to create a costume that looked pretty good, despite my lack of skills with fabric and thread.
You can too.

Continue reading Creating a Steampunk Costume for the Cosplay Newbie (Part One)

Doctor Fantastique’s Show of Wonders Magazine Kickstarter Campaign

I am a huge fan of Doctor Fantastique’s Show of Wonders Magazine, which is a great online steampunk magazine that just recently offered a print option through POD.

Well, now, they’ve started an amazing kickstarter campaign to really get their print magazine off and running.

Cover image from

What we want to do is take the magazine to a traditional offset press. This will allow us to do a LOT of very, very exciting things with the magazine. Imagine if you will a traditional Victorian magazine, one that readers in New York City or London of the 1890s would enjoy off the newsstand. Now take that same magazine and have it covering a subculture which seeks to emulate the optimism of that period.

Suffice to say, we want to create the new Doctor Fantastique’s Show of Wonders magazine as a Victorian magazine using the same or similar types of paper, similar typeface, and be able to offer things like subscriptions…and be able to sell these to you at conventions as well as other Steampunk events.

Yeah, I’d love to buy a steampunk mag with the look and feel of a Victorian magazine.

They need to raise $12,000 for their endevor. All the details of the campaign, including the goodies you get if you support their endevor (for as little as $1) are here.

Kickstarter is the largest funding platform for creative projects in the world and has a ton of really amazing stuff.

Vintage Tomorrows


Take a look at the stylish, imaginative retro futurism we know as steampunk portrayed in this documentary trailer. The film is titled “Vintage Tomorrows: What Can Playing With The Past Teach Us About The Future” and includes such folks as Cherie Priest, Cory Doctorow, and James Carrott. One line from the trailer sums it up. “You get the fantasy stuff and the science fiction stuff and it comes together made of awesome.”



PBS Goes Steampunk

PBS Off Book
PBS Off Book

PBS Off Book is, according to their press release, “a new web series focused on experimental and non-traditional art forms on This 13-part, bi-weekly series explores the ever-changing definition of art in the hands of the next generation of artists taking creative reigns and melding art with new media.”

According to my daughter it’s just super awesome. I completely agree.

This relatively new addition to the PBS Arts line-up, Off Book is an online only series. But with slick production values and sexy contemporary music it’s raised the bar for online magazine episodes. So far the series has covered such topics as Typography, Light Painting, Visual Culture Online (Hello Nyan Cat), and most recently Steampunk.

The Steampunk episode in particular caught my attention not only because we love all things Steampunk here at, but also because of their commitment to look at Steampunk through the lens of “art” rather then just “cos-play” or “subculture”.

Thoughtful interviews with steampunk artist Dr. Grymm, composer David Bruce, and performance ensemble Third Rail Projects, are a refreshing and serious minded approach to understanding Steampunk’s allure among creative people.

Personally I was extra delighted at the interview with David Bruce regarding the composing of his steampunk-inspired piece. It’s always nice to see a fresh addition to the Steampunk music scene.

At 5 to 10 minutes an episode, PBS Off Book is a show you can enjoy while noshing on your hot pocket during a lunch break at work.  I encourage you to watch them all and subscribe to their channel. If your boss catches you YouTubein, at least you can point to the PBS logo on the screen and claim you’re educating yourself.







Dreaming of Steampunk Boots

It’s almost fall, which means I can’t stop looking at boots on Zappos. A year ago, I had trouble finding affordable steampunkesque boots I liked. This season, there are so many, they might as well start There are also a lot of flats if your costume vision includes a lot of walking. Here are my favorites:

Madden Girl Zhesty, comes in black, cognac, or grey. $69.95.

Not Rated Official, comes in black, grey, and tan. $63. (These also come in a shorter version called Spin.)

Madden Girl Gemini, comes in brown and black. $69.95.

Promiscuous Pilar, which it says comes only in grey, but the pictures look quite brown to me. One of the comments mentions having ordered the (apparently previously available) brown and that they looked grey. $71.20.

Madden Girl Devotid, this color only and only available in sizes 7 and 7.5. $53.96.

Yellow Box Andie, comes in brown and black. $54.

If, on the other hand, you’ve got an extra $1,100 lying around, may I recommend the Ralph Lauren Collection Safara? I’ve had my eye on this line for a while, as it has many lovely steampunk and non-steampunk choices. At the prices, however, I expect it to remain a one-sided love from afar.

Doctor Fantastique’s Show of Wonders Now in Print!

Doctor Fantastique’s Show of Wonders is an amazing online Steampunk magazine bringing you steampunk stories, articles, art, and culture from around the world.

Starting this month, it’s now also available in print which is an amazing and exciting venture for the Doctor Fantastique team. Check it out today.

Stellanova Jewelry: The Perfect Steampunk Accessory

steampunk, jewelry, artwork, drawings, botanical, Victorian
Photo: Stellanova Jewelry
Photo: Stellanova Jewelry

When I met Tammy Stellanova through a mutual friend , I had no idea that I’d be inspired to write about her for GeekMom. Over calzones and wine, the conversation turned to our work and eventually, Tammy mentioned her jewelry. We laughed over the story about certain scientists geeking out over finding a piece of jewelry featuring their obscure obsession (an axolotl); once I’d seen Tammy’s ring and explored her website, I knew I had to share.

Oh, Steampunk fans. These pieces, with illustrations reminiscent of the work of Victorian botanists, are going to have you yearning, I tell you. I’m partial to the Hawai‘i wildlife series, in particular the rendering of the ‘ohi‘a lehua blossom, but there are many images to choose from. Jonesing for a pendant featuring an Emperor nautilus? (Because who isn’t, really?) Tammy can hook you up. How about a European honeybee, an Ord’s kangaroo rat, or a strawberry poison frog? There are plenty of options to choose from, but Tammy does custom work, too – in case your particular natural obsession isn’t represented.

Photo: Stellanova Jewelry

Rendered in ink and watercolor, Tammy’s artwork features both animals and botanicals. She uses modern technology to reduce the size of her drawings, sealing each one permanently under glass for her pendants, rings, and even wine glass charms.

Look for Tammy at the upcoming San Diego Comic Con, July 20-24, where you can check out her books, sea urchin t-shirts, and a large selection of jewelry.

Thomas Dolby Takes Us to The Floating City

My kids and I spent the morning on board our ship, the research vessel Caroline, trying to find our way around the waters of The Floating City. I’m the skipper, Captain Bee Whillikers, and I totally don’t know what I’m doing—but I’m having fun.

The Floating City is the brainchild of Thomas Dolby—that’s right, the musician who blinded us with science in the 80s. It’s an interactive transmedia game set in a captivating steampunk world that Dolby describes as “a dystopian vision of the 1940s that might have existed had WWII turned out a lot differently.” You progress in the game by making trades with other ship captains in an effort to complete sets of mysterious items that, once amassed, earn you rewards. There’s an overarching storyline, a knowledge quest in which you and other members of your tribe are trying to figure out where you’ve come from and how you got here.

Besides the supercool nautical-steampunk setting, The Floating City has an intriguing and highly original music component: completing certain tasks unlocks free music downloads and other surprises, including concert tickets. Completion of the first tutorial trade, for example, earns the player an mp3 of “She Blinded Me with Science.” (“I love that song!” gasped my ten-year-old daughter—because, yes, our 80s Hits box set gets a lot of play around here.)

The Floating City trailer, which conjures memories of Myst, offers a glimpse of the backstory.

That gorgeously haunting score—Dolby’s, of course—gives me goosebumps.

Happy International Steampunk Day!

June 14 is International Steampunk Day and has been so for several years.  If you missed Steampunk Week here at GeekMom and don’t know what Steampunk is, here’s a primer.  Essentially, it’s the intersection of Victorian romanticism and modern technology.

Today’s a great day to celebrate Steampunk in all its brass and geared splendor.  I personally suggest donning full Steampunk attire and going to your favorite bookstore and picking up a Steampunk novel–or perhaps listening to some Steampunk music, like Clockwork Cabaret, Abney Park, or Emilie Autumn. Here’s a list of ten things you can do to celebrate Steampunk Day.

Whatever you do, whether you have a cup of tea or read some Jules Verne,  do it in style.

Geeky Weddings Take the Cake!

PacMan Wedding Cake From Wendy_Smith_(III) Flickr Photostream

I love baking cakes, especially ones that are geeky and challenging. Some of my favorites that I have made are a TARDIS for my husbands 30th birthday and a Mad Hatter hat for my sister’s high school graduation party. In any case, its no wonder that I have collected quite the set of geek cake inspiration from across the internet. With wedding season upon us, its hard not to focus on the wedding cake, the traditional tiered white cake with beautifully piped flowers. Those traditional cakes are usually absolutely beautiful but are totally not befitting a true geeky couple by any means. Most of the time, the geekiness shows up in the grooms cake, however, once in a while you get a wonderfully brave couple who kicks tradition to the curb and you are left with geeky wedding cake masterpieces.

Enjoy, there should be a little something for everyone here!

For the Math Nerd: xkcd Wedding Cake

From Pink Cake Box

I hope you noticed that it says: sqrt(<3) or the root of love; cos(<3) the cause of love; and [1 0; 0 1]<3 the identity of love. So incredibly romantic!


For the Whovians: The Tardis

From MammaJammaCakes Flickr photostream

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed and Something BLUE!


The Daleks

From Kate Hibbs Flickr photostream



For the X-Philes Out There:

From 3ElizabethLove flickr photostream

The truth is out there, and its love!

(Thanks to fellow GeekMom Sophie for pointing this one out to me, I love it!)


For the Superhero Nut!

Original Source Unknown from DailySloth

“Do you DC Comics take Marvel Comics to be your wife?”


For Those Who Live in a Steampunk World!

From exoskeletoncabaret Flickr Photostream

I’m in love with this cake! It is just so incredibly steampunk! My husband is lucky that I didn’t see this before our wedding!


Scrabble Fans

from Pink Cake Box

I only wish I could get words that long in Scrabble. HA!


For the Stargate Fans

From Gate World Forum - "DrScareys event horizon V1.0" Wedding Cake

I wonder where their honeymoon was?


Dungeons and Dragons

From HimeKarisuta Flickr Photostream

Sadly, I don’t know much about D&D, but this is an awesome enough cake I think it is time to give it a chance!


For the Old School Tetris Lovers

From A Piece of Cake

The Cake Topper was made of blocks to spell “J” and “C”, after they cut the cake, the bride and groom took the topper apart and found where they fit on the main part of the cake.


For the Lego Fans

Well that’s one way to build your relationship! I really love how this is so pretty and geeky at the same time.


For the Trekkies

Original source unknown, found on Wedinator

“Marriage, the final frontier. These are the voyages of Mr. and Mrs.. . Her five-year mission: To explore strange new worlds, seek out new life, new civilizations. To Boldly go where no man has gone before!”


Star Wars

Original Source Unknown, found on Wedinator

Han and Leia’s Wedding Cake!



If I missed your favorite geeky cake put a link to it here in the comments!

How to Dress Up Your Raygun

The tot and I decided to make rayguns to match our ballgowns–because a lady’s raygun says a lot about her. We, well, I, was going for something Steampunkian, but you could go Spaceranger, Futuristic, Fantasy, or what have you and just change out the colors (and sparkles).

I started with a little mini Nerf gun. It’s about 6 inches long and was about $3. For the tot I bought a package of $1 space-age looking squirtguns.We were going for tiny, dainty rayguns, but this can be done with the big Nurf guns or Supersoakers.

Step One: Start with a base

Since it is a formal raygun, and orange clashes with my ballgown, the first thing I did was paint the whole thing with gold acrylic paint and take off the black hook. I obsessed a lot over  painting it. I think I may have over-painted parts of it trying to make it perfect. The tot slathered hers with hot pink paint, going more for a fantasy look than a Steampunk look.

Step Two: Cover with a coat of paint

I painted it with another coat, mostly trying to cover the raised writing, which didn’t work very well.  I probably should have waited until the first coat dried completely, but I got impatient.  Next, I added accents with metallic golden-brown paint.  I also painted the foam bullets which didn’t turn out to be that good of an idea, especially since by painting it, the gun became unusable anyway.  The tot added turquoise accents to hers.

Step Three: Add accents

After that, I added a couple of coats of clear varnish to both guns to keep the paint from chipping.

I decided our rayguns needed a little something extra. Since my clockhand tiara has pearls on it, I decided to buy some self-adhesive pearls. I added another coat of varnish to help keep the pearls on. For the tot, we used stick-on clear rhinestone hearts. You may wish to add gears, studs, or even clockhands…

Step Four: Add bling, if desired
The Tot’s pink raygun

So, there it is, rayguns fit for a princess. Now, I just need to figure out how to affix it to my wrist.

The Demise of the (Type)Written Word

DSCI0070Before the iPad, before the netbook, before the personal desktop computer, there was a time in which simple mechanical parts and push button technology aided us in producing the written word: I give you the typewriter.

In fact, this may be the last typewriter, or at least the last manual typewriter.* In April the last typewriter factory in the world, Godrej and Boyce, closed its production line after 60 years, with 500 pieces remaining. Having sustained itself in recent years on the diminishing Indian and Arabic markets, there was no longer a sustainable business in typewriters.

I would never go to a store expecting to find a typewriter but not too long ago I did go in search of one. Most aspiring writers have at some point sought, or yearned for, the comfort and solace of typewriter keys; providing a feeling of connection to past artists in a way that my handy little netbook just doesn’t. There is something about a typewriter, something comforting in the rhythmic sounds made by the machine as you type, it feels productive, it feels permanent. Maybe that’s what I seek, to see line after line produced on paper instead of existing as a picture on my screen. Certainly that is why I never took to the electric typewriter. Some of my best work has been done with the deliberate words punched onto paper by my typewriter, also most of my unseen work. These days we’re all about speed, and if I can’t email it from a device then it’s probably never going anywhere. Still, I’m drawn back to the machine and can be found click clacking away in the kitchen. A friend’s brother came over not long after I purchased my typewriter and asked what it was, he got the biggest kick out of typing on it. Old or classic?

Fear not! If you still want a typewriter, for its steampunk value or as a much needed writing tool, you can still find them out there.

  • If you want something aesthetically pleasing you can find vintage machines online at places like Etsy and eBay. They also have a wide variety of more functional machines.
  • You can find them at yard sales or rummage sales – mine (pictured above) cost $2 from a White Elephant and works beautifully, except that it has no #1 key but who really needs that!
  • Government offices and schools tend to have them in storage ad infinitum, so it’s worth a visit to see if they’ve got one or two (for spare parts even) that they would like to unload.
  • There are companies that refurbish typewriters, so you can in essence buy a “new” one even now. or will take you back to the eighties, sadly not at eighties prices.

And don’t worry about running out of ribbon, they still sell it at Staples!

*Electric typewriters are still in production.

Airships: The Future of Flight?

steampunk, air travel, airship, blimp,
Photo: El Bibliomata

The imaginary allure of traveling by airship comes to life for fans of steampunk through books like Leviathan and Boneshaker. Oh, the thrill of floating gracefully, quietly, through the clouds with the earth far below! The idea of traveling – or at least transporting goods – via airship may not be so far-fetched, according to Scientific American. Airships may very well be the future of flight.

Fueled with helium, rather than the oh-so-flammable hydrogen that made the Hindenburg a household name, these dirigibles offer potential for a greener, more efficient method of hauling goods.

  • While landing airplanes requires long runways, these airships can land in a much tighter space.
  • Dirigibles cost less to manufacture and to operate.
  • Developers claim that pollution is minimal.
  • Airships could provide delivery of goods to remote locations that are inaccessible by roads or airplanes.
  • The risks of losing cargo is minimal; in the event of an emergency, they just drift to earth and can even land on water.

Lockheed’s airship, SkyTug, is expected to be commercially available by late 2013. You may want to start boning up on steampunk essentials so you are properly equipped!

What to Get Your GeekMom for Mother’s Day

Here it is, the definitive GeekMom Mother’s Day shopping guide. I surveyed my fellow GeekMoms to see what everyone most wanted for Mother’s Day, outside of the lovely pleasantries of nice meals cooked for us, time spent with our adorable children, and moments of solitude. This is our list, and chances are there’s something on it for the GeekMom in your family.

The Sims Medieval made it onto a few GeekMom wish lists this year, perfect for the GeekMom who wants to rule the kingdom. Then you can top off a day of gaming with dinner at Medieval Times.

16 rainbow-striped red resistors + 12 gold choke coils + 12 red and black diodes = geek chic with these earrings from Etsy seller girlgeekboutique.

For a GeekMom who travels with her lunch and wants to do it in style, give her the Thermos Dual Compartment Superman Lunch Kit with Cape. It also comes in Batman and Hello Kitty!

For the GeekMom who loves her iPod but would happily trade in playlists for liner notes, hop onto eBay or Craigslist and find her one of these amazing and stylish music credenzas. What home wouldn’t be better with one of these in it?

Sometimes mom just wants to curl up with a great new book, like Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake or GeekMom icon Tina Fey’s new Bossypants. If you could magically create time for her to read it, that would be awesome, too.

For lounging and gaming, give the Sumo Omni Lounge a try. One GeekMom described it as the Best. Chair. Ever.

While lounging, mom might want to enjoy her favorite beverage from a mug that’s perfect for her style, like this stoneware teacup from Bennington Potters or a Poppet mug from Momiji.

If yours is a steampunk-loving GeekMom, how about a lovely leather underbust corset?

Gardening GeekMoms will dig a Fermentation Pot to give a little culture to the veggies from the garden. Or give your GeekMom a Cast-Iron Griddle to cook up the backyard harvest.

If you read the Sleep Talkin’ Man blog, you’ll understand why a GeekMom will double over laughing if she receives this messenger bag that says, “Don’t leave the duck there. It’s totally irresponsible. Put it on the swing, it’ll have much more fun.”

Give a TV-loving GeekMom a box set of her favorite show, especially if it’s one you can watch as a family, like the Star Trek Voyager complete box set.

For some moms, gifts in tiny velvet boxes are a standby, surefire hit. The sure thing for GeekMoms comes in larger packages, say packages that are Nook Color-shaped, netbook-shaped, or the diamond of them all, the iPad 2-shaped.

Or, if she already has her dream device, pop over to Etsy and get her an handcrafted case, like these fabric covers from Etsy user dobeeubags.

Most of all, just throw some love your GeekMom’s way. And, as some of my fellow GeekMoms have pointed out, don’t forget to show a little extra love to the single GeekMoms out there.

The Steampunk Family

Steampunk Family is a great resource and inspiration to creative families everywhere. They call themselves the von Hedwig Family, and have created steampunk personas to go with their fun lifestyle of turning junk into steampunk, creating an adventure serial, cool DIY turtorials, traveling to conventions to share their know-how, and providing resources so anyone can be steampunk now.


I asked Anne-Marie York (aka Hera von Hedwig) who is the mom and keeper of the Steampunk Family website, a few questions:

When did you personally become fascinated with the Steampunk world? Did you meet your husband before or after this obsession began?
Considering that Jules Verne was writing 150 years ago, and the term steampunk was coined over 30 years ago, I came rather late to the genre. Like so many other steampunks, the obsession started before I knew there was a word for it, or other people likewise obsessed. Of course, once we figured out there was a wide world of steampunks out there, we became drastically more interested. One of the most captivating things about it is all the amazing projects people are doing, the fantastic art and stories and costumes and the creation of culture. It’s not dictated by anyone, it has the vaguest of principles, it is wide open to creative whim.

My husband and I will shortly celebrate our twentieth wedding anniversary, and we met many years before that. Our relationship predates our steampunk endeavors, but we have always made things (often out of nothing because that’s what we had) and always been more drawn to growing culture than consuming prepackaged culture.

In the Author’s Note, you imply that this entire family endeavor began from telling bedtime stories about “a family of Edwardian mad scientists, who live in an airship and have amazing adventures.” Did the traveling about to different conventions and bringing Steampunk into your daily lives come after these stories?
I started telling the stories to my kids years ago. When we went on vacation with friends, and all their kids heard the stories and wanted to be in them as well, that’s when I realized the stories had broader appeal, and bowed to my husband’s encouragement to put them on the web. In some ways, the website and stories are a collaborative effort. The kids I write about make art for the site, and whenever I get stuck in the narrative, I read out loud to the family and they have fantastic ideas about what their characters do. And of course, my husband Phineas contributes hugely, in art and projects and moral support!

Phineas and I both attended conventions in our nefarious youth, but bringing the kids is new. They’re old enough to enjoy it now, they love dressing up, and have even started speaking on panels already! As for steampunk in our daily lives, we have always embraced reusing and repurposing material culture (stuff). We built an outdoor room almost entirely out of things other people threw away – walls, fireplace, lighting, plants, everything but nails and mortar, really. So discovering steampunk just gave us a unifying theme for things we already did – giving daily function beauty on a budget. Now we have an excuse to dress better when we do it.

How has your children’s lives been impacted by your travels (on a daily level and a general upbringing level?)
This year has been a bit crazy, and we intend to schedule more sanely next year. More travel during the summer, if possible. The hectic pace benefits no one, and gets in the way of making more neat stuff. And we try to do a variety of things with our kids, have different kinds of adventures, not just steampunk-related trips. One benefit of steampunk and travel is that we all play together. This is a hobby we share as a family and with friends old and new. (But most of our pastimes are!) Another benefit is that when I was 12 I could barely meet an adult’s eye, much less converse sensibly. My kids can hold their own with all kinds of people.

We believe you should raise children to be adults you want to spend time with. Our kids learn and explore and gain independence and confidence when we travel, and I’m all for that. Their fictional counterparts in my stories survive dreadful dangers. Although I never want my children to experience kidnappers or yeti, I want them to handle whatever they encounter.

The idea of reusing what is already around us to make beautiful functional things comes across clearly. What is one thing you think any family (into Steampunk or not) can take from your example?
Although Phineas would love to make one of those fabulous Datamancer type keyboards, that’s a bit our of our reach. So he went down to the antique/junk shop and found a gutted Victrola case. In it he put our entertainment computer (with all the music and movies on it), the Wii and games. When you close the lid it’s a beautiful piece of carved wooden furniture from another century. When you open it, there’s Doctor Who.

The Victorian artist William Morris said “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”. We wholeheartedly follow that advice. But why not both? Surround yourself with things both lovely and functional whenever you can. We encourage people to start small, think about what you have already, make your beauty and function affordable and attainable. One of the simplest fixes we did was to decant the giant bottle of mouthwash in our bathroom into a discarded Patron bottle we pulled from the town recycling bin. Now there is beauty where there once was plastic and advertising.

Thanks Madame von Hedwig!

The French Side of… Steampunk Literature

"The Nyctalope is watching over Paris"… La Brigade Chimérique. Image: Gess / Editions L'Atalante.

Les Moutons électriques (Electric Sheep, just like Philip K. Dick’s famous novel) is a French publisher that offers some wonderful collections for every geek. Its bibliothèque rouge (Red Library) proposes biographies of imaginary characters in a convincing academic style. One can read Les nombreuses vies de… (The many lives of…) Harry Potter, Jane Austen, Dracula or even Cthulhu! Its bibliothèque des miroirs (Library of Mirrors) includes essays about various aspects of pop/geek culture, such as zombies, vampires, space opera, Monty Python… and of course, steampunk!

In the more than 300 pages of Steampunk!, Etienne Barrillier tries to define steampunk (as Robin pointed in her primer, that’s not an easy job) and to cover most of its aspects. The book is historical, trying to depict steampunk’s evolution, as well as geographical (a special chapter is devoted to Japan and another to French steampunk, of course). It studies  not only steampunk literature and comics, but also cosplay, fashion, gadgets and music, in a section labeled “Being steampunk.” Like all books of this collection, it includes a lot of (beautiful) pictures. That’s clearly a must-have for any steampunk fan or steampunk scholar… at least if one reads French !

Barrillier’s opinion on French steampunk literature is especially interesting. He concludes that French authors came to use different sources than great Anglo-Saxon steampunk authors, to find their own kind of steampunk. For example, they often set their stories in Paris’ “Belle Epoque” rather than Victorian London. They try to use characters and events from French history (such as Jules Verne, of course, like Johan Héliot in his novel La lune seule le sait). They don’t hesitate to mix literary genres (fantasy, sci-fi, alternate history…), and often don’t stick to “classic” steampunk. Another example is Pierre Pevel, who sets his Ambremer as an alternative Belle Epoque Paris with a Faery Court and legalized wizards.

My own favorite French steampunk novel, though, is somehow “mainstream” steampunk, with automatons, aether, opium, romance and even Queen Victoria as a guest star (even if the plot is set in Paris). It’s called Confessions d’un automate mangeur d’opium, which could be translated as Confessions of an Opium-Eater Automaton (from famous Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater). It features a fine heroine, a young actress (and, incidentally, a lesbian), along with her psychiatrist brother. The authors are Fabrice Colin and Mathieu Gaborit, both quite famous in France, and both writers of other steampunk-like novels in various styles. Like many steampunk authors, they play well the game of intertextuality: to identify references and characters is part of steampunk’s fun. The novel isn’t translated into English. That’s a shame !

The same Fabrice Colin contributed to wonderful French steampunk comic series, recently adapted into a RPG, La Brigade Chimérique (by Colin, Serge Lehman and Gess). Wait… are they really steampunk ? That’s uncertain. As “clockpunk” is sometimes considered as different from steampunk, they forged the term “radiumpunk” to define La Brigade‘s universe. Romain d’Huissier, one of the authors of the RPG, explains :

We cannot talk about steampunk since the comics are set later: steam engines are far outmoded. Since Marie Curie’s discoveries, radium is the new center of attention, you only have to look at the ads of that time. La Brigade chimérique imagines that radium has become the new energy, the one you uses for everything, medicine, transportation, weapons… Even most importantly, that’s radium that gave their powers to the first “supermen” ! So, undoubtedly, that’s radiumpunk.

La Brigade Chimérique is built upon some wonderful ideas, as one of the co-writers, Serge Lehman, tells:

[I thought] that would be really great to write a comic about the end of European super-heroes. True comics in 12 episodes, set in the 30s, including hypnosis, quantum physics, psychoanalysis and featuring the great figures of European literature. Show what happened to them.

And this dream came true!

La Brigade Chimérique (6 books rather than 12, at end) explains why European superheroes seemed to disappear after WW II, and features many wonderful characters, historical (Marie Curie, surrealist writer André Breton…) or fictional (the Nyctalope who might be considered as the first superhero character in literature, Dr. Mabuse, or Harry Dickson). The press release gives a good idea of how cool the series are:

They’re born on the battlefields of WW I, in gas breath and ray-X guns blow. They took control of European capital cities. Serial authors changed them into icons. Scientists are fascinated by their powers. However, at the center of the Old Continent, a threat is growing that could erase the very memory of their existence…

I strongly recommend reading them!

La Brigade Chimérique : the comics and their official website

La Brigade Chimérique : the RPG, published by Sans-Détour

If you’d like further recommendations, the people of Steampunk-fr are compiling a list of steampunk books and comics, both French- and English-speaking, and discussing their readings on the forum.

STEAMPUNK WEEK : Impress All Weta Staff With Your Creative Skills

First prize: a full scale Manmelter 3600zx Subatomic Dintegrator Pistol ; Runner Up: a full scale Victorian Mongoose 1902a Concealable Ray Pistol

Last week, I talk about Dr. Grordbort’s incredible inventions (and infallible aether oscillators) as they’ll be exhibited in the Maison d’Ailleurs.

But now, Dr. Grordbort needs your own skills, you Geek Moms Steampunk Crafters !

The Department of the Colonial Armed Forces call all “young men and literate women” (which is to say Geek Moms, isn’t it ?) to customise a Righteous Bison Indivisible Particle Smasher into a weapon able to repel “barbaric Venusian hordes”.

The unfinished Righteous Bison you'll have to customise.

You’ll win fame, honor, admiration of the whole WETA crew (your work will be displayed on various Weta and Weta’s related websites) and if that’s not enough, you’ll win full scale Dr.Grordbort’s rayguns.
A few things you need to know if you want to enter :

  • The entry isn’t free, since they have to ship you a copy of an unpainted Righteous Bison for you to customise. That will cost you US$49 (if you live in continental US — if not, you still can enter but that will cost you extra).
  • You must be a member of the Replica Prop Forum (membership is free) to submit your Deadly Beautiful Masterwork
  • You have until 15th August to send your pictures
  • You will get a special code with a 10% discount on Dr. Grordbort’s products purchased before 18 April 2011
  • Painting is not enough. You’ll need to completely customise the Raygun. As Art Andrews explains on RPF :

Actually, our hope is that this is NOT simply a repaint contest. Weta is looking for you to use the Righteous Bison as a base to really let your imagination fly. The guns are unpainted simply because we assumed with all that you guys would be sculpting, screwing and gluing on to them, you would want a blank canvas, plus it helped bring the price down (just as a note, Weta is not making anything on these). They really want to see you let your imagination go wild while staying within style of the Dr Grordbort’s universe (very very important point), but the more out there you are, the more likely you are to win! I can’t speak for them, but I think anyone simply doing a repaint would be very unlikely to win.

  • As it is a “very very important point”, I’ll repeat it for you lazy reader: you need to stay in style of the Dr Grordbort’s universe. Check his website again.

Good luck ! Let us know if you win, or even if you don’t. Let us know if you have fun customising the gun, with or without your kids, and feel free to share your pictures !

The Unsinkable Starship Titanic

Douglas Adams’ Starship Titanic

A few years ago, I inherited some of my dad’s book collection when my mum decided to have a clear out. Included in the books were all five volumes of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy “trilogy.” I couldn’t wait to read them.

As a child, I had been brought up watching the 1981 BBC television adaptation and as an adult, I had also seen the 2005 movie which I unfortunately couldn’t bring myself to like – although the yarn sequence brought me close. The books promised far more detail and depth so I read them almost immediately. Throughout experiencing the series in various forms, a few ideas have really leapt out at me and stuck in my head; the concept of Milliways: the Restaurant at The End of the Universe (although I have to admit that I’d rather eat at the Big Bang Burger Bar), the knack of learning to fly – you need to learn “how to throw yourself at the ground and miss” but one concept that really stuck with me was that of Starship Titanic.

The tragedy of the Titanic has fascinated people since the day of the disaster, almost one hundred years ago. Melissa Peltier, the producer of a 1994 documentary about the ship said during an interview,

“It’s almost like a Greek myth that really happened in our lifetime. It’s so unbelievable. It’s so mythic. The little human stories on board. All the morality plays that are happening, just the whole idea of the arrogance and the hubris of speeding through the ice field because (they thought) nothing could go wrong. It’s a huge moral lesson.”

Such an inimitable story would naturally find its way to be woven into science fiction, as with most other great tales, both fictional and real. In the Hitchhiker’s series, Starship Titanic is mentioned only briefly in 1982’s “Life, the Universe and Everything”.  We are told of its majesty and beauty, how it was built in the “great ship-building asteroid complexes of Artrifactovol” in the early days of Improbability Physics and how, seconds after its launch, it suffered “a sudden and gratuitous total existence failure.” The ship is not mentioned again within the Hitchhiker’s canon, but instead became the star of its own computer game, devised by Adams sixteen years later in 1998 along with Monty Python’s Terry Jones. In the computer game, the ship undergoes “Spontaneous Total Existence Failure” and crash lands on Earth, more precisely, on top of the player’s house. It then becomes the player’s task to restore the sabotaged computer, Titania and save the ship. The game is notoriously difficult, I myself have only ever managed to wander around aimlessly and feed some chicken to a parrot. Gaming site Destructoid ran a “Games that Time Forgot” article on it which stated:

Additionally, Starship Titanic remains one of the most absurdly difficult adventure games ever made: the puzzles often seem designed to be funny, rather than challenging, and as a result their solutions range anywhere from obscure to downright ridiculous. It literally got so bad that later versions of the game came with a 120 page walkthrough, packaged completely free of charge. If you ever plan on trying Starship Titanic out, then, for the love of God, use a strategy guide. That, or plan on ripping out half your hair because you didn’t know that a robotic parrot enjoys eating brazil nuts instead of walnuts.

A book entitled “Douglas Adams’s Starship Titanic” based on the game was written by Terry Jones who was also responsible for development of the game alongside Adams. Jones’ influence is strongly felt in the absurd and surreal humour found all the way through the game.

The year after the publication of the Starship Titanic game, Futurama got in on the act with its season one episode, “A Flight to Remember in which the crew of Planet Express got to sail aboard the maiden voyage of the new Titanic space cruise ship.  The plot of the Futurama episode was based almost completely on James Cameron’s Titanic, rather than the concept developed by Douglas Adams, and parodied it in several scenes including the famous dancing scene on the lower deck. As this was a short cartoon and the plot focused mainly on the characters, the ship was more of a convenient backdrop to the story than an integral part of the plot as it is in the material penned by Douglas Adams.  However the ship has been re-designed to fit into the visual style of the Futurama universe perfectly, even using the famous Tube Transportation System for the passengers to embark upon the ship. The episode ended with the ship being pulled into a black hole rather than sunk by an iceberg after the ship’s captain, Zapp Brannigan, pilots her into a swarm of comets, referred to in the show as “the icebergs of the sky”. In an interesting change to the original story, the Futurama Titanic appears to have had enough lifeboats to evacuate everyone on board.

The concept of Starship Titanic faded into obscurity for almost a decade until the BBC’s re-vitalised Dr Who franchise used it for the 2007 Christmas Special Voyage of The Damned. In this special the Titanic, an interstellar cruiser from the planet Sto, crashes not into a house but into the TARDIS which is in orbit over Earth whilst on a sightseeing tour to observe the traditions of primitive cultures – specifically Earth at Christmas. Naturally a catastrophe is imminent with the sabotaged ship due to hit London causing the Doctor to spend most of the episode saving the ship and its occupants (and falling for yet another attractive – and doomed – young lady.) The special received the highest viewing figures for a Dr Who episode since 1979’s City of Death when it aired on Christmas Day.

For now, Starship Titanic is again at peace but for how long? For almost three decades the concept of Starship Titanic has been revisited and re-written in a multitude of formats. Is it so unthinkable that the future may bring more games, books, perhaps even a movie? The story of the Titanic has always had the potential for almost infinite re-writes and by moving the bones of the story out of our past and into our future, the possibilities become even broader.

For now, the Starship Titanic game is still available for purchase second hand if you feel like taking a tour of the ship and becoming incredibly frustrated, The Dr Who Christmas special is available as part of the Season Four box set and the Futurama episode is available on the Volume Two box set.

Steampunk Philosophy

© Dave Clifton 2011

A few weeks ago I had the great pleasure to host a steampunk discussion at Mythic Faire, a fantasy/myth/alt culture convention that features live music, masquerade balls and special guests. I had a stellar time, both as a guest and an attendee, with the steampunk panel discussion being the highlight of my weekend. I  type “panel discussion” with a bit of a smirk, because truth be told it was just me up there on the dais.  Every faire or convention has it’s little surprises and this wasn’t the first time I’ve found myself without panel partners. Thankfully I’m an experienced public speaker with a background in theater and improv, so crowds of people wearing expectant expressions don’t generally intimidate me. And hey, at least I know how to make an entrance.

The great thing about doing a panel discussion on your own is that you have the freedom to turn what would be an “us talking at all of you” experience into an “all of us talking to each other” experience. So that’s what we did. The result was a lively and informative discussion on the deep roots and underlying philosophy of steampunk. Beyond top hats and goggles, beyond modded keyboards and brassy rayguns, beyond cos-play, corsets, and Lord and Lady RPG – what exactly is at the heart of steampunk?

What we discovered as we explored this topic together is that to many of us (certainly to the people present in the room that day) steampunk is so much more then a simple aesthetic. It’s a philosophy for life. Steampunkian principles can be applied to any aspect of your life. A commitment to self sufficiency and the creativity of the individual, support of small and local business, respect of artisanship and traditional materials are core steampunk concepts. Hardcore steampunk enthusiasts tend towards a longing to downsize the material aspects of their lives, while simultaneously demanding more function, better design and romantic execution of the objects they choose to have around them.

In fact you might say that the steampunk philosophy could be summed up in this golden rule:

‘Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful‘

Guess who said that?

William Morris, the Victorian era designer and founder of the Arts and Crafts movement.

I firmly believe that steampunk as a philosophy has it’s deepest roots in the Arts and Crafts Movement of the 1860s. This movement was largely a backlash to the Industrial Revolution of the early 1800s. Arts and Crafts philosophy favored the skilled work of human hands and master craftsman over mass-produced and commercially made items. It was this same debate that dominated the discussion at Mythic Faire. Is the value of an object inherent only on it’s surface? What about how, or where the piece was made? Is an object steampunk because you’ve glued cogs to it, or because of it’s purpose? It’s this very same discussion that spurred on the development of glorious movements of art and design that we so treasure today. 150 years later we are having the same debates over mass produced imported goods, versus locally made and artisanal items. It’s a good debate, with complex questions and few simple answers.

For my part I enjoyed the lively discussion that manifested and look forward to exploring the connection that steampunk philosophy has to current social and economic issues more in the future. What are your thoughts? Share them in the comments!

Editor’s Note: There’s still time to enter to win one of Brigid’s Steampunk figurines! Deadline for the giveaway is Sunday night.

STEAMPUNK WEEK: Have a Merry Steampunk Smartphone

The incredible Steampunk iRetrofone by Freeland Studios ! See below for details.

A few months ago, GeekMom Brigid listed some cool steampunk apps for your iPhone. But what if you want your smartphone itself look like some delightfully intricate steampunk device ?

Image : Colin Thompson /GelaSkins.

Rejoice, for you’re not alone! Actually, there’s an amazing amount of steampunk smartphone arts and crafts. So many that I began to wonder about that.

Is it only because steampunk geeks are often tech gadget geeks in the same time ?

Is it because even steampunk geeks need smartphones and  the plain, sober, quite cold look of our favorite high-tech device is frustrating for their/our tastes ?

Is it because smartphones (tablets, laptops, whatever) are such a great new field for art a creative person  cannot ignore them ?

Anyway, here are a few steampunk smartphones gadgets I found especially beautiful, or original, or useful.


The easiest and cheapest way to customize your smartphone/tablet/laptop/MP3 or whatever gadget you may possess is probably the wonderful and diverse GelaSkins. They offer, of course, a steampunk model.


Among the smartphone cases, I was most convinced by C Westbrook Designs (San Francisco) creations, available in eight colors (charcoal black, snowy white, rose pink, fiery red, rusty red, royal violet, forest green and denim blue). The rusty red version is probably the most canonic steampunk. You may visit their shop on Etsy.

Kadisbel’s cases on Zazzle are also quite cool. They’re built in hard plastic and covered with printed fabric. The shop claim that’s “pleasing to the touch, lightweight and durable” but I find difficult to imagine the actual aspect of it.

You might also like Steampunky’s designs on Cafe Press.

From left to right: Kadisbel's case, C Westbrook case (rusty red), Steampunky's case
Craft your own steampunk iPhone case… if you're as gifted as Catbones

Among the phone docks, you’ll certainly be impressed by the “hand-Sculpted (and hand painted) iRetrofone Base” by Scott Freeland. Of course, it’s really expensive. But amazing, too: at the same time a functional iPhone dock, an old phone’s look for nostalgia, and a steampunk design for style. You may visit their shop on Etsy and admire the beautiful Steampunk Black & Gold model shown at the beginning of this post.


If you’re a crafty person, you may try to make your own, such as Catbones on DeviantArt, who simply explains:

I altered my old leather Belkin iPhone case. Brass and plastic clockwork parts, insulated wire, cardboard, plastic, wood glue, superglue, enamel and metal cream paint.

Wow! I’m not that gifted! Are you?

And if you don’t own a smartphone ?

You still can wear such cool designs on a t-shirt! They proudly claim that “artist Kevin Tong captures the invention of daVinci, the imagination of H.G. Wells, and the brilliance of Jonathan Ive in this Exploded Phone drawing,” which is probably a bit overstated, but the t-shirt is undoubtedly cool.

It has indeed a style close to Da Vinci's notebooks, isn't it? iSteamPhone t-shirt and poster design.

Creating a Steampunk World is Not as Easy as It Might Seem

differnce-engine1I first heard “steampunk” used in connection with William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine, which was published in 1990.

At the time, I thought adding tech to the Victorian Age was a fascinating idea but I was much more interested in reading space-based science fiction and gave it a pass. I didn’t think much about steampunk until last year, when I started hearing that steampunk, particularly romantic steampunk, was the next big thing.

My response was, “Wait, how can it be the next big thing when it’s over 20 years old?”

Intrigued, I attended a workshop on steampunk at the Romance Writers of America national conference last summer.

At the workshop, I learned that  steampunk is all about the gadgets. And the presenters did have the coolest steampunk costumes with a number of gadgets, including steampunk wrist-watches and, of course, goggles.

But still I wasn’t really connecting to the genre. The retro look is very cool but it seemed to me that regular science fiction has plenty of futuristic gadgets. I wasn’t sure what the point was of creating more cumbersome and less efficient gadgets and placing them in the Victorian Age.

Gradually, though, I began to see the appeal. Part of that is due to my love of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series. The main planet in that series, Barrayar, is a backwards society loosely based on Russian society around the time of the end of the Czars. The contrast between the Barrayaran culture and the ultra-futuristic gadgets that they’d adopted from the rest of the colonized planets was a great way to show that while society may be technically advanced, similar advances in cultures and mindsets take far longer.

And that’s what I find the best part of steampunk. On the one side is a culture that is extremely constrained by rules  and on the other side are technological advances that are leaps and bounds ahead of where people are emotionally. It’s a great way to explore the changing role not only of technology but also the class and gender differences of the time period. In some many ways, the Victorian era was at the crossroads of change. Adding technology to it would just accelerate that change, causing as many problems as it solved.

So when my lovely editor, Sarah Hansen of The Wild Rose Press, challenged me a few months ago to write a steampunk story, I was interested but unsure of where to begin.

I started thinking of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. That story had Professor Challenger and his gang of intrepid explorers discovering a hidden world where dinosaurs survived. It’s not quite steampunk but Professor George Edward Challenger is certainly a steampunk-style scientist.

Thinking of Doyle naturally led me to Sherlock Holmes. I’m an  utter Holmes geek. I devoured the Canon as a teenager. I have both annotated editions. I’ve practically got the stories memorized.

Thinking of Sherlock Holmes led me to Randall Garrett’s Lord Darcy stories, which are set in an alternate world where the Plantagenets still rule Britain and magic works. The Watson of these stories is a forensic sorcerer.  That led me to another Holmes-style detective, Simon Archard, the main character in the comic book Ruse. Archard also exists in a Victorian-style age on an alternate word and his assistant is another magic user, female this time.

The answer to my question became blazingly obvious.

I would write a steampunk detective story with a Sherlock Holmes style character and turn my Watson-inspired character into a woman and possible romantic interest.  I figured I’d just add some steampunk gadgets to the flavor of a detective story and I was all set.

Eh, not quite.

The mystery came easy. But I couldn’t just “throw in some gadgets” because that didn’t make sense. It’s never good to just throw in anything to meet a particular genre in any case and certainly it wouldn’t work in this story.

In order to create the gadgets of my steampunk world, I had to find a reason why these particular Victorians would be using steam power as part of their daily lives.

So in order to write a 24,000 word story, I had to create an entire alternate history for my world.  Eventually, I followed Ruse’s lead and added some magic to the mix. The main idea is that the humans in my alternate world have discovered a talent similar to photosynthesis in that they can convert sunlight to energy. The by-product of this talent is a substance called mage-coal, which burns cleaner and far longer than regular coal and thus created a reliance on steam power.

Once I had the technological issues settled, I had to sort  through all the implications of having magic users and what it would mean in term of gender and class issues in Victorian society. It could go either way but I felt there was a great deal of conflict to be had if the upper classes decided erroneously that mage power was something gifted only to them. They would feel that they were superior and that the lower classes would naturally not share such a gift. That would leave the class structure in place but also create untrained mages who would have little love for the current system and might use their raw powers to cause a great deal of trouble.

As in the real Industrial age, I had a conflict brewing between those responsible for great technological advances and those left behind to either be untrained labor or used up by the new system.

It was only until I had these world-building issues were settled that I was able to create the main characters, Lord Gregor Sherringford and Joan Kriegerson. They’re Holmes-inspired but definitely a product of this strange new world. (And if you’re enough of a Holmes geek, you might spot the Easter egg in my detective’s name.)

Having finished the story and sent it off to my editor last week, I was left with two main thoughts about steampunk.

One: it is really, really hard to write well and required far more research than I ever thought.

Two: it’s a whole lot of fun.


The French Side Of… Steampunk Crafts

Crafts and costumes are a great part of steampunk world (and fun!). You may know some American steampunk designers, such as Tom Banwell or Dr Grymm. Here are a few French ones, in three very different styles and very different medias.

Volute Corsets

What’s more Victorian than corsets? Beautiful, sexy, elegant, intricate, austere… one may choose between many aspects but they’re still our favorite fashionable lady’s garment. At least they are mine.

And if you’re really fashionable, you should definitely buy them in Paris.

Left: This marvel was created for Alina, singer of the band Marquize. It was inspired by one of Mina's dresses in Coppola's Dracula. Right: A Steampunk-style Corset. Image: Anne-Laure Camilleri for Volute Corsets. Used by permission.

There’s a small shop, painted red, 80 rue des Gravilliers in Paris’ 3d district, which is a place of wonder for all corset lovers. They design corsets of all types for all types of women (and, more rarely, men) as well as beautiful corsetted bridal gowns. They’re so successful that their order book is full until July 2011, at least.

Its founder and designer, Caroline Branck, very recently became a mom but she found time to send me pictures and links about her work, and to write in her LiveJournal. She’s a steampunk fan and sees steampunk costumes as “reinterpreting Victorian fashion with ochre, brown, lustrous bronze shades, something like an old photograph. Materials like copper and brass are in favour.”

Be careful: The shop is only open by rendez-vous (how Parisian, isn’t it ?) You still may dream on the Volute Corsets website (there’s an English version).

If you’re interested in Volute Corsets, you will enjoy the wonderful three-part article (translated into English) on Stella Polaris in which Caroline explains, among many things, why corsets aren’t “an instrument of torture or oppression for women.” To answer my fellow GeekMom Andrea’s concerns about women and Wikipedia, Caroline is the author of the article “Corset” on French Wikipedia.

Image : Captainsmog. Used by permission.

Captain Smog’s Lego Steampunk

Captain Smog aka Sylvain Amacher creates steampunk Lego.

He likes steampunk technology for its “naive but very aesthetic side, close to poetry,” and Lego he considers being “the most intelligent and creative toy of this universe and others.” He sees Lego as well-suited to representing steampunk spirit and its delirious “amateur” crafts.

He uses his own Lego for his creations, or pieces he buys on Bricklink. The Lego magazine Brickjournal #16 issue will focus on Steampunk and feature Captain Smog’s work on 2 pages. He’s very proud and honored! You may visit his Flickr page.


Futuravapeur aka Vincent Bénard is quite famous in the French world of geek crafts. He’s a professional prop man and stage designer for theater and TV. He’s also the author, along with AnXiogène, of the incredible “Historiettes de Monsieur Sandalette,” a “daguerreotype-novel entirely colorized by a difference engine.” The Historiettes were even featured on the famous British Steampunk website Brass Goggles. But he’s a multi-faceted talent, as you’ll see on his website (as he says, “sometimes in approximate English”).

Image : Futuravapeur. Used by permission. From left to right: Astrodestructurator with alternative combustion, Steam-horse ordered by his son, Steam-blaster in Star Wars style.


You can meet Futuravapeur, Captain Smog and many other talented French steampunks on the very active forum of the French steampunk community.

Steampunk as Modern Reliquary: Modding Gods in the Post-Modern World

Reliquary CC BY-SA 3.0 by Wim Goossens, 12-13th century; Photo by Richard Nagy of "The Clacker"

Author’s note: This first appeared about two years ago at my steampunk novel blog, The Aldersgate Cycle. At the time I was knee deep writing the book of that name, and spent long hours pondering the meaning of steampunk, especially related to culture and literature. Hot on the heels of my graduate degree (with a concentration in medieval English and the like) I was working on ways to connect the recent steampunk maker culture to the reliquary culture of the Middle Ages. I’m not sure it’s the most sound argument, but certainly is food for thought. For steampunk week, I thought it might be a slightly different subject to share.

Image: Talisman de Charlemagne, 12th Century

I’ve been pondering the connection between the modding movement (particularly steampunk, of course) and the art of reliquary making from the Middle Ages a great deal lately, and thought I’d share some general thoughts. While I’m not technically an art historian, the subject has always fascinated me, and the connections between art and literature are, of course, myriad.

To begin, well, what is a reliquary? Simply put, a reliquary is a vessel, or housing, designed to fit holy objects–typically of a saint or a martyr–in order to enable worship, adoration, and experience. The actual structures varied immensely, from those small enough to house tiny locks of hair, teeth, and scraps of cloth, to large enough to compensate for entire bodies. While most people associate reliquaries with Catholic and Christian tradition, they are also very common in Hindu and Buddhist religions as well.

What initially astonished me about reliquaries, when I began studying the art of the Middle Ages in Western Europe, was the diversity and grandeur to be found in various examples. So much of the artwork during this period seems watered down, simplified, lacking in luster (to some… this is a point I’d argue rather vehemently). But the reliquaries dazzle with their ornate scrollwork, precious metals, inlaid stones, and sense of individuality (not to mention… oddity). That these reliquaries were so adored is no surprise; people believed they could work miracles! And in contrast to the day-to-day life of a medieval peasant, yes, I imagine I would have thought the same thing, too.

So, steampunk. Consider the word reverence: 1. a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe; veneration.

Now, in this day and age, religious homogeneity is far from the norm. But we do revere our technology. And yet, alone, as a generic product of mass-production, our computers and iPods, our guitars, our phones–these things are not uniquely ours. Steampunk design has always striven to re-make, to re-apportion, to re-define the contents within. Because, like a finger-bone or lock of hair is indistinguishable without context, so too is your average computer/technology. Yet many of us feel compelled to read personalities into our own tech, striving to soften the edges of cold, hard, circuits. Granted steampunk artists tend to work in brass and wood, rivets and cogs, etc, and our medieval counterparts used gold, but the sentiment is surprisingly similar. Reliquaries house mysteries, and so, to some extent, to the mods of the steampunk aesthetic movement.

Image: Brigid Ashwood, 21st Century

What’s particularly divergent when comparing the two is that while reliquaries and reliquary making were relegated to churches and those in control of power (and, some would argue, the Diety in general…), steampunk is almost like modding your own god. It brings to mind old practices of pagan “house gods”–the sorts that inhabit your kitchen, your hearth, your bedroom, the objects that you interact with every day. I mean, no medieval peasant would ever be able to afford their own reliquary–let alone a relic (thought I bet there were some pretty clever folks who made a pretty penny playing into the system). This diversion is at the heart of steampunk, that it’s something accessible rather than distant, something to be claimed rather than something that claims you. That’s why the best the concentration is on aesthetic–the look of the final project–rather than worth, i.e. much of steampunk material is scavenged, recycled, etc.

So, have our gods been replaced by the spirits of our machines? For some, maybe. But as different as people may be across milennia, it’s fascinating how much does indeed stay the same…

My personal favorite medieval reliquary, for those intrigued, is that of Saint Foi. Not only is she, essentially, a gold recreation (of sorts) of the original container for the bones (that would be Saint Foi herself), but the history behind the reliquary is fascinating and includes not only feuding medieval monks but also a series of thefts!

More shiny pretty reliquaries here, for those intrigued!

Datamancer has some excellent examples of steampunk/medieval crossover, including his Reliquary keyboard and “The Archbishop” PC housing.