Tag Archives: Steampunk Technology

Steampunk Gadgets – a video by yours truly

panel-for-backgroundSteampunk Gadgets

The link takes you to a Youtube video, with Cogpunk Steamscribe (in her Steampunk Sunday persona) discussing the delightful gadgets of the Steampunk cosplayer.



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Filed under Celebrating 30 years of Steampunk, Gadgets, Steampunk, Steampunk Cosplay, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Sunday, Steampunk Technology, Steampunk Themes

Victorian-era Medical Gadgets to inspire the Steampunk Writer

Violin Vibrophone ; a quack cure used for Tinnitus. It was supposedly able to be tuned to match the ringing in a subject's ears. The Victorian equivalent of sound-cancelling earphones.

Violin Vibrophone ; a quack cure used for Tinnitus. It was supposedly able to be tuned to match the ringing in a subject’s ears. The Victorian equivalent of sound-cancelling earphones.

I was in my late twenties before I realised that the practice of Modern Medicine was both a science and an art, with a dash of the supernatural thrown in to spice up the mix. I had my suspicions when an elderly male doctor tried to prescribe sedatives for my sinus headaches; I went to another doctor who told me to take mild antihistamines and cured the headaches. My suspicions were confirmed when both my sister and a good friends were told their medical conditions were nervous complaints, and both sought second opinions; one suffers from terrible endometriosis and the other had an ovarian cancer the size of a grapefruit. This was latter half of the 20th century, so imagine what it must have been like in the 19th century.

An attempt at recreating the effects of a leech as a medical instrument.

An attempt at recreating the effects of a leech as a medical instrument.

Medicine was still finding its way from the infamous barber surgeons and private physicians (who were mainly academics). Bad blood and bad air was still considered the cause of many an ailment. At the start of the Victorian era, cupping, leeches and balancing the humours were still part of the medical playbook. The rise of science meant their was a corresponding increase in scientific medical research, which eventually led to better diagnostics and much more effective medicines and therapies. However, the increase in new technologies also increased the number of weird and wonderful attempts as medicine was still feeling its way. It also led to a proliferation of quacks and their remedies designed to part both the desperately ill and the hypochondriacs from their money.

Vaginal Speculum - alas, poorly designed

Vaginal Speculum – alas, poorly designed

Tonsil Guillotine

Tonsil Guillotine

Hysterotome- for amputating the cervix

Hysterotome- for amputating the cervix

Some of the innovations made during in Victorian medicine can give you nightmares. The three instruments above are just some of the horrors that were invented. Some of the instruments were so scary that just looking at them makes me shiver, so I can’t imagine how the patients must have felt when approached by a surgeon carrying one. No wonder this is the era when the science of anaesthesia was discovered.

Doctor Clark's Spinal Apparatus Advertisement, 1878

Doctor Clark’s Spinal Apparatus Advertisement, 1878

Many of the new therapy machines looked like Medieval torture devices, even though they invented with the very best intentions. There is a lot of opportunity for a writer to use such gadgets to add suspense and conflict into the life of the protagonist. Imagine having to suffer under a well-intentioned doctor who was subjecting your hero to these implements. How much worse would it be if the doctor wasn’t well intentioned?

If you are writing about medical matters in a Steampunk narrative, a little research will turn up a whole spectrum of wild and wonderful gadgets. You can find an implement to symbolize just about any disorder. As an example, a woman with ‘no voice’ might be having tonsil trouble, but might be afraid to speak because she has seen a tonsil guillotine. She has to overcome her fear to find her voice and her power. To relate this back to the modern era … a person should always be prepared to get a second opinion.


Filed under Analogy, Gadgets, History, Metaphors, Science, Steampunk, writing

Paddle Steamers: Steampunk Technology – Part Two (added bonus: Mark Twain)

As requested by Paul: Paddle Steamers

The Paddle Steamer 'Victoria' in Auckland

The Paddle Steamer ‘Victoria’ in Auckland

One of the genre markers of the Steampunk literary genre is the use of steam to power the technology and gadgets. From a personal viewpoint, one of the most elegant vehicles using steam power are the paddleboats or paddle steamers. I blame my delight in old musicals and ‘Showboat’, and reading too much of Mark Twain’s fiction as a child.

Mark Twain in Nikola Tesla's Laboratory

Mark Twain in Nikola Tesla’s Laboratory

As a tangent: Mark Twain isn’t considered a Steampunk author, but his story ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court’ is certainly science fiction, using 19th century technology. The time-travelling engineer, Hank Morgan, is able to build up Medieval England into a passable imitation of Victorian England, with an education system, newspapers, steam and electrical  technology. Mark Twain was friends with Nikola Tesla, one of the darlings of the Steampunk Community, and was fascinated by technology and innovation. It doesn’t take a great leap to connect Mark Twain to the Steampunk Genre.

Now back to our regularly scheduled posting.

Paddle steamers always make me think of swans. They both glide gracefully through the water, but both have a lot going on underneath to power that grace. And a paddle steam is a dangerous place if the engineer doesn’t know what he or she is on about, because boilers or pipes explode if not treated with respect; and swans can break a man’s arm with a blow from their wings. In Western culture, swans symbolise fidelity because they form long-term monogamous relationships. There are too many swan legends to list here, but any of them could be adapted as an analogy to use with a paddle steamer. As an added treat, Swan Hill, Australia, was a Paddle Steamer stop in the Victorian era, and you can still take paddle cruises from there to this very day.

The boiler of the Paddle Steamer 'Mary Ann'

The boiler of the Paddle Steamer ‘Mary Ann’

Plaque for the Mary Ann. Image from the Dirty Dazz website.

Plaque for the Mary Ann. Image from the Dirty Dazz website.

In a Steampunk narrative, a Paddle Steamer could symbolise freedom and adventure, or it could symbolise the need for education and discipline, depending on whether your character is a passenger on the paddle steamer, or a pilot or an engineer. The captain of a paddle steamer might seem like the captain of his own fate, but he dependant on the pilot to navigate the dangers of the river or the ocean, and the engineer to keep the paddles moving; now there is an analogy for teamwork if I ever saw one.

P.S. Lady Augusta and P.S. Mary Ann, at Swan Hill, Australia.

P.S. Lady Augusta and P.S. Mary Ann, at Swan Hill, Australia.

A Paddle Steamer would make a wonderful setting in any Steampunk narrative. I don’t know why they aren’t as popular as airships.


Filed under Analogy, Gadgets, Metaphors, Science, Steampunk, Steampunk Technology, Steampunk Themes, writing

Rocket to the Moon: Steampunk Technology – Part One

Lunar Eclipse by Karen

Lunar Eclipse by Karen; karencarlisle.purplefiles.net

This post by inspired by the lunar eclipse. Can you see the Rabbit in the Moon? I don’t see a face, I see a child’s drawing of a rabbit.

One of my favourite Steampunk vehicles is a moon rocket. This is probably because I would have love to have been an astronaut. If they asked me, I’d be happy to be a Martian colonist or a passenger on a generation ship. To me, a rocket symbolizes the ultimate adventure, the exploration of space.


A rocket harnesses power. Like a locomotive, it isn’t a power that is easily controlled. It isn’t a coincidence that we talk about Rocket Science when we talk about something complex; it takes intelligence and training to pilot a rocket. It takes genius to conceive and build one. If not controlled, a rocket might explode, or spin off into the unknown depths of space. I can see where a rocket could be used as a metaphor for mankind’s explosion of technology, both dangerous and exciting.

Rocket merry-go-round
Space is bigger and darker than any Dark Continent, and so can be a metaphor for your Heart of Darkness, or death, or even enlightenment (all those stars). Space is the ultimate unknown country. Sending a tiny rocket off into space is just as great an adventure as when explorers set off to cross unknown seas to find new lands. There is no guarantee you will return.

Earth Rocket

The Moon is an obvious target for exploration, so large and shiny and tempting. Did you know that the Earth and the Moon are actually a double planet? You can use the Moon to hold a ‘mirror’ to the Earth, contrasting one with the other for literary effect. Just because we know the moon is barren, doesn’t mean it has to be barren in your Steampunk narrative. You can turn it into any sort of planet that you like, and people it with exotic civilizations – a metaphor for colonialism. It may be that you want it to be airless and barren … to symbolize a barren heart or a sterile life. The phases of the moon could be used to reflect someone’s moods or to show the passing of time.

Better yet, the Moon has a dark side, always turned away from the Earth … a hidden, secret side. This duality of nature is a godsend to a writer! There is good and bad in every person and situation. Think of how easy it would be to use the Moon as a metaphor for the angel and the devil in each human being.

Herr Doktor's Rocket Sphere

I’ve only lightly touched upon all the metaphors, symbolism and analogies that rockets and space might denote. I’m certain you can think of a dozen more without any effort.


Filed under Analogy, Metaphors, Science, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Steampunk Technology, writing