Tag Archives: Steampunk Themes

A Steampunk Feminist’s Perspective on Science Week 2017

Warning Science Ahead

 

You can’t have Steampunk without Science … it would be like trying to build a locomotive without cogs! You could do it with great difficulty, but is the result worth the effort? And is it in a recognisable form? Do the wheels fall off when you try to run with it? I have read Science Fiction stories that claim to have no science, but it sneaks in under the door like smoke from a coal fire. After all, you can’t have a coal fire without coal!

Rocket for SCIENCE

This week is World Science Week, celebrating all the various fields of science from the so-called ‘soft sciences’ like Sociology and Anthropology all the way through to the diamond-hard sciences involving Physics. (Personally, I find this sort of description of the fields of science rather judgemental and divisive, and pretty damn useless.) In Brisbane, the majority of the festivities are taking place in and around the Cultural Precinct. You can find a description of the events here: http://www.worldsciencefestival.com.au/

I attended a Science Writing workshop that was one of the events to kick off the celebrations. I wondered if I should attend, since I have considered myself a science writer for over fifteen years, but curiosity and interest got me there in the end. I am endlessly fascinated by how other writers work. It was a well run and very useful workshop, and I always gain insights into my own process as well as garnering some very good tips.

What I did notice was that most of Science Writers mentioned in the course were men, while at the same time, only one man attended the workshop; the rest were women (including me). Several of the women attendees were already working as science writers or scientists (or both). I wonder if this a sign that things are about the change in the field of Science Writing, to reflect the increase of women working in the STEM fields. As well, the workshop didn’t mention too much about blogging, which is a growing arena for science writing. My favourite female science blogger is the SciBabe: http://scibabe.com/

Science!

So, as more women find their feet in the various fields of science, gain respect, and go on to have stellar careers … so should the women science writers … as should the female writers in the Steampunk genre. There is a knock-on effect.

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Filed under Feminism, Science, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Themes, Uncategorized, Women in Science

Being Productive whilst on Holidays; Flights of Fancy

steampunk-book-as-vehicle

I went away to spend some time with my parents.I was away from my computer … but took plenty of pens and paper with me. I often do my ‘chunking’ exercises with pen and paper. ‘Chunking’ is when you write out your idea, as it comes to you in chunks and pieces; this is what my first year lecturer called the process. You might call it something else. It doesn’t matter what it is called, it is just the very first step – after thinking – towards writing a story.

I thought I was in holiday mode. My muse disagreed.

I came up with three solid ideas for short stories, including the ‘Dissected Graces’ story based on the artistic anatomical models. I finally have got a handle on the (hopefully final) structural edit to my Steampunk novel; I will have to kill quite a few of my darlings in the process. I also wrote five individual timelines for characters within the novel, which support the structure and at the same time give them all logical stories of their own that don’t conflict with their characterisations or motivations.

I even came up with a strategy for the structural edit that doesn’t make me too fearful of messing up. I am going to write up the new timeline I came up with, and copy and paste into it. In this way, I keep the original draft ‘pristine’ in case I do stuff things up. I’ve been trying to make better sense of my story and plot for a couple of months, so I am very pleased to be moving forward again.

Writers don’t really get proper holidays, because you can never predict when a great idea is going to strike. The muse can’t be ignored. So, I might not have done much in the way of writing on my computer, but I was certainly doing a lot of writing by hand. I was gone for five days, and I have over 13 pages of notes and observations, timelines and research plans. Some of this stuff is pure gold.

Sometimes, getting out of your familiar work routines kick-starts a new train of thought. That is what happened to me. So I am adding this to my writer’s toolkit.

 

 

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Filed under Editing, Personal experience, Steampunk Themes, Steampunk Work-in-Progress, the Muse, The Writing Life, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Career

Ghosts as Big Business: a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

the-ghost-child

Just as vampires and zombies are big business at the moment, ghosts were popular everywhere in the Victorian era. A sure sign of their popularity is that Dickens climbed onto the money wagon with his own ghost story A Christmas Carol. We all know how very popular that story was and still is. You can’t say it is not a commercial success!  Why were ghost stories so popular?

whose-afraidscared

 

Part of the blame can be laid at the foot of the growing interest in Spiritualism, mediums, seances, and Ouija boards. On both sides of the Atlantic, it was not unusual for fashionable parties to be themed with a spot of Spiritualism. Who could resist the lure of contacting a departed loved one? I know how much I miss my deceased family & friends, so why would the Victorians be any different?

seance

The esteemed literary historian, Jack Sullivan, argues a “Golden Age of the Ghost Story” existed between the decline of the Gothic novel in the 1830s and the start of the First World War, brought about by popularity of the works of the American author, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Irish writer, Sheridan Le Fanu. It is important to realise that the ghost story has never really gone out of print, but the popularity of the genre fluctuates, both through time and geographically.

the-haunting

Even though the Steampunk genre stands squarely as a subgenre of the Science Fiction genre, this doesn’t mean a ghost story can’t add some excitement to the plot. Sheridan Le Fanu was famous for construction hauntings that were only visible to a single character and inferred the ghost (or other gremlin) was only a figment of that character’s imagination. And seriously, who doesn’t like to be given a bit of a scare while sitting safe in an armchair?

i-feel-a-presence

 

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Filed under Ghosts, History, Horror genre, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Themes, Uncategorized, Victorian Era

‘The Other’ as a Characterization Device

The Other is a literary and sociological concept, used to understand the construction of identity. There is an ‘Us’ and there is ‘The Other’; the outsider, the foreigner, the nonconformist, the maverick, and the rebel are usually identified as ‘The Other’. It isn’t a cut-and-dried concept, because Otherness changes with location, time period, and circumstances. My own personal definition of Otherness relates to the underlying Patriarchy of my Australian ‘Western’ culture – the Other is someone who is not white, male, heterosexual, rich/middle class, or human – someone who isn’t ‘normal’.

Ming

Master

In the early decades of the Twentieth century, in the Modern era, someone like Ming the Merciless was ‘The Other’. His East Asian appearance, his name, referencing the Ming dynasty of China, and the name of his planet Mongo, “a contraction of Mongol” (Brian Locke, Racial Stigma on the Hollywood Screen: The Orientalist Buddy Film) all delineate to his foreignness and otherness. This made him a cookie cut-out classic villain of the era; no real motivation was given to his character because being Other was apparently motivation enough.

Tilda Swinton as the White Witch.

My personal favourite example of the female Other is Jadis, the White Witch from Narnia. She is a powerful female and refuses to submit to any authority other than her own. Of course, this makes her completely evil …

In this Postmodern era, society has become more accepting and tolerant of the Other. In the 1960s and 1970s, Doctor Who’s the Master was made to resemble Ming somewhat. Lately, the Master has been quite human looking, John Sim’s Master was given a more in depth backstory. It might be argued that the Doctor has always been a representation of the Other. They are both 3D characterizations, and more understandable and likeable for their rounded personalities.

In the Steampunk genre, Otherness may equate to
• Femininity, and in particular nonconforming women.
• Being ‘Foreign’
• Non-heteronormative sexuality
• Living to the precepts of an Alternative Philosophy to Capitalism
• Not being a human (like a Timelord or Frankenstein’s monster)
• Being poor (or, rarely, extremely rich)
• Being a criminal
• Being under or over educated.

Mustrum Ridcully

Now, we can all think of villains that are examples of these sorts of Otherness. In fact, using Otherness to create a villain is overdone. Otherness can also be used as a virtue when creating characterization. Terry Pratchett was the supreme master of this: Captain Carrot, Granny Weatherwax and Archchancellor Mustrum Ridcully.

 

Captain Carrot Ironfoundersson is a six-foot-tall dwarf (by adoption), and could pretty much be the poster boy for Otherness. He is in a serious relationship with a vegetarian werewolf. He is a policeman who is the opposite of street smart, being kind to a fault, trusting, and believes everyone is good at heart. He is a simple man, but never confuse simple with stupid, because he is also one of the most intelligent characters in the Discworld universe. He is clever enough to hide this, though his close companions have a fair idea of his genius. More criminals have been caught due to Carrot’s apparent naivety than ever by cunning. And before you point out that he is a tall, white man in a position of power … remember that context is everything for defining Otherness.

Yep. Carrot is a redhead, but that isn’t how he earned the name.

 

So, if you are contemplating making your villain one of the Others, recall that this is using a stereotype and lazy writing. Think about how scary a villain might be if he appears completely bland and normal, a razorblade hidden in a slice of bread. How much deeper will be your characterization, and you will give your audience much more to think about.

 

There you go, Erin! A deeper discussion of Otherness.

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Filed under Antagonist, Characterization, Doctor Who, Steampunk, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Themes, The Other, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Style

Susan Baker of Ingleside – a Steampunk Feminist Perspective

Canadian author L. M. Montgomery is best known for her Anne series, which commenced with Anne of Green Gables and finished with Rilla of Ingleside. The first seven books in the series are basically domestic ‘coming of age’ end in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and ending before WW1. The last book, Rilla of Ingleside, is more of a war story, as told from the viewpoints of the women left behind as their young menfolk go off to war.

Even though the main protagonists of these books were Anne and her family and friends, the stand-out feminist character in Rilla of Ingleside is Susan Baker, the family’s cook and housekeeper, though she is not treated as a domestic and is considered by Anne & Rilla to be more of a senior family member. Susan is in her early sixties, which makes her an unusual choice for a secondary character in book written for Young Adults. She has a few scenes when she is the comedy relief, but she is the representative of all the older women who threw themselves into supporting their soldiers and their countries while the war was fought.

 

Dear old Susan! She is a perfect dynamo of patriotism and loyalty and contempt for slackers of all kinds, and when she let it loose on that audience in her one grand outburst she electrified it. Susan always vows she is no suffragette, but she gave womanhood its due that night, and she literally made those men cringe. When she finished with them they were ready to eat out of her hand. She wound up by ordering them–yes, ordering them–to march up to the platform forthwith and subscribe for Victory Bonds.

Montgomery was able to support herself comfortably with her writing, and she avoided accepting marriage proposals for the first part of her adult life. It wasn’t until the release of Anne of Green Gables cemented her success as an author did she eventually marry. Because her novels always feature strong female characters of all ages, we can assume she had suffragist leanings.

All the women ‘who have got de age’–to quote Jo Poirier, and who have husbands, sons, and brothers at the front, can vote. Oh, if I were only twenty-one! Gertrude and Susan are both furious because they can’t vote.

‘It is not fair,’ Gertrude says passionately. ‘There is Agnes Carr who can vote because her husband went. She did everything she could to prevent him from going, and now she is going to vote against the Union Government. Yet I have no vote, because my man at the front is only my sweetheart and not my husband!”

As for Susan, when she reflects that she cannot vote, while a rank old pacifist like Mr. Pryor can–and will–her comments are sulphurous.

Susan Baker is the classic Victorian woman coming to terms with new  social structures that were emerging at the start of the Twentieth Century. She was the ‘voice’ of the mature single woman, to contrast with the married mother, Anne, and the teenager, Rilla. From a Steampunk feminist’s perspective, Susan exemplifies how a sensible woman would manage to remain both respectable and support the rights of women. It is not just the young who feel passionately and deeply about their beliefs.

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Filed under Ageism, Characterization, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist, Stereotypes, Uncategorized

The Most Kissed Face in the World; the Madonna of the Seine

Madonna

Is Beauty a concept that is ephemeral for a moment, or is it eternal? The body of the young female drowning victim was pulled out of the Seine River at the Quai du Louvre in Paris around the late 1880s. The girl child was never identified and no one ever came to claim her; it was assumed she was a suicide as there were no signs of a struggle on her body. However, the serene loveliness of her expression encouraged a pathologist to make a cast death mask of her face. Plaster copies of this death mask went on to decorate the sitting rooms and studios of artists and other fashionable people throughout Europe and North America, becoming the muse for thousands of artworks and literary works.

The Death Mask

L’Inconnue de la Seine means ‘The Unknown Woman of the Seine’ in French, and in America she was known as La Belle Italienne. The death mask inspired so many others with her Mona Lisa smile.

Art

Earrings

 

The death mask as art

This death mask was also used as the basis to Resusci Anne – the CPR dummy that everyone uses to learn first aid techniques. This means this face has been kissed over a million times, by people learning to save lives, including drowning victims. Not a bad way to be remembered.

Resusci Anne

Resusci Anne masks

 

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Filed under Historical Personage, History, Steampunk Aesthetic, Steampunk Themes, Uncategorized

The Cryptozoology of the Victorian Era

feejeemermaid_bostonmuseum_midgley_sightsinboston

The Feejee Mermaid on display in the Victorian era.

The Australian platypus probably contributed to the proliferation of rogue taxidermy and out-in-out hoaxes that occurred during the Victorian era. When skins and specimens were sent back to Europe, scientists thought the animals were constructed from parts cut from ducks and beavers and who knew what else. The platypus, a real animal, was discounted as a fake.

A Victorian-era illustration of the Platypus – body too fat, tail too small, and with frilly feet and a square bill. Still cute.

That the example of the Feejee Mermaids (there were more than one) was obviously following. The original was construction from the taxidermy remains of an infant monkey sewn to a fish. It looked nothing like the lovely mermaidens used on the advertising. In fact, it was a grotesquerie of the highest order, displayed under glass for the edification of the masses.The original mermaid was exhibited by P.T Barnum in Barnum’s American Museum in New York in 1842.

Feejee Mermaid

The Original Feejee Mermaid

Feejee mermaid of monkey plus fish tail

Modern example of a feejee mermaid.

The infamous Hydrarchos – the alleged skeleton of a sea serpent – was brought to New York City in 1845 by the amateur German-American fossil hunter Albert Koch. It had previously been on exhibit in Europe. The Hydrarchos skeleton  was constructed mainly from the remains of several specimens of the prehistoric whale Basilosaurus with the exception of its paddles, which were made from collections of invertebrate shells. During the early 19th century, Basilosaurus cetoides fossils were so common they were regularly used as furniture in the American south, and so were easily to obtain for his Hydrarchos.

Hydrarchos exhibited in the Hall of the Royal Iron Foundry in Berlin, 1842.

Hydrachos exhibited in Berlin in 1842.

This wasn’t the first time Koch had tried to hoax the public; he had previously used wooden blocks and extra vertebrae to construct a mastodon. He managed to sell the grotesquery to the British Museum in 1842. They took out the extra bits, put the tusks back properly, and recovered the original mastodon for their collection.

The Missourium or Koch’s Mastodon.  Note the tusks have been twisted around to make for a bizarre skull.

At least Koch had used actual bones to create his masterpieces. New Yorker George Hull hired men to carve out a 3.2 metre block of gypsum in Iowa, telling them it was intended for a monument to Abraham Lincoln in New York. He shipped the block to Chicago, where he hired a German stonecutter, Edward Burghardt, to carve it into the likeness of a naked giant. Various stains and acids were used to make the giant appear to be old and weathered, and the giant’s surface was poked with steel knitting needles to mimic pores. In November 1868, Hull transported the giant by rail to the farm of William Newell, his cousin. Nearly a year later, Newell hired Gideon Emmons and Henry Nichols, ostensibly to dig a well, and in October 1869 they found the giant sculpture.

the Cardiff Giant.jpg

The excavation of the Cardiff Giant

People flocked to see the giant, happy to pay the admission to see the ‘petrified’ man. (I can’t find any reference to the exhibitors hiding his rather prominent man bits from the ladies.) Palaeontologists declared it a fraud, but that didn’t stop the crowds. Hull sold it to a syndicate. P T Barnum went as far as creating a copy, when the syndicate wouldn’t sell him the original. This all came out  on December 10, 1870, Hull confessed to the press that the giant was a hoax. He claimed he did it to prove a point about the gullibility of people who believed in giants.

I am finding this topic fascinating. But I will get back to the X club members.

 

 

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Filed under Cryptozoology, Frauds and Hoaxes, History, Science, Steampunk Themes, Uncategorized, Victorian Era