Monday, August 26, 2013

A Steampunk Author Cosplays a Steampunk Author

For MetaCon this week, I am putting together a steampunk author costume, which will allow for many amusing double-entendres and allow me to shamelessly market myself. In preparation for MetaCon and a photoshoot I am doing tomorrow, I decided a genuine quill pen and ink were required for this steampunk author costume. I procured a pack of turkey feathers, some pen nibs, parchment paper, and a bottle of ink and set to work.

Alas, turkey feathers do not come with metal grooves that fit pen nibs so I adhered one in place by that tried-and-true steampunk method of gluing.

The end result was a functional dip pen ready to be put into use. As I scratched my way across the page, I felt very proper and elegant despite the fact that I was slobbing about in old shorts and a t-shirt and was about to head out into 90 degree heat to go running. Several minutes of work produced the following:

In the best of circumstances, my handwriting resembles what you would get if you dropped a caterpillar in ink, then allowed it to squirm across your page. Needless to say, results with a dip pen were less than optimal and resulted in uneven tracks of printed letters wavering across the parchment, some near invisible and some etched with heavy, thick lines.

Writing with a quill is also surprisingly hard on the hand: a turkey feather's dimensions along the shaft are significantly thinner than a standard ballpoint pen and much less amiable to squeezing. Thus you must hold it carefully, which puts a significant strain on your fingers.

This, however, is nothing in comparison to the sheer amount of manpower hours needed to compose a single page with a dip pen. I believe that over five solid minutes passed during the writing of this above page, a paragraph I could bang out in thirty seconds on a computer or under two minutes with a pencil. I momentarily envisioned how long it would have taken me to write Steam on the Horizon with a dip pen and paper, and the sheer overwhelming magnitude of the proposition was staggering. No wonder authors by tradition were drunkards: it was a defense mechanism against only having a dip pen to call books into being.

Captain Roberts is currently making a few new acquaintances in my office. The framed pictures are those novelty "face cut out" frames that one sticks one's head through a hole to make an amusing picture. These (and Captain Roberts) are bound for MetaCon where they will be part of a steampunk room party my assistant and I are hosting.

Erasmus is currently under my desk watching all the packing with a suspicious eye - he knows quite well that suitcases mean I will be leaving for an extended period. Today, he did me the supreme favor of nudging my brother off my computer and downstairs: Seth kept insisting on showing me videos of some seriously disturbed Russian man blowing up various objects with military-grade weapons while I had work to do. After several minutes of pleads on my part to regain my computer, Erasmus came to my rescue by farting lavishly in that noxious cluster-bomb that only a Basset Hound can produce. Seth took to his heels and escaped to the basement, leaving my computer alone.

Farting dogs aside, tomorrow I am hieing myself off to Lincoln for a photoshoot with a photographer who put out a call for steampunk models. I am desperately hoping the shoot will happen indoors as there is a head advisory tomorrow, but knowing photographers, the shoot will involve full sun for several hours. In a corset. And long skirts.........Oh well, I get free pictures out of it!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Updates and More Cool Steampunk Stuff

As I type this out, I am surrounded by a stack of hastily scribbled notes regarding the upcoming MetaCon in Minneapolis at the end of the month. Notes to myself include such things as "buy food for the room party" and other notes such as "schtum the drudam in pooga" or so it seems to read (I have terrible handwriting and cannot spell to save my soul. How did I end up as a writer?) Alas, I discovered that I could attend MetaCon too late to obtain a vendor's table, so I am exploring other ideas for marketing "Steam on the Horizon" while I am up there. Mainly I will be walking around talking to people and handing out marketing material, which should be sufficient.

On an exciting note, Steam Powered Giraffe will be playing at MetaCon and while I would personally rather see Abney Park in concert again, SPG is certainly well worth the showtime and should be a fun event.

Work on "Clouds of War" continues: much of the original draft is either staying where it is or being refitted into other areas while other ideas, plans, and schemes are springing to life afresh. As I write, I find myself continually irritated by my own lack of practical knowledge on so many elements that make their way into my writing: using a sextant, food storage without refridgeration, flying an airship, casting bullets, keeping sanitation without having much water, the list continues. Life on board the Horizon, as indeed life for most people pre-21st century, was brutal, dirty, and brief, and it is hard to truly appreciate this when you are surrounded by more food and comfort than you can possibly use.

As I have grappled with gears and words, the ever-present question of "what is the appeal of steampunk" constantly comes to my mind. What, precisely, is the thrust behind what I am doing? On the surface, my tale is fairly mundane: an airship captain struggling to pay a debt to a tyrannical man, the day-to-day workings of a merchant airship moving cargo about, and mundane issues such as coal, repair work, and food. My story is not filled with chiseled abs, impossibly coiffed heroines fighting off ravening hordes of monsters, buried treasure, and the stuff that makes Hollywood. However, there is an appeal in the ordinary, an excitement in the struggle of the daily grind, and I think the appeal lies in it being vastly different than the world of ease, leisure, and comfort we have today.

A quick google search of "the appeal of steampunk" brings up a variety of different articles, and I was particularly attracted to this lengthy exploration by author Nick Harkaway:
 Steampunk, on the other hand, repurposes, scavenges, remakes and embellishes in an arena where embellishment is seen as decadence, never mind the inherent decadence of creating the sheer amount of computing power our society now possesses in order that most of it should sit idle or be used for email and occasional games of Plants vs Zombies. Steampunk appeals to the idea of uniqueness, to the one-off item, while every mainstream consumer technology of recent years is about putting human beings into ever more granular, packageable and mass-produced identities so that they can be sold or sold to, perfectly mapped and understood.

The original article is well worth a read. For myself, I have been meditating on the question of why steampunk is appealing, and I have the beginnings of a manifesto percolating to life in my brain. For now, I have had quite enough computer time for the day and will sign off for now.

Happy cogs to all!