| August 5, 2012

On Steampunk, Jules Verne and the General Squishiness of Octopuses

            Why the Octopus – Origins:
                It seems like everywhere you look steampunk octopuses are popping up. You’ve got cephalopod inspired jewelry, clothing, sculptures and drawings. Why has the octopus become the unofficial mascot of the steampunk world? It certainly has a lot to do with Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The book was inspired by an alleged incident between a French naval vessel and a giant squid.
 Lovecraft was also octopus obsessed it would seem. The creation of his terrifying monster “Cthulhu” was heavily octopus influenced. These two writers are very central to the steampunk culture, so you don’t have to be Nancy Drew to make the connection.
                Some people will tell you it’s not the Octopus, but the Kraken that takes the name of mascot. The Kraken is much more adventure oriented then its counterpart. It’s larger, scarier and it sinks ships and eats soldiers. Tales of the Kraken originated sometime in the 12th century, when Norwegian seafarers reported attacks from giant, tentacled sea monsters. The stories were likely greatly exaggerated, as they were reported to be “as big as islands” and people claimed to have seen them wrap their tentacles around large man-of-war ships and pull them to the bottom.  The tales became less common as time went on, but attacks by giant squids were still reported as late as world war two (apparently at least one soldier was eaten).
                Steampunk seems to concentrate less on high seas drama and more on airships, so the genre has come up with the fearsome “air kraken” just to keep things balanced.
                So who exactly is the official mascot? The Kraken, the giant squid or the octopus?
Since steampunk is about breaking the rules, there probably never will be an “official” one, so pick what you want. Whichever creature you prefer, as long as it’s sufficiently slimy and packing tentacles.
Prime Candidate…
There are other reasons that steampunks favor the octopus. They really are neat creatures. Not only are they wonderful to look at, with their squirmy tentacles and big, black eyes, they’re smart. Steampunk is about invention, innovation, creating your own solutions and just…creating.  And cephalopods are some of the most inventive creatures that live. Did you know an octopus will collect the empty coconut halves that fall in the water? After he gets one he’ll scoop it underneath himself and sit in it, effectively creating a little boat that he floats along in, propelling himself along with his tentacles. He takes the shell home and drops it off, and then he goes back for another half. When he’s got both halves back to his place, he sits back down in the shell and places the other half on top, giving himself protection while he takes a snooze. Not only that, but the squishy little guys have the ability to learn. In studies the octopus has proven its adaptability, not only learning how to open a plastic box to get the crab inside, but learning from simply watchinghis buddy do it. Some humans aren’t even that smart.
                The Eyes Have It:
                It’s not all about looks, but the octopus sort of just looks steampunk, with his big, goggle-like eyes, sticky cups and multi-use tentacles. It’s hard to think of anything else in the animal kingdom that’s more unique than that! Try looking up videos of them, watch them cruise along the ocean floor, or wrap their arms around an unsuspecting diver in a giant hug. Don’t you wish you had eight arms?
                And so…
                In conclusion, the steampunks have adopted the octopus for a multitude of reasons. It may have begun with Verne and Lovecraft, but has continued on due to its innate curiosity and inventiveness, which the steampunk community admires and relates to.

Steampunk Trailers – Journey 2: The Mysterious Island!

| January 15, 2012

Another of Jules Verne’s classic tales is being updated for the modern day!  “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island’, is a remake of Mr. Verne’s second book following 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea.  Not as popular as the classic, but actually a very good yarn, telling the ultimate fate of Captain Nemo, and the Nautilus’ crew.  Slated to open on February 10, 2012, it looks to be quite a yarn!
There are websites available to keep track of the production, such as…
Their main website: http://www.themysteriousisland.com/ (which includes a sweepstakes for a trip to the premiere…)
…and of course, one can indulge in the original until the release of the updated production, by paying a visit

Steam-Powered II Roundtable: S.L. Knapp

| October 17, 2011

S.L. Knapp can be found cross-posting between LiveJournal and Dreamwidth, and she brings us a really cool set of answers about her story that features Cuba, “Amphitrite”

A two-sentence summary: 
An engineer from newly-independent Cuba must recover her stolen submarine. While crossing the open ocean, she has just the plan to evade anyone who might try to claim her vessel.
How did your characters come to be? 
I knew I wanted a submariner and a mermaid and had the basic plot structure laid out, but they really came into existence as I wrote the story. Two paragraphs in and I knew the sort of woman Consuelo was. I mentioned Amphitrite, and I knew that at age twenty, Consuelo had met this rough-around-the-edges older woman who taught her what’s what. Twenty years later, she does the same thing for the naive but earnest Aurelie.
Why this setting?  
I don’t see much about Cuba in fiction and I wanted to put more out there (I’m also lazy and it required less research). I set the story a bit later than traditional steampunk, but the War of Independence was a fascinating time, especially for Cuban-American relations, and it’s fairly close to when my great-grandfather graduated from medical school and had female classmates. I figured a woman engineer would be historically believable. You know, if Cuba were building a fleet of super-subs.
 You’re in an antho of lesbian steampunk stories. Obviously you are writing about lesbians. How does lesbianism fit in your setting? 
In the confines of the story, being queer isn’t that big a deal. That’s not historically accurate in larger society, but a lot of women flew under the radar this way—Consuelo’s an inventor and engineer, she’s probably a spinster being single and over 40, and nothing more is said. Consuelo knows what’s up, and that’s all that matters. I just wanted to set a story where being a lesbian is normalized, even if it isn’t in society.
 What was the funnest, or most hair-tearingly frustrating thing in writing your piece? 
The submarines! I went a bit overboard with the Jules Verne-y fantastical elements but that’s the sort of universe I was hoping to evoke: a little more science-flavored magic than science itself. Can the machine work? Probably not. Do I care? No. It’s pretty in my head, just like the Nautilus. I mostly relied on my knowledge with sailboats to write it, and some reading up on historical submarines, which were mostly pedal or diesel-powered.
 A random ramble? 
My grandmother studied medicine during the Cuban revolution. She has stories about fights she’d have with the guard at a US hospital she worked at because “only doctors can park here” and seeing as she was a woman, she couldn’t possibly be a doctor. Whereas, in Cuba, her father’s class in medical school graduated three women (in the 1920s). According to my grandmother, a lot of women didn’t go into medicine, but there were really no institutional barriers to stop her from doing so if she wanted to like there were in the US. I found the disparity interesting, given how often I’m told that I come from a culture brimming with machismo and sexism by fellow Americans. I used to take it for granted that a given patriarchal society (especially in the West) behaves in similar ways to others—but the nuances that come up in the differences have been really interesting to me. So that colored my decision to set the story in Cuba, too, and how I wanted to frame some political relationships.

As an aside, gender norms re: occupations varies so much in different countries! In Malaysia, we’re fairly evenly split in the IT field, so I was really surprised when I got to North America and found that there’re so few women in IT. Mind-boggling. 

The Steampunk Bible

| April 26, 2011

The Steampunk Bible is out! I helped connect Jeff and S.J. with people doing cool things in the movement and I wrote what I hope is the definitive candy tin etching how-to for this book. Our fashion editor Libby Bulloff also contirbuted articles and LOTS of shiny photography, including the best photo ever take of yours truly. 

The Steampunk Bible is the first compendium about the movement, tracing its roots in the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells through its most recent expression in movies such as Sherlock Holmes. Its adherents celebrate the inventor as an artist and hero, re-envisioning and crafting retro technologies including antiquated airships and robots. A burgeoning DIY community has brought a distinctive Victorian-fantasy style to their crafts and art. Steampunk evokes a sense of adventure and discovery, and embraces extinct technologies as a way of talking about the future. This ultimate manual will appeal to aficionados and novices alike as author Jeff VanderMeer takes the reader on a wild ride through the clockwork corridors of Steampunk history.

Get your copy today!

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Google and Jules Verne

| February 8, 2011

If you haven’t seen the Google logo yet today, GO! Right now! It’s some submarine windows for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which you can move around to see different undersea creatures, and it’s incredibly adorable.

If you miss it, here’s a few stills:

Carnival Memories, Jules Verne’s birthday and more

| February 8, 2011

In honor of Jules Verne's 183rd birthday today, Google has a customized logo. And it's even interactive. Huzzah!

The Voodoo Carnival, put on by the Queen City Cabaret, was quite the success. Photos were in the local paper and can be found on the cabaret's website as well!

 Two interesting articles end today's post: the New York Times investigates an 1870 guide to houses of ill repute, and Wired tells us of an "all-seeing" blimp that may be used in warfare.

Happy Birthday, Jules Verne… compliments from Google!

| February 8, 2011

One of the greatest icons of Steampunk celebrates his 183rd birthday today!  Mssr. Jules Verne, the legendary creative mind behind a vast quantity of Steampunk Classics, most notably 20,000 leagues under the Sea, is being recognized in one of the most innovative ways imaginable today!  Google has provided a unique header, which not only pays homage to his greatest novel, but even contains functionality!  If one plays with the lever to the right of the Google logo, the imagery in the sign will change, corresponding with either surfacing, diving, ahead, or backing bells!  So when you have to make your search on the world’s most popular search engine, do take a moment to play with the controls!

Additionally, in my “personal” blog, the Steampunk Shipyard, I’ve listed a good number of links regarding the Father of Steampunk, from the the comprehensive storehouse of knowledge known as Voyages Extrarordinaire!  Mr. Gross’ compendium certainly compliments  the existing body of knowledge!  To see the compilation, please visit the Steampunk Shipyard’s entry, and remember to visit the Google links (choose the logo), after you finish playing with the controls!

Charles River Museum of Industry–Steampunk: Form and Function

| October 6, 2010

[The following is a press release for an event at the Charles River Museum of Industry in Waltham, Massachusetts – Jake]

An Exhibition of Innovation, Invention and Gadgetry

At The Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation’s new exhibit Steampunk: Form & Function – An Exhibition of Innovation, Invention and Gadgetry, sponsored by Steampuffin (www.steampuffin.com), modern technology meets the Victorian era.

Inspired by the works of authors like Jules Verne and H.G Wells, and grown out of the world of science fiction, Steampunk has become a cultural phenomenon like that of the punk rock movement of the 1980’s or the goth movement of the 1990’s.  

. . .

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