Thursday, February 11, 2010

Steampunk, Steam Engines, Google, and African Blacksmiths

I have some interest in the Steampunk Genre, and as a result have learned quite a bit about some things that I probably would never have even thought about much in the past.

First, what is steam punk? I would call it Victorian era style and machinery, plus computers (analytic engines) and some other additional technology, usually powered by steam.

Image by Kyle Cassidy

Wikipedia is a little more complete: Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction and speculative fiction, frequently featuring elements of fantasy, that came into prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. The term denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used — usually the 19th century, and often Victorian era England — but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date. Other examples of steampunk contain alternate history-style presentations of "the path not taken" of such technology as dirigibles, analog computers, or digital mechanical computers (such as Charles Babbage's Analytical engine); these frequently are presented in an idealized light, or with a presumption of functionality….

There are steampunk movies (Steamboy, Golden Compass, …), books (the difference engine, the Peshawar lancers…), comics (Hellboy, Girlgenius…), role playing games (Iron kingdoms…), computer games (Arcanum…), bands (Abney Park…), in fact there is a steampunk wiki that will tell you all about it, so I don’t have to:

I even went so far as to make some steampunk jewelry:

All this got me interested in steam engines and trains. So I thought I’d find a book about them. Enter GoogleBooks. Through this marvelous resource I was able to read a good chunk of “Set Up Running” a book about the life of a Pennsylvania Railroad fireman and engineer in the early 1900’s. Although I may not have learned a great deal about the technical aspects of the jobs that Mr. Orr did, the anecdotes are interesting and entertaining.

Anyway, the sample satisfied my need to know a little more about the great railroad era. And living in an area where trains are still an everyday experience, it sheds a little light on what the world was like in the past. So if you are interested in steam engines, trains and biographies, check it out.

But now I’ve moved on to… the Mande Blacksmiths.

The Mande are a cultural group in western Africa. I’d heard that African Blacksmiths were held in some kind of awe and held a special spiritual significance. As a result, I picked up this book. Turns out it is also partially available through Googlebooks, but I have a real copy, which I think will be better in the long run for me in this case.

I haven’t made it that far in yet, but already I know a lot more about the cultural place of the blacksmith in that society. I wonder if I will learn any technique…


  1. Awhile ago I asked a fellow etsian what steampunk was, cuz I was seeing alot of this cool looking steampunk stuff in the etsy shops and wondered how this sort of movement started. I did a bit of research myself and I think it's pretty wicked. Luv the necklace u made =)

  2. very cool necklace. I always think of that movie with Meg Ryan as she stalks her ex boyfriend from across the street in another building. I can't remember the title, something with Love... I'm not sure if this is Steampunk or not, but like I said it's the image that comes to mind.

    The books sound interesting. My grandfather worked on the railroad and I've always been fascinated with trains. But you would find it odd that it is actually one of my fears also... getting hit by a train. I have no idea why. hmmp.

    nice post :)

  3. I always wanted to know more about the histor y of steampunk and exactly what it is. Thanks for this blog is extremely informative!

  4. wonderful steamy necklace. love it ;-D

  5. Lovely necklace! I love all things steampunk, especially the japanese version in anime appeals to me.