Saturday, January 27, 2007

Steampunk Fans, Unite!

I'm an unabashed fan of alternative fiction, where visionary authors look at key times or key events and wonder "what if this turned out differently?" From the books of Harry Turtledove, to the more obscure such as Richard Dreyfuss (yes, that Richard Dreyfuss), as well as the movies that attempt this (though usually with some annoying subplot of time travel), I'm hooked.

One sub-genre that particularly gets my full attention is steampunk. In essence, the idea of many of our technical innovations today, powered by steam engines, usually set in the 1800's. Good examples are the works of Jules Verne, or Bruce Sterling/William Gibson's The Difference Engine. Unfortunately, when Hollywood tries it's hand at steampunk, it usually is abysmal. Take, for example, the painful-to-watch film version of the Wild Wild West, or the movie that drove Sean Connery into retirement, vowing never to appear on the silver screen again, the terrible adaptation of Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Even anime, a safe haven for most steampunk, touted a crossover film, Steamboy, which was amazingly underwhelming.

It was only fitting, therefore, that an antiquated, obsolete technology that I hold on to for charmingly nostalgic reasons tipped me off to a new source of fascination for steampunk fans like me. This month's Wired Magazine had a short article on a blog for all things steampunk, Brass Goggles. Complete with the Victorian phrasing and clever commentary, as well as wonderful steampunk links, it's a treasure trove of steampunk information. Artisans who've built PC's to resemble Deco sculpture or steam engines; changing the sounds on your PC to sound all mechanical and steam hisses; even previews of upcoming animated features, Brass Goggles is now on my must-read list.

One observation: I do love Wired, and have found so many wonderful things from their pages, but I was truly surprised at their ubiquitous acceptance of Google. In their article on Brass Goggles, they did not publish an URL or point the reader to anywhere to find it. They just gave the name of the blog, and assumed people would Google it. It made sense, in retrospect, as the physical magazine needs to worry about layout, but it was the first I'd seen of this. By the way, I can't recommend a subscription to Wired enough: it's filled with amazingly diverse and interesting articles, usually with excellent depth and great writing. It's been a great companion in those places where laptops are a little too hot for many years. :-)

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