Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

Vingt mille lieues sous les mers: Tour du monde sous-marin cover

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, or Vingt mille lieues sous les mers: Tour du monde sous-marin, as it is titled in the original French, is probably the book Jules Verne is best known for.

First published in 1870, it remains a timeless classic. It has been inspiration for countless other works, be they graphic novels, books, movies, art or even theme-park rides, such as those in Disneyland Paris and Tokyo DisneySea.

The Nautilus and to a lesser extend the kraken have become some of the most recognizable symbols of steampunk. Verne himself is not only commonly seen as a visionary but as one of the grandfathers of the genre; a founding father, so to speak.

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Murder on the Titania and Wireless

Murder on the Titania

If you’re an avid reader of steampunk books and haven’t read any of the Alex Acks’ yet — get them!

These collections of steam-powered short stories are fresh, fun and star a merry band of colorful (literally) characters you’ll come to love in no time. (Bar a few, the villains are properly loathsome.)

I recommend reading Murder on the Titania first. It introduces several characters that will continue to play a major role throughout and it will give you a proper sense of chronology. You can read the stories in any order, but from start to (a hopefully temporary) finish is still best. You may be left with a lot of questions if you delve into Wireless first.

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Assassin's Creed Unity scene

Airships of War

In the real world, airships weren’t successful weapons of war. Zeppelins were terrifying but inaccurate. Navigation, target selection and bomb aiming were difficult under the best of circumstances. In darkness, at high altitude and amid the English clouds, accuracy was too much to ask for.

British propaganda poster
1916 British propaganda poster depicts a German zeppelin being shot down

German zeppelins were initially immune to attack by aeroplane and anti-aircraft guns. As the pressure in their envelopes was only just higher than ambient, holes had little effect. But once incendiary bullets were developed and used against them, their flammable hydrogen lifting gas made them vulnerable at low altitudes. Several zeppelins were shot down in flames by British defenders. Others crashed on the way to England. The Germans started flying higher and higher, but this only made their airships even less effective.

The zeppelin campaign proved to be a disaster in terms of morale, men and material. Many pioneers of the German airship service were lost.

But why let such facts stand in the way of a good story?

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Mauro Cerati artwork

Nothing to See Here, Steampunk Is Doing Fine!

My “Who Killed Steampunk?” story from April continues to make the rounds with an unfortunately common reaction being to stick one’s head in the sand. Many people seem to believe that because they’re still doing steampunk, or because there is a well-attended steampunk event in their region, the entire movement must be doing fine.

The introduction to a recent op-ed by performer Professor Elemental in The Steampunk Explorer goes so far as to reassure readers that not only “everything is fine,” but steampunk is “better than it ever was in fact.”

It contains no evidence for this “fact”. I’m not even sure it’s what Elemental believes. In his op-ed, he recognizes that blogs and message boards have disappeared (although I think he’s overly optimistic when he writes, “Fewer blogs and message boards about steampunk means there are fewer blogs and message boards, not less steampunk”), that events have been canceled, and he has noticed the same attitude I blamed in April for “killing” steampunk: a tendency to scrutinize every steampunk costume, creation and story for signs of Eurocentrism, imperialism, misogyny and racism.

As Elemental puts it:

Subcultures like ours don’t do well under extreme scrutiny.

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