For I dipt into the future far as human eye could see;
Saw the Vision of the world and all the wonder that would be.
Steampunk is all about the past; an alternative past, of course, but the past nonetheless. Victoria, and massive steam-driven, gear-whirling complexities; the apotheosis of Science and Engineering, and all the applied wonders they provide, augmented by the burgeoning alchemic technologies. It’s the streets of 19th Century London with an overlay of leather and brass, or the streets of Wild West America with piston-driven, steam-churned equinomatics and smoke-belching multi-barrelled firearms with laser and plasmid enhancements. But it’s all the past.
“What if…?” is a question that echoes throughout steampunkery, and it’s one that echoed around the emptier parts of my brain recently: What if that past existed, but not frozen in time like a bit of clockwork in amber, but living and evolving and changing with the passage of time? What would a steampunk future look like? If, like Alfred, Lord Tennyson in “Locksley Hall” we “dipt into the future,” what would we find?
So with the help of a good deal of spray paint, random plumbing supplies, and a copious quantity of superglue, I took a peek in to the Future of Steampunk. Like all steampunk visions, it’s an idiosyncratic conceit, unique to its creator, and has little or no bearing on anyone else’s vision. I make no claims to have defined the steampunk future for anyone but me. It’s a let’s-pretend timeline that I’ve been slowly constructing through random asides, footnotes, captions, and images in the Gentlemen of Steampunk (and its sequel), and in the steampunk/Mother Goose mash-up, Aether & Rhyme, and in occasional postings on steampunk social media. It’s my world, and welcome to it. Thanks to the models pictured here: Michael Justice, Hollywood Hawk, Richie Olson, Louis Daprile, iFlyRobin, and Morgan McDonnell.
Below, you’ll find some glimpses into the technology and culture of the steamy future, and a few illustrative photographs, both of which derive from a dip into the future currently in progress…
I. VICTORIA RESIN & GOGGLES EVOLVED
Perhaps the foremost technological advance of the past century was the development and subsequent perfection of Victoria resin. Invented in the alchemical laboratory of Professor Redalard Monsuvial (MPE) in 1918 (and named in honour of Victoria II (1901-1934), and not–as myth would have it–for the first Victoria, the resin’s adaptability, hardness, and ubiquity are legendary, and most common household items, industrial tools, and even personal accessories and augments are today comprised at least in part of Monsuvial’s substance. Definitionally, it is an alchemically-manipulated blend of coal-combustion by-products with natural aetheric effluvia that results in a non-metallic, non-Newtonian solid with significantly higher tensility than alloyed steel. In addition to its remarkable strength, Victoria Resin is a thermosetting plastic, and (in its pre-set state) liquefies at a relatively low temperature (660oC/1220oF) for easy casting and forming. Once set, however, Victoria Resin is heat-resistant to well over 1510oC/2750oF, and highly insulative, making it an attractive and appropriate vessel for micro-steamaegines incorporated into modern personal devices and firearms. VR quickly supplanted brass and steel in clockwork mechanisms and gearage devices, and by the mid-20th century its use was commonplace and uniquitous.
Hadther & Gully “Ventura” spectacle augments include traditional alloyed-steel and enhanced brass componentry mounted on a lightweight frame of Victoria resin
Above and below, Denbarr Monoculars are manufactured primarily from Victoria resin (with some metallic components). The pembrooke device (below) is also constructed almost entirely from lightweight VR, making wrist-mounted informatics far less burdensome than the originals.
Benten, Phermick & Bunsun Labs’ “Personal Observatorie” spectacle augment is primarily composed of a variety of Victoria resin pieces, including the frame, enclosed recording lensorium, and the observatory-grade telescopular. Some minor couplings are metallic, and the lenses themselves, of course, are glassite.
II. ROYAL ALBERT ORBITAL PLATFORM
In the late 1960s, His Majesty’s Near-Earth Manned Orbit (N.E.M.O.) Programme established the first permanent “space station,” dubbed the Royal Albert Orbital Platform (R.A.O.P.) in honor of Victoria I’s Prince Consort. Access to the R.A.O.P. is a three-stage process: “Nemonauts” (the appellation accorded to participants in the N.E.M.O. programme) are lifted aloft using adapted Aegyptian solar thermi schooners launched from high-altitude dirigibles. (The Aegyptians have used papyrus balloons covered with a sheathing of thin solar-heated metal panels for clean, silent flight for more than a millennium. The “nataro”–or “thermi schooners” as we refer to them–are pleasant commonplace sights in the sky above the Aegyptian imperial capitols of Ramses, Thebes, and Amarna, where they are used to convey travelers and cargo across the vast deserts of the Aegyptian Empire.). The schooners moor with cables trailed by R.A.O.P., and the Nemonauts are brought up to the platform in slender box-shaped elevators that run on the cables. R.A.O.P. orbits the Earth circularly at 330 km (205 mi). At any time, the RAOP, which resembles a short hatbox, may host up to fifteen Nemonauts in its 55 m (180 ft) diameter disc.
Nemonauts can walk on the outer hull of the R.A.O.P. with the use of magnetical boots. They can also travel off the surface of the platform via skiffs, one-man shuttles propelled and maneuvered by focused, high-intensity steam jets. Nemonauts typically wear deep blue shirts with gold piping, and carry a multi-purpose tool. Nemonauts are intensely trained and prepared for occasional excursions into the vacuum of space to conduct Scientific experiments or perform repair and maintenance activities. Nemonauts are also armed with deadly aether-propellant rifles specially designed for orbital use, in the event of uninvited–and unwelcome–visitors.
Orbital Group Captain Sir Inslef Margrynton (a direct lineal descendant of the illustrious Commodore Lord Jovial Margrynton, hero of Tinderton, the decisive battle of the brief but bloody Restoration War (1939-1942), which ended the Whitbury Regency and returned Victoria III (the present monarch’s mother) to the throne) is seen here in his official photographic portrait aboard the Royal Albert Orbital Platform. Rising to become one of the Empire’s first Nemonaut officers, Margrynton served on the original design and test team that constructed the platform under the auspices of His Majesty’s Near-Earth Manned Orbital programme, and flew the first manned mission into the upper thermosphere, conclusively demonstrating that human habitation in orbit was possible. In this portrait by the illustrious (and enduring) photographer Luxet Tenebrae, Margrynton is show holding his helmet along with an aether-charged rifle designed specifically for use in the near-vacuum of space.
Unbeknownst to his commanding officer, Flight Lieutenant Denderly Phipps III ventured out from the comfortable confines of the Royal Albert Orbital Platform and maneuvered his steam-propelled skiff (commonly contracted by seasoned nemonauts as a “spiff,” it was a type of small, open-topped one-man craft designed for short-distance travel in the vacuum, utilizing a highly efficient compressed steam-jet propulsion system developed by Dr Fensworth-Bruel especially for use by the Near Earth Manned Orbital programme) to a point a few kilometers away from the platform. After enjoying a spectacular view of the Earth, its Moon, and the wonders of the heavens, Phipps shut the valve to the steam-jet and allowed his spiff to drift languidly, turning gently in the mysterious particle eddies. It was at that moment that he observed the approach of an object that caused him serious alarm, and he was seized immediately with regret that he had only come armed with his standard-issue maintenance tool and not a more persuasive firearm…
A young man aboard (or apparently not quite aboard, if we are to believe his headgear) the Royal Albert Orbital Platform. As a member of the Near-Earth Manned Orbital programme, he is referred to as a “Nemonaut.” The wonders of the heavenly firmament abound about, awaiting Man’s next noble steps into the cosmos!
III. MASK-MOUNTED AUGMENTATION DEVICE (MMAD)
The recent fashion trend, particularly amongst young people, is the MMAD (Mask-Mounted Augmentation Device), a more sleekly stylish variation on the traditional goggles and augments that continue to be a life-style accessory staple. It seems that the appeal lies not so much in the identity-concealing nature of the masks, but rather in their flush-to-the-face flatness that, counter-intuitively, actually conceals character less than their bulkier counterparts. Thanks to micronization of technology and Dr Wintner’s work in Neural-Confluent Aengeneering, the MMADs can be needle-pricked into the wearer’s skin, and information exchanged directly with the suboptic vision centres of the brain—eliminating the need for artificial displays. Not everyone, of course, is comfortable exchanging this degree of intimacy with their devices. “I worry,” said Lady Custerfield in a recent telephone-interview, “about the little things, like how clean are those pins that I’m popping into my face? I really can’t be sure, so I prefer the old-fashioned spectacle-augs, myself. I think they’re prettier in any case!”
Underweil’s limited-edition “Forebear” MMAD is a VR mask with both aelectrickal and traditional gearwork mechanisms (note the use of recovered 19th century metallics in the main frontal lobular drive)
The “Venturi GH” MMAD was Bishopp & Wraithington’s top-line augment at this year’s International Exhibition at Ketteridge, with an innovative suspended isenglass monocular incorporated into the VR mask matrix. Lobal interfaces are set at the mid-temple regions, but the insertion pins branch once introduced subdermally. This permits a sleeker visage and minimal weighty metallics. Also pictured: Chrittensheim’s “Escalator” aetherplasmic carbine, featuring an easily-replaceable aether ampoule and VR-insulated body to prevent unpleasant heat-generation. The Parkridge & Shyoak pembrooke is driven by an incorporated steam engine with minimal off-smoking thanks to a tubular recapture system that recaptures coal particulates suspended in the engine-generated gases and returns them to the integrated firebox for refiring. The P&S pembrooke includes standard wrist-augment functionalities along with a unique “categoriser” aengine.
The mandibular MMAD patented by Academy Arts provides the wearer with enhanced vocalisation and auditory recording augments. Paired with optional headphones, it permits subvocal communication across substantial distances. The subdermal pins lock to the masseter and orbicularis oris muscles, with an internally “swallowed” wire-anchored pin that autonomously seeks and attaches to the vocal chords. Also shown, Benten, Phermick & Bunsun Labs’ “Personal Observatorie” spectacle augment.