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.
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.
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!”