Thursday, 25 December 2008

More reconnoitring.

Once or twice a year I will head off to one of my favourite haunts the 'Abbey Pumping Station' now a museum on the out-skirts of Leicester (Leicestershire, England), usually on one of its special event days, to soak-up the smell of coal smoke and steam, and to see the massive beam engines in motion. On this occasion is was the Christmas toys & steam day, and I was hoping to see something inspirational, to get my old steam hart pumping again.
When you enter the grounds from the car-park side (over looked by the National Space Centre) you can see immediately on your right a sleeping Iron Dinosaur, its caterpillar feet being overtaken by weeds and grass now, this once long ago tamed beast, would have work as hard as any, its familiar sound known to all. What a SteamPunker's restoration project it would make bringing this Steam-shovel back to life, sitting in the cab with levers at your command!

Monday, 22 December 2008

SteamPunk Review: First men In the Moon. Pt.1

H G Wells' First men In the Moon

Synopsis: In 1964 a United Nations lunar mission comes across a union jack and note claiming the moon in name of Queen Victoria and dated 1899. The U.N. Traces this back to Dimchurch, England and an elderly man called Arnold Bedford. Bedford recounts his tale to the investigators of how he and his fiancée Kate encountered the eccentric Joseph Cavor. Cavor has created an anti gravity substance. He intends to use this to take a trip to the moon whist Bedford is chiefly interested in in its mineral resources. Kate is accidentally brought along and the three encounter a subterranean and technologically advanced civilisation that Cavor names Selenites. The trio are captured and studied before escaping back to earth. In the present day Bedford is told by the U.N. That all traces of life on the moon are now extinct, wiped out by the earth men's germs.

Critique: First men in the moon is one of producer Charles Schneer and animator Ray Harryhausen's collaborations together. Clearly the producers and writers (including Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale) had a more optimistic view of the world than many at the time. Filmed during the cold war and two years after the Cuban missile crisis it is a United Nations space expedition that lands on the moon including an American a Russian and an Englishmen. Interestingly it is the American who actually gets to step foot on the surface first, although if he makes any speech about the betterment of mankind we don't get to hear it the film immediately cuts to a montage of worldwide news broadcasts.

This is merely the prologue before we are taken back to 1899 and Bedford's story. Here we are introduced to the protagonists. Bedford is a down on on his luck playwright and some thing of a prevaricator. He tells Kate he inherited his cottage from an aunt, that all his money is tied up in Boer war surplus army boots (the war had barely started in 1899) and later, whilst trying to raise finances for Cavor, persuades her to sign her name to the deeds of the cottage. Edward Judd is affable enough to make Bedford likeable through all this. Kate is American and it seems that early drafts of the script might have tried to portray her as a modern type of gal. After all she drives a motor car, or “infernal contraption” as the postman refers to it, but, and not helped by a fairly bland Martha Hyer in the role, has very little to do other than be captured and rescued. Finally we have the great Lionel Jeffries and his superb comedy talents as the wonderfully eccentric and chicken hating (but goose loving) Cavor. Cavor is largely a comic figure in the early sequences and quite similar to the role Jeffries played in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang but later his obsession with the moon proves to be almost as dangerous to Bedford and Kate as the Selenites.

Guest review by Sir Guy

SteamPunk Review: First men In the Moon. Pt.2

Perhaps not one of the best known of Schneer and Harryhausen's works together first men has a sense of humour not always to be found in their movies. This is probably due to Kneale and co writer Jan Reads script and their extensive background in British television and radio. The comedy is not just kept to Jeffries' buffoon, Cavor, but Bedford's attempts to keep Kate in the dark about his finances. They also have a U.N. Investigators say: “ Don't forget, England is a land of eccentrics” when they sceptically seek out the story. The mood is also enhanced by composer Laurie Johnson;s score which is decidedly whimsical, especially for its early scenes in period England. Johnson also had an extensive television background including the Avengers theme tune.

Technically the film is superb with nicely rendered period detail a charming, cluttered mise en scene to Bedford's cottage and Cavor's lab, whilst their spacecraft's interior is all upholstery with mahogany fittings and brass instruments. The cinematography is bright and colourful for the scenes on earth whilst the lunar landscape is beautifully lit in both its sound stage and miniature realisations.
What really stands out, however, is the production design of the Selenite's caverns. Chrystal caverns, a mushroom forest and the awesome, psychedelic oxygen generator this is all lit in garish, primary colours that give the caverns the look of a Mario Bava movie. Bava's classic Blood and black lace was released the same year.

What any review really comes down to is of one of these movies though are Harryhausen's creations. Although we don't see any until over an hour in. The Selenite design's are interesting with their insectoid bodies and hive system of warriors, engineers and best of all the Mekon like overmind we see towards the end. Unfortunately apart from the gigantic moon cow (and bull) this is all we see of lunar life. Admittedly this comes from the screenplay itself and no lack of imagination on Harryhausen's part, the stand out effect is Kate's skeleton in the Selenite's X ray device. The miniature work for the moon itself and the contemporary and period landings are also terrific.

Technically the DVD is presented in 2.35.1 and is a wonderfully crisp transfer with quite muted colours for the rustic scenes in Victorian England and is amazingly crisp for the lunar scenes with solid blacks and the Bava-esque lighting of the interiors shown off in its full glory.
Extras wise we get a neat from the time this is dynamation feature and a Harryhausen documentary which uses many of his fantastic production sketches. Unfortunately other than a photo gallery and trailer there are no extras specific to the movie itself.

Overall first men is a great movie although I doubt its on anyone's favourites list of Schneer and Harryhausen's work together. Nathan Juran ( a workmanlike director with a background in American genre TV and a number of giant monster movies to his credit) handles the direction competently enough although I suspect his experience with effects got him the job.
The movie's real achievements and successes lie with Kneale and Read's script, the likeable cast and, of course, the incredible work of Ray, brought to you in “Dynamation”.

Guest Review by Sir Guy

Monday, 3 November 2008

'The Searchers - The shape of things to come'

While hunting for SteamPunk ephemera (I am always on a Victoriana Safari looking for rare game) in the Ether, I fell upon an intrigueing cover of a forgotten Comic Book, and instantly wanted to know more. The comic books in question are 'The Searchers - The shape of things to come' Issues 1 to 4, and 'The Searchers - Apostle of Mercy' Issues 1 to 2, Written by Colin Clayton and Chirs Dows, and printed in 1996 to 1997 by Caliber comics.

Just a peek to set the scene!

The authors :- H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Sit Arthur Conan Doyle, H. Ryder Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, minds where exposed to a powerful artefact, which brought there imaginative creations to life, back in 1896.
The events are then catapulted forward one hundred years, and real-life descendants of their greatest
characters are thrown in to a dangerous undertaking...

Later a comic book series written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Kevin O'Neill, was launched in 1999 as part of the America's Best Comics an imprint of Wildstorm Comics, which has gained some noterity.

Excerpts from facebook, and my cognitive adventures in the Ether! Part. II

In answering the topic on ones Steampunk Alter ego

How the 'the Steam Brigadier' came into being, and what he stands for!

The Steam Brigadier represents the mechanized arm of the New British Empire, in a future that may have been. His rank was inspired by the British cultural Hero (not a side-kick or a companion) 'The Brigadier' from the television Science Fiction series 'Dr. Who', who's ancestors (all of whom where military men) can be found in the novel 'The Dying Days' by Lance Parkin (1997).

Sbrigadier (for short) and SteamBrigadier have been nom de plumes floating around modern military exercises gathering strategies from the likes of 'Gear of War', and 'Halo 3', as well as on-line forums, on SteamPunk, and table-top strategy games for some time now, he is also the protagonist in the SteamPunk folly ' The unexpected undertakings of one of her Majesty's Steam-Troopers' which is found @ . The Steam Brigadier has also found himself as the custodian of 'Steam and Trenches' a Blog of sorts, located @ and unwittingly the Icon for the 'steampunk-depot' .

My Alter ego does not possess the characteristics of Sir harry Flashman, nor is he a devotee of Colonel Blimp's philosophy “War starts at Midnight!”, if an Analytical Engine can help the trajectory of an artillery shell, and a steam engine can be fitted with 'chain track' to go over obstacles on land, then all the better, and he is an avid reader of the works of General F. von Bernhardi - solely on logistics and modern military sense, of course! He is well travelled, and speaks with authority, his manners hide his frustration with foolish little upstarts, he has the tenacity of a Bulldog when looking for the truth, and thinks himself quite the Amateur sleuth.

In essence he is a defender of the realm (of SteamPunk), a soldier, and a gentleman.

Excerpts from facebook, and my cognitive adventures in the Ether! Part I

Q. So how'd you get into Steampunk

A. Well I remember when I was seven or eight living in Emerald (Vic. Australia) riding on a steam train called 'Puffing Billy' and it stopping at a lakeside station where you could buy a plastic bag full of black smoke, so those sounds and smells from that journey have stayed with me.

Now having lived in Loughborough (East Midlands), England for many years, I can now recall those Sunday afternoon films on the TV, for instance '20,000 Leagues under the sea' and 'First men in the moon', and in those 90's Anime (Japanese Animation) shows like 'Sherlock Hound' and 'Nadia – The secret of blue water', and I think it was one Christmas that 'Laputa – Castle in the sky' was on TV.

“you still awake!? Well read on”

Well I marvel at the working steam engines and contraptions made of iron, steel, copper, and brass, that though they did a very practical job, are beautiful to behold. I think that it was way back in 1997, that a friend and I sketched-out our thoughts of a Steampunk Strategy/RPG computer game, that still mite be! It might have been; the films, the cartoons, the books, the comic books, or the ghost of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, that got me hooked on Victoriana, it's just a part of me now.

“Oh! Mmm... I do ramble on a bit don't I”

I do not think you get into Steampunk, I know that you can stumble upon the word “Steampunk”, and that you can tumble into web sites, and see the cool fashion for the modern Neo-Victorian, but I think it's in your blood, hidden subconsciously some times.

Some times you feel a bit out of time, and your imagination revels in the possibilities of adventure, and invention that may have been, in Queen Victoria's reign. The “what if...” if you will.

“So Damn it, label me a Steampunker and be done with it!”

Monday, 22 September 2008

Steampunk Review: Men like Gods

Ever been driving for miles down a wonderful road, and then the landscape suddenly changes, and its like you are transported to an other World? Well that's what happens to Mr. Barnstaple, going on holiday, Not from Kansas to Oz, but a foggy London to the parallel world of Utopia.

Men like Gods by H. G. Wells

ISBN: 0-8495-5847-6

A socialist (state-controlled) garden paradise set far into the future, and after 'The age of confusion' gave birth to the five Utopian principles that are its foundation;

1. The Principle of Privacy
2. The Principle of Free Movement.
3. The Principle Unlimited Knowledge.
4. Lying is the blackest of crimes.
5. Free Discussion and Criticism.

Quite a shock, to the party of Victorians Wells portrays, the only favourable character being Mr. Barnstaple voicing Wells's own hopes and dreams. The Beautiful People of Utopia (with not a stitch on) meet the Ugly minded Earthlings, with their repressed Victorians values.

A dammed good view into the Victorian mind, and ones views on its society.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008


In reconnoitring the 'Nottingham & Leicestershire Steam & Country Show' at Stanford Hall near Loughborough, way back in July on the 3rd. 2008, I was able to see a steam wagon, two traction engines, and a plethora of working scale steam engines. The gears, pistons, regulators, and steam whistles are all different in some way, whether its the scaled replicas, or the restored steam engines, it seems that every Victorian town had a workshop that made them their own way!

The other aspect of a show like this one, is that you can become a hunter (not a scavenger) of SteamPunk paraphernalia, a lot of stalls have what other people call junk, but we know better “what !”; cogs, gears, gagdes, brass doorknobs, and the like, and even Victorian lamps can be found. I myself bought a solid brass shoe-horn, very helpful when your servant is not to hand!

On the whole well worth the reconnoitre.

Monday, 25 August 2008

In the interim

To you the reader, please forgive this tardy addition to my public journal, my absence has been unintentional, but my enthusiasm has kept me going when my occupation took president.

In the interim I have relaxed with many a good book, and had time to search for, and view motion pictures depicting the wonderus industrial marvels of the age, and those splendid adventurous chaps of the Empire.

Others have rallied to my banner, notably the enigmatic artist 'SteamTrooper', who's skill in portraying visions of riveted armour protecting the steam engines of the Empire's landships, has yet to be surpassed.