Tesla and the Lamplighter

The wifey and I watched a great short animation the other day. It’s called Tesla and The Lamplighter. It’s a cute non-verbal story about a lamplighter helping to revitalize Tesla’s love of inventing.

While there are an intro voiceover and an outro voiceover no characters speak. With the quality of the animation and the flow of the score, it doesn’t need them to. At fourteen minutes long it’s the perfect length for your midday stretch. Or just long enough to eat a snack.

This short is the first release from CAROUSELpictures. There are two ways to pay them, you may rent it for three bucks. Or buy it for $6.50.  If you feel like the teaser is something you see yourself watching more then once, then, by all means, please buy it. But if you’re only going to watch it once renting is the way to go.

I’m very interested in Vimeo as a platform for independent creators. Vimeo does not compress your video file as much as YouTube does, and with a way to set payments for your work. It shows promise of slipping into the void that will occur when YouTube has to reinvent itself to keep up with current demands of content creators and advertisers. With my current interest in getting my own short film out to the world, I’ll have to look into this more thoroughly. 

Please follow the link below and enjoy a teaser of Tesla and the Lamplighter.

The Complex Tensions of the Industrial Revolution’s Factories by Daniel Ausema

A view of the factories of  Manchester.         Date: circa 1870    Source: Unattributed illustration.
A view of the factories of Manchester. Date: circa 1870 Source: Unattributed illustration.

In previous interviews, essays, and blog posts, I’ve talked about some of my influences, some of what has led to my interest in steampunk. One of the key influences I’ve mentioned was the gaslight village section of a local history museum when I was growing up. For setting the mood of a steampunk city street, there’s nothing better.

Recently, thinking back on different books I’ve read and studied, I recalled one book that I’ve unjustly overlooked, one that probably had a far bigger influence than I’d ever realized. But first to set the stage…

I was eighteen, beginning my second semester of college. I was ambitious, eager to push myself with a difficult class, unwilling to ease my way up through the intermediate, 200-level courses. So I jumped straight into an advanced, 300-level class on Victorian Literature. I don’t recall now why I wanted that specific course, but for some reason I insisted on it despite my advisor’s concern that I wasn’t prepared.

I was also sleep deprived: involved in several on-campus clubs, working in the school’s library, staying up too late as I discovered the world of online social life, and competing in track, which was far more intense than high school track had been. And to not put too fine a point on it…I wasn’t prepared for a 300-level lit class.

When you think of Victorian lit, your mind probably goes to Dickens and the Brontë sisters. We read none of them—the professor likely assumed we’d read plenty of those in earlier lit classes. Instead we read our share of poetry—Tennyson, Arnold, and Browning primarily, though also some later Victorian works including Christina Rosetti and Gerard Manley Hopkins as well as an entire novel-in-verse that sleep-deprived me did not appreciate in the least. (Probably Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh, though I can’t say that with certainty.)

north and south coverI dove into Tennyson’s Arthurian poems and immersed myself in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s paintings (as any self-respecting wannabe fantasist would…). But it may well have been the prose novels that had a longer-lasting effect on me. The two big ones we read that semester were George Elliot’s Adam Bede and Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South.

Novels at the time were often seen as lesser works, and—in keeping with the ideals of the time—suitable only for women. Well, Elliot and Gaskell both were women writers to be reckoned with, unwilling to be shunted aside, and their books have continued to be read ever since.

Gaskell’s North and South especially shaped how I’ve approached the industrial revolution ever since. The story was originally serialized (with Charles Dickens as her editor!). You can easily read a summary of the story at Wikipedia, so I won’t reiterate that here. And in fact, it wasn’t so much the specifics of the story that stayed with me. Rather, it was the complex tensions of its industrial city setting—the story’s heroine, Margaret, finds herself at a cross point between the factory workers and the factory owners in a fictionalized industrial city in England.

Gaskell avoids simplistic good-vs-bad characterizations as Margaret comes to know the people at various levels of her society and as she navigates the tensions between the ideals she aspires to of caring for everyone and the specifics of the people she is coming to know, especially one young factory owner.

Gaskell was a friend of Charlotte Brontë’s (and her first biographer), and the novel is sometimes compared to Jane Eyre (which, for the record, I did read on my own time a few years later). The two novels are quite different in many ways, but those very differences help show the concerns of each writer. For a steampunk writer, artist, or maker, it’s the social backdrop of North and South that will be of special interest.

So to make your steampunk stories more well rounded, go check out one of the classic novels of the Victorian era. You won’t regret it.

Serial Fiction and Steampunk

SpireCityUrchinAgainThis week marks the beginning of the third season of my steampunk-fantasy serial-fiction project. For thirteen weeks I’ll be sending the episodes out to subscribers (and Amazon, etc.) every Monday. So you can understand why I have serial fiction on my mind. For my inaugural post here at Steampunk Cavaliers, then, I’m going to write a bit about the history of serialization in the Victorian era.

Serialized works and steampunk seem like an ideal fit to me. The image of Victorian-era readers eagerly buying a new issue of some magazine or other to catch the latest episode of one of Dickens’ novels is a familiar idea for many of us, even if we don’t know much about the details of what novel, what magazine, etc. The growing use of the printing press and increased literacy made it an ideal time for serialization.

pickwick papers coverHistorians pinpoint Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers as a key spark to the popularity of serialization for English readers. Dickens was brought in initially to provide some narrative to a series of prints, with the pictures themselves intended to be the primary focus for the magazine subscribers. Dickens’ writing ability plus the death of the original artist after only a few episodes flipped that focus, and the serialized novel burst into the English literary scene.

I’m always keen to learn about what was happening in other countries and cultures at this time as well. Steampunk always benefits from opening itself to as many influences and cultures as possible. In Russia the serialized novel was common, with both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky publishing famous novels that way (Anna Karenina and The Brothers Karamazov). Madame Bovary was first published in France as a serial, as were Alexandre Dumas’ works. In China the serialized The Nine-Tailed Turtle was for a brief time one of the country’s most popular works.

prague cemetery coverAll that kind of history you can dig into more on Wikipedia if you choose. One historical note you won’t find there I discovered in reading Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery (while I haven’t been able to verify this fact elsewhere, Eco’s reputation and approach here leads me to grant this anecdote at least provisional trustworthiness).The novel is a historical mystery about the forger Simon Simonini. At one point in the novel, Simon recalls some details about the unification of Italy. At the time the government in Piedmont, fearful of the lower classes, banned the novels of Alexandre Dumas and other works of serial fiction that had been popular (in translation) among the common people. Couldn’t have any of that revolutionary French influence in Italy!

I like that image, that serial fiction itself is dangerous—that serialized works might be a source for revolution, among the peasants and those who are being mistreated by society. I hope it still can be, at some level, that steampunk and serial fiction both can call on the factory bosses and overbearing elite (and their contemporary/non-steampunk analogs) to end injustices and create more just ways.

So what’s there to do with steampunk and serial fiction? Well, obviously I’d love for everyone to check out my Spire City series. And if you are a fan of something else or a creator of some other serialized steampunk work, I’d love to hear from you! Maybe I can feature your work here on Steampunk Cavaliers in the future.

ClockworkDagger coverBut that’s not all. Barnes & Noble has recently introduced its Serial Reads, and their selection for the month of March happens to be steampunk! Beth Cato’s The Clockwork Dagger is being released day by day this month. So if you have a Nook or the Nook reading app, be sure to check that out.

Then go out and create your own series, because nothing is more steampunk than making something with your own hands.

All images used in this post either belong to Daniel Ausema or are available either in the public domain or with permission from the owners.