Monthly Archives: March 2017

If Only Construction Equipment Was Like This…

I’m not sure where the inspiration for this came from. Kind of a conceptual hybrid between LEGO’s City Construction subtheme and my own Classic Space elemental dragon, it’s effectively part bulldozer and part mythological creature.

With a wyvern bodyplan like the Green NRG Dragon set, this thing uses the feet from that one and builds up from there.

Yellow is quite an unusual colour for dragons, but for a constructodragon there’s really no other choice as a primary colour. The black lower parts also echo a lot of real and LEGO construction equipment, so that works too.

The thin neck seems to work surprisingly well on this model. Normally I’d be grousing about wanting it to be more muscular, but somehow the scrawny, almost cockatrice-like look seems apt, especially with the support-strut wings and the relatively small head.

The grabber-claw tail isn’t as fully articulated as I’d normally accept in a dragon tail, but for a constructodragon it really seemed like the only acceptable solution.

The caterpillar treads around the wing mounts were an afterthought, but I think a good one. It makes the whole thing much more constructiony and in keeping with the theme. They necessitated a fairly extensive rebuild of the upper body to make them work, and the body is now much higher and bulkier, but that also works as a constructodragon. And remarkably, it doesn’t make the neck look unreasonable.

Is this the start of a whole series of weird-themed dragons? Perhaps. Policedragon? Pirate dragon? Race car dragon? Underwater exploration dragon? Only time can tell…

Advertisements

World War Two Half-Tracks Innnn Spaaaaaace!

Caterpillar tracks are great for getting around in challenging terrain, but steering them was initially a bit of an engineering challenge for people used to wheeled vehicles. You need independent gearing for each track in order to make it work, and though we’re used to that now, in the inter-War and World War 2 period it made vehicles more difficult and expensive to manufacture.

Enter the half-track.

Wheels at the front for steering with and tracks at the back for traction, many nations produced them, but it’s the German ones that are the most recogniseable, thanks to numerous war films.

Having just bought a few sets of rubber tracks via Bricklink, I wanted to make use of them, and with my son’s recent birthday acquisition of Catwoman’s motorbike (from the LEGO Batman Movie line), the bizarre little German motorcycle half-track (known as “Kettenkrad”) was apparently on my mind.

Classic Space version? You bet!

Taking a break in my building from Wind Horse‘s world and its steampunkery, I return to Classic Space as naturally as a duck returns to water.

There are no major new building techniques on display here, but I just like the concept of a space half-track.

My remaining green Classic Space astronaut from the Exo-Suit set is currently missing (well, so’s the other one. Pete the Robot Turtle Feeder hasn’t been seen for about a year, and we’ve moved house during that time. My assumption is he’s long gone), so I’ve made some modified astronauts by cobbling together pieces of Ice Planeteer and City Spaceport astronauts to make a sort of transitional spacesuit design with elements of both. Hence one of these astronauts has the bulky suit and immobile enclosing helmet of a more primitive age, while the other has a more high-tech slimline suit with greater mobility.

This also probably explains why the vehicle bears the insignia of the Classic Space Federation while the suits bear the mark of the LEGO City Space Service: they’re in transition from one to the other.

In Holy Orousska, Steam Sleigh Drives You!

Russian-influenced steampunk is rather a fringe niche in the whole steampunk phenomenon. Russia industrialised so late compared to the rest of Europe that there’s little to draw on in the time period corresponding to the British Victorian era that forms the archetypal steampunk sociocultural milieu.

My story Wind Horse, though (see here) is set in an alternate universe with amazing ice age beasts roaming the earth and assorted other weirdness. There’s no reason why my Russia couldn’t have industrialised earlier.

In my story, I needed to have a major steam-using power to pit against the tribes of the steppe, and having abandoned the idea of using China because my Chinese nerd powers are weak, Russia seemed like the best alternative. I can write a steampunk Russia and not feel like I’m completely out of my depth, unlike, for example, anywhere in the Far East. So the Empire of Holy Orousska was born, renamed to protect the innocent. (And also because it’s an alternate Earth and I want to emphasise that fact).

It does take a little imagination to dream up authentically Russian steampunk contraptions, but top of the list ought to be some sort of mechanical sleigh.

If you’re steampunking Russia, you have the Russian winter to cope with. Rivers freeze solid, snow is everywhere, Napoleon’s Grand Army succumbs to frostbite, in extreme cases trees even explode due to freezing effects… Horse-drawn sleighs were a normal way of getting around in those climes.

A steam sleigh has problems that a wheeled steam vehicle doesn’t, though. You can provide forward momentum to a wheeled vehicle by driving the wheel, but a sleigh slides on runners like skis. If you’re going to do away with the horse, you need a way of providing an alternate source of push.

In the diesel age, this-worldly Russia developed the aerosanie, and I may build a steam one of those later. But I decided to provide both propulsion and traction with a spiked drive wheel.

Enter the Orousski Steam Troika.

Steam troika

Having my daughter’s Aira’s Magical Pegasus Sleigh set to draw on for inspiration and building elements, a ground-going sleigh shouldn’t be too much of a challenge. I’ve ditched the wings, toned down the girly wind-elf colour scheme into something that makes sense for steampunk Russia, and added a spiked drive wheel that’s fully steerable. Not something you want to stand in front of, but life’s apparently fairly cheap in the steampunk version of Mother Russia from my story. In Holy Orousska, steam sleigh drives you!

It would be great fun to rework this as a combat version, with a mortar or a couple of heavy machine guns or something in the back. And I could do that, but it would mean continuing with the gold runners, and that just seems wrong for a winter combat vehicle built by the people who virtually invented the idea of camouflage and who gave us the word maskirovka.

Not that you can do much to disguise the plumes of smoke and steam from the engine, but it’s the principle of the thing.

Building Together

All three of my kids love LEGO, but of the three of them, my son is probably the biggest fan.

One of the main ways we spend time together, in fact, is building together, though it often deteriorates into him providing the ideas and direction and me making it work the way he wants it to be. Of such collaboration have many dragons and mechs and Ninja machines been built.

This was a different kettle of sushi.

Father-and-son building time

He’s a fan of the Star Wars Microfighters game on LEGO.com, and so when he asked me to build him a TIE fighter microfighter I smiled and said “You’re a good builder. You can build it yourself”.

So he did. Then he had me build the X-Wing, which is obviously an AFOL’s creation on the Microfighter theme rather than a nearly-six-year-old’s, but allowed him two ships to have a battle with.

And really, X-Wings are hard. I remember that from my own childhood before there was a set for that.

A few days later I came home from work to discover that he’d made this lovely little charging/refueling/repair station all by himself. No help with the concept, nothing. Absolutely brilliant!

Of course, it’s a bit more rainbow than I’d have tolerated even as a six-year-old, but that’s at leas partly a legacy of my wife. A non-builder with the attention to detail that makes a really superb brickfinder, she had no patience at all with his Daddylike early insistence on everything being the right colour as well as the right shape and carefully wore down his resistance to the Rainbow Warrior concept.

I’m particularly fond of the crates of tools, but the whole thing oozes brilliance.

So I’m trying something very difficult. I’m trying to stop my itchy AFOL builder’s hands from taking over and let him build his own stuff.

Real Unicorns Don’t Poop Rainbows

Say “unicorn” and the image usually conjured is the epitome of delicacy and, well, girliness.

Hasbro and the irritating My Little Pony line are only partly responsible for this, but they certainly haven’t helped any: being horsy sorts of creatures, they’re in there, of course, along with pegasi, regular(ish) ponies and winged unicorns as well. It’s from here that we get the modern clich√© of pooping out rainbows.

But look at almost any period European art and you’ll find its unicorns are gracile, impossibly slender beasts with long legs, spiral horns and blinding white coats. They symbolise innocence and purity, and they’re associated with virgins.

All this is largely informed by the narwhal tusks brought back by sailors and passed off as unicorn horn. Having a real bruiser of a creature with a horn like that just looks wrong.

Venture into Eastern Europe and Central Asia, though, and you may hear of a rather different single-horned beast. And this one sounds like a real creature.

The Russians call it Indrik, the Chinese qilin seems similar. It’s said to be huge, powerful, like an ox, a big bruiser of an animal. More like a rhinoceros than anything else.

As it should happen, there was an extinct rhinoceros species that might fit the bill: Elasmotherium. Native to Eurasia, it stood nearly as tall as a woolly mammoth at the shoulder, with what most scientists agree was a huge single horn, not on the tip of its nose like modern rhinoceros species but further up its face between its eyes.

It had long legs like a horse, too, and appears to have been adapted to a horselike galloping gait. African rhinoes can charge at 30mph; imagine something four times the mass with a horn almost as long as an adult man, bearing down on you on legs proportioned like those of a horse. What speeds would it be capable of, do you think?

Elasmotherium probably went extinct around the end of the last ice age, so humans definitely encountered it. And if it was going to hang on anywhere into recorded history, the wilds of north Asia is a fairly good bet for where it might, which would explain those Russian and Chinese (and Yakutian) stories.

Elasmotherium has been on my mind of late, as a story I’m writing features Central Asian Turco-Mongolian-type tribesmen riding around on them in a Russian-influenced steampunk universe. (“Why?” you ask? Because ice-age beasts are awesome, and steampunk is awesome, and Central Asia is somewhere I know a little bit about).

So anyway, I decided to build myself one.

My Little Pony this ain’t

I used a new technique for the lower legs, and I like the way it works even if the ankles are really too spindly. The thighs are suitably muscular.

The humped body form follows the French cave drawing believed to represent the creature (as the only known single-horned rhinocerotid in Europe at the time, it’s a reasonably safe bet), and the horn is up between the eyes where most scientists agree it should be.

Unfortunately even for an Elasmotherium it’s too monstrously huge to be minifig-scale, which is a pity but hardly unexpected. It’s not too far off, but it still manages to look too big against a minifigure.

I toyed with the various 1×1 tile eyes, but they all looked too cute and not fierce enough. Which again, was not unexpected. I went with trans neon orange studs to add a note of fire.

Anyway, here’s my real-life unicorn. Any mention of rainbows will result in the commentator being trampled in LEGO effigy.

Where the Spacedozers Roam

I like to build spacecraft and I work in construction, so you’d think the intersection of the two might be more of a common theme in my work. Maybe.

Not so; I’ve toyed with the concept a little, but perhaps because I work around them all day, bulldozers are usually¬†boring to me. So it was a refreshing challenge for me to try to build this spacedozer.

More fruits of “Febrovery”, this model was what resulted from the thought “ok, I built a regular Neoclassic rover, but is there any way I can mix it up?”

Space emergency vehicles seemed like a good idea, but a vastly better builder than I posted an amazing space ambulance rover, so I didn’t want to do that. And Space Police is already a thing, while space fire-rescue doesn’t work because you can’t have fire in a vacuum. Space construction seemed like the next best option.

This rover is entirely too sleek to be truly realistic as a construction vehicle, which are normally blocky, clunkily-shaped thIngs of brute power. But it works as a sort of spacedozer. The dozer blade even raises and lowers, while the rear grabbing arm is perfect for lifting and carrying. And it has a green astronaut pilot in keeping with my personal decision that the green suits represent Space Fleet’s logistics and support command.

It’s not my greatest model ever, but it’s sort of fun.

…And I thought they smelt bad on the outside!

With this model I return to something I usually seem to enjoy: small models.

100_5729

Luke Skywalker riding a tauntaun is hard to pull off at minifig scale; at least, when you don’t have a proper tauntaun. I’m fairly happy with how this built one has turned out.

You’ve got to admire a creature that can handle Hoth’s extreme cold better than an unmodified speeder; remember that when Luke didn’t get back to Echo Base, they couldn’t go and look for him in their speeders because of issues with adapting them to the cold.

100_5730

We see that even tauntauns can keel over and die of hypothermia, but the fact that you can take a tauntaun out into weather that will ground a speeder is impressive. Hardy little beasts, these things are. And they don’t need much in the way of support infrastructure the way machines do.

100_5734

It’s actually one of the better features of the original trilogy. High-tech blasters and space fighters work alongside domesticated animals, which are used in the sorts of situations in which you’d be likely to find them: poor, lower-tech regions and situations in which you might not want to reveal your presence with too many high energy signatures.

100_5731

Anyway, here’s Luke on a tauntaun. Enjoy.

100_5728