Author Archives: geoffhorswood

About geoffhorswood

Christian, husband, father of three, sometime missionary and current blogger.

Steampunk Safari

Did someone say “steampunk mecha-elephant”?

For once in my steampunkery, I’m actually not invoking the planet Mars.  Okay, the mechaphant has a heat-ray or other type of steampunk ray-gun for a trunk, but we can do this without having to go to Mars.  As the song says: “Got my ray gun and a cup of tea in hand”.

Given the presence of a sabertooth tiger lurking in the undergrowth, they are probably somewhere a bit like Conan Doyle’s Lost World.  Apparently on a steampunk safari you get really exotic big game.  I also don’t actually mind having to use the robomonkey from Ninjago Skybound.  I don’t have access to any regular monkeys, but since my elephant is a mecha it doesn’t look out of place.

The build was actually inspired by a hero card from the app game Legendary: Game of Heroes.  Tangentially, anyway.  Their Ultra Ivoire was a full-on high-tech droid, whereas I decided that the Mighty White Hunter doing their thing from atop a howdah was such a 19th-Century trope that it naturally lent itself to steampunkery.

I’m at least as pleased with the scenery as I am with the actual mechaphant, though.  That’s one of my better trees (and the first time I think I’ve used those palm leaf elements in a MOC), and some of my best rockwork yet.  And while all the bits of scenery are way too brick-intensive and complex to be much like anything you’d find in an official set, the overall impression really does seem to be of sethood.  Which is rather amusing, really.  For all of my AFOLhood and SHIPs and complex techniques and inverted mirror-universe takes on Classic Space, I still tend to think in terms of set design.

 

Advertisements

“Some People Call Me A Space Cowboy…”

Even awful Steve Miller Band songs can occasionally inspire a LEGO creation.

I know “The Joker” is a very popular song from its era, but it’s never really scratched where I itch, personally. But when the first line came on the radio as I drove to my LEGO User Group meeting, I started thinking about the possibilities. My personal builders’ rallying call is something along the lines of “Space Everything”, so… space cowboys. Literally.

Shootout at the Space Corral

As an Englishman living in Texas, I’m surrounded by cowboy culture. The Fort Worth stock show and rodeo. People who wear cowboy boots. People who wear stetsons. Everybody and his brother’s cousin’s dog in their stupid pickup trucks. People who actually own cattle – in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, which is one of the larger urban conglomerates in the entire US. The whole Western genre. The entire Country music scene. Now, there are a few good Country songs, and I enjoy the occasional Western, but really, the entire cultural landscape is as alien as HG Wells’ Martians tramping through the English countryside.

There are two basic ways of dealing with the alienness: assimilation or resistance. Either you assimilate and learn cowboy, at least culturally speaking, or you return to your cultural roots and become a sort of professional Englishman.

Resistance is not futile.

“Draw!”

A creation like this could be taken as either the product of a final blended assimilation of worlds, or a sort of ironic joke on the whole subculture. In actuality it’s something of both. Merging different genres is something I do, and usually results in an interesting creation, but there’s a certain amount of visual irony involved in the Blacktron vs Space Police shootout, the rover shaped a bit like a stagecoach and the robot cactus. And the horse-shaped antigravity speeders tethered outside the saloon.

 

Mustang speeders outside the saloon

Robot cactus. Because no Western scene is complete without a Saguaro.

Using my two tan baseplates for what I think is the first time (my kids use baseplates a lot more than I do), I started out with the saloon and then expanded it into the stagecoach area. Starting with the Saloon sign and then building a façade like that in any classic spaghetti Western, I initially planned the model structured entirely around the Shootout at the Space Corral, but then the model started to get overpopulated with minifigures as I added more and more, and I realised I had to expand onto another baseplate.

But the resulting two-plate creation was a bit sparse, so I had to build more stuff. This is not a problem.

If I had four or five of the Gungan steeds from the Phantom Menace sets, they’d make a pretty good herd of alien cattle, but I don’t have any, let alone 4 or 5. Thus, the stagecoach rover. Building a rover that recalls a stagecoach was actually pretty fun; you don’t see too many Classic Space stagecoach rovers. I think it’s the elevated driver’s position that sells it; the rover itself isn’t all that stagecoachy otherwise.

The Stagecoach rover. Not a great angle, unfortunately, but the overall shots give the idea. Note the alien prospector in the background.

It might be fun to expand this still further and incorporate a real Space Cowboy herding Gungan steeds, but those Gungan steeds are relatively expensive for what’s basically a single brick, and I have other purchasing priorities.

It’d make a pretty good display, though.

I’m quite pleased with the horse speeders. Loosely based on the Nexo Knights’ hoversteeds, they’re my own design because we only got two of the sets from that theme and neither included a hoversteed that I could adapt. Anyway, I prefer to create rather than copying whenever possible.

Fee Fi Fo Fum

…I smell the blood of a LEGO microfigure!

The fairytale of Jack and the Beanstalk makes a great subject for a LEGO model, but the story itself always bothered me. I mean, Jack’s obviously the hero, and Englishman-eating giants are obviously bad news (though possibly not if you’re French). But Jack is stupid.

I can forgive him being lazy and not liking to work. Who does? I can overlook his ecological vandalism and thievery. I can overlook the fact that the giant (and Jack) are walking around in a house built up in the clouds. But if you think that five pretty-coloured beans offered by a random stranger equal the value of one solid and milk-producing cow, you probably respond to all those Nigerian email scams.

Jack and his mother’s cottage

Of course, this is a typical fairytale trope. The useless-looking magic beans or battered old lamp or what have you are actually the most valuable of things and the key to great wealth – if you have the wit to avail yourself of it. In the real world it seldom works out that way. The mega jackpot winner could be you, but the chances are that you’ve just spent your money for nothing.

One giant-sized minifig

Still, the beanstalk makes a nice subject for a model, and I’ve actually got enough of those bamboo segments that I can build something like this without even using all of them. I broke out the Minotaurus microfigures again for Jack, trying all four available colours. Blue seemed like the best colour at first, tying into nursery rhymes like Little Boy Blue and so on. But it’s not all that visible against the green of the beanstalk. Red is nice and bright, but bean flowers are red, and I’ve got those on the beanstalk as well. Yellow is distinctive, but so many LEGO minifigures have yellow skin that he looks kind of naked. And yellow just isn’t a very Jack the Giant-Killer colour. So I tried white, but he’s just close enough to the overhead cloud that it looks weird. Blue it is, then.

Blue just seems like the right colour for Jack the Giant-Killer

I may do a whole series of fairytale builds, if I can think of enough that haven’t been turned into Disney films. And that’s not as easy as you might think.

Twin Iron Engine fighting machine

The Twin Iron Engine fighting machine

An older design of steam-driven Imperial mech, the Twin Iron Engine fighting machine has been largely relegated to colonial use in Her Imperial Majesty’s interplanetary possessions since the introduction of the Turreted Assault Neutralisation Cruiser (“TANC Walker”).

In its heyday, it was one of the primary fighting machines of the Empire, holding its own against older walkers of the Sultan, the Kaiser and the Tsar. Since the advent of gun-turreted walkers like the Imperial TANC and the Sultanate’s Qızılbüyü, however, the forward-firing fixed armament of the Twin Iron Engine walker has been shown to be a severe disadvantage in an armour-versus-armour battle.

In the interplanetary colonial situation, however, mechs and walkers are more often employed against restless natives or raid-level incursions of foreign sepoy troops than in the set-piece battles of the Imperial heartland, and the twin medium-calibre thermophoric cannon of the TIE fighting machine are quite sufficient to most threats; the one serious exception being the War Tripods of the Ul-Gzan.

Ul-Gzan tripods are powered by ancient Martian crystal technology; the rechargeable energy crystals of the lost Martian super-civilisation which none can now duplicate but which many Martian native races still use. Crystal technology is in some ways more versatile than human steam power, but it can be unreliable, and if the crystals’ energy gets depleted beyond a certain limit the crystal can become resistant to recharging rendering it effectively useless. Steam, on the other hand, is easily generated with water and a heat source, and far more reliable, so while the Imperial Society of Engineers has done some experimentation with crystal power, steam is still the primary servant of the both the Imperial military and human civil agencies.

~~~

Part Martian fighting machine, part TIE fighter.  Because LEGO is awesome.

There have been numerous variations on the Star Wars TIE fighter theme. Box-standard TIE fighter. TIE bomber. TIE Advanced, which was probably the prototype of the TIE Interceptor. TIE Striker. And moving into the Extended Universe, TIE/D droid fighters, TIE Crawlers (of at least two varieties, both of which suck) and probably TIE Submersibles and TIE Rock-Borers as well. Then there are the very cool steampunk TIE fighters many other people have built.

I decided to merge the two ideas and build a steampunk TIE walker.

“Twin Ion Engine” makes no sense for steampunkery, though, so I played around with the name just enough to be vaguely sensible for steam power. And voila.

But Still They Come

Ul-Gzan Martian War Tripod

Now, now, Lieutenant!” Miss Francine Oberon said primly, readying her custom-designed heat-ray carbine. “The proper term for the cephalopoid natives is ‘Ul-Gzan’, not ‘Cuttlemonkeys’.”

Yes, Miss,” Lieutenant Ent Prescott grunted. Cuttlemonkeys they were and Cuttlemonkeys they would remain to anyone who had fought against the vicious, implacably hostile alien monstrosities. He wished he had a thermophoric cannon instead of this old-style six-pounder artillery piece; the Ul-Gzan were reputed to have one of their tripods operating in the area, and despite its importance to the Empire, Professor Oberon’s tiny independent scientific outpost was simply too remote to get much in the way of physical defences.

Ent Prescott (short for “Enterprise”) looked around at his decidedly inadequate defences. One antique six-pounder cannon, not even having the decency to be a proper modern heat-ray weapon, presided over by one slightly over-aged Royal Artillery Lieutenant. One sword-wielding Asiatic mercenary, even more useless against a tripod than a single six-pounder. One Professor Oberon’s daughter, fancying herself an adventuress, armed with a rather nice-looking heat-ray rifle and decanted into trousers rather than the natural dresses of her sex. Oh, and a pair of Stiltmen.

Enterprise had known that the Stiltmen of the region were allied to the Empire, and the battery’s commanding officer Captain Holcombe had rated them as fine fighters, but he was rather dubious. For all their gigantic height, Stiltmen were built like twigs and looked incredibly fragile, and these two didn’t even seem to have any weapons. What could they possibly do against a tripod – throw rocks at it?

What he wouldn’t give for a company of clockwork power-suited ticktockmen, or a half-squadron of mechs, or even a Mkai sepoy regiment!

Suddenly, a great sinkhole opened right in front of Professor Oberon’s outpost, and the dreaded three-legged fighting machine of the subterranean Ul-Gzan rose up higher than a house, higher than the dome of St. Nathaniel’s Cathedral in New Surrey. Powered by some kind of unfathomable crystal technology that some of the six Martian native species used but which none of them seemed to remotely understand or be able to duplicate, the War Tripod of the Ul-Gzan was the only native fighting machine that could rival the steam technology of Man. And here they were without most of that technology.

Manning his gun and thankful for its clockwork autoloading mechanism, Lieutenant Prescott opened fire on the tripod, as Miss Oberon stood guard with her heat-ray rifle and the Asiatic mercenary Shang-Yao Ping drew his longsword. A lucky shot at one of the leg joints might disable the war machine, bring it down, but the joints were notoriously difficult to hit. A narrow funnel rose from the roof of the tripod, unfolding as it did so, and Ent paled. It looked to be only a heavy rifle-calibre weapon, but what imbecilic, never-sufficiently-to-be-cursed traitor had sold the Cuttlemonkeys a heat-ray?

Over to one side, the Stiltmen were advancing on the tripod, palms outward like massively elongated policemen trying to order the rogue machine to halt. Lt. Prescott couldn’t see what that would accomplish, but the Cuttlemonkeys’ machine checked its advance, stabilised itself on all three legs and swivelled to face the new threat rather than dealing with the already-firing Human cannon. A flash of light erupted from the Stiltmen’s hands (he supposed he should call them Ojads. Professor Oberon’s daughter would probably like it) in a blinding ray that leaped toward the body of the tripod, and Ent Prescott understood. The Stiltmen didn’t carry weapons because Providence had equipped them with natural weapons as good as any Human-built thermophoric.

Filled with the energy of a sudden upsurge of new hope, the Lieutenant fired again…

~~~

Last time I played around with a steampunk Mars (in a story on the old LEGO Message Boards), it was the humans that used the tripods, and they were steam-driven.

This time around I decided to restore them to the Martians. They are a very unearthly form of locomotion; nothing in this world travels about on three legs. It seemed to make more sense than giving them to Mankind.

With six native species – as I blithely announced in the backstory to Major Galbraith’s Sapping Machine – I have a lot of decisions to make as to what they are like and how they all live. And what the humans call them; the age recalled and perfected in the steampunk genre was one of racial epithets and colonialism. “Cuttlemonkeys” seemed like a good nickname for a race of implacably hostile land-dwelling squids, while the Stiltmen basically named themselves.

Anyway, the “Martian War Machine versus Human Artillery” should strike a chord for those familiar with the War of the Worlds, but this time around the humans have alien sepoy reinforcements!

It Came From Outer Space

It Came From Outer Space… and got videoed on some random Earthling’s smartphone.

Classic flying saucers aren’t the easiest things to build in LEGO. Yes, they’ve been done, even in official sets and themes (Alien Conquest, UFO). But the disclike shape is particularly challenging for basically square LEGO bricks, especially on this sort of scale without specialised elements.

Reprising a technique I tried out first on my Blacktron turtleship, I decided to have a go at building circular. Or at least hexagonal; the base of the craft is a hexagon made with 1×4 hinge plates, and it built up from there into the finished trilaterally-symmetrical flying saucer.

The grey/black/trans neon yellow colour scheme puts me in mind of an old theme I can’t quite remember. Quickie Internet research reveals it to indeed be the old UFO theme, which isn’t bad for remembering a theme that old, that happened right about when I entered my personal LEGOless Dark Ages. I’ve added some Sand Green highlights, though, because they looked right when I experimented with a random one for shape.

I actually built the landing legs first, intending to build a largeish spaceship along more regular lines with undercarriage that actually retracted. But then as I looked at the scale of the landing legs I thought to myself “that’s going to be a bigger ship than I really want to build right now. I’ve got too many things I built that I’d have to break up. Let’s see what else I can come up with”.

Then I thought of reworking the two rear landing legs so they duplicated what I’d built as the forward leg and seeing if I could arrange them radially for a classic flying saucer.

The thing is quite fragile and took considerable jiggery-pokery to get to come together. I think my favourite part of it was using the Nexogon elements to fill those awkward-shaped holes all the way around. They’re actually attached by their centres using small balljoint elements, which might be a new technique or a reinvention of the wheel, but no-one told me about it or showed me how to do it.

The little alien was a bit of an afterthought. No classic Grey minifigs, no Alien Conquest aliens, no UFOnauts; I had the choice of build my own or use a Star Wars alien. Chewie would just look wrong; Jar-Jar Binks might work, but just no; Admiral Ackbar is currently driving a Martian War Machine – details to follow – and somehow my sole Rodian never even crossed my mind ‘til just now. I built my own, incorporating the trans bright green hemisphere I’ve had since January and never used before. But I think he works. One of the dreadful Green Things from Outer Space, now freshly landed by some unsuspecting Earthling girl, who has naturally whipped out her iPhone and is videoing the whole thing for YouTube.

Her Majesty’s Aerial Cruiser “Swiftsure”

HMAS Swiftsure

Continuing in steampunk mode, I decided to add an aerial battleship to my engineering walker.

Inspired by the rotors of set 60193’s helicrane (which I won at this month’s DFWLUG meetup, more later), I took the unusual-for-me step of not making it a zeppelin. Airships and zeppelins are a big part of what got me into steampunk to begin with, but there are other ways to steampunk a flying machine. Indeed, I often use them on smaller-scale fliers, and I’ve built my share of ornithopters and gyroplanes and the like. But for a full-on air dreadnought, I tend to go back to zeppelinhood.

Not this time. After my Classic Space Y-Wing and accompanying spaceport won the monthly build contest at July’s DFWLUG, I picked out set 60193 as my prize. Maybe a fairly unusual set to pick – yet another LEGO City theme helicopter, and one with an awkward and difficult-to-use moulded cockpit element – but it has a sabretooth tiger! Add in those Bionicle/Technic blades doing duty as the rotors (yes, I know they’re not new elements but I didn’t have any before and they’re useful) and the skid landing-gear pieces (always handy for neo-Ice Planet) and I was sold.

And being still in steampunk mode I decided to build my own steampunk quadcopter battleship.

I reprised the Sunhawk’s forward decoration, and I think it actually looks even better here. It is, after all, a decidedly steampunky feature even if the Sunhawk was a high-tech space warship.

Most of the rest is all classic ironclad/dreadnought-inspired, flat haze grey (or as close to it as LEGO gets) with proper gun turrets and what looks like a ram built into the prow. Because there was a period of Real Life naval history back then when the military minds of their day thought that the turn of speed enabled by steam power combined with an ironclad’s armour would make gunnery of secondary importance and bring about a resurgence of Trireme tactics. Even the famous Thunder Child of War of the Worlds fame was described in the book as being “an ironclad ram”.

From the ramlike prow to the more rounded stern to the quad rotor blades, the whole thing looks a bit like a giant drone of the sort my son and one of my daughters like to play with. That would actually be an awesome idea – to 3D print a plastic drone shell in the form of a steam dreadnought, so you could see something like this actually fly. I’m sure there’s a market for a flying steampunk drone.