Category Archives: Steampunk

Horsell Common and the Heat-Ray

Ulla!

This isn’t my first Martian Fighting Machine build, but inspired by GunnBuilding’s latest series of Martians, I decided to give it another go.

Normally when I build, I’ll get something basically complete and then tweak it a little over the next several days as it sits on my display shelf. It’ll generally only be minor tweaks, though; I tend to build all in one go even with large SHIP-class builds.

This time, I did quite a bit more tweaking than usual, reworking the legs once and completely rebuilding the head twice. The final result might be my best tripod yet, and it’s certainly the most book-accurate one, to the extent of incorporating the carrying basket on the back (which isn’t something you commonly see).

Now with ulta-accurate prisoner carrying basket!

It’s not the most completely stable of builds with all those joints in the legs, but the multijointedness would give the Fighting Machine a more flowing, cephalopoid kind of a gait that seems in keeping with the Martians’ squidlike physiology. And it does stand up, even on surfaces with little to no “give” or friction, like my display shelf. A real-life Martian Fighting Machine walking on spikes like that would drive its feet into even cobblestone roads with every step.

Heat-Ray on the left of the cockpit (operator’s POV), Black Smoke dispenser on the right

I’ve tried to incorporate all the details H. G. Wells described in the original work, though he’s frustratingly vague about certain fundamental design aspects (like the shape of the vehicle’s main body, the nature of the “hood” under which the Martian operator sits, how the legs actually attach and so on). This version has several previous media tripod designs in its ancestry, but neither the 1953 manta saucer nor the 2005 tripod included the basket (well, the 2005 version kind of did, but not with any prominence), and even Jeff Wayne relegated the carrying basket to the Handling Machine in the art from his musical version. For a long while I considered his tripod the definitive version, but these days I prefer something a little more sinister. The Jeff Wayne tripod was plenty sinister enough when I was a kid, but these days I can’t help but see a fat, long-legged tick or wingless cartoon mosquito when I look at it.

What I’m using as my Martian pilot isn’t big enough for the book’s description of the Martian being “the size of a bear, perhaps”, but this weird mould (apparently of some unknown Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles thing called The Kraang) looks nearly perfect for the cephalopoid, brain-dominated Martians. Easier to fit into a workable Fighting Machine build than an octopus, too.

The Kraang: A near-perfect WotW Martian.

Anyway, this is my latest take on the epic alien walker that is probably the ultimate ancestor of them all: the Martian Fighting Machine.

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.

 

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!

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.

Major Galbraith’s Wonderful Martian Sapping Machine

The presence of Her Majesty’s Royal Engineers in the Martian colonies is not a large one. One of the six species on native Martian – the K’zzuwatna – are burrowing creatures adept at tunnelling and digging, and most of the role usually filled by the RE is instead filled by K’zzuwatna sepoy regiments.

The RE does maintain a supervisory and oversight presence, however, and all mechanised Engineering troops are humans because most of the violent Martian native species are considered too immature to be trusted with advanced mechanics. Major Arkwright Henry Galbraith is one of these human Royal Engineer troops, based in the chief city of Her Majesty’s Martian colonies, New Surrey. Actually born on Mars to some of the first British colonists, Major Galbraith’s aptitude for mechanics naturally led him into the Army, where he developed the Galbraith No. 7 Sapping Machine.

The No. 7 Sapping Machine is a drill-armed mechanical walker used by Major Galbraith’s own Royal Engineer regiment to dig entrenchments, bunkers and tunnels through the hard Martian bedrock. Its designation as a “Sapping Machine” comes from the nickname of Her Majesty’s Royal Engineers, the “Sappers”; a “sap” being a trench dug towards a fortification for the means of assault.

As a decidedly unofficial development, the No. 7 does not officially exist, but its ability to out-bore and out-tunnel any of Her Majesty’s Government-approved Army sapping machines has meant that Major Galbraith’s superiors have gone out of their way not to take notice of the fact that the 127th Martian RE Regiment has an unapproved drilling machine.

The No. 7 Sapping Machine first proved itself when Major Galbraith was made part of a small team sent to rescue noted areo-archaeologists Lord and Lady Hamilton when their dirigible went down in the middle of the massive Thark Uplands region between the Grand and Syrtis canals. The machine can be seen here with the other members of the team: Imperial swordmaster Tsien-Lu (“Stan”) Li of the Chinese court, the ornithopter pilot Flight Lieutenant Edward St. John-Smythe, noted markswoman adventuress Miss Coraline Drood and Mka’i Martian native Kamash Kesh.

 

Major Galbraith

Tsien-Lu Li, Miss Coraline Drood, Flight Lieutenant St. John-Smythe and Kamash Kesh

~~~

Oppa Steampunk Style!

It’s been simply ages since I built a mech, and even longer since I built anything remotely steampunk, so it was obviously high time I rectified that oversight.

My single large gear wheel caught my eye, and of course, “stick some gears on it at random” is practically some people’s definition of steampunk, so the connection was obvious. Playing around with the gearwheel, I hit on the idea of a drill. With, unusually for me, real Technic functionality. There’s a little handle on the big gear wheel that you can turn to spin the drill. Okay, the other gear wheel in the other direction is pointless, because all it does is turn along with the big wheel without achieving anything, and apart from its poseability that’s it for play features. But even marginal functionality being such a rarity from me, it’s always nice to make something that works. Ish.

The backstory is set on Mars, because the idea of a sort of steampunk-powered colonial Mars based on a sort of “War of the Worlds in reverse” milieu has been quietly gnawing away at my hindbrain for most of a decade now. I think my initial inspiration came from some Internet pictures of miniatures from a wargame or RPG called Space:1889, but as a small child I used to give myself nightmares listening to Jeff Wayne’s musical version of War of the Worlds, so it’s probable that those RPG miniatures simply plugged right into the “Mars: what a good idea” slot in my brain. Since then, I’ve also read most of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian chronicles and CS Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet, so the slot is quite well established by now. And Mars’ rust-red colour and iron-rich nature just seem to lend themselves to steampunkery.

I can’t leave well enough alone, however, so my steampunk Mars has its own crop of native species. At least one of which is going to be cephalopoid, of course, because there are conventions you need to follow if you’re running The War of the Worlds backwards. Right now I don’t have a lot of really alien aliens to rebuild into proper Martians, but I’ll see what I can come up with. And Bricklink is always there if I need to get some interesting new heads.

This piece of walking ironmongery may not be quite as impressively fancy in technique as the Q-Mech (which I still think ranks first place among my personal mech builds), but I’ve come quite a way from the old Brass Monkey mech that constituted my first ever piece of LEGO steampunkery, and my first self-designed mecha. I never did walkers as a kid, strangely (apart from numerous attempts to build an AT-AT with my limited first-generation Technic bricks back before they had friction pins), because I hated the slidey way the legs worked on the official sets.

But now, in the era of balljoints? To paraphrase Benny: “We can build a mecha!”

Balljoints Are Your Friend, which may be why I always default to those and forget all the more creative ways I know about now to arrange a mech limb joint.

I’m also somewhat amused by how perfectly the TIE cockpit window goes with a steampunk creation. There’s a reason why there are so many steampunk versions of things from the Star Wars universe, and it’s only partly because so much of the hardware shares the same Rule of Cool-powered impracticability.

The small team of steampunk minifigures was something of an afterthought, but I think they work. And they’re some of my first invented minifigures that I’ve taken the trouble to build rather than merely LDDing. Bonus.

The Steam Laboratory

Professor Studleigh’s Steam Laboratory

Just a small, relatively inconsequential build this time, and I don’t have a huge amount to say about it.

My last Ice Planet build brought it home to me that if I make the floor black and don’t try to make it too big, I actually have enough 1xEverything bricks to build proper SNOTwork flooring. This is something I’ve wanted to achieve for a while, but getting enough bricks in the same colour has always stymied me from carrying through on the desire. Isn’t it funny how it’s a lack of one of the most basic elements that strangles some of my more advanced building?

Building up from the black floorplate, I decided to have a go at one of those flashy room corners I’ve seen other people do. Interior scenes (well, buildings in general, outside and in) are one of my weakest building areas, so this isn’t nearly as cool and flashy as, for example, these Cluedo-inspired builds, but I was actually surprised that I have as many brick-wall-pattern bricks as I do.

The build is pretty simplistic, all things considered. Just a hopefully steampunky-looking engineer (who I’m calling Professor Studleigh) experimenting with some kind of small contraption on his table. I’ve got to get hold of some more realistically steampunkable torsos.

Anyway, there it is. Sometimes there isn’t much to say, and this is one of those times.

Dark Pegasus

Believe it or not, this creation was originally going to be a steampunk mech.

Her Majesty’s Aetheric Ship “Dark Pegasus”

I was inspired by the large mechs of the Ninjago Movie to build a big mech of my own with a steampunk twist, using my twin Coruscant planet elements as boilers or fuel tanks.

Alas, actually beginning to build the thing I realised that I wasn’t building remotely big enough and the planet boilers looked oversized and ridiculous.

But modifying the attachment setup I’d intended to use for the planet sections as twin boilers, I found a rather nice-looking claw-held arrangement for a single planet sphere forming under my hands. And while it wasn’t really going to work as part of a steam-mecha, it had “steam-powered space dreadnought” written all over it in large, friendly letters. And who am I to argue with Fate?

Continuing to build, it was obvious fairly quickly that my limited stocks of brown weren’t up to building the size of spacegoing ironclad this was shaping up to be, so I added black into the mix.

Black and dark grey with pearl gold enhancements was the colour scheme I had in mind for the hypothetical “Dark Pegasus” SHIP I’ve been alluding to the planning of for some time now, and I just bought, among other elements, the pearl gold wings I need. Could I really pull it off? Build the SHIP I’ve been contemplating? And as a steampunk build?

Dark Pegasus wasn’t conceived as specifically a steampunk starship, but it always had a definite baroque flavour. How else was I going to get away with the massive painted Pegasus figurehead that gives it its name? But as conceived it was always fairly easily steampunkable. I decided to give it a go.

The placement of the horse element, which I’ve been wanting to use in a spaceship build for years now, moved from my original concept of a bow-mounted figurehead to a piece of decorative statuary atop the main hull. The claw-held planet element prow necessitated some redesign work, but the result is still channeling the same spirit of a large mostly-black spaceship with the sort of approach to decoration that makes a figurehead reasonable.

Many of the other design elements of my original idea find their expression here not substantially altered. The gold wings, reprising the flight membranes of the Sensei Wu dragon in black rather than white, still grace the flanks of the warship. The massive cannons of the ship’s mighty broadside are still the cup-and-ball sponson mounts I had envisaged. Various portions of the vessel still bristle with pearl gold decorative elements: gleaming brasswork enhancing the appearance and potentially the functioning of the ship.

In order to surpass the 100-stud official SHIP barrier, I needed more than just black and gold as livery colours. The dark grey and brown are structural; the latter perhaps signifying a more tarnished bronze, or even wood. Without adding too many colours, I needed to eke out my supply of black elements to achieve SHIP status.

Though I’d initially contemplated dark red as a suitably dark, barbaric addition to the colour palette for the original non-steampunk Dark Pegasus, I decided when it came to it to use dark blue instead. It’s a darker colour than dark red, and the combination worked well for Ninjago’s ghost faction. In lower light conditions it even looks like pure black.

The Revised Steampunk Version of the Dark Pegasus seems to have broken my usual habit of wanting to build a creation all in one session, too. Built over a period of most of a week, it’s all the better for it, as I took several days mentally planning various things out in order to get everything right.

At 106 studs (39 3/4 inches or 101cm) long, Dark Pegasus is my second official SHIP and my first in the steampunk genre. Apparently even in Steampunk I’m still Benny enough that my impulse is to Build A Spaceship.

~~~

Propelled by three aetheric propellers and armed with a variety of heatray weapons, space howitzers and long guns, HMS Dark Pegasus is one of the Minotaur-class fleet flagships of Her Majesty’s Royal Space Navy. Each one decorated with a massive painted steel statue of its namesake, the seven ships of the class serve as flag vessels of the seven principal fleets of the RSN, cowing their adversaries as much with the spectacle of their impressive visual design as with shells and heatrays.

Dark Pegasus’ navy blue trim on her space-black RSN hull paint signifies that she is the flagship of the Sixth Fleet, based in the Uranian planetary sphere and headquartered in Her Majesty’s spacedock in orbit around the moon Oberon.

The underslung shiplike structure is a heavy landing-craft for use on the chill, oily seas of Oberon, enabling supplies and personnel to be easily transferred between the Fleet and the surface.

Most of the Uranian moons have some sort of liquid surface [OOC: at least in the altered reality of this steampunk-space universe], so the maritime form of ship’s boat is the customary type in the Sixth Fleet.

The ball-like structure at the prow of the vessel is often assumed to be decorative, like the similar globe atop the central hull, but in fact both are useful equipment: nodes of the ship’s sphere-penetrating Bassenfeldt drive allowing the ship to pass the aetheric barriers between the orbital spheres of the Sun’s family of planets.

Labyrinth of Steam

Theseus was my second favourite Greek hero as a child, right after the wily Odysseus. I liked my heroes to have a bit of brain rather than just sheer unstoppable brawn. I still do, in fact.

So it was Odysseus rather than that spoiled invulnerable brat Achilles, and the intelligent Theseus rather than the dumbcluck Hercules that received my childhood acclaim.

For all that, though, I always found the Minotaur difficult to take seriously as a villainous monster.

Offspring of one of those weird unions that the ancient Greeks seemed to love, the Minotaur’s mother was Pasiphaë Queen of Knossos, while his father was the divine bull given to King Minos by the god Poseidon. Half human and half bull, he was imprisoned in the original Labyrinth, because apparently King Minos really couldn’t handle the fact that he’d been cuckolded by a livestock animal. Really, Greek mythology’s kind of weird if you think about it too much.

“Moo??!! I’m offended!”

Anyway, as a monster, half man and half bull seemed a bit too much like just a big cow, really. A farmyard animal.

A born-and-bred suburbanite, my experience of farms was the occasional school trip as a younger child, and cows were about as nonthreatening as sheep. Or hamsters. The LEGO minotaur minifigure doesn’t really do all that much to improve matters either. I’m the minotaur. Moo! Not very cool or scary.

So why am I building one now?

Well, my recent birthday Bricklink spree and assorted presents resulted in several new bricks that I wanted to try out in a creation of my own (like the new light brick from the Creator set 31062 Robo Explorer, and two cowcatchers, and a blue Classic Spaceman in perfect condition, and finally some Bionicle/Hero Factory arm/leg shields in a colour other than red, and…).

Those cowcatchers really cried out to my steampunk side as mech shoulder pads, but what kind of steampunk mech? I had no real inspiration beyond that.

Maybe something else, then? The bat wings I bought to replace a broken piece (axle connector snapped off) would look good on a manticore… But red is really the only reasonable colour for a manticore in my head, and my last two creations were predominantly red. Done that. Boring right now. Perhaps something else.

My language-bending brain noted the similarity in the sound of the words “manticore” and “minotaur”. The word “minotaur” cruised through my brain until it crashed into and fused with the idea “steampunk mech”.

Steampunk mecha-Minotaur? Now we’re talking!

Such a beast would have to be Hephaistos’ creature rather than Poseidon’s, but that’s ok. Together with Athena, Hephaistos is about the most reasonable of the unruly, vicious and spiteful pack of hyenas that we call the Greek pantheon (Ares is a coward, Poseidon’s cruel, Hera’s vengeful and vicious, Aphrodite’s just nasty a lot of the time and Zeus can’t keep it in his trousers where it belongs and is a cosmic tyrant), but the forge-god would still make a pretty good adversary. Hephaistos was, after all, god of fire and volcanoes as well as metalworking and the forge. Not someone to cross on a whim.

To build a suitable steam mechnotaur, though, I needed to get past the cow thing. No-one’s going to be afraid of a giant mechanical Holstein cow. Then I remembered that the cattle of the ancient world’s mythic age were a lot closer to shaggy wild aurochs than sleek Guernsey milk-cow. I need to channel the corrìda and the ancient Ice Age wild ox rather than the Jersey milkmaid and the child’s toy barnyard. Aurochs were huge and black and hairy and unstoppable, the epitome of untamed strength and power.

Now with the right mental image to work from, I set to work.

On the scale I was planning to work, the huge feet from the Green NRG Dragon set were really the only choice if I wanted them to reasonably support the creature’s bulk, but they’re rather pawlike and don’t really resemble the broad cloven hooves of a bull. Still, I thought I could work this right. Add a couple of claw elements backwards on the outer toes and I think gives the right impression. And still leaves me four claws to use on a hand.

Black and brown with metallic silver and gold highlights gives the right darkling steampunk flavour, with a few red elements just to add a raw, bloody note. I’ve used this design of thigh (originally cribbed from the Jay’s ElectroMech set) on numerous creations before, but it really does the business on a build like this. The upper body’s really a little too heavy to be supported by those balljoints in more than a couple of positions, but clickstop balljoints wouldn’t do what I needed.

Steam boilers and smokestacks go on the back, where they’re more protected and out of the way. Those cowcatchers really do make wonderful villainous shoulder armour, and I’ve added some gear wheels to the upper arms just to make it fully clear that this is a Mechnotaur.

Only having enough of my newly-acquired clip-on claw elements in dark silver left for one hand, it seemed a perfect excuse to use the cannon in place of the other hand. One-hand-and-one-arm-mounted-weapon is almost traditional for humanoid mechs, but in this case I’ve tried to be a bit creative with its attachment, eschewing the normal single-element carriage mount in favour of something a bit different.

The head provided a great excuse to use one of my two new light bricks (duplicate Robo Explorers and a son enthusiastically ripping into box no. 2 and starting building – on my present! – before it could be returned) to make the Mechnotaur snort light-up fire from its nostrils. I managed to get its eyes to light up with the same light brick, too. And of course, the Bionicle spike elements from Cole’s Boulder Bike make excellent horns.

Finally, the body. It actually presented me with something of a dilemma: should I keep the original design concept and make it a mech, with a pilot, or should I turn it into a full-on robot?

In the end I kept with my original idea.  The idea I had for its torso armour as a robot will keep for the next major robot project.

A Mechnotaur like this needs a hero to oppose, though, and putting a single minifigure, even Batman, up against this big bruiser is liable to result in the hero getting what the old LEGO Message Boards used to euphemistically call “smashed”.

Did I hear you say “Theseus mech”?

So that the confrontation is properly heroic, the Theseus heromech has to be substantially smaller than the Mechnotaur. But that’s ok. The Mechnotaur is pretty huge, so almost anything I build as a Theseus battlesuit is going to be smaller.

My son’s got the Jay’s ElectroMech set built at the moment, and between that and the Mechnotaur itself there aren’t too many large-ball-joint-to-studs connector elements left. That determines a lot of the final form of the Theseus mech in and of itself. It’s quite a challenge trying to steampunk a Classical Greek mythic hero; I hope you like what I’ve done.

Ariadne’s thread has become a winch and rope; it seemed apt and was a good excuse to use that languishing element in a MOC. I’ve tried to both stay true to the grimy, sooty steampunk ethos and build in lighter colours than the Mechnotaur, hence the use of light grey.

This is also my first use of that diver’s helmet, which I’ve had since Christmas but haven’t had a use for yet.

And finally, some scenery. No major SNOTwork baseplates or what-have-you this time; the whole creation is way too big for that. But I’ve managed to generate enough to give it a sort of “grimy pseudoclassical” look.

Anyway, that’s the whole creation. And as I said last time, the sort of world that could give rise to a steampunk mecha-minotaur would make quite a good story. Steampunk Greek gods keeping the mortals in forced ignorance; a band of engineer-heroes rising up to fight the mecha-monsters and oppose the tyrannical gods…

Best of all, it means that if I continue to get inspired, there might be more than one creation in this.

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.