Tag Archives: Steampunk

Recombination

LEGO isn’t just a construction toy. In a sense, it’s a mode of thought.

The particular genius of LEGO bricks, of course, is that they can be anything. The model on the box is a starting-point, but any kid will tell you it’s after that model gets broken up that things get interesting.

Now, I know that there are apparently people (even kids) who build what’s on the box, play with that (or display it) and never ever break it up, but to me, this has always been incomprehensible and missing the point. I’m sorry, people, but you’re doing it wrong…

The whole genius (in its original sense of “presiding spirit”) of LEGO is that any and all bricks can be put together in any and all ways to build (almost) anything you can conceive of.

Part of this among the various FOL (Fan Of LEGO) communities is the urge to use different elements in unique and interesting ways. Banana elements become claws, ninja swords find new use as windscreen wipers, people make mechs piloted by a frog, a monkey, a roast chicken…

I personally have a long-standing ambition and intention to somehow use the horse element in a spaceship model. Whenever I finally build my SHIP (Seriously Huge Investment in Pieces), don’t be surprised if it’s in there somewhere. If I can make it work. And I’m probably not building a farming colony ship transporting livestock.

It’s not just individual elements, though. Whole official themes have partaken of this recombinant spirit, melding different genres together to come up with something new and exciting. Nexo Knights is the most recent example (though I still think the fusion of Castle and high technology could have been handled much, much better), but the old TimeCruisers theme did it to the max.

As a kid on the cusp of TFOLhood at the time, I always thought TimeCruisers was a bizarre theme. I was always fanatical to the point of OCD about colour matching and making things look right in my creations, and the TimeCruisers sets were the weirdest hodgepodge of elements and building styles imaginable, with Town and Castle paraphernalia jammed into some kind of not-sure-what-it’s-supposed-to-be vehicle with Pirate and Spaceship features and a semi-randomised near-Rainbow Warrior colour scheme my admittedly OCD colour sense thought was vile.

But if any theme before the LEGO Movie truly expressed the genius of what LEGO is, TimeCruisers was it. It’s the same sort of wacky laser-armed icecreamtruckplane or chomping trashcompactorspaceship idea, only perhaps even more so. It’s like the Master Builders’ submarine from the movie, with different sections of the vessel expressing the different personalities involved.

Recombination. Combining various diverse elements into a new unified whole. Isn’t this what LEGO is all about?

The recombinant mode of thought that LEGO building encourages and promotes is highly sought after in some careers. Enough that the LEGO Group developed the “Serious Play” concept using LEGO building to encourage out-of-the-box thinking in office and career environments.

For a lifelong builder, Serious Play is probably superfluous. Anyone who spent the bulk of their childhood with a carpet of plastic bricks on their floor has probably been marinated long and deeply in the central concept: things don’t have to go together any one way.

While for me, TimeCruisers still pushes things a little further than I really like (too many styles and elements mashed together and not enough finished unity of the final model), I do like to fuse genres together in new and interesting ways.

As an AFOL re-entering the world of LEGO building and discovering LDD and other digital building programs, one of the first things I built digitally was a series of Classic Space dinosaur-inspired vehicles (They look primitive and studdy compared to more recent creations, but I’ve grown considerably as a builder over the last two or three years). My username on the old LEGO Message Boards, Saurianspacer, reflected this fusion: dinosaurs (saurian) and Classic Space (spacer).

More recently, there have been the spacedozer, the Elemental Dragon of Classic Space, the Constructodragon, and my forthcoming project, the Mechnotaur.

Then, too, as an aspiring writer the impulse to take two or more genres and see what happens when we insert Tab A into Slot Þ307ð serves for a lot of inspiration, and it’s something I usually enjoy reading as well. Eric Flint and Ryk Spoor’s Boundary series is a sort of answer to the question “how can we get dinosaurs and the planet Mars into the same story without rewiring the universe’s fundamental workings?”; Dan Simmons’ Ilium and Olympos dyad does the same for space robots and Greek mythology.

Part of me wonders whether these authors were LEGO builders as kids; it’s a very LEGO thing to do.

For me as an aspiring writer, the part I have the most fun doing is the worldbuilding. Again, that’s very LEGO, and very old-school 1980s-theme LEGO too. The long-running Classic Space theme had no stories or characters or very much definition of any sort. You built a world; what the LEGO people were doing in it was up to whatever you wanted at the time. It wasn’t like it is now where there are plotlines everywhere and named characters and TV shows and story. It was building worlds first, then deciding what the story was.

Take my current building project, the forthcoming Mechnotaur. Building a giant steampunk mech shaped like a minotaur is a classic example of my LEGOlike tendency to recombine genres. But then my love of worldbuilding kicks in and I get inspired by my own creation for the background for a tale. Or at least, a story-world; I’m currently in-progress on a story attempting to fuse steampunk with ice-age beasts and Russian Central Asia and I really don’t need to get into another complex story at this time.

What kind of world could make a steampunk mecha-minotaur reasonable? Well…

I’m tentatively calling it “Labyrinth World”. A place in which a race of self-appointed “Gods” use a combination of immortality/longevity treatment (“ambrosia”?) and high steampunk technology to keep the mortals in forced ignorance and slavery.

Though united in their oppression of the rest of humanity, the gods bicker and fight among themselves and against the remnants of their predecessor Titans, near-gods who also kept the mortals in forced technological ignorance but did not claim godhood or desire to be worshipped. These struggles provide openings for the Prometheus, a struggling band of mortal technologists who oppose the tyranny of the so-called gods using the left-over mechanical constructs of the Titan War and their own engineering…

It sounds like a cool story. In fact, it sounds like a story much cooler than I can actually write; I’m sure I’d ruin such a high concept with mediocre characters and crappy dialogue and a wandering plot. Like I said, the worldbuilding is the part I most enjoy; I write because I get to develop a world, and I write sci-fi/fantasy because it gives me the most scope for doing so.

And so I come around to the realisation that what I really want to do is not so much write stories as it is build worlds. I want to play at being the Creator. I want to create the story-universe, the milieu, the Wookiepedia of the fusile interior of my brain… And I think I’m pretty good at it, too.

There’s got to be a way to make money off this weird skill I seem to have, but I’m blowed if I can tell you what it is. Author might be a fairly good match if I can develop the rest of the craft, but what really springs to mind is “LEGO theme designer”.

In the meantime, here I sit in the real world with a heavy-construction day job and a strange mind…

Advertisements

Mr. Damien Thorne’s Counter-Gravitational Steam-Velocipede

The Counter-Gravitational Steam-Velocipede

The Counter-Gravitational Steam-Velocipede

A younger scion of the celebrated Thorne family, Viscounts Bunkervale, Mr. Damien Thorne follows in his father’s footsteps as a card-carrying member of the Royal Society of Engineers. His patented counter-gravitational system utilises magnetokinetic effects to repel the force of gravitation, allowing his personal steam-velocipede to levitate at up to eighteen feet above the surface of the ground.

100_5602

The steam engine that powers his invention uses the energised-coal process of steam generation perfected by his father, the invention of which prompted Her Majesty to create him Viscount Bunkervale. The energised-coal process allows far greater efficiency in steam engines, with the result that bunkering requirements have been vastly reduced.

100_5604

Her Majesty’s Armed Forces have expressed interest in Mr. Thorne’s counter-gravitational engines for a series of scout vehicles for the Army, but as yet his own steam-velocipede is the sole operating example of the mechanism, which not only provides the levitative force but also serves as a propulsive system. By changing the configuration of the counter-gravitational field, the vehicle can be flown forwards, bank, turn, climb or dive (within the limits of the field’s operation). Flying backwards, while technically possible, is not recommended due to the dangers this poses to both bystanders and the operator.

100_5602

100_5591

~~~

100_5594

This creation, obviously, has a great deal of Star Wars speeder bike in its ancestry. That’s fine; plenty of other people have built steampunk speeder bikes before me.

100_5595

But we can do better with the description than “This is a steampunk speeder bike. Isn’t it cool?”. And if that gives it a startlingly different official pedigree than merely being a steampunk version of a Star Wars gadget, well, there’s not much wrong with that, either.

100_5592

The leafy green backdrop was actually built before the tumbledown urban one, but then I decided that green and growing was less in keeping with the steampunkery of the subject.  So I built this instead:

100_5605

Colonel Bombast’s Walking Skiff

The inestimable Colonel Thomas Bombast presents his amazing rotary cannon-armed walking skiff.

100_5491

Built around the hull of a sturdy small Atlantic boat, the good Colonel’s feat of engineering utilises advanced mechanical gearing and gyroscopic self-balancing.

100_5492

The two-legged design is the speediest of the several available steam walker platforms, and the Colonel’s patented Mechanogyrotropic Self-Balancer utterly counteracts the inherent instability of other bipedal platforms.

Advanced gearing allows the use of a relatively small steam engine for power, with plenty of steam left under normal usage conditions to power the mechanical rotary cannon slung under the skiff’s hull.

100_5496

A six-barreled, two-inch-calibre weapon, the rotary cannon uses a steam-driven version or Mr. Gatling’s patented automatic gun mechanism, and at the limits of its gearing can fire nearly 200 shots per minute.

The secondary weapon is a swivel-mounted repeating blunderbuss which can be loaded with lead shot for unarmoured targets or steel slugs for use against more protected opponents.

~~~

I quite like the look of this walker, with the boat hull and everything, but buildwise it’s nothing particularly special. No major interesting part use or special technique on display; just another steampunk walking machine.

100_5494

Colonel Bombast may prove useful as a character. He looks a bit grim, but I expect even I’d be marginally uncheerful with a pegleg and a hook hand. On the other hand, he gets to stomp around in a steampunk walking boat, which I don’t.

100_5495

The Flying Island of Pau

May I present the Flying Island of Pau:

Flying Isle 1

This is my first attempt at steampunk scenery. I’m ok at vahicles, but I nexer know quite what to do to a building to make it steampunky. But a flying island is so Jules Verne-esque that it’s difficult to argue with.

It’s also one of my first attempts at some serious rockwork. The entire bottom section was built right-side-up and then flipped to give the effect I wanted.

Flying Isle 2

The upper side is more flattened and rolling. I kind of think it needs a bit more verticality, but I can’t quite seem to be able to pull it off with the build style I’ve gone for.

But I did manage forests, a small stream, several buildings and a jetty with attached airship.

Flying Isle 4

I had some internal debate as to whether to make this minifig-scale or micro-scale. On the one hand, minifig-scale lets me put in a lot more of the fun details, and populate it properly, but on the other hand, creating a flying island the size I really want in minifig-scale makes for a monstrously huge model and I doubt LDD will handle it. It struggled with my space ironclad, and my flying island would probably end up at least that big. Also, that much rockwork sounded hard, and time-consuming.

Micro-scale it is, then.

The backstory of it is that it was once part of a sunken continent – either Atlantis or its less famous Indian Ocean counterpart Lemuria – which broke off and ascended into the sky, held aloft by the presence of large amounts of an impossible gravity-defying material. Maybe this is what the Atlantean metal orichalcum was.

Flying Isle 3

In keeping with this backstory, the tiny buildings are a lot more pseudoclassical than steampunk, but to be clear that this is indeed a steampunk creation, I’ve built a tiny steampunk airship docked at the isle, complete with smokestacks and gas balons, as well as a couple of more steam-era factory-type buildings put up by the owners of the airship.

In order to make a model that will actually stand up, I’ve shrouded the bottom in cloud. I could, of course, take advantage of LDD’s digitality by shaping the whole Isle down to a point, but LDD is for me a substitute for actual bricks more than a separate medium, so I usually regard digital models that couldn’t reasonably be built in actual bricks as a sort of cheating. You can, of course, if you want to, but I don’t usually do that.

Flying Isle 5

The Flying Island of Pau would probably need more support than I’ve given it, but I’ll flex that much, especially with the little waterfall disappearing into the clouds and providing another support point of sorts.

I hope you enjoy this model. It’s been fun to build.

SteamBlacktron Alle-Venator

Following on from my “Einvader” steampunk re-imagining of the Blacktron Invader, it was clear that the Baron von Blacktron was going to need some sort of ground vehicle for his forces of villainy.

SteamBlacktron Alle-Venator

SteamBlacktron Alle-Venator

The Alienator is a walker, which is pretty steampunky already, but “Alienator” isn’t a very steampunky name. Still, we can adapt. Using the odd mix of German and Latin that produced “Einvader”, I’m calling this the “Alle-Venator”. Translated, this would be “All-Hunter”, which seems apt for a SteamBlacktron walker.

Alle-Venator 2

The Alle-Venator has fully-jointed legs that allow a much better level of motion and poseability than the disappointing sliding motion of the original. Ah, the wonders of modern ball joint elements!

Alle-Venator 3

There is a piston/double wheel arrangement on the back that I’m quite pleased with, and the inevitable billowing smokestack that tells you beyond a doubt that yes, this is steampunk.

Alle-Venator 4

The name suggested a manhunter rather than an anti-armour fighting machine, so the armament is a pair of large machine guns on an underslung turret beneath the cockpit. The front feet also have some nasty-looking claws as a secondary attack mode. I’ve made the pilot of this one a girl; it seems wickedly appropriate for the pilot of a manhunter. I’m calling her Magda von Morrigan, referencing the Irish warrior goddess and keeping with the Germanic name theme of my SteamBlacktron forces.

Alle-Venator 5

So now my Baron von Blacktron has a flying machine and a walker.

Steampunk Blacktron

SteamBlacktron Einvader

SteamBlacktron Einvader

Maybe I have a weird mind, but something about the old Blacktron Invader just seemed to cry out to be made into a steampunk flying machine.

I’ve tried to echo the 1987 original (but in a steampunky sort of way), so this is a lot smaller and simpler than my last humungous steampunk creation. This is more like the sort of thing you might end up with as an actual set from a steampunk theme: one of the the dirigible flying machines of the nefarious Baron Rheinhardt von Blacktron and his henchmen.

Einvader 2

Making a steampunk echo of this Blacktron classic was actually a lot of fun. I have pirate-style cannon replacing the lasers of the original, and propellers instead of rockets. The original’s folding wings have become angled rotors, and the trans red fins (what were those things supposed to be?) have become bat-wing ailerons. Though still trans red, to faithfully echo the original.

Einvader pilot Wolfgang von Darkseide

Einvader pilot Wolfgang von Darkseide

Unfortunately this one doesn’t include either the modular construction of the original or the opening cargo bay with its small robot. I could probably make a clockwork robot to include, but there’s no way to realistically transport it internally in this model. In addition, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to get the pilot in and out.

Einvader 3

The Einvader is completed by a pair or smokestacks on the roof, and a trio of landing legs on the bottom. The Von Blacktron Einvader is one of the main aerial threats to the Steampunk Empire. This one is piloted by Baron von Blacktron’s right-hand man Wolfgang von Darkseide, but I imagine there’s a whole fleet of them in the Baron’s service.

Einvader 5

Now to turn the Alienator into a steampunk walker!

One-Man Aethership

One-Man Aethership

One-Man Aethership

This started out as a steampunk version of the Classic Space 918 One-Man Spaceship, but then I got enthusiastic with the steampunkery.

My Aethership next to its inspiration, the 918 One-Man Spaceship,

My Aethership next to its inspiration, the 918 One-Man Spaceship,

The ultimate origins of this model are in my attempt to build a steampunk version of the big 928 Space Cruiser and Moonbase set, but after two aborted tries convinced me that that level of SNOT work was a lot more complex and difficult than I had anticipated, I decided that perhaps the thing to do was to hone my skills on something smaller.

Rear/bottom view with the undercarriage folded

Rear/bottom view with the undercarriage folded

In the course of modifying the design to make it more steampunky, I may have got a little carried away, so that the Classic Space origins of the craft are no longer immediately obvious. Most of this stems from my decision to make it a biplane, but the locomotive-like steam boiler in front doesn’t help either. I also darkened the colours from the Classic Space legacy blue and old grey to earth blue and dark stone grey in order to give it a smokier, less clean-and-shining feel, and made liberal use of metallic gold brasswork, though it still has its proper trans yellow windows.

Still, for all that it’s a pretty nice little steampunk spaceship, and you might be able to see echoes of the original. It has a propeller engine instead of a rocket for flying through the aether, a smokestack where the tail fin used to be, miscellaneous brass gears and a coal bunker around the engine section, and retractable (though sadly not properly stowable) undercarriage. As a first for me, this model incorporates six-directional building in a single structural section (the wing/boilerplate).

Cutaway view showing the interior of the cab.  I've hidden one wall and the upper win g so you can see it better.

Cutaway view showing the interior of the cab. I’ve hidden one wall and the upper win g so you can see it better.

That's a coal bunker and heat-ray tommy gun in the back

That’s a coal bunker and heat-ray tommy gun in the back

A cup of tea is the perfect accompaniment to any transaetheric voyage

A cup of tea is the perfect accompaniment to any transaetheric voyage

I’m particularly pleased with the interior of the cab, with its firebox, coal bunker, steam gauges and cup of tea for the aethernaut pilot.