Steam Powered Robotics: Mr. Steam Man

The steam engine, however viable (it is), has become an anachronism in retro future fantasies. Of course, the steam engine was quite popular up until about the 1940s, when the diesel engine became de rigueur due to economics; diesel engines were cheaper to operate. That was then. The steam engine could still make a comeback, if consumers could be convinced that the technology is neither dangerously explosive, and neither is it tediously slow to get going for the morning commute. Meanwhile, the steam engine gives rise to Victorian images of women in corsets and men in coattails, wearing goggles in their magic flying vehicles — also, machines using intricate clockwork as well as steam. Unless the fashion changes considerably in the future, nobody will be wearing goggles or corsets in their steam powered hybrid cars. But, honestly, just as steampunk authors do, I’m imagining a future which doesn’t exist…or doesn’t yet exist.

When looking at the steamy past and all its magical elements  (the past holds a kind of magic, living as it does in mental time travel) what captures my imagination the most is Mr. Steam Man. Yes, Mr. Steam Man. He was invented by one Mr. Dederick in 1868. In reality, he was simply a steam engine cloaked as a man, who could pull along a phaeton. The engine was given a humanesque appearance, apparently, so as not to scare the horses that would be pulling along the usual carriages dashing up and down the streets. Mr. Steam Man had a driver, of course, who could turn the contraption or alter its speed. In the book image below, the driver appears to be holding reins — as if a steam engine would need reins. What Mr. Steam Man did require was steam pressure that was built up through the use of coal. Mr. Dederick made a number of fancy claims about his invention, e.g. that it could step over small objects in the roadway and that it could cover a mile in only a couple of minutes. The inventor also had plans to create a steam-powered horse, to be used for farming, etc. Sadly, his invention never really took off.

As if to codify steam power into the popular imagination, however, the author Edward S. Ellis went ahead and wrote a sci fi book about a steam man. In the novel, a crazy inventor by the name of Johnny Brainerd invents a rotund steam man to pull him along into a world of adventures. You can find a copy of The Huge Hunter or, the Steam Man of the Prairies at Project Gutenberg.

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The God Who Made Robots

Let’s remember for a moment that there must be a difference between a Creator God who creates intelligent beings who possess free will, and a lesser god who creates automatons — animated statues — that are essentially magical robots of ancient lore. If there weren’t a difference, we’d all be robots. There would be no separation between us and animated statues. That would also put us in the peculiar position of becoming our own minor deities as we create animated automatons for ourselves, as this Chinese inventor has done. Perhaps he sees himself as a minor deity among men, as he has programmed her to demurely ask, “What can I do for you, my Lord?” Sometimes, a man must have respect, even if only from an automoton who’s compelled by creation to give it.

Hephaestus was a crippled god. Like men with limitations, this Greek god became a skilled inventor and creator, using metal to craft armor, chariots, bows and arrows, and many other implements, suffused with his own godlike powers. He was, in fact, the foremost smith of Mount Olympus. For example, it was Hephaestus who created Hermes’ winged helmet and sandals. What it must have been like to be the crippled god crafting the magical devices of more attractive and powerful gods!

That’s how the world works, though. He was rejected by his own mother for his shriveled foot, originally exiled from Mount Olympus. In one story, in which the goddess Hera had rejected him, he forged her a throne that would ensnare her when she sat on it. The other gods, wanting Hera released from her snare, begged him to come back to Mount Olympus. He refused, and eventually was forced back to his origins via Dionysus getting him drunk and strapping him to a mule — to the Place of Gods that had rejected him.

Because of his difficulty in moving around, he invented metalwork automatons, such as tripods to carry things to Mount Olympus and back. And then, in perhaps the ultimate expression of the Greek concept of Ekphrasis, he also created golden maidens who could speak and learn and move about, waiting on their master. What we see in the god Hephaestus is the image of a broken man who used his skills to improve his mobility, gain him approval from his peers, and make himself more desirable to females. We also see his dark side: the rejected genius who invents tools to wreak revenge on those who’ve hurt him.

The motivations of human inventors no doubt varies, mirroring Hephaestus’ complex image. According to Jungian theory a la Campbell, men are inspired to create because they can never be fulfilled in the way women are through childbearing. And so they throw their genius in the creation of art and technology. It’s an interesting theory, in any case. There are women who are tinkerers, but they’re rare. From that Jungian perspective, man’s desire to create automatons makes sense. Even deeper, from a creation perspective, humans are compelled to create because of God’s image stamped on their souls. The woman bears the fleshly child; the man forges children from metal.

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A Year In Review: Goodbye to 2016

  • Europe’s The Final Countdown played as midnight rolled over into the new year
  • I thought I would edit my book The Minäverse in earnest, being that it was The Final Countdown; it was going to take a month
  • It took a year
  • Instead, I racked up client work like raindrops falling from the sky in my childhood town of Portland
  • Meanwhile, the election charged ahead, with Trump’s antics creating an election season like none I’d ever experienced in all my years of voting
  • I shut off Facebook for my own sanity and never really missed it, although I miss chatting with family members I rarely see; I kind of wish other modes of communication were still the fashion
  • My second child reached the age of adulthood and left the nest
  • I began to see white butterflies everywhere; if I went for a walk, white butterflies would follow me; one day, when I sat on my porch, dozens flew back and forth past me and around me; a pair of white butterflies visited my workplace, and I could see them outside the window for weeks
  • I had another birthday, on which day of celebration, I was startled to see the apparition of a bear outside my bathroom window; my husband suggested perhaps I’d glimpsed into the Shadow Realm; this could be true of the butterflies, as well (see The God Cup for more info on white butterflies)
  • Brexit happened, and I was impressed the British had sought independence; not that it’s any of my business, but I was sorely disappointed in them when they joined the EU
  • I got tired of my (non client day job); I looked for other jobs; I got promoted at my job and liked it 100% more than before
  • I gave up client work almost entirely, except in very particular cases
  • I went back to the town I officially call home in order to vote, as I was still registered there; Trump subsequently won the presidency, albeit not in my blue state, where Gary Johnson took about 10% of the vote; hey, people here really liked him as governor and seemed not to notice he’d turned into a raving lunatic since those heady libertarian days
  • I ached to finish my  book; I kept finishing and then not being finished again (I still want to go over that last chapter one more time; I’M SORRY, OKAY?!)
  • Meanwhile, pretend Russians threatened to take over America, while Putin no doubt rolled his eyes in the privacy of his home — or threw things; one can’t really say what Putin does when the camera isn’t watching
  • And Europe continued to be invaded by refugees and/or terrorists, as did the US
  • A loved one ended up in the hospital right before Christmas (no details, as I don’t have the right to discuss others’ lives on the internet)
  • Instead of going out and chopping a Christmas tree in the forest, as we usually do, we purchased a tree from a lot; it’s a Douglas Fir and quite possibly the most beautiful tree the kids have ever decorated
  • My family drove out to be with us, and Christmas was good
  • New Year’s Eve was mellow, with enchilada style casseroles, sparkling cider, and classic Tom Clancy films
  • As the new year rolled over, Alphaville’s Forever Young played from the station that my husband quickly turned on after the credits rolled for Patriot Games
  • The Final Countdown to Forever Young? I’m not sure what to think; I’m still thinking about it to be honest; one could take it a myriad of ways
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Is Twitter Still Worthwhile as a Social Media Tool?

I probably will never return to Facebook, but I was trying Twitter out because I can follow anyone without having to be “friended” or followed back by them. This makes it a somewhat interesting venue. However, it’s become another censoring cesspool, just like Facebook. I followed a handful of spec fic authors I like, such as Brian Niemeier and Nick Cole, only to read that these two aforementioned authors had been shadow-banned. I went to Niemeier’s Twitter page to see that he had retweeted my tweet about his Dragon Award win (or liked it, don’t remember which), and had followed me back. I hadn’t received any notifications from him, nor had I seen any of his tweets in my feed. For the record, I don’t miss notifications because I don’t get very many. I don’t have enough followers, follow enough people, or really interact that much with other Twitter users to get more than a couple of notifications a day.

Today, when I saw one of Niemeier’s tweets retweeted (I’d never seen the original), I went to his Twitter page and retweeted the same tweet, calling out Twitter for their shadow-banning (shysta, that last sentence sounds ridiculous). After my tweet received more likes and retweets than almost any I’d posted, I had a strange progression of events: I was suddenly followed by a couple of Twitter marketers and then began to see Niemeier’s tweets in my feed. Does this give rise to all kind of conspiracy theories on my part? Sure, that there are people monkeying with Twitter, which isn’t exactly earth-shattering. And they’re no doubt monkeying to their own detriment, which is why they have to occasionally try to convince us we need them as a marketing tool.

Look, I’m at the point where social media is more than a little off-putting. Okay, it always was a little off-putting. But it’s even more so now. I don’t know if Niemeier was ever officially shadow-banned (Nick Cole, for his part, largely stopped using Twitter), or if Twitter is simply playing the compartmentalization game that I saw occurring on Facebook. Facebook keeps people in little boxes. I was in a box where I rarely even saw my own husband’s posts. My husband, in case you’re wondering, is an unapologetic conservative libertarian, just the kind of person the big Zucker hates.

I’m not declaring anything new or making shocking allegations the world isn’t aware of already. We already know the conversation is being controlled in social media. As someone who would still like to publish at least one more book and find new authors to read (where do you think I discovered both authors I mentioned in this piece?) or even new editing clients (I’m torn about that last one, but I MIGHT want to), I can’t completely tear myself away from social media. We’re living in a world that is no longer brave or new, and it’s tiring after a while. I’m not sure how much energy I have left for all of this nonsense any longer. There has got to be a better way, a Phoenix that rises from the ashes of the crapstically controlling internet spaces. A part of me doesn’t care, though, and would rather ride my bicycle around town and go to the library, where I’ll be lucky if I find new authors I want to read. And then the part that DOES care regains energy from the anger at not finding the books I desire.

Books=information and ideas. Even fiction offers information and ideas couched in story form. This is not the area where I should be dropping the ball and losing my will to care. But that doesn’t mean that I have to remain in the mire of Twitter, any more than I had to remain in Facebook land.

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A Man Without Arms

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Now, there’s a lumberjack.

Not that long ago, I took a short writing holiday in Albuquerque when I had to travel there for other undisclosed reasons. I was supposed to finish my book entitled The Minäverse. I didn’t. When by “edit” one means write the whole damn book from scratch again, finishing becomes a task that is forever on the edge of the mirage horizon. But while I was there, the gravitational pull literally sucked me over to the May Cafe, a Vietnamese restaurant I frequented for the nearly twenty years I lived in close proximity to the Duke City.

My book has a twisted sports theme. Balls, being dangerous, have been outlawed in primary school sports, and there’s a conspiracy afoot that professional ball players don’t actually have them…or use them, I should say. If that symbolism isn’t 100% obvious to anyone who has his head half in the gutter, I don’t what is. Balls, however, haven’t been outlawed in society in general. Balls are simply highly suspicious. Arms have been outlawed, or regulated to the point that there’s little reason to try to obtain one.

To sum it up, kids don’t have balls, adults are highly unlikely to use them, and a baseball bat is the most dangerous weapon the average joe has easy access to, if by easy access one means he has only to fill out the fronts and backs of fifty sheets of mandatory paperwork asking him important questions, such as, has he engaged in porn, hetero, or gay sex in the last thirty days; does he want to; how many meds is he taking; how many does he want to access through the Homeland Security protocol for all meds to all citizens all the time. As I’ve been rewriting and deleting my first chapter all day today, I had a sudden flash image of the May Cafe.

It was one of those moments of quantum access into my own subconscious. If you don’t know about quantum magic, I’d suggest looking into it. That aside, the May Cafe has been guarded for years and years by a twenty-seven foot lumberjack, complete with beard and very, very big axe. Recently, the lumberjack lost his axe and arms in a storm. Nature defeated the giant, as Nature is wont to do. Sadly, and I’m sorry, Nature, the image of the lumberjack is greater than you are. Suddenly, I imagined a refurbished lumberjack rebuilt in the image of my hero, who is a New Mexico native, very large — though twenty-seven feet tall is pushing credulity — and the type of guy for whom shaving is a wasted effort, as he always has a 5 o’clock shadow.

So now it’s nearly midnight mountain time, and I haven’t rewritten the last spate of words I erased. What a crappy day. Honestly, it wasn’t bad, as it was my day off, and I had a nice walk with the dog and kiddos. Also, I wasted some pleasant time putting together an image of a hippy-looking Jesus surfer riding the Hawking radiation right out of a black hole to contribute to this nerdgram before I smacked myself out of it. But still. The angst. I can’t get over the angst of my never-finished book. At least I have a lumberjack in my head, though. At least that.

without arms

Oh my good Lord, he doesn’t have any arms.

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