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By Midge Lyndee
Book Review 

Steampunk, a lot of hot air?

The TALE: Tehachapi Art, Literature and Entertainment


August 29, 2020

Imagine the exhaust coming from a train, car or industrial chimney, dissipating without leaving in its wake deadly pollution because it is steam, merely evaporated water billowing in the air. That was the real possibility for humanity as we approached the Industrial Revolution between the 1700s and 1800s. We were faced with a choice. We could turn left or right. Imagine a world that had turned toward steam power instead of bio-fuels. It was a real choice, the world’s crossroad. Just imagine!

Imagining is exactly what people have been doing. In reality, people did invent steam locomotives and steam cars and even a steam generated airplane and immense dirigibles that floated in the skies. There were complications that needed further inventing, more reliable, safe and affordable machinery. But instead of putting heads together and pushing through the problems to gain success as all great inventors do, the world turned toward using fuels, bypassing steam altogether.

Years went by and the industrial world grew in leaps and bounds. But there were always those, romantics and inventors at heart, that imagined our different destiny, and Steampunk Literature was born. It is not new. Jules Verne piloted his sea machine with nuts and bolts of mechanical power from compressed air in “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” with Captain Nemo at the helm. H.G. Wells invented through literature “The Time Machine” with many wheels and cogs. “The Golden Compass” by Philip Pullman transported its characters in steam airships and in “The Inventions of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick, steam powered trains, and complicated cogs and wheels plunged a magnificent robot straight into our sights.

Today, Steampunk literature involves a lot of tinkering, the creations of various inventions which include time travel in some storylines. Gears, vests, corsets, top hats and a sepia toned atmosphere stretch the corners of time and imaginations. And don’t forget the goggles. They seem pretty important gear for any Steampunk adventure, probably because of all that steam! If you are not already a Steampunk enthusiast, you will most likely be surprised at the long list of books in various genres, from historical and adventure to romance and science fiction. Too many to cover here, but I encourage you to go exploring. So many choices!

I realized as I gathered information for this topic, that while being an inventor was widely hailed and encouraged in previous centuries, the heralding of inventor and pursuit of invention as a career is not often promoted currently. There are no “Inventors 101” classes in college or a booth on career days. But that should not discourage us. As parents team with teachers and virtual classes, I want you all to know that a rather young man, Eric Yuan, invented ZOOM so he could more easily visit with his long distance girlfriend. Now he is a millionaire and you are using his invention to keep your kids in school during a world pandemic. Don’t miss out on your chance to stimulate your children’s imaginations by exposing them to the vast history of inventions ... the people who invented, and their processes and successes as well as their failures.

A good place to start for general invention information is, “So You Wanted to be an Inventor?” by Judith St. George and David Small. Many inventors and inventions are mentioned, like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison and their many creations, (including light bulbs and telephones) that brought us into this modern world. Also check out “Mistakes That Worked: 40 Familiar Inventions and How They Came to Be” by Charlotte Foltz Jones. She delivers fun and weird facts like who invented the sandwich, potato chips and silly putty. Why did people put cuffs on trousers? (Do your kids know what cuffs are?) And how some inventions didn’t work out but people turned failures into success ... always a valuable lesson for children. It encourages them to try something new, something out of the box, without fear.

Imagine being the first person to throw a disc, shaped like an alien spacecraft, through the air and have it successfully caught and thrown back. Voila! Frisbee! Imagine the surprise of the first person who sipped through a hollow piece of grain stem and thought it a good idea. Voila! Straw! I challenge families to take the current studies of your children and expand them out. Stimulate their minds to invent something that will help around the house or yard. Improve on something already invented. Humanity has the perfect setting to birth a whole new crop of inventors and race us headlong into this new century. Perhaps we will have flying cars after all!

Good books. Good reading.

*Midge Lyn’dee is a fictional character used for the purpose of entertainment though the reviews are real and sincere.


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