Friday, March 21, 2008


The Steampunk showcase is called Brass Goggles,
an online gallery of deep distinction.
Top: Dr. Babinski's Lycanthropic Remedy Kit
Bottom: Datamancer's Steampunk Laptop
© The creators

Years ago I lived in an urban tenement, which due to its expanse was selected as the unlikely site of our office Christmas party.

The entire warren was crumbling, including the possessions of my hard scrabble roommates and me.

So that we shouldn't look unintentionally poor, we decided to decorate primarily with rubbish, including home made tree ornaments and a hi-fi, vintage 1960, belching carols.

Everything looked wonderfully Tiny Tim except the TV, which was fairly recent. With moments to go before the guests arrived, we wrapped the body in aluminum foil and set the screen to a dead channel. Tweeking the brightness gave us a gently sparkling screen, and we explained the apparatus as a detector of residual radiation from the big bang. Executives who should have known better were overhead later offering up heavy thoughts about our billions-of-years-old universe. After the holidays, colleagues, college graduates all, inquired about our memorable machine, and how it put a touch of the theological into their Christmas. I remember how one party guest, returning for dinner with us, paused over the device and let her fingers fiddle a bit. Suddenly, to her dismay, thirtysomething came on.

Some of the same qualities that enchanted our guests can be found in Steampunk art, and I recently wandered into a great place to view it. The term is an adaptation of Cyberpunk, and refers to fictional adventures of an H.G. Wells meets Isambard Kingdom Brunei sort. Wood and brass and clockwork gears, all set into motion by the turning of a winding key, are the hallmarks. The site is called Brass Goggles.

Unlike the embarrassment caused when otherwise normal people dress as characters from Star Trek, this niche fetish is warm and reassuring. It tells us, yes, machines have souls! Which, as much as I love my Macintosh, is only a lovely fantasy. Machines actually have anti-souls, as we shall soon see, when they flick the switch on the Large Hadron Collider.