Tomorrow and Friday, I’ll have some Steampunk guests, so I thought I’d put up a post on some fun steampunky things that I came across in my research or made up for my own steampunky novel, A Little Night Magic (which has a rewrite request from my publisher).
An Identity System based on Silhouettes
This was inspired by my own military dog tags. I came up with this system whereas one government worker can prove their identity to another. Here is a descriptive excerpt:
“What kind of scam are you trying to pull, Mr. Crain?” he growled.
“Sir?” Julian asked.
Meyer began to read from the paper. “’An attractive young woman of twenty-two years who matches the following description: five feet four inches tall, eight and a half stone, light brown hair, brown eyes.’”
As he read, a knot of dread had built up in my stomach. Those statistics were inscribed on my identity chit, along with an inventory of my defects, such as my concave front teeth and a birthmark on the inside of my forearm.
Meyer looked up. “It continues with a more exacting description.”
“Whoever she is,” Julian said, “she sounds delightful.”
Also cut into the chit was a silhouette, which could be put into a projector, which would be lit by a lantern, of course. Or, you could simply hold it up and compare it to the subject.
This is the way my little spy agency communicates. Here’s another excerpt:
A whistle sounded on the blower out in the hallway. I rushed out of the women’s dorm and grabbed it.
“Lawrence here,” I said into the speaking tube.
There’s a lot of research packed into these sentences. The origin of the word “blower” for telephone originated with speaking tubes, because to sound them, you literally blew into them so the whistle on the other end would shriek. To answer the tube, you pulled out the whistle. Here’s another excerpt about a common problem with speaking tubes:
Over the rest of the week, Crowley fed me additional information.
“You should know about a certain malfunctioning speaking tube,” he said.
“Oh?” I asked.
“It seems that one tube was installed just a bit too close to another. They touch. And if you listen really carefully, you can hear the conversations that are taking place on that other tube.”
“And as it happens, I was about to blow the whistle on that tube when I heard your name mentioned.”
Black Powder Firearms
The above term is what we call a retronym, because it only existed they became obsolete, or nearly so. Landlines were once called telephones, for example. Landline is a retronym, as is snail mail for post office mail. The type of weapon that my heroine fired was very difficult to load. Longtime readers of my writing blog will recognize this passage:
I put a kettle on the fire, spread a cloth on the floor, sat before it and got started. I measured the powder into the chambers, greased the balls with the wax and crammed them into the chambers by means of a lever. Then, I melted more wax over each ball to prevent gunpowder leaks. Next, I fitted waxed percussion caps into notches at the back of each chamber. By the time I was finished, I was hot, sweaty and cross, and my hands were black with gunpowder and dirty wax.
With these pistols, you definitely tried to make each shot count.
It’s Steampunk Week over at my publisher’s website, complete with a free novella by Cindy Spencer Pape. Read more about it at our group blog, Here Be Magic. As part of Steampunk Week, I’m having guest posts on Thursday and Friday. Be sure to stop by!