Short sci-fi by Tim Maughan:
“‘Burgerpunk?’” Tamsin squinted at me over the rim of her ironically ugly spex. “And that’s…what?”
Her eyes aimed down again, I could tell she was reading from some non-existent document floating in her own private space, my portfolio I presumed. It was also painfully obvious this was the first time she’d seen it. I stifled a sigh.
“Well…it’s a phrase I coined when I was in Shanghai. It’s…let me think. You know what steampunk is, right? Do you remember that?” She was probably too young.
“Sort of.” She half nodded. “Vaguely. Cogs and robots dressed as Colonial Saunders. Airships.”
“Yeah, that’s it. Pretty much. It was this romanticised idea of Victorian Britain but with this…this steam powered technology stuff. Anyway it got really popular in the States mainly, the reasoning being it allowed Americans to fetishise this sanitised, romanticised British Empire, because they’d never had one. I mean they had an economic, military and cultural empire – but not a physical, old school empire with an exciting history, right? Their empire never showed up on any maps.”
“So, the Chinese have the same problem, right, but slightly different – they’ve got this economic and maybe military empire, but they don’t even have a cultural one. Because of the language thing. Nobody outside China apart from a few nerds is watching Chinese movies, reading Chinese comics. So they’ve started fetishising America’s cultural empire. Burgerpunk.”
“Right.” It didn’t seem like Tamsin was completely following me, but I carried on regardless. It was too late to stop, I guess.
“So over in Shanghai and Beijing they’ve got all these AR parks and shopping malls and restaurants, where these salary men and factory workers take their families, and they can sit and eat burgers and milkshakes in fake ‘50s diners served by robots that look like Ronald Reagan and Lady Gaga while clips of the Vietnam war play on flat screens. Just outside Beijing there’s actually a theme park where you can dress up like gang members, and drive around this hyper-real recreation of an anonymous LA retail park – all burger franchises and outlet stores – in replicas of exactly the sort of gas-guzzling US muscle cars that the Chinese government has just had to ban.”
Full Story: The Orphan: #Burgerpunk
Caleb Garling, my colleague at Wired Enterprise, writes:
You might think of Danielle Fong as a real-life incarnation of Steampunk, that science-fiction literary genre that re-imagines Victorian technology in a post-apocalyptic future. The difference is that her prototype isn’t fiction. Fong’s original plan was to put her tanks into cars. She holds up Elon Musk, the founder of electric car pioneer Tesla, as a role model. “He was willing to go all out,” she says. But rather than equip cars with combustable engines or rechargeable batteries, LightSail planned to fill them with compressed air. The hot air would drive the pistons in a new breed of automobile engine.
But after a nudge from their backers, Fong and team decided that — whatever Musk has accomplished with Tesla — convincing old-school automakers to put these tanks into their vehicles was an almost insurmountable task. So she chose another almost insurmountable task: Reinvent the power grid.
Zheng Yi Sao, 19th centry female pirate
Jess Nevins wrote an article on “the problem with Asian steampunk.” Nevins points out that most people default to ninjas, samurai and geishas when they try to do Asian steampunk, but there’s a much richer world of possibilities. “Pirates, submarine captains, hard-boiled reporters, female private detectives… these are all part of east Asian history and popular culture in the steampunk era. Steampunk writers and cosplayers, expand your horizons!”
Here are some examples:
- Zeppelin pirates are a staple of steampunk, but nautical pirates were a reality in the waters of Southeast Asia. Notable among these were the female pirates, from Zheng Yi Sao and Cai Qian in the beginning of the 19th century to Lo Hon Cho and Lai Choi San in the early part of the 20th century. These women were captains and admirals, commanding dozens of ships and leading them into battle from the front, gaining reputations as fierce fighters. According to a contemporary Chinese account Cai Qian Ma even commanded ships with crews of niangzijun, “women warriors.”
- The hardboiled, crime-solving reporter was a part of Western mystery fiction from the 1880s, but in real life there were large numbers of reporters just like that in China, especially Shanghai, where the competition between newspapers was intense and reporters and editors did anything they could for a hot scoop. These newspapers were modeled on American and English newspapers, and though many of them were aimed at the Europeans in China, some were written by Chinese for Chinese.
- Roguish treasure-hunters need not automatically be white. Since the 11th century there has been a tradition among Nyingma Buddhists in Bhutan and Tibet of a special class of lamas, the gter-ston or “treasure hunters,” who “discover” gter-ma (scriptural treasures) which have supposedly been hidden away during the Buddha’s lifetime so that they can be found and revealed to the world at a foreordained time. The gter-ston were active through the 19th century, and while some were genuine many were fraudulent.
In many ways this story is far field from our contemporary debates about network management, file sharing, and the perils of protocol discrimination. But the main questions seem to remain the same—to what degree will we let Western Union then and ISPs now pick winners and losers on our communications backbone? And when do government regulations grow so onerous that they discourage network investment and innovation?
These are tough questions, but the horrific problems of the “Victorian Internet” suggest that government overreach isn’t the only thing to fear. In 1876, laissez-faire “freedom for all” meant (in practice) the freedom for Henry Nash Smith to read your telegrams if he didn’t like who you supported for President. It meant freedom for Associated Press to block criticism of Western Union, and even to put potential critics and competitors out of business. And it meant freedom for a scoundrel to hijack the system at his leisure.
Sure enough, the technologies and debates are different. Still, one wonders what Charles A. Sumner would say today if told that net neutrality is a “solution to a problem that hasn’t happened yet.”
(via Social Physicist)
Above: 19th century anatomical study cabinet No.1
Klint Finley talks to cryptozoological pseudoscientific artist assemblage Alex CF about what goes into his work and staying ahead of the copycats.
Technoccult: For those who do not know your work, please introduce yourself and your work.
AlexCF: Hello, my name is Alex. I call my work “cryptozoological pseudoscientific art”, which is a longwinded way of describing what i do, but it is pretty specific. I make items, artifacts and specimens from a past that never happened - the remains of extinct species, scientific discoveries, nefarious characters from ancient continents, relics of mysterious cultures - the things you wish you could find in your grandparents attic, or a secret room in an abandoned house. I have created a fictitious history in which certain rich collectors have spent their lives exploring and discovering, and it is my job to present these items to the public. Each piece has a story, and in time all will connect, and I will release a collected monograph of these items and the tale of their discovery. I take influence from maddening horror, Victorian aesthetic, sci-fi pulp and Darwinian biology.
Above: Vampire Legacy Box
T: You started doing your assemblage work in earnest after retiring your comic series Wilderemere. When exactly was that?
A: About three years ago. I had invested everything I had into my comic career, but I wasn’t happy and didn’t really enjoy what I was doing. I’d drawn and written 18 comics and released an action figure line, sunk everything into it - I remember throwing my pencil across the room and shouting out “I can’t be bothered anymore!” I swore that I would never draw another comic. I’d created assemblage pieces in the past, but I guess it all started with this little box, called “The Vampire Legacy Case” about a 14th century aristocratic vampire, the last rites and possessions of this vampiric lord. I had the idea of creating an alternative past, creating characters and species with which to fabricate my own world in which all these things existed. So I started making, and the rest is history!
I learn everything from scratch, and if I come up against some project or a goal which is not easy to reach, I’ll have a good think and reach that by trying lots of different things. From sculpting to soldering, they were all things I had to learn myself.
Above: Werewolf Anatomical Research Case III
T: What resources would you recommend to artists who want to get started doing assemblage?
A: I have no idea, I don’t know how others artists who work in assemblage create their work. Those artists I am in contact with are a lot like me - we just pick up the tools and start making things. One thing I have been asked a lot in the past is “how I make these things” - a lot of the time it is merely a case of ad-libbing - grabbing some materials and creating it from nothing. I guess at the end of the day, if you want to make something or draw something, you simply need the motivation and skills to do it, the rest is hard work! I would say “BE ORIGINAL” - try to create work that is unique, because copying renders your work redundant.
Above: Menes - The Vampyr Pharaoh of Egypt
T: So then would you recommend would-be assemblage artists start with learning some “hard skills” like soldering, book binding, etc.?
A: I would hope that any artists hoping to work in 3D would already have some idea of what they wanted to do, for me it is creating a goal “I want to make this” and then planning how I reach that goal in my head. At the end of the day, most artists end up as professionals due to that initial drive or spark, and those obstacles - metal work or resin molding or anything- if it’s in the way I will usually tackle it there and then. The term “assemblage art” can be anything, from crafts to special effects work. Each direction is another set of skills. I would never want someone to copy what I do, (something I have dealt with a lot in the past) as the whole point of this is to create something as unique as possible which people can indulge in. That is the point of art to me.
T: What other artists working today do you admire?
A: So many artists, those artists who push the boat out, try to create things that invoke so many different ideas. Right now I am a fan of Kris Kuksi, who creates these incredible dioramas. Jessica Joslin and her mixture of skeleton and metallurgy. The haunting illustration of Vania Zouravliov. And the creepy bold art of Chris Ryniak. My partner Suzanne owns a successful online art magazine called wurzeltod.ch and has built up a huge database of incredible artists, so I am surrounded and often relieved by the multitudes of new and impressive work.
T: How long does it take you to create a typical piece?
A: I don’t have a typical piece - each project is entirely different from the last. Some take a week, others a month. It really depends on what is involved in the project. The very detailed pieces obviously take a lot longer. I fill diaries with false histories and text books with pseudo science. It’s all a matter of each piece takes time, and I can only hope that the piece invokes something in people so that they appreciate what I am trying to do.
Above: Anathema Case #2
T: So you fill all the pages of books, scrolls, etc.? None of that is found material, and there are no blank pages?
A: There are never any blank pages. I try to fabricate an entire world, from the person who wrote the book and their descent into madness, or their ascent into the higher planes of knowledge. Each ledger or text book or diary is full of illustrations, photographs and mad ramblings. Sometimes 50 pages or more of make believe adventure of scientific discovery. I base some of it on actual science, but I elaborate on the make believe. It’s something I take a lot of time and care in creating. With a legion of copycats biting at my toes, I have to keep pushing myself to create new and unique projects that my customers can buy into, both physically and mentally. It’s creating that realism that makes my work… work! I guess the only thing that is sad about it is that only a few people ever get to read those notes and see those illustrations.
T: Are your pieces expensive to construct?
A: This also depends on the piece. Sometimes the project involves antiques which are often expensive. I like using as many authentic items as possible to juxtapose whatever odd eccentric creature or artifact that will accompany it. I think the expense comes from the time involved. If I spend 12 hours a day for a month on something, then it is worth my time and effort. I hope people who buy my work pay for the workmanship.
Above: Ornithosaurus: The Origin of Flight
T: How are your politics reflected in your work?
A: I’m an outspoken atheist vegan, so I guess my personal ideologies do tend to pop up in the stories behind each piece. I do not use any taxidermy or animal parts in my work, all of my creatures are synthetic. I try to keep my angry political stance separate from my work, I don’t wish to alienate anyone, but in the same breath my rallying calls against religion and oppression do appear from time to time in my tales of ex-Catholic priests turned vampyr slayers, or pro-Darwin pieces such as the dinosaur specimens. It’s difficult to keep the essence of yourself out of your art. I guess my art is just an extension of me!
Above: Cthulhu Specimen Box Revisited
A great many people think that H.P. Lovecraft didn’t just make up his stories and that things like the Great Old Ones and the Necronomicon are real, even though Lovecraft insisted that he was an atheist. Do you know of any collectors actually trying to use any of your work (vampire hunting kits, etc)? Have you ever been contacted by anyone who thought your work was real?
Quite a few times, often to complain that I am cruel for resigning innocent creatures to specimens jars and display cabinets. I often don’t hear back when in explain that they are synthetic! I’m yet to be contacted by a cultist looking for offerings to the elder gods. That would be interesting. I think some of my work is used for role play, thats as near as it gets to “using” my work.
Lovecraft eventually spoke out about his work being fiction, many of his gods were modified from other writers work (Shub Niggurath is often credited to Lord Dunsany for his creation “Sheol Nugganoth”). Regardless, humans have enjoyed believing in fictitious deities and ideologies since the dawn of civilization, and as an avid obsessive of HP, I’d much prefer to worship the Great Old Ones than any current popular religion!
T: Your goal is to fill a museum with these artifacts. How close to that goal are you?
Nowhere near! I sell all of my work. I support myself with it and rely on it to live. I hope that in the future I will have more of an opportunity. I am currently working on the idea of an exhibition that will be themed like a sideshow museum of the odd. I guess this will be the goal for now.
Above: Lost World Exploration Case
T: You mention on your site that you’ve made props for movies. Do you do a lot of this? What movies and TV shows have you worked on?
A: I have worked for a number of independent projects, from independent horror to commercials, but these days most of my work is bought by private collectors. I prefer my work to be bought for display, and to have that quality of realism. That is lost when the piece is little more than a prop.
T: You mentioned that you will put out a monograph eventually. In the meantime, do you have any plans to release a coffee table book or anything like that?
A: I guess the monograph will be my coffee table book. I never seem to have time to work on something like this. Every time one project is finished another begins, so I haven’t put much thought into it. The monograph is more of a story as well as a book of pictures: the diary of Lord Merrylin, my fictional aristocrat and cryptid collector.
Above: An example of the Scenes From A Retrofuture Society print series available for sale at alexcf.com
T: Is there anything else you’d like to tell readers before signing off?
A: For those interested in my work, please visit my site, www.alexcf.com, I usually have new projects up every few weeks, for people to check out or purchase. I’m currently writing this companion piece which will detail the exploits of my fictional explorers and their bizarre discoveries, I hope to have it out some time next year. I also have some exhibitions planned too. Thank you for the interview Klint!