Guest blogger the Doctor of Phlogiston
is back. He's my resident steampunk philosopher.
little posting is a tilt at the one windmill that I forgot last time I
visited here - that ol’ steampunk favourite, the Land Leviathan. This
staple of steampunk has been hanging about ever since they first turned
up in HG Well’s ‘the Land Ironclads’ in 1903. We happily accept them in
fiction, but how much of an actual possibility were they?
technology could certainly produce whopping big things capable of
movement on land. Prime amongst them was the long-distance express steam
engine, of which there were rather a lot of different sorts. My
personal favourite is the Great Northern Railway’s Stirling Single class
of 1870-1895. To my eye it is a perfect example of the aesthetic that
sits at the core of steampunk. A Stirling Single weighed about 40 tonnes
and could better 80mph on a good rail line while pulling 200 tonnes or
more of train. This all well and good, but move the train away from its
purpose engineered railway and it’ll sink up to its axles as it crosses
the lawn. A purely railway design and technology approach just wasn’t
capable of meeting the challenge of roadless ground.
wasn’t until the early part of World War 1 that something approaching a
real Land Leviathan came into existence, and it was the British that
did it. We know these devices today as tanks. The early history of the
tank is complex and fascinating, with rivalries between different arms
of the British Military and a bunch of heavy machinery firms vying for
yummy big military contracts. Even Winston Churchill was there, with his
naval buddies and their Landship Committee (a most evocative name, if
ever there were). The first production tank, the Mark 1, appeared in
1916 and about 30 of them were there at the tank’s combat debut at the
Battle of the Somme. The Germans called them the Devil’s Chariots, and
fair enough too.
early tanks were fearsome. They were also uniformly slow, fatally
unreliable, intolerably noisy, useless in swampy conditions (like, for
instance, most of the land between our trenches and theirs) and they
were fairly easily disabled. It was almost as dangerous to be inside one
as it was outside. Also, by leviathan standards, they really weren’t
all that big- most early tanks were around the 25 to 35 tonne range and
were narrow enough to be transported by rail (a useful thing considering
most First World War tanks couldn’t manage 10 miles per hour flat-out
and had an effective range of less than 50 miles). They were flawed, but
still good enough to give the British and their allies a tactical edge.
The presence of the Royal Tank Corps battalions at the Battle of Amiens
in August of 1918 helped break the trench war deadlock and turn the
war. Admittedly, of the over 500 tanks deployed, less than ten were
still fit for service four days later…
the land ironclads actually became reality within a couple of decades
of their first appearance in fiction. I vaguely recall that HG Wells was
given some credit for it too. They’re not the immense roving cities or
giant steam robots our literature currently portrays them as, certainly,
but still a major achievement of late-Victorian and Edwardian
technology. And, as a closing remark to those that say ‘yes, but they’re
not steam powered!’- a few prototypes were, but it quickly became
apparent that driving around in slow moving iron box with a boiler
simmering away at well over 100psi right underneath you while your
opponents take a few cracks at you with some very big guns was just too
dangerously silly to consider. Even for the British Military.
PROJECT ROUND UP
Deportment & Deceit
~ The Finishing School Book the Second:
Working third draft.
Etiquette & Espionage
~ Finishing School Book the First: Release date Feb 5, 2013.
Working promo schemes.
~ Soulless Vol. 2: (AKA Changeless
) First chapter reviewed, drops on YenPlus
April 12th. Print release tentatively
~ Parasol Protectorate Book the Last. Out now!
~ The Parasol Protectorate Abroad Book the First:
Release date Fall 2013.
High praise for the whole series.
Quote of the Day:
Balderdash (n.): A rapidly receding hairline.