Wednesday, 18 April 2012

GUEST BLOG: The Wonders and Machinations of the Parasol Protectorate - Gail Carriger

Alexia, ever one for gossip, would find advances in communication the most exciting thing in her life. In my steampunk universe the telegraph does not work. (It has to do with the aether atmosphere.) When Alexia meets an aethographic transmitter for the first time she doesn't quite know what to make of it, but she is intrigued. It's sort of like a steampunk wireless transmitter meets email device meets etch-a-sketch. It looks very uninteresting at first, a large horse box raised up off the floor via a complex system of springs. It's quilted in a thick fabric to prevent ambient noise from reaching the interior, like the inside of the room at an insane asylum. The box is divided into two small rooms filled with machinery. The first is the transmitting room and the second the receiving room.

It's functioning is overly complex and convoluted but Alexia eventually manages to master it by the end of the second book and forestalls several major crisis because of her new ability to gossip long distances. Unfortunately an aethographic transmitter only works if there is someone on the other end who knows she is going to transmit a message. Timing has to be perfect and in the very last book of the series Alexia herself is thwarted with by actions of others who use one of these transmitters against her.

In the end, I suppose Alexia would see aethographic transmitters as both blessings and curses, but necessary regardless.

On the other hand Alexia utilizes many other gadgets she would sorely miss. She is a big fan of the steam-powered front-mounted teakettle, which allows one the means by which to have tea while on the go ~ always hot and always delicious!

As an author, of course, I like to litter my steampunk universe with devices that are pretty and spectacular ~ such as dirigibles and ornithoptors. However, as an archaeologist, I also try to never loose sight of the fact that inventors will come up with ridiculous gadgets as well in any given historical time period. The Victorians were noted for their love of the frivolous. For every porcelain bowl there was a moustache-protecting sippy-spoon. Thus Alexia also encounters such things as weighted skirt tapes that keep one's dress modest while sky floating or hair muffs, which are like ear muffs only with hair attached so the ladies always look like they are well coiffed yet keep their ears warm in those brisk aether breezes. One my most favorite things about the current steampunk aesthetic movement is its innate sense of whimsey. For me, it's important to highlight such silliness in my novels. I love the silly.

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