Saturday, 21 April 2012

STEAMPUNK WEEK: Guest Post by Oisin McGann

A Note of Caution

What follows is a recently discovered letter from His Grace Edgar Wildenstern, Duke of Leinster, to his son, Nathaniel, on discovering that Nate had run away to Africa. This letter predates the events recounted in the novel ‘Ancient Appetites’.


Berto has informed me, with characteristic insolence, that your ‘jaunt’ to Liverpool was, in fact, a ruse to put distance between yourself and the family, giving you time to flee from your responsibilities altogether. To Africa, he tells me, to make something of yourself in the engimal trade. I am certain, at this moment, that you are enjoying the heady and immature excitement brought on by eloping along with your romantic notions. I am sending this letter after you, in the hands of an agent, in the slim hope that you might still be brought to your senses.

This will be the only letter I send. Regardless of your response, there will not be another.

The fact that you have engaged in this flight of fancy, rejecting any thought of a sensible career, no doubt springs from some misbegotten belief that you have some great talent or insight to share with the world that will ensure your success. You believe that you are constrained by convention, hampered by tradition, by responsibility. You believe that you are misunderstood.

It pains me to think that any son of mine could be so gormless.

The capture, study and display of engimals has always been a small part of our Company’s business, but one that never fails to seize the public’s imagination. Whatever illusion you may be under regarding the glamour or riches hunting these wild machines will offer, let me assure you that most who engage in this work end up destitute souls, their dreams shattered by the harsh realities of its fraught nature.

This is a time of great change, and it is little wonder that an impressionable young mind such as yours should surrender to the influence of shallow and frivolous attractions. Your generation has access to so much more than those who came before you, but the ease with which it can be acquired means you appreciate it less. Modern steam travel by ship or locomotive has made the world inestimably smaller. The marvel of mass production has flooded our lives with a swamp of poor quality versions of hand-crafted products. People have more, but place less value upon it.

Telegraph is perhaps the most potent symbol of these new manifestations. It is as if we live in the future, with ideas and thoughts exchanged across the globe with such speed, such freedom. But convenience is proving the enemy of considered thought. With the means of passing messages almost at the speed of speech, there is a growing danger that people will become accustomed to speaking their minds before they have properly composed their thoughts. Telegraph is already doing untold damage to the English language; I fear that, before long, your entire generation will be speaking in abbreviations. Perhaps in a few years, no one will correspond by post at all, and more consideration will be given to the number of letters in the message, than the quality of its content.

It would be a mistake to think, in this age of quickening pace and shortening attention spans, that the essence of human nature, or business has changed to any great degree. It has not. Perhaps you think that this family, this Company, is too unwieldy or inflexible, too resistant to change – that you would be better off on your own, independent and adaptable. Is it too much to hope that you are actually driven by ambition, rather than fecklessness? Do you believe that my aging mind is unable to comprehend the revolution that has come upon us, and that is why you yearn to be free of my influence?

I have not survived for over a hundred years by being insensible to change. When I was your age, I was almost as fascinated by engimals as you are now. I recognized how the mystery of their creation inspired so many around me to great reaches of science, invention and exploration. But all of these endeavours required finance, and it was there that my interests lay. Given the pampered life you have led, you fail to realize the importance of money, and that, if you are to succeed, any enterprise you undertake must provide you with a return. Either that, or it behoves you to find another profession more deserving of your attentions, and consign this ludicrous pursuit to whatever leisure time you choose to devote to it.

It is in matters of finance where so many in the engimal trade fail. It is a business thronged with the hopeful and naïve. Capturing these wild machines is not enough; you must find ways of making money out of them. But it is more often the case, that more canny minds will find ways of making money out of fresh young things like you, once you have put in all the time, and taken all the risks. They await their prey in the deep waters of the market, where the inexperienced find themselves unable to navigate without assistance. They allow your kind to sail for a while, before feasting on you and discarding your remains.

Mankind may never fully understand engimals, but it is possible to master them, tame them and turn them to our purposes, as you hope to do – as this family has done for generations. And though you may think us unsuited to all the new ways that have emerged, I can assure you that this ship may to be slow to turn, but will sail steady again once its course is set. So flee from this house if you must – I wash my hands of you. But the time will come when you regain some semblance of reason and you will remember where you belong.

When this happens, I trust you will be a changed man. Learn what you can of this new world, my son. If your experiences have failed to make you an individual worthy of the Wildenstern name, I will not take kindly to your return. So let the world do with you what it will; my interest in you has come to an end.

Your Father,
Edgar Wildenstern.

To read our reviews of two of the three in the series please go:
The Widenstern Saga 2: Wisdom of Dead Men
The Wildenstern Saga 3: Merciless Reason

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