Monday, August 30, 2010

Adieu Perenelle

Well, not adieu to the Duchy of Perenelle per se, but the duchy is for sale. Miss Kitsuko Pelazzi made the announcement in the Steamlander, noting that "Caledon Perenelle was going to be a place for social researchers to come and be introduced to Caledon and the steamlands," and this is reflected in the buildings designed for large public gatherings.

And, from an earlier, unpublished picture, the airship docked over the main hall (with the Hangover One above):

I wish Miss Pelazzi and Miss Steamweaver the best in whatever they choose to do next.

In other news, Miss Teaa Demina has sold the Duchy of Cavendish to Miss Soliel Snook; we hope to have pictures of any remodeling soon.

Relatedly, Guvnah Shang, noting the destabilizing effect selling large swaths of Caledon mainland in order to consolidate holdings in a duchy has on the already-weak land market, has with some reluctance imposed some limits on the sale of duchies. I applaud the decision, as it has been my observation that some purchasers of duchies have sold the land fairly soon thereafter, suggesting that all would have been better off with a lengthier period of reflection before taking the plunge into so much (un)real estate at once.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Duchy of Burroughs

Dr. Garth Goode is now His Grace, Duke of Burroughs, having purchased the Duchy of Cafall from the Nachts and renamed it. (I heard the name and, for whatever odd reason, thought: William Burroughs, Mr. Naked Lunch, Mr. Shot-His-Wife-Playing-Games. Then I saw the place, slapped my head, and said, "Oh, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Mr. Barsoom!")

I visited the island in my little runabout aircraft that Miss Ilsa Munro built and dubbed the Barsoom Express, doubtless in homage to Mr. Burroughs because of the cavorite-powered vertical propulsion unit. Other than shaky sim crossings, I made excellent time and landed next to a much larger - dare I say space-worthy? - ship.

Indeed, the Martian connection becomes more obvious when reading the signs in the central part of the duchy, one of which offers to transport the viewer to see a simulated Martian landing:

Floating above the sea is the Laboratory in the Sky (complete with a small observatory):

Inside, power cables run hither and yon, control panels flash warning lights, and various experiments are in progress. The small clank below is apparently some sort of communications robot, with expertise in Martian. (Did I hear its name was Artoo something?)

More ominous is the experiment involving electricity, reanimation serum, and a corpse. The empty slab looks particularly disturbing. I quickly retraced my steps and returned below.

Dr. Goode's Sprockets nightclub has been transported to the duchy and now occupies its own small island, connected via bridge:

A scientific museum is under construction. Given the experiments I witnessed in the overhead Laboratory, I look forward to the opening of the museum with no little trepidation!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Very Expansive Definition of 'Victorian'

Perhaps I'm just crabby today.

First up, seen in Glengarry: Miss Nikki Kimono and Miss Violet Jolles. (I realize I risk sending the wrong message about Caledon to Dr. Beck, who will leave his home in Steelhead Shanghai in search of scantily-clad Caledonian beauties. So be it. )

Now, I'm not really complaining about their attire. The more people who see Caledon, the better. There's no dress code. Still, are you comfortable roaming about Miss Jillian Vayandar's estate dressed like that? Aren't you a tad chilly?

But what really made me cranky was to see the site of the old Steampunk Resource Centre transformed into...I don't know what. But take a look:

Note that the yellow house in the background is Rhianon's. The waterfall suggests the foundation is likely to be in serious trouble, what with the underground stream obviously eminating from beneath her house. The structure in the foreground is...Moorish? In any event, not remotely Victorian. Or Steampunk. Even by a generous definition.

One advantage of more tightly-controlled areas, such as Steelhead or New Babbage, is that the leader/mayor/dictator can ensure that builds adhere to the theme. The Babbage "brand" - grimy, sooty, industrial Victorian - is not diluted by random builds. Caledon is different...more relaxed in its adherence to theme. Fair enough, I suppose. But why would one want to plant stakes in Caledon, with its Victorian Steampunk theme, only to build something else? It's a big grid.

If this were an isolated incident, I'd say that things happen, and not worry about it. But these kinds of...unusual sights are fairly common. Hey, I can't build a lick, but there are plenty of talented people who sell nice Victorian homes!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Book Review: The Passage, by Justin Cronin (2010)

Vampires have captured the imagination of the Western world since at least Bram Stoker's time. Their appeal is in what scares us: the primal fear of night, of bloodletting, of seduction. But what can be said about vampires that hasn't been said a dozen - or a hundred - times before, that has not become cliche, then satire? Bravely wading into the ocean of vampiric lore is Justin Cronin, with The Passage. Cronin, a professor of English at Rice University, reportedly received a $3.75 million advance, and was paid another $1.75 million by director Ridley Scott for the movie rights for this 760-page techno-thriller cum post-apocolyptic dystopia cum vampire story. Does it work? Mostly.

The story starts in the near future, with a military-sponsored scientific expedition to South America to bring back a virus. Most of the first part of the book tells the story of FBI Agent Brad Wolgast who, with his partner, are on assignment for the military to retrieve specific death row inmates and offer them a deal: a reprieve in return for being part of a scientific testing program. Wolgast has delivered eleven so far, and he is on his way to pick up the twelfth, a sweet-natured, simple-minded man named Carter who drowned his employer in a pool. (I wonder if anyof the brains behind the project thought there might be downsides from using psychotic criminals as test subjects?) He begins to wonder about the propriety of his assignment, and that concern only grows during his final assignment: to pick up a six-year-old girl named Amy and deliver her to the military base in Colorado.

Amy's mother, unable to keep a steady job and eking out a living through prostitution, abandoned the child at a convent. Sister Lacey feels an affinity toward the child and nearly thrwarts the efforts of Agent Wolgast and his partner in abducting Amy. Meanwhile, in the Colorado mountains, the twelve subjects are exerting an unhealthy influence over the guards and soldiers, who start to have similar dreams. The "virals," as the twelve are called, break out of the facility. Wolgast manages to spirit Amy away, and the two of them live in a remote mountain area while civilization crumbles, the twelve virals creating more like themselves and the new virals killing wantonly.

Part Two opens 90 years later with a small remnant of humanity in a fortified village in California they dubbed The Colony. The Colony keeps out the virals by maintaining a set of battery-powered lights that run all night, as well as maintaining a highly-disciplined group of watchers trained to kill any virals who may try to attack The Colony. They scavenge parts and supplies from the debris of civilization while trying to keep going a coherent society. Unfortunately, the batteries are failing, no longer keeping a charge the way they once did, and the leaders consider their options. One day, a group from The Colony out scavenging from a local shopping mall, is attacked by virals and is saved by a teenaged girl...named Amy. Is this the same little girl from Part One and, if so, how is she nearly a century old while looking like a teenager? The group returns to The Colony with Amy in tow.

The remainder of the book follows some of the members of The Colony as they try to maintain their way of life, deal with an attack from the virals, then leave to find answers to stopping the virals.

Cronin set himself a huge task and, for the most part, delivers on it. The book is fast-paced and, as one would expect from an English professor, well-written. If the themes are ancient - the quest, the ordinary man who becomes a hero, love blossoms even in difficult times - the execution is novel. I found the ending only partly satisfying, though there are rumored to be two sequels planned (for release in 2012 and 2014).

I'll mention three things I didn't like. First, the virals, while terrifying, never exhibit any sort of intelligence with respect to killing humans. If the virals can track humans moving from one point to the next, and the humans need to take shelter inside well-barricaded structures each night, one would think the virals need only such structures to deny shelter and create easy targets. Similarly, the availability of convenient fuel depots seems at odds with any kind of planning on the part of the virals. (To be fair, Cronin does offer a partial explanation for this late in the book.) Second, the book bogs down a little as it describes life in The Colony for the dozen or so main characters. A little judicious editing might have gone a long way. Third, though we guess early on the source of Amy's influence over the virals, the extent of and the limitations of her powers are never revealed, so some of the scenes have a somewhat ad hoc feeling about them. Still, these are minor issues in what is a genuinely disturbing book.

The Passage is by no means a Steampunk book, though the nod to Stoker's Dracula is at least vaguely Steampunky and the wanderings through the post-apocolyptic landscape have vague echoes of Steampunk. As a (late-) summer read, the thick tome will both entertain and build up arm muscles. Perhaps best of all, the vampires don't glitter and there are no moody teenage girls in sight.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Nemo - The Floating City

I was quite impressed with the earlier part of the Nemo build (see here and here), so I was very much looking forward to visiting the newest addition, the sky city. I was not disappointed.

Next to the arrival point is a small airship, promising a tour of the area. I eagerly jumped in, and the airship started to rise. It took me throughout the surface city, including over the enormous airship still in drydock:

Then the ship continued rising. I stifled my alarm - I had planned to see a sky city, had I not? - and tried to relax as the ground receded. Soon the city loomed above me, held aloft by a combination of large balloons and rotors.

Below, a closeup of one of the great rotors:

I left the small airship and set out to explore the city. First, there was the amazing brass telescope:

I had my choice of destinations. I first headed to the Space-o-Rama Theater...

...where I sat and watched a display of the heavens. The large machine below rotates to give the audience different views.

Miss Capalini, of New Babbage, has a small store here featuring her music boxes.

Next up was the Steampunk Air Museum, filled with exemplars of airships. Though one cannot actually fly them (indoors? that would be silly), the visitor can start the engines and simulate flight.

Below, a sample of the airships in the museum:

I was back to the observatory, and my tour complete. Inside the observatory structure are dozens of stained-glass windows, with hanging, rotating panels that reflect the windows. Quite clever!

As with the earlier builds, the attention to detail is astonishing. Brass and rivets, signs of rust, intricate patterns in the metalwork: all creating a convincing Steampunk tableau. Mr. Sextan Shepard has done it again! The entire sim is a must-see for any Steampunk fan and, really, any aspiring builder.

Friday, August 20, 2010

New Neighbors - August

The shifting sands of local real estate moved once again. At the bottom of the hill, on the Glengarry border, Miss Soliel Snook has a small cottage.

Next door to me in the Downs, close to the Tamrannoch border, is my one-time neighbor, Mr. Jer Mannonen. Mr. Mannonen continues to have an interest in autism education.

On top of the hill, next to my other Downs property, on the Glengarry border, and, coincidentally what used to be Mr. Mannonen's property, now is the Downs residence of Miss True Irelund.

A warm welcome to all three new neighbors!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Difference Engines, Large and Small

Should one need a great many calculations to crunch many numbers, a full-sized Difference Engine is always useful. Should one need to crunch difficult-to-open nuts, this size Engine also comes in handy. Note the convenient dial on the front, to measure the steam pressure on the unit.

Of course, having the Engine is not always enough. Sometimes, one wants to communicate with other Engines out there in the world. For those occasions, one needs a connected telecommunications device:

For those times when a large Engine is simply not practical, a smaller, more portable size is often a suitable alternative.

Let it not be said that the 19th century lacks in technological achievement!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Breakfast in Babbage - Money

Money - ah yes, the love of which is the root of all evil. Can't live with it, can't live without. Parted quickly from a fool. It comes as no surprise that filthy lucre is the subject of many a tune. And now the subject of a Breakfast in Babbage, with the Duke of Argyll, Mr. Edward Pearse, and Radio Riel.

Mssrs. Elilka Sieyes and Elina Koskinen looked quite dapper as the Monopoly gentlemen. (Though if there are two, I suppose that would make them Duopolists.)

The set was a collection of the familiar, including "Money for Nothing" (Dire Straits), "Big Time" (Peter Gabriel), "Money Changes Everything" (Cyndi Lauper), "Money Talks" (AC/DC), "Take the Money and Run" (Steve Miller Band), and, of course, Pink Floyd's "Money," and lesser-known songs, such as Hank Williams Jr.'s "Lawyers, Guns, and Money." Naturally, Mr. Pearse found time for a pair of Weird Al songs.

Mr. Pearse on the dance floor, looking like that Connery bloke. Well, if Connery were born in 1850 or so.

Miss Scarlet Jaggernov, dressed in homage to Jill Masterson, the unlucky lass in Goldfinger who ended up painted head to toe in gold.

A surprise guest: Mr. Shaunathan Sprocket, former Mayor of New Babbage. Mayor Sprocket looked in good health.

The best I could do costume-wise was to wear something green, the color of (U.S.) money.

This brute was Totally Not Doctor Obolensky. It was good to, ah, not see the doctor after a considerable time.

Miss Breezy Carver, as elegant as always. I would love to have her wardrobe...but I would not to justice to it as she does.

Mr. Ed Vectoscope seems to have had an unfortunate run-in with a Las Vegas casino, losing his shirt...among other articles of clothing. Still, he seemed to be in good spirits about the whole thing.

Miss Stereo Nacht and Miss Gabrielle Riel dance.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

In Clockhaven

As the day drew to a close, I stepped off the ship in Clockhaven to have a brief look about. I had not been in Clockhaven since a certain incident, and, as with other parts of New Babbage, much had changed.

Still, the winding streets surrounded by tall, ancient buildings were the same as ever, creating warren-like pathways through the city. After dark, one did well to be nervous.

The plaza was new to me, however, and a pleasant place to sit and watch people go about their business, whether it was shopping, building, or taking advantage of a secluded corner to arrange an assignation.

I stopped into a shop with a name well-known to me: Edward Pearse, Duke of Argylle. His Grace is apparently a collector with eclectic tastes. The shop is filled with curios, tastefully arranged.

As befits the name, Clockhaven has clocks aplenty, and I noticed that the time had grown quite late. I was in danger of missing my transportation to my next assignment, so I hastened again to the docks and caught the steamer just as it was beginning to pull away....

Thursday, August 12, 2010

On the Vernian Sea

After finishing an assignment in New Babbage ahead of schedule, I had some time to explore the city. I set off in the direction of Port Babbage at the edge of the Vernian Sea. Many changes were evidence since the last time I had visited, so I poked my nose into various shops, took pictures, and explored the undersea tunnels.

The calm sea above does not to justice to the sprawling tunnel complex below. The ironworks girders supporting endless corridors, spotted with numerous portholes, are impressive, as is the artistry on the metal.

Strange creatures drift to and fro, oblivious to the human activity inside.

I find a robotic barman. Very efficient, though his conversational skills are perhaps not yet up to par.

On the surface again, I decided that I would pay a visit to that notable resident of the Vernian Sea, Doctor Obolensky. Out of an abundance of caution, I took an ironclad with me and approached the doctor's lair carefully. As it turned out, one cannot approach with too much care: the villain had aimed a death ray at the submersible, programmed to target whoever exited the craft.

As it turned out, that was me:

Ah well, I was only a little worse for wear, though I glowed in the dark for several weeks afterward.

Doctor Obolensky appeared to be out, though I saw an admirer left a piece of cake for him. Most thoughtful, really. I almost nibbled a bite myself, as impolite as that would have been, had I not smelled the almonds - bitter almonds, at that - and, as I do not care for almonds, left the present alone.

I piloted the craft to the edge of the sea, where Tinny Tim stands guard:

From there, it was a quick trip to Clockhaven, though that must wait for another day.