Sunday, July 31, 2011

Space 1889 And Beyond -- Update

We are days, or perhaps only hours, from the official launch of the Space: 1889 And Beyond EBook series from Untreed Reads. Above is the approved final cover of the first book, Journey To The Heart of Luna, by best-selling author Andy Frankham-Allen who, as you probably remember, is also the story editor for the entire six-book series.

This first story takes place on Luna (obviously), but subsequent books cover the rest of Space: 1889's navigable inner solar system, following the same two core characters -- talented British inventor Nathanial Stone and the adventurous young American lady Annabelle Somerset, whom many of you old-timers will remember is the neice of the American inventor Dr. Cyrus Grant.  A number of recuring characters -- some helpful, some villainous, and many somewhere in between, will also people the stories, and I predict you will find this series to be a genuine moveable feast of steampunkishness.

Work on my own installment, A Prince of Mars, which constitutes the fifth book in the series, proceeds very well, and I expect to turn in the final manuscript tomorrow (two weeks ahead of deadline -- a genuine first for me!) Being able to write one of the stories has been a real treat, but writing the one story in this first series set on Mars has been spectacularly rewarding. Mars has always been my favorite Space: 1889 world, and this allowed me to revisit the place and add depth to some of the themes only touched on in the original game material. I won't give anything away, except to say that our plucky adventurers are almost entirely ignorant of Mars, but are armed with a trusty and well-thumbed copy of Conklin's Atlas of the Worlds -- and they discover along the way that, as with many travel books, Conklin's is not entirely accurate.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Getting Creative With Steampunk Vehicle Miniatures, part 1

For miniatures players, the lack of suitable Steampunk vehicles has long been a concern. Right now, there are undoubtedly more of these available than ever before. But the nature of Steampunk is that vehicles tend to be -- well, wacky, and each of us has a unique vision of how that wackiness expresses itself. The result is that commercially available vehicles, while quite nice, often do not represent the vision we have.

When that happens, and it inevitably will, it's time to get creative by modifying existing vehicles, repurposing commercial vehicles, or building your own -- either from scratch or by assembling parts of existing models in ways not intended by the original designers. Here are three photos sent in by my old friend Tom Harris of the Central Illinois Tabletop Warriors (CITW).

This is a steam-powered armored cargo tractor, crossing the Martian sands in service to the United States Marine Corps. It was assembled by Steve Lawrence and is made from parts of other vehicles, along with a fair amount of scratch building on the body. Here's something important to note about scratch-building and conversions: your original work does not have to be perfect. If it is symmetrical and reasonably clean, imperfections can be disguised by adding little detailing bits. In any case, large pre-manufactured components (like the tread section and the cargo trailer) add to the illusion that this is an entirely manufactured vehicle, as do the detailed additional features, like the doors with locking wheels.

This is a very unusual, but arresting, walker done many years ago, also by Steve Lawrence, and fondly known in Illinois as "The Fire Toad." I am certain it started life as something else, but I don't exactly know what. Perhaps someone out there recognizes the original model. To me, this just shouts Mad Scientist.

Finally, here is a good example of re-purposing a vehicle from another source. This is a movie toy from the film Golden Compass, but has been pressed into service as the steam-carriage transport for the League of Pear-Shaped Gentlemen (an organization to which increasing numbers of us seem eligible for membership).

Friday, July 29, 2011


Just a few quick housekeeping notes.

1) I changed the blog logo to the new logo provided for Space: 1889 and Beyond by Untreed Reads. What do you think?

2) I added a link to the Highlander Studios blog, so you can check on progress of the minitures independently. I'll still provide periodic major updates, but Rod has more work-in-progress shots available there.

3) I have been pounding the keyboard very seriously of late to get A Prince of Mars done ahead of schedule for Untreed Reads. I'm about three good writing days away from having it in the can, and I'm very happy with what I've come up with.

Among other things, I have a much improved take on Martian kites, which I will share with you soon.
The problem with the kites (sail-powered flying ships) is that, if you stop to think about it, there's no way a sail-driven flying ship can do anything but drift down-wind at the speed of the wind -- no faster, no slower, and no turning allowed. The sails don't add anything to its speed and there is no way to make it go any other direction.

Until now. Bwaa-haa-haa! (They laughed at my theories at Heidelburg. They said I was mad.)

But you'll have to wait a few days for a complete explanation.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Happy Belated Birthday, Nikola Tesla

I am remiss! July 10 was the anniversary of Nicola Tesla's birthday, a day which should not pass without notice in a blog attentive to Steampunk issues. So happy belated birthday, Big Guy!

I was reminded of this when I saw the birthday calendar in the latest issue of Gatehouse Gazette (Number 19, just out). For those of you not familiar with it, it covers Steampunk, Dieselpunk, and other retro-issues, with film and book reviews as well as historical articles, and a nice overview of Spanish Steampunk in the current issue. I've added it to the links section. Check it out.

I also added Steampunk Tribune to the list of links. Surely everyone here is familiar with this estimable publication, but for the one or two of you still innocent of it, you are in for a treat.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Great Walking Things, Part 2

Did I mention I like walkers?

I think I did. I promised I would revisit the subject and give you my ideas on how a Victorian era walker is somewhat more plausible. First, however, John Bear Ross pointed out that I'd neglected his Martian walkers for Rebel Minis. My appologies for the oversight, John. They are indeed fine models.

Here's a small one armed with heat ray and autocannon.

Here's a big honker, much more imposing in my opinion. (Love the hair.)

Now, as I mentioned before, I have what strikes me as a fairly simple solution to the tripod walker imbroglio. I like my idea, but to be honest, I like almost all my ideas, so you'll have to be the judges. The basic notion is that all three legs do not need to be equal. A single central leg mounted dead center in the bottom, which simply swings forward and back and goes in and out -- essentially a great big steam-powered piston with a rotating "foot" on the end -- provides all of the motive force and most of the support for the vehicle. The other two legs are mounted to either side and provide balance, not motive power.

Here are some side-view diagrams to show how it works. Obviously this is an early prototype, as it features an exposed driving compartment and is piloted by the inventor's portly assistant.

These may be a bit hard to read. The first diagram (Position 1) shows the walker beginning a standard stride. The Driver Leg (the central motive piston) is all the way forward and fully extended. The two balance legs are planted.

The second diagram (Position 2) shows the walker in mid-stride. The walker has been moved forward by the rotating driver leg, which is now also partially retracted (to keep the chassis of the walker at a constant height). The right balance leg is also still in its original position while the left balance leg has lifted and moved forward.

In the third diagram (Position 3) the walker has moved further forward on the pivoting driver leg, which is again fully extended, now to the rear. The left balance leg remains planted but the right leg now moves forward.

In the fourth diagram (Position 4) the walker briefly balances on the two balance legs as the driver leg piston retracts and then swings forward. When it passes the centerline, the center of gravity moves forward and begins to tip the walker as the piston extends, which will put it back in Position 1 to start a new stride.

So that's how a tripod walker can function without a gigantic gyroscope. The motion of the balance legs and the central piston is controlled by a cam arrangement to keep them in sync, with the driver controlling speed and adjusting the extension of the balance legs to compensate for uneven ground.

Piece of cake.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

First Look at Highlander Studios Figures

Last week I attended Historicon in Valley Forge, PA. Rod Campbell of Highlander Studios was unable to attend due to illness in the family, but he sent me some master figures for approval and just sent pictures of some painted miniatures. I like them a lot, and I'm used to looking at 25mm figures instead of 15s. See what you think.

Here are some British infantry in gas masks and carrying advanced magazine rifles. Rod plans to do these both with and without gas masks. These first ones give a good feeling for proportion and level of detail.

Here are two adventurers kitted out for wilderness exploration and also packing some interesting weaponry. Nice faces, especially for 15s.

These are from the American Adventurers pack, although I suppose they would work just as well for anyone who likes body armor or bags of cash. (I'm guessing that's what's in the bag in any event -- those American arms dealers aren't in it for their health, after all.)

Here are two views of Rod's gashant, sans rider to show off the details of the beast. One of the limitations of the 25mm line GDW sold way back when was the shortage of cavalry. The gashant was so massive, and used so much lead, it was never economical to do a set of cavalry -- or rather we would have had to charge too much to make the product attractive to consumers. 15s use so much less metal that the unit costs have as much to do with packaging, labor, mold-making costs, etc. Making a slightly larger piece like this isn't free, but it's less likely to break the bank in this scale than it was in 25mm, so expect to see various units of cavalry in the line.

A good start, although now I am becoming more impatient for the line to be ready.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Some Thoughts on Great Walking Things

"Death and famine stalk the land like . . . two great stalking things."
-Edmund Blackadder

Ever since the appearance of H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds, walking machines -- quite often tripods --have been a feature of Victorian science fiction (as often as not stalking the land like great stalking things). My earliest exposure to Victorian science fiction was the Classics Illustrated comic book of that same novel, and the distinctive look of those Martian tripods has remained with me from that day to this. Naturally, a comment on walkers in Victorian science fiction, particularly in miniatures games, has to begin there.

The photo above is the Reveresco model of the Martian walker, patterned after the images in the Classics Illustrated comic. The legs are not quite 100% faithful to the original, but the model as built works very well on the gaming table, being able to tower over most terrain types and nestle its legs into village streets, forest clearings, etc. Nicely done.

This rather spider-like model is H.G.Walls' interpretation of the Martian tripod. It looks more sinister to me, and also perhaps more practical, with a lower more stable center of gravity. That's an advantage on the gaming table as well.

Here's a nice effort from Monolith -- with much more elaborately articulated legs. I'm not as crazy about the crew compartment, but the legs are interesting.

Now here is a very nice effort from Paroom Station miniatures. It has an alien feel to its architecture but remains somehow evocative of the Classics Illustrated source material. It is a smaller model (in scale), but represents a smaller scouting version of the massive tripods used to invade Earth. (In the Paroom Station alternate history, following the unsuccessful Martian invasion of Earth, Earth invaded Mars in retaliation, and this is one of the machines the Martians used in that war.)

One difficulty I always had was envisioning how a tripod would actually manage to walk, and I never found any of the stool-like arrangements of legs very persuasive. My willing suspension of disbelief is not completely crippled, of course, but I do wonder how things work. With the Martian tripods, the product of an obviously advanced technology (including heat rays, after all), I simply assumed the vehicle included a compact and very powerful gyroscope for balance. For more primitive machines, the sort Victorian inventors would cook up, it remains (for me) more of an open question.

That said, they are simply too cool to dispense with, and if you give me a good-looking model to put on the table, I'm on board.

Now here's a great strapping steam-powered walker from Armorcast. Rockets, a sponson-mounted gun, exposed gears, massive structural elements -- everything you need to evoke the period.

Here's a good effort from London War Room. Not as massive as the Armorcast model, and rather lightly armed, it seems to me, but an excellent basic model to start with and with lots of customization possibilities.

Now here is a wonderful model from Merrimac Miniatures! Big girder-like legs, big rivets, prominent smokestack, and a turret that could be right off the Monitor. In fact, as I recall it's armed with a Civil War smoothbore naval gun. (The top of the turret lifts off to expose the detailed interior.) You might want to rearm it, but the basic chassis is terrific (in my opinion). This is a walker that screams Steampunk. Some have reported that it is not in production, but as near as I can tell that is not the case. Merrimac merged with Old Glory a while back, and if you go to the Old Glory product page, look under Science Fiction Vehicles (instead of the Shipyard) and you can find this beauty.

Willing suspension of disbelief in a miniatures game is, for me, easier than in fiction. In fiction I have to envision the machine, and to envision it I have to believe in its existence. On a miniatures table, it's already there -- and a detailed, fully-painted miniature vehicle has a great deal of existential presumption. I'll have more on addressing the reality of walkers in fiction in a later post. For now, enjoy the toys.