Archive for the ‘Steampunk’ Category

Snake Oil and Quackery   Leave a comment

Sight Restored

Miracle Man, Dr. Oren Oneil

Since it’s been a while since I did anything remotely steampunkish, I thought I might revisit the genre. I have some old magazines from 1902 – Pearson’s and The Smart Set. As I leafed through the pages, inspiration beat on my brain with the force of a brass Thor’s hammer.

Classifieds and advertisements from bygone eras area always fascinating to read, but none more so, it seems, than from late Victorian/early Georgian era. As technology grew, so did claims about its abilities. While it’s true significant gains in medical research grew during this time, so did quacks who claimed to have the answer for particular ailments.

Take, for example, Dr. Oren Oneil, inventor of the Oneil Dissolvent Method. This convincing ad practically screams credibility, claiming this gifted oculist restored sight to thousands – even cross eyed people! – yet a child could consume his potent tonic and live to talk about it. And if you didn’t take his word for it, just write to the people he cured. But of course, it really was too good to be true, and the truth was exposed in this Collier’s Weekly article from 1906.

Body BraceNatural Body Brace











I’m sorry, but there’s nothing natural about these body braces. I can’t help but love the claim, “Cures ailments peculiar to women” and “Female weakness.” How can a gizmo such as the above help with liver trouble, lady’s headache, constipation AND make you more attractive? I do think this body brace would make an excellent addition to any modern-day steampunk costume and peculiarities collection.




Adding to the brace field is “Pond’s Toe Spring.” This medical marvel has been endorsed by medical men here and abroad, although it doesn’t specify what kind of practice or nation so hot on using said toe spring. I imagine those with foot fetishes go for this sort of bondage thing.


While Dr. Oneil used a tonic to cure blindness and other eye ailments, the marvels of electricity proved a more effective cure. All you needed to use was a pocket battery to remove stubborn cataracts, pteryglums, granulated lids to restore vision. I’m not quite sure why the New York & London Electric Association chose to do business from Kansas City, Missouri, but perhaps it provided a friendlier environment for stealing people’s money.


Break the Bonds

At first glance, one can hardly guess this is an ad for fake coffee, but a cry for help for addicts of caffeine. Dyspepsia, weak heart, kidney trouble, sour stomach, inactive brain and nervous prostration. While there might be an argument for a few of the ailments, I’m addled to consider blaming coffee on an inactive brain. Who hasn’t gotten juiced up on coffee studying for finals to wake that brain up? Postum, the “food coffee,” is the miraculous cure for those who are hopelessly addicted to the pre-Starbucks set. My own mother used to drink Postum, and I can tell you the last thing it tasted like was coffee.

Liquor Habit

But then again, coffee might not be so bad when you can secretly slip in an odorless, tasteless cure, quietly and permanently without the patient’s knowledge or consent, to cure that evil liquor habit. Sure, because they’ll be dead. At least it’s good for both sexes.



Sure, I’d love to cure my St. Vitus’s Dance, even for free, especially since thousands have been helped where everything else has failed. So now that you have my AGE and full address, what else are you going to rip me off for?


Painless and permanent home cures seem to be the thing. These promise Vital Principle heretofore unknown and lacking in all others, and better still, can be taken without interruption to convenience or detention from business. Again, I’m thinking this is possible because the distressed addict will die, leading to the permanent cure.


The general rule is: if it has buzz marks, then it’s effective. The ad says, ” Life is full of alluring possibilities for those who master the secrets of hypnotic influence; for those who develop their magnetic powers. You can learn at home, cure diseases and bad habits without drugs, win the friendship and love of others, increase your income, gratify your ambitions, drive worry and trouble from your mind, improve your memory, overcame domestic difficulties, give the most thrilling entertainment ever witnessed and develop a wonderfully magnetic will power that will enable you to overcome all obstacles to your success.” What hooked me was: “It is enthusiastically endorsed by ministers of the gospel, lawyers, doctors, business men and society women.” Think about this combination. Doctors trying to get over on people need lawyers so they don’t get sued for using newfound powers on society women who presumably will become fallen women who need to be saved by ministers of the gospel. That’s just my take on it.

French Lick

Of course, all of the above can be had for the price of admission at French Lick Springs. It’s the capital of pleasure!

Bon voyage!



‘Bots, Books and Literary Competitions   Leave a comment

Robot Typing On Keyboard

Photo credit:

They say if you stick a bunch of typewriters in front of a roomful of monkeys, they’ll eventually churn out Shakespeare. Now, I’ve never seen that proven but here’s a fact: artificial intelligence is now composing prose.

I like to read Engadget . It keeps me updated on technology of all sorts, no matter who or what developed it. So a story caught my eye the other day: AI-written novel passes first round of a literary competition. This competition, taking place in Japan, marked the first time an AI-human collaboration garnered serious consideration.

The Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award opened up its competition to artificial intelligence for the first time this year. Out of 1450 submission, 11 were human/AI collaborations.

Now, it’s not like the AI came up a great storyline all on its own. It had help, of course. Humans gave the AI the necessary components to create a story: vocabulary, a basic plot outline, sentences and phrases. With these ingredients, AI worked its muse and put forth a pretty darn good entry. Of course, it was science fiction – what else?

Competition judges read through the AI/human and deemed it good enough to pass onto the next round. I’m willing to be that made the authors quite proud. All the while, the judges never knew The Day a Computer Writes a Novel was anything but a human invention. Alas, while the story turned out to be well-structured, imaginative and inventive, it failed the character development test, leaving someone else (human, I’m assuming) to win the coveted prize.

So while this particular entry to the Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award competition didn’t garner first place, it did come out a winner of sorts. Imagine if you were one of the writers who got left behind and this robot beat you out. Part of me would feel kind of pissed off, insulted maybe, and yet, I’d be scratching my head. Has the sci-fi market gotten to the point where the objects of its plots are now the ones creating the new stories? If left to its own (plot) devices, what sort of plot will an AI write? Steampunk? Electrifying thrillers? A Cyborg in shining armor saving the day?

Kind of gives a whole new meaning to Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, eh? I mean, if a robot write a really bad story, who’s being harmed – the art, the robot or humans subjected to reading it?

Furthermore, will us humans be cast aside in favor of those who can churn out story after story, without food, water or air? No, wait…that’s pretty much every writer I know.

It’d be pretty interesting to watch how this plot develops.

Android/Anime Absurdity   1 comment

Steampunk surrounds itself with proto-modern examples of past ingenuity updated for today.  Take, for example, the above video.  It’s described as the best steampunk robot of 2014.  I didn’t fact-check to make certain it was, I merely took its word.  What’s obvious is any steampunking robot has to prove its worth by dancing…and it does…to great accolades from the audience.

A category woefully underrepresented is animated Steampunk.  James Lopez, a former Disney animator, has set about to create his dream, Hullabaloo.  He crowd funded the project and updates are regularly found on the Hullabaloo Facebook Page and official website.  Using 2-D techniques instead of computers, this project does homage to the past by actually recreating it – by hand drawing the cels, just like they did back in the day.

Has anyone seen this?  It’s been making a tour of Facebook pages over the globe.  How do I know?  Just Google it and you’ll see.  Here’s dancing of a sort, although I must admit I have no idea what’s the purpose.  Sure, the guy in silver seems to be a superhero type, beating up the Godzilla-ish beast, but how does the bear-y thing justify jumping hysterically while clutching Godzilla’s tail?  I mean, what’s really going on here?

This, my friends, is a classic.  I first saw this Kikkoman anime around the turn of the millennium.  A friend sent it to me when emails were still kind of new and fresh, as was the internet.  As far as bizarre things go, this one definitely holds the test of time.  The accompanying tune is unavoidably infectious – just try to not hum, “Kikkoman, Kikkoman, show you, show me…”  It shows even better if you’re altering your own reality through artificial means, too.









Steampunk Scorcher   Leave a comment


Do yourselves all a favor: click on the link below to read the utterly gripping tale of Californian adventures of long ago, complete with colorful characters and thrills to spare.  Honest.

Okay, maybe this isn’t a true scorcher, but it’s a pretty big one, folks!  This nickel thriller dates from August 1893 and, I got to tell ya, it kept me on the edge of my seat.  Out of curiosity?  Out of wonder?  Out of ideas?

Nah, nothing like that.

Well, I can’t take complete credit for this find.  I was trolling around io9 one afternoon reading some of the blogs posted there and I came across this.  Some thoughtful contributor added it to an already existing post in the comments section – forgive me if I can’t remember who – and posted just the picture.  Unable to rest upon sight of this wondrous creature, I Google-imaged matched it and came up with the story behind the picture.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to read a story about a gentleman named “Electric Bob”?  That moniker brings to mind the sort of guy who came with all the drugs to the party in the 1960s and got people all charged up.  Their acid hallucinations resulted in a giant shooting ostrich.

If nothing else, this certainly is creative.  What must have passed through the author Robert T. Toombs to come up with such an idea?  Perhaps it was the allure of electricity, still a fairly new phenomena in the home and elsewhere, yet exotic enough to warrant the attention of readers.  “Electric Bob” sounds as if he’s harnessed the shocking truth behind the power, and he’s enlisted the help of a turn of the 19th Century Trojan horse to off the bad guys.  Obviously there’s murder and mayhem.  The story’s only about 14 pages long, though it’s tiny print.  Still, I promise you’ll get a kick out of it.  I did.



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