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Author Topic: Why are Ray Guns and Jetpacks Part of Steampunk?  (Read 1538 times)
RJBowman
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« on: September 27, 2016, 01:35:21 am »

I ask this question because the two devices are out of period.

The Ray Gun as a handheld device rarely appeared in fiction before the 1920's; ray weapons in fiction before that (with a few exceptions) tended to be large devices, more akin to artillery than pistols or rifles. And the idea for hand held directed energy weapons didn't really enter the popular consciousness until the same time that it entered popular fiction, and got it's big boost when ray guns appeared in the Buck Rogers newspaper strip in 1929.

And Jet Packs? The first known proposals for such devices also date from the 1920s, and wearable rocket devices arrived in fiction in that decade. The jet engine didn't exist before the 1930's and wasn't put to practical use until the mid 40's. The first significant pop cultural penetration came with the Commando Cody matinee serials of the early 1950s. Real working rocket packs were first tested in the final years of the Eisenhower administration, and first publicly demonstrated at a World's Fair event attended by President Kennedy. And the most well know retro-science-fiction rocket pack appearance was in Dave Stevens' Rocketeer comics and move, set in the WWII era.

So why are these things part of steampunk?
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Siliconous Skumins
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« Reply #1 on: September 27, 2016, 02:30:39 am »

There are a few occasions where 19th C literature and art has depicted a "ray gun" type device, though granted it is a fairly small number. But it is a period correct device as such, and therefore Steampunk. Not that Steampunk requires historical accuracy, being a genre of science fiction... 

While the "Jet Engine" as a device was not created until much later, the principle of jet thrust has been around for centuries - starting with the invention of the aeolipile around 150 BCE, the invention of the rocket by the Chinese in 13th century fireworks, and many other proto-works throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. So again, not really a big leap for a Victorian SCI-FI genre to appropriate. Annnnd as it happens, there are a number of Victorian era drawings / artwork that shows personal flying craft that range from the obvious mechanical wings or balloon devices (and combos thereof), to the more 'Sci-fi' devices that show no obvious propulsion device such as propellers etc.  Wink


Also, you need to remember - IT'S STEAMPUNK, WE DO IT 'COS IT'S FUN!  Grin
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« Reply #2 on: September 27, 2016, 07:35:52 am »

*snip*

So why are these things part of steampunk?

Because we see the past with our eyes looking back from the future. We have the benefit of hindsight. We like to stretch the truth by pointing out all the things they were technically capable of building, and we like to project our knowledge back to that era. Even if I told you that ray guns are not so appropriate but rockets are (as Mr. Skumins suggests above), there were many components to rocketry that were achievable - like rocket nozzle technology - but they were still many decades away from being put into practice by scientists and engineers.

The photo below is a Schlieren photograph of a bullet in supersonic flight, taken by Ernst Mach's team in 1888.  You can see the shock waves coming from the bullet, and this was an experiment to study the fluid physics of supersonic flows, or more appropriately speaking, compressible fluid dynamics.

So the knowledge was there, but it would take many steps before all that physics knowledge could be assembled into anything practical. A converging-diverging rocket nozzle requires that you understand compressible fluid dynamics, since the point of the nozzle is to accelerate the combustion gases to supersonic speeds.


Schlieren Photography of a bullet in supersonic flight, by Ernst Mach, 1888
The photo shows a leading bow shock wave, and a trailing shock wave
« Last Edit: September 27, 2016, 07:38:08 am by J. Wilhelm » Logged

selectedgrub
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« Reply #3 on: September 27, 2016, 08:09:59 am »

So why are these things part of steampunk?

I ponder the same reasons for Doctor who and Starwars
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Kevin C Cooper Esq
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« Reply #4 on: September 27, 2016, 12:39:51 pm »

Because it's fantasy not history.
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Atterton
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« Reply #5 on: September 27, 2016, 12:52:36 pm »

Isn't it just the logical conclusion of the "If you think it is steampunk, then it is steampunk" definition.
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« Reply #6 on: September 27, 2016, 01:03:05 pm »

Isn't it just the logical conclusion of the "If you think it is steampunk, then it is steampunk" definition.
I don't really hold with that or the "there are no rules". But Victorian inventors dreamt up the most amazing devices. I'm sure some of them must have dreamt of ray guns and rocket packs. It's what we do with our fertile imaginations. As for things like Dr Who surely that's just one of the many common interests of Steampunks, and didn't Steampunk influence the Dr Who designers.
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Dr Fidelius
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« Reply #7 on: September 27, 2016, 01:30:17 pm »

Because it's fun.

No one is telling you that your Steampunk needs to include any specific anachronism, but I tend to be a "Gin and ray-guns" type myself.
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« Reply #8 on: September 27, 2016, 02:35:31 pm »

I see equally valid reasons for exclusion (per RJ) or inclusion (per everybody else).  Which kind of nullifies the argument.

I think the generic rule of thumb is that if you can make it look steampunk, then it's OK.  If we can make phones, computers, etc look steampunk, surely we can make rayguns and jetpacks look steampunk.

And achieving that (pretty sure it's been done in the props department), makes it fair game for inclusion simply because somebody's done it well enough.

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RJBowman
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« Reply #9 on: September 27, 2016, 09:44:55 pm »

I've seen old illustrations of what might be described as glider packs or ornethopter packs in old illustrations; notably those reproduced in the invaluable "Futuredays" book:
https://publicdomainreview.org/collections/france-in-the-year-2000-1899-1910/



These look may be unpopular with costumers because it's harder to get through a door than a jet pack is.
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Prof Marvel
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« Reply #10 on: September 28, 2016, 05:23:42 am »

No Victorian Ray Guns?

Surely you have not forgotten Jules Verne andhis Electric Guns in 20,000 Leagues?

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RJBowman
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« Reply #11 on: September 28, 2016, 06:02:41 am »

Nemo's guns shot "Leydon Balls"; essentially charged glass and foil capacitors that shocked the target onto his ass. And interesting and novel weapon, but not actually a ray gun.

And Wells' Martians fired their invisible heat rays from boxes mounted on their walking juggernauts, which makes them more akin to artillery than sidearms.

Tom Swift's electric rifle might barely fit the bill; it fired something described as being like bullets made of wireless electricity instead of matter. The ghost writer, Howard Garris, didn't seem to have a really concrete idea of how the device worked, which was common to all the technology of the early Tom Swift books. That was published circa 1910.

The guns in The Skylark of Space contained copper and mystery Element X, which, upon impact, combined and decayed into pure energy and a huge explosion. But that was still a projectile weapon and the rounds were fired from a stock mass produced revolver. That book was written circa 1918, and published in 1928.

The same issue of Amazing Stories that contained Skylark of Space also introduced Buck Rogers, a character much associated with Ray Guns. I haven't read that original Anthony Rogers novel, so I can't speak for its weapon descriptions. And that was a late '20's creation.

All great ideas that would please any steampunk enthusiast, but none of them are quite what we picture when we think of ray guns.
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Madasasteamfish
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« Reply #12 on: September 28, 2016, 10:07:47 am »

What about the Martian heat ray from War of the Worlds? I'd say that qualifies as a ray gun (albeit a vehicle mounted weapon rather than a hand held one), surely its' theoretically possible (in that particular universe) that humanity could capture a fighting machine with its' heat ray intact and then reverse engineer a version small enough to be carried by a single person.

However, when it comes to the dates and non-19th century ideas, the 19th Century was full of scientific and technological innovation, however it often wasn't until later that a practical use could be found for the discoveries e.g. the cathode ray tube was a 19th century invention, but didn't see any widespread use until the mid 20th century.
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« Reply #13 on: September 28, 2016, 05:29:44 pm »

In the Soviet-Russian fiction, as far as I know, a ray gun appeared in the 20's. the Hyperboloid of engineer Garin. A. N. Tolstoy (not Leo), published this novel in 1927, and the first ideas and sketches with this device relate to the early 20's.

"Hyperboloid" — the device emitting the heat beam of enormous power, capable of destroying any obstacles. Thermal elements give the energy that is focused into a beam thickness of my hair.

More correct name of the device from the paraboloid. Tolstoy knew this, but chose the word "hyperboloid" for more impressive sound.

Ho! On Wikipedia is written:

In April 2014 the inventor of laser, Nobel laureate Charles Townes in an interview with journalist Annie Jacobsen reported that the creation of the laser was inspired by novel of A. N. Tolstoy (English translation — "The Garin Death Ray", published in 1936 and 1955).

But I think, however, the primacy of Herbert Wells. Even if someone wrote that kind of thing before, namely the heat rays of the Marsians, burned mark in the minds of mankind.
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Colonel Hawthorne
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« Reply #14 on: September 30, 2016, 07:56:26 am »

One of my one-line definitions of steampunk for the uninitiated is 'technology out of its time'.

This comfortably lets us encompass both the heat rays of Wells' Martians and (eg) Victorians with the equivalent of mobile phones.
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« Reply #15 on: October 01, 2016, 02:22:36 pm »



 Just because !
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« Reply #16 on: October 18, 2016, 11:21:43 pm »

I haven't been at this for very long, maybe seven or eight years, so I'll have to ask. Had ray guns been a big part of it prior to Weta releasing the Dr. Grodbort's rayguns? That may explain the popularity. Also, I think that many people may conflate late 19th century fiction with pulps from the early 20th century. Then pulp fiction gets conflated with comic strips and serials and everything becomes sort of a melange of retrofuturism.

Other aspect in favor of ray guns in steampunk is that they can be carried at events and not be mistaken for actual weaponry, what with the brass, vacuum tubes, coils and whatnot. They're also fun to design and put together.

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« Reply #17 on: October 19, 2016, 04:54:27 pm »



 Just because !

Hear hear!
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« Reply #18 on: October 27, 2016, 11:05:06 am »

By its nature steampunk is anachronistic. It is a question of choice how far you want that to go. You don't have to have ray guns if you don't want to. but several Victorian sci fi writers came up with the ideas of such weapons of destruction.
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Colonel Hawthorne
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« Reply #19 on: October 28, 2016, 06:16:13 am »

By its nature steampunk is anachronistic. It is a question of choice how far you want that to go. You don't have to have ray guns if you don't want to. but several Victorian sci fi writers came up with the ideas of such weapons of destruction.

To wit, the Martian heat ray.
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Kensington Locke
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« Reply #20 on: October 28, 2016, 02:12:06 pm »

Other aspect in favor of ray guns in steampunk is that they can be carried at events and not be mistaken for actual weaponry, what with the brass, vacuum tubes, coils and whatnot. They're also fun to design and put together.



I think this is pretty apt from the practical end.  I am in the midst of painting my resin cast La Matte replica to look brassy and coppery.  I could have just bought a metal pistol replica for all the effort I'm putting in.  I do have a plan for a physical alteration that may shift it from "that's a revolver" to "there's something different about that gun"

But otherwise, anybody making a handgun from scratch is likely not going to result in something that looks like a replica of a real gun.  It'll look more like a ray gun, because at some point, hand making a replica of the real thing just isn't worth the effort or feel creative.

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xX_Lee1987_Xx
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« Reply #21 on: October 30, 2016, 12:18:51 am »

I'm pretty sure that such movies like the Rocketeer and Steamboy are a good way of showing that to have a "jetpack" doesn't always mean it has to be a "jet" engine of some kind or have rocket-fuel but perhaps a thrust of something similiar to a Jet Engine, i'm sure if you had a high-pressure air-pack of some kind like shown in steamboy that you would be able to have a jetpack of some kind that would be fully operational.

Remember steampunk is from what i can see from looking at it and correct me if i'm wrong at all!, that it is "set" during a time period where technology focuses on Steam powered contraptions and inventions (like also shown in the game Fable 3 which is also steampunk themed if you can call it that) , so really i don't see their being "any" kind of problem or issue of steampunk personas of any kind of having some kind of jetpack styled invention that works on steam power!. i'm sure they would have steam-powered automotives (as mentioned in steamboy) basically like traction-engines but primarily basically cars that run on coal/steam?.

Well thats the way i see the steampunk Theme, but i'm only a beginner on it so i'm just sticking to what i know or from what i've seen so far!.
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Kensington Locke
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« Reply #22 on: October 30, 2016, 03:05:15 pm »

So can't we say this of pretty much all the contraptions we see on people's costumes that are "supposed to work"

Mechanical limbs?  Giant mecha spiders?

at some point, the basic definition is clothes and tech designed to look as if it existed in the 1800s (aka Victorian).  As opposed to 1900s dieselpunk or scifi of that era.

So just about any idea from our century, projected back to the 1800s and re-interpreted and styles for that century becomes fair game.

or as summed up by the Colonel a few posts before, 'technology out of its time'
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Atterton
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« Reply #23 on: October 30, 2016, 07:18:05 pm »

It's more about extrapolating from the tech and science from the era. That being said, you also see people using flintlock guns.
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cossoft
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« Reply #24 on: February 12, 2017, 12:06:21 am »

Might there be a simpler, deeper reason?

Guns are good.  We love guns.  We love to hold them, fire them and generally possess (lots of) them.  They call to our psyche in a way that boosts the ego, as well as creating a reassurance of safety.  It seems a classical Adler superiority complex.  All male children grow up playing with them.  Most cool films feature them.  Why are they perceived to have cool status when in actuality they are instruments of destruction?  Why is my toy shop filled with Nerf guns (alternatives are available)?  Why are all successful video games based around shooting shit up?

It may be an unacceptable truth, but people like guns.  Might that be the real reason they feature so much in Steam Punk ideology?  It's just an excuse to play with guns...

Note.  I envisage a survey to test my hypothesis.  [Can we have polls on Brass Goggles?]  This forum is widely read across mainland Europe and the Americas.  Some of those countries have liberal laws concerning real gun ownership.  It would settle this thread if people 'fessed up if (1) they have real guns at home, (2) they make Steam Punk guns.  The disposition of the two sets would be fun to debate, but I warrant that they do not intersect...
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