My Life In Neon

Sci Fi / Fantasy writer Autumn Nicole Bradley – Dream in digital, live in neon

Archive for the category “Steampunk”

Trash Magic and Queer Love at is now live!

Trash Romance is a serial romance fiction available for free at However, in order to keep it free for everyone and keep new updates rolling in several times per month, I need the support and patronage of folks like you.

From the patreon page:

The coolest thing about magic? Duh, it’s magic. The worst thing about magic? It’s magic. No one understands how the fuck it works. Yet for Mackenzie Chen, whose magic power is limited to manipulating the broken, cast-off junk of society, it’s hard to not feel the world owes her an explanation. Or an apology. But when she meets magical girl-turned-barista Natalie, she learns just how valuable broken things can be.

Contributors get access to a DRM-free monthly digest in any eReader format, as well as free copies of my other short fiction: “Mercy Killing the Dragon”, “The Last Warband”, and part 1 of “Parts: A Steampunk Tale of Love and Mechanomorphosis”.

My Experience at CONvergence 2012

Quick review of my experience at CONvergence 2012:

1) I’m not used to being misgendered so frequently and so readily. The number of men in costume as female characters made it so that not only did I not stand out for gender bending, but I was assumed to be in costume. Which. . . so much side-eye. . .

2) Due to phone battery issues I had to find crash space at the Con the first night, and all I had to do was say the word to a fellow trans woman I met and she found yet another trans woman who had space. The sisterhood is strong.

3) The con itself had some amazing safety protocols in place. The Bridge dance/party/hangout room was a “Safe Space(station)”, a space-themed safe space right next to the center where attendees could report to volunteers any incidents that made them feel unsafe or unwelcome. They had numerous signs up saying things like “Costume is not Consent”.

4) I spent most of the con meeting other trans people and talking trans stuff. On the last day, there was an impromptu gathering of trans and gq people who met and squatted in a conference room. Informal plans were made to get a party room next year aimed at providing a trans-positive space and education for cis people coming through.

5) Partied in the Skepchicks/Freethoughtblogs rooms and hung out with their queer bloggers talking shop. Spent quite a bit of time talking with Benny which was a blast. Never felt unsafe, but I did feel put on the spot about a few things by some cis folks once a bout of misgendering forced me to come out to deal with it. I can chalk up indelicately asked questions to alcohol; I got indelicately asked questions about non-trans stuff too. 😛

6) Met with Rachel Gold for dinner and spent 4 hours talking about the split in the lesbian community, trans children, her book, her (overwhelmingly) positive experiences with trans women and how they taught her about empowered femininity.

7) I caught up with an old friend from college, and we joked about how we were both too shy to talk to each other before but I’m not that different, just happier.

8) Someone recognized me from my transition timeline montage photos on r/trans, which always makes me feel good that I’ve paid forward the benefit I got from seeing someone else’s timeline a year and a half ago (holy shit, it’s been that long…). The lovely and kind trans woman I spent the weekend hanging out with even had someone come up to her to directly state they were inspired by her. So awesome! (Also, we have the same birthday and we started HRT the same day. Eerie)

9) Finally, an androgyny win moment: “Someone said they met someone partying [in the Skepchicks room] with bright pigtails but they couldn’t tell what sex they were, just that they had the most amazing cheekbones.” I feel like I have achieved my goals when someone says “I don’t know what I’m looking at, I just know I like it.” 😀 I think it’s hard to explain why this was such a cool moment, but this was exactly the “spot” I transitioned to be in. I plan to keep going to the female side medically, so that I can more safely come back to where I am now.

10) Most of the panels were kinda bland. Comic universe reboots panel didn’t want to touch the idea of rebooting a universe to address current social justice issues because that’s too politically charged. So instead they redirected to style and storytelling and wiping away retconning. You know, cis white male problems. The strong female characters panel kept equating female strength with violence, and it was the only male member of the panel who consistently addressed other forms of strength as being just as legitimate. Catherine Lundhoff did a great job of bringing up the idea of protagonists with atypical body types, which led me to bringing up how viewing Charlize Therons’ character as an ideal trans portrayal was a fan headcanon that made the movie Prometheus far better. My point was that it informed all of her character choices and relationships without ever being addressed or questioned. One of the panelists thanked me for that afterward. Then a guy quipped about chainmail bikinis that they are more effective for “mobility and heat management”. Cue collective facepalm. Diversity in steampunk was still very white, very western, just not British Empire. Definitely not the most provocative conversations.

TL;DR: Very trans welcoming environment.

Parts – Part 1: Egg is available now!


Cover By Autumn Nicole Bradley

When Professor Grey was invited to the mechanical biology symposium, he thought he had finally gained the respect of his peers. In truth, his colleagues simply could not be bothered. Their loss, for that was where the professor met the brilliant (and by all accounts sociopathic) Doctor Ileana Winthrop, and his mechanomorphosis began.

Told in epistolary form, Parts documents the journey of Professor Grey in his most remarkable mechanomorphosis. It originally appeared online, and is republished in complete form here.

Get your copy at!

Follow along with the latest updates at the Parts tumblr. And don’t forget to follow!

Steam-powered Automata and Machine Intelligence

Over at the S.W.A.G. boards, a discussion popped up that really struck a chord with me, especially the part about machine religion. The question as I interpreted it came down to this: how would intelligent machines behave in the absence of their creators?

Any discussion of machine awareness must also include some discussion of machine learning. What degree of self-awareness is necessary? I can open up my computer’s device manager and I am immediately informed that my computer is aware of what parts compose the whole. It also knows it is connected to the Internet and it’s identity relative to the outside world; it has a name for use in private networking (PsychicToaster) and one for use in the outside world (its IP).

Now, that’s all very well and good, but we still don’t consider that on the same level as our own self-awareness. Why not?
We built machines to think in a way that we do not: sequentially. We have the equivalent of a computer network in our heads, computers have the equivalent of a super-neuron. We do relational thinking, they do sequential thinking. Naturally, any sort of machine consciousness will be different from ours until we build computers more like our own brains. (Actually, there are scientists working on that exact premise)

Artificial intelligence as we know it today is still just a gross approximation. Almost like a model of intelligence rather than functional intelligence. Purpose-built machines can beat people at game shows, but you can’t put Watson in charge of a band saw without completely rebuilding it and programming a new band saw interface. (Although things like the Wolfram Alpha project are trying to address that, too)

There’s also the inherent biases of the creators. We are trying to build machines that are intelligent like us rather than trying to build machines that are intelligent in any way possible. So, we shape their sensory devices around our own, even though a machine could “see” better by a combination of other sensory devices: magnetic resonance, direct electrical stimulation (e.g. a wired internet connection).

There’s a ton of possibility for some truly alien thought processes and reasoning for machines, systems of morality that have no relation to our own, or only a tangential relationship to our intent for them. (I, Robot anyone?)

I don’t think you’d see anything we would consider irrational, such as machine religions, except as a complete inversion of that: some previously unconsidered element is introduced into the program code as axiomatic, forcing the machines to believe it in spite of all evidence. A hyper-rationality based on flawed input, rather than irrational or emotional motivation.

Steampunk Worldbuilding – Lewis Mulligan

Or, How I Built A Steam-Powered Internet

When I set out to write Lewis Mulligan and the Pandemonium Engine I started by laying down some ground rules. These would be the cornerstones of my world, and any setting I created had to have a way to fit them in.

  1. Nicola Tesla is alive and well. I don’t think it is uncommon among steampunk fans to think Nicola Tesla was slighted by history. Those pads you put your phone on to charge it wirelessly? Yeah, he was doing that a hundred years ago. Even though most common appliances and electronics run on DC power, AC is a lot easier to transmit over long distances. Who do you think invented it? Radio? This has always been a touchy one, even in his day, but it’s safe to say that he and Marconi should at least share credit for certain aspects of it.

    Obvious consequence: If the Nicola Tesla was to play a role in the story, then it must be set in our world’s past. That alone brings with it tons of other baggage: real countries, real cities, real people, real historical events, and real scientific achievements.

    Vindication: Tesla “won” the War of the Currents with Edison, and thus had the capital he needed to develop his Colorado Springs and Wardenclyffe Tower projects sooner and to completion. The handwavium of this setting is that his projects worked so well that they now account for much of the world’s electrical transmission, along with transatlantic communication. One thing I tried very hard to keep faithful to was Tesla’s focus on the future and improving humanity’s lot; I do my best to keep him from becoming a mad scientist, or exploiting his technological development for personal gain.

  2. Charles Babbage finished the Difference Engine. The entire premise of the Pandemonium Engine is that it is a next-generation calculating engine. That means if we’re set in the period of 1890-1910 (due to Mr. Tesla) then the world has experienced at least 60 years of development of calculating engines in business and industry. Also, in more than just a nod to Ms. Lovelace, she lived beyond her premature death and became the foremost authority on the mechanisms.

    Obvious Consequence: 60 years is a long time to have computers. That’s the period between ENIAC and the DotCom bust. Adjust that for: 1) Cost of manufacture, 2) Physical limitations of the devices, 3) Lower global population, and suddenly you have a completely different flavor of information revolution.

    Not so obvious consequence: Combine this with the twist from above, (computing engines + wireless, transatlantic electrical transmission and communication) and you now have the stage set for a proto-Internet. What would an 1890’s world do with the Internet? This was an age of robber barons and titans of industry where they now control the means of production and the means of communication. I don’t delve too deeply into dystopia with this book, but I think I laid the groundwork for it unintentionally. I may explore that in the future. Instead, I take a different angle on it and explore the backlash against such an eruption of technology from the church who finds artificial intelligence to be an abomination.

  3. Zeppelins are pretty damn cool. Does anything else need to be said? Rather than generic aerostat dirigibles, I bump Zeppelin’s work up by a few years in light of all the rest of the industrial development.

    What if? The major limitations of aerostats is power supply and lift gas. Helium is safe, but it is expensive and (for the time period) extremely rare. However, electrolysis of water can provide a great deal of hydrogen in flight if you have water on board. But electrolysis takes a lot of power for the amount of hydrogen that needs to be liberated for an airship. Where can we get near-limitless power, anywhere in the world, even in flight? Mr. Tesla, I’m looking at you.

  4. One of the main characters is a creation of Dr. Frankenstein. The concept of the golem has always fascinated me, whether we’re talking the historic Kabbalah or modern androids. Some time ago I was in a stage performance of Frankenstein by Marty Duhatschek. It was an original reinterpretation where the monster named himself Adam upon reading the Bible and learning that Adam was the name of the Creator’s first creation. Likewise, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein included a sapient “monster”. I couldn’t resist adding one of my own.

    Don’t cross the streams! I realize there’s some uncertainty about introducing fictional characters alongside fictionalized characters. Why care about the verisimilitude of the other elements of this list (such as the plausible technologies of Tesla) if I’m just going to introduce plainly fictional elements? Well, let’s think about this a little more closely. We can already revive people through defibrillators. Medical science has already achieved a head transplant (even though nervous system control is questionable). Cryonics. Part of the horror of Shelly’s story for modern audiences is that it has actually become more plausible since it’s initial publication.

    (Geek note: whenever I play D&D, I always play a class capable of creating constructs. It’s never about pets, its about creating.)

  5. This is still for young adults. One of the advantages of setting this in the real world is that I can take advantage of the narrative to introduce younger audiences to some of the really cool stuff history missed out on by taking a different course: Gurney cars, Tesla’s world electrical grid, Babbage’s engines, and so on. I do my best to keep faithful to the original design and intent of these things so as to minimize any misunderstanding between the real thing and my fictionalized account.

What can you take away from all this

  1. Each setting choice has a consequence.
  2. Self-consistency is crucial to making things believable. If the world has readily available electricity without the need to plug in to a grid, all kinds of free standing devices become possible.
  3. Steampunk is alternate history, or an alternate world altogether. Things don’t need 100% historical accuracy.
  4. Technology brings social change, even if it is subtle. Without the need to run cables, home electricity in rural areas becomes feasible decades earlier. What kind of change would that cause?
  5. Things are allowed to be different, just remember 1-3. If you introduce the luminiferous aether, then Einstein’s theory falls apart and you’re dealing with a variable speed of light. That is bound to introduce some very, very strange things, so consider the consequences carefully (If your sky isn’t rainbow colored, why?), but don’t be afraid of it.
  6. Just remember the Rule of Cool. (Warning: Contains a link to TV Tropes. Do not click unless you have an abundance of time on your hands.)

The Early 1900s Were Cooler Than You Thought (My trip to the Museum of Science and Industry)

A few weeks ago, my girlfriend and I went to the Museum of Science and Industry in downtown Chicago. The highlights:

  • A working Foucalt’s Pendulum (Two, in fact. Read the article if you don’t understand why something so incredibly simple can demonstrate something so profound about our world.)
  • Jim Henson’s Fantastic World with a whole section devoted to The Dark Crystal
  • Fast Forward, kind of a Popular Science/Popular Mechanics exhibit where I got to play with a Reactable! (See it in action) Needless to say, I would love to have one of these to use in live performance.
  • The U-505 Submarine. A German U-boat captured in WWII. It’s an amazing piece of engineering and war history. Not to get all war-ranty, but I’m not one that is typically prone to romantic idealizing about war being a noble venture. But there are parts of it that are truly awe inspiring. This view actually moved me to tears. It’s impossible to convey the feeling you get when you see this thing and understand what it means that our grandfathers and uncles built and used these things to kill each other.

I will admit, I was actually moved to tears multiple times inside the museum. There are a handful of things that will make me cry, and amazing and humbling feats of human achievement are one of them. For those keeping score at home, I have also readily admitted to weeping at the sight of The Millennium Clock Tower during my visit to the UK.

But in the upstairs of the Science Storms exhibit, they have a collection of what can best be described as early electrical odds and ends.

They have one of the (if not the) largest Wimshurst Machines ever built on display.
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Leyden Jars, an early electrical capacitor:
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An early Tesla coil. (They had a modern Tesla coil mounted on the ceiling creating artificial lightning above a circle of couches. I admit that Tesla coils are Fucking Cool, but not exactly the best atmosphere for a tea party. Unless it is the coolest tea party ever.)
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Big Daddy’s little brother? (It’s actually a fire fighter’s helmet.)
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Lewis Mulligan and the NaNoWriMo Post Mortem

Lewis Mulligan and the Pandemonium Engine wasn’t an official winner, sadly.

I am still working hard on it to finish it sometime this coming week or two. Follow me on Twitter to keep up with the progress.


That was the big number. 11:59PM on November 30th, that was where I was cut off. I didn’t reach the 50000 goal but I’m still marking this one in the Win column. That’s faster than any other writing I’ve done to date. My prior record was ~30,000 one month while writing Root of the First.

I fell behind early. I got off to a good start, but I went through a few days in the first week where I didn’t do enough to make time to write. So from that point forward I was racing to catch up. I ended up in a burst-and-break pace where I’d crank out around 2000-3000 words in a day (the goal is 1667 per day) and then go through a few 500-800 days in a row. The last day, I jumped from around 40k to the final number, so that’s 20 pages in one day. Not quite enough to close the gap, but even I’m impressed by how much I got done.

On the whole, I’m pretty satisfied with the work I’ve got on the page so far. There are sections that I know I’m going to cut, and others I’m planning to expand later. There are some curiously bad phrasings of sentences scattered throughout that I will need to clean up later.

This is a pretty large deviation from my normal writing pace. I usually work steadily at around 1000 words a day, but I make them count. I tend to give a lot more consideration to my words while drafting normally, and that saves me a great deal of time revising because I’ve already got what I want the way I want it, at least as far as line edits go. The place I lose time normally is in the structural editing, where I have to cut, move, or change my carefully worded sections in order to accommodate a shift in plot or pace.

NaNoWriMo has been the opposite. I’m spending far less time than I feel I should on the wording. It’s very dry, and very generic, voice-wise. And I’m not sure the pace helps with my plotting. I gloss over plot holes because I need to move on, but I know from experience that fixing those plot holes in revision will probably mean major edits. It isn’t usually as simple as just editing a few words here and there, or tossing in a sentence to explain something. That’s always the hope, but the reality is that the earlier in the book a structural change needs to happen, the less of the rest of the book you can leave unchanged. Butterfly effect, and all.

The end goal for this book is around the 65000 word mark. I’m thinking I will finish this first draft near the 55000 word mark and expand from there. Needing to expand a revised draft is always a nice position to be in. Certainly better than needing to cut 50000 words like last time!

I anticipate finishing the first draft sometime early this month. For those on the preview list, believe me, you don’t want to see this thing until I’ve gone over it at least once, which means sometime in January.

The Curious Case of the Homochiroptera, AKA Batman Steampunk!

Warren Ellis challenged fans to come up with some Batman Victoriana, and these are the result.

Gavin Laessig posted a larger collection on BuzzFeed. Check it out.

Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention : March 4th – 6th

I missed Steamcon this year, but there may still be hope for this one:

Wild Wild West Steampunk Convention

Right now, the guest list seems pretty heavily stacked on the music side. It’s a little light on authors at the moment which surprises me, considering how much the genre has grown lately. I’d be interested in seeing a more robust panel of writers. Or some more esoteric guests, like art directors from film and video games (Sherlock Holmes, Bioshock, Arcanum all come to mind there). Considering all the press Gail Carriger has been receiving in the steampunk community lately for Soulless, I’m surprised the Parasol Protectorate won’t be making an “official” appearance.

The League of Steam will be doing a live performance. Yes, that’s right, the Steampunk Ghostbusters.

I hadn’t heard of Nickel Children until the screening showed up on the guest list, but this is one film I’d like to see:

Lewis Mulligan and the Pandemonium Engine Update

Progress is slow, but only in relation to the NaNoWriMo goals. I have already written more than I have in any single month before.

So far, we’ve met a Frankenstein’s Monster (the sixth such creation), Nicola Tesla, a witch-hunting priest, an investigator with the Royal Irish Constabulary, and heard the voice of the villain.

Yes, you read that right, Nicola Effing Tesla.

“Let the future tell the truth, and evaluate each one according to his work and accomplishments. The present is theirs; the future, for which I have really worked, is mine.” – Nicola Tesla

In my world, this quote has been cut down to his company’s motto: “The future is mine.” In context, it is more daring than ominous. It’s not a declaration of conquest, but more of a Tesla coil-shaped middle finger to Morgan and Edison.

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