Airships and electric submarines, automatons and mesmerists—welcome to the wild world of steampunk. It is all speculative—or is it? Meet the intrepid souls who pushed Victorian technology to its limits and paved the way for our present age.
The gear turns, the whistle blows, and the billows expand with electro-mechanical whirring. The shimmering halo of Victorian technology lures us with the stuff of dreams, of nostalgia, of alternate pasts and futures that entice with the suave of James Bond and the savvy of Sherlock Holmes. Fiction, surely.
But what if the unusual gadgetry so often depicted as “steampunk” actually made an appearance in history? Zeppelins and steam-trains; arc-lights and magnetic rays: these fascinating (and sometimes doomed) inventions bounded from the tireless minds of unlikely heroes. Such men and women served no secret societies and fought no super-villains, but they did build engines, craft automatons, and engineer a future they hoped would run like clockwork.
Along the way, however, these same inventors ushered in a contest between desire and dread. From Newton to Tesla, from candle and clockwork to the age of electricity and manufactured power, technology teetered between the bright dials of fantastic futures and the dark alleyways of industrial catastrophe.
In the mesmerizing Clockwork Futures, Brandy Schillace reveals the science behind steampunk, which is every bit as extraordinary as what we might find in the work of Jules Verne, and sometimes, just as fearful. These stories spring from the scientific framework we have inherited. They shed light on how we pursue science, and how we grapple with our destiny—yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Dr. Brandy Schillace is a historian of medicine and the critically acclaimed author of Death's Summer Coat, Clockwork Futures, and most recently, Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher, described by the New York Times as a “macabre delight.” Her books have been reviewed in Science Magazine, the New York Times, New Yorker,Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Dr. Schillace is host of the Peculiar Book Club, a livestream community of authors and readers, and has appeared on Travel Channel’s Mysteries at the Museum, NPR’s Here and Now, and FOX’s American Built. She has bylines at Scientific American, Globe and Mail, HuffPo, SLATE, and CrimeReads. Dr. Schillace is a 2018 winner of the Arthur P. Sloan Science Foundation award, and in addition to her work as an author, is editor-in-chief of BMJ’s Medical Humanities Journal. (she/her)