Blog for Stephanie Bryant, a writer with too many hobbies and not enough time.

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“I cannot prove I am sentient, sir… can you?”

coverbitThe Martians Are Coming is a new Fate game in a steampunk world, played between me and 2 of my best friends.

“I cannot prove I am sentient, sir… can you?” Abigail Stracht, serial # ST-18, voiced the audacious words in the midst of the Royal Academy’s audience hall. Professor Hatfield was leading a debate on the nature of the Awakened souls– the elusive quality that meant a machine had attained self-awareness. This sentience, vaguely threatening to the humans who had built the automatons, was equally confusing to those who had achieved it.

As she and the professor exchanged quick-witted remarks, the crowd of scholars, nobles, and well-regarded merchants in the audience seemed swayed between Abigail and Captain Winfield’s arguments– that no one can truly know the mind of another, automaton or otherwise– and Professor Hatfield’s– that all automaton actions are derived in some form from their creators.

The day had started much like every day for the past several weeks– business was slow and mind-numbing, due to local subway construction tearing up the major intersections near Winfield’s Bakery. In fact, if not for the dreariness of the day, they probably wouldn’t have accepted Professor Hatfield’s invitation in the first place. After all, what Englishman orders a cruller and then fails to eat it? Winfield didn’t trust the man, and had said so to Abigail.

As they stepped outside after the debate, Abigail was approached by FG-36, the head of the Automaton Guild and keeper of the Registry of Awakened Persons for the Queen. They exchanged a few pleasant words– civil and more pleasant than Abigail had exchanged with him since refusing membership in the Guild proper. And then an older couple approached her and Winfield.

“We were so moved by your words…” The couple, Mr. and Mrs. Mers, were merchants who seemed more emotional than an academic debate might warrant, and Abigail and Winfield listened to their plight. It seemed their automaton, Sally– not Awakened– had gone missing several days earlier. In fact, FG-36 confirmed that several automatons had gone missing over the past several weeks. “We hope that she Awakened and may simply be… lost.”

“It is a very confusing time,” Abigail agreed, recalling her own traumatic awareness. She turned to FG-36. “Perhaps you could lobby the manufacturers to include some kind of… instruction set, for use when one awakens? Explaining where to go for registry and to get help?”

FG-36 regarded her coolly, and nodded. “An excellent suggestion. I will take it up with the creators.” He bade them a good evening and stalked away.

“…and take credit for the idea, no doubt,” Abigail muttered under her breath. She and Winfield continued on their way home in the late New London evening. Not long after they parted ways from the Mers, Abigail suggested they pop round to the police station. “They must know a little something about these missing automatons, right?”

Whatever Winfield thought they were going to do at the police station, he soon found himself staring in shock as Abigail scaled the outside wall and let herself in through an upstairs window. Just as he was about to call down for her, a couple of police officers rounded the corner. He distracted the coppers while Abigail raided the offices upstairs, looking for clues.

When she descended, it was with a large wall map and a sheaf of papers, all carefully tucked under her arm. She handed the papers to Winfield and the two of them took off for Winfield’s Fine Bakery.

At the shop, they used the map and their own cunning about the city to figure out that, indeed, the disappearances appeared to be random and unconnected, but in fact, they were all located near sites of the new subway system that was being constructed. The pair went off in search of an access point in the subway– taking the papers with them.

In time, they found a closed access door and heard sounds of someone behind it. Cracking open the door stealthily, they discovered a long row of automatons, all metal, standing deactivated in a long row. Off to one side was a well-lit office with a curious gentleman– Professor Hatfield, of course.

Abigail approached the long row of automatons, eventually finding Sally’s designation (SL-32). Just then, Hatfield came out of his office and spotted her. The two exchanged words, then he ordered his automatons to attack!

Abigail fought a crush of automatons while Winfield focused on stopping and capturing Hatfield. Heroically, he shot the door handle off the access door, effectively locking the two men in with two dozen rampaging robots.

Indeed… the rampage was brutal and efficient, as Abigail tore her fellow metal men apart, ripping limbs off of carefully-crafted bodies, and eventually using a power supply to electrocute the entire dog-pile of machines.

As she crawled out from under the pile of bent, broken, and smouldering bodies, she heard a voice from deep within the dog pile. “Huh-hullo?”

SL-32, miraculously, had not only survived the attack, but seemed to have Awakened in the process. Abigail introduced herself and had a few words with Sally, who also remembered Mr. and Mrs. Mers and wanted little more than to go home to them.

When the police arrived, Professor Hatfield was raving about “his” army of automatons, and his papers seemed to also contain all the stolen investigation notes taken from the police station (however could that have happened?!?) Abigail took Sally to the Registrar before delivering her home to the Mers, who were overjoyed to see her.

They returned to the bakery to prepare a double batch of fried dough goodies for delivery to the police officers in the morning.

Steampunk: Cosmetic Changes Make a Big Difference

–Effie Cotter, with apologies for linking primarily to the Book of Faces today.

On Saturday, bright and early, we assembled in the dubiously-lit courthouse for a lesson in hair and makeup by Lady Ember Brennen Sparks. Lady Sparks approaches cosmetics as the final, but crucial step on one’s costumery, and her approach is not unlike an artist looking at a canvas.

483714_10151532023257139_366124165_nFirst on the chair was Mr. Oswald, who was there for a gentlemanly mohawk touch up, eyeliner, and mustache wax. The very light application of eyeliner is a simple, yet effective way to give men slightly more expressive eyes without making them too effeminate.

For mustache care, Mr. Oswald suggested the fine mustache waxes of Randy Steerman from Dethroned Media. These waxes are custom-blended by Mr. Steerman to accommodate any tone of facial hair. One can carefully use a curling iron if needed to set a mustache, or simply use one’s fingertips to curl and twist into place.

Unfortunately, Lady Sparks has quite a bit to say about wigs, which she did not have time to pursue in our limited one-hour session, but her prevailing advice is: use them. They are warm and remain perfectly styled, even after a rain. Use v-style hairpins, especially at the hairline, and pull out some curls around the hairline to hide the harder “line” where the wig meets the scalp.

For thick, longer hair, a tight French braid can keep the hair close to the head under a wig cap.

5643_10151532023347139_788747205_nWhen applying makeup, Lady Sparks suggests starting with a foundation, then using primers, such as from Urban Decay and Too Faced, as a base layer under your colors. ELF is another affordable makeup, with a clear gel to which one can add any color for lips, gel liners, even shadows.

On eyelids, use a medium tone on the lid, highlight above, and a dark color in the crease. Lady Sparks insists that “blue eyeshadow is not of the devil, ladies!” and that one should use shadows that enhance one’s costume, rather than match. The ELF shadows in particular are just pigment, and can be intense, requiring the use of a primer to make them more natural-looking. Replace all mascara tubes every six months and do not share them, as they are prone to contamination from bacteria in and near your eyes. If using false eyelashes (which can be reused easily), apply them after doing the eyes, then re-touch the eyes.

She recommends ecotools for their brushes, and suggests that one should always use a thin, tight brush for the lips, as opposed to a stick.

Lady Sparks’ favorite lipstick is MAC Cosmetics Russian Red, one of the very few blue-toned lip colors. She then blends it with eye shadow to achieve whatever colors she wishes for her lips. Other options include various lip “stain” products, including from Clinique and Cover Girl. Above all, she recommends avoiding waxy lipsticks. Use testers at the store to check both color and consistency of any products you may consider acquiring.

Steampunk: Friday Evening Entertainment

Reported by Effie Cotter

The Friday evening entertainment brought us dancing girls, the “punk” part of Steampunk, some light vaudeville and comedy, and Professor Elemental.

The dancing girl was provided by the Osiris Dance Company. I am not entirely sure what correlation there is between “steampunk” and “belly dancing,” but I do know that the two blend together very well. In fact, belly dancing was a very popular medium at the gathering, all weekend, and I am sure I was not the only one appreciating the dancers’ skill and grace on stage.

The Silent Still took the stage next. They are neither silent, nor still, kicking up a rousing rock/punk performance for their attentive audience. Unfortunately for both the Silent Still and the assembled listeners, the house lights remained on for the performance, which limited the transfer of energy to and from the audience and resulted in little, if any, dancing. Per request, they performed Bad Romance by the inestimable Lady Gaga, but the lead singer had difficulty getting through the song without laughing self-deprecatingly. A bit of advice to all musicians courting this particular audience: steampunks love Miss Gaga.

Taking the stage next was the League of S.T.E.A.M., which performed a series of vaudevillian skits, interspersed with a few gentle words from their sponsors. Indeed, selling a health tonic and hair renewal formula from the same bottle does seem a bit far-fetched, but one never knows what wonders a good mad scientist can perform. Perhaps my favorite moment in the evening was during a demonstration of gunplay. Who knew the League had time travel devices, as the balloon held by the assistant exploded even before the gunshot was heard!

Finally, Professor Elemental took the stage. I will leave a more thorough review of his performance for my article on Saturday evening’s entertainment, but let me just say that the professor was, as always: Splendid.

Steampunk: Leather Pocket for Your Belt

Effie Cotter, reporting

Otherwise known as a pouch, dear Reader!

Friday afternoon’s workshop was a leather-working event in which a selection of pre-paid attendees created a small leather pouch using kits provided. A similar kit is available through Tandy Leather, proud sponsors of all Steampunk endeavors.

Each piece was pre-cut and had holes pre-punched for the lacings, but a pair of leather scissors and an awl would do the same jobs for the creative crafter. The participants began by staining their leather pieces in various colors, taking some care to avoid staining the epidermal “leather” that covers their hands and arms as well. While not strictly required, I am told it is easier to stain the pieces prior to assembly.

The belt loop snap and front clasp required hammering and a snap setter, as well as a hard concrete surface, so participants lined up to engage in that activity using the sole mallet available. Then, it was time to stitch.

Each kit came with waxed thread and two needles. To get a good, solid seam, one places a needle on each end of the thread, then runs it through the first hole until the halfway point, so that the needles are on opposite sides of the leather pieces. From there, one runs each needle through the next hole, switching sides. Continue thusly, not unlike lacing a corset, until you reach the end, then run back along the seam until you run out of thread or patience.

After assembly, one can embellish the pouch with gears, embossing, tooling, and so forth. Later in the weekend, I participated in a tooling workshop, which I will cover at a later time, dear Reader, so that you might learn somewhat of the craft and perhaps decide to engage further in such pursuits.

In all, an excellent workshop, well worth the time. I saw several of the finished products and, while I am sure your average Eagle Scout would scoff at such works, for those of us unfamiliar with the medium, it was a worthy pursuit.

Steampunk: You Need That Like a Hole in Your… Hat

Effie Cotter, reporting for the first time with my own byline-generatron!

photograph courtesy of Susan Holt

Friday afternoon saw your loyal correspondent at the Vented Hats workshop, with the purportedly awesome Susan Holt. Mistress Holt has graciously shared her Vented Hats workshop handout with the world, so I can focus on the steps and advice she provided to her enthralled audience. Mistress Holt also offers for sale kits containing the numerous templates and materials used in her vented hats, should you wish to pursue this craft and need a little assistance.

Aside from hardy automatons who must vent steam all day long, what purpose does a vented hat serve, you may ask? Well, my dears, I will leave such questions up to you and your locale, and simply state that, in a climate where a metal bikini and gun holster is comfortable attire, the temperature might just lend itself well to a little airflow about the cranium.

You’ll need the circular templates for cutting your vents, leather gaskets and metal mesh, and rivets. In addition, if you made your own gaskets and did not purchase Mistress Holt’s finely pre-drilled ones, you’ll need an awl, hammer, perhaps a prop to raise it up to hat level, some craft or leatherworking scissors, and any other decoration or trims you may wish to use in your hat. Begin by decorating the base of your hat, if you plan to paint it or otherwise trim it in ways that should appear behind or beneath the vents.

Using the templates, draw your holes on the hat. Cut the hole in the top of the hat first, starting at the center and working in a spiral direction to the outline to avoid harp turns. Place the gasket over the hole to ensure it overlaps neatly. Cut all the holes first, starting at the top and doing the front and back, then the sides. This is the same order in which you will place your rivets.

Using a rivet to hold it in place, put one gasket on the outside of the hat, the mesh on the inside, and the second gasket on the inside. Hammer in the first rivet, then proceed with the remaining rivets. You may find yourself needing to place your anvil on a prop or block to achieve the proper height for hammering a rivet into the top of your top hat. You may even find yourself needing to hammer a rivet through a vent hole. Such are the trials and tribulations that all fine hatters must pursue.

Hammer the rivets in opposite sides– front, back, side, side, then filling in the diagonals, as opposed to working around the entire gasket like a clock. We all adore clocks, of course, but working in a circular manner will lead to puckering, and nobody yearns for puckered gaskets, Dear Reader!

When you have completed your gasket and mesh vents, finish trimming the hat with whatever bits and embellishments you wished to add to your millinery creation!

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