These features as a way for the Ministry to highlight artists, musicians, writers, and makers of all variety. With so many talented individuals to choose from, we know it is a challenge to feature every clever creative worthy of note, but perhaps we might endeavour to introduce to you a new name in our community of steam and cog, or perhaps remind you of one artisan’s successful efforts to bring the past that never was to the here and now.
In this week’s Æther Feature brought to you by Jeff Mach we look at the birth of a steampunk rock opera.
“It’s a golden day, a beautiful day,
A lovely day to have an airboat race
A sparkling day, a summer Sunday
And it’s almost certain none of us
Will be blasted into space…”
Captain Richard Adastra, “Burnished Day”
What an odd and different Steampunk multiverse we had half a decade ago! There was a cultural battle between those who said, “Steampunk is always fancy and lordly and elegant”, and those of us who said, “Absolutely not! Some of us are not Lords, but rather, airship mechanics, and we love it!” It was a time when, whenever a magazine or a movie or a comic book took on some Steampunk themes, people would say, “Oh, that’s it, pop culture has found us, and now Steampunk’s going to die.”
And it was a time when almost every Steampunk event was basically an old-school, panel-based science fiction convention – which is wonderful and amazing and fun, but which didn’t really capture how much of Steampunk was musical, artistic, roleplay, performance, or interaction. That was the world in which we created The Steampunk World’s Fair, which has grown to be the largest Steampunk festival in the world.
In the midst of all that, I somehow thought it would be a good idea to write a Steampunk Rock Opera.
“Science came so quick! Democratizing Science, giving its universal suffrage of
convenience to sundry and all. One minute, sweat-shops; the next minute, they’re flooding into
the good theatres to watch magic lantern shows involving Gallic women who have misplaced
unfortunate segments of their petticoats.”
-Mayor Littleton Bethleham, “Absinthe Heroes”.
I had to, though. I really did. I mean –
I’m no visual artist. I am most comfortable in a t-shirt. I did write music then, but before – well, before Absinthe Heroes, I had no Steampunk songs at all, nor any Steampunk writing. In helping build SPWF, I fell so in love with Steampunk that I just had to sing about it.
“Nothing’s so sweet,
And yet the tongue
Is carefully seduced
It’s done with science–
Or magic; I
Forget which I produced.”
-Dr. Epicurus Antikythera, “Field of Poppies”
So I wrote Absinthe Heroes, and I wrote it as both a satire and a serious story. I have always been intrigued by the way Steampunk uses a number of concepts over and over, such that they ought to become boring or overdone – but always, always finds a way to breathe new life into them (or shall I say, Dr. Frankenstein, that every time Steampunk dies, we just wait for a lightning storm..?) I wanted to take some really classic (was there already a “classic” Steampunk by then? I think there was!) – ideas and characters and tropes – and try to look at them in ways which, I dearly hoped, might surprise and delight people.
Absinthe Heroes is a Steampunk utopia gone just slightly awry. Because that’s what all the most interesting utopias do: they provide you with a way we might see the world, and then challenge that idea, hopefully in horrible, wonderful, interesting ways.
“And maybe you raised your child wrong
And maybe you raised her right
But in her heart the Wolfbane blooms
And the Autumn moon shines bright”
Dr. Chastity Purity Hope Sterling, “Bloom”
Jeff Mach runs Jeff Mach Events, one of the largest producers of unusual shows in the United States and the producers of the world’s largest Steampunk event, The Steampunk World’s Fair. He’s a singer-songwriter and a geek, and he enjoys taking long walks on the beach under the remaining light of a newly-exploded moon. Find out more about him and his events at