Our family is reading the Scott Westerfeld Steampunk trilogy: Leviathan, Behemoth and Goliath. It’s a great bedtime story for an older boy. An alternate history of World War I, there are daring adventures and dramatic cliffhangers which careen past like old movie serials. Simon likes looking at the black and white illustrations of steam powered tanks and battle armor. The main characters are Alek, an Austrian prince, and Deryn, a girl disguised as a midshipman in the British Navy. They travel across the world in an airship.
Steampunk is a literary and artistic movement that reimagines the Victorian world as if steam power were the main form of energy instead of electricity. Several children’s writers have played with the genre, including Arthur Slade with his Hunchback Assignments, meant for readers in grade 6 and up. Another Steampunk novel is Airborn by Kenneth Oppel, the author of the Silverwing bat novels. I read this when it came out and can’t wait to share it. This exciting adventure has orphaned Matt and wealthy Kate searching for strange flying creatures as they travel on an airship.
Simon and I travelled to Seattle for a Steampunk convention. First stop was The Museum of Flight, filled with World War I aircraft. Simon loved being the expert explaining to me how they all worked. This fantastic museum contains a comprehensive collection of historical aircraft, including a Sopwith Camel, a Spitfire, a Harrier Jump Jet and a Concorde. We toured the retired Air Force One plane for President Kennedy, which had a little dog door inside for presidential pups.
Like the Arts and Crafts Movement, Steampunk is partly a reaction to mass production, and homemade items are much respected. Some ladies spend months researching and sewing elaborate Victorian gowns. The men make shiny futuristic weapons. Oftentimes they start with Nerf guns as the base. The guns are “modded” with the addition of hardware parts, and are painted metallic colours. A significant part of the Steam convention is the costume show and tell, where you ooooh and aaaaah over what others have made.
We visited Seattle landmarks that would appeal to a 10 year old boy. We first saw the Frank Gehry Experience Music Project building from the Seattle Space Needle beside it. This undulating building contains exhibits about popular music and science fiction. We enjoyed the innovative technology In the Avatar movie exhibit. Next we went to the Pikes Place Market to check out the wall of gum. It smelled beautiful! After buying some Chukar Cherries, we headed to the Fremont neighbourhood. It’s a great place to walk around with lots of public art, including the Fremont troll sculpture tucked under a bridge. There are lots of places to eat, including an organic chocolate factory which offers tours and samples. Check out Walking Seattle by Clark Humphrey for some ideas.
Just north of Fremont is Archie Macphees. This is the place Simon talked about most when we returned home. It’s a joke shop full of more stupid gags than you imagine existed. Simon was especially impressed with the bacon items: bacon Band-Aids, bacon flavoured tooth floss, rubber bacon action figures, and bacon breath mints. On our last morning we went to a breakfast buffet and he ate a plate full of bacon. As we drove to the airport, he was already asking to come back to Seattle.