One of the benefits of living in Wellington, New Zealand, is that I share a city with the talented folks at Weta. One of whom, Greg Broadmore, has made a splash lately with his steampunk-themed stories of early twentieth century male idiocy, ray guns and – uh – other ray guns.
There’s something fundamentally cool about steampunk. Cool stylings. Cool nostalgia for a ‘future past’ that never was. The sense of optimistic hope. And Broadmore’s world has more. It’s a homage to the golden age of science fiction – not just the ray guns, but the hostile Mars, the murderous robots, and the ravening jungle-Venus of Stanley Weinbaum in particular. He also skewers the late nineteenth century world of pipe-smoking, topee-hatted English military adventurers with a predeliction for brandy, whose rah-rah ‘boys own’ mentality led to such embarrassments as the Battle of the Shangani River (1893), when 50 British mercenaries with 4 maxim guns slaughtered 1500 Matabele warriors armed with spears – an appalling moment that shocked period sensibilities. ‘Whatever happens, we have got the Maxim gun…and they have not’, Hilaire Belloc intoned a little later in The Modern Traveller (1898).
Last week I went with a couple of friends – one we shall call Mentis Fugit, the other a professional artist who we shall call Ars Gratia Artis, to an exhibition of Broadmore’s original artwork and some of the artefacts – including the Moon Maiden diorama – in the central city.
The ray guns have been around a while. I haven ‘t bought one – if I’m going to spend $1000 on a ray gun, I want it to work. But this was a chance to see the originals. There were dozens of paintings, somefamiliar, others not, with ray guns on plinths, dioramas and large-scale statues.
It was pretty impressive. Broadmore has a lot of talent, a lot of imagination, and a particularly brilliant sense of humour. A pretty inspiring event all up. One, in fact, that inspired us to have a conversation that almost, but didn’t exactly, sound like this:
Ars G: He did them in Photoshop.
Me: How can you tell, old bean?
Ars G: You just can, that’s all. They’re Giclee prints. Very expensive to make, they are. Looks like he’s custom made the frames, too.
Mentis: I say, isn’t that the Pomson 6000? Jolly good ray gun, by Jove.
Me: Ray gun? Great Scott – you mean the kind of weapon that turns the target into a petrol attendant named Ray?
Ars G: It’s only a model.
Ars G: It is! It’s just got bits stuck on. Nice weathering. But ray guns don’t work anyway.
Mentis: They did once, old fellow. I say, back then, science worked in big strokes. Now it’s molecule, molecule, molecule.
Me: By Jove, cast your peepers over there chaps, that’s rather spiffing, the Moon Maiden looks just like Liv Tyler.
Mentis: Rather, old boy.
Ars G: Do you really want to be photographed here?
Me: Bit of a ripping wheeze, by jove! Looks like bally jerry copped a spot of flak sausage-side.
Mentis: Look here, Bigglesworth, I can’t quite follow your banter there.
Me: Oh, can’t you? Sorry Algy. Banter’s a bit off today.
Mentis: I say, rather it is, old chap, I really would get that banter checked out if I were you.
Me: Is all this stuff for sale?
Mentis: Looks like it.
Ars G: I think I’ll pick up a catalogue.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2012