[LMB] After Romans -- Barrayaran ToI steampunk

pouncer at aol.com pouncer at aol.com
Wed Aug 28 02:55:58 BST 2019

Matt writes: 
>I'm growing rather tired of pseudo-Medieval fantasy myself.  Tolkien is a
>marvel, but he may be an example of meeting the Buddha on the road.

The genre of "Steam Punk" is quite fun but usually, IMO, poorly founded.
In particular, the very BEST steam punk series is the comic _Girl
Genius_ in which, apparently, energy CAN be created at whim, to power
artificial intelligence systems small enough to fit in a pocket watch
and flexible enough to do -- well, about anything the plot requires. It
would entertain me to consider a long-term, steam-powered, culture 
which hasn't, probably can't, get past steam but maximizes it's potential. 

In contrast, the real world moved from "steam" -- by which we usually 
mean coal-fired boilers -- to "modern" engines -- by which we mean
internal combustion engines buring refined petroleum -- in the span of
a few decades.  Our erstwhile Listie "OilHistorian" Dr Dave Synder 
has left us archives on the topic. We left steam behind before we 
really polished up all the possibilities. 

But to detour into literature --

Imagine an SF series set on a world without oil. Or even coal.  Suppose
colonists with antimatter or at least fusion settle a new world that
has never had an ice age, little tectonic activity, very small tides ...
whatever it was that drove Earthly geology into evolution of oil and
coal. Then suppose the antimatter or threelium supplies are cut off.
Maybe the FTL route closes behind them... 

So the SF machines begin to run down.  The new planet doesn't have much
plant matter to burn in heat engines -- maybe the smoke of such fire
is toxic, even.  Oh dear.

I'm thinking, though, that a peat bog the size of, oh, Oregon,
might be just barely enough to fuel a steam-based economy. Peat has 
about half the energy density of coal, but with more bulk than wood. 
It's like a fossil fuel in that mega-flora-generations of living 
carbon have been piled up for recovery in a few human-generations. 
It's not difficult to dig -- surface work, not rock mining.  A bit
wet. But "miners" would have or build peat fueled pumps to keep the 
work site dry. Steam powered machines could saw and compress the 
takings. A steam-augmented sailing ship to haul peat from coast 
to river ports. Another, steam, barge-boat to haul peat upriver 
to the mills and  factories.  And the colonists include VERY 
clever people who have libraries full of old knowledge about 
machinery -- solving all the old problems and a few new ones,  
based on steam from boilers and peat-powered-furnaces. 

Anybody WANTING a steam-punk playground might find one ready-made
in the Time of Isolation Barrayar, don't you think? It's a playground
just a little newer, compared to our real timeline, than the 
Wide Green World.  

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