Directory to other WIP documents
This is a Work in Progress intended as a platform to clarify the technological and scientific status of Winter’s Oasis.
You can’t have steampunk without steam (well, I think you can, the Third Industrial Revolution gives an excellent platform for that.) So we have steam engines. The website refers to the newest engines being compact, oil-powered models. This is technologically reasonable since gasoline and kerosene generate more heat energy per pound than coal.
Depending on the how plentiful oil is and how hard it is to extract (building a rig to get at deep deposits is non-trivial. Coal is less troublesome, particularly if you’re willing to just throw people at it and don’t mine if they die unpleasantly in large numbers.)
Steam engines are specifically referenced as being used for airships (the compact, oil-driven ones.) We should have a rail system, or at least lines between the more major, technologically developed cities (the Serendipity-Muon Express, say.)
Steam cars are quite possible if you have compact steam engines, however to actually provide any advantage over trains, you need a network of good, paved roads all over, which I don’t see us as having. Rail lines between major cities and draft animals from the rail to your final destination seems much more likely given our current state of infrastructure.
It is almost certain that steam engines would also be used as motive power in factories, particularly in areas that don’t have a natural source of water power. Even if you do have water power, you could have an advantage, since it would have allowed you to serve as a manufacturing base before the invention of the steam engine, giving you a competitive edge when it comes to building factories that do lots of things from a single drive.
Since coal is likely to be less expensive than oil, oil-based steam engines would almost certainly be confined to airships, steam cars, and other areas where lower weight is required. For trains (where you’ll be hauling freight anyway) and stationary engines to run industry, coal would be much better.
In addition to finding steam engines of some sort, we know how they work and be able to make new steam engines using the same principles. The citizens of Loka understand thermodynamics and gas laws. They can build engines that use the Stirling cycle. They can have experimental refrigerators (if they can crack petroleum they should be able to get ammonia, which makes a nasty but quite serviceable refrigerant. You’d never use it at home, but you could make ice with it) None of these things need necessarily be in common use (given the endless winter, there probably isn’t that much call for refrigerators), but it also means that they should be at a point where they can do experimentation with internal combustion engines. The theory to make one should be known, but in practice they might be less efficient than oil-based steam engines even though they could in principle be made much lighter.
The technology is available to build various pneumatic systems (you could even do an elevator if you wanted, though I’d be surprised if anyone would.) This is something of a natural follow-on from steam power. Pumps for liquid or gas should be commercially available. In areas where Naraka or some other organization has an interest in improving the infrastructure, pneumatic message tube networks might be installed.
This is, in large part, cargo cultist.
Someone suggested in an RP that Ohm’s Law was just being discovered in the academy and people were treating it with suspicion. Therefore, let us say that we have the following knowledge:
We should also have legacies from Svarga:
One practical consequence of what I outlined above is that even if Serendipity DID have a Big Power Source underneath it that COULD run an industrial system, they wouldn’t know enough to do anything with it. It might power experiments and Svargan artifacts, but for any other purpose it may as well not exist.
In this schema, electricity wouldn’t be used for much of anything practical. You could have experiments over a sharp range with Heinrich Hertz style spark-gap transmitters and receivers, but due to the short range these would be more useful in demonstrating how little is known.
What you could have is a telegraph. If they can copy the simple generators and have an engine in the back of the telegraph office, build an electromagnet, and run a copper wire, they can signal.
Not that I’m proposing we have a Loka-wide telegraph network, but we could conceivably have one between two cities, and a Loka-wide telegraph network would be a technologically possible thing that people could actually expect to take on as a Grand Project and start to see increasing rewards from with every new city added.
The Bessemer process has been recently discovered. I would be inclined to think this was a pre-requisite for the most modern ‘ultra-compact’ steam engines. There would also be means to get pure supplies of copper, silver, gold, and tin. (If you can make steel, you can refine the ‘classical’ metals.)
Nobody knows how to make aluminum or stainless steel, but there might be artifacts of both. (And they would likely be very precious.)
More useful would be particularly hard alloys useful in cutting, engraving, and machining parts for machines. Since nobody knows how to make those alloys or even work with them, you could have the tremendous usefulness and scarcity of modern alloy cutting bits be a driving force of something.
We have the capacity to make things out of metal to our specifications. We can cut very accurate gears and very accurate screws. We can make cams, build chains, and have pantographs and other tools to allow very delicate engraving. Since we can make engines, we can make all the things you need to make engines (pipes and fittings and valves.) all very well.
If we can make hydraulics (which, I think, we should be able to in some capacity) we could have dye presses.
But that doesn’t mean we have mass production. We would have the technological capability to start doing mass production, but we may not have come upon it.
The description of the Naraka corporation on the website implies that we do have it, and that things they make are somewhat ubiquitous in the world.
Essentially, it’s a question of how easy you want it to be for Joe Schmoe to have a bicycle or for a small business owner to buy an engine and a loom. if we have manufacturing with standardized parts, we get mechanical devices being a part of people’s lives. If we don’t, we have the very rich ordering bespoke machines but most people not coming into contact with them. (Plus, with mass manufacture comes interchangeable parts, and I love the idea of the Naraka Man coming out to replace a piece in your engine. The alternative is having to build an all-new engine.)
My intuition is that the bread and butter (steam engines and guns) machines and a whole slew of parts (standardized gears, screws, brackets, springs, and so on) would be built en masse identically. The latter would be especially valuable since it would mean people can build bespoke machines without having to have an entire foundry and machine shop.
More exotic stuff could still be quite rare by virtue of pulling in experimental technology that either isn’t well understood or that they don’t know how to mass produce. (Permanent magnets come to mind as something that would be difficult for them to produce in quantity.)
Good quality glass, blown or poured. Some enterprising soul might invent the plate glass process and make windows cheaper. Flint glass is an awfully nice thing to have and we can get it, so long as you don’t mind people playing with lead.
Given a lack of plastic, fiberglass and celluloid would both be very useful. (And celluloid is reasonably easy to make with basic chemistry. It was the plastic of the 1800s.)
We might have natural rubber from warm spots like Esquemelin, which might be useful if you want tires. (Failing that, you could hope for someone to get lucky playing with the coal tar and petroleum and make sticky gunk you can smear on cloth and build a bicycle tire.)
You can have steam engines and not have any mechanisms worth turning with them, but it’s not nearly as much fun. And gear assemblies and springs and so on are among the easiest things in the world to learn by taking apart devices and just looking at them with your eyes.
Therefore, in keeping with the above, and the building of a difference engine, mechanical devices of great complexity should be possible, affordable, and common.
An example of something I would expect to exist and be in use would be a steam powered Jacquard loom weaving complex patterns mostly by itself (so long as people feed in the thread, do maintenance, make sure it’s not gummed up.)
Even without a full programmable mechanical computer, there could be a reasonable trade for people familiar with various machines to design new cards to do new patterns. (You could have automated cutters, to have machines that help build machine parts…)