French Steampunkery

From November 10-14 I was in attendance at the Utopiales Festival in Nantes, France. As usual for a conference, I was on a lot of panels, discussing subjects like alternative history (uchronie, as the French say) and the ethics of plastic surgery (with a real surgeon as my co-panelist). As I have about zero French, so all of this was done with headphones on, a simultaneous translator slaving away in my (and my audience’s) ears. That in itself was kind of science fictional.

But perhaps the coolest (and certainly the most photogenic) experience happened outside the festival, when a cohort of sf writers and I visisted les Machines de l’ÃŽle à Nantes.

Nantes was the birthplace of Jules Verne. As such, the city has a historical connection to science fiction in general, and steampunk-y type stuff more specifically. The city leaders are cognizant of this, and about five years ago handed over a disused dock area to a totally Clanker-tastic workshop of street theater mad scientists, who created the Machines of the Isle of Nantes.

Here are two shots of the island’s most famous inhabitant, a mechanical elephant that was an inspiration for the Ottoman walkers in Behemoth.


It’s made of wood, not metal, which is quite trippy. You can actually ride this thing around, though it had a broken leg when we visited. (Sad face. Feel better, elephant.)

Click on this one for a closer look.

But there’s much more on the island than just the elephant. The Machines group is currently working on a huge carousel of sea creatures, including this awesome steampunk grouper!

This one also needs a closer look. Click!

All this stuff moves, of course. Behold the steamgrouper in action:

Go to Youtube to watch this bigger.

And, of course, no self-respecting steamgrouper would be caught dead without its own personal steamsquid!

Again, click for the largeness. You know you want to

Needless to say, seeing these creations in the flesh (um, the metal?) was amazing. It impressed on me how alive machines can seem, even when their movements are strange and otherworldly, or aggressive and disturbing. You can see how people from Jules Verne all the way to Mark Pauline have fallen in love with things mechanical, and how a whole clanker culture might have come into being.

It was a total education. Vive les Machines de l’ÃŽle à Nantes! (For more photos from our visit, check out the blog of sf writer Petes Watts.)


If you know any French and want to read about my visit there, check out this link.

And one last thing! There’s an auction on right now to support SpecFaction NSW, a sf and fantasy group in New South Wales, Australia. Check out all the stuff for sale, including many cool signed books and an otherwise unavailable print from Leviathan signed by both me and Keith. This is a one-of-a-kind in the world thing.

Note that the auction is in Australian dollars, which are a bit smaller than US ones. Also, the shipping is listed as being from Australia, but the work is currently in the US, so the shipping won’t cost as much as you’d think if bought by a USian.

42 thoughts on “French Steampunkery

  1. Woah! Those were absolutly amazing! I’d LOVE to ride the elephant! The squid was pretty frosty too! Reminds me of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea at Disneyland. I wish I could have gone on the submarine ride at Disneyland when it was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but they took that away when I was very, very young, so I missed it! Now it’s Finding Nemo. Not as cool, but the ride is cute. The angler fish is tight, though. Sort of scary for a kid’s ride if you ask me. (man I REALLY wish I could have seen 20,000 Leagues!)

  2. Please, please, please come to Toronto Scott! We really appreciate you coming to Vancouver, but next tour we really hope to see you on the other side of Canada; ie. Toronto 🙂
    That would be so fantastically awesome that I will have to do a quadruple backflip!

  3. Awesomeness doesn’t even describe that… and you still have your beard…:( Oh well.
    (Spaz attack)

  4. Love the exhibits! I think I need to buy a plane ticket.

    The aussie dollar is actually pretty close to parity with the US dollar right now (I think it’s around 1 to 1.011), so you can pretty well think of the price in US plus postage. Happy bidding!

  5. He always goes to toronto
    give us Western canadians a chance eh.

    I shall be there 😀
    Can’t wait!!

  6. That is awesome! I love Jules Verne stuff, so even if it wasn’t awesome just because it’s in Nantes and partially because of Jules Verne I would say so! I like the squid the most, though. All of these amazing places………….. It must be awesome to go to so many different locations! I also would really like UGLIES MOVIE news!!!! (As a side note, if anyone should do the UGLIE SMOVIE it should be the director of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, that was actually pretty true to its half of the book.) Maybe the UGLIES MOVIE should just be made into two pieces so not to ruin its…. fantabulousness! I wish I could get to Vancouver, but I’m too far…. and I’m sick…… oh well. Maybe next year… Thank for writing stuff (book, blog posts, ect.)! Since I’m on parental quarantine in my bedroom, reading has been a great source of entertainment!

  7. I’m glad you appreciated the Utopiales and the visit of the Machines. I am from Nantes Nantes, but I could not come to the Utopiales, which is a shame, just like me having not yet visited the Machines but I have already seen the famous Elephant, years ago.
    don’t hesitate to come back, for more inspiration for your books and for your faithful fans.

  8. SO COOL! makes me want to travel to france! i think we should ditch taxi’s and just have robotic elephants or Octopi or spiders or well you get the idea!

    (have falled in love? what about that doesn’t sound grammatically correct?????)

  9. thought a fan made that stuff before i read. lol. and… um scott…u said “all the way to Mark Pauline have FALLED in love with things” i know u know…just saying. amazing post i must say tho!

  10. Im SOOOO excited for tonight!
    hope Scott-la brings a nice warm jacket cause it’s like -4 degrees(celcius)
    out side right now in Vancouver.(yesterday we broke a record for the 23rd of nov. -13 degrees :P)

  11. Hello!!! it was so nice to see you in Vancouver today! thanks for signing my books and taking pictures 🙂 I really enjoyed your stories and speaking. Come again soon!!

    KarenWA-the one with flash tattoos 🙂

  12. 😀 thanks for sighning my books!
    My friends and I had the weird names 🙂
    Athena, Shakira, Kristina 😛

    yay wierd names.
    that church smelled like German food
    made me think of my Oma’s house 😛

  13. I know it’s late but happy thankgiving/turkey day(or is that tofurkey?). Hope you had a good time!!!=)=)

  14. I know this is terribly off topic…. but IMDB claims the Uglies movie exists and will be released January 1. Clearly this is impossible since it doesn’t even have cast or producer named yet. (Ah, the days when IMDB was reliable….) But I was curious if there /were/ any updates….

  15. really cool looking steampunk creatures!!
    but i do have to point out that the fish isnt a grouper, its an angler fish

  16. Daniella-

    I’ll be back in Oz in a couple of weeks. w00t!

    Not sure if I’ll be doing any appearances in the near term, and I’ll probably be sticking close to Sydney if I do. (Must. Not. Fly. Ever. Again.)

  17. Dragonetgirl-

    Yeah, I agree. But the signs and stuff in Nantes call it a grouper. Could be a French thing, like “grouper” means a large class of fish rather than a specific species.

  18. Scott I just finished Zombie vs Unicorns and after I read Cassandra Clare’s story (she’s another one of my favorite authors) I was completely converted to team Zombie. When I started the book I was all for the Unicorns, but your story rocked completely and I loved it, and the stories about the zombies were all completely different and sooo much better than the stories about the Unicorns.
    TEAM ZOMBIE RULES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂 <3 🙂 <3

  19. 10 minutes ago I finished The Last Days and I like it better than Peeps and it was of course, FAWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. If you ever make it to Texas, more specifically Houston, my middle school students would love to meet you. I actually teach French…. too bad I wan’t there to help out in Nantes. My own children have read the enrte Uglies series, as have I. Very cool and unique. An aspiring YA author (not SCi-fi) myself, I have no idea how you come up with that stuff. Keep up the great work and let me know if you will ever be in Houston. It is never too cold here!

  21. Hmmm… This is kinda random but I would like to know.

    I was reading this post today (darn vacationing without a computer) when it dawned on me that you must be a very interesting person to go Christmas shopping for, Scott. So I was wondering what are the kinds of things on your wishlist? I would imagine some sort of animatronic giant squid, like the kind of thing above, or (more obviously) books. It just occurred to me that I had no idea and I figured that it would be interesting to know.

    PS: do you go black friday shopping too?

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  23. Great piece, thanks for taking the time to write it. I like the direction you are taking your blog. Ill be subscribing to your blog in order to follow along down the road. Would like to see more posts soon.

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