The Steampunk Empire

The Crossroads of the Aether

The idea of the Aether Propeller for space travel seems a very Victorian-era idea but, to the best of my knowledge, no period scientist or science fiction author suggested it. It seems a modern invention of imagination. The epitome of steampunk.However, I want to explore this further and gather information on how those in the 19th Century thought they were going to get into space. There is, of course, Jules Verne's space cannon and H.G. Well's Cavorite sphere but I want more.


For example, in 1847, J.L.Riddell published "Orrin Lindsay's plan of aerial navigation ; with a narrative of his explorations in the higher regions of the atmosphere, and his wonderful voyage round the moon". His spacecraft used some sort of antigravity utilizing a magnetized amalgam of steel and mercury. It sounds neat but I haven't been able to find a copy of that story to read how that all goes together.


Can someone help with that?


I'm sure there's plenty of other things out there. I want to hear about them. Mostly period works but I am also interested in the various ways that modern authors reimagine 19th Century space travel, such as the Edison Aether Propellers of "Space 1889"

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There is a scene where he is demonstrating his device to a Martian representative (he uses the word Martial rather than Martian) and knocks him over with the beam. This suggests that your "punching a hole in the ground" problem could be a consequence of such a thing.

May I refer you to the Baghavad Gita (sp) Ramayana and Mahabarata? There are many ancient references to old spacecraft within those books.

Salvaging is not a bad thing...Also, check out some of DaVinci's ideas. They might at least be inspiring.


BTW....what about electromagnetics? It would be possible with a Tesla device...

My Somerled's engines run on the resonance of certain types of crystals within a plasma medium.

I don't see why you couldn't have an Aether drive...

Immanuel Velikovsky, in his 1950 book Worlds In Collision (, suggested that electromagnetic forces were more important than gravity in planetary mechanics; right up Tesla's alley ;)  Velikovsky has been disproven in every particular, but if you are looking for unusual sources for handwavium theories and technology, give him a look.  I met him when I was a sophomore in college; he was a very gracious man, but made no more sense in person than he did in print...

I have read Earth in Upheaval--wonderful thesis.

Tesla did speak of an electromagnetically powered spacecraft. I haven't looked into it much but when the first website I find on the subject says that "Tesla always claimed to a Venusian probably arrived on a space ship" I am tendant to doubt the claims and will have to look up primary sources. Actual period newspaper articles where Tesla is quoted taking about spacecraft.


Of course, electricity was a popular method of space travel in the late 19th Century science fiction, most notably in "Edison's Conquest of Mars" by Garrett Serviss. I haven't read that in quite a few years so I will need to check on how exactly electricity is used as a propulsion.

In trying to track back what I (dimly) remember of the spacetravel writings of Cyrano de Bergerac (b. 1619, d. 1665), I ran across a website you might enjoy. offers a historic survey of European & American literary space journeys, with evaluations as to which might be true given certain (repressed) technologies.

Example from the site: "In 1775, chemist Louis-Guillaume de La Follie's "Le Philosophe sans Pretention" (The Philosopher Without Pretention) recorded the visitation of Earth by a crew of Mercurian scientists led by one Scintilla (who had been in telepathic contact with Earthmen before), who came to our planet in an electric-powered starship, using static electricity, not unlike the infamous Daleks."

Might I also refer you to Zechriah Sitchen, my current literary love affair? He speaks at length about the old technologies of the ancient middle east. I am borrowing from him quite a bit in my blog-story.

On the way back from TeslaCon, I played the Librivox audiobook "The First Men in the Moon." It reminded me of an issue I had with the nature of the Cavorite sphere.


Recall that Cavorite is opaque to gravity. Since a Cavorite objact is not drawn by gravity, it would leap off of the Earth at a tangent due to the spinning of the Earth. If it were bolted down, it would create a gravitational shadow. The air in that shadow would be weightless, no longer held by gravity, and like squeezing a toothpaste tube the atmospheric pressure at the bottom would rush in and force the air out the top where the pressure is left. Cavor warned that it could squirt out the entirety of the Earth's atmosphere.


But he assumed a simple 2-body problem. While, at a distance, one can treat the gravitational pull of the Earth as a point, near in, such as with a plate of Cavorite at the surface, there would be gravitational force on the air above it from hills, mountains and even the surrounding curve of the Earth. I haven't been able to find an illustration but imagine yourself on a table. At the table's surface you could not see the Earth at all and thus would be in it's gravitational shadow were the table made of Cavorite. But as you rose up away from the table, the horizon would become visible. Rise up even further and more and more of the Earth would become visible. You would be affected by the gravity of the mass in that ground but still shielded from the bulk of the Earth's mass. Rise up high enough and more and more of the Earth would become visible to the point where the amount of mass hidden by the Cavorite table would be insignificant compared to the rest of the Earth.


Wells' description of the air above the plate becoming weightless and the air rushing in at the base and squirting out the top is correct but as the shadow is a cone rather than a cylinder I suspect the effect would not be the catastrophic gale that Wells described.


Figuring out just how tall the shadow would be and what the winds would be like. . . . well, that's why Isaac Newton invented calculus.

As we say in the American Southwest,

"Never let the facts get in the way of a good story."



A fundamental problem with Cavorite, or anything else, being a gravity shield is that it would make possible a perpetual motion device, capable of continuous power output at any scale you wanted it, by building a massive flywheel, connected to a generator, and then putting a Cavorite screen under one side of the flywheel .  Of course, people to this day persist in trying to make perpetual motion devices, so the pursuit of same in Victorian times was still semi-respectable...


I'm not sure a Cavorite shield would produce perpetual motion with a flywheel. But I think a cavorite wind turbine would. Imagine a cylinder like a smoke stack. A floor plate of Cavorite and vents at the botton to draw in the air which would rush up to drive an interrior electric turbine.


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