Worldbuilding Wednesday 11/13/19: Steampunk Characters

gender-reversed Victorian couple

Here’s something you don’t see every day: a gender-reversed Victorian couple!

Steampunk as a genre got its start with The Difference Engine and The Diamond Age, both set in a alternate world Victorian England. So, it bears to follow that Steampunk characters have English language names that were popular during that time. There are no hippy names like Rainbow or Phoenix in Steampunkland, and neither are there Jasons and Jennifers, Ryders and Reillys. It’s all very very Anglo and to modern ears a bit stuffy.

There’s some steampunk fiction using non-Western settings, like India orJapan, but for the average Western reader the antique luster of the names is not readily apparent. To a native of that land they would be, so I advise asking one for advice should you be writing in that setting.

Here’s a list of randomly generated names for English-speaking Western-oriented steampunk. As many steampunk characters are adventurers, inventors, or nobility of a sort, I included titles.


Steampunk Characters (Western World)


Millicent Flora Lesshe

Sister Edna Ulska

Luisa Rachel Isfield

Miss Samantha Clothmeadow

Theodosia Ann Sinclair

Epona Lovar Hollylock

Dr. Anthea Leergold

Mary Vandermilk

Thea Saltwold

Lady Eglantine Norwood

Professor Iphigenia Westley

Ada Mabel Gutch


Sir Ronald Answith

Zachariah Willows

Fletcher Phillip Lectrostan

Commodore Trajian Telljoy

Captain Simon Lexhart

Alonzo Brass Angel

Hillary Poorgarden

Ensign Lucius Lovebloom

Morris Wyckant

Professor Atticus Edgar Hoosier

Constable Reginald Bloodnought

Israel Alexander Woolson


Rat Dance

Even rats like to dance.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 11/6/19: Pumpkin Cuisine

In the past few years, the American consumer knows that Autumn is here by the number of pumpkin-flavored food items that become available. Starbucks has led the charge with its pumpkin-flavored lattes and now (delicious, trust me) pumpkin frappucinos. There are also pumpkin doughnuts, pumpkin cereal, and pumpkin M&Ms.  But all this obscures the true nature of the pumpkin: it’s a respectable food on its own merits, never mind the spicing and sweetening.

Looking for a pumpkin flavored dish? Here are some random ones.


Pumpkin Dishes

New York-style pumpkin chowder

Paella with chicken livers and brown rice cooked in a traditional Peruvian pumpkin pan

Stir-fried beef tenderloin and fish in a spicy Szechuan pumpkin sauce

Casserole of layered pumpkin and gelatinous sea cucumber

Pumpkin noodles topped with ground goat, served in a pistachio nut-pumpkin gravy

Basic rolled crepes, filled with breaded, toasted pumpkin

Creamy pumpkin cheesecake flavored with red wine syrup

Stir-fried duck and clams  served with 100-year-old pumpkin

Omelet made with mashed beef brisket, pumpkin, and wheatberries

Pumpkin-infused turkey prepared whole with fresh cherries

Pumpkin and broad bean ice cream

Chicken breasts stuffed with bleu cheese and pumpkin, slow-baked in a clay oven

Sandwich of thin-sliced prawns on a crusty roll with southwestern pumpkin mustard


Basic Cooked Pumpkin

Pie pumpkin
Butter or olive oil

Quarter pumpkin and scoop out seeds and stringy pulp. Place skin side down in a baking pan lined with aluminum foil. In each hollow place a generous pat of butter, or olive oil if you prefer a more savory taste. Sprinkle with salt. Roast at 400 degrees to desired level of softness, using a fork to test. Usually takes 40 minutes.

Pumpkin is a good side dish served hot. You can also make tacos out of it or even use cold and sliced in salads. If mashed for baking use, use butter instead of olive oil.

Skeleton Dreams

What do skeletons dream about when Halloween has passed?
A Night on Bald Mountain parade of damned souls and evil witches, of course!


Halloween 2019


Worldbuilding Wednesday 10/30/19: Witches!

Haxan witches silent movie

Still from the silent movie Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages, 1922

Witches are a staple of fantasy and horror fiction. In their broad definition, they mean any kind of magic-using female. But for this list I’m going to use a more narrow definition: the Halloween type of witch, evil, cackling, out to do no good. The kind that brews potions in a big black cauldron and has warts on her nose.

Such a witch often has a conventional name, but more often, a name with something off about it, one that is too old fashioned, too hard to pronounce, too ugly on the ear.  A classic one is Bellatrix LeStrange from the Harry Potter books. How can a character have a name like that and not be a witch?

Then there are made-up names, like Bavmorda, Azkadelia, and Elphaba… strange to say and, in English, strange to look at on the printed page. Those are the kind of names I generated here.


Witch Names
























Steampunk/Horror Oz

Scarecrow and Tin Man from a 1902 stage production of The Wizard of Oz. I don’t know what makes it more creepy, the old-timey photo or the Scarecrow’s stiff-fingered, Leatherface-like appearance. In its time, though, it was a great success and the first version of Oz to be adapted into a script.


Worldbuilding Wednesday 10/23/19: Torture Devices

choke pear or oral pear, or pear of anguish

The truly horrifying Pear of Anguish.

Medieval England came up with more than its share of punishment devices. Take the Pear of Anguish pictured above. It’s a speculum, basically, with an extendable pointy thing in the middle which may or may not have been spring-shot. It was inserted in any of the victim’s orifices and splayed them open. The spike then shot out and… you get the idea.

Other instruments had picturesque names like the Scavenger’s Daughter, the Spanish Donkey, the Judas Cradle, the Catherine Wheel… and of course the Iron Maiden.

If they survived, victims were maimed for life.

If you’re looking for an imaginary torture device for your work, you can do no better than the randomgenned list below. I’ll leave it to you to figure out what they did.


Torture Devices



The Wife Humbler

Gorgon spanker


Belly irons


Herring crusher

Royal Stone Shagger

Button piercer



The Scarlet Madame


Rusty kilt

The Heel Tanner

Sir Toothy



The Pale Flattener


Jolly Mangler

Barrel Scalder


The Carousel of Punishment

Barrel Weights

The Weeping Monk

Hand Lancer




Five-pound stockings

Bronze tormenter

Scarlet coffin


Cloverfield Lane

Cloverfield Lane creature design, as envisioned by artist Kurt Papstein.


Worldbuilding Wednesday 10/16/19: Elfquest

Elfquest reveals its adult-comic roots in Cutter’s manly physique

Elfquest, created by Wendy and Richard Pini, exploded onto the publishing scene in the early 1980s. A graphic novel series about, basically, hippy Native American elves who ride wolves, it took the comic world and SF fandom by storm, kick-starting the indie comic movement while also growing out of the earlier adult comic movement of the late 1960s and 1970s, of which Heavy Metal (Metal Hurlant) was a premier vehicle.

In contrast to Heavy Metal’s male-oriented fare like Den, Elfquest was female-oriented. It was crass, romantic, sexually idealized, and relationship-oriented, owing much to Star Trek, fantasy author Joy Chant, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern, and the fantasy trend of feel-good utopian clambake sex exemplified by feminist authors of the 1970s like Vonda McIntyre and Dorothy Bryant.

The series begins as the elves of the title, who have bonded with wolves, rescue a member of their tribe from certain death at the hands of humans. As the elves are superior in every way to humans, the humans hate them, and set fire to their forest. The tribe must then flee across unknown lands and eventually wind up in a desert kingdom of dark skinned elves where the unfortunately named Cutter, the youthful chief of their tribe, meets Leetah the healer, and instalove ensues. There’s a scale describing the elves’ sexual pairings: matchmates, lovemates, lifemates, and finally soulmates, which is an instantaneous sexual pairbond. In the story this creates much angst as Cutter pushes for connection and Leetah resists… creating a robust plotline that is still used by fantasy writers today, particularly in the urban genre.

The rest of the series concerns the elves’ efforts to figure out their past (which involves a long-forgotten crystalline spaceship and time travel) while surviving in The World of Two Moons, a Pleistocene-age kingdom where they come under attack from humans, trolls, and their more evil kinfolk.

If this sounds like I am making fun of it, you’re right, but I also acknowledge and respect its groundbreaking influence. Without Elfquest, we might still be stuck with the dreary, leering, and/or nihilistic counterculture comics of the Heavy Metal school.

Now on to the names.

Wolfrider elves have romanticized Native American names that are pretty sounding and evoke a lost age of beings who live in harmony with nature: Moonshade, Joyleaf, Scouter. Never mind that actual Native Americans, whose names when translated into English sound not so poetic: Walking Eagle, Red Jacket, Let-Them-Have-Enough, Little Turtle, Chasing-His-Horse. They are more personalized and eccentric, based on personal characteristics or deeds; they also change, and/or accrue, over the individual’s life.

Need a name for a Rousseau-inspired noble savage character? Or one for Elfquest gameplay? Here’s a list.


Wolfrider elves























Still interested?  You can read all the comics up to 2014 free of charge here, by permission of the authors.