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[A draft of an introduction to the forthcoming anthology of flash fiction stories. Please comment.]  

The City of New Babbage is real.

On one level, of course, New Babbage is a series of
magnetic impulses imprinted onto a series of disks in a nameless data center.
On another it is a series of leased servers running Linden Labs’ Second Life
protocols, accessed periodically by client software run on the computers of
users scattered across the world.

But that’s just the physics of it. To say that New Babbage
is “just” a computer-generated environment would be like saying that Paris is
just stone and plaster.

Because New Babbage, like Paris – like any city, really – is
a place of people. People live and work and play there, they fill it with their
artifacts – their buildings and furniture and their vehicles and their art – they
decorate its spires and domes with their dreams and fantasies, and they fill
its alleys and basements with their lusts and rages and drunken ramblings.

And they fill it with their stories.

New Babbage is a consensual hallucination of a Victorian-era
steampunk city in a time that never was. Real people from all over the world “go”
there on a daily basis through their computers, for any number of reasons. Some go to build, forging their creative impulses into digital objects they
can share and drive and sell. Some go to socialize, forging
friendships and enmities and partnerships. Some go for the roleplaying, forging
improvisational multi-threaded storylines that branch out and twist back on
themselves over days or weeks or months. Most go for all three.

By common agreement, we are all avatars in New Babbage. We create
personas that are street urchins or evil geniuses, society ladies or
self-absorbed mechanics, arcane dark-art experimentors or dashing airship
pilots. The real people behind the avatars are mostly unregarded and mostly

The City is not a top-down place. We have no central visionary
or purpose. New Babbage is nominally ‘owned’ by one of us, a benevolent,
laissez-faire despot we call our Clockwinder, but his role is limited (by
choice or necessity, few can tell which) to that of tax collector and bill
payer and occasional arbiter of disputes – with a bit of artful sewer designer
thrown in from time to time.

But in truth our City belongs to us. We decide what happens there, what is acceptable and what isn’t, and we voluntarily imbue it with
action and life and events.

Most of us even pay for the privilege. Every parcel in New
Babbage is leased by a resident. We use them to build homes, laboratories, shops to display
our wares … cafes and theaters, garrets and palaces. It is a lively
place, actively used, every building consciously designed by someone for a

And oh, the buildings! Soaring glass-windowed factories
housing vast inscrutable machines, foreboding gothic towers faced with an
endless variety of clocks, narrow cobblestone alleys and crooked staircases
stained by decades of rainwater and the passing of countless feet. Something
about New Babbage attracts good builders, and even veteran Second Life
residents can see a higher standard there than can be found most other places. Even
though there is no central authority, the variety of builds holds convincingly –
surprisingly – together. The net effect – when looking out onto the City from,
say, the municipal airship mast – reminds one not of some sloppily-rendered digital
cartoon, but of Leeds or Pittsburgh or Warsaw … with an airship overhead for
good measure.

Needless to say, with so much creativity running through these
virtual streets, many of us fancy ourselves writers. Like texturing primitives
or chatting in neo-Victorian cadence, narrative prose is just another technique
we use to tell our stories. When the opportunity presents itself, we rise to
the occasion and cast our stories into text, as this collection indicates.

Not all the stories – or even most – are set in New Babbage,
nor do they necessarily relate to the avatars or characters who inhabit the
City. But all are inspired by it, directly or in spirit.

We are proud of our City and you are cordially invited to visit.
It’s free and easy to reach (no further away than the computer in your next
room). Should you find – as we have – that a piece of your spirit yearns to
haunt our streets, then there is a place for you there – or rather, that steampunk avatar
you’ve always wanted to be.

So, yes, New Babbage is a digitally mediated,
non-linear virtual environment; really nothing more than pixels on screens.

But it’s also real.

Spread the love


  1. Stargirl Macbain Stargirl Macbain January 13, 2011

    Mr. Cleanslate, I now have the urge to raise the New Babbage flag and sing the anthem! Marvelous! 

    I’ll re-read it for a more critial response once I get done wiping tears of pride from my eyes.

    I do adore our city!

    • Blackberry Harvey Blackberry Harvey January 13, 2011

      …there’s an anthem?

      • Bookworm Hienrichs Bookworm Hienrichs January 13, 2011


        On, New Babbage! On, New Babbage!
        Grand old city-state!
        We, your loyal sons and daughters,
        Hail thy sooty gate.
        On, New Babbage! On, New Babbage!
        Industry and light;
        “What could go wrong”, our motto,
        Steam will give thee might!

        Maybe not.

        • Yang Moreau Yang Moreau January 13, 2011

          Hah, I really like that one! Well put. And Mr. Cleanslate, you do inspire one to stand up and salute our flag. o.O Though now that makes me wonder what the New Babbage salute would look like…

          Ah, if only my mother could comprehend all this. I try to explain to her on occasion when she balks at the idea of me spending time there, thinking of it as pointless fantasy (Even though my health gives me next to nothing else to do but veg in front of the tv most days).

          • Aeolus Cleanslate Aeolus Cleanslate January 15, 2011

            I’ve always assumed that the Anvil Chorus was our honorary anthem…


            (This version with gratuitous beefcake for our citizens thusly inclined…)

          • Aeolus Cleanslate Aeolus Cleanslate January 15, 2011

            This one might be on my list as well…


            • Breezy Carver Breezy Carver January 15, 2011

              Much much better :) ……

              ((silly personal side bar note about this song .. about oh two or so years ago the first time i heard this was @ Edward’s tiny rez day party .. gosh it was the first time I heard him dj and i thought he was singing this song as well .. smiles it was a long day and breezy was very tired :p))

        • Bookworm Hienrichs Bookworm Hienrichs January 13, 2011

          Or perhaps…

          Oh beautiful for sooty skies,
          For amber kegs of rum,
          For hiss of steaming industries
          Above the mechanical hum!

          New Babbage!  New Babbage!
          Steam shed its grace on thee,
          And fuel clock towers, and airships power,
          With coal-fueled majesty!

          • Valice Davi Valice Davi January 15, 2011

            Nice! I always have a hard time imagining what Babbage’s anthem would sound like if it had one. I always think “not quite American and not quite British” if that makes any sense.

      • Cadmus Lupindo Cadmus Lupindo January 13, 2011

        I won’t be surprise if there is a contest for an anthem some day.

  2. Jonathon Spires Jonathon Spires January 13, 2011

    A wonderful introduction

  3. Jimmy Branagh Jimmy Branagh January 13, 2011

    “You are 147 words over the 600 word limit.  Please correct.”

    ((Just kiddin’!  Great intro!))


  4. Jedburgh30 Dagger Jedburgh30 Dagger January 13, 2011

    That is epic.  So much so that this is going up on my wall.

  5. Bela Lubezki Bela Lubezki January 13, 2011

    Oh, this makes me even more understand where i “live” for more than 3 years. And it makes me proud to be a part of.



    edit, after finishing the anthem: first word a typo? On vs One

    • Bookworm Hienrichs Bookworm Hienrichs January 13, 2011

      Re: Anthem

      It’s based on a university fight song, sung during American football games.  So the phrase is to urge the collective group of people on–in the original, the Wisconsin football players, in this, the citizens of New Babbage. *smile*

      • Bela Lubezki Bela Lubezki January 13, 2011

        ah, a classic misunderstanding. i meant, in my clumsy english. “after singing the official NB anthem, Bela returned to her desk, discovering a small mistake in mister Cleanslates texts first word…”


        • Bookworm Hienrichs Bookworm Hienrichs January 14, 2011

          Ahh, I see!  And yes, you’re right–that looks to be a typo.

  6. Breezy Carver Breezy Carver January 13, 2011

    Claps Claps  !! Kudos AE !!

    *Perhaps* a scroll Parchment Poster of that Dandy Master Piece of

     The Steamy Sooty City of Industry,Science and Endless Creative  for us all :) Please !

  7. Christine McAllister Pearse Christine McAllister Pearse January 14, 2011

    Beautifully and eloquently put sir!  Well done.

  8. Arconus Arkright Arconus Arkright January 14, 2011

    I’m inspired, Mr. Cleanslate! I think I’ve added my share of lusts and rages, but I’m letting the side down on drunken ramblings. I shall redouble my efforts. 

  9. Kimika Ying Kimika Ying January 14, 2011

    *stands and applauds*  Well said!

  10. Mr Tenk Mr Tenk January 19, 2011

    *tugs sharply on waistcoat*

    make it so, number one!

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