JF Ptak Science Books Quick Post
[This image appears in his "The Sun Motor", in Nature for August 1888.]
A while ago I thought about an alphabet of variegated -punkisms since SteamPunk didn't seem quite enough for things punky. (That post, Beginning an Alphabet of Science Fiction -punkism is here, though it didn't get much leg.) In addition to that alphabet there's also FuturePunk, ElectroPunk, and AirPunk, among others--but tonight I'd like to introduce SunPunk to this mix. There's a possibility for a lot of indirect steam from SunPunk, and in this instance there is a lot of metal. the other thing, however, is that it was real.
The work (above) is that of the very versatile John Ericsson (1803-1889), who among other things perfected the modern screw propeller and designed the USS Monitor (and who also has one of those Mystery Monuments in D.C.). Ericsson was fascinated by the possibilities of solar power, and worked on the problem for 25 years, right up until his death. The metallic bed of his creation would hold 100 sqft of mirrors "presented at right angles to the sun, at noon, int he latitude of New York, during summer, develops a mechanical energy reaching 1,850,000 footpounds per square hour", which was enough to run a good engine.
Now the idea for using the Sun as a machine is ancient, with references and details appearing in the works of Euclid, and Archimedes, and Hero of Alexandria, though the first practical construction of one (outside of a solar oven and such) is relatively recent, by Augustin Mouchot in 1860. Actually, Mouchot exhibited an incredible sun machine (his Sun Concentrator) in 1869:
[Source: Land Art Generator Initiative, here.]
His engine was indeed a beautiful thing, and it does have the elements of severe AirPunk, but I think it doesn't have that certain weightiness of the Ericsson engine.