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Tales of the Association #1: The Wrench in the Machine

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

Good day, fellow travelers,

Now Bound for the Styx is available, I want to talk briefly about the tales of the Association of Ishtar and what I wanted to achieve. Maybe I'll even talk about individual short stories as well. Not about their contents, but what inspired them and what happened to achieve. And I want to start with, The Wrench in the Machine: Part 1 in the Association of Ishtar's book series.

steampunk character dankaert lexicon aka the Founder from the Association of Ishtar

The tale of the series' creation starts with the character of Dankaert Lexicon. The host of the Steampunk Beginners Guide. I created him long before I started to work on the Association. When I worked on his costume, I attempted to find the line between Steam- and Cyberpunk that was both a tribute to a Victorian sense of fashion and the DIY aesthetic of the cyberpunk shows that I grew up with. But I never found a story for this character until I started with the Association of Ishtar.

The Association of Ishtar used to be a collection of short stories. Tales intended to inspire my viewers to create steampunk characters, worlds, and stories that go beyond the Victorian era, cogs, and top hats. I approached some publishers who loved the short stories but were afraid the atypical format would alienate readers as they are written as dossiers instead of tales with a middle beginning and an end. So, I tried to connect some of these entries into a single adventure... And an adventure it was.

My first goal was to write a book that introduced the readers to the concepts of the series. That being a world that finds at self at the center of a knot in the Multiverse. Although its cause is unknown, more and more Rifts keep opening. Some are harmless gateways leading to other versions of Earth. Others make Outsiders appear - the name given to all creatures passing through the Rifts. Outsiders can range from lost chickens and curious humans to Lovecraftian monsters. But more dangerous than any monster are ideas. Religions, ideologies, philosophies, and technologies can tip the balance of power in favor of somebody who believes to have all the answers.

The second was to dail my interpretation of the Steampunk Genre to eleven - That being Cyberpunk in the Past. What I hoped to achieve was to create an actual Cyberpunk story set inside a past that never existed. Adding to that, for those who haven't noticed, I have a thing for analog radio signals—those nights that you were driving in the dark with nothing but your car radio for company. You'd hear these old tones and voices pouring over the speakers through a haze of static. As you stare at the tarmac, all of a sudden, that meaningless white noise gets interrupted by a random voice. And then it's gone again, leaving you to wonder what that was about while you speed over the highway. But then I asked myself, what if the voice was intended for you? What if, it was a warning of things to come?

steampunk villains S-36 aka the Call Girls from the Association of Ishtar

Those experiences gave rise to the villain of the story S-36: The Call Girl. The first short I wrote for the series and on whom the whole world-building of the Association of Ishtar is built. And she has a thing with numbers that she transmits to the radio near her victims to announce her coming.

In The Wrench in the Machine, she is in league with a transhumanist cult, the Followers of the Signal. A group of people who believe they hear secret messages nobody else does. And they are right. With the guidance of their unseen benefactors, the Signalistes seek to build a transmitter that can send all of humanity's consciousness to Heaven. An idea that combines many of the ghost stories surrounding radio signals and transhumanist ideas of digitalizing human consciousness.

But not all Signalites care about a project that will take generations to complete. Some want to use a short cut to ascention, while others want to stirr things up for their own amusement.

But this story isn't about them. This is about the people who let it get out of hand. Those who couldn't be bothered or attempted to dodge responsibility, pretending it was somebody else's problem. And none might be more guilty than the Associates of Ishtar themself. It would take a simple Dover Police Inspector to lift the lid of this conspiracy of silence.

The Wrench in the Machine's protagonist, Inspector David Ol'Barrow was mostly inspired by the British Police Dramas I watched with my parents in the 90s. These often took place in the more idyllic English communities. My idea was to take Ol'Barrow on a journey that would take him from a typical British detective experience into an insane reality of cosmic horror and romantic futurism. Ol'Barrow is a flawed but grounded man with a strong sense of duty. When he found out something was wrong, he wanted to set things right. Instead, he came to the realization he was the one out of place.

David Olbarrow and Igraine near a Rift from the Steampunk novel The wrench in the Machine

His misadventures bring him in contact with the Association of Ishtar. Yes, they are not the main characters of this novel. Instead, I wanted to explore what the Association looks like from the outsight perspective of the common man.

The Associates of Ishtar might perform heroic deeds, but they are not the heroes of dime novels and epics; guided by generosity, kindness, and reason. They are avengers fueled by passion like the Goddess of Love and War herself. Their goal is not to save lives, in line with prevailing morality, but to protect humanity and wreak vengeance on all those who endanger it like the gods of old.

Most importantly, Associates do not follow orders. An Associate must decide what is right and act on it. Would they make the wrong decision that endangers the planet, the Associate might be declared a Lost Number and risk getting hunted down like a common criminal by forces as cunning and dangerous as themselves. They judge their suspects by this very philosophy. Would you import a potted plant from another world the Association might stripe you down from contamination the world's ecosystem.

black steampunk character Associate 321  from the Wrench in the Machine

In The Wrench in the Machine we are introduced to various Associates, each revealing why the

Association as a concept works, and why it doesn't.

The most prominent Associate in this investigation is Associate 321. Born a slave, he became a veteran of the United States Navy and the British West Africa Squadron. During his younger years, he had been looking for a place to belong, only to be disappointed every time. Thus he became a sailor, wandering all of the Atlantic Ocean and its harbors. Being a traveler, he became an admirer of popular culture, music played over the wavecasters in particular, as it was the only fixture in his life.

During his Navy career. He became disillusioned with his causes. Not just because of the politics and colonial ambitions that became associated with the Anti-Slavery Patrols. It was the people he had saved themselves. Too often, he would find slaves he liberated in the past serving as slave traders bound for Brazil less than a year later. And yet, he didn't want to give up on humanity.

He might have found his place in the Association. He would fight no longer for the sake of nations, people, or individuals as flawed as himself. Instead, he fights for humanity's survival. A war in which the distinction between friend and foe is black and white. Do people serve humanity, or do they seek to endanger it for their own gain? He has no plan for humanity's future. His goal is to ensure humanity has a future.

This is where Inspector Ol'Barrow and Associate 321 clash the most. Ol'Barrow wishes the save as many people as he can, while 321 only cares about humanity's long-term survival in the face of a wave of anomalies threatening to drown the world.

One of those threats is the Signalites. Unfortunatly, they have members in high places with wide access to the media and even the Association itself.

This is why the Association doesn't work. They have a philosophy that every Associate is equal, and hierarchies are ad hoc, based on what the mission requires. However, its members' religions, ideologies, and backgrounds differ greatly. This can be a problem when you have an Associate who believes the Rifts are being created by Jewish wizards. Among the Associates are also Signalites who weren't happy that their newfound religion was being scrutinized.

On the public side of things, among the Signalites were many public figures such as actors, nobility, and even politicians. They have charities providing prostheses to amputees and support the sciences. In the media itself, they attack all their critics with ferocity, proclaiming there is a conspiracy to keep humanity bound to their mortal coil.

Politicians and public servants alike, in fear of losing their careers and lively hoods, refrained from investigating the Signalites, thus allowing them to fester like an open wound. It would take an Inspector in his twilight years to provide the cure. But in this stage of infection, he would have to cut deep and without anesthetics.

This conspiracy had become a machine in which all the cogs had been arranged to turn the same way. It was a faulty machine, but its engineers agreed that the faults weren't a problem and everything was as it should be. They probably started to believe it too.

But then this guy comes along with a wrench announcing he wants to fix the machine.

What should the engineers do? Let him? Or do they want him to go away?

steampunk villain Macarthur with brain in a jar. From the Wrench in the Machine
MacArthur by 47ness

To find out its conclusion, you can purchase the Wrench in the Machine today. As a matter of fact, this week we are running a discount campaign. You can use the code GETTHEWRENCH on our Gumroad store to receive 20% discount on any purchase for a limited time only. Check the pinned comment for the details. This includes our latest books Bound for the Styx and our comic Journey to Elysium.


I hope you enjoyed this little exploration of the series's themes. I plan to make more of them focus on the character's place in the lore and the historical events and people who inspired them.

Meanwhile, we are starting distribution of the Kickstarter. Some physical orders have already been sent. We are also moving forward on the ROG and we are looking for people who want to help in its creation. I mean people who want to support us with drafting rules, playtesting, and writing lore. For those who are interested in playing, tell us about the kind of adventures you want to play inside the Association of Ishtar Multiverse.

Want to be involved? Meet other Steampunks, History- and fellow Indy-Writers enthusiasts? Join our Discord.

Please share our blogs, and to support our projects and involved artists, please check out the support us section of the site. For just 2 dollars a month, you would help immensely and get some awesome content. By the way. We recommend Subscribestar because Patreon is becoming less reliable as time goes on.

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