Meet Madeleine Holly-Rosing of Boston Metaphysical

Boston006 cover mock-upHere at The Steampunk Cavaliers we are committed to supporting steampunk creators of all kinds. I in particular am in love with the steampunk aesthetic and all the different ways people use it, so I’m thrilled to be introducing today’s guest, Madeleine Holly-Rosing, who has written a beautiful graphic novel called Boston Metaphysical.

Can you tell us a bit about Boston Metaphysical?

A six issue steampunk supernatural graphic novel, the story is about an ex-Pinkerton detective, a spirit photographer and a genius scientist who battle supernatural forces in late 1800’s Boston. Think “Steampunk X-Files.” I’m the writer. Emily Hu is my artist and Gloria Caeli and Fahriza Kamaputra are the colorists.

When did you first come up with the idea for Boston Metaphysical?

It was originally a TV Pilot that I wrote in the MFA Program for Screenwriting at UCLA. The story itself came from my love of history, science fiction and, The X-Files, of course.

Did you set out to write a steampunk story or did the story just evolve that way?

No, I started out writing a straight up period detective drama. It was a friend of mine in class who suggested I could develop the story in a steampunk world. I had heard of steampunk, but didn’t know a lot about it at the time. So, I did a lot of research and reading and decided he was right. I then redeveloped it with a steampunk sensibility in mind.

What makes Boston Metaphysical stand out from other steampunk stories?

Probably its use of such iconic characters like Bell, Edison, Tesla and Houdini. It also deals with social issues that some steampunk stories tend to ignore or gloss over. And don’t forget Granville Woods who existed during that time period as well though he’s gotten lost in history which is a shame. If you don’t know, he sued Edison for stealing some of his patents and won. At San Diego Comic Con, a former law student came to my table and knew all about Granville except for the fact that he was African-American. She had read Granville’s brief that her professor had retrieved from the National Archives and told us his case helped set the stage of the precedents for what became our copyright/patent laws today! I thought that was pretty cool.

Who are some of your favorite steampunk creators?

Beth Cato, Shelly Adina, Cherie Priest, The Foglios, Greg Rucka. There’s more, but I’m blanking right now.

What is the most interesting thing about steampunk to you?

I love how it’s the perfect marriage of my love of history and science fiction.

What are you working on now that readers can look forward to?

I’ve just finished a short story about Duncan the ghost (a character in both the comic and the novellas) that will be part of an anthology next year and I’m starting the first Boston Metaphysical Society novel. We hope to do 32 page one shot comic stories in the future as well.

Bio:

BioSteampunkphotocomixThe writer/creator of Boston Metaphysical Society comic (the recipient of an Honorable Mention at the 2013 GEEKIE AWARDS and nominated for Best Comic/Graphic Novel at the 2014 GEEKIE AWARDS, among other nominations)  Madeleine is also a TV, feature film and soon to be novelist. Winner of the Sloan Fellowship  for screenwriting, and the Gold Aurora and Bronze Telly for a PSA produced by Women In Film, she has also won numerous awards while completing the UCLA MFA Program in Screenwriting. In addition, Madeleine teaches a Kickstarter class for independent creators at Pulp Fiction Books in Culver City and has published the book, Kickstarter for the Independent Creator.

Steamborn by Eric R. Asher

SteambornSteambornPerm is an incredibly fun steampunk novel with an adventurous tinker’s apprentice at the lead. Within the first chapter I was entranced by a world that reminded me of many of my favourite anime settings, a city with massive walls to keep out terrifying deadly bugs. Bugs who are often at least as big as the main character and who have fun names like Red Death and Widow Maker.

You’ll also find Spider Knights in the book, trained warriors who ride giant spiders. Which, as someone who used to have arachnophobia, was simultaneously awesome and terrifying to read about. The spiders–along with all the other bugs–are described with details so realistic it actually made my skin crawl.

Anyway, enough about the bugs. Steamborn is about much more than bugs. It’s a book with many layers and many questions, including deeply unsettling questions about the nature of history and humanity. Or, put another way: you know a book asks some heavy questions when you’re reading it and you start to wonder how Hitler would have written the history books if he won.

When I post this review on Goodreads I will definitely be giving this book four out of five stars.

Want to know more? Here’s the full blurb:

Jacob, a tinker’s apprentice and sometime thief, has lived his entire life in the mountain city of Ancora, protected by the city walls. These towering barriers keep the Deadlands creatures at bay, but the monsters move higher into the peaks every year. More and more, they breach the defenses of the Lowlands while the Highlands rest easy.

A swarm overruns the walls and wreaks utter devastation on the Lowlands. Charles, the old tinker, suspects the attack may not be natural. With help from Jacob’s closest friend, Alice, and Samuel, one of the city’s elite spider knights, Jacob and Charles will uncover a terrible darkness at the heart of their city.

Does that sound awesome to you? Purchase Steamborn here. 

Author Bio

Eric R Asher ProfileEric is a former bookseller, cellist, and comic seller currently living in Saint Louis, Missouri. A lifelong enthusiast of books, music, toys, and games, he discovered a love for the written word after being dragged to the library by his parents at a young age. When he is not writing, you can usually find him reading, gaming, or buried beneath a small avalanche of Transformers.

The Attack of the Alien Automaton by Christopher MacRaven

The Attack of the Alien Automaton
By Christopher MacRaven

Many eyes saw what they thought was a shooting star streak across the night sky. What they really beheld was a scout ship from Venus, an alien planet populated solely by automatons, as it entered Earth’s atmosphere. The supply of metals was dwindling and they were searching for a close-by planet rich in brass and copper to propagate their race. The planet being populated was of no consequence to them

The deadly alien automaton, KS1341-D was the pilot of the scout ship.

Alienautomaton1

Her mission was to search for and destroy all threatening technology. Once the Earth was purged of all threats, she was programmed to then signal the waiting alien armada, and usher in an interplanetary war of epic proportions. However, as she scanned and absorbed earthling knowledge, KS1341-D became enamored with Victorian sensibilities and human emotions. Newly self-aware, she attempted to overwrite her programming in the hopes she could save humanity from invasion. Unfortunately, this tinkering released a subscript deep within her data core, directing her to begin the annihilation of all life on Earth.

Her first target was Emerald Point, a coastal city that was second to Capital City only in size. It was home to the military training academy and therefore made an excellent beginning point. In the ensuing battle, the city’s defenders threw everything they had at the alien invader to no avail. In short order she destroyed the academy and moved on to the military base further inland.

Lady May Fitzgeoffery-Bannister came from a long line of business Aristocracy who made their money from the manufacture and sale of firearms.

Fitzgeoffery-Bannister Munitions had been the company that the military had called on for decades. Currently, Lady May’s father, Lord William ran the company while she handled the sales and delivery side of the business. As soon as the military saw that their current weapons were having no effect on the automaton, the General called on Lord William to send them a large consignment of their most powerful armaments. Lady May took the order and delivered the shipment.

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When she arrived, the battle was already raging and the army was not faring well. The Alien Automaton just powered through each assault. It was carrying a large weapon of brass and copper with spinning barrels of death, discharging electrical energy with devastating results.

Seeing the large caravan of trucks, the Automaton turned its attention to the new threat. Powering up its weapon, it took aim at the newly arrived munitions. When the energy blast hit the crates of guns and other armaments, they exploded in a fiery conflagration. Those not consumed by the flames were thrown to the ground, their clothes torn and burning.

Walking in the flames, the Automaton found the unconscious body of Lady May. Seeing her as a source of information, she took her back to her ship and clothed her in some of her own garments. When May awoke, she played along till she could escape and then made her way to Capital City to warn Brigadier General Abbotts- Brackenridge of the impending attack by the alien menace.

Maud Abbotts-Brackenridge had grown up in a military family and when she was of age she followed in their footsteps.

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By the time she was 25 she had risen through the ranks and became a Brigadier General. She was given command of the Home Guard based in Capital City and was charged with protecting the country from all threats, both foreign and domestic.

When Lady May arrived, arrayed in her silver clothing, the General was not too keen to hear her story but she finally consented and heard her out. When apprised of the situation she knew she had to call on her old friend Professor Ravenscroft. If any man on Earth could make weapons to defeat the alien’s formidable death ray, it would be him.

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Phineas T. Ravenscroft attended university in Capital City. While there, he learned all there was to know of electricity, chemistry, steam, gears, sprockets and metals. He used steam, clockwork and Tesla power, combined with his knowledge of chemistry, to create some truly fantastic weapons, among other mysterious devices. The constabulary and the government had taken notice of him and his creations, and called on him many times to help them out of sticky situations. They knew who to contact when the times were dark and dire.

After contacting him via the Trans-Aether Communications Array that he had provided for just such occasions, Maud and Lady May headed out to meet him at his laboratory.

The Professor was making any needed adjustments to the weapons displays when he heard a knock at the door of the Laboratory. After welcoming his guests, he showed them to the room where his latest weapons were stored in glass-fronted cabinets. The ladies were delighted with Professor Ravenscroft’s newest designs.

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They asked the professor why the weapons previously used had had no effect on the alien craft or the automaton. He explained that any weapon utilizing gunpowder would be useless against her armaments. The way to defeat metal machines, he stated, was with electricity and magnetism. He then proceeded to demonstrate his various creations which made use of those forces, from the largest energy weapon, The Maelstrom, to the smaller pistol styles like “The Crystalline Electro-Pistol”. It was decided that the Professor would supply them with all his largest weapons, The Maelstrom, The Discombobulater Mark 1 and The Weapon of Brass Destruction and would personally join them in their plan to confront and defeat the alien.

So, fully armed with the Professor’s latest technology, they headed out to meet the alien menace. By the time they arrived at the coordinates that Lady May had obtained from her time of captivity, it was well past midnight and the super moon was in full effect. They watched as the scout ship slowly circled and then landed in the valley below and the deadly alien automaton, KS1341-D emerged from the craft. To say that she was frightening as she crested the hill with the full moon behind her would be an understatement.  Her brass weapon was glinting as the barrels spun in readiness and her demeanor was grim.
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They approached the alien and demanded that she surrender to them but the automaton remained defiant. Instead of answering them, she opened fire. The air was filled with a red glow as her weapon discharged electrical blasts in all direction. Lady May and Maud dove away from each other and fired upon the automaton simultaneously. She was bathed in a green and red glow as the electrical energy released from their weapons wreaked havoc upon her systems.
It was clear from her unsteady walk that one of her control circuits had been damaged. Professor Ravenscroft quickly moved in to push their advantage. He fired The Maelstrom, which hit her weapon, rendering it useless. The Automaton tried to return fire, but was unable to, since the power source had been drained.
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All three heroes fired again. The combined blast sent KS1341-D flying through the air.
Alienautomaton11She landed with an ominous sound of twisting metal. With her circuits damaged she lost many functions and ended up ignominiously sitting at the feet of the three heroes, sparks randomly shooting out from her joints and armamentsAlienautomaton12 

 A few days later the ladies again went to visit the Professor. They spent their time over tea, discussing the future ramifications of the alien armada that was awaiting the signal to attack. It was decided that a peace treaty should be put to them, facilitating good will between Earth and Venus. Would the race of automatons accept the offer of peace? That is a tale for another day.

 

Model, styling: Professor Ravenscroft ~ FB Lord.MacRaven

Model, styling: Kirstin Sabrina Dane ~ vintagealchemy.tumblr.com

Model, styling: Andrada Andrei ~ FB andrada.andrei

Model, styling: Lux Aeterna ~ IG @xoxo.luxie

Makeup, face painting: Coral Brandenburg ~ FB coralbrandenburg96

Makeup: Anique Alletson ~ IG @anique_alletson

Gallagher Assistant: Lady Ravenscroft

Creative director: Louise Peacock ~ FB wtfdesignsandcreations

Photography: Bruce Walker ~ IG @bruce.walker

The cast

The Brigadier – Andrada Andrei
Lady May – Lux Aeterna
Professor Ravenscroft – Christopher MacRaven
The alien  – Kirsten Dane

The Shape of a Steampunk Story

 

season3-500I’ve been thinking about endings, specifically the ends of stories, books, series. Is there a particular shape to steampunk tales? Does a steampunk story generally end in a particular way?

To back up a moment, this summer I released the final episode of my steampunk serial, Spire City. That brings the series to three books, a complete trilogy. I never saw myself as writing a trilogy—told myself I never would, in fact, when I started writing seriously. But there it is, a series of three seasons worth of steampunk-fantasy episodes. So the ending of a series has been on my mind a lot.

Then along comes the mail last week, and with it the new Harry Potter book. Not exactly the start and not exactly the ending of a series, so much as a new ending, of sorts (and very enjoyable, for what it’s worth, very Rowlingian as I saw someone call it on Facebook). Not steampunk either, but it brought my mind again to the way stories can end.

In college lit classes (a…few years ago), I learned how one of the common tropes of high fantasy is the healing of the land in the end, a restoration of things that seemed damaged beyond bearing. Sometimes it’s literal and sometimes metaphorical, but it’s one of those ur-story elements that gives fantasy its shape. Something is wrong with the world but then through the actions of the heroes, something is restored to health.

Obviously there are exceptions, stories that counter and subvert that image of healing or ignore it entirely, but it’s one of those story shapes that can be useful—hold it up to a story to see both how it conforms to that image and how it twists away. Often the healing is tinted with sadness, with the aching memory of things lost, but it can still be seen when we look at the story from that angle.

Science fiction stories might sometimes conform to that image as well. Often a more useful story shape for looking at SF, though, might be a step to the side, where a lack of knowledge leads to the crisis, and discovering something new (or sometimes inventing new technology) leads to the resolution. Rather than restoring something broken, SF discovers something new.

(It isn’t really the point of this post to argue between the two. I have seen some claim that this distinction makes fantasy inherently reactionary and past-looking and SF inherently progressive and future-looking…but that strikes me as a shallow way of seeing both—and not supported by the body of works we usually classify as either.)

What I’m curious about, though, is how a steampunk story fits into that. Does steampunk find its crisis in a changing, industrialized world and find its way through by restoring the polluted lands and broken bonds of place and family? I’d love reading a story that fits that. Or does steampunk find its crisis in the unknown of its changing time and discover new knowledge or new machines that let its people find new ways forward? I’d love reading a story that fits that, as well, actually.

Either of those story shapes works fine in a steampunk milieu. I call Spire City a steampunk-fantasy, and I won’t spoil the ending, but really I think both shapes fit the story’s ending—and neither accounts for it completely. Maybe the most memorable stories are the ones that can be seen as satisfying from multiple angles.

Where I see steampunk standing out isn’t in the shape of how the plot resolves or how our characters’ arcs play out. Rather it foregrounds the change itself. Nearly all stories rely on change at some level, but steampunk revels in the changing world, it gets down into the grime and excitement of new things, what’s damaged in the process and what’s gained. Some stories celebrate the changes, growing giddy with the potential of gears and steam. Some stories turn away in terror at what its people have created. But either way, the element of change is in the foreground.

So that’s the shape of a steampunk story for me, a many-tentacled shape with octopus arms grasping in countless directions, but always centered in a world that’s changing.

The City of Blind Delight

Review PhotoAuthor: Catherynne M Valente
Release: 2012
Anthology: Other Worlds Than These
Genre: Steampunk | Fantasy | Sci-Fi
Edition: Kindle
Publisher: Night Shade Books
Buy it here: AMAZON

Blurb

What if you could not only travel any location in the world, but to any possible world?

A train exists that passes through every city—and every possible city—in the world. Gris, a businessman in the Windy City, unknowingly steps aboard and enters the station for the City of Blind Delight where everyone has what they need to survive, but not necessarily what they want . . .

Major Spoiler’s Ahead

“The City of Blind Delight” is a short story in Other Worlds Than These, an anthology that explores the theme of other worlds and the road not taken. Valente’s story is a wonderful example of the genre. It is one of those stories where there are touches of steampunk, of fantasy, and of sci-fi. Some readers may not feel that it is “strictly” steampunk because it lacks certain elements, such as a setting inspired by Victorian England or the American West. However, I would argue that Valente creates a blended genre that simply has a little more “punk” than “steam.” And really, aren’t both of those words important to the genre?

As an additional warning—there is no way I could review this story without spoilers and do it justice. If you want to be surprised at the ending, skip this until you read the short story.

There is a train which passes through every possible city. It folds the world like an accordioned map, and speeds through the folds like a long white cry, piercing black dots and capital-stars and vast blue bays. Its tracks bound the firmament like bones: wet, humming iron with wriggling runnels of quicksilver slowly replacing the old ash wood planks, and the occasional golden bar to mark a historic intersection, so long past the plaque has weathered to blank (Valente, 2012).

The story begins with a missed connection that almost mirrors a romantic plot: an unnamed woman in black glasses stands on the platform waiting for the train to Blind Delight. But she did not know what she was waiting for or how to recognize the correct train from all the other graffiti-barnacled leviathans. Gris brushes her elbow as he hurries through the doors. She longs to follow him even though it is too late, and wonders why she feels this way.

Gris falls asleep on the train and does not hear the station call, but the train waits for him to wake. He enters Blind Delight, “where the station arches and vestibules are formed by acrobatic dancers, their bodies locked together with laced fingers and toes, stretching in shifts over the glistening track, their faces impassive as angels” (Valente, 2012).
In the city everyone either works for the line, usually as a Station Dancer (a member of the human ceiling) or as a prostitute: As he wanders through the station, Otthild, a woman who works both professions, picks up Gris.

The edges of the railroad curl out into the valley, and drag up a town from the earth, whatever town the Conductor dreams of that day, whatever city the tracks long to see. And so there is a river of brandy, and the lime-tart trees, and roads of bread. The Line brought folk, and they stayed (Valente, 2012).

Blind Delight is a city without need. Cattle that have been roasted brown and glistening wander through the city with knives in their flanks. They contentedly offer their flesh to those who are hungry. The river is filled with a rich brandy. The houses are made of brown cake. The streets are paved in bread. Yet, as Gris jokes about how he would pay for Otthild’s services in “a city without want,” she responds, “no one is without want.” There is a difference between “want” and “need” that he has yet to comprehend.

Otthild tells Gris that her mother was a ticket-taker for the line who went down to the edges of the railroad to find the gold spike laid there at the beginning of time. Her mother laid next to the golden spike and cried for the man who lost his life when laying the gold spike; it was there Otthild was conceived—part human, part clockwork, and part gold:

Her skin opens, soft as cloth, and her bones, and her lungs, peeling back like gift-box tissue. Beneath all this is her heart, and it is golden, gleaming, bright at the bottom of her body. A good part of her blood is gold, too, flowing out from the metallic ventricles. She is terrible, and crisp, and clear, a Jacobean diagram of womanhood, her heart burning, burning, burning golden as God (Valente, 2012).

The people of Blind Delight are collectors, she informs Gris. Since food and shelter are completely fulfilled, what people want is refined. Otthild’s mother wanted to see the gold spike. She wanted a child. When Otthild was born, she polished her daughter’s heart every night before bed. Another woman collects calf’s tails. Otthild collects return train tickets.

Gris gives her his ticket, even though he has no reassurance that he can return home. Otthild tells him:

Maybe they would sell you a new one. Maybe they would let you inside. Maybe not. We are often perverse. Maybe the Station is full of Midwesterners trying to buy a ticket home with everything they own, even flesh, even bone.

Back in Chicago the woman in black glasses steps onto the train . . .

Review

“The City of Blind Delight” is a short story that I highly recommend. It has a unique mixture of steampunk, fantasy, and sci-fi; it is not easy to plug it into a particular genre. It leaves a reader guessing—is Gris dead? Is he in heaven or in hell? Does he sell his chance at redemption (to leave on the train) for one night with Otthild? Or is he making a conscious choice to stay and enjoy what the world has to offer? It is up to the reader to decide.

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The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall

Review Photo

Author: Chris Dolley
Release: 2016
Series: Reeves & Worcester
Genre: Steampunk | Mystery | Humor
Edition: Ebook
Pages: 246
Publisher: Book View Cafe
Buy it here: Book View Cafe

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 11.29.18 PMBlurb

Wodehouse steampunk version of The Hound of the Baskervilles!

An escaped cannibal, a family curse … and Reginald Worcester turning up on the doorstep. Could things get any worse for the Baskerville-Smythe family?

As the bodies pile up, only a detective with a rare brain – and Reggie’s is so rare it’s positively endangered – can even hope to solve the case.

But… there is the small matter that most of the guests aren’t who they say they are, the main suspect has cloven feet, and a strange mist hangs over great Grimdark Mire.

Luckily the young master has Reeves, his automaton valet, and Emmeline, his suffragette fiancée, on hand to assist.

This novel is the fifth Reeves & Worcester Steampunk mystery and is set a few months after The Aunt Paradox. The first two stories were published in the ebook, What Ho, Automaton! And the first four stories were published in the trade paperback, What Ho, Automata.

 

 Spoiler’s Ahead

The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall begins when Reggie decides to visit his fiancé, Emmeline, who has been shipped off to Baskerville Hall. Her relatives do not approve of their engagement and hope that she will forget about him and agree to marry the heir to the Baskervill-Smythe title. Reggie concocts a plan to visit Baskerville Hall by posing as a long-lost relative named Roderick and convinces Reeves, his steam-powered automaton valet, to go along with the plot.

The family accepts Reggie as one of their own, although the matriarch of the family, Lady Julia, declares him to be an idiot at first sight. It is not long after he arrives that the murders start to occur and Henry, the heir, agrees to let Reggie and Reeves investigate.

This is where the steampunk elements of the story really come into play. The first “murder” at the household concerns an automaton gardener. The family does not consider this to be a “real” crime, and even Reggie has his doubts:

“Is this even a murder?” I asked. “Can a machine be murdered?”

“If that was Reeves under the log pile, you’d call it murder,” said Emmeline.

“That goes without saying,” I said. “No log would go unturned. But, philosophically, would it be murder? Automata can be repaired.”

Reeves coughed. It wasn’t a philosophical cough. “If I may contribute to your musings, sir, I would point out that humans can be reanimated.”

“I don’t think that’s quite the same, Reeves,” I said.

Reeves expression turned distinctly sniffy. I wouldn’t have liked to have met either of his eyebrows in a dark alleyway.

“Would that be because automata are not regarded as having souls, sir?”
(pp. 48-49).

Is it right to treat sentient machines as mere tools? Should reanimated humans have the same rights as those who have not yet died? Who can say for certain whether someone, or some thing, has a soul? Moments of grave, philosophical discussion are interspersed throughout the story, but never become overwhelming. They add a layer of complexity that makes the storyworld interesting.

Although The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall is part of a series, it can easily be read as a solo novel. The influence of P.G. Wodehouse (an English humorist) can be seen in the characters of Reggie and Reeves (akin to Bertie and Jeeves). There are also obvious similarities between The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall and Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. Fans of the mystery genre will recognize elements from other great mystery writers, like Agatha Christie. (Reggie’s mention of “little grey cells” calls to mind the character of Hercule Poirot). But few casual mystery readers will draw a parallel between the novel and the story that is recognized as the first modern detective story, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”

For those who are only familiar with Poe as a writer of “spooky” poetry, it will come as a surprise to learn that he invented the conventions many readers equate with the modern detective story, such as a brilliant, though odd, detective, his/her personal friend who serves as narrator, and the final revelation (dénouement) being presented before the reasoning that leads up to it. The murderer in Poe’s story (MAJOR SPOILER) is an orangutan that has escaped from his owner. In a clear parallel, one of the chief suspects (at least in Reggie’s mind) in The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall is the household orangutan, Lupin: “Butlers and orangutans—it was usually one or the other that did it” (p. 48).

Did the orangutan commit the murders in Baskerville Hall, or is there something more nefarious afoot? Readers will have to pick up the novel to find out.

Review

The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall is the type of a novel where familiarity with the mystery genre and with the foibles of famous master detectives from other series helps a reader “get” the humor. This familiarity, however, will also make the mystery fairly obvious. This did not negatively affect my enjoyment; I was in the mood for something light and it did not bother me that I was able to guess the outcome based on my knowledge of The Hound of the Baskervilles and other Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot mysteries. In fact I would say this is a positive attribute, because it made me feel pleased with myself as a reader, and perhaps a bit smug.

Still, like watching an episode of Columbo, where the viewer “sees” the murder and then watches how the detective solves the case, it is important to remember that the reader has the advantage. In this case my advantage was in reading so many British murder mysteries over the years that I now expect someone to break into a dénouement at the end of every social gathering. (Hasn’t happened yet—more’s the pity.)

Humor is a genre I would love to see explored more in a steampunk world. Many of the works are serious and thought provoking; moments of laughter, especially slapstick, are few and far between. The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall makes for a fun summer read: the steampunk elements are essential to the story, the characters are engaging, and the dialogue is lively. In addition, fans of the mystery genre should have an enjoyable time seeing their favorite detectives parodied.

 

Video Game Review: Tormentum: Dark Sorrow

Tormentum 2016-06-20 22-23-35-25You died. Now you have to escape your cell, traverse a wasteland filled with strange creatures, solve puzzles and make choices. Your afterlife depends on your actions, are you going to heaven or to hell? Make your choice. This is the overall story of the game Tormentum: Dark Sorrow. It’s made by Oh Noo Studios, a three man team with ambitions of grandeur. The team based the world and artwork on the paintings of famous artists H.R. Giger and Zdzislaw Beksinski. H.R. Giger was a Swiss surrealist most famous for being part of the team that won Alien their Academy Award for design.  All of his artwork is on display in his own museum in Zurich. His style of artwork usually melds man and machine in what he called biomechanical. Zdzislaw Beksinski was from Poland and worked more on dystopian surrealism in a more environmental for his earlier works. For his later works he focused more on dulling the background and unnatural lighting on the subject of the painting. In true dystopian fashion he was murdered in his home for refusing to loan his caretaker’s son $100.


Tormentum 2016-06-20 22-29-19-95While the style of H.R. Giger and Zdzislaw Beksinski are more dark fantasy and gothic, I feel like the themes and style of the puzzles is way more steampunk. The mechanics are simple, it’s a point and click. Some of the puzzles are challenging but there are notes throughout the game that will make things make a little more sense. You might get stuck, you might get frustrated, hell you might even give up once or twice, but the beauty of this game will draw you in and hold you till you lose your sanity. I mean until you finish the game. For those of you like myself there are achievements and there are different endings so there is replayability. I don’t really want to give away the game but I would like to talk about my favourite part of the game.

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My favourite part of this game is the cathedral. A blind old man has been trapped in this cathedral for…well I’m not sure how long he’s been there. All this time he’s been painting. There are dozens of paintings and the old man gives you paint and a brush to fix up 30 of them. But he also has a pet, this pet is kind of a dick, instead of fixing up 30 painting you can destroy 3. In both my playthroughs I spent a solid hour picking and deciding which painting I would restore. The art is amazing, for a three man team I don’t know how they were able to create such an awe inspiring visuals. Everything from hanging tree’s to tortured souls you will find plenty of artwork you want to as backgrounds.
Speaking of artwork there is also an art book that you can purchase from the OhNoo website, it’s 64 pages of full colour for $49.99. You can also bundle it with the game from $59.99, or you can purchase just the game from Steam, Google Play, or Apple play for $12.99. Though word on the street, and by street I mean the Internet Highway, is that Steam Summer Sale starts on the 23rd. So I implore you to get this game it’s worth the full price but if you can get it on Steam during the sale you can save yourself some money. If you are interesting in looking at some of OhNoo’s other projects their website is www.ohnoo.com.

Supporting diversity in steampunk

As a blogger(I also blog about writing and occasionally review blogs on my own website) I think it’s incredibly important for me to support diversity in the arts. Other bloggers spend a lot of time talking about why we need diverse characters but still end up reviewing almost entirely books about straight white people, often because those are the books that have the marketing dollars and review copies.

Meeting hundreds of authors on Twitter has led me to believe that our issue isn’t necessarily a lack of diverse books. Yes, we do need more diverse characters in books and TV and movies, but there are thousands of diverse stories nobody knows about. Hell, Steampunk Cavaliers has only been open three months and we’ve already featured a novel centered around a relationship between two women, a novella about a mulatto heiress and a novel about a trans woman. The real problem is that mainstream media is ignoring the diverse series we DO have.

There are a few reasons for this. One is that these books are almost exclusively published by small publishers or self published and the mainstream media actively ignores small press/self published books unless they sell 100,000 copies in six months or do something equally impressive. Another is that the mainstream media is made up mostly of straight white folks who naturally gravitate to stories they identify more closely with.

Unfortunately I don’t have the power to make the mainstream media focus on these books, but there is something I can do: deliberately spotlight them on my blog and share them all over social media. I might not have a massive following but I know every voice helps, especially for authors who are just starting out. Even if nobody follows the buy link from my interview or review, the simple fact that I cared about these books can keep the authors going. Writing is a hard business fraught with emotional peril and every single kind word helps.

I think steampunk is a particularly great genre for diverse stories because of the combination of the severe conservatism of the Victorian era with steam technology. New technology often brings with it new ethical questions and even new morals. Introducing these to the Victorian era is a lot of fun.

The Victorian era was also a fascinating historical period no matter where you were in the world. Most of the steampunk I’ve encountered is set in the UK or a quite similar original world, but there are interesting historical stories to explore everywhere–and countries where steam technology would have made an even bigger impact. Frankly, I’m tired of reading repackaged England. Give me some European stories, some Japanese stories, some Indian stories, stories from places I haven’t even heard of.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been debating a change to my review policy both here and on my main blog(where I usually only take requests from authors whose work I’ve enjoyed before). Accepting books for review is a nerve wracking endeavor because I’ve made a commitment to only review books I love but finding the authors who most need reviews on my own isn’t easy. So I’ve decided to create a new review policy:

I will ONLY accept review requests for books with people of colour or LGBTQ+ protagonists. If your steampunk novella/novel has a POC or LGBTQ+ protagonist please email diannalgunn@gmail.com a review request with the title of your book and a blurb.

I’ve already got my first diverse novel and I’m looking forward to reading more. Tell me about the diverse books you love!

Introducing Trudy’s Mechanicals

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Today I’d like to introduce you to Radek Koncewicz of Incubator Games, an indie video game company from my home city, Toronto. He and the rest of the Incubator Games team are currently working on a steampunk strategy that is still in development but already looks beautiful.

Check out the trailer:

Want to know more? Read the actual interview:

Can you tell us a bit about Trudy’s Mechanicals?

Trudy’s Mechanicals is a turn-based strategy game set aboard a giant steampunk dirigible. In the world of Trudy, the surface lands have long ago been abandoned due to severe pollution from coal-burning furnaces. The survivors fled above the toxic clouds, mechanizing themselves in the process — replacing various body parts with machinery — in order to survive in the oxygen-poor environments.

Over the ages, a strife developed between the lower class Mechanicals and the nobility who remained “pure” and human. Despite strict rationing and enforced labour, the magnates enjoyed a lavish existence while the poor toiled with no rewards in sight, and a great gulf developed between the social classes. Throughout the course of the game, the player fights in ever-escalating battles between the two sides in an attempt to topple the oppressors, reveal the airship’s true origins, and discover the fate of the surface world.

How did the idea for Trudy’s Mechanicals first come about?

Initially we simply wanted to create a strategy game, but limit it to something a small team could develop. Setting the action aboard an airship seemed like a good solution, and once we got to that point, making that airship a ramshackle, Steampunk contraption was a natural fit.

Secondly came the Mechanicals. For gameplay purposes, we needed a logical reason to imbue various fighters with unique abilities. Well, one day when I was coming home late from work, I rushed to a streetcar already waiting at its stop. As I ran up to the entrance, the driver turned to look at me, and then proceeded to close the doors and drive away. Furious that I now had to wait in the cold winter night for god knew how long, I began to muse over various revenge fantasies for the callous TTC employee. Eventually I came to the conclusion that a suitably grotesque punishment for someone so smug and petty would be to physically fuse him to his little seat of power, forcing him to operate the vehicle for all time.

As I calmed down, I realize that such a grotesque fate would actually be quite fitting for a Steampunk setting. Taking into consideration the harsh life that must exist aboard an overcrowded and resource-poor airship, we came up with various ideas for these Mechanizations. Some were fairly straightforward, like the Bruiser whose arms were replaced with pneumatic hammers to work on assembly lines, while others definitely more outlandish, like the Waspmonger whose torso was turned into a hive of insects constantly secreting precious serums and narcotics. This approach not only gave us the perfect excuse for various unit types, but also provided us with a motivation for the combatants themselves, i.e., rising up to topple the gentry that forced them into such fates.

Why did you decide to go with such a painterly art style for Trudy’s Mechanicals?

There were various technical, monetary, and marketing considerations that made us lean toward the style, but the major reason was much simpler: it was in line with our awesome artist’s personal style, and it effectively brought to life our somewhat unusual and offbeat ideas.

What makes Trudy’s Mechanicals different from other steampunk games?

I suppose the main difference is that not only did we embrace steampunk exclusively — there’s no typical fantasy/magic elements in Trudy — but that we also looked to more Slavic elements for the setting. We replaced top hats and brandies with fur caps and vodka liquors, and used Eastern European slang, traditions and customs as the backbone of society. Easter Egg like designs decorate the currency, music from accordions and balalaikas fills the streets, and the general “flavour” is more Slavic than Victorian.

What has been the biggest challenge of developing Trudy’s Mechanicals so far?

By far the biggest difficulty we’ve encountered is scope. Once we got the ball rolling on ideas, it was hard to stop despite the entire game being set aboard a single airship. Job types and economies, scientific theories and inventions, repurposed and newly-built locations, secrets histories and conspiracies, etc. We probably came up with a large enough lore-bible to last a couple of games!

With that said, the large pool of ideas helped to flesh out Trudy while keeping only the most fitting and impactful concepts. Even with our paired-down list, though, it was difficult to finalize various elements — there was always an extra visual effect to add, a texture to polish, etc.

Who are the steampunk artists/writers/creators who inspired Trudy’s Mechanicals?

Keith Thompson was definitely a huge visual inspiration for Trudy. His work on Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan series is simply breathtaking, and other pieces from his portfolio parallel the grotesque-steampunk look we imagined.

Tetsuya Tanaka is another artist our original illustrator recommended, and his detailed, ramshackle environments and fusions of man and machine helped us define our own concepts.

On the literary side of things, there’s tons of writers who dabble or specialize in steampunk — China Miéville, Cherie Priest, etc. — and a long history of the genre’s originators like Jules Verne. However, I don’t think there’s any specific leads or inspirations we took from their works. Instead, we basked in the genre of steampunk that they collectively helped to create. The single exception to this is Ted Chiang’s short story Exhalation. It’s a fantastic and intricate tale that takes a single concept and logically expands on it in a realistic fashion; something that’s a little rare in steampunk. It really struck a chord with me personally, and I tried to subtly emulate this approach in Trudy.
What do you think is the most interesting thing about the steampunk genre?

I imagine that everyone who’s a fan of Steampunk adores its aesthetics, but the more concrete elements that interested us the most were the failed theories and sciences. Aether and phlogiston are two popular examples, but there were many more: the odic force, recapitulation theory, phrenology, and so on. These concepts illustrate a world of possibilities that so greatly characterizes Steampunk, and we definitely indulged in treating these theories as fact. The endeavour made for some truly bizarre extrapolations, but also a certain internal consistency to the game world.

When can we expect to see Trudy’s Mechanicals available for sale?

Game developers are notoriously optimistic when it comes to completing milestones, so I’ll refrain from putting my foot in my mouth at this time.

You can sign up to be informed when Trudy’s Mechanicals comes out here.

Clockwork Fairies: A Tor.Com Original

Review Photo
Author: Cat Rambo
Release: February 1, 2011
Genre: Steampunk | Fantasy
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 24
Publisher: Tor Books
Buy it here: AMAZON

Blurb

Desiree feels the most at home with her clockwork creations, but Claude worries about all this science and Darwinist nonsense—after all, where do clockwork fairies fall in the Great Chain of Being?

Review—with Spoilers

John Barth described Cat Rambo’s writings as “works of urban mythopoeia” — her stories take place in a universe where chickens aid the lovelorn, Death is just another face on the train, and Bigfoot gives interviews to the media on a daily basis. Clockwork Faeries is another entry into this type of world where steampunk and magic exist side-by-side.

Clockworks Faeries is the story of Desiree, a mulatto heiress who grew up in Rambo’s reimagined Victorian Era England ostracized from upper class London society simply because of the color of her skin. It is told through the point of view of Claude, her fiancé, who is a traditional English gentleman, Oxford Dean, and stout believer in the religious dictates of the Church of England.
What makes Rambo a masterful writer is her use of conversation, interior monologue, and immediate events to describe the world in which Desiree lives. There are no long passages of exposition; the readers see the world through the eyes of Claude, mostly at the same time that he experiences it. (Some immediate events and conversation will trigger a short reminiscence on his part that directly applies to the storyline.)

The story opens with Claude visiting Desiree’s house one Sunday evening and encountering her newest creations:

At first I thought them hummingbirds or large dragonflies. One hung poised before my eyes in a flutter of metallic skin and isinglass wings. Delicate gears spun in the wrist of a pinioned hand holding a needle-sharp sword. Desiree had created another marvel. Clockwork fairies, bee-winged, glittering like tinsel. Who would have dreamed such things, let alone made them real? Only Desiree.
(Rambo, 2011)

Throughout the story Desiree continues her work and builds even more complex creatures. While he marvels at them, Claude also disapproves. He is very much concerned with appearances and the ways that society views both himself and his fiancé. The members of the upper class will not care about her inventions; they will only care about how she dresses, speaks, and behaves at social functions. Throughout the story Claude gives the impression of a weak man who almost blindly follows the values of his society, except for his fascination with Desiree.

This is what makes their love story tragic. Desiree is attracted to Claude because of the way he looks and his position as a Dean at Oxford. Being accepted in a society that made her late mother a near shut-in is important to her, but it hurts when the color of her skin exposes her to stares and outright snubs by others of her class.

Claude finds her beautiful and enjoys her company, but believes she could be so much more: “Dressed properly,” he tells her “you would take the city by storm” (Rambo, 2011). In effect, he is sometimes blind to the reactions of others. “Did you not see Lady Worth turn away lest she contaminate herself by speaking to a Negro? Or perhaps you did not overhear the sporting gentleman laying bets on what I would be like between the sheets?” she asks him after a social gathering (Rambo, 2011). He is shocked that such words would come out of her mouth and does not think to comfort her over the insults she suffered.

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Clockwork Fairies: A Tor.Com Original

Desiree’s father, Lord Southland, actively discourages the marriage because he believes Claude is not intellectual enough for his daughter and believes too much in religion. Claude admits that he is interested in Desiree for her inheritance as well as her beauty, but that is not unusual in the Victorian Era where marriages were arranged more often than not among the upper class based on social position and wealth. Lord Southland does everything in his power to entice Desiree to reject Claude’s offer. But Claude has something his daughter wants: a place in society where she will be accepted. They both want what the other has to offer; even though it is not everything they would wish.

A twist of fate intervenes when Lord Tyndall, an Irish noble and landowner, takes an interest in Desiree’s clockwork designs. Tyndall invites Desiree, her father, and Claude to his estate for a shooting party. Desiree is delighted, for she had enjoyed speaking to Tyndall about her work and wants to see the countryside that inspired her design for the clockwork faeries. Although he feels that Tyndall might have ulterior motives for the invitation, for the man seems entranced by Desiree, Claude agrees to the journey. There, isolated from English society in a castle overlooking the Irish seaside, they are able to look at each other, and their own desire to pursue the marriage, clearly.

I enjoyed Clockwork Faeries a great deal.  Cat Rambo weaves a wonderful tale with settings and characters that I enjoyed.  The steampunk elements are essential to the story and the “touch” of magic in the Irish castle by the sea is not overdone; it adds a sparkle to a story and helps push Claude and Desiree toward a resolution that they may not have otherwise reached.

This is a “recommended read” for anyone who enjoys Neo-Victorian Era Steampunk and Fantasy.