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

trudy_screen_09

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.

 

Introducing Carl Jackson of the Victorian Bareknuckle League

Page4finalNo, today’s guest doesn’t actually participate in Victorian bareknuckle boxing. He’s actually a comic book writer and artist whose first steampunk graphic novel, The Victorian Bareknuckle League, is currently live on Kickstarter. Carl Jackson has been kind enough to share the above page of his graphic novel with us along with much of his creative process and future plans for this awesome project.

Please give Carl a warm welcome!

Can you tell us a bit about Victorian Bareknuckle League?

Victorian Bareknuckle League is my first comic book. I have read comics since as far back as I can remember. I used to get He-Man toys as a child. You got a little comic book in the back about the characters and I loved them. As I got older I then progressed to Marvel comics and never looked back. I have always drawn characters, like superheroes and fighters but never managed to pull them all into an idea as cohesive as Victorian Bareknuckle League. I think it’s a mix of my major passions. It’s a comic book via the way of Street Fighter II, WWE wrestling and the Victorian era.

The League itself is exactly what it says. The story of the Victorian Bareknuckle League and all the characters who inhabit it. Some of the people are based on real life characters, some are pure fiction. For instance, the character M’butu is based on Bill Richmond, an Afro American slave who literally boxed his way to freedom and ended up in the palaces of European aristocracy. I think it’s important to have a narrative in comics that are based on combat. It is too easy to fall into the trap of filling a comic with fighting without the characters having a real reason to win. As such, the first four issues follow the path of a woman named Millicent Figg. Without giving too much away, she witnesses the murder of her lover at a bareknuckle bout and begins a descent from gentle pacifist into a hardened, world weary, violent fighter.

This sounds like a really unique steampunk story, one which really focuses on the dark parts of the Victorian era and humanity in general rather than focusing on all the shiny experimental tech in steampunk worlds.

 

How did you develop the idea for Victorian Bareknuckle League?

The idea actually germinated as the idea for a video game. The idea was for an old school beat em up that used Victorians as characters who bareknuckle boxed. I had been watching a lot of shows like Penny Dreadful, Ripper Street and I think it came from that. So I set about designing the characters and getting some people who are better artists than me to flesh it out. However, it stalled when I actually researched the actual amount of money and people that are needed to make a game, even one you consider fairly simple. I then took it back to the drawing board. I knew I had this idea but needed to do something else with it. A comic was the obvious answer. So I had all these characters, and I had developed backstories for each. Then it was just a case of deciding which would be the most interesting story to tell first while managing to introduce some of the other characters and as such I chose Millicent. The real turning point was when an author friend told me that I should take my character from the highest point they can possibly be at to the lowest point they can reach. That was the catalyst.

Starting with a comic is definitely a great way to create a story that may eventually become a game. I also think a lot of the strongest stories start with characters, because these stories are the truest to the characters’ personalities.

 

What was the most challenging part of creating Victorian Bareknuckle League and how did you make it easier for yourself?

Aside from deciding which characters to follow in the first arc, the most challenging part was actually just the general business side of it. I am not a business man at all. So when I set off I was pretty adamant that I didn’t want to crowd fund. I didn’t want to work out how much comics cost to print, how much it is to post things, work out percentages going to the crowd funding website and such forth. However, when I had my first offer from a publisher I froze when I read the part about signing my characters over. It just hit me like a bullet that all these characters and backstories would no longer be mine. So I began to look at crowdfunding, researching it and it became more and more appealing.

I had no idea you had to give up character rights for publishing deals in comics! I’d definitely go with crowdfunding too–staying true to my stories is worth all the extra effort and expenses.

 

How did you first get into steampunk?

I think I was into steampunk long before I actually realized what steampunk was. I did a trip on the Trans-Siberian railroad after university (which is pretty steampunk in itself) and I remember coming back with loads of crazy stuff from Soviet antiques markets likes goggles and old Tsarist war medals. But it was actually this book that got me into steampunk as we look at it now. Before I had begun creating it, I pretty much just read superhero comics. I knew about steampunk but it was just a thing that existed in the background. Then when I began my research I soaked up everything. Books, graphic novels, movies, TV, cosplay. By the end of it I had a pretty good grasp of the genre. The most amazing thing about steampunk is that most of the best works were created before the term was actually coined. It’s also strange that a definitive steampunk canon or universe does not exist. Star Wars has this whole universe of characters, locations and planets that transport you away across the galaxy. Marvel and D.C. have massive Superhero universes that allow us to imagine godhood. But if we want to lose ourselves in this world of Victoriana and machinery we don’t really have a definitive steampunk world to do this in.

What do you love most about steampunk?

The thing I really love about steampunk is the cosplay aspect. Very rarely do you see bad steampunk cosplay. With superheroes and anime it seems to be allowed to do a bit of a crap attempt but that does not seem to exist within the steampunk scene. It was probably this that had the most influence on my book. I would design characters with the image of a cosplayer in my head. That is the day I know when I have made it, when someone takes weeks to fashion an outfit representing one of my characters. Detective Van Der Brouck is crying out for a cosplay makeover. In fact, the first person to mail me with a really great Victorian Bareknuckle League cosplay can have a signed comic for free.

Steampunk cosplay really is something amazing! I’m aching to get into it, but I’m rather untalented with sewing and purchasing good cosplay is often crazy expensive. Here’s hoping the opportunity will come soon!

 

What steampunk creators inspire you?

One of my favourite steampunk artists is a guy named Fyodor Pavlov. Although not strictly steampunk, he draws in a style that perfectly encapsulates that Belle Époque era both in his subjects and style. I would really like him to do a cover or standalone issue at some point. Be warned if you check out his website as he does have some dirty stuff on it!

Where do you plan to take Victorian Bareknuckle League after this Kickstarter?

I have so many ideas for this book. All of the people you will meet in the first four issues have a story that needs to be told. Currently, I have about 12 issues written that deal with a few of the initial characters. After that I have so many places I want to go with it. At some point it is inevitable that the circus will come to town with all its freaks and weirdos. In the first arc I have deliberately used characters that you would find in the UK at the time but the British Empire is vast and a commonwealth championship will be on the cards at some point. Plans for an LGBT fishing vessel named the Rainbow Trout will hopefully take us on the high seas. I just have to get past the first Kickstarter

Sounds like this is a massive project you’re embarking on. I really hope everyone rushes over to support the Victorian Bareknuckle League Kickstarter and help you bring them all to reality.

 

Does Victorian Bareknuckle League sound awesome to you? Do you want to see more graphic novels on The Steampunk Cavaliers? Let us know in the comments section below!

Introducing Sante Mazzei of Sìon, The first Italian Steampunk graphic novel

banner-sponsorizzazioneI’m as big a fan of Victorian England as the next person but one thing I’ve been really looking forward to since I started this blog is the chance to explore steampunk in different regions in the world. I’ve already delved into Japan with my Steampunk in Animation series and now it’s time for us to start exploring Italy with Sìon, the first steampunk graphic novel set in Naples, Italy. Sìon is currently funding on Indiegogo and has almost a month left to go. Sante Mazzei, one of the writers involved in Sìon, has taken the time to tell me all about the creative process that brought this masterpiece together. I hope you’ll enjoy learning about this magnificent graphic novel as much as I have!

Can you tell us a bit about Sion

Sìon is a graphic novel set in a version of Naples that started to take advantage of the Vesuvius volcano as a source of geothermal energy. The use of electricity has changed the citizen’s way of life introducing new ways to entertain, travel, communicate and even kill. Our main character, named Sìon, is a physically mute Jewish man, taken from his community, who begins to investigate on several terrifying creatures spotted in the underground of Naples
What part of the story came to you first?
The setting was one of  the main things we worked on. We added electricity to a particular historical context and calculated every possible outcome.  We imagined a huge “Corona” around the Vesuvius volcano, in order to harness its energetic potential. The plot, in order to work, would have needed a setting as extraordinary and believable as possible.
Why did you choose to crowdfund this project? 
Crowdfunding gives authors the chance to express as best as possible their potential. We decided to have full control over our story, without censorship or cuts, and the materials and packaging that our graphic novel will be made with. We will use a never before seen kind of paper for a comic book, the Dolce Vita, allowing the details and lighting of the electrically lit setting to shine through the page. All this is made possible by working with industry experts like the international-level typography: FonteGrafica as well as Favini, a world leader in supports for innovative graphics. We believe that crowdfunding is the best way to give life to an idea, thanks to the participation of all fans. In this case, the birth of the comic book is not only an achievement for the authors but for all those that have supported the project.
You’re also working on a limited edition Sion board game. What convinced you to take on this ambitious project? 
The board game represents the possibility for the reader to enter the world of Sìon and take part in his investigations. We love role playing games and board games with strong and convincing settings. We saw in our comic book a perfect setting for a role playing board game, that will allow you to “live” Naples as we imagined it, hunt during the night, conduct research in our refuges, while a deus ex machina moves the creatures and the fate of the city. We love the ideas that we developed regarding the game and we can’t wait to know what our supporters think of them!
Are you planning to create more graphic novels in the world of Sion
Our graphic novel will be a self concluding story. The investigations of Sìon will come to an end. But the universe we created is huge and we would love to explore other aspects of the story and allow the reader to discover all of its details. When structuring a multi-faceted setting as ours, having to tell only one aspects of it turns out to be too superficial for the readers. So yes, we will confront other aspects of the city and of the universe that we created.
Sion_3What drew you into steampunk in the first place? 
We ourselves are readers of comic books, as well as lovers of games, movies, music and all other art forms. Steampunk has found a way to live within all of these, with masterful stories and atmospheres of great beauty. Lately it has grown a lot as a genre and we will give our contribution deviating from the ground that other authors have already laid.
What do you think is the most interesting part of the steampunk genre/culture?
We feel it is the introduction of a technology so distant from the historical period presented. It allows us to calculate social, political and economical implications of a society. The screenwriter of Sìon is an Archeologist who is currently involved in anthropology. He has always been fascinated by the social transformations that followed discoveries and scientific applications. For this reason Sìon has been envisioned from the beginning as a steampunk work.
Sion is live on Indiegogo right now. How are you working to keep momentum going throughout your entire campaign? 
We are hard at work in consistently publishing new content and details on the perks that make up our campaign. Pictures are grafico-percentuali-immagine-2worth more than a thousand words and it is for this reason that we prioritize illustrations and characters, as well as their descriptions. We hope that you will love our project as much as we do

Steampunk in Animation Pt. 3: Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing

Shorewood Blu-ray OcardLast week I reviewed Last Exile, a fun steampunk anime with many dark secrets at its core. Today I’d like to introduce you to Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing, another steampunk anime series which came out several years after the original Last Exile.

Here’s what the product page has to say about Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing:

Soaring adventure and high-flying heroism fill the skies in Last Exile – Fam – The Silver Wing, a thrilling new chapter in the Last Exile saga!

Years ago, humanity abandoned the ruined Blue World. Generations later, with the planet again capable of sustaining life, mankind returned. In the skies above the reborn world, rebellious young Fam and her best friend Giselle make their living as Sky Pirates. Atop sleek Vespa Vanships, the girls dart fearlessly through the clouds, capturing and selling airborne battleships for profit. It’s a life of care-free swashbuckling – until the Ades Federation attacks. The only nation to remain on Blue World during humanity’s exile, The Ades Federation wages war against those who returned only after the planet’s darkest days had passed. When Fam and Giselle rescue a princess from the clutches of the rampaging Ades armada, they join the young royal’s battle to save her Kingdom from destruction – and undertake the impossible mission of uniting humanity in peace.

The story of Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing is strong enough to stand on its own but is definitely more fun to watch if you’ve already enjoyed the original Last Exile. In many ways the second story mirrors the first. There are many references to the first anime but all of them make sense within the story of Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing. We even get to see several characters from the original Last Exile, including a brief appearance from the main characters themselves at the end.

One thing about the original Last Exile that really stood out was the sheer variety of airships and the different ways they were used. I was particularly intrigued by their use of sonar to track other airships.

In Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing there’s an even larger variety of airships and the main characters are actually sky pirates who spend their days hunting “skyfish”. The way these sky pirates work is awesome to watch in action. They are full of cool tricks which they use to minimize damage done to the “skyfish” they catch.

With only 23 episodes, Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing is even shorter than the original but it manages to tell a well rounded story in that short amount of time. The story of this anime isn’t as dark as the story of the original Last Exile but it’s definitely a story that will make you think about human nature and the nature of war. The characters are lots of fun, especially when you get to re-meet the crew from the original Last Exile, and the world of this story is an especially beautiful one.

Purchase Last Exile: Fam, The Silver Wing here!

Introducing Andrea Berthot of the Gold and Gaslighting Chronicles

HeartlessToday’s author caught my attention when I read a review of her most recent novel, The Hypnotic City, which is part of the Gold and Gaslight Chronicles. The series caught my attention right away thanks to its new take on one of my favourite old stories, Dr. Jekyll & Hyde.

Please give Andrea Berthot a warm welcome!

Can you tell us a bit about your books?

There are currently two books in my Gold and Gaslight Chronicles series, both involving glittering excess and science-gone-wrong in reimagined urban settings during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. The Heartless City is set in 1903, and London has been quarantined for thirteen years, terrorized by a race of monsters created by Henry Jekyll. Due to his own devastating brush with science, seventeen-year-old Elliot is now an empath, leveled by the emotions of a terrorized, dying city. He finds an unlikely ally in a music hall waitress named Iris, and together they must discover who’s pulling the strings in Jekyll’s wake. Monsters, it turns out, are not the greatest evil they must face. The Hypnotic City is a sequel/spin-off that will be released on August 1st, 2016, and it follows one of the minor characters in The Heartless City – Philomena Blackwell – as she attempts to make it as an actress in 1905 New York. When she lands a big break, it seems as if the city is ready to fall under her spell – just as she seems to be falling for a handsome young stage manager – but a new and more terrible danger lurks in the shadows of Broadway’s bright lights, and even a mind as determined as hers may not be immune to its seductive, insidious pull.

Which part of the story came to you first?

I first thought of the idea for The Heartless City when I was discussing one of the film versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with one of my students (I am an English teacher). I suddenly thought, “what would have happened if Dr. Jekyll hadn’t kept his formula to himself, but instead shared it with his friends or sold it?” And the idea grew from there.

I love when stories come about like this! It’s amazing how much story you can get out of a single question.

The Heartless City is set in 1903 London and The Hypnotic Cityleads your main character to 1905 New York. How much research on each setting did you do before starting each book?

I did LOTS of research for both books. It was different with The Heartless City because it wasn’t only 1903 London but a reimagined, quarantined, monster-filled 1903 London, so I had to research things like what products, world events, and cultural changes they would be cut off from and how that would change the dynamics of the city. The Hypnotic City was a little bit easier, because it is less re-imagined history, but I still read many books and studied many maps in order to prepare, just like I did for Heartless.

When you set out to write The Heartless City did you intend to write a series?

Not at all! I thought it would be a standalone, but Philomena became such a powerful and compelling character that when the story was over I knew I had to find out what she did next and give her her own story.

This has happened to me recently, with one of my novels turning into a trilogy. It’s awesome and terrifying all at once, because a series is a much bigger commitment.

What was the first steampunk media you discovered?

I first became intrigued by steampunk fashion, especially when I saw a local production of Sweeney Todd that was costumed completely with a steampunk aesthetic. It was so dark, quirky, dramatic, and exciting.

That sounds amazing! Sweeney Todd is one of my favourite stories. I know a lot of people who are fans of the play aren’t fans of the movie, but I adore it and have watched it at least seven times.

What do you think is the most interesting thing about steampunk?

It’s just fascinating how it takes most of the things I love about Victorian culture and then adds sci-fi/fantasy. It gives the writer/artist the opportunity to ground themselves in something historical and real and then take off from there and create something new and exciting.

It really is a fantastic combination, one of the most fascinating periods of history combined with some incredibly creative additions from the fantasy & science fiction genres(which happen to be my favourite).

If you could meet any one steampunk author/artist, who would it be?

Definitely the OGs of steampunk – H.G. Wells and Jules Verne

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

After completing The Hypnotic City, I decided that I wanted to make the Gold and Gaslight Chronicles  a trilogy, so I am brainstorming/outlining the next book, which will likely take place in Paris and have to do with the birth of early cinema, and of course some weird and creepy science.

That sounds awesome! I’m really eager to explore more steampunk that isn’t England-centric and I love that your series is all over the world.


bookpicofme
Andrea Berthot’s
last name has a silent “t,” like the word “merlot” – which fits, since that is her favorite drink to have at the end of the day.

Back when she was born in Salina, Kansas, her last name was Price, and she grew up loving singing, acting, reading, and of course writing. By day she teaches high school English, creative writing, forensics, and directs the yearly musical, and by night (or rather, by early morning, as her brain is more alive at 5am than 5pm) she writes Young Adult stories involving history, romance, magic, literature, and some good, old-fashioned butt-kicking.

She lives in Winfield, Kansas with her husband and their two sons, Maximus and Leonardo.

The Heartless City

Henry Jekyll was a brilliant doctor, a passionate idealist who aimed to free mankind of selfishness and vice. He’s also the man who carelessly created a race of monsters.

Once shared secretly among the good doctor’s inner circle, the Hyde drug was smuggled into mass-production – but in pill form, it corrupted its users at the genetic level, leaving them liable to transform without warning. A quarter of the population are now clandestine killers – ticking bombs that could detonate at any given moment.

It’s 1903, and London has been quarantined for thirteen years.

Son of the city’s most prominent physician and cure-seeker, seventeen-year-old Elliot Morrissey has had his own devastating brush with science, downing a potion meant to remove his human weaknesses and strengthen him against the Hydes – and finding instead he’s become an empath, leveled by the emotions of a dying city.

He finds an unlikely ally in Iris Faye, a waitress at one of the city’s rowdier music halls, whose emotions nearly blind him; her fearlessness is a beacon in a city rife with terror. Iris, however, is more than what she seems, and reveals a mission to bring down the establishment that has crippled the people of London.

Together, they aim to discover who’s really pulling the strings in Jekyll’s wake, and why citizens are waking up in the street infected, with no memory of ever having taken the Hyde drug…

Heart-eating monsters, it turns out, are not the greatest evil they must face.

Purchase The Heartless City on Amazon today!

The Hypnotic City

Philomena Blackwell survived a city plagued with monsters, the gilded cage of high society, and the rule of a heartless man… and she aims to leave it all behind.

It’s 1905, and London has finally been freed from Henry Jekyll’s terrible legacy – its people cured, its thirteen-year quarantine lifted. The world is waiting, and for a girl who dreams of being its most dazzling star, what could be more enticing than the bright lights of New York City?

She is drawn across the ocean like a moth to a flame, her heart set on proving that while she may be small on the outside, her soaring talent eclipses even Manhattan’s towering skyline. When she lands a big break, it seems as if the city is ready to fall under her spell – just as she seems to be falling for a handsome young stage manager. But is it her stage presence mesmerizing the audience, or something more sinister behind the scenes?

Philomena has always relied on her fierce will and fiery heart, but a new and more terrible danger lurks in the shadows of Broadway’s bright lights, and even a mind as determined as hers may not be immune to its seductive, insidious pull…

Both fans of The Heartless City and new readers alike will enjoy this stand-alone / spin-off tale of Philomena’s adventures on stage – and in love – in NYC.

Check out The Hypnotic City on Goodreads!

Do these sound like awesome novels to you? Do you want to see more series like this featured on The Steampunk Cavaliers? Know a series you want to see featured here? Let us know in the comments section below!