I’ve talked before about how many of my favourite examples of steampunk are animated and about my eagerness to dive further into steampunk animation, especially steampunk anime(Japanese animation). The Last Exile is one of the most highly recommended steampunk anime, so it seemed like a natural place to start my journey before diving into the obscure reaches of the anime world.
I’m not so great at the summary thing so I’ll start by sharing what’s on the Funimation page:
It’s the dawn of the Golden Age of Aviation on planet Prester, and retro-futuristic sky vehicles known as vanships dominate the horizon. Claus Valca – a flyboy born with the right stuff – and his fiery navigator Lavie are fearless racers obsessed with becoming the first sky couriers to cross the Grand Stream in a vanship. But when the high-flying duo encounters a mysterious girl named Alvis, they are thrust into the middle of an endless battle between Anatoray and Disith – two countries systematically destroying each other according to the code of chivalric warfare. Lives will be lost and legacies determined as Claus and Lavie attempt to bring peace to their world by solving the riddle of its chaotic core.
Like many of the best anime, The Last Exile is a short, self contained series with only 26 half hour episodes–but you will be amazed at just how much story these animators manage to fit into a short period of time. I am honestly still reeling from everything that happened in just the second half of this anime and I’m already excited to watch it again to pick up on all the nuances.
Right away I adored Lavie–the extremely talented and quirky girl mechanic is a fairly common anime trope but it’s one of my favourites–and by the end of the first episode I was already enthralled by the variety of airships roaming the skies of Prester.
At the beginning The Last Exile is a fun story that marries all the things you love about steampunk with some of the best anime tropes, but after the first five or six episodes the story takes a sharp turn onto a very dark path with a strange cult-like Guild at the center. Quirky, even outrageous characters and awkward romance scenes are skillfully used to keep it from being extremely heavy, but at its core this anime’s story is deeply disturbing.
I do kind of wish The Last Exile went on a little bit longer because a couple of the character arcs felt rushed, especially at the end. Everything did come to a satisfying conclusion, but there are a couple points where you can tell they’re really trying to jam a lot of story into the 26 episodes they were given.
I would recommend The Last Exile to anyone interested in exploring steampunk anime. The characters are truly likable and the story is fascinating, delving far deeper into the nature of humanity than you might expect, especially from something this short.
Does this anime sound awesome to you? Do you know an epic steampunk anime I should feature here? Let me know in the comments below!
Several years ago, a bunch of my writer friends and I were captivated by the work in progress being shared by one of our group. We raced to be the first to read the chapters as he posted them for critiques and had a great time reading the story. I’m thrilled that W. E. Larson is now releasing the book, Cog: and the Steel Tower. I had a chance this weekend to ask him a few questions about it.
Thanks for joining us here at Steampunk Cavaliers! Without simply repeating the book’s blurb, tell us about Cog: and the Steel Tower. What will stand out for steampunk fans?
But repeating the blurb is so much easier!
Well here goes… It’s a story about a mechanically-gifted young girl nicknamed ‘Cog’ who is forced to strike out on her own in order to live the life she wants to live. She becomes a stowaway on an airship, assuming a false identity and stumbles across a plot that threatens the whole country. Once the airship arrives at the Steel Tower, the seat of power for the nation, she has to maintain her secret while at the same time unraveling the mystery of the plot. There’s a lot she learns along the way involving friendship, trust, and the dangers of trying to take on everything yourself.
Steampunk fans will find a rich world of alternative technologies and 19th century ideas of psychic abilities and mysticism. Since Cog is an aspiring engineer, the steampunk elements are very much an integral part of the story. The Steel Tower itself is a playground for mad science where all sorts of inventing and experimentation takes place.
Cog is such a great character, clever and caring and unafraid to challenge the way things are. Tell us more about her. What led you to write about her? Did she surprise you as you wrote the story?
I started off the book wanting to make something my daughter might enjoy reading which led me to a female protagonist. Since I wanted to create a steampunk-style world, it felt natural to make this girl mechanically gifted with a bit of mad scientist thrown in. With the Victorian influences of steampunk and the modern challenges girls face in STEM fields, there was a natural story about having her challenge gender roles so it sort of all flowed together to create this young girl who is an almost unstoppable force of determination and MacGyver-like ingenuity.
What surprised me was how confident she ended up being. I think there is a strong temptation with a young girl as a protagonist to have her gain her confidence and discover her strength as the story progresses, but that just isn’t who Cog is. I had to go in a different direction with her development.
What about Cog’s world? It has an interesting mix of the fantastical with the industrial changes of a steampunk world. What do you think will draw readers into her world?
Part of the fun of steampunk is that ‘what-if’ quality of imagining a world in which technology developed in a different way. Cog’s world has that element and throws in alchemy, psychic ability, and abandoned scientific theories to add a little fantasy. It’s a book for kids, after all, and I think a little of the fantastical helps add to the fun. However, because the fantastical is wrapped up in things that people really believed in and isn’t just ‘magic’, I think it maintains the steampunk feel. I’m hoping the reader will find that an engaging combination.
Are there other prominent steampunk works in middle-grade novels right now? I always felt books like His Dark Materials and The Series of Unfortunate Events have a steampunk feel without it being an overt part of how they’re marketed. Any other works stand out? And what aspects of steampunk do you think middle-grade readers will be drawn to?
I did feel that with His Dark Materials and I suspect that Lyra Belacqua had an influence on my development of Cog. The steampunk series that comes to mind for me right now is the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld, though I haven’t read it. I think in steampunk young readers can find the wonder of fantasy in a setting that’s very different and fresh from traditional fantasy worlds. Maybe the characters can be easier to relate to as well since it’s still a technological and urban world even if it is very different from our own.
What will be next for you? Will Cog have more books to test her mechanical abilities? Will you be branching out into other works, other subgenres?
There is a lot more to explore with Cog, her friends, and her world so I have plans for more books. I’ve already started a sequel called ‘Cog and the Copper Dragon’. I have a more traditional fantasy book in the same age-range which I’ve finished writing and has been through some rounds of revisions, but isn’t quite ready yet. There’s also a science fiction YA book I have outlined that I’d like to write for an older audience that will dive into some deeper issues, but that’s on the backburner for now.
Great, I’m looking forward to hearing more about the sequel when that comes around, too. Thanks so much for your time. For more about W. E. Larson, visit his website: http://www.welarson.com/. And to order your own copy, in print or digital format, check it out on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01F6MD1AC.
I have only been involved with Steampunk since early 2014.
This involvement was thanks to a wonderful artisan/Steampunk advocate called Anne Marie Schlodder. She along with her silversmith daughter, Victoria, encouraged us to participate.
Thanks to her we showed up at an event called Steam On Queen, a local event in Toronto, celebrating all things Steam punk. this event was the Brainchild of the wonderful Adam Smith, seen in the midst of the event.
and again with some of his creations and his amazing helper, Syndi Berman
I quickly saw the huge potential for dressing up and dove into it full-tilt-boogie-band. I even got my husband to get involved.
This was taken at Steam On Queen in 2014 with our designer friend Emi .
Once of the nicest parts of getting involved is some of the super people I have met. Lord Christoper MacRaven and his lovely lady seen next.
The Pennys, Nerissa from SteamGummi designs, Archie from Mental Floss, this list goes on.
Nerissa and I below.
I’ll close with glimpses of the great event that was Steam on Queen, sadly not to be repeated.
Release: September 29, 2015
Author: Jim Butcher
Series: The Cinder Spires
Genre: Steampunk | Fantasy | Adventure | Humor
Edition: Kindle and Audio
Buy it here: AMAZON
Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.
Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.
And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…
I am a fan of Jim Butcher’s urban fantasy series, The Dresden Files, so I admit to being excited by the fact that he had plans for a new series set in a steampunk world. These last two months have been a busy time for me professionally, so I purchased both the Kindle and the Audible editions of the novel hoping to save a bit of time with the Whispersync function. (When I review a book I generally read it two times and take notes. This is a bit longer time commitment than simply reading a novel for pleasure.) Unfortunately I have Apple products (iMac and iPad) and Whispersync does not work with them. The iMac and iPad Audible versions did not sync with each other either. Ah well—the best laid plans of mice and men! I am glad, though, that I purchased both: Euan Morton narrates the Audible version and he is such a versatile actor it is almost impossible to believe one person is voicing each character. This is a book I will listen to again.
The Aeronaut’s Windlass is a wonderful addition to the steampunk genre. It is not set in Victorian England or the American West, although these time periods do serve as touchstones of inspiration. It is set in its own world and it incorporates unique aesthetic touches.
The world-building in this series is incredibly detailed, yet is not intrusive to the narrative. It takes a deft touch for a writer to include so much information without it bogging down the story, but Butcher is able to achieve this. I believe that Butcher succeeds because of his experience as a writer—because of his years of honing his craft. If you are interested in a “behind-the-scenes” type view of writing, visit Jim Butcher’s Live Journal. It contains detailed, step-by-step posts on how to write a novel.
The steampunk elements are essential to the story. Airships, spire cities at war, and almost magical seeming gauntlets that shoot out beams of light are part-and-parcel of life for the characters. The society is structured and multi-leveled.
One interesting aspect of the society is the (mostly) mandatory military service for the children of the wealthier/aristocratic houses. Families who have only one child do not have to send their heir into service, but most of them do so despite the danger. It is a particular badge of honor to serve. The tradition in the novel reminds me of the real-life service that Great Britain’s royal family has partaken in over the last few generations. Prince Harry, the second child of Prince Charles, even served in active duty in Afghanistan.
Although there is a heavy focus on aristocratic members of society in the first novel of the series, the characters run the gamut of society: Bridget, scion of a once-prominent noble house on the verge of ruin and her talking cat, Rowl, Highborn Gwendolyn Lancaster, her “warrior born” cousin, Benedict; the disgraced Captain Grimm; and master etherealist Ferus and his assistant, Folly, are a motley group of grizzled veterans and novices that are sent off to stop the mysterious force behind a very coordinated and deadly series of attacks on Spire Albion by its rival, Spire Aurora.
The chapters are narrated by different points of view. The character location is presented in a sub-heading at the start of each chapter and the voice of each is unique. It is not difficult to determine who is speaking simply by the diction each one uses. This is particularly effective with Euan Morton’s narration in the Audible book where he does an excellent job portraying the diversity of each character’s manner of speech.
The battle scenes, both on the ground and between the airships, are thrilling. It has elements of the swashbuckling adventures of C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brien and just a touch of Joss Whedon’s Firefly:
“Evasive action!” Grimm ordered. The distant screaming roars of the Itasca’s guns continued, and he heard the hungry hissing of blasts streaking through the mists around them, making them glow with hellish light. They had been lucky to survive a single glancing hit. Thirty guns raked the mist, and Grimm knew the enemy ship would be rolling onto her starboard side, giving the
gunners a chance to track their approximate line of descent. If the same gunner or one of his fellows got lucky again, Predator would not be returning home to Spire Albion.
The action rarely stops in this novel and the world is a steampunk-themed playground waiting for Butcher to explore in future novels. What lies on the surface of the world? What created the mists? And what game is Albion, ruler of Spire Albion, playing? Readers will have to wait for those answers as the series develops.
One of the most awesome parts of running a blog like this is that I get to feature stories the mainstream media usually ignores. In our two months of blogging we’ve already featured one steampunk series about a transgender woman and today I’m thrilled to share The Gunfighter & The Gearhead, a steampunk novel featuring an explosive relationship between two brilliant women.
I hope you’ll enjoy learning about their story as much as I have.
Can you tell us a bit about your novel, The Gunfighter & The Gear-Head
It was my first novel and is still one of my favorite projects. It’s a love story at its heart with an unusual backdrop of the post apocalyptic American southwest. It sprung from a short story I wrote in college and blossomed into a full series of books combining an end of the world setting with steampunk technology and a dash of humor and sex.
A short story that turned into a series of novels! I thought that only happened to me! All joking aside, this is an awesome way to build a story.
What part of the story came to you first?
The romance between Fiona and Gieo, definitely. I wanted to write an out of control emotional connection between two women that have almost nothing in common beyond their undeniable attraction to each other. The firestorm relationship between a dangerous, unbalanced gunfighter and a brilliant, fearless scientist needed an interesting setting, and that’s where Tombstone came into play.
This sounds like such a fascinating relationship, no wonder you couldn’t keep it contained within a single short story.
How much planning did you do before delving into the actual story?
Since it was a short story first, the bare bones of what I wanted to do already existed. I fleshed the ideas out some, took a few drives into the desert for inspiration and research, and everything grew from there. I have the entire series outlined, which has made it easy to add three more books including two sequels and a prequel.
You sent this quote to me with the blurb: “Four things greater than all things are, – Women and Horses and Power and War” ~Rudyard Kipling Why did you choose this quote to represent The Gunfighter & The Gear-Head?
Kipling is such an interesting historic and literary figure. He’s a British colonial writer, which should make him completely outdated and bland by modern standards, but they just remade the Jungle Book into a live action movie so his work still has appeal. His stories and poems about under dogs and the power found in unlikely people are remarkable for his genre and era. I actually found the quote before I wrote the third book in the series and it summed up exactly what I was going for. Two of the earthshaking forces people know and expect, war and power, but I don’t think everyone realizes how influential women and horses have been in shaping human history, and that’s the story I wanted to tell. All four great forces Kipling mentions combined into one movement: the Raven Ladies.
When & how did you discover steampunk?
What part of steampunk is most appealing to you?
I like the science and style mixture. Function and form melding together. My father is an aerospace engineer so I grew up in a household full of pictures spanning the age of flight, models and sculptures of anything that ever left the ground, and tons of schematics, blueprints, and design drawings for flying machines. I never had a talent for any of the engineering side, so I invented my machines in fictional realms where they wouldn’t rely so heavily on funding and physics to exist. I doubt Boeing would be wooed by Gieo’s airship designs, although Harley Davidson might take a look at her motorcycle.
I also really love the combination of science and style you find in steampunk. I think too often modern science has gone for efficiency without aesthetics, leading to an overly sanitized and often ugly world.
Your “day job” is actually freelance writing, but do you write any types of fiction other than novels?
I think for a freelance writer to make a living it has to be all about diversification, like a good investment portfolio. I write short stories and novellas from time to time. I have a few collections out and a novella series right now. I used to write sex advice columns for various lesbian magazines, then a relationship advice column for a network of dating sites, and now I’m writing grants for LGBT organizations. I’ve tried my hand at poetry and fan fiction with cute but ultimately not very good results.
That’s quite an impressive list of things you’ve written. I’m really interested in learning more about the grant writing process and expanding the diversity of my own non-fiction work–I’d love any advice you can share in the comments section here!
What are you working on right now that readers can look forward to?
I’m on the homestretch of writing a mystery novel set in early 20th century Barcelona with a steampunk private detective investigating a serial arsonist. It’s called Pintor Noche and I’m hoping it’ll be ready for release this summer. It combines so many of my favourite things, intrigue, food, art, gadgets, sex, and fashion.
Those are many of my favourite things too! I’ll have to add it to my to-be-read pile(which only seems to grow, no matter how fast I read books. Thanks for agreeing to this interview, I hope you’ll stick around to discover the other amazing Steampunks we’re going to feature!
I write a free-lance sex advice column found in various lesbian magazines and dating websites. My short story collections and novels can be found at http://cassandra-duffy.com/. I’m a dutiful partially-Asian daughter who is beloved by a fairly traditional Korean father who thinks having a gay daughter is just fine as long as I keep playing coed flag football. I’m a stereotypical younger sister, and adoring aunt of a hilarious little boy. Being a modern techno-freak, gamer-girl, I spent most of my childhood dreaming of designing video games, but changed my mind and brought my dreams of world building and story-weaving to writing unique romance novels. I am a gleefully monogamous wife to an earthbound goddess. When I’m not being an avid fang girl (vampire fan girl) or tormenting people in online gaming, I live and write in Florida with my soul mate Nichole and our two cats: Dragon and Josephine.
Think The Gunfighter & The Gearhead sounds awesome? Know a steampunk author/artist you think we should interview here? Let us know in the comments section below!
Today I’d like to introduce Ryan Flannery, the newest Steampunk Cavalier. He’ll be stepping in for Jorie, who has left us due to health issues. Keep reading to find out more about him & what he’s looking to feature on the blog.
What was the first example of steampunk you ever encountered?
My first steampunk I ever saw or read, hmmm. I guess it would have to be Wild Wild West, Treasure Planet, or Howl’s Moving Castle. Though I didn’t really understand the concept of steampunk at the time. I fell in love however; with the original Full Metal Alchemist in fact the Teacher’s Sigil is the only tattoo I currently have. Since then I have always been on the lookout for new and exciting steampunk related material.
What do you think is the most interesting aspect of steampunk?
I would say the most interesting thing about steampunk to me is the look of everything, the mixing of brass and wood, of gears and toggles. How things mix and match together, to some steampunk looks like a hodge podge of parts thrown together in some disorderly fashion. To me it is a work of pure art and expression from the goggles with all the funny parts coming off them to intricate music boxes, the gears turning and glinting in the light.
What part of steampunk do you most want to share with the world?
One of the areas I want to explore most is the cosplay aspect of steampunk. There is a whole movement about adding a little steampunk to standard cosplays and I really want to see what the community can do. I also am excited to look into the games created in steampunk worlds and the stories that are shared in a world where past and future collide.
If you wish to contact me, it’s best to email email@example.com or by my Twitter @RyanFlannery13 .
Ryan’s first interviews & reviews will go online next month so email him right away if you want to be featured on The Steampunk Cavaliers!
Today’s author is a little different from the authors who’ve visited the Steampunk Cavaliers before. He’s also an incredible artist working on a fine art photography book exploring a steampunk world and the characters within. I’m thrilled to be able to share his amazing artwork with the world and to learn more about his creative process.
Please give Gary Nicholls a warm welcome!
Can you tell us a bit about The Imaginarium – Eva’s Story?
The Imaginarium is a Dickens style steampunk themed story about one woman’s journey from ruination to salvation, saving the world from a powerful nemesis, told in a series of Fine Art Photographic images. In a Steampunk world of wickedness, betrayal, murder and greed, one lost soul stands out as her saviour. Eva Elizabeth Lovelace is born into a North of England workhouse, her mother dying in childbirth. At the age of 12, after working all hours in the Mill, she is sold to work in a bordello, as a skivvy. When older, she becomes an Adventuress, working for a domineering, wicked madam, Regina Von Black. Treated badly, she takes to the bottle and her life spirals out of control.
Dr William Percival Stockdale, a wealthy doctor and inventor, sees Eva and hatches a plan to save her using a device he has invented called the Necessitti. The Abernathy’s (workhouse owners) constant arguing, lead to Captain Abernathy meeting a stranger in an inn, who asks questions about Eva. This stranger appears throughout the story. Eva’s secret past is known by Bella Donna Abernathy, who also has a secret object kept in a box, that relates to Eva. The Abernathy’s son steals all their money to gamble it away, leaving them broke and ruined. There is a relationship between Captain Abernathy and Dr William, Lady Abernathy and Eva, and Eva and the stranger, revealed later in the story. Dr William is aided by two Steampunk, time travelling “Angels”. Eva is kidnapped by Regina’s Harlots and held in a pumping station. In the fight to rescue her, the madam’s twin sister is killed, leaving Regina to call upon the powers of her Steampunk Witch mother, to turn her into an all powerful Nemesis, in order to avenge her sister’s death.
From wickedness, treachery, prostitution, secrets and murder, the plot twists and turns, each character having their own story that builds into the final sections where almost all is revealed. With now, 36 characters and 65 extras, no main character in the story is who they seem each having a past that is about to catch up with them. The final scenes in the trilogy have 4,000 Steampunks lined up ready to do battle with The Nemesis, to save the world from her power. I will be flying all over the world to visit steampunk groups, photographing them to build this image.
My images are printed on metal, limited to just 7 of each, in one size, 36” on the long side. There are two images that are at 48”, but they are very special. The prints sell from £1,000 to £3,000 each.
What an interesting story and a massive undertaking! I’m crazy about this blog but I can’t imagine working on a project of this scale. I admire your dedication.
How did you first discover steampunk?
I used to subscribe to a Photoshop magazine, and one month there was a ‘create your own steampunk image’. This made me think that perhaps there were people that did this for real, not just models in pictures. I googled it and found The Asylum, Europe’s largest steampunk festival held every year in Lincoln, UK, at the end of August. So I bought a ticket and realised, on seeing the huge number of steampunks in attendance, I had found the theme for my project.
Even the steampunk events here draw in hundreds of people every year and we definitely don’t have the biggest convention or anything. It really is amazing to see how many steampunks are out there creating awesome stuff.
When you decided to start actively doing art again, why did you drift to the steampunk genre?
It was purely because I was fascinated by the creativity and artistry in the gadgets and costumes. People say ‘you need to think outside the box’ the reality is that if you think there is a ‘box’ then it is already too late. However, once you drift into steampunk, it sucks you in. I now have several costumes I wear for my exhibitions, and love it.
Steampunk really is addictive! I’ve only put together one costume so far but I’m already planning my next one.
The Imaginarium – Eva’s Storyis a fine art storybook. Did you come up with the story or the art first?
The Imaginarium story started as just 3 images, and 5 steampunks. My one rule is that to be in the project, you need to be a genuine steampunk. I work differently to other artists that work composites. The image is completely formed in my head, first. There is no sketching, no planning, it is just ‘there’ in my mind. The inspiration can come from a song, a costume or just how someone looks. I then jump onto google to find the location that matches what I have ‘seen’ and I am off. The steampunks are then ‘directed’ in a studio, so that I get the image telling the section of the story I am trying to tell. This can take a huge number of shots (to create 100 pictures, I have taken over 8,000 images) The story, however, is another matter entirely. It is very organic. It has gone from a few pictures, to twenty, then sixty and now over 150. Not only that, the whole tale is now a trilogy, so over 450 images to create. The story developed after I had created 6 images, where I realized I actually had a story to tell.
This is a really awesome process of discovering your story. I wonder if it’s done growing yet.
Had you done any fine art before starting this project?
The simple answer is no. I attended art college, for a couple of years, when I was 16 and was Head of Graphic Communication and Design Technology in a London Secondary school after graduating as a teacher. Design has always been in my blood, as I see anything I am designing as completely finished, before pencil hits paper.
I always see amazing, beautiful images in my head when I sit down to art, but I’ve never had the patience or skill to make them reality. Kudos to you for following your creative muse so effectively!
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned working onThe Imaginarium – Eva’s Story?
Steampunks are amazing people. The people I have met, while working on this project, have been incredible. Polite, friendly, interesting, helpful and generally wonderful. The clothing has a huge amount of amazing style, and makes any person look great and I have learnt a lot about myself and my own imagination.
Who is your favorite steampunk artist & why?
I wouldn’t say that I have a favourite, and I am certainly not influenced by any Steampunk Artists. My influences tend to stem from Photoshop Gurus like Glyn Dewis. The way that I work is that the idea and image come first. I then look to find out how on earth I can create what is in my head. I do not use stock photos, every element in my images is photographed by me.
What are the next steps forThe Imaginarium – Eva’s Storyand when can I buy my copy??
The next step is publishing the first book of over 150 images and story. It is being printed at a very high quality, with the pages printed in matt grey with the images over printed and spot varnished to match my metal prints. There will be a Kickstarter running at the end of this month, where you will be able to buy a copy, being offered with various options. The first 1,000 copies will be numbered and signed limited editions and you can register your interest in this Here The retail price will be £89 plus p+p but the Kickstarter will be £79 plus p+p. The first 2,000 copies sold via the Kickstarter will also have your name in the back as a listed supporter.
This is so exciting! I can’t wait to see your Kickstarter campaign & finished work.
Gary Nicholls was born in Rochford, England, and was brought into the darkroom by his father as early as 3 years old. Now he is reclaiming his love for photography with The Imaginarium, a steampunk themed fine art photography book. He already has over 100 images complete and will be flying all over the world to meet with other steampunks and complete The Imaginarium.
Up until now the Steampunk Cavaliers has been a closed group blog because we wanted to establish our style so writers had something to base their own posts on. We haven’t been open for a particularly long time but I think the posts we have so far are a great display of what we want The Steampunk Cavaliers to be. So today I’d like to welcome writers of all types to submit guest posts, abiding by the following rules:
All guest posts must in some way relate to steampunk(how they relate can be really vague but it must be a real connection)
Guest posts should contain no swearing/an absolute minimum
Posts must be at least 450 words
You must have permission to use all images associated with your post
You do not need to be an established blogger or steampunk writer/artist to submit a guest post. All you need is an idea! The first guest posts will start to appear in May. You will receive a byline with a link back to your own site and many virtual hugs and cookies for sending us awesome ideas. We’re especially interested in non-review content as we have a lot of reviews coming up over the next few months.
Today’s guest is an active blogger and writer with his first novel, Phantom Hearts, currently on submission. I don’t generally invite yet-to-be published writers for interviews but Phantom Heart has such an excellent premise I just had to know more.
Please give Michael a warm welcome!
Can you tell us a bit about your novel?
Oh, but of course! Sometimes I feel like I breathe this stuff, lol.
Phantom Hearts is a steampunk fantasy adventure set in an entirely other world. Hannah, a seventeen-year-old slave, battles her way across a continent engulfed in the first modern war in search of the outlawed magic to bring Jason, her forbidden love, back from the grave. Aided only by a brutal murderer, an unpredictable teenager addicted to Wild Magic, and a carnie who leads an underground railroad for slaves, she must wrestle with the growing weight of her own destiny — or risk losing Jason forever.
The world is not unlike a steampunk World War One, but with outlawed magic, rogue spies, steampunk carnivals, and clockwork animals. Hannah unlocks her own magical heritage, the ability — or curse — to live other’s emotions. And of course, there’s a dangerous soldier who seeks to destroy Hannah, bargaining with Ghouls to invade Hannah’s dreams and torture her nights.
I love the world you’ve built here, especially the nature of magic and how it interacts with other parts of the world. I particularly like the way you’ve made Hannah’s magic a double edged sword–it comes with more serious drawbacks than many forms of magic I’ve seen.
What part of the story came to you first?
I’m always daydreaming. I come up with the small scenes, emotional moments, or interesting bits of the world and keep them in a journal. Once I have enough of the isolated pieces, I start to ask questions: How can this lead to that? What if this were turned on its head? A plot emerges.
This particular book started with the idea of a world that was entering the modern era, but in a steampunk way. Old magic was being forgotten — even outlawed. The first scenes that made me think I have to write this book were of a young girl who’d never had any power, never done anything crazy, going all out in a desperate gamble for the one she loves. One scene in particular was a magic battle that happens on an airship. She’s flexing her “magical muscles” for the first time, and is terrible at it. She’s almost killed. Only her sheer determination helps her escape.
Your novel takes place in another world. How closely is this world based on the Victorian time period usually associated with steampunk?
Actually, my book is closer to an Edwardian (1901-1910) and First World War era. There’s a lot of almost electro-punk or eddison-punk. It’s really a world in transition, moving away from the grime and chaos of clockwork and steam and into the sterile and dangerous world of electricity and total war. It’s also all but forgotten its soul — magic. That said, there is a lot of the Victorian feel, just a tad darker.
How did you first discover the world of steampunk?
Hard to say. Probably The Castle in the Sky when I was a kid, though I didn’t know what to call it (and it may not be traditional steampunk). I started falling in love with steampunk through comic conventions and books like Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. I instantly loved the idea of a world where not everything is uniform. In our world, all the phones look the same — efficient, sleek, simple. I was drawn to the idea that everything can be kind of a jumble, unique, and hand-made. I also adored the on-the-surface optimism in so much steampunk, but in a way that can really contrast with true human problems like class hierarchy and the role of technology.
We’ve actually had a few different authors reference Miyazaki films as their first exposure to steampunk, mostly Howl’s Moving Castle. It’s totally thrilling because these are some of my all time favorite movies and I love seeing how many lives they’ve touched.
What do you think is the most interesting thing about steampunk?
The sheer creativity and the community! I love the fact that steampunk is expanding beyond just Victorian england. We’re seeing multicultural steampunk, Egyptian steampunk, and so many others. And the people. Steampunks are just fun people — creative, kind, and not ashamed to be weird. I’ve always felt that way. It is awesome to find a group that you can really be yourself with.
And of course, the possibility of imagination in my stories. That’s really what it’s all about for me.
I’m also really excited to see steampunk expanding and exploring all different parts of the world. And the creativity of the people in the community seriously can’t be applauded enough.
Your world obviously has a few different types of magic including the addictive Wild Magic. How did you come up with these different systems?
Well, the world actually has one kind of magic system, but it’s pretty complex. Phantom Hearts is just the first in a collection of related, but not dependent books, set on the planet of Anadell. The goal is to ask the question: How would an entire world’s history have evolved if magic was just another part of life? So, the collection explores a 5000 year chunk of history. The Phantom Hearts series is just one part of that. It’s not unlike Brandon Sanderson’s idea of the Cosmere.
So the magic on Anadell actually comes from Anasear (the dream world or spiritual realm, sort of). Magic flows through emotion, and not just human emotion. Many animals have evolved basic instinctual use of magic. The Wild Magic you asked about is what happens when people just use raw emotion to channel Anasear’s magic — it’s incredibly powerful, but also a raw adrenaline shot. Addictive and destructive. Treatus Magic is a complex system of spells and charms that are meant to try and control that River of Magic (without a lot of success). And, of course, there are Phantoms, the creatures who live in Anasear. Thousands of kinds of Phantoms (Ghouls, Wraiths, Ghosts) can be bound to a person’s will to do incredible kinds of magic, but at a cost.
I love the idea that magic has a cost, a pain. So I started with that idea and just started asking questions, filling in the blanks. There a LOT more to it, but you’ll just have to read the books!
I’m also a big fan of magic having a cost, though the costs in my worlds are usually pretty straight forward–human sacrifices, years off your life, insanity, that kind of thing.
You’ve done a degree in Educational Psychology. How has this studying informed your knowledge of character creation?
A lot, actually. My specific focus was on Individual Difference, which allowed me to really investigate how different people see the world. The research is all centered around how the context of a person’s if (biological, cultural, personal history, etc.) impacts how they see the world, how they make decisions, and ultimately, how they learn. I applied these same basic methods to my characters. It helped me create richer backstories and clearer expressions.
I once had the opportunity to interview Robert J. Sawyer and one of the questions I asked him was “If you could start over, knowing you were going to be a successful author, what would you have studied”. I’ll never forget his response: “Psychology, because what else is character but psychology?” Ever since then I’ve spent a lot of time researching psychology online and it’s definitely helped me build epic characters.
I also have a Masters in Anthropology, which has probably been even more helpful. I’ve studied cultures from around the world and across time, paying special attention to their folklore, myths, and stories. This gives me a lot more to draw on when building a new world. One of my favorite writing concepts is that “there are no new ideas, only new mixtures of ideas.” That knowledge gives me a bigger ingredient list to mix. I can also see how one aspect of a culture (maybe history) can affect another aspect (say, language) in really detailed ways.
Together, they let me create fleshed-out experiences. I can make a consistent context (world, language, myths) for my character and figure out how all of that would shape their perceptions and behaviors.
If anyone’s interested in that, I blog about it a lot at chrismichaelsauthor.com.
Sounds like a fascinating blog! I will definitely check it out.
What can people read while they’re waiting for your novel to come out?
Well, I have Phantom Hearts and a YA contemporary fantasy-thriller, Allyson Darke, out there playing the “let’s find an agent and publisher game.” I’m polishing a couple others, too. But, it could be a while before any of these are on shelves. (If you’re an agent or editor who wants to chat about it, email me through the website 🙂 )
In the meantime, I’m doing a couple serial stories on my blog at http://chrismichaelsauthor.com/sagas. Look at AWolfofSteamandFire. It’s a kinda prequel to Phantom Hearts, and I have another set in that same world that’ll be running next. Both are steampunk-fantasies, high action, and totally free.
I also blog and tweet about topics like writing, mixed-media stories, interactive stories, storytelling innovation, steampunk, and educational storytelling. You can follow me @chrismichaels84 or find the blog at http://chrismichaelsauthor.com.
Really awesome chatting with you!
Michael Wilson has earned graduate degrees in Anthropology and Educational Psychology, both focusing on narrative identity and storytelling. He has presented about steampunk at comic conventions, and maintain a blog dedicated to mixed-media, interactive storytelling and educational storytelling research at www.ChrisMichaelsAuthor.com. When not dreaming up worlds or wordsmithing, he is tinkering in code or gadgets, climbing trees, or spending time with his wife, who is also an author.
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I suspect that for most of us when we imagine a steampunk-era education, the image that comes to mind is one of two things: a private tutor in a wood-lined library in the family manor or hard desks in a sparsely ornamented classroom run by a strict teacher.
There’s no doubt truth in these images, but as a language teacher myself, I wanted to dig a little deeper into how languages were taught in Europe in the Victorian era. I discovered a history of idealism and two competing ideas about teaching language, as well as theft and betrayal.
Prior to the Victorian era, the idea of learning another language meant one thing, whether with that tutor in your family library or in an austere classroom with a harsh taskmaster. It required intense learning of the grammatical rules of the other language paired with rote translation of texts, specifically those texts seen as literarily or historically significant. And here all the images we have of knuckle-rapping and joylessly belligerent teaching come to bear.
It’d be like expecting a traveler to an English-speaking country to learn the language by studying grammatical distinctions between the present perfect and pluperfect and then translating Shakespearean speeches. Much as I love Shakespeare’s monologues, they would hardly prepare someone to talk with strangers on the streets today–or even in Victorian-era London.
So in 1835, the French teacher Jean Manesca published a radical new approach. He had been using the approach for a number of years by then, teaching French in the United States, and had shared his ideas with some others who adapted them to their own language teaching. His argument was that the grammar-translation approach might be good and fine for learning to read an ancient language like Latin or other languages no longer spoken, but it was terrible for learning to speak a living language.
Manesca advocated a style of teaching that was supposed to mimic the way we learn languages naturally as children…although in truth the rote way he laid it all out, sounds scarcely more engaging than the strict grammarian approach. (Incidently, a very similar divide continues to exist in language teaching theories, though the specific approaches on both sides have grown more sophisticated.)
The key point for our steampunk interests was the idealism that lay under it…and the theft that would soon follow.
Jean Manesca wrote that “teaching ought not to be a torment; a mental acquisition which is desired, should not be purchased at the price of any mental or corporeal suffering…” which goes against our image of the cruel Victorian teacher…
One of Manesca’s followers, Don Carlos Rabadan, adapted Manesca’s approach to Spanish. In his Spanish-English textbook he wrote, “For if pleasure alone be our object, without regard to its great utility, what can be more gratifying than to be able to converse fluently with [people] of different countries?”
I love this sense of idealism that underlies Manesca’s approach. Language wasn’t an end in itself, but a vital part of improving the world, bringing an enlightened peace. That it didn’t, well, is to be lamented, but making space for this kind of grand ideal in our steampunk stories is one way to give them added dimension. And maybe even weaving in the failure of such an ideal…
For all his influence, however, Manesca did not become famous. Instead Henri Ollendorff, a German who taught Latin, took Manesca’s lessons and translated them (often directly, with no changes in examples or sequence) into Latin.
Soon, elite tutors bragged of the Ollendorff method. It was seen as a sign of sophistication to have learned with the Ollendorff method, which came to be used for German, French, Italian, Spanish, Latin, Greek, and Arabic. Several popular editions of his books were published in the 1840s and beyond. As for the Manesca method? No one spoke of it. (In fact, at the time of this writing, Manesca’s only appearance in Wikipedia is on Ollendorff’s page, with a dead link to a page yet to be written about Jean Manesca.)
I have not been able to uncover any reaction from Manesca to Ollendorff’s theft and fame, though his son Louis was very critical of Ollendorff. I like to imagine how they might have greeted each other, though. An idealistic gratitude that at least Manesca’s approach was spreading? Or a bitterness that the upstart had stolen his chance for fame?
Either one could make a very cool layer in a steampunk story. No need to make it specifically about language teachers, but that dynamic of idealism, innovation, theft, and adaptation are all so central to the technological and societal changes of the Victorian era. How cool to incorporate some aspect of that into our steampunk stories!