Army of Brass

Steampunk celebrates its 31st birthday on April 27, so join in the festivities with the high-flying adventure, Army of Brass.

 

“Steampunk” began as a literary genre, but has expanded to include fashion, music, art, and live events all over the world. During 2017, in honor of author K.W. Jeter coining the term in 1987, Steampunk Journal editor Phoebe Darqueling and the Collaborative Writing Challenge joined forces to create an amazing work that blurs the line between science and magic. Twenty international authors contributed chapters to this story full of gadgets, romance, and political intrigue set against the backdrop of a fantasy world informed by the culture of the 19th century.

What is Army of Brass About?

When the mad conqueror haunting Elaina’s dreams invades her adopted homeland, the real nightmare becomes what she’s willing to do to stop him.

The dreaded Hunter Baron has landed on the shores of Mailderet, but Master Tinkerer Elaina Gable believes she has the solution. Giant automatons sit rusting in the valley, waiting for someone with the drive and ingenuity to bring them to life. But the king, swayed by the destruction his ancestors wrought centuries before, harbors a deep-seated fear of the machines. Though he will not allow the alliance of Tinkerers and Smiths to complete the work, Elaina and a famous airship pilot resolve to bring the machines back to life in secret.

From the safety of the swamps, a woman with silver skin jealously guards the secrets of the automatons. Though the Silver Woman also wishes the past to remain buried, she must weigh the value of secrecy against the thousands of innocents her hesitation might send to the grave.

As they discover the link between the toxic valley and the inner workings of the automatons, Elaina and her allies are drawn into a web of deceit threatening the balance of power across two continents—and proving the truth behind the deadly legends surrounding the Army of Brass.

Read Chapter 1 NOW on Steampunk Journal

Pre-order your ebook copy of Army of Brass for $.99 and receive it on Friday, April 27!

Plus, Join us on Facebook April 28-29 to meet the writers, participate in giveaways, and more!

Speaking of giveaways, we’ve got one going on for the entire blog tour, so between April 13-May 13, enter to win ebooks from our writers.

Collaborative Writing Challenge: www.collaborativewritingchallenge.com

Email: cwc@collaborativewritingchallenge.com

Launch contact: PhoebeDarqueling@gmail.com

The Sounds of Steampunk

 

I’ve been a fan of British television for years. Due to the wonderful service provided by PBS, my eyes (and ears) were opened early in life to shows like Mystery, Masterpiece Theater, Doctor Who, and (because my Dad had a good sense of humor) Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Dave Allen at Large, and Fawlty Towers. As a 6 year old I spent equal amounts of time with Big Bird and Mr. Rogers as I did with the Daleks and Miss Marple.

At college I studied Shakespeare and Victorian Literature. I watched (and listened to) hundreds of hours of plays and films produced by some of the greatest British directors and filled with British actors/actresses. And, of course, on my college radio station I heard the serialized version of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy for the first time.

Fast forward a few years. I publish my first steampunk mystery novel, Unquiet Dead. I naturally want to include an audio book version. I determine that Audible, which is associated with Amazon, is the place to go. And since it is set in a neo-Victorian society, I want a British voice actor.

Let me first state that I know there are different dialects in Britain, just as there are in the U.S. Listening to a speaker and being able to identify if he/she is from New York, Chicago, Austin, New Orleans, and so forth is something that we pick up just from living in this country. I assume that a native of the British Isles would have a similar type of cultural knowledge.

When I start setting up the request form, I am faced with the following choices:

Conversely the American version looks like this:

What’s an American author to do? When I think of voices, of style of speech, I think of characters. Joan Hickson (from the Miss Marple series) sounds completely different than Brian Glover (from the Campion mysteries). Do I want someone who sounds like Benedict Cumberbatch, Sean Bean, or Gary Oldman? (And since Gary Oldman uses a different accent in every movie, which version would that be?)

In addition, all of the characters do not “sound” the same, coming from different areas and levels in my fictional society. Some of them aren’t even human. (But we can leave that for a different post!) And what is the appropriate terminology for the style of speech after I make the choice?

Fortunately for me (and for my listeners) I found a wonderful narrator in Penny Scott-Andrews. Pen is a regular narrator for Curio.io, and voices the daily news with Cover Media for Yahoo, AOL and Google. She is currently recording Audiobooks with White House Sound, and narrating for The No Sleep Podcast, and Joosr. Learn more about her HERE.

Pen took my notes and created a wonderful performance. You can hear a short clip HERE. I’m still not certain what each character’s dialect should be called, but I do know that it sounds just right.

 

Effective WorldBuilding

Recently I watched the first season of The Frankenstein Chronicles on Netflix and started musing on steampunk world building. The Frankenstein Chronicles is not a steampunk series. It is a sci-fi period drama starring Sean Bean that originated in the United Kingdom. After a successful run on ITV’s Encore station, Netflix acquired the show and presented it as a Netflix Original. But while viewing the series, I felt that it had all of the elements that I wanted to see in a neo-Victorian era steampunk show—except the “steam.”

About the Show

In The Frankenstein Chronicles John Marlott (Sean Bean) is a police officer who discovers the body of a small child. Except forensic examination reveals that it’s not a small child. Pieces from “seven or eight” small children have been dismembered, mutilated, and stitched together to form a “new” body.

Soon after examining the body, Marlott is charged to discover the murderer by Sir Robert Peel (Tom Ward), the Home Secretary and an advocate for advanced medicine who is trying to pass “The Anatomy Act” in Britain. If made into law, the act would ensure only licensed experts could practice medicine, and the deceased corpses of the poor would be donated to surgeons for practice and education. Because of the condition of the corpse, Peel believes that the murderer is trying to discredit “The Anatomy Act.” Of course, given the title of the series, a viewer will be able to discern that everything is not what it seems on the surface.

Minor Spoiler Alert (Occurs in the first few minutes of the show.)

When Marlott discovers the “body,” the child grabs his hand. Which, given the “facts” of the composite body, is impossible. But it happens and is one of the reasons Marlott is so invested in solving the crime.

What Does this Demonstrate for Steampunk Worldbuilding?

Now we get to the crux of the argument. Why is this series such a good example for a steampunk world?

1). It brings the “punk.”

Last week The Steampunk Cavaliers presented a wonderful guest post by Steven R. Southard: “Putting the Punk Back in Steampunk.” Sothard writes:

“The ‘punk’ part means the story has a rebel who’s opposed to the existing socio-political order. At least one character needs to strive against the prevailing norms of the time.”

As Marlott delves into the messy politics of 19th century health care, he discovers a war raging between the wealthy and the destitute, the religious and the scientific, and the young and the old. It is a clash on many different levels and Marlott stands at the center, fighting against both the old traditions and the new innovations, advocating for a humanism that is radically different than any other side.

2). It brings history to the forefront.

In 19th Century England an increased interest in anatomy study caused issues for the universities. A lack of cadavers ushered in the practice of grave robbing. Some groups (or gangs) in London would murder victims to sell to anatomists.

The Anatomy Act was put forth in an effort to combat this supply-and-demand situation and to legalize the acquisition of cadavers.

3). It doesn’t gloss over the problems in the society.

Marlott champions London’s disenfranchised underclass. He works with the orphans who live on the streets, the prostitutes, the runaways, and the homeless. The series captures the grittiness of the world alongside the upper-class and aristocratic homes. Yet social class does not make you inherently “good” or “evil” in this worldview. It is more complex and layered.

There are other elements inherent in a good, layered steampunk world, but these three are a start. The first season of The Frankenstein Chronicles hits the mark for a work that is not steampunk and has a lot to offer those who want to learn about effective worldbuilding.

What are some things you look for in your reading and viewing of steampunk works? What else should be included? Let me know in the comments below.

Unquiet Dead

This month I would like to share something a bit different: my own steampunk novel. I hope you enjoy.–Chris

Blogcatherine

Unquiet Dead

Chris Pavesic

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About the Unquiet Dead:

When the Temples north of Chiaroscuro are burned and followers of the Sun Goddess are murdered, Catherine, a bard of the Ealdoth Temple, sets out to find those responsible and to bring them to justice. With only the help of a traveling group of minstrels and a retired fae investigator, Catherine must solve the mystery before more people are killed.

So saddle up your clockwork mount, buckle on your electro-dagger, and join Catherine as she finds herself pitted against members of her own Temple, rogues members of the Seelie Court, and a seemingly unstoppable army of undead.

  • Genres: Steampunk/Mystery/Dark Fantasy
  • Length: 140 pages.
  • Available in Print and E-Book
  • Add to Your Shelf on Goodreads
  • Purchase Your Copy from Amazon
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Excerpt

Services were scheduled to commence in an hour, and Ernest needed to be ready. He struck a match and lit the first gaslight, watching the flame take hold and flare up. The light pushed back the shadows so parishioners were able to find their way to the pews without stumbling. He would extinguish the artificial lights right before the service so the effect of the sunlight illuminating the darkness hit with maximum impact as it flooded through the skylights.

The parishioners would marvel at how the Temple filled with the Goddess’s Holy Light just in time for the service. Ernest would marvel at the fact that none of them were smart enough to realize he flipped a switch on back of the altar to swing open mechanical shutters.

There was a religious stirring in Grand Marsh more powerful than anything Ernest had experienced in his ten years as a Sacerd. The services at dawn, noon, and sundown were packed. Few of the farmers went out to the fields. They worked in town on community projects or sat drinking at the tavern. Their wives remained in the town square, full of chatter, instead of staying on their farmsteads. Their thin voices filled the air. The youngest children were kept close while the teens clustered in protective packs far enough away to keep their discussions out of reach of their parents’ ears. But close enough to be in sight at all times. None of them wandered off.

Three times a day they filled the Temple, ready to hear his words. Faces tilted up to him. Man and woman, young and old. And none of his parishioners would confess why they were so filled with the Holy Spirit that they were neglecting their farms. They were afraid of speaking blasphemy. But he knew the reason, and it caused a lift in his heart that was not due to religious inspiration. They were scared, plain and simple, and it gave him hope.

Since being assigned to the far parish almost five years ago, a posting he saw as an end to the upward progress of his career in the Temple, he struggled daily to swallow his disappointment. It wouldn’t leave, and it was bitter. Bitter.

In this remote village, far from the bustle and industry of Chiaroscuro, the quality of his life, the texture of his life, changed. He longed for life in the city. The world seemed to have shifted into two zones. The pace of life for the city dwellers increased while people living in the countryside were being left behind.

Time’s arrow struck fastest through the densest populations. Sacerds assigned to any of the major cities made more connections and accumulated more power in a single week than he did in a year. Exerting influence was impossible when the spheres of power were spinning outside of his reach, moving too fast for him to see, let alone have an impact.

The wound to his pride stung the most. The elders had hurt his feelings. To be dismissed so easily, passed along so casually—it was like the swatting of an annoying insect. The Temple elders did not treat him as if he mattered, as if his family ties were consequential. True he was a third son, but of a noble line. And they assigned him to a rustic Temple to attend to common folk far below his station.

Very little was required of him here. Or, more precisely, very little of what he did here interested him. He burned to return to the central Temple and to be part of the intrigues and power shifts. This attracted him more than caring for the simple souls of farmers and shopkeepers. Power was why he joined the Temple, and what he was now denied.

But not for long. The thought clanged in his mind with undeniable rightness. Not righteousness. It was an important distinction. Would the Goddess sanction his actions? Probably not, but he was past caring about her approval. During all of the ceremonies, all of the prayer and introspection, he had never felt any divine presence. He had never witnessed any miracles, and doubted their existence.

But power, oh he had seen the existence of power. Political. Social. Religious. Whatever you called it really didn’t matter. Get enough people to follow you. Enough people to believe in what you were selling. This was the belief that could move the world.

There was only one woman in his life he needed to please now, and she held no divinity. Merci had offered him a way out of this rural purgatory, and he had accepted. Truth be told, he had grabbed at it like a castaway might grab at a line from a passing airship. If the price were the damnation of his soul, so be it.

He glanced out the window at the transport coming down the lane. A high quality clockwork carriage with the Temple’s Crest stamped on the doors rattled over the boards strewn across the irrigation ditch and stopped, parking in the speckled light cast by the ornament trees planted along the lane. The carriage blocked traffic, but the driver did not seem to care. Elder members of the clergy, Hlytere, and above, felt they had the right of way. Others had to go around.

A pale, dark-haired woman emerged and stood for a moment looking around. She pulled the hood of her dark cloak over her hair and walked through the yard toward the Temple. Ernest’s gaze followed her, trying to imagine who this stranger was.

Her footsteps sounded in the aisle and, when he turned from window, she was almost upon him. Her speed startled him. When he saw her face to face he realized she was younger than he had supposed. Too young to be a Hlytere, but her use of the carriage meant she was favored by the Temple elders. The seed of jealousy radiated through him. He felt it in his chest and the pit of his stomach. He struggled to keep the emotion off his face.

“Greetings.” He shook her hand with a firm grasp. Her hands were small and smooth and white. “Will you come in for a moment?” He led her to the small reception room off the main area that contained a round table and several wooden chairs. He lit a cheroot, offered her one, which she declined, and they sat down.

“Please forgive me for calling on you so close to mid-day Services, Sacerd Ernest.” She paused. “You are Sacerd Ernest, correct? It’s not like me to presume.”

“Of course. I’m glad you came. I watched you drive up, you know, and I wondered who you were. We don’t get many visitors from the Temple here.”

“I’m surprised you don’t recognize me, cousin. Of course, I didn’t recognize you. So perhaps it’s not so surprising.”

“I’m sorry. I …”

“I’m from the cadet line of our family tree. My father is the elder son of the younger son of our line.”

His brow creased in thought. “Grace?”

“Yes,” she said with a smile, reaching out to touch his hand. Her fingers rested there for a moment too long. Lingered. And then she leaned back in the chair and crossed her legs, which were slim and bare beneath her robe.

Sacerd Ernest regarded his guest, wondering that her physical presence should suddenly dawn upon him so. She was more beautiful than he had thought at first. Her skin was clear and lovely, and her eyes and mouth were made up carefully and well.

What’s her game? He licked at the perspiration that appeared upon his upper lip.

“I would like your help in a small matter. And of course I wanted to meet you.”

“You did?”

“Our sponsor has spoken of you with such affection.”

“Our superior?” He used the wrong word to see if she would correct him.

“Technically, I suppose, she may be yours. I’ve never thought much of the rules of hierarchy in the Temple.” She cocked her head, listening to noises from the other room. Some of his parishioners had started to file in for the service. “It’s such a mercy, isn’t it?’

Ah, code words.

She must think she’s being clever, although he had no idea who could possibly overhear their conversation. It was only just dawning on him why she must be here. In his town. In his Temple. But he didn’t care. All he wanted to do was get out of Grand Marsh. Get back to Chiaroscuro. It didn’t bother him that people, his parishioners, may die, or suffer a fate worse than death. He just wanted to get out.

It’s not my fault if I’m following orders.

But that was a poor excuse, wasn’t it? Guilt flared, hot and strong.

Do you want to stay in Grand Marsh forever? Ministering to the townsfolk? Do you?

No … but he didn’t want to hurt people. Those conflicting thoughts pulled at him. There was the question of right and wrong. What was right for him might go wrong for others. But that was the way it had to be.

Thus he banished the guilt. When something inside of him tried to protest again, tried to tell him to think before he did this, he smothered it.

“When?” He didn’t have any time for nonsense. The quicker it occurred, the quicker he resumed his rightful place.

“In two days. I have some items in my transport that need to be set up in the Temple, but kept out of view.” She smiled and spoke a little louder so that the earliest arrivals overheard her. “I wish I could stay to help with the Mass, but I am needed back in Chiaroscuro.” She lowered her voice. “Officially I never left the city.”

“Of course.” He guessed that she had no desire to partake in the service. “I will help you with whatever you need.” Whatever may come of it, he had gone too far to stop now.

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Meet the Author:

Chris Pavesic lives in the Midwestern United States and loves Kona coffee, fairy tales, and all types of speculative fiction. Between writing projects, Chris can most often be found reading, gaming, gardening, working on an endless list of DIY household projects, or hanging out with friends.
Find Chris Pavesic Online:

 

Quest of Thunder

  •  Author: Karissa Laurel
  • Release: 2016
  • Genre: Steampunk | Fantasy
  • Series: Stormbourne Chronicles
  • Edition: Kindle
  • Publisher: Evolved Publishing, LLC

Recently I reviewed Heir of Thunder by Karissa Laurel, the first book in the Stormbourne Chronicles. You can read that review here. The second novel in the series, Quest of Thunder, has just been released and I am excited to share the next part of Evelyn Stormbourne’s journey with you.

Blurb

Evie must restore her divine abilities, or be enslaved by her enemy’s dark Magic

Evelyn Stormbourne has overcome revolutionaries, pirates, devious relatives, and powerful Magicians to claim her birthright as Lady of Thunder, but before she can embrace her dominion over the skies, her powers falter, leaving her impotent and adrift. Under the protection of her stalwart companion, Gideon Faust, Evie hides in anonymity and searches for news of the Fantazikes who had once promised to help her master her divine abilities.

Without her capacity to control the storms, Evie wonders how she’ll ever reclaim her throne—a legacy she’s not convinced she deserves. But when a fearsome nemesis from her past reemerges, she embarks on desperate quest to find the Fantazikes and restore her powers. If she fails, her enemy’s dark Magic will enslave her, forcing her to destroy everything and everyone she loves.

Review (Spoilers Ahead)

Evie, heir to the Throne of Thunder, is still on the run from a group of dark magicians who want to rob her of her birthright. To complicate matters, she has lost control over her own magic. Without her magic at full strength, she cannot hope to protect herself and reclaim her kingdom. Evie describes her situation in the following manner:

“My powers are unreliable, my allies are few, and I have good reason to believe I’m being chased by a group of powerful and malevolent Magicians. It’s not safe for me to go home yet.”

Still, Evie is adjusting to life outside of the palace with the help of Gideon and his sister, Marlis. She doesn’t want to live in exile forever, though, and works to reestablish her magical abilities. But this practice inevitably draws attention to her whereabouts from both friendly and unfriendly forces.

Evie feels that reconnecting with the Fantazikes (her allies in Book One) is the best chance for her to regain control over her powers. Not willing to put her friends in danger any longer, she joins a traveling circus that just happens to be en route to the last known location of the Fantazikes.

And what a circus it is! This is a steampunk world after all, and the circus animals, wagons, and some of the acts reflect this:

“Light reflected from the beasts’ metallic surfaces, exposing skins of brass, iron, and copper. Subtle gear-works clicked and purred as the animals shifted, mimicking the movements of their live counterparts. Dull bladed feathers, like rows of butter knives, fluttered as birds flapped their wings. The unicorn’s horn glowed a warm gold as she pawed the ground. The elephant’s trunk curled upon itself with a tink-tink-tink of metal joints compressing. He flapped his great ears, raising a breeze that stirred loose hairs around my face.”

This is the type of detailed world building that I love to see in a steampunk novel. Laurel takes the exotic setting of a circus one step further by adding mechanical animals and transports. She also doesn’t over-describe the steampunk elements. It is very easy for a reader to picture the bird feathers that look like butter knives, for example. It reminds me of Stephen King’s advice in On Writing: Add just enough description so that a reader can share the writer’s vision. Be clear and succinct.

Will Evie find the Fantazikes? Will they help her regain her powers? Will she develop enough of her powers to re-take her kingdom? Is this the destiny she wants for herself, or will she choose another path?

I cannot wait to read the next book in the series. I highly recommend both Heir of Thunder and Quest of Thunder for anyone who loves steampunk, fantasy, and adventure.

Heir of Thunder

  •  Author: Karissa Laurel

Release: 2016

Genre: Steampunk | Fantasy

Series: Stormbourne Chronicles

Edition: Kindle

Publisher: Evolved Publishing, LLC

Blurb

The Lord of Thunder has passed, leaving daughter Evelyn Stormbourne to overcome her kingdom’s greatest enemies, but first she must embrace her dominion over the sky.

The Lord of Thunder’s sudden death leaves his daughter, Evelyn Stormbourne, unprepared to rule Inselgrau in his place. Weeks before Evie’s ascension to the throne, revolutionaries attack and destroy her home. She conceals her identity and escapes under the protection of her father’s young horse master, Gideon Faust. Together they flee Inselgrau and set sail for the Continent, but they’re separated when a brutal storm washes Evie overboard.

In her efforts to reunite with her protector and reach allies on the Continent, Evie befriends a band of nomads who roam the world in airships fueled by lightning. She also confronts a cabal of dark Magicians plotting to use her powers to create a new divine being, and she clashes with an ancient family who insists her birthright belongs to them.

If she’s to prevail and defeat her enemies, Evie must claim her heritage, embrace her dominion over the sky, and define what it means to be Heir of Thunder.

REVIEW: SPOILERS AHEAD

Evie Stormbourne is the last in a long line of rulers who can control the weather, especially thunder and lightning, to a devastating effect. Throughout the generations the power has weakened, though, and when the story begins Evie’s powers are only a pale shadow of her ancestor’s abilities.

When her father is killed Evie manages to escape with the help of her father’s master of the horse, a young man named Gideon. Although Evie travels incognito, she is in constant danger of discovery because she is being hunted. There are multiple forces at play, and there are those who want to steal her birthright.

Complications arise and Evie is separated from her protector. She is forced to face certain truths about her situation. Why was her father overthrown? Will she avoid the fate others have plotted for her? Does she want to conquer the land her family ruled for centuries? Will she take control of her own destiny?

Evie is an easy character to like. She starts as a very pampered, innocent young woman who has never ventured far beyond the bounds of her father’s estate. She has no idea why her father has been killed and her family home is under siege. She has limited basic survival skills. But she cannot remain in the role of “damsel in distress” and hope to survive. She learns about life iduring her travels, she experiences the world, and she becomes a force to be reckoned with by the end of the novel. (Although, as Laurel hints in the narrative, Evie has a long way to go before developing her full Stormbourne potential.)

The world contains a mixture of historically accurate devices and steampunk inventions. The amount of technology available seems to depend upon a character’s station in life. For instance, most of the characters travel by horse or sailing ships, but more fortunate others travel in dirigibles. It is a distinctive way to divide the classes.

When Fallstaff, the traditional seat of power for the Stormbourne rulers, is under attack, the steam-driven machines are protected by regular army troops:

One of my father’s war manuals showed illustrations of that vicious machine, but I had never seen one in reality. Someone with a brain for engineering had rigged this one with a system of levers, pulleys, and gears. A steam engine automated its processes, and every few seconds a conveyer belt fed another iron missile into a waiting bucket attached to a long wooden arm. From this distance, the trebuchet looked like an assemblage of toothpicks and hungry metal teeth, yet its ammunition tore holes through Fallstaff’s stone and mortar like a moth devours a wool sweater. A group of men stood around its base, guarding the machine with rifles and crossbows.

This genre mixture can be seen throughout the novel and adds just the right touch of reality. Infantry soldiers protect the high-tech steam mechanism that is needed to tear down the fortress. The machine is costly; the men are cheaply armed and more easily replaceable.

Another divide occurs with magic. Very few have access to the forces and knowledge to work spells and only the Stormbourne line can control lightning and thunder. That level of magical ability is priceless and guarantees Evie will have a price on her head unless she overcomes her enemies.

This is a wonderful steampunk/fantasy series. It creates a very in-depth story world and a cast of compelling characters. I highly recommend the novel.

Breaking News: The second novel in the series, Quest of Thunder, has just been released!

Evie must restore her divine abilities, or be enslaved by her enemy’s dark Magic.

Evelyn Stormbourne has overcome revolutionaries, pirates, devious relatives, and powerful Magicians to claim her birthright as Lady of Thunder, but before she can embrace her dominion over the skies, her powers falter, leaving her impotent and adrift. Under the protection of her stalwart companion, Gideon Faust, Evie hides in anonymity and searches for news of the Fantazikes who had once promised to help her master her divine abilities.

Without her capacity to control the storms, Evie wonders how she’ll ever reclaim her throne—a legacy she’s not convinced she deserves. But when a fearsome nemesis from her past reemerges, she embarks on desperate quest to find the Fantazikes and restore her powers. If she fails, her enemy’s dark Magic will enslave her, forcing her to destroy everything and everyone she loves.

 

 

Viriconium

 

  • Author: M. John Harrison
  • Release: December 18, 2007
  • Genre: Steampunk | Cyberpunk | Fantasy | Dark Fantasy | Sci-Fi
  • Edition: Kindle
  • Publisher: Random House LLC

 

Blurb

A magnificent city existing on the ringes of the past, and on the brink of destruction, Viriconium • With a foreword by Neil Gaiman

Available to American readers for the first time, this landmark collection gathers four groundbreaking fantasy classics from the acclaimed author of Light. Set in the imagined city of Viriconium, here are the masterworks that revolutionized a genre and enthralled a generation of readers: The Pastel City, A Storm of Wings, In Viriconium, and Viriconium Nights. Back in print after a long absence, these singular tales of a timeless realm and its enigmatic inhabitants are now reborn and compiled to captivate a whole new generation.

Review (Spoiler Free)

I would like to start with the recommendation, which I usually place at the end of the review. I enjoy this work, which is actually a collection of novels and short stories, and would recommend it for anyone who enjoys steampunk, cyberpunk, fantasy, sci-fi, and dark fantasy blended together in a unique genre of its own. Viriconium collects Harrison’s stories about the great city Viriconium, the empire that rose to prominence after the fall of the Afternoon Cultures. In the Kindle edition, Neil Gaiman writes the forward, which is a selling-point all on its own.

This is not a typical series. In fact, the only element that binds the stories together is the city/empire. The collection starts with two queens, Methvet Nian and Canna Moidart, battling to rule the empire; Lord Tegeus-Cromis and the last survivors of his order fight for Methvet Nian against the rapacious Northerners and the frightening Geteit Chemosit, leftovers from the Afternoon Empires. Airman Benedict Paucemanly returns from the moon followed by an invasion of locust-like creatures who come from the stars and threaten to destroy humanity. And finally, Viriconium connects to our world through mirrors. These portals allow people to travel between the realms and their adventures are told through a collection of loosely related short stories.

The writing style is vivid. For example, near the start of the collection Harrison describes the crash of an airship:

When it came close enough to make out detail, Cromis saw that its faceted crystal hull had been blackened by fire, and that a great rift ran the full length of its starboard side. Its power plant (the secret of which, like many other things, had been lost a thousand years before the rise of Viriconium, so that Cromis and his contemporaries lived on the corpse of an ancient science, dependent on the enduring relics of a dead race) ran with a dreary insectile humming where it should have been silent. A pale halo of St. Elmo’s fire crackled from its bow to its stern, coruscating. Behind the shattered glass of its canopy, Cromis could see no pilot, and its flight was erratic: it yawed and pitched aimlessly, like a waterbird on a quiet current.

Cromis’s knuckles stood out white against the sweat-darkened leather of his sword hilt as the vehicle dived, spun wildly, and lost a hundred feet in less than a second. It scraped the tops of the rowans, shuddered like a dying animal, gained a few precious, hopeless feet. It ploughed into the wood, discharging enormous sparks, its motors wailing. A smell of ozone was in the air.

The air ships, as well as many of the other inventions, fall under the genre of steampunk. The people who live in the current era, though, have little understanding of how the inventions work. Their society is more feudal, or high fantasy, in nature like the worlds created by George R.R. Martin. There are blends of sci fi, reminiscent of H.G. Wells, fairy-tale tropes, and so much more. This collection really seems determined to invent its own genre!

I found it very helpful to read Gaiman’s forward. Please do not skip this if you pick up the collection. Otherwise a person could get lost looking for a common thread or repeating characters in the novels. But the connection is not through the characters, or even in the style of writing. The relationship is with the world that Harrison creates. And the world is as vivid as other fantasy creations, like Discworld, Middle-Earth, or Pern. Again–I highly recommend it as long as you are not looking for “pure” steampunk but are willing to go along for the ride.

Sneak Peek at Sunless Skies: A LitRPG Victorian Steampunk Game

cover-imageAfter playing and reviewing Fallen London (read the review here) I eagerly awaited the next Steampunk LitRPG game from Failbetter Games. Sunless Skies launched on Steam Early Access on August 30, 2017. Until September 8th the game will be available for 10% off its full price of £18.99 / $24.99, so act soon if you want to grab it at a discount.

Sunless Skies is a top-down literary RPG set amongst the stars. Explore a universe steeped in celestial horror and ravaged by Victorian ambition in this game of exploration, corruption and jeopardy for PC, Mac and Linux.

Players will initially be able to explore one of the four regions of the High Wilderness—the Reach. “We chose the Reach specifically because it’s the region players start in when they begin the game. It’s also more user-friendly than some of the later regions, which get properly strange,” says producer Lottie Bevan.

avidhorizonOn the 30th, players can expect to explore the Reach in their locomotive, scout for nearby ports, dock at any of the 11 diverse ports available, interact with stories, engage in combat and of course, experience Terror and Hunger.

“The current state of the Reach is set up to give players a small taste of what the final game will be like rather than a big taste of an emptier, less representational world,” says CEO and Art Director Paul Arendt, “We wanted to focus on a more contained area, a space where we can test mood, story and mechanics.”

windwardcompanyThe feedback Failbetter received in Early Access for Sunless Sea was absolutely essential to its development, and the team are eager to see what fans think of Sunless Skies. “Early Access provides us with that pivotal indication on whether the direction we’ve set for the game is the right one. It gives us early warning on what people don’t like, what people would like to see more of, and what could use further development,” explains Director of Development, Liam Welton.

Over the past three months 900 alpha testers have been pioneering Sunless Skies to catch the first bugs and help Failbetter prepare the game for Early Access. “Perhaps our Kickstarter should have given us a sign, but we were totally floored when nearly 10,000 people signed up to our alpha list!” says Marketing Manager Haley Uyrus, “We had very specific aims for the alpha so we kept the number of participants low, but it’s going to be exhilarating to open the gates for Early Access.”

giant-space-monster“We’re excited to open the heavens to the first major wave of explorers. Player feedback is crucial to us, and we’ll be watching, learning, and amending our own course accordingly. Because there’s much more to come,” alludes Narrative Director Chris Gardiner, “As Early Access progresses we’ll be adding more regions, more ports, more discoveries, more stories, more secrets, more nightmares, and more unwise decisions that sensible captains will avoid at all costs.”

In celebration of the Early Access launch, Sunless Sea for iPad will also be on sale for $6.99 from 30th August – 3rd September. The game will also be available to play at this year’s EGX in the Rezzed section.

Here is a sneak peek at their trailer:


Who are Failbetter Games?
Failbetter Games are an independent games studio based in London, UK, who specialise in narrative-driven, darkly funny 2D and text-based games. Any allegations of cannibalism remain unsubstantiated.

What is Sunless Skies?
Sunless Skies is a top-down literary RPG set amongst the stars. Explore a universe steeped in celestial horror and ravaged by Victorian ambition in Failbetter’s spiritual sequel to Sunless Sea.

It is the dawn of the 20th century, and London has taken to the stars! As the captain of a spacefaring locomotive you’ll behold wonders and battle cosmic abominations in the furthest heavens. Stake your claim. Fight to survive. Speak to storms. Murder a sun. Face judgement.

The Sunless Skies Kickstarter raised £377,952 of its funding £100,000 goal – the goal itself having been raised in the first four hours of the Kickstarter.

What is Sunless Sea?
Sunless Sea was released in 2015, receiving an Essential rating from Eurogamer, and went on to sell over 200,000 copies in its first year. It was named among the best games of 2015 by the New Yorker, the Onion AV Club, Vice, Kotaku, PCGamesN, The Mirror, Forbes, Develop Online and Killscreen.

Sunless Sea is available for Mac, Linux and Windows, and will be released for iPad in spring 2018.

Selkie Cove

Author: Kara Jorgensen
Release: July, 2017
Series: Ingenious Mechanical Devices
Genre: Steampunk | Fantasy | Lovecraftian | Mystery
Edition: Kindle
Pages: 317
Publisher: Fox Collie Publishing

Buy it here: AMAZON

Blurb

Immanuel never liked being the museum’s resident seal expert, until a strange specimen arrived: part human, part seal, and a murder victim. He knows the only people who will believe him are the supernatural agents of Her Majesty’s Interceptors.

But all help comes with a price. To become a member of the Interceptors, Immanuel must first convince his lover, Adam, to help him find the culprit. They have a week to uncover the killer or Immanuel will lose the only chance he has to learn about his own arcane abilities.
Upon arriving at Seolh-wiga Island, Adam and Immanuel quickly discover that what the island lacks in size, it makes up for in mysteries. At the heart of it all is a series of disappearances, murders, and devices connected to the island’s sordid history.

Will Adam and Immanuel earn a place with the Interceptors? Or will they become the island’s next victims?

Selkie Cove is Book Five of the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series. The other books do not need to be read in order to enjoy this novel. Feel free to jump right in!

Review (Spoilers Ahead)

“Magic is more of an art than a science” Judith Elliott tells Immanuel Winter as he struggles to learn to use magic in a world more suited to technology. Judith, a member of Her Majesty’s Interceptors, is helping Immanuel develop his abilities. And he needs those abilities as Judith involves him in investigating a rather unusual specimen that appears at the museum where he works.

Staring back at him from beneath the bath of embalming liquid was a seal with a not quite human face. For a moment he merely stared at it, unable to grasp how the mismatched pieces fit together so seamlessly. While the body retained the shape and grey spotted fur of a seal, the creature’s face appeared out of place with its sharp cheekbones and Cupid’s bow lips, but what held him wholly were the creature’s eyes. They were wide and
round like the seals he had studied, yet they retained the colored iris of a human.

As Jorgensen mentions in the text, so-called mermaids were popular display items in the Victorian era. Fishermen in Japan and the East Indies had long constructed “hybrids” by stitching the upper bodies of apes onto the bodies of fish. P.T. Barnum obtained one of these creations for one of his exhibits and caused quite a stir when publicizing the item. But Jorgensen’s novels are filled with magic as well as science/technology, and the mermaid, also known as a selkie, Immanuel examines is real.

The Interceptors offer Immanuel a challenge—find out what is happening to the selkies for a chance to join the organization. It is an opportunity that Immanuel cannot pass up as it would not only give him the opportunity to use his education and magical abilities, but also provide a way to support both himself and his lover, Adam Fenice.

Adam has been facing challenges of his own because of their relationship. He was fired from his job as a bookkeeper because of social prejudice over his relationship with Immanuel. This sends him down a path of despair. The trip to Seolh-wiga Island in order to help investigate the death of the selkie is a way for him to regroup and come up with a plan for the future.

But a trip becomes more dangerous when Adam and Immanuel try to join up with a Metropolitan Policeman who is investigating multiple disappearances among the human population of the island. There is more danger than meets the eye in the seemingly idyllic setting. And the two young men may end up becoming the next victims in an ongoing war that lies just beneath the surface of the sea.

I received this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review, but I also purchased it from Amazon because I believe in supporting indy authors. I recommend Selkie Cove to anyone who enjoys neo-Victorian novels, steampunk, magic, Lovecraft, and a good mystery. The other four books in Jorgensen’s series are available and I highly recommend them as well.

About the Author

6Chris Pavesic lives in the Midwestern United States and loves Kona coffee, steampunk, and writing speculative fiction. Between writing projects, Chris can most often be found reading, gaming, gardening, working on an endless list of DIY household projects, or hanging out with friends.  She also blogs intermittently at www.chrispavesic.com and tweets @chrispavesic. She became a Steampunk Cavalier thanks to her involvement in The Darkside Codex blog.

 

A Steampunk Writer’s Resource: The Victorian City

  • Authors: Judith Flanders
  • Release: July 15, 2014
  • Genre: History
  • Edition: Kindle
  • Pages: 544
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

BLURB

The 19th century was a time of unprecedented change, and nowhere was this more apparent than London. In only a few decades, the capital grew from a compact Regency town into a sprawling metropolis of six-and-a-half million inhabitants, the largest city the world had ever seen. Technology – railways, street-lighting, and sewers – transformed both the city and the experience of city living, as London expanded in every direction.

Now, Judith Flanders, one of Britain’s foremost social historians, explores the world portrayed so vividly in Dickens’ novels, showing life on the streets of London in colorful, fascinating detail. From the moment Charles Dickens, the century’s best-loved English novelist and London’s greatest observer, arrived in the city in 1822, he obsessively walked its streets, recording its pleasures, curiosities, and cruelties.

Now, with him, Flanders leads us through the markets, transport systems, sewers, rivers, slums, alleys, cemeteries, gin palaces, chop-houses, and entertainment emporia of Dickens’ London, to reveal the Victorian capital in all its variety, vibrancy, and squalor.

SPOILERS AHEAD

It is not necessary to know about the Victorian Era in order to enjoy the steampunk genre. However, authors of steampunk novels, short stories, or other works of fiction should have a familiarity with the norms and conventions of the culture. This is especially true if their works are set in an alternate version of the 19th Century. The historical details—both large and small—which help bring the story to life for their readers. Having a grasp of the basics of the era will also help a writer create a sharper contrast when he/she develops a story world that differs from the historical record.

For instance, dirigibles/airships are common elements in modern steampunk novels. Such modes of transport went out of favor after the spectacular explosion of the Hindenberg. Yet steampunk novels rarely refer explicitly to the potential of these ships to explode. More often than not, the ship is depicted in everyday use. Steampunk authors domesticate a technology that has proven devastating to human life, and in doing so establish a firm contrast between the real world and their story worlds. Without knowing the history of airships, though, would their incorporation into the steampunk world be considered so subversive?

Flanders’s novel provides intricate detail about life in Victorian England during the span of Charles Dickens’s life. It addresses many of the aspects that modern people take for granted. For example, how did people manage to wake up on time without the benefit of an alarm clock? How did the poor and middle-class citizens navigate the city of London? Which city professions were effected by harsh weather? How and why did the slums flourish? How was the grass cut in the city squares? What did farmers do when they wanted to sell fresh milk in town without any type of refrigeration? What happened to all of the human waste created by the inhabitants? This is a smattering of the type of questions Flanders addresses in her work.

The Victorian City delves into the history of the era and provides a good base for any writer interested in creating a steampunk novel with Victorian undertones. I recommend it as a great place to start your research. Flanders provides a thorough snapshot. Whether discussing the daily life of a laborer, explaining the science behind the poor air/water quality, or presenting the causes and effects of violence/protests in the streets, the author uses enough details to bring the subject to life. The book is available in print, ebook, and audio versions.