Steampunk is More Than Its History

Is it necessary to have read H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine or Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea to understand the steampunk aesthetic? Does anyone who attends an event dressed in Western steampunk attire need to view all of John Ford’s movies about the Old West and every episode of the Wild Wild West before partaking? Or is this prior knowledge only a part—a foundation—that can add to a person’s appreciation?

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Pale Highway by Nicholas Conley

Pale Highway, by Nicholas Conley, is a science fiction novel with touches of mystery, horror, and fantasy. The main character, Gabriel Schist, is a Nobel Prize winning scientist who in his youth invented the cure for AIDS. Now in his seventies, he has Alzheimer’s disease and is living in a nursing home. When one of his nursing home friends catches a virus that leaves the patient in a horrific living-death state, Gabriel realizes that he is the only one who can cure it: But he is in a race against the quickly spreading virus and his own deteriorating mind. Although the main plot focuses on a worldwide plague that threatens humanity, this is not a disaster-centered narrative. This is a story of human survival, of morality, of loyalty, of family, of sacrifice–of doing anything necessary to help those you love.

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Neil Gaiman’s Tribute to Lovecraft & Sherlock Holmes

In the preface to the collection, Gaiman (2006) explains that he found this to be a unique challenge because the two styles are very much polar opposites. The character of Sherlock Holmes is logical, scientific, and rational. The focus is on solving mysteries and presenting celebrated solutions. Lovecraft’s works proceed on a different basis. Many of his creations were deeply illogical and maintaining the mysteries helped keep humanity sane. “If I was going to tell a story that combined both elements,” Gaiman (2006, pp. 4-5) writes, “There had to be an interesting way to do it that played fair with both Lovecraft and with the creations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.”

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Mechanica: Book Review

Mechanica, by Betsy Cornwell, is a young adult steampunk retelling of the Cinderella tale.   Mechanica, like other modern fairy tale adaptations (Wicked, Maleficent, Frozen) present a strong female character in Nicolette, who is derisively named “Mechanica” by her stepsisters. Like other versions of the Cinderella tale, the mother dies, the father remarries, and then he…

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Not-So-Dreadful Pennies & Steampunk Smashers

Whenever I travel I make sure to tuck several bright, shiny pennies into my handbag. Not because I want to spend them; after all, what can a person purchase for a penny in the current economy?* I carry them because I want to pay 50 times their worth to have them stretched by machines until…

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5 Minutes with Nix Whittaker

Advice to aspiring authors: Write a bad book first. Finishing a book is probably the hardest thing you have to learn to do. So first write a bad book. Once that is under your belt write a second book and then decide if the bad book is worth publishing. Ask any writer out there who has been writing for years and they say their first book was the worst.

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Unique Convention and Festival Accommodations

As springtime blooms in North America, conventions and festivals (especially outdoor festivals) start to appear in the calendar. Travel is certainly a consideration when planning what events to attend, as is finding a place to stay when you arrive. Many attendees plan to stay at the hotel associated with the convention centers, but there are more whimsical (and less expensive choices) available if one takes the initiative to search. One such inexpensive accommodation is available in downtown Chicago: Vincent Van Gogh’s Bedroom.

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A Revolution in Printing: How A Steam-Powered Press Changed the World

When discussing steam-powered machines and the Victorian Era, many focus on the revolutionary additions made to travel. Steam-powered locomotives or ships are considered groundbreaking innovations that helped to shape the course of our world. Yet another steam-powered ingenious device created during the reign of Queen Victoria had what some would consider an even larger impact on the world: A steam-powered printing press revolutionized the print industry and improved the literacy rate throughout the western hemisphere.

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Review: Redshirts & Metafiction

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, by John Scalzi*, focuses on new crew members aboard the Universal Union flagship Intrepid who begin to notice alarming patterns that determine how long they will survive. The story follows Ensign Andrew Dahl, newly assigned junior scientist, and his friends. They slowly come to realize that there is a…

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French Steampunk: April & the Extraordinary World

April and the Extraordinary World is a steampunk animated film from the producers of the 2007 Academy Award nominated Persepolis. Its directors, Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci, have worked on classic animated movies like Persepolis and The Adventures of Tintin. It features the work of graphic novelist Jacques Tardi, who created one of the most famous French comic heroines, Adele Blanc-Sec, and stars Marion Cotillard, who won the 2008 Best Actress Academy Award. In a review for i09, Germain Lussier describes the movie as introspective and influenced by the works of Jules Verne, Douglas Adams, George Lucas, and Jayao Miyazaki (2015). The trailer looks fantastic and features Tardi’s signature graphic style, humor, social criticism as well as an intrepid young female protagonist.

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Book Review: The Victorian Steam Locomotive: It’s Design & Development 1804-1879

In the forward to G. D. Dempsey and D. K. Clarke’s (2015) The Victorian Steam Locomotive: It’s Design & Development 1804-1879, Dr. Pete Waterman begins by stating that even people who are enthusiastic about the age of steam power can sometimes be blasé about its history. It is hard in this day and age of technological wonders to comprehend the magnitude of the innovative process behind the development of the steam engine. In just over 90 years we moved from the simple idea of boiling water, to making steam to generate power, to the steam engine we know to this day. As Waterman explains, the engine design has not significantly changed since the Victorian era; it has been tweaked here and there, but essentially remains the same. For those of us who are steam train enthusiasts, we might say that it is hard to improve on perfection!

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Steampunk Sculptors Creating Art Through Recycling

Using recycled materials in art is not a new concept, but steampunk sculptors seem to be discovering innovative means of harnessing the abundant source of raw materials provided by the current culture’s disposable lifestyle. As steampunk sculptor Aaron Ristau explains, “products are obsolete within an ever decreasing amount of time, putting an increasing strain on our ability to deal with man-made waste” (qtd. in Von Slatt, 2009). The range of art being created is a testament to the creativity of artists who make use of “stuff” that had had a life already—a life that is often far removed from art.

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Vegan Pea Soup & a Modern Fairy Tale

Cooking for a family that has food allergies is challenging, primarily because those allergies may change over time (depending upon the degree of sensitivity). One food my family always enjoyed during the winter months was pea soup—until one member could no longer eat ham. So I worked out this recipe for a meatless pea soup…

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The Language of Flowers: A Victorian Tradition

For centuries people have attributed meanings to flowers, herbs, and various plants. Interest in floriography, or the language of flowers, soared during the reign of Queen Victoria. This cryptologic style of floral communication could “say” what members of the society dared not speak aloud: the rigid social constrictions of the upper class helped to create a “language” that is indeed beautiful to behold.

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Interview with Steampunk Author Kara Jorgensen: Creative & Professional Writing

Kara Jorgensen is an independent author with two highly successful steampunk novels—The Earl of Brass and The Winter Garden—and a novella—An Oxford Holiday—in her Ingenious Mechanical Devices series. Her newest novel, The Earl and the Artificer, will be released on January 30, 2016. But the publication of this novel is unusual; it also serves as the Master’s Thesis for her MFA in Creative and Professional Writing. Not only did Jorgensen have the clamoring voices of her fans demanding the next installment in the series when she was writing, but her thesis advisor adding pressure as well!

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Review: The Best of Spanish Steampunk

I received this anthology as a gift and opened it with a great deal of anticipation. Short, speculative fiction has been my favorite genre for many years and reading an entire anthology of steampunk stories would be a treat on a cold winter day. But as I read, I found myself to be puzzled: there were ghost stories, gaslight romances, alternate histories, and references to Victorian authors and their creations, but very few elements that reflect the steampunk aesthetic.

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Soar: An Animated Short Film Airship Adventure

Soar is one of those magical animated short films that demonstrate more storytelling ability than a feature film. It tells the fantastical tale of a young girl who befriends a tiny boy pilot who’s dropped out of the sky. Through the course of a single day, she must find a way to fly her new friend back home before he is stranded on Earth forever.

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The Asylum: Steampunk Destination Travel

Looking for an unusual steampunk-themed travel destination for 2016?

Billed as the largest and longest running steampunk festival in the world, the Asylum takes place this year August 26th to August 29th in the historic City of Lincoln (“Welcome to the Asylum, 2015). Many of the venues that house festival activities have ties to Victorian England and lend an authentic sense of time/place to a festival which celebrates, in part, a reimagining of that era. But steampunk is more than a neo-Victorian celebration, and additions like a costume parade, professional tea dueling, “illicit” market, and craft zones add flair to the proceedings.

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Agent Darcy and Ninja Steve in . . . Tiger Trouble!

This is a terrific adventure story with a sense of whimsy and fantasy. Nominally written for kids, the humor and action are genuinely good for all ages.

The kids in the story are believable. They may go to special schools where they train to be Ninjas or Secret Agents, but they have regular life concerns.

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Steampunk Tea Parties: A Holiday Tradition

Steampunk-themed tea parties are particularly popular in North America during the winter. Knowing a bit about the history of tea and the rituals surrounding its consumption can help a participant enjoy the experience. There are also some traditional resources and touches of whimsy that can help you host a party of your own.

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Review of Swollen Identity

No “Spoilers” Review of Swollen Identity

I really enjoy Rich Leder’s style of writing: It is the perfect blend of mystery, humor, action, and quick-witted comments. Leder does a wonderful job at keeping the tone light. The humor comes from the writing—the subtle way the sentences are crafted—and from the characters themselves.

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Steampunk Coloring Books & Events

Coloring is an activity that many people would associate with childhood, but recently the activity has found a different demographic. Adult coloring books are topping bestsellers’ list worldwide, but it is not simply due to the enjoyment of the activity. Medical researchers have studied the therapeutic properties that the simple act of coloring in a drawing can provide; these health benefits include a decrease in stress and anxiety. And there are a wide variety of books available, including those dedicated to steampunk.

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The Steam Garden and the Haunted Tower: Japanese Steampunk Destination Travel

As 2015 winds to a close, we can look forward to all of the new travel and event opportunities available for 2016. Although there are many places and festivals anyone interested in steampunk can visit in North America, international interest in this style of speculative fiction/art is growing as well. One country that has developed…

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Something Wicked(ly Cool) This Way Comes

“A theatre performance can now be disseminated worldwide with astonishing fidelity” Michael Billington (2014) writes, and I tend to agree. “You have to make the theater inclusive,” Catherine Tate (2015) argues, and “lure people by getting them excited about a theatrical experience.” The technology that allows the Digital Theatre to stream live performances to our phones, tablets, and computers has taken us one step closer to another immortal line from Shakespeare, which I paraphrase here: All the world can be a stage—as long as there is Wi-Fi available.

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What’s On the Menu in Speculative Fiction?

In elementary school children learn that the basic needs are air, water, food, and shelter in that order of importance. The need for other things, like love, security, and meaning, are lower on the level of significance. Anthropologists study the eating habits of a society in both basic forms and elaborate ritual purposes in order to gain cultural insights. The acts of obtaining, preparing, distribution, and eating of food are a fundamental part of a culture’s infrastructure. Is it any wonder, then, that food plays a principal role in the world-building of fiction realms and that some of the most famous and successful speculative fiction authors like Douglas Adams, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Suzanne Collins devote a extraordinary amount of narrative time to the central questions of how, why, and where their characters eat?

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Research Can be a Fun Part of Writing Fiction

Most books require research to make them accurate, even if you are writing science fiction or fantasy; these story worlds still need to feel believable and logical to the readers. Most works include at least one or two aspects outside of the author’s personal experiences or knowledge. This information—these details—help to get the readers wrapped up in the story.

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Masks, Anonymity, and Excess

My new article for The Pandora Society: Geared Towards Speculative Fiction Masks were originally part of the regalia for religious rituals and early theater in Europe. The fashion of wearing masks as an accessory did not make its way to the Continent until the early 1570’s when Italian courtesans began wearing stylish face coverings in…

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In Salem Truth is Stranger than Fiction

The story of the witchcraft accusations, trials, and executions has captured the imagination of writers and artists in the centuries since the event took place in Salem, Massachusetts. Many of the literary interpretations have taken liberties with the facts of the historical episode in the name of literary and/or artistic license. Yet the facts of the events, and the investigations into the possible causes of the behavior of the girls who made the claims, are as compelling as any fictional narrative.

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The Last Witch Hunter is Good Speculative Fiction Fun

Why do professional film critics have a tendency to attack fans of genre films in their reviews? Whether it is steampunk, SciFi, or horror, snide comments from reviewers flow freely towards the movies, and toward people who enjoy them. Why should fans of any genre feel guilty for enjoying a movie?

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Back to The Future: The Importance of DeLoreans & Time Travel

In the Back to the Future trilogy, the DeLorean time machine was Doctor Emmett Brown’s most successful invention. Comprised of a DeLorean DMC-12 sports car and a flux capacitor invented by Brown, the vehicle allowed Doc Brown, Marty McFly, and others to travel into the past and into the future. Today marks one of the most significant days in the trilogy—October 21st, 2015—the day that Marty and Doc Brown arrive in the future. In order to celebrate this occasion, we will take a look at the machine that made it all possible.* No—not the flux capacitor, but the iconic DeLorean automobile.

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Strandbeests, Hackbeasts, & Steamspiders

In 2007 Theo Jansen demonstrated his famous “strandbeest” invention at a TED Talks presentation. Strandbeests are wind driven creations that use no electronics and yet are able to wander the beaches. Each one is constructed of PVC electrical conduit, plastic tubing, and water bottles. They are able to count steps with a binary step counter, sense and flee from the edge of the water, and protect themselves from strong wind. The way they move is fascinating to watch.

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Steampunk and the French Connection

My new article for The Pandora Society: Geared Towards Speculative Fiction I hope that you all enjoy!

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Bursts of Creativity

One of my favorite stories about J.R.R. Tolkien centers around the first time he wrote the following line: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Tolkien scribbled this on an exam he was grading for one of his students at Oxford. These small notations can eventually develop into short stories, or into one of the most enduring fantasy epics of our time, which is why getting these ideas down on paper (or on the computer/tablet screen) remains important.

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Are Steam-Powered Cars in Our Future?

The horse was still the primary mode of transportation at the turn of the 20th Century in Europe and America, but that was poised to change. As people became more prosperous, they turned to the newly invented motor vehicle—available in steam, gasoline, or electric versions—for travel. Steam was already an established energy source for transportation, having proven reliable for powering trains, and by the 1850s it was viable to produce steam vehicles on a commercial basis. While initially more popular with the public than gasoline vehicles, steam cars were eventually a commercial failure. The current interest in alternative energy sources, however, has led to a renewed interest in developing a steam-powered vehicle for personal travel.

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The Crystal Palace: Victorian Era Science, Technology, & Industry at its Best

The Crystal Palace, a giant glass and iron exhibition hall built in Hyde Park, housed the 1851 Great Exhibition of The Works of Industry of All Nations. Many consider this remarkable structure to be one of the touchstones of Victorian England—an intrinsic part of the cultural system that both shaped and reflected the nation’s values. Sir Joseph Paxton’s design made such an impact in the field of architecture that replicas of the structure were built in Spain and the United States. Yet such were mainstream British attitudes toward foreign influence during the Victorian era that the construction of The Crystal Palace, and the Great Exhibition, almost didn’t occur.

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Where Fictional Gods Reside: The House on the Rock

The House on the Rock is a real place about an hour west of Madison Wi, that I write about in American Gods, and I had to tone down my description of it and leave things out in the book in order to make it believable. – Neil Gaiman

If the author of the Sandman comics, Coraline, Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett), Neverwhere, and several other dark fantasy/horror works believes that a place needs to be “toned down” to be believable, the creator of that place must be doing something right.

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The Steampunk Capital of the World?

Fans of science fiction, fantasy, and steampunk may find themselves asking—why does New Zealand have all the cool places to travel? First Peter Jackson chose New Zealand for the film locations of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies: now there is an entire tourist industry dedicated to taking travelers to all the stunning film locations. If this is not enough, tourists can visit Flock Hill, Purakaunui Bay, and Auckland City to see where The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe was filmed. Of course, fans of the X-Men can visit Otago and feel like they are walking through scenes of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But for the true immersive experience, steampunk fans can visit Oamaru, a town dedicated to the steampunk aesthetic: a town whose residents claim they are living in the Steampunk Capital of the World . . .

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Nice Review on Goodreads

The Caelimane Operation received another nice review on Goodreads from fellow WP blogger Ky Grabowski! Excerpt: Chris Pavesic writes a hell of a in depth story. The Caelimane Operation is layered with history, connections and details you can miss if you blink too quick . . . See more here: Goodreads

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