Friday, December 31, 2010

Dark Days in Bright City, Part Three

For those of you just tuning in, I'm running my recently published short story "Dark Days in Bright City" in five installments for your perusal. The story appears in the November issue of Fissure Magazine, along with a host of other fantastic Steampunk tales. Don't forget to read Parts One and Two before you read Part Three below:

“Y-yes sir.” Hands of bartender shake when he serves me bottle. I try for disarming smile, but he scurries away quicker than greased clock gears. He probably thought he hid gun better. It will be if he follows advice. I stare at Butcher while I sip beer. If intelligence correct, Butcher and associate should leave soon. Associate is unimportant. If he resists I kill. If he runs I let free. Butcher is only one I care about.

Hand claps onto shoulder as smell of cigarette smoke fills air. I slowly turn on stool, and look into face of man in black coat. He takes two puffs from cigarette before removing from mouth.

“Are you Dmitry Radimov?” man says. I sip from beer instead of replying. Inside I curse lack of foresight. Of course government would know my face; high-level clearance for ten years meant Premier had record of my appearance.

“Who asks?”

“Come with us, Commander.” Man brushes coat aside to reveal long-barreled pistol on hip. I grin. If man read file, he would know threat is big mistake.

Nyet.”

“Then I am forced to arrest you by command of His Excellency the Lord Premier.” Man turns to comrades. “Take him.”

“I think not.” I slam bottle into man’s face. He stumbles into other soldier. I jump off stool and punch another man. He crashes onto table of dockworkers. Burly men leap to feet and throw man aside. I bound onto table of sailors in mid-song. Sailors reach for me, but I jump to next table in line. Men in longcoats follow as I stir up bar. By time I reach door angry shouts of sailors and dockworkers fill room.

I land at door and look back. Men in longcoats are behind crowd. One tries to explain he wants through, but line of sailors lunges. Burly sailor lifts nearest soldier by collar. Someone fires gun and bar patrons scatter. Bartender stands at back with repeating rifle pointed to ceiling. I tip hat to man, and step outside.

Fight got my blood flowing; cold night does not feel as bad anymore. I curse at loss of Butcher. Plan was so close to happening. Sinov'ya shlyooh soldiers had to interfere. I stride across street to alley. Butcher still prowls city without fear. This should not be so; not while Sonya exists as mechanical monster.

I creep through moonlit night. Rain still pours from sky, while thunder rolls overhead. Nearest sewer entrance is two streets over. From there I return to shop and await next chance at capture of Butcher. Chug of carriage engine on next street gives pause.

Steam flows from beneath high-mounted vehicle. Rubber wheels bounce slow along cobbles as carriage drives near. Is smart driver; streets not good in this section of city for many years. Black-lacquered body of vehicle gleams ebony in moonlight, while brass decorations burn gold under lightning. Clean lines and sleek body impress craftsman sensibility. Machine is gorgeous example of proper design.

Callarion eagle is emblazoned on carriage nose. I step back into deeper shadows. Eagle means government employee, which means trouble if I am seen. Carriage passes, and I glimpse Butcher’s face through window. I stare after carriage.

Monday: Part Four of "Dark Days in Bright City." Stay tuned!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dark Days in Bright City, Part Two

For those just tuning in, I'm running my recently published short story, "Dark Days in Bright City," in installments over the next few days. The story originally appeared in Fissure Magazine's November issue (available for purchase through Shadow Archer Press). And now I present to you Part Two of "Dark Days in Bright City:"

“Ah, Herr Doctor!” Burly man’s voice booms, but thunder covers rest of voice. I quickly unfold Collapsible Listening Cone and press to ear.

“… enter this fine establishment?” Butcher’s nasal voice grates on ears. “It is far too cold out here for any lengthy discourse.”

Ja, of course. Fair warning the beer is piss here.” Big man leads Butcher into bar. I stuff cone back in pocket, and stride across street. Men outside bar stare at me, and I touch throat in unconscious salute. Men repeat gesture, and I know they were once Navy. Thought of former comrades here warms me. Perhaps I will have allies tonight.

I enter bar and push goggles onto head. Loss of sight from fogging glass is not something I can afford. Air inside bar hangs heavy with smoke and smell of stale beer. Is stark change from outside, and I do not see Butcher or companion at first. Sailors and dockworkers fill bar with singing and loud talking, while fat bartender serves pints from long oak bar at back.

I scan room, and see half dozen men in black longcoats in corner nearest door. They give appearance of being uninterested in surroundings, but one’s eyes flick to me every few seconds. Could be soldiers watching for trouble; could also be brigands. Either way I am on guard.
I pick my way through press of tables and people toward bar. Though I feel eyes of men on me while I move, I do not turn. Let them wonder if I see them or not. Stairway and twin doors at rear of room offer escape if needed.



I catch sight of Butcher when I pass group of dockworkers at fireplace. Butcher and his friend sit with heads close together in booth near kitchen door. I flex my fingers to stop reaching for gun. Stick to plan. Killing Butcher in room full of witnesses is not good idea. Follow him, kidnap him, put fear into his heart. Is better use of talent.

I sit on barstool in corner opposite from Butcher. This allows keeping of watch without appearing to do so. I glance at mirror behind bar, where light from lamps and fire reflect in orangey glow. Men in longcoats near door try to study me without notice. Gloopiye obyez'yani. Never did I see such poorly trained spies. Capture even by bad spies would be inadvisable. If they guard Butcher, they will attempt to take me to dungeons.

Bartender waddles over. Bulge under apron is wrong shape to be bellyfat of man, and tucked strangely into belt. I glimpse shape of gun barrel when he turns. Da, of course. Bartender is smart to carry iron in unsavory place.

“What’ll it be, sir?”

“Bottle of Fantovan semi-dark please, barmyen.” I wave him close, and bartender leans in. “Tuck iron in trouser pocket, not apron. Easier draw and less danger.”

Tomorrow: Part Three of the story. 

NOTE: You can read Part One here if you missed it, and all previous installments can be found by clicking here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dark Days in Bright City, Part One

A few days ago, Donna Hole mentioned that I haven't posted any excerpts of my fiction here in quite some time. Since I started focusing this blog more toward becoming a practical literary guide to other writers of Steampunk, I've purposely eschewed putting my own writing up here. It's not that I don't want you all to read my fiction, just that I was slowly moving the brand of the blog away from that. 

However! In the holiday spirit, I have a special surprise for you. Over the next few days, I will posting the short story that was published last month in Fissure Magazine's special Steampunk issue. Since it's only about 2,500 words, my plan is to post between 400 and 500 words each day until the story is done. So, without further ado, I give you Part One of "Dark Days in Bright City:"

DARK DAYS IN BRIGHT CITY
By Matthew Delman


Raindrops explode on ground in front of me while cold wind blows through my oilcloth trenchcoat. “Sukkin sin.” I clap hand over mouth and pray no one hears me. This would not be good thing. I huddle in alleyway across from well-lit bar, coat buttoned tight while I spy on entrance to building.



I flick switch on goggles taken from shop. Tiny gears click into place. Front door of bar focuses through rainstorm; door flies open. Singing spills out. I change attention to several men clumped outside bar. Even with better focus on door, men are still unclear through rain. I flick second switch and am able to see men clearly.


Every man is sailor on shore leave. Or ruffians dressed in pea coats common to sailors. Either one is possible in this section of Callarion. One turns toward me as I see flash of flame at mouth. Must be match lighting cigarette. My mouth dries at thought of smooth tobacco. I lick my lips and clench my fists to hold still. Nyet. I stopped smoking because Sonya asked. It would be wrong of me to start again, though she lay dead these past three years.


Bar door opens and sea shanty spills out. Tune sounds familiar, but wind obscures clear hearing. Bells of Saint Michael’s church toll the hour seconds later. Those I can hear fine. I pull fobwatch from pocket. Caleb said last night that Butcher was to meet associate outside this bar one hour ago. Perhaps Caleb’s information was wrong.  But these are dark days in Bright City. I cannot afford to abandon post on hunch.


I hear sea shanty again and wish I could join sailors in bar, forget about mission. But I did not come here for singing — I came to stop Butcher from creating more mechanical creatures for Premier. Lack of mechanical army will make Butcher’s master that much easier to topple.

Thoughts of Butcher’s creations remind me of day I saw Sonya’s face on mechanical monster. I curse Butcher every day for turning my wife into machine. This is why I sit here now, huddled in dark, despite high chance of death at hands of men loyal to Premier.

Possibility of capture is why I have rubber capsule embedded in front tooth. I caress poison pill with tongue; rough edge is comforting despite purpose. Its presence makes me brave, and will allow me to do what I must. I rub hands together. Fingerless gloves good for detail work but not for sitting in cold alleyway. Men in alleyway draw attention again. Would Butcher be meeting one of them? Caleb had no information other than time Butcher would arrive.


It is another hour before skinny figure wearing top hat and black longcoat slick with rain strides toward bar. I click button on goggles. Zoom lenses snap into place as lightning flashes overhead. Hooked nose and scar along cheek could only mean Butcher. Sudden anger burns in me, spurring motion, but I hold back. Plan requires Butcher to first meet with contact. Burly man walks out of bar as skinny man approaches. Perhaps he is man Butcher is to meet.

Tomorrow: Part Two of "Dark Days in Bright City"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Questions about The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes

So lots of people are asking questions about the Steampunk Shakespeare anthology. We've also already gotten our first submission (yay sonnets!) and a some writers are asking us about stories that we'd love to see written but won't fit the anthology. Loving the concepts, folks!

I figured I'd answer at least three of the questions we've been asked here (either myself or Lia Keyes will post the answers on the S.W.A.G. group later today).   

What's the pay?

Flying Pen Press is a royalties-only publisher. As a result of that, the payment for each submission is a percentage of the royalties on the sale of the book.

Is this going to be a print book or an eBook?

It's actually going to be both. Flying Pen works on the POD model, so we will offer printed copies of the anthology. We also publish eBooks to the Amazon Kindle. I'm not sure about the Sony eReader or the B&N Nook though.

Does the story need to be set in Europe?

Shakespeare was an English writer, but his stories transcend the European experience. So no, you don't need to set your Steampunk'd version of Shakespeare in England or anywhere else in Europe if you don't want to. In fact, myself and the other editors would LOVE to see a wide variety of settings for the stories. Let your imagination run wild, folks!

Hope that helps with some of your questions.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter: A Steampunk's Shakespeare Anthology

I don't know if any of you were tooling around Steampunk Chat on Twitter from 9 to 11 pm Eastern on Friday or not, but there was a very interesting development in the midst of the discussion.

Someone, I forget who, mentioned Shakespeare as we were discussing Steampunk as "window dressing." Of course, writers being the creative folks that we are, ended up coming up with Steampunked versions of famous lines from the Bard's plays. Talk of Steampunking out Shakespeare dominated the rest of the chat, and by the end of it it was decided that Flying Pen Press (the company that I'm the Steampunk Imprint Editor for) would next year release an anthology of Steampunk adaptions on Shakespeare's work. To that end, here are the submission guidelines:

From Hamlet as half-man half-machine to Henry V at the helm of an army of men in steam-powered mechanical suits, the sky is the proverbial limit for adapting William Shakespeare’s classic plays and sonnets to the Steampunk aesthetic.

This is not intended to be a series of mash-ups, like Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, but rather re-inventions of the classic Shakespearean stories and sonnets. You are free to adapt Shakespeare’s language and themes to a Neo-Victorian setting as you will, but unlike the typical mash-up, you don’t have to include every line of original text from your chosen play or sonnet.

We prefer stories where Steampunk elements and themes are thoughtfully applied to Shakespeare’s works. Do not simply throw automatons into Hamlet or Steampunk technology into Richard III; consider how such technological changes may reinterpret the original stories. Saying it another way: What new insight will your Steampunk version of Shakespeare bring to the Bard’s original works?

General Guidelines:
  • Send all submissions to submissions@doctorfantastiques.com as attachment in either Microsoft Word (DOC or DOCX), Real Text Format (RTF) or OpenOffice (ODT) format, with a short introductory letter.
  • All submissions should have STEAMPUNK SHAKESPEARE: Story Title/Sonnet Numbers in the subject line. Any submissions without this information will not be considered for the anthology.
  • We’d prefer inclusion of Steampunk elements in the title of each story, i.e. “Othello, The Half-Machine Moor of Venice” or something similar. 
  • We also welcome interpretations with queer characters, characters of color, non-heteronormative relationships, characters with disabilities, non-Eurocentric settings and other traditionally marginalized narratives in mainstream fiction.
  • All submissions must be received no later than 12 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time on 30 May 2011. There will be no exceptions.
Play Adaptation Guidelines:
  • 10,000 words or less on one scene, act, or aspect of any play from Shakespeare’s canon.
  • Integrate Shakespearean language as best as you can within the context of the story; it’s not required that you include some of Shakespeare’s original lines, but it is encouraged.
  • The play that your story is based on must be recognizable within your version; if you adapt Henry V, the reader must be able to tell it’s Henry V as source material.
  • Any violence or sexual situations should remain within the limits of general audience acceptability. Let the play you're adapting be your guide.
  • You are allowed to submit multiple short stories, so long as you do so by the deadline.
Sonnet Adaptation Guidelines:
  • Adapt any of Shakespeare’s sonnets into a Steampunk version of the same sonnet.
  • The original Sonnet must be recognizable inside your adaptation (i.e. if we the editors can place your version of Sonnet 156 and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 156 side-by-side, we should be able to identify the origin of your version).
  • You may submit multiple sonnets.
Payment is a percentage of royalties. If there are any questions about these guidelines, anthology co-editors Jaymee Goh, Lia Keyes, and Matthew Delman may all be contacted via The Steampunk Writers & Artists Guild webportal at http://www.steampunkwritersguild.com.

NOTE: This anthology will be released through the Steampunk Imprint of Flying Pen Press (http://FlyingPenPress.com) as both a print book and an ebook.

Friday, December 10, 2010

On the Problem of Steampunk as "Window Dressing"

One of the many complaints I've heard about a variety of Steampunk works is that certain aspects that are integral to Steampunk, i.e. the technology of your typical Steampunk society, appear to be mere "window dressing" so you can call the story a Steampunk novel. Steam tanks just to have steam tanks; dirigibles because those are always in Steampunk stories; and even fancy gadgets that have no real purpose other than to look ... well, fancy.

Now, these "window dressing" stories are the kinds of novels that can happen in any time frame with any level of technology. They're in a sense timeless, but they're also not very grounded in their particular world. This is distinct from translating a story into another, related subgenre of the same overarching genre -- a la taking an Urban Fantasy such as Storm Front by Jim Butcher and switching a few aspects to make it a faux-Medieval Fantasy.

Think rather of a Romance or a Detective novel where the characters use advanced mechanical technology that has no reason to not be powered by electricity instead. Like the gear-based zoom binoculars that can easily be replaced by digital binoculars without impacting the story. Or the adventure story where the airship voyage can easily be replaced by a plane ride or an ocean liner. Essentially, the "window dressing" Steampunk tale doesn't integrate the technology into the world of the story in a real way.

A good example of where the technology is necessary is in Dreadnought by Cherie Priest. Without the airship, Vinita Lynch wouldn't have been able to evade the battlegrounds that were evaded and the story would have needed to include scenes of her getting around the fighting instead of allowing her to fly over it. A counter-example, where the technology isn't quite so integrated into the story, would be a tale where the POV character merely sees an airship floating overhead and never actually goes near one.

You could argue that Steampunk as "window dressing" violates the Chekhov's Gun law of fiction, in point of fact. Chekhov's Gun, for those who don't know, comes from a statement made by Russian playwright, short-story writer, and physician Anton Chekhov in his memoirs (published 1911). Chekhov's rule states that "If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there." (from TVtropes.org)


The rule applies to pretty much everything in your story, particularly as it relates to description of the scene around your characters. Chekhov was of the belief that, if a detail didn't serve a purpose then it shouldn't be mentioned anywhere within the text. If the author spends a full paragraph describing something in loving detail and then never mentions it again, then that's a violation of Chekhov's Gun. So it is with Steampunk as "window dressing" in stories. If the elements don't serve an integral part to the story, then they don't need to be there.

Steampunk as "window dressing" could almost be called a bandwagon move. As Steampunk is on the rise in popularity, there are certain people who are of the belief that if you throw a few cogs and goggles into a story then it's automatically Steampunk. This violates both the concept of Chekhov's Gun and dilutes the notion of Steampunk as a valid subgenre when its aesthetic is co-opted as "window dressing." It also gives those writers who consider the world of their story before including Steampunk elements a very bad name. Now, I'm not saying you need to discuss the socioeconomic impact of Steampunk innovations on the populace and that's the only valid use of the aesthetic, but rather to merely consider whether something is really necessary to move your story forward.

NOTE: I'll be discussing this very topic, co-hosted by Steampunk Writers & Artists Guild Founder Lia Keyes, tonight on Twitter at 9 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time/6 p.m. U.S. Pacific Time. Follow the hashtag #steampunkchat if you want to participate.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Steampunk Writers & Artists Guild

A few weeks back, I held an impromptu Steampunk Chat on Twitter. The topic was historical accuracy in Steampunk and how much of it there really needed to be. During that chat, I was contacted by one Lia Keyes, a British ex-pat based in California who revealed to me that she owned the domain name Steampunkchat.com (transcripts of the past two chats are archived there, by the by), and suggested that we make the Twitter chat a weekly thing. And as you know, me being me, I couldn't resist such a pleasant idea.

Lia also told me that she'd created this fantastic web portal that, separate from The Steampunk Empire and Brass Goggles, was meant as a gathering place for Steampunk writers (and eventually Steampunk artists as well). Thus was born The Steampunk Writers & Artists Guild, or S.W.A.G. for short (I can hear the groans now).

Anywho, I write about S.W.A.G. now to tell you of the place's existence. We (I'm an admin) have a good number of members on there, but I'd love to see more participation with cross-posting of stuff on there among the various writers and artists that call the portal home. Or rather a home, since many of them also have other websites they operate. It's been a good resource so far in terms of connecting like-minded folks, which I love, and is a grand place for self-promotion and discussion. I know Lia's started a good number of discussions herself, and I want to see more and more people chime in as time goes on.

I did already cross-post to S.W.A.G. the interview I did with award-winning author Karin Lowachee about her Steampunk work, THE GASLIGHT DOGS, and other fun stuff that appeared on Doctor Fantastique's Show of Wonders as the first installment of the Ladies of Steampunk series. It would be kind of cool if y'all joined up and did some more cross-posting -- believe me, it's awesome to get your information out to as many places as possible.

But that's enough of my telling you about the Guild. Why not head over and check it out yourself?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Our Powers Combined ....

As I'm wont to do most days, I was tooling around on Twitter when I espied Steampunk Scholar Mike Perschon, Beyond Victoriana's Ay-leen the Peacemaker, and Jaymee Goh of Silver Goggles talking academics. Mike mentioned world domination, and of course I had to get in the mix. Then Lee-Ann Faruga (Countessa Lenora) of Steampunk Canada, Airship Ambassador Kevin Stiel, and Ren Cummins also joined the discussion.

Go to Silver Goggles to see the transcript of the insanity. Trust me, it's funny.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Considerations on Steampunk Culture

I've been thinking a lot about the culture of Steampunk lately. This is something I do pretty much all the time, but my work with Doctor Fantastique's and Flying Pen Press and this blog has made that even more of a consistent thought than it was before. My life is steeped in Steampunk now, which isn't a bad thing in the slightest.

Random side note: I'll be hosting regular Steampunk Chats on Twitter starting today at 9 p.m. U.S. Eastern Time/6 p.m. U.S. Pacific Time focusing on the Literature side of the genre.

Anyway, back to the main topic: The culture of Steampunk has, up to this point, appeared to focus on a very narrow view of what can be done with the genre. I know the beginnings place the primary setting of First World Steampunk in Victorian England. I get that, especially because England was the center of the First and Second Industrial Revolutions from 1750 to 1920. There are some stories that expand on this -- Boneshaker and Native Star among them -- but those stories appear drowned out among the standard Victorian London stories that proliferate in the genre.

It's important to note that I'm not saying the stories set in Victorian England are bad. In fact, there are some of them that are very, very well-written and interesting. But their predominance is somewhat bothersome; especially because there's a whole wealth of source material throughout the period of 1750 to 1920 that writers of Steampunk could use to make very, very interesting stories. I'm of course excluding Fantasy World Steampunk from this discussion because it's ... well ... Fantasy World and different topics apply there (not that Fantasy World Steampunk is automatically better than First World Steampunk, just that I'm ignoring it for the purposes of this argument).

The dominance of England-set stories is why I love something like Virtuoso so much. If you don't know the comic, it's set in an Africa that runs on the Steampunk mechanics of cogs and gears and springs. Seeing an African-based Steampunk world is extremely refreshing, as is reading Karin Lowachee's The Gaslight Dogs, where the Steampunk focuses on a tribe of Inuit-esque people in a far northern landscape.

I love the England-set stories as much as the next fan of Steampunk, but seeing them all over the place has led me to wonder how often we can really see the same First World setting over and over again. Granted, it's not really the same because different authors write different stories, but having everything taking place in an alternate version of England has always led me to wonder what else was going on in the rest of the alternate world. Was China the same? Was Africa? What about Latin America?

In fact, there's a thought -- show me a Steampunk story where the Mayans, Incas, or Aztecs have developed steam power independent of European involvement, or maybe in response to European involvement. Show me a world where the great tribal civilizations of the Americas pushed out the Spanish invaders by using steam-powered mechanical suits or clockwork weaponry they invented based on the technology of the people who conquered them.

Write me an India where Punjabi rebels fight against the British using steam cannons and mechanical machinery cobbled together from stolen parts. Or drop me in the midst of a Steampunked Japan during the Russo-Japanese War, but give the Japanese some special mechanized weapon to use against the Russians. Or maybe you're thinking of something set in China during the years of the Boxer Rebellion; or Afghanistan during the Second Anglo-Afghan War.

And when it comes to the clothing at cons, I would love to see someone taking a Steampunk brush to traditional garments from the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Native Americans, and the African-Americans brought to the Americas via the slave trade. Show me a cosplayer who creates a character that comes from a Steampunk Jamaica and I will be very interested; something like that is why the work of folks like Monique Poirier and Ay-leen the Peacemaker is so important to the culture.*

My point is that the world's a whole heck of a lot bigger than Merry Old England, with a wealth of stories to tell and adventures to experience. Why would Steampunks, who are part of a subgenre/subculture that defies explanation, decide to limit themselves to one country? Why not spread around the world and show how inventive we can be?


* No slight intended to Jaymee Goh or any of the dozens of other Steampunks of Color floating around the aether. Those were simply the first two people I thought of.