Friday, November 11, 2011

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A day of days ...

Three years ago, I proposed to Her Highness the Missus in the gazebo of the Port Orleans French Quarter resort in Walt Disney World. Naturally, she said yes, and we began on a whirlwind adventure that culminated in the middle of September 2009.

That day in 2009 was Sunday, September 13.

At 2 pm Eastern time that day, I said "I do" to the most amazing, funny, and smart woman I'd ever met. She's since become my best friend, my partner in the crazy, and a source of constant amusement.

Today marks two years since that fateful day, and I love her more each day that passes. She's done nothing but push me to take leaps I hadn't thought of before.

So Happy Anniversary to my gorgeous wife .... and here's to hoping I get to say that for a lot more years.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

An important event

A very, very important event happened today a number of years ago. An event without which I would've been significantly lessened as a person (despite my contention that I survived 25 years just fine).

This "event" to which I refer is the birth of Her Highness the Missus. Like Harry Potter, born at the end of July, she's become a special fixture in my life. And though she doesn't have a lightning bolt scar on her forehead, she's got a bit of magic of her own.

So here's to the woman who was brave (or foolish) enough to agree to marry me. Happy birthday, sweetheart.

Monday, May 9, 2011

GUEST POST: The Perilous Prophecy Haunted London Blog Tour with Leanna Renee Hieber

About the Haunted London Blog Tour: The Haunted tour has become tradition to celebrate release week of my Strangely Beautiful series of Gothic Victorian Fantasy novels. Here I introduce the real, documented London haunts who “ghost-star” in the latest book. Special thanks, as always, to Richard Jones,, for being my foremost ghostly resource! About this prequel novel: The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess features a young Beatrice Smith grappling with her duties as leader of The Guard of spectral police, while a faltering Goddess of beauty and light sacrifices all for a snow-white child of destiny to be born into the gilded Victorian Age. For all involved in the making of delicate Prophecy, the answers to divine questions lie in passionate, imperfect mortal hearts. -- I write Gothic novels, so prepare a capital D for Drama, set your sights on ghosts and myth, prophecies and fraught perils, all manner of intense characters, and come along for the ride!

Today’s ghost: The Ghostly Duelist of the Camden Arms

In the 1840s Colonel Fawcett died in a bloody pool at the Camden Arms Inn, the fallen loser in one of London’s last historical duels. Presently there’s a Brewing Company on the site of the Camden Arms. Many a patron said he was seen in a rear staircase of the building, thought to be near his exact place of death. He hasn’t been seen some time, but pub expert Mike Lewis was reported as saying about the matter; “Just because he hasn’t been seen for a while doesn’t mean he’s not there.”

Here’s how I allude to this story in a latter chapter. From The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess:

Back in London, Alexi and his Guard were ghost hunting. It was a rough case. The Pull had brought them to a grand inn outside the city proper, a stone edifice ringed with lush rose bushes and a tended lawn.
            The storm was merciless, rain soaking them as they worked. Alexi wound fire around the irascible spirit of a man who’d died in one of London’s last legal duels, but his was not the only spectre braving the storm. The sky was lit with a horde of luminous dead, all swaying, mouths open, as if offering proclamations or warnings. Not that the Guard could hear their wailing cries.
            “Alexi,” Rebecca called in alarm. She stood under a portico with an open notebook. She furiously scribbled down every particular of the situation, as was her custom.
            She pointed to the stone foundations lined with red rosebushes. “The roses.”
            “What about them?”
            Her face was ashen. “They were white. When we arrived, these roses were all white.
            Throwing a definitive punch of blue fire to stun the duelist spirit into submission, Alexi bent to touch the deep red blossoms. They were wet. He brought his fingers to his nose and took a step back. All the roses were covered in blood.
            Josephine the Artist cried out. “Is this a sign of Prophecy?”
            Alexi set his jaw. “Everything in our age is a sign of Prophecy.”
He touched his blue fire-kissed palm to the open bloom, and the blood streaked to reveal a still-white petal beneath. As he made contact, the crimson began to roll away as if repelled. Too oily to be human, the gore dripped to the earth.
            “So shall we heal the world,” Michael intoned, staring at the subtle miracle. “Through blood and fire.”
            “So long as the world is not too awash in blood,” Alexi retorted. “Every power has its limits.”
He glanced at the sky filled with clustered dead and wondered at the Guard’s ability to maintain balance. They felt dangerously close to a fulcrum. With such omens, he couldn’t be sure of long-term success, even though the duelist’s spirit appeared mollified. He used his cerulean fire to kiss clean the bushes.

-- (End of Excerpt)

Leave a comment for your chance to win either a download code or a print copy of one Strangely Beautiful book from the series (winner’s preference)! Follow along the rest of the tour for more ghost stories and chances to win! Tour schedule available via the Haunted London Tour page of my website: where you can also find the archives from Haunted Tours past! I also hope you’ll join me for the launch of my new MAGIC MOST FOUL saga of Gothic Victorian Paranormal novels set in 1880s NYC with Sourcebooks Fire. DARKER STILL (Magic Most Foul #1) hits the shelves 11/11!

Thanks so much Free the Princess for hosting me! Happy Haunting!

Leanna Renee Hieber

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Special Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes Anthology Announcement

All right, so you may or may not recall that a few months ago I announced the The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter: A Steampunk's Shakespeare Anthology, which I'm co-editing with Lia Keyes and Jaymee Goh.

I mention it again now because we've been getting some questions lately about when we're going to announce which stories have been accepted and which ones have been rejected. We've discussed this question, naturally, and we decided that we're going to wait until after the submission deadline has passed before we start announcing the line-up of stories that will be included in the anthology.

As you'll recall, said submission deadline is 12 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time on 30 May 2011. That means everyone who's submitted thus far has roughly another month until we start announcing who we've chosen to include in the anthology.

I know this is a long time to wait, especially for those who submitted something to us earlier in the year. However, the consensus is that this is the best for everyone involved, because we want to give all the writers who expressed interest in submitting a fair chance to send their story in.

Mind you -- we're reading all submissions as they come in, so the announcement of the list may come pretty darn quickly after the submission deadline passes. So watch this space, and the one over at to see the final story list sometime in June or July.

Friday, April 15, 2011

GUEST POST: The Dangers of Steampunk – Don’t Forget the Punk

Sophie Playle is living the impoverished aspiring writer’s dream. She is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing and works as a freelance editor to pay her library fines. Her writings can be found at This article originally appeared on Sophie's website.

Steampunk celebrates the aesthetic goodness of the Victorian era – and herein lies the problem. When steampunk becomes all about the way things look (a pretty parasol here, a cog-powered machine there), and the theory of advanced technology is applied to the creation of a superpower/empire, the genre is in danger of losing the most important part of its namesake: punk.

Paul Jessup addresses this danger in his article ‘The Future of Steampunk‘ which can be found on his excellent blog, Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf & Book Review:
Novels not only give us a bit of escapism, but are also inspirations and blueprints to our thought process and our moral centers. [...] Steampunk as escapism that tells us Empire is grand! [...] We need to see more books with an anti-Empire bent, about anarchists trying to overthrow the evils of Colonialism and the wrongs of a Monarchy. Or even more books taking place in worlds that don’t have Empires.
Steampunk has been criticised for ignoring the bad elements of the Victorian society, such as child labour, slavery, extreme poverty, imperialism, racism… etc, simply because of the want to romanticise the era.

C Scott Morris adds to the discussion:
I don’t think Steampunks romanticize imperialism. One of the key features to the genre/subculture is ‘punk’. Rebellion.
Steampunk does not ignore the negative side of the period, nor does it embrace it. With Steampunk, and it’s sister Cyberpunk, there is a feeling of dystopia, of tyranny and repression, and Steampunk rebels against it. Steampunk is away of saying that all those negative things from the past are still going on now, and we don’t like it.
So where is this impression coming from? Could it be that by revelling in the aesthetic elements of Victorian times, people are essentially romanticising the era? Can such a leap be made, from the appreciation of artistry to the acceptance of out-dated values? Perhaps Jessup has a point: despite the innocence of escapism, are steampunks inadvertently attaching themselves to these values?

But wait. As Morris says, we mustn’t forget the ‘punk’ in all of this. There is a difference between Victoriana and steampunk.

Steampunk is not there to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at the prettiness of the 19th century. The whole point of setting the genre in the past is to highlight the same terrible issues that are still relevant today. Just as dystopian fiction is usually set in a parallel future society to hold a mirror up to our own, steampunk is set in a parallel historical society to say ‘learn from the mistakes of the past – look what could have happened. Look what is happening now.’ If the steampunk book you’re reading doesn’t have this element to it, perhaps it isn’t steampunk.

(image from ectoplasmosis)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Dark Days in Bright City at Nevermet Press

I was surfing Twitter a few weeks ago, as I'm apparently doing every day now, when I happened across an account for Nevermet Press. Now, this was interesting to me because Nevermet Press had put out an open call for a collection they call Stories in the Ether, which is going to be a series of short pieces posted on their website and then collected into a multi-format eBook in 2012.

I asked Nevermet Press editor Jonathan Jacobs if they accepted reprints, and upon his confirmation that they did, I sent him along "Dark Days in Bright City." If you've been hanging around this blog for some time, then y'all already know that "Dark Days" is the story I sold to FISSURE Magazine back in November and also serialized on the blog a few months after that.

However! I got the word two weeks ago that Nevermet Press planned to include "Dark Days in Bright City" as part of the Stories in the Ether series, and guess what? It's live on the Nevermet Press website today! Go over there and read it, everyone -- there's also going to be ART with it.

I'm very, very excited about this because the folks at Nevermet Press are amazing to work with. They've also got their finger on the pulse of RPG gaming, which is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Look out, because I might write some stuff for that part of their site in the future. I'll let you all know!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Dru Pagliassotti is a professor in the communications department at California Lutheran University, whose research interests include the Western reception of boys love fiction from Japan; however her interests are currently in a shift toward studying the rise of the male/male romance as a niche genre among women writers. However, Dr. Pagliassotti is better known for writing the Fantasy Steampunk tale Clockwork Heart. You can visit her website at and follow her on Twitter (@drupagliassotti).

Matt's Note: This is cross-posted from STEAMED with the gracious permission of Suzanne Lazear.

by Dru Pagliassotti

Steampunk fiction consists of two elements-the steam, or gaslamp aesthetic, iconography specific to the genre — and the punk, a critical ideology orpolitical stance that satirizes, challenges, or subverts societal trends.

Each element is a necessary but not sufficient condition for labeling a story steampunk: steampunk needs both the aesthetic and the critique. Much fiction is labeled steampunk that is all steam and no punk; these works are more accurately called steampulp. So, how do you write steampunk?


The steam refers to technology that runs on steam power, of course, since classic steampunk is based or draws upon 19th century culture. Steampunk has been extended in both historical directions, however, and as often as not it mixes several historical periods in a single work, such as a 19th-century England that includes both practicing alchemists and rigid airships. Writers have the freedom to choose which technologies and settings they want to use, although the farther the historical setting is from a 19th century equivalent, the more fantastic and complicated the technologies will have to become to capture the spirit of the genre.

Steampunk’s gaslamp aesthetic reclaims the future that 19th century writers dreamed we would be living today but that never came about — a bright, shiny, elegant future of fine craftsmanship and exquisite sensibility powered by awe-inspiring, world-improving technologies. (Never mind the fact that, in the 19th century, this world wouldn’t have been meant for everybody; we’ll get to that in the punk part of this essay.)

Thus the classic 19th century gaslamp aesthetic, from A to Z, might look something like this: Airships, brass goggles, canes-corsets-cravats-chronometers, difference engines, electromagnetism, factories, gaslights, hired help, iron men, juggernauts, keypunch machines, lords and ladies, military service, newspapers, orientalism, poverty, queens, railroads, society affairs, tea, urbanization, velocipedes, workhouses, xenophobia, young anarchists, and zeppelins.

Writers can find a longer list of iconic elements at Writing.Com. Victorian technologies are overviewed in an occasional but useful series at Free the Princess and here at The Age of Steam. Descriptions of character archetypes can also be found at those two websites, Free the Princess offering lengthy discussions of each and The Age of Steam offering a more succinct list.

The challenge is that a number of these elements have become clichés — the airship pirate sporting brass goggles and long leather coat, for example; the mad scientist sporting a nifty prosthetic or two who is about to commit an act of technological or chemical mayhem; upper-class items such as watches and umbrellas that mechanically morph into lifesaving or lifetaking gadgets; the use of real people as supporting cast, such as H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Charles Babbage, and Queen Victoria; and England, especially London, used as a setting. I have also seen enough vampires, werewolves, and faery in steampunk settings to dub them clichés, as well.

So while I’m sure it would be pathetically easy to sell a story in which H. G. Wells has been turned into a vampire and travels around the world in an airship as a spy for Queen Victoria … please, don’t.

One way to avoid clichés is to start by thinking about what the punk in the story will be, and then work backward to decide which steam elements best frame that punk.


The ’70s punk rock movement embraced individualism, anarchy, and rebellion. Disaffected youth defied the ‘truths’ drilled into them by society, distressed and repurposed material objects as a form of anti-consumerism, and created satirical, angry, and subversive works of art ranging from poetry to music to film.

This spirit became attached to the -punk suffix and applied to genres such as cyberpunk and splatterpunk. It is the same spirit that should lie at the core of the superficially more genteel and polished steampunk genre. Steampunk fiction embodies this spirit by presenting the sort of sharp, politically astute contrasts one finds between the worlds of the Eloi and Morlocks in H.G. Wells’ protosteampunk work The Time Traveller. It acts like a beautiful mahogany-and-brass screen that reflects, in its high gloss, the social failings and human weaknesses it was intended to hide.

Steampunk presents the aesthetic of a bright, shiny, elegant future of fine craftsmanship and exquisite sensibility powered by awe-inspiring, world-improving technologies … and then subverts it with the cynicism of the 20th and 21st centuries, pointing out the cracks and flaws in the Victorian dream that parallel the cracks and flaws in society today. Steampunk identifies racism, sexism, and other prejudices embedded in much scientific discourse; it describes the devastation caused by technological development carried out without a sensitivity to the environment or the indigenous culture; it highlights the problem of progress that is really a form of cultural imperialism. Even that most optimistic of steampunk genres, the steampunk romance, often presents sexual, racial, class, or religious prejudices as the obstacle the couple must overcome to achieve a happily ever after.

Steampunk writers should consider what rebellion or defiance lies at the core of their plot. In general, two types of problems are found in most steampunk fiction: (1) A material, external environmental problem caused by or solved by a technology, or (2) an ideological, internal social problem that is being strengthened by or that can be circumvented by technology. The involvement of technology is key (steam), although it can play a central or peripheral role, depending on the type of story being told.

Typical steampunk plots include the following, each of which offers an opportunity for social critique:
invention, in which Our Hero/ine is involved in creating or trying to prevent the creation of some new technology; exploration, in which OH is using technology such as an airship or other mechanical, vehicle to explore new countries, lands, or worlds; international warfare, usually involving an attempt to stop the infernal machines that threaten to wreak havoc on OH’s country; anarchy or revolution, in which case OH is either pitted against the terrorists or working with the freedom fighters and uses or opposes technology to do so; and social rebellion, in which OH is enabled by a technology to throw off cultural or social restrictions related to race, class, religion, gender, disability, sexual propriety, and the like.

Many steampunk writers situate their stories in the same places much Victorian fiction was situated — versions of London, primarily, or New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. That makes writing a little easier, because the shelves are full of writers’ guides to those cities. However, it also makes the fiction a little more predictable.

In recent years, the U.S. frontier and Australian colonies have received some attention, as have various colonial outposts in India and China. Note, however, that most of these stories are still told from the colonizers’ point of view — relatively little steampunk has been written from viewpoint of the colonized or enslaved. Yet technology did not just affect upper-class white Europeans and Americans in the 19th century. What stories haven’t been told yet? How might technologies have advantaged or disadvantaged those other groups, had history gone a little differently? If steampunk is largely set in 19th century England, what crumbling at the edges of the British Empire might reflect crumbling at the edges of today’s great economic empires? Writers seeking to extend the genre’s social critique might want to start looking at differentcountries, cultures, and ideologies for inspiration.


What if you don’t want to offer social criticism with your fiction? No problem – steampulp combines the gaslamp aesthetic with pulp fictionÕs over-the-top, fast-paced adventure and excitement. It may offer occasional cultural critique, but its emphasis is on entertainment, and as often as not itÕs categorized with steampunk, anyway.

In the end, the important thing is to tell the story you want to tell. Leave it to the critics, reviewers, and academics sort out the genre’s details — your job is to write!

~Dru Pagliassotti

Worldbuilding Considerations Part One -- Setting

Cross-posted from The Secret Archives of the Alliterati.

I've been thinking about the world a lot lately.

Wait, you thought I meant our world? Oh no no no -- see I've been thinking about the fictional world that I helped birth as part of the Steampunk Round Robin story that I posted about the other day. Thinking about the culture of that world, and their history, and their technology, and their language. See, one of the things that always thrills me about writing speculative fiction is the fact that I can craft entire worlds out of my mind's eye and populate them with unusual people and animals.

I'm loathe of course to say that one way of building a fictional world is any better than another, so this won't be a huge pedantic lecture where I tell you "This is the right way and this is the wrong way." (I'm such a huge believer in guidelines over rules anyway that it would be supremely hypocritical of me to do so.) That said, this series will deal with a few things that I consider when building a fictional world. The first thing of course is:


Where is your story set? In a city? In the countryside? Some other place?

This consideration is important because the setting of your story will determine how much worldbuilding you may or may not do. It'll also determine how much detail you go into. Consider my as-yet-unfinished novel CALLARION AT NIGHT. That story is set in and around the city of Callarion. Because of this setting, limited to one specific city, I went into a whole lot of detail about the streets, buildings, districts, etc -- about to the level that you'd expect from a heavily detailed map of the Upper West Side of New York City.

On the other hand, if I only spend a chapter in Callarion and then moved to a different city or country entirely, I wouldn't need to spend the same amount of time on the city.

In the other story I reference all the time, SON OF MAGIC, the characters visit essentially every part of their world at some point or another. So, because they go all over an entire planet, I needed to determine how many continents there were, what geographies they had, land forms, oceans and other bodies of water, so on and so forth. It may seem to involve more detail, but this is surface stuff rather than hardcore mapping.

Building a full-on world also involves delineating the boundaries of nations, city-states, and placing mountain ranges and lakes depending on your chosen geography. If, however, your story takes place inside a city then you might not have to center on the physical geography of the natural landscape unless your setting has a park of a significant size.

So you can sort of see here that the smaller, or larger, your setting gets the less or more detail you comparatively have to deal with. Set your story inside a house and you only have to build the house. Set it as a world- or galaxy-spanning tale and you have to build a whole heck of a lot more.

What other worldbuilding considerations do you think your setting requires?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

GUEST POST: The Rising Phoenix Takes Flight! Help Japan Fundraiser Update

Cross-posted with permission from Beyond Victoriana.

Click image to purchase from Button Me Up’s Etsy Store. 
A week and a half into our fundraiser, and the steampunk community has really been out there pushing our cause. Thank you to everyone who’ve signal-boosted our fundraiser on their blog, Twitter, Livejournal, website, through word of mouth, etc. I also want to thank the good congoers of Nova Albion who opened their hearts and their wallets to buy a button for Japan when I visited California last weekend.

Wondering about our progress so far? See that nifty button on the left-hand corner with the golden Phoenix? That leads to our Rising Phoenix Circle page, which features a list of participants and the amount raised thus far.

Not only that, but I can start dropping some hints about the FREE STEAMPUNK GIVEAWAYS that are open to anyone who gets a button. Read on after the jump.

I’m very happy to announce that we will have THREE PRIZE PACKS that will be raffled off to a trio of lucky donors at the end of the fundraising period in September.

These gift packs will have some wicked cool stuff donated by these fine folks—

Jake von Slatt
Cherie Priest
Phil & Kaja Foglio
Paul Guinan & Anina Bennett
Gail Carriger
Scott Westerfeld
James Ng
Vernian Process
…and more to be announced later this summer!

So just remember, with every donation on Etsy or in-person, please let us know these two things:

1) Do you want to participate in the giveaway?

2) Do you want to have your name added to the Rising Phoenix Circle?

We are psyched that we have been incredibly successful so far, and we’re looking forward to seeing where this fundraiser will go in the next coming weeks!

And hint, hint, I will be selling buttons at The Anachronism at Webster Hall this Sunday. Be sure to find me at these two locations that day:

The Anachronism Literary Brunch!
Sunday, April 3rd at 11 AM – 1 PM
Le Pain Quotidien on Broadway and 11th
801 Broadway
NYC, NY 10003
Corner of Broadway & 11th Street

Webster Hall for The Anachronism!
Sunday, April 3rd at 3 PM – 11:30 PM

RSVP on Facebook

Thursday, March 24, 2011

BBC America Features Steampunks!!

A few weeks back, I was invited to attend Steampunk Stylin' in Brooklyn. Unfortunately, I couldn't get away in order to make it down to the wondrous City of New York. This disappointed me because it meant I couldn't hang out with awesome Steampunk pal Ay-leen the Peacemaker or any of the other NYC area Steampunks.

It's also bothersome because BBC America filmed a story on the event, which was all kinds of cool. I mean, I could've been on the same network that I watch Doctor Who on! Awesome right?

Anyway, I have to be content with watching this video on the story instead:

STEAMPUNKS 2011 from Andy Gallacher on Vimeo.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Call for Submissions: Cottonopolis: Steampunk Manchester

Matt's Note: I got alerted to this by Twitter friend @SheWolfManc, and said I'd post it here for you wonderful folks to see.

Call for Submissions: Cottonopolis: Steampunk Manchester

Submissions wanted for a new anthology of steampunk fiction set it Manchester. In the Age of Steam, Manchester ruled – the world’s first industrialized city; the first passenger railway station for new steam-powered transport; multi-millionaires pouring their money into Gothic libraries and trying to ignore the sprawling slums.

One 19th-century commentator wrote of Manchester:  “A thick black smoke covers the city. The sun appears like a disc without any rays. In this semi-daylight 300,000 people work ceaselessly. A thousand noises rise amidst this unending damp and dark labyrinth ...the footsteps of a busy crowd, the crunching wheels of machines, the shriek of steam from the boilers, the regular beat of looms, the heavy rumble of carts, these are the only noises from which you can never escape in these dark half-lit streets”

What if these days had not come to an end? What if Cottonpolis, the Warehouse City, had gone from strength to steam-powered strength? We’re looking for new and established writers to contribute dark fiction tales for a new collection of stories that imagines that this ‘damp and dark labyrinth’ really was ‘unending’.

Editor: Hannah Kate
Publisher: Hic Dragones

What we want: Edgy dark steampunk fiction set in a fictionalized future Manchester. Some familiarity with the city and its history is advisable. Any interpretation within these bounds is welcome. Queer, trans, cis, straight are all welcome. Pure Victoriana is discouraged, as we are looking for stories set in an imagined future. (And, I should warn you, we are unlikely to be publishing any celebrations of imperialism!)

Word Count: 3000-5000

Submission Guidelines: Electronic submissions as .doc, .docx, .rtf attachments only. 12pt font, 1.5 or double spaced. Please ensure name, title and email address are included on attachment.

Email to submissions [at] hic-dragones [dot] co [dot] uk.

Submissions are welcome from anywhere, but must be in English.

Submission Deadline: Monday 6th June 2011

Their website:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Roots of Steampunk Research Project

If you've been following my writings here for awhile, you'll remember the Roots of Steampunk series that I put together in April of last year going through the development of the genre from the early 1800s to roughly the 1930s. Those blog posts turned into an academic research article, which also turned into a 90-minute presentation given at Upstate Steampunk in South Carolina.

The article I wrote, by the way, is going to be published in a forthcoming anthology from Cambridge Scholars Press, an academic press based in England. No idea when the antho is coming out, but believe me you'll hear about it.

Anyway, I tell you all this because my research into the literary roots of Steampunk is going through yet another expansion. This time, my intention is to craft an entire book examining the roots of the Steampunk subgenre, including both literature and film as part of the mix.

This presents a new problem for me though: I only know of a limited list of works that constitute the roots of Steampunk. And that is where you all come in. Leave me your suggestion for a book, author, or film that you'd like me to examine as part of my research and I will make certain I consider it.

This is your chance to be part of a research project. How about it?

Friday, January 28, 2011

GUEST POST: You can Steampunk Revolution, but Revolution will Never be Steampunk

Cross-posted, with author Jaymee Goh's permission, from Silver Goggles.

That will be tonight's #steampunkchat topic: steampunk and revolution.

Let me explain this title. 

Revolutions and rebellions are, by their nature, painful things. They come about from oppressive environments. They are started with discontent people who band together to overthrow their conditions. 

Wikipedia defines revolutions as "a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time," which I don't have to tell you is an incredibly flawed perspective. Revolutions turn power structures upside-down, but often, it means a replacement of one elite with another elite. 

But revolutions must occur, because the alternative is to be silent and sit still while an oppressive regime erodes the rights of the community. 

Steampunk as technofantasy, steampunk as retrofuturism, steampunk as eco-critical position, steampunk as alternate history, steampunk as roleplaying subculture -- could never truly encompass all that revolution entails. 

Right now there are revolutions happening all over the place. I'm not entirely keen on discussing revolution, particularly with relation to steampunk, because I'm not interested in applying a Western gaze to the revolutions happening now in Tunisia and Egypt (if steampunk isn't Eurocentric, then Beyond Victoriana and this blog wouldn't exist). You are wholly encouraged to educate yourself and keep abreast of the happenings.

In steampunk literature, however, there can be an undercurrent of discontent and unrest, in terms of class, if not also race. Sterling and Gibson's Difference Engine, for example, has an atmosphere for political unrest (which I'm not going to claim to understand). Westerfeld's Leviathan illustrates how the Serbs were scapegoats for starting WWI, building off the unrest that was building between the governments of Europe at the time, and in Behemoth shows the protagonists working with revolutionaries in Turkey (referencing the unrest with the Ottoman Empire that, in real life, manifested in the Young Turks Revolution). 

Perhaps on a more familiar ground, Stephen Hunt's Court of the Air depicts a revolution of Carlists, paralleling Marxism-inspired movements, overthrowing the Jackellian government. The Carlist movement, however, proceeds to re-create the citizens, "equalizing" them forcibly -- an example of how revolutions, even with the best goals, re-create the same oppressive conditions that the previous hierarchy enforced. 

What does revolution look like in a steampunk setting, in which industrialization has begun? Why would revolutions happen then? How would such a revolution differ from the revolutions we have seen happen in the past? How would accelerated technology be harnessed, either by governments suppressing revolts or the masses pushing back against oppressive regimes? 

Terms for Discussion:

This is not the space to ask "how can we steampunk revolution?" without asking the accompanying questions of, who's revolting? Why? What are the systems in place? 

This is not the space to draw real-world parallels without critically engaging the importance of their happening, their significances to today's geo-political landscape, and their effects on the real people that lived then.

This is also not the space to play conflict resolutions officer. Show some respect for real events and tread with care. 

What's happening right now in Egypt and Tunisia is important, because it behooves us, as writers and consumers of steampunk cultural product, to be mindful of how large-scale changes in just a few aspects of life can affect whole societies. It is imperative that we not create a spectator sport of painful events that are borne out of oppression, even as we speculate on how we might reproduce such events.

See you all tonight.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Victorian Era Recycling

The men and women of Victorian England were one of the most sustainable generations in British history.

Surprising statement, huh? Especially because we equate the Victorian Era with choking smog and dank city streets rife with poverty and waste. Or at least that's what much popular media has shown us of the Victorian Age in Britain.

What's closer to the truth is that social historians have a hard time finding examples of Victorian clothing because the fine dress of an upper class British woman might be passed down to the maid when the lady was done with it. Then the maid wore it for awhile, and then sell the dress at a second-hand shop or pass it down to her daughter. The next level would then use the dress until it fell to pieces. Then they'd either convert the dress into a duster or sell it to a rag-and-bone man who might sell it to a paper-maker to turn into paper.

Take a look at a piece of good quality paper from the Victorian Era and you can probably still see the ink in perfect condition. Paper made from rags doesn't shrivel and decompose the same way paper made from wood pulp does. But of course the contemporary way of making paper is a whole heckuva lot cheaper than making paper from rag content was. Especially because you needed a consistent supply of rags in order to make the paper.

Rags were also used as backing for rugs, or even to make the rugs themselves according to a Birmingham Post article from 2008. The Post interviewed Traci Dix-Williams, manager of the Blists Hill Victorian Town in Ironbridge, Telford. To say the least, Ms. Dix-Williams enumerated a whole mess of ways the Victorians reused materials. Here's a smattering:
“Items made of glass and metals were returned to merchants and ash was turned into building material.”

"... a Victorian kettle with a leak would be resealed, thinning bedsheets would be sides-to-middled, worn collars and cuffs turned, and old coats and trousers which were threadbare transformed into rag rugs.

“People would go to bakers and brewers, begging for old sacks to form the backing for the rugs, which were made from short inch-wide strips of material.

“The brewers in turn would buy old clothes and wool which they dug into hop fields to improve the quality of the beer.”
And we think the 21st Century is the age of recycling!

Henry Mayhew, who writes about the Dustmen of London in his work London Labour and the London Poor, talks about the collection of chimney ash and the dust swept out from homes across the city. According to Mayhew:
The dust thus collected is used for two purposes, (1) as a manure for land of a peculiar quality; and (2) for making bricks. The fine portion of the house-dust called "soil," and separated from the "brieze," or coarser portion, by sifting, is found to be peculiarly fitted for what is called breaking up a marshy heathy soil at its first cultivation, owing not only to the dry nature of the dust, but to its possessing in an eminent degree a highly separating quality, almost, if not quite, equal to sand...The finer dust is also used to mix with the clay for making bricks, and barge-loads are continually shipped off for this purpose.
Ms. Dix-Williams had also mentioned in the Birmingham Post article that a layer of dust would be put between the inner sole and outer sole of a boot so as to make it more comfortable. So there you have at least two industries that need dust -- cobblers and brick-makers.

Thrift was a way of life in Victorian England, and one that the Victorians became quite good at. They had to, seeing as the average Victorian man's salary barely covered rent and food. They had nothing even approaching a disposable income or the types of credit cards that the Western republics exist on today. If you lived in Victorian England, then you made darn sure you used what you had until it fell apart. Now that's a recycling program.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Dark Days in Bright City, Part Five

All right faithful readers, I am proud to present to you the final installment of "Dark Days in Bright City." Enjoy!

Swallow of Butcher is loud in room. Fear shines in eyes when I step back. Gun hammer clicks twice. Cacophony of gunshot vibrates air; smoke fills space between. I wave smoke away. Butcher is slumped in chair, bullet hole in forehead leaking blood. I step close to inspect wound. Brain matter decorates floor in spray pattern from force of shot. I lift head of Butcher and look in dead eyes.

“May soul burn in Appolyon’s mouth.” I spit in face of dead man. Eyes open and staring in shock forever. Butcher did not expect arrival of death. Now I dispose of body. Is not good to leave evidence of vengeance.

Warehouse door explodes inward. I roll away from body and come to feet running. Shouts of Gendarmes carry from front of building, but I do not stop. Only stupid man engages superior numbers when no advantage is had. I slam through back door into alley.

Footsteps clatter against cobblestones. Engines roar to life somewhere nearby. I run three blocks before turn. Second door down alleyway is open, precisely as I left. I slam door shut on moonlit night. Place is hidden well from Gendarmes. Now I wait for cease of pursuit.

Warmth blooms in me at memory of fear in dead eyes of Butcher. Plea in his voice was symphony. Face of Sonya rises in memory, and sadness grows in heart. Death of Butcher important, but does not bring back love of life. No more will I hear laugh, or name called in lilting voice. Darkness sits over grief; satisfaction is not forthcoming like I expect. I caress rough edge of poison pill with tongue again. Perhaps I will see Sonya again if I bite. Idea has merit. I cannot say how much.


Parts One to Four can be found over at this handy link. Remember this story originally appeared in Fissure Magazine's November issue (available for sale through Shadow Archer Press). Hope you liked the story!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Dark Days in Bright City, Part Four

For those tuning in today, I'm posting my short story, "Dark Days in Bright City," in five easy-to-read installments. The story originally appeared in Fissure Magazine's November issue (available for purchase through Shadow Archer Press). Catch up on the story here before you read Part Four below:

Gloopoye dyer'mo.” I run down street. If I can catch carriage, then plan could still work. Carriage turns corner ahead. Rain-slick road makes it hard to run well, but I reach carriage when it slows through puddle. I grab hold of bar on back and jump to roof. Carriage halts. I nearly fall off, but hold tight.

Man’s face appears. “What in the —?” Swift kick knocks him to ground.

“Davidson!” Butcher says. Door opens and closes. I jump down. In clock’s tick I have Butcher pinned against carriage and revolver shoved in face.

“Into seat of driver,” I growl. Butcher’s eyes cross at gun. I shove him toward front of carriage. He scrambles into seat of driver, and I climb into back. Levers and gears click when engine engages. We trundle toward three-story building on corner.

“Turn left at next road.”

Butcher turns. I keep pistol aimed. Is good to make clear I control events.

“I can give you anything you want,” Butcher says after right turn at second street. “Money. Power. Women. I have the ear of the Lord Premier.”

“Bribe attempt is unappreciated.” I click hammer of gun. First click removes safety. Second primes bullet. Knuckles turn white on wheel of steering. “I will shoot if offer repeated.”

Three more turns. I order halt.

“Out of carriage.” I gesture with barrel of gun. Butcher runs when door opens. I leap from carriage. Capture is easy; I tackle Butcher before one block. I jerk him to feet and shove toward building. “Inside,” I say. “Now, before I shoot.”

“In there?” Butcher frowns. Warehouse looks ready to fall down. Windows near roofline are bereft of glass. Graffiti decorates lower portion of structure. Butcher hesitates. I fire shot at feet. He jumps away like legs on spring.

“Inside warehouse. Road will not be next target.”

Butcher walks to building. He pushes door beside huge gate of iron slats. Door creaks open and he enters half-step ahead. I direct past rat droppings and leavings of homeless men to metal chair in center of warehouse. He starts turn. I slam butt of pistol into head. Butcher crumples to floor. I holster gun, and lift under arms. He is heavier than I expect, but still I prop up in chair.

I chain him to arms and step back. Now he is secure, and will not rise until I release. Good. Is time for working. Vial of smelling salts cracked under nose shocks Butcher awake. Chains rattle when he tries movement.

“What are you doing?” Fear fills voice. Slap across face echoes through room.

“I will ask questions, Butcher.”

“What did you call me?”

“Name is Henri Desmarais, Butcher of Kirvan Mountains, yes?”

“I am a doctor.”

Nyet.” I slap again. “Doctor heals people. You turn into mechanical abominations.”

“Please do not hurt me.” He pleads now. Perhaps he sees in eyes anger that heats blood. Perhaps he fears chains. Is unimportant which one. “I will give you anything,” he says. “Anything at all.”

I draw gun, and lean in until we are eye to eye. He gulps at pressure of pistol on his temple. “I want my wife back.”

Tomorrow: The thrilling conclusion to "Dark Days in Bright City."