Anthology Review: Steampunk World (2014)

“Steam Speaks All Languages
Steam Knows No Boundaries
Steam Is Universal”

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I am usually more of a novel reader, but lately I’ve been both reading and writing a lot of shorter fiction. Figuring out the right amount of words to fully tell a story is both an intellectual and artistic challenge, but I believe editor Sarah Hans did a wonderful job of pulling together this anthology composed of fabulous stories. I’ve noticed a trend in the last year or two of agents and editors looking for non-Western Steampunk, and this collection was already on the shelves so kudos to all 19 authors and the publisher, Alliteration Ink. Each story is even accompanied by a beautiful black and white line drawing.

With 19 completely different tales to tell, I’m not going to even try to review everything in Steampunk World. I had hoped to dedicate a few days to it, but with Christmas right around the corner and this book so perfect for a last minute gift idea I’m just going to say that overall, I felt like this was a very strong book, both as a collection of short stories and a collection of Steampunk. It was originally funded through a Kickstarter campaign, but you can read all about the book and the authors at Alliteration Ink.

Multi-cultural Steampunk sound good to you? Check out their next collection, Steampunk Universe as well!

 

There's Still Time to Sign Up for the Collaborative Writing Challenge! Begins Dec. 30

I learned a lot of things from participating in this year’s NaNoWriMo- Pre-writing is a godsend, I need to stop deluding myself into thinking I can write after 5pm, and I can write over 3000 words a day for a week straight if I have to.

But I also got a real taste of how very lonely being a writer can be.

Which makes me even more excited for the novel I will be coordinating with the Collaborative Writing Challenge! This is a chance to build up a really cool community of writers that I hope will go above and beyond this individual project.

The deadline for possible first chapter submissions is today, and so far we’ve got 7 submissions. I’ll be reading those submissions and talking over the potential for growth with the rest of the CWC over the next few weeks to narrow it down to three, then it will be time for people to vote on their favorite.

Didn’t write a starter chapter? No problem! I think writing the parts in the middle are the most fun, personally, because you wield so much power over the rest of the story. I’ll be starting my try for Project, 6, Esyld’s Awakening, Chapter 16 this week. It’s been 10 chapters since I saw the story last and I am really excited to see where it has gone when I wasn’t looking. Wish me luck!

cwc-announcement

Here’s a quick reminder of how the whole project works.

  • Writers sign up for a chapter try by December 30. (We’ve reached our minimum number of authors to get the project going, but the more the merrier!) Sign up by filling out the form here
  • 3-5 Writers attempt each chapter, one week at a time. You’d have access to the following:
    • The chapter immediately before the one you attempt
    • detailed chapter summaries of any chapter that came before
    • detailed notes about characters, places, and any special objects or magic schema that may be at work
    • prompts and questions from the coordinator to help you decide which direction to take
  • The coordinator (me!) chooses the chapter(s) that moves the story along the best (and/or is my favorite for whatever reason. Sometimes we also combine multiple chapter attempts).
  • At the end, we have a 30-chapter book with at least 30 contributing authors who all get to put another book on their resume
    • 10% of proceeds go to charity!

These pins are available through my Kickstarter campaign!

And don’t forget, if your chapter is chosen at any point during the challenge, you’ll also receive a United we Steampunk, Divided we Fall pin by yours truly.

An Interview with Steampunk Author Daniel Ottalini and his Newest Release

steel-praetorian-800-cover-reveal-and-promotional
My husband is a Roman historian and I’m a Steampunk nut (in case you hadn’t noticed), so you can imagine my joy when I found a mash-up of the two! In a nutshell, his books are about an alternative history where Caesar survived the assassination attempt and changed the face of the world. I’ve started reading his Steam Empire Chronicles books recently, so you can expect a review in the future, but I got a chance to do an interview exchange with him as a fellow NaNoWriMo 2016 writer. When you’re done reading, head on over to his website to read and interview with me!

What project are you working on now?

I’m actually working on two projects at the moment. First, my novel Steel Praetorian is available for presale and I’m working on a blog tour and blog-a-thon this month as part of that release on December 1st. Writing wise, as part of NaNoWriMo2016, I’m working on Laurel Emperor, the fifth and final novel in the Steam Empire Chronicles series. It’s been an amazing journey going from zero to now six published books, and I can’t wait to share this one with everyone!

What book(s) are you reading now?
Right now I’m rereading the Belisarius series by David Drake and Eric Flint – One of my favorite Roman/sci-fi/historical style mash ups (yes, I know, it’s very ‘duh, that’s what you write too.’ but it’s truly a lot of fun to read.)

What is the most important component of steampunk to you? Why?
I think the most important part of steampunk is the conflict between groups – rich vs poor, union vs management, men vs women (gender roles, etc) imperial vs rebel. It’s funny because, normally, I’m a huge fan of the underdog, the scrappy rebels striving for a better…whatever. But in my own novels, the protagonists are the loyalists, who have an uphill climb against the rebels. Sometime in steampunk, its not about improving the technology, but about mastering what you have.

What part of the craft are you working on now (Like what part of writing do you need to spend more time working/learning about?)
I’m still working on breathing life into my characters in less obvious event-focused manner. In other words, building their character traits from the ground up. I’m actually planning on going back to my first novel and doing a serious upgrade in order to make those characters more believable and to improve the writing!

What three things are essential to your writing routine?
Silence.
Internet.
An outline – I’ve been using google docs to create a living outline. Before this I used a journal, and I’m a much faster typer than a writer. Plus I can access the same document everywhere, even share it with beta readers before I type the entire novel. Makes a lot of work much easier.

If you could cosplay any character from classic Sci-fi or Steampunk, what would you choose?
Wow, tough question – Character wise I’d probably want to go as Luke Skywalker from Star Wars, although in honesty I’d rather go as a rebel trooper of some sort – gotta love the dome helmets or the Hoth cold weather gear!

Do you have a favorite Steampunk-related memory?
Actually it was a video game – Rise of Legends for PC – A spin off of the Rise of Nations, itself a great game, truly inspired me as a young teenager. I loved how the background was an intersection of magic, mysticism, and giant smoke belching constructs. One of their units even inspired me in my own writing over 10 years later – the giant spider like trash hauler was definitely based on that idea.

If you could suddenly master any skill, what would you choose?
Oh wow, I think it’d have to be another language – I’d want to be perfectly able to read, write, and speak Spanish at all levels – this would be useful in my day job and in my writing career – multiple translations of my book for free/cheap? Here I come!.

Thanks Daniel!

You can find out more about him and his books (plus an interview with me tomorrow!) at his website, and don’t forget to pre-order your copy of The Steel Praetorian.

Classic Book Review: Master of the World (1904)

master-of-the-worldI’m still slowly working my way through the classic science fiction works, but I recently found this short little book in a used book store and added it to the old “to be read” pile. After reading some other works of Verne I was, shall we say, underwhelmed by this much-lauded author, in a large part because they seemed to go on interminably. I’d hoped that Master of None would appeal to me more because it is so much shorter than 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but alas, it left me wanting more, and not in a good way.

In brief, it is the story of a strange vehicle and its many sightings. Somehow, people report seeing something that moves faster than any known machine, and they see it on land, sea, and the air.

I didn’t know until after I had finished it that this was in fact a sequel to a 1886 release entitled Robur the Conqueror, and perhaps if I had read the first book I’d have liked Master of the World more, but honestly, I doubt it. I don’t know if it is just a matter of translation and the higher frequency of the passive voice in French, or if it is a failure of my modern sensibility to be tickled by this old style of writing, but as a story described on the cover as a suspense/thriller I found it rather dull and predictable. I know the mad scientist bent on using his genius to bully mankind into betterment for no particular reason was still pretty new in Verne’s day, but he’d already been-there, done-that 30 years earlier with his most famous character, Captain Nemo.

On top of that, the was ending struck me as both abrupt and bizarre, and the whole tone of the story felt melancholy and hopeless about the future of humankind. One critic I read speculated that this was due to Verne’s failing health and dour disposition in his twilight years, but whatever the reason I wouldn’t say I’d recommend this one.

Collaborative Steampunk Novel Update and a Few Thoughts about NaNoWriMo

Collaborative Steampunk Novel Update

When I announced that I would be coordinating Project 7 for the Collaborative Writing Challenge starting in Dec. I admit I was a little worried about recruiting people. Steampunk has become a lot better known in recent years, but there are still plenty of people who don’t really know what’s it about, or at least aren’t comfortable enough with the genre to feel like they can contribute.

On the one hand, I complete understand and obviously I’m not going to push and say someone should do it if it doesn’t interest them. On the other hand, I see Steampunk as less of a genre with distinct borders and rules, and more of an overlay that can be added to a mystery, romance, or any other sort of story.

It looks like there are a lot of people who feel the same way! 70 slots have been filled so far by 30 writers, and there’s still over a month before the project begins. Each project has a minimum of three authors in each slot, and up to five, so there is plenty of space if you haven’t signed up yet. Just don’t wait too long!

Remember, the project starts in December but runs until August, so even the prospect of starting a project after the bustle of the impending holidays has you seriously considering if a string of lights is sturdy enough to hang a person by, just keep in mind you could sign up for a chapter way out in March when you’ll just be twiddling your thumbs.

NaNoWriMo Update

A typical science fiction or fantasy novel for adults comes in around 100k words (~350 pages depending on the size of the book). YA books tend to be closer to 70k, but even that word count is higher than the goal for the National Novel Writing Month of 50k. So why the discrepancy?

Writing a book is at least 80% revising.

Let’s face it, the first pass is going to be bad. Some people’s bad is a lot worse than others, but generally speaking there are going to be plenty of issues to fix on even the structural level, not to mention at the specific word choice level. Personally, I am finding it incredibly difficult *not* to be doing revisions as I go, which has been my pattern in the past. I know that what I wrote yesterday is rubbish and I want to make it at least refined enough to be just regular or old ‘bad’ before I move on, but that won’t help me reach my word count goal. Grrrrr.

revising-memeSo rather than be annoyed, I decided to change my mindset and embrace the utter craptitude of the firstest, roughest draft. I am writing whole scenes of dialog with just the words the characters say but with no dialog or action tags. I am leaving myself notes and giving myself permission to move on from problem passages to press on to things I know for sure. And I am not reading over things I wrote a week ago and painstakingly looking to see if I used “she” to begin too many sentence. (Though old habits die hard and I know many would already say I pay way too much attention to that sort of thing when I should just be writing.)

I am also doing a ton of pre-writing exercises to help me get really focused when it comes time to sit down and write. Pre-writing can mean anything from answering character and world-building questionnaires to writing a summary of what you want to accomplish in a chapter. But before I could wrap my head around that level of detail I made a spreadsheet with a separate page for each of the 6 parts of my story that I used to outline down to the scene level and projected word count.

I’m about 1/3 of the way into this whole NaNo experiment, and I’ve written 14,369 words on Mistress of None so far this month, bringing the total words for Part 1 to over 25,000. This has been a very different way to approaching novel writing and I can’t say I like everything about it. On the other hand, I have also gained some invaluable new methods and most importantly, the confidence I’ve gained in myself.

All writers go through times where they feel like poseurs or like they can’t possibly succeed, and I was having one those dark periods in August after the dour advice and attitudes of the folks at the Writer’s Symposium at Gen Con. Now, I feel like I’ve proven to myself that I have the drive and the tools to make a real go of this.

Now I’ve just got to convince the rest of the world…

 

 

Steampunk Book Review: Arachnodactyl by Danny Knestaut

arachnodactyl cover bookfunnel

Okay, I can probably guess what you are thinking. The title of today’s book, Arachnodactyl, sounds like a lot like something that sprang from the mind of Ed Wood or was riffed to death by the MST3K crew. I know I was picturing a bizarre spider-pterodactyl hybrid creature flitting across a Syfy channel ad when author Danny Knestaut first contacted me about doing a review. In truth, the only monsters in this story are of the human variety, and the story is both more serious and objectively better than the title may suggest.

The main character is an 18-year-old farmhand and tinkerer named Ikey. He is the last surviving child of a home torn asunder in equal parts by the Great War and his father’s ruthless nature. When Ikey is offered the opportunity to leave his old life behind and work for an admiral on an airship, he is afraid to leave his crippled uncle at the mercy of his father. He eventually agrees in order to avoid the threat of being drafted into the war effort but his heart is still on the farm. The welcome Ikey receives from his new boss in Manchester is anything but warm, and his isolated upbringing and conditioned fear of physical harm leaves him fumbling and making mistakes. The one bright spot in his new life is his boss’s wife Rose, a mysterious blind woman who never removes her veil. Her strange ways and the intricate machinery he finds in the house lead him to suspect she is not a human at all, but an automaton created by her husband.

In general, I thought this book had a strong premise and had a much more philosophical bent than I’d expected. Ikey is fascinated by the idea of blindness, both the seeming difficulty of even mundane tasks as well as the freedom the dark represents. Even though he believes he is unfit to love and never plans to have a family of his own because he believes he will turn out no better than his father, he finds himself enthralled by Rose. When they first engaged in a physical relationship I was actually disappointed because so many books seem to just add sex for the sake of sex, but after seeing the revelation that Ikey experiences as a result I decided it was more than just a bit of fluff. It actually was a very important moment for a character and his coming into his own as an adult, as well as his discovery of Rose’s true nature. The book is by no means overly graphic, but it is probably a PG-13 or older type read.

Surprisingly, the word “arachnodactyl” never appears anywhere in the book. My best guess is that the author was referencing Rose’s strange hands because arachnodactyl literally means “spider fingers.” I hope the shlocky horror movie the title evokes doesn’t hurt his sales, because we all know how people are when it comes to books and covers, and titles are just subject to the same knee-jerk judgments, especially in the ebook market where so many titles are free.  The writing itself was a bit inconsistent with several extremely procedural sentences like “he put the spoon in the bowl and the bowl on the plate” strung together, but were followed by lovely and melancholy prose offering insight about the nature of the world. It’s another instance of a book I wish I had edited, because all in all I feel it is a strong start but would have benefited from some tightening up in some places and more vividness in others.

This is not another fluffy, silly Steampunk book with lots of gadgets and action. Instead, it is a portrait of a damaged young man trying to find sense in a world that seems totally senseless and his love for a woman who seems to see the world as it is despite her lack of sight. His struggle and the overall tone of the book reminds me of books I read in high school English like Ethan Frome, though the prose itself is not always quite on par with the scope of his premise. I look forward to seeing how Knestaut’s work continues to mature and change as the series progresses.

The book will be released in Sept 2016, but pre-order you copy of Arachnodactyl now on Amazon!

Steampunk Book Review: Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

Perdido Street Station black cover

I’ve had this title on my TBR list forever because I have seen it mentioned on several Steampunk lists. During my long trip in April I got the unabridged version on audiobook and it carried me all the way from Minnesota to Ohio and back before I even finished it! It would be interesting to grab a print copy now and see what was cut, but I have a feeling I already know. There are a series of vignettes that are beautifully written, but they are only tangential to the plot and are in a different POV than the rest of the book.

Perdido Street Station is one of those works that was given the Steampunk label, but depending on how narrow of a definition you like to use for yourself, you may find it to be too far afield. For instance, the world of this book is pure fiction and is occupied by several different species of sentient beings in addition to boring old humans. Some are more insectile, others are cactus-like, as well as 7-foot tall bird people and these amphibious folks who can control water. These different races all live together, but separately, in a huge industrial city, which serves as a great lens through which to approach some of the problems in the Victorian era with xenophobia. In a twist that would put a smile on Doctor Moreau’s face, criminals are not imprisoned or executed, but given surgical alterations and implants to mark them outwardly as untrustworthy. All in all, a fascinating and unique setting.

Perdido Street Station artwork no title

The story centers on a Isaac, a scientist who is approached by one of these bird people. He had violated some sort of law in his community in the desert and the punishment was to remove his wings, so he wants Isaac to find some way for him to fly again. To get a better handle on the issue, the scientist puts out a message through the both the university and black market channels that he wants to study all manner of flying animals, including larval forms.

But when a strange caterpillar finally gets a hold of its true source of food and it pupates, Isaac, and the whole city, get far more than they bargained for.

I really enjoyed this book, but it is not for everyone. Mieville’s prose are fall on the Poe/Lovecraftian end of the spectrum, meaning that they are rich and visceral but not always pleasant. And by the end of this unabridged version, I was really ready for it to be over, so I’d say go for the abridged version if all you want is the story. If you want to enjoy some beautiful writing and intensive world-building, check out the full version.