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!

 

An Interview with Steampunk Author Daniel Ottalini and his Newest Release

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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.

Steampunk Book Review: Arachnodactyl by Danny Knestaut

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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.

Memepunk: Writing Encouragement

From time to time, a writer just needs a little encouragement. The type of encouragement will vary from tough love to a good snuggle depending on the writer or even the kind of day he or she is having. So take a look at this gallery of memes meant to inspire your inner Poe or Bronte, and see if you can find one that works for you!

And feel free to leave your own inspirational quotes or tips in the comments.

Steampunk Book Review: Assassins of the Steam Age

Assassins of the Steam Age

Now that I have a Kindle, I do a lot of lurking around Amazon looking for quality, free e-books. This means I have kissed a lot of toads along the way, but Assassins of the Steam Age (Book 1 Aetherium Series) by Joseph Robert Lewis was a welcome reprieve from all the bad books I had to wade through.

The plot centers on an electrician and airship engineer named Taziri Ohana and the night the airfield in her home city was destroyed. She races to the hangar to check on her own craft, The Halcyon, where she and her captain are attacked by an assassin who seems to feel no pain. When the marshals show up and need her craft to pursue the terrorists, Taziri is drawn into a world of political intrigue and dark experiments, and is shocked to find her intimate connection to the horrible events.

One of the most refreshing things about this book was the setting. The reader gets to experience a setting both familiar and simultaneously alien, where names rings a bell but the cultures and people who inhabit these places are unrecognizable. The ruling powers of Lewis’ world include a powerful Incan kingdom where terror birds and sabertooth cats still roam the forest and an “Espana” where the holy men converse with angels, while the story itself starts in Marrakesh. Plus, there are daring escapes, interesting technology that never was, and a 3-dimensional female lead character. What more could you need?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it to Steampunk and Alternative History fans. I will definitely be checking out the next book, Legend of the Skyfire Stone.