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Being First – the Triumphs and Tragedies of Sofia; A Steampunk Feminist’s Perspective

A great piece on one of the great minds of mathematics and her struggle for an education in an era unfriendly to intelligent women.

Source: Being First – the Triumphs and Tragedies of Sofia; A Steampunk Feminist’s Perspective

Steampunk Movie Review: The Warrior’s Way (2010)

This is probably one of the coolest movies you have never heard of. It only ended up in my possession because The Mister was digging through a DVD bargain bin and came across something he thought I’d like. So we saddled up our whiskey 7’s and had ourselves a movie night.

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The story centers on Yang, the greatest swordsman in the world. He gains this title at the very beginning of the film when he brings down the head of a rival clan. Yang’s mission is to obliterate the whole family, but when he is met with the innocent eyes of his rival’s baby girl, he throws away his whole life to keep her safe. In an effort to flee his past and ensure her future, he sets sail for the American West to find a friend whom he has not seen in many years.

the_warrior_s_way33When he arrives, the once-thriving town has fallen on hard times due to the marauding of local bandits (and probably because it is in the middle of a desert. Which desert, or even the year in which the film is meant to take place, is never revealed). He takes over a laundromat, and he and his adopted daughter are taken in by the circus folk who remain even after the fair has been closed. He even makes a few friends, like the local drunk (Geoffrey Rush), and the diminutive ringleader (Tony Cox), and finds himself falling in love with a feisty knife-thrower, Lynne (Kate Bosworth).

When the bandits return, Lynne vows to take her revenge on the man who ruined her life (Danny Huston) and Yang is forced to pick up his blade to defend his new home. Too bad for Yang that his enemies can hear his sword singing even from across the sea…

So far, this dystopian West-meets-East flick is the only offering by writer/director Sngmoo Lee, but if he made another film I would see it in a heartbeat. The cinematography was bold and beautiful, and I felt like it was a tight film that, like a ninja sword master, didn’t waste any of its energy on the extraneous. There is certainly violence, but as often as not it is handled either as art or pure spectacle, which takes away a lot of its bite. The broken down circus and the decrepit town make an incredible backdrop for both pathos and action.

Music to Steampunk by: The Copperfield Ensemble

“From the depths of the Captain’s Attic, hidden in the Victorian underworld, came a band of artisans, villains and ne’er-do-wells.
Armed with strings, keys, a shovel and a time machine they journeyed to the 21st century.
Collectively, they became known as ~
The Copperfield Ensemble. ‘The CogFathers of Steampunk'”

Visit their website or catch at their next gig: 12th December 2015 – The Steampunk Experience & Yule Ball The Phoenix, Exeter, Devon
www.exeterphoenix.org.uk

Steampunk Book Review: The Machine (2015)

 

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This self-published book by author E. C. Jarvis just came out at the beginning of the month, and I would definitely recommend it to fans of the genre, as long as they can cope with a little torture and violence. The book hit digital bookshelves on November 1st, and you can buy it now.

Unlike many Steampunk stories, this one is not set in an alternative history of the Victorian era. This allows Jarvis great latitude to embrace tropes and the aesthetic of Steampunk without the need to fit them into events of the past. Purple corsets worn on the outside, a sexually aggressive heroine, airship pirates, and complex clockwork machines abound in the story, landing it squarely into the Steampunk camp rather than anything resembling historical fiction.

This adventure centers on Larissa Markus and the mysterious stone set in her necklace; the only link she has to a father whom she never met. We learn early on that this stone has remarkable qualities, including acting as a power source for a fusion reactor being built by the debonair Professor Maximillian Watts. During the initial testing, the lab is rocked by an explosion and the Professor kidnapped by Doctor Orother, a nefarious character hell-bent on learning the secret of the machine. Along with her cat and the Professor’s engineer, Larissa finds herself in a race against the clock to save the Professor.

I thought that the characters were strong and distinct, though I personally could have done with a bit less of the cat who is smarter than the people. I was rooting for Larissa all the way, which is not always the case with “strong female leads” I read. I find that too often the pursuit of this device just leads to stubborn or bitchy women, but I felt that Larissa was a fully developed and flawed character, and that humanity is what I look for in my heroines. I found her actions and reactions to feel authentic, with one notable exception.

(Spoiler) At one point, the airship they are using to rescue the professor is taken by pirates, who take turns beating and raping her (none of this happens ‘on camera,’ it is all implied). A short time later, this deflowered and traumatized woman is making passionate love on a desk. As important as this encounter was for the plot, I found the timing to be unrealistic for the context. If she had only been beaten I could perhaps believe she was seeking solace, which I believe was what the author intended. Or, if she had been more aggressive in the encounter rather I could have seen it as a way to feel like she was taking control back of her body. The reader does not get to see Larissa’s though process, so it is hard to understand her motivation at that moment, so as it was presented it didn’t feel quite right. (Addendum: I am told that the emotional aftermath Larissa’s assault are dealt with more in Book 2)

As much as I liked the dialog, which felt realistic and well-paced, I could have done with fewer f-bombs. Don’t get me wrong, I swear as much as anybody, but I counted it used around 60 times throughout the story. I liked how Larissa picked up its usage from her time spent with Cid, the engineer, but other than that it didn’t really add anything to the story and could have been replaced by any number of more interesting adjectives, or dropped from the sentence without changing the meaning.

Those criticisms aside, I thought this was a strong debut novel. I am very interested to see where to story goes in the next installment and I am looking forward to continuing to follow this story and these characters into the sequel, The Pirate.

The Steampunk Color Palette: Analine and the “Mauve Decade”

If you are a Steampunk fan, you have probably seen a meme that looks something like this:

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Personally, this has nothing to do with how I fell in love with this awesome sci-fi genre, and in truth the steam era was a lot more colorful than people give it credit for. The discovery of new dyes and pigments, coupled with the rise of ready-made clothing through mechanization of the processes of garment-making, lead to an explosion of color in fashion for both sexes in the second half of the 19th century.

Until the mid-1800’s, the fashion industry was limited by the availability of natural dyes. Crushed plants and animals provided the only way to add color to clothing, and these resources were limited and often very costly. Purples were especially hard to come by, and until 1856 you could only make it by using a few types of mollusks. Then, amateur chemist William Perkin changed all that.

He didn’t have fashion on his mind when he started his experiments with quinine, but the accidental discovery of a synthetic pigment he called “mauvine” far outstripped his greatest hopes for his original work. Within a few years, this purple pigment (derived from a volatile compound “analine”) could be seen draped over Victorian England’s middle class after Queen Victoria popularized the hue. The 1890’s are sometimes referred to as “the mauve decade” because of how prevalent this color had become.

But, the story is so much bigger than dresses (which is saying a lot considering they were some really BIG dresses). When the synthetic dye craze exploded, Germany was one of the only countries that were really equipped to handle this new chemical industry. By the onset of the first World War, Germany was responsible for supplying as much as 90% of the American market’s synthetic dyes. At the turn of the 19th century, France was seen as the seat of fashion, so it is no surprise that these fashion houses issued the first color cards to act as guides for dying thread to match their goods and make production faster and more consistent.

When I read about all of this I got inspired to make some of my artwork reflect these innovations by exploring a single hue such as Analine purple. What do you think?

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For a limited time this little beauty will be up on my Etsy shop, but I am currently talking to a gallery that is interested in displaying some of my small pieces. If you think you might like to have this as your very own, act fast!

 

Steampunk Book Review: The Secret of the Great Red Spot (Jupiter Chronicles #1)

 

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Author Leonardo Ramirez sent me this book in exchange for an honest review, and with the following context: “Just want to quickly mention that the book is intended for reluctant readers / 3rd Grade. My wife is a Children’s Librarian with a degree in Early Childhood Development and her biggest challenge is to find interesting books for kids that don’t like to read.”

As an adult reader, I got through this short chapter book in just over an hour. In addition to the story, Ramirez includes several pages of fun facts about Jupiter, and information about some of the elements of the story. He clearly intended to share not only a tale of adventure, but provide a chance for young readers to learn along the way.

The story centers on a brother and sister team, Ian and Callista (Callie) Castillo. Their father has been missing for five years, ever since he disappeared on Ian’s 7th birthday. On that fateful day, Peter Castillo had given his son a telescope, which now sits gathering dust in their attic. 9-year-old Callie, the more adventurous of the siblings, can’t resist pulling away its covering and taking a look. Little did she know that this would be the first step on a journey that would send she and her brother across the galaxy and into the clutches of an evil emperor.

There are some fun, age-appropriate things that kids will enjoy. The flatulent automaton, aka Stinky Frank, will certainly entertain the third grade set. This is also a story of empowered kids who save the day and emerge victorious. Callie keeps a journal and her entries, which she often reads aloud in order to needle her big brother, are cute and funny. Adults learning English as a second language may also be a good audience for this book because the prose is simple and somewhat repetitive.

callie-castilloRamirez also told me that he has had trouble getting a lot of support from the Steampunk community for his book. I think writing for children, especially reluctant children, is a very difficult task, and I applaud his effort to reach this audience. At the same time, the book felt somewhat incomplete and without much attention to detail. In addition to writing traditional books, Ramirez is also a comic book author, so I have no doubt that he had very clear pictures in his mind of everything in the story. But as a reader, I would have like more description and context.

For instance, with only the book to go on I couldn’t have told you when and where the story was taking place. There was a passing mention of a horse and carriage and Nikola Tesla, but other than that I really didn’t know when I was reading about. This was further confused by some of the details that were mentioned, like the fact that the little girl put on a pair of pants, and some of the language choices (“dweeb” and “twerp” for instance). It was only after I visited the website for the series that I learned it was set in 1892, which was not clear in the text itself.

ian_castillo-narrowI wonder also if Steampunk enthusiasts are turned off by one of the very last lines in the book. In Callie’s final journal entry she says, “Oh, and by the way, this is how Steampunk started.” Ramirez was probably trying to help his target audience by giving them the name the genre, but as a person who spends a lot of my time immersed in it, this felt forced and akin to lying. It is one thing to punk the steam era, but fans are probably a lot less amenable to an author actually punking Steampunk and claiming to have created it.

On the Jupiter Chronicles website, there are some great character illustrations. Though it would not fulfill his original goal of writing a chapter book for young, reluctant readers, I wonder if perhaps this story would be better served as a graphic novel? That way the images could have taken care of visual details while leaving the language simple and age-appropriate.

The third book in the Jupiter Chronicles series is coming out this Spring. If you’ve got an elementary aged kid in your life and you want to introduce them to an imaginative, steam-powered world, check out The Jupiter Chronicles.

Have you read any of the books in this series? Or any other Steampunk books for kids?

 

Steampunk Movie Review: A Million Ways to Die in the West (2014)

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Liam-NeesonEarlier this month I wrote a about using humor as a tool for exploring the terrible conditions that most people faced during the 19th and early 20th centuries. By taking something that isn’t inherently funny and taking it to a ridiculous extreme can be a way to both grapple with the issue and get a chuckle from your audience. The recent spoof on the classic Western, A Million Ways to Die in the West, is a great example of this. It has everything you’d want in a film about the old West like gun fights, an unambiguously evil bad guy, bar fights and great clothes, but with a central theme that living in that time and place was totally awful. Death truly lies around every corner, yet it is one of the funniest films I have seen in a long time.

In a 2014 interview with co-star Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road), writer and star of the film, Seth MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy) had this to say:

“The story is a contemporary take on a what is essentially a classic Western. It’s sort of sets out to look at a world that we have romanticized in our culture for many many decades, takes a lot of elements that have become familiar to us, some of which are Hollywood creations and some of which are accurate… In a nutshell it takes a world that we know well through Hollywood and through history, and presents it through a very modern lens.”

For this reason, I feel like this film belongs on a list of Steampunk films. Sure, it doesn’t have weird technology or supernatural elements, but it takes a time and place in history that is contemporary with the Victorian era and punks it. There is even a special name of Steampunk with a Western twist, “Cowpunk”, but I tend to keep everything messing with the steam era all under the same umbrella term of Steampunk.

aMillionWaysToDieInTheWest-08In the movie, MacFarlane and Theron’s characters are the only people in their little dirty, dangerous corner of the world who “get it”, and they bond over their mutual hatred. Liam Neeson is the local bad guy, and is out for blood when he finds out his wife, Theron, is carousing with another man. There are also several more familiar faces who round out this amazing cast. Neil Patrick Harris makes an appearance as the dandified shopkeeper and even treats the audience to a musical interlude all about the awesome power of mustaches. Sarah Silverman plays a prostitute who is saving herself until marriage and Giovani Ribisi is her patient fiance.

a-million-ways-to-die-in-the-west-amanda-seyfried-neil-patrick-harrisThe comedic elements are equal part verbal and visual. There is both witty banter and slapstick ridiculousness which I thoroughly enjoyed, though there was one diarrhea joke that went on too long for my tastes. Other than that, I thought it was extremely well-written and the acting and comedic timing were perfect. This is definitely an adult movie with a lot of f-bombs, so viewer beware if you don’t like swearing.

Hat’s Off to the Stetson

1800s_Boss_of_the_plains_5If I told you I saw a cowboy, you would immediately have a picture in your mind of what I meant. Spurs or no spurs, you’d be picturing a man wearing a hat with a tall crown and a wide brim. This basic design, first called “The Boss of the Plains” model, came into being in 1865 in the small workshop of John B. Stetson.

He was born in 1830, and like so many men his age he was called westward by the promise of gold. The story goes that while he was in Colorado hunting with some buddies he put on a little demonstration about the benefits of making a hat with no tanned leather. He used felt, in this case made from beaver fur but any natural fiber will do, to fabricate something that was meant as a joke, but turned into an icon. The wide brim kept the sun and rain out of his face and the tall crown left a space above his head to carry a canteen.

In 1865 he ended his wanderings and opened up his hat shop where the first “Boss” was made. At first each hat was handmade and constructed of expensive materials (it takes 42 beaver pelts to make enough felt for one hat), wearing a real Stetson was a mark of wealth in the Old West. They also had the advantage of being adjustable, thus the band where the brim meets the crown.

John_B._Stetson_Co._Factory,_Philadelphia,_PA_1894By 1886, his hat factory grew to be the largest in the world and included the newest innovations in mechanized haberdashery, but the reputation for quality was already in place despite losing the handmade touch. In 1894, he had a factory that covered 9 full acres at his disposal.

Tom Mix was an actor in the 1930s who often portrayed cowboys and always wore a 10-gallon hat

Tom Mix was an actor in the 1930s who often portrayed cowboys and always wore a 10-gallon hat

Over time several variations on the original style arose, and especially in Texas the “10-gallon” hat became the favorite. Felt hats are waterproof, and an early advertisement of this over-sized model showed a cowboy dipping his hat into a stream to water his horse. Other variations were worn by military and police officers both in the US and abroad. For instance, the Canadian Mounted Police still wear a Stetson with a flat brim even today.

Like Bowlers, Stetsons are a popular accessory to upcycle into a Steampunk, so here are a few of my favorite Steampunk cowboy hats from around the interwebs.

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