“Steam Speaks All Languages
Steam Knows No Boundaries
Steam Is Universal”
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
Jeff VanderMeer is a heavy-hitter on the Steampunk book scene, and, along with co-author Desirina Boskovich, he released a new book in October entitled The Steampunk User’s Manual: An Illustrated Practical and Whimsical Guide to Creating Retro-futurist Dreams.
“Steampunk, the retro-futuristic cultural movement, has become a substantial and permanent genre in the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. A large part of its appeal is that, at its core, Steampunk is about doing it yourself: building on the past while also innovating and creating something original. VanderMeer’s latest book offers practical and inspirational guidance for readers to find their individual path into this realm. Including sections on art, fashion, architecture, crafts, music, performance, and storytelling, The Steampunk User’s Manual provides a conceptual how-to guide that motivates and awes both the armchair enthusiast and the committed creator. Examples range from the utterly doable to the completely over-the-top, encouraging participation and imagination at all levels.” (From the Amazon page)
I have a copy of his Steampunk Bible, but along with several other volumes it had to be left behind in the US when I moved to Europe for the year. Luckily, I have family visiting in the Spring who will bring it to me, and maybe if I ask Santa really nicely he will leave the User’s Manual in my stocking this year.
Have you read anything by VanderMeer? Please share your thoughts below!
And I thought I got really into my books! Check out these amazing book sculptures by Englander Justin Rowe. There are tons more of these on his website. He also recently had his work on display as part of the British Academy’s Literature Week.