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Come on Over to Steampunk Journal for a New Movie Review!

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Read my article Cinema for Steampunks: Kate & Leopold

I posted my first new article since officially joining Steampunk Journal, and I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss it ūüôā I’d love it if you took a minute to visit my new “home” in internetland and followed along with this next step, but I will leave links here for you all over the next few weeks while we make the transition.

 

 


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!

 


Steampunk Movie Review – The Adventurer: Curse of the Midas Box (2013)

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book-cover-midas-boxThis movie has been lurking quietly around for a few years now, but despite its impressive cast, no one seems to have heard of it. Based on Mariah Mundi: The Midas Box by G.P. Taylor, this film chronicles the plight of a pair of brothers. They know their lives aren’t ordinary, but nothing prepares them for the mysterious stranger (Michael Sheen, Underworld, Twilight Saga) who arrives bleeding, joking, and most importantly, carrying an amulet of great power. He passes it to the boys’ mother, but when the agents of power-hungry aristocrat Luger¬†(Sam Neill, Jurassic Park) come to collect, they take Mariah’s parents and he barely escapes with his brother.

As they flee to the mean streets of London in just their pajamas, they discover they each have half of the amulet in their pockets, and a whole mess of trouble on their heals. The little brother is taken during an escape, and Mariah (Aneurin Barnard) must depend on the stranger and his plan to rescue him and keep Luger from getting his hands on the destructive power of The Midas Box.

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I enjoyed this movie, and it would be a good choice for any little Steampunks in your life, especially if you need that “family movie” for everyone to watch during down time this holiday season. The adult actors, including Leana Headey (Game of Thrones), were all spot on, and Barnard was perfect, but as is the case with many a teen/tween actor, I didn’t love all¬†of the younger members of the¬†cast. That being said, the settings were interesting and the story was compelling, so don’t let that stop you from checking it out, and the clothes are awesome if you like Victorian style.

 

I’ve never read the books, but now I’m curious. Has anyone read the books or seen this movie¬†and care to share your thoughts? Feel free as always ūüôā


Steampunk Movie Review: Gallowwalkers

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I started writing a new book at the end of September, and the first part takes place in the Old West. I got a chance to beef up on California history last year when I lived near Sacramento, so my heroine is an ex con woman who is forced out of retirement when her last job comes back to haunt her. Literally.

So, it’s given me a hankering for some other¬†“weird west” and freaky tales of the frontier, which led me to today’s film, Gallowwalkers.¬†In¬†a¬†dusty, backwater¬†recess, the dead just refuse to stay dead; at least, the ones¬†killed by the¬†mysterious gunman, Aman (Wesley Snipes). Now they are back and looking for revenge, and they’ve found out who he is and where he lives.¬†With the help of a hired gun (Riley Smith), he must protect what remains of his family from the terrible fiends and live to ride another day. But Aman isn’t the only one with a family, and the ringleader of the dead (Kevin Riley) has a son who just refuses to come back to life, and needs a temple hidden in the desert to bring him back.

maxresdefaultThough it’s not much of a stretch to call this movie “Blade in the old West,” it wouldn’t live up to its namesake. The story was disjointed and a bit hard to follow, plus pretty gory to boot. The flesh of the undead continues to rot, so they have to find new faces and victims to skin on a regular basis, and they only way to kill them is to rip the¬†spine from the body or obliterate the head, so you can imagine there’s quite a bit of blood.

I’ll hand it to them, this was an interesting premise with some scary villains, but I wouldn’t call it “good” by any stretch. It seemed to be working up to a big¬†climax with the temple, but the writers just forgot¬†all about it when it came time for something cool to happen.¬†For me, the biggest reason to watch it is for Snipes’ badass dreadlocks, but no matter how awesome he looks as a cowboy, it’s not worth the 90 minutes of meh.

 


Steampunk Movie Review: Metropolis (1927)

I had a unique opportunity to see this amazing silent film as part of a summer film festival that was being put on by the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor. The theater was built just a year after Metropolis debuted, making it the perfect setting to really experience this early sci-fi classic. I’ve seen it listed before on Steampunk lists, so once I found out it was going to be shown on the big screen with a brand new score, I knew I had to see it.

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Many of the films that end up on Steampunk movie lists are there for purely aesthetic reasons, so I was very surprised to see this one there based on the posters. This highly stylized film has a very Art Deco feel, which makes perfect sense for when it came out. So in this case, Metropolis is part of the Steampunk canon, not for how it looks, but for the message it was trying to convey and where that message intersects with issues near and dear to the Victorians, and the echoes of ideas first put forward by H. G. Wells in The Time Machine.

metropolis-1927-original_2In addition to seeing the film itself, there was also a great lecture by a professor of film studies before it started. After the staggering number of propaganda films¬†leading up to and during¬†WWI, Germany was left with the means to be a real force in the new medium of film. Their major company, Ufa, created a number of big-budget silent films in the hopes of entering the market and to compete with Hollywood. Unfortunately, they overstretched their means and were soon in debt. They turned to Hollywood for financial support which gave rise to a company called¬†Panufamet. They traded away the rights to most of their country’s movie screens for some much-needed cash and a promise of at least one German film in American theaters every year.

When Metropolis was made, it was meant to be the big budget blockbuster of German cinema that year. Due to a funny quirk of the early days of cinema, it was actually cut down from its original 2+ hour run time to only 90 minutes when it came to the states. Movies all had a 30-minute stage show at the beginning in those days, and they didn’t think the public could sit through more than a total of 2 hours of entertainment. During WWII, the original film was lost (likely melted down for the chemicals) and only the cut down version lived on. Luckily for film lovers, in 2008 someone recovered an almost intact 16mm version of the movie and it was restored. There are still a few scenes that are missing, but it more or less back to its original greatness. (If you’ve got Netflix, you can watch the full two and a half hour version)

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The film is set in a futuristic and highly industrialized city. The rich and powerful live on the surface and enjoy pleasure gardens and endless leisure, while the majority of people toil deep underground and never see the sun. The movie is based on a play that was written by the director’s wife, Thea von Harbou, but as a Wells’ fan I noted distinct parallels with the future of the human race according his books, as well as derivative works like Morlock Night. According to The Time Machine, at some point the human race becomes divided and evolves into to completely separate species. The Eloi are delicate and childlike, their minds long ago turned to philosophy and issues of the mind. The Morlocks are the workers who were forced to live without the sun, and became monsters afraid of the light. Metropolis paints the picture of the step in between our present and that terrifying future.

The story centers on Freder, one of these elites who doesn’t know anything about the horror going on beneath the city. A young woman named Maria enters the pleasure gardens with dozens of dirty, malnourished children and demands that the frivolous people look at their brothers and sisters. She is kicked out of the garden, but Freder is so taken with her and her message that he follows her deep underground. He sees firsthand what the workers are put through and witnesses a terrible explosion that kills many people.

Metropolis-metropolis-1927-15539873-1500-1124.jpgMeanwhile, his father, who controls all of the factories, goes to see an old rival. The mad scientist has been cooking up something special, and automaton that will herald the ruin of the modern age.

This movie was highly stylized and a wonderful departure from the same old types of movies you’ve watched. The scenes can come off as borderline absurd to our eyes, but considering it is 90 years old I think it stands up really well. The plight of the working man and his transformation into a machine himself at the hands of the oppressive upper class is a struggled that first emerged during the Victorian era, and is presented in a large and impressive scale by the visionaries behind this amazing old film.


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

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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.

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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.