I ran across this one in a second-hand store months ago, but I hadn’t had the chance yet to read. Whitechapel Gods was always pulling at me from the bookshelf (I think it was those smoldering eyes on the cover), and I finally had time to oblige over the holidays. A six-hour round trip bus ride gave me plenty of time to consume and digest this very colorful creation by S. M. Peters.
But when I say “colorful” please do not picture a rainbow. This is a dark tale of humankind caught in the middle of a millennia-old struggle between beings of great power who use their influence to wage a battle of head versus heart, logic versus love. The world is a very different place, and people are turning into machines either by choice (the “crows”) or by infection by a baffling disease that changes your internal organs into gears and sprockets. The author paints a vivid and often disturbing picture what is going on behind the scenes of an alternative Whitechapel during Victoria’s reign. No seriously, if you have a developed imagination but not a strong stomach, I would think twice about reading it. I will just say that the word “pus” appears several times, and leave it at that.
Even though there is definitely Steampunk technology to offer, this book dwells strongly in the metaphysical. It is an intriguing mix of science fiction and philosophy, with many of the battles occurring in the realm of the imagination and not on the Whitechapel streets, though there is a fair amount of that going on as well. The protagonists were well-developed and multifaceted which led to some interesting twists in the plot. I felt the ending was a bit too tidy, though that may not be the best choice of word considering very few of the characters make it to the end, but it was satisfying.
I would definitely recommend this book to a mature reader, especially someone who is looking for something a little more toothsome than the whimsical tales often found in this genre.
That’s right folks, it’s time for a monster mash. One popular way to “punk your steam” is to add elements of the supernatural to the tales from history, offering explanations that incorporate ghouls such as vampires and werewolves rather than what the history books say, as well creating brand new narratives where monsters play a role. Also, the Victorian era saw the birth of Spiritualism, the belief that spirits of the dead could and often did communicate with the living. All Hallows Eve, which has now been shortened to Halloween, celebrates the creepy and costume, and Steampunk seamstresses and seamsters, make-up artists and makers the world over use it as a chance to showcase their talents and share their knowledge.
Halloween has always held a special place in my heart, and in fact I launched this blog on October 31, 2013, so October is also my countdown the my first blogging birthday. Join me all month long for reviews of Steampunk movies and books that feature monsters and witches, costume construction tips from the sessions I attended at Weekend at the Asylum, LARP-ing games to give you an excuse to dust off your costume early, and other spooky fun surrounding the history of ghost stories and the practices of Spiritualism.
Do you have a scary or supernatural Steampunk story or photos of your Halloween creations that you would like to see appear on this blog? Send them my way at ForWhomTheGearTurns@Gmail.com. I can’t guarantee that I will post everything I receive, but I would love to get some submissions from readers. Make sure that you include the name you would like your creation attributed to as part of your email.
Whenever I go a-searching for used science fiction books I run across several by Philip Jose Farmer, but I could never find any in his “Wold Newton” series. The books I could find seemed to be all about space travel and other worlds, but his Steampunk books take place in the alternative past right here at home. I eventually had to order The Other Log of Phileas Fogg online, and I was so excited when the new edition arrived at my door, especially because of the sweet airship on the cover. I am sad to report though that the dirigible of the futuristic past does not actually make an appearance anywhere in the story, and that is only one of several letdowns about this book.
I expected this story to be written like a series of journal entries, but rather it is through the lens of an “expert” interpreting a secret journal and often correcting Verne’s story as much as adding missing pieces. But, one thing Farmer does do is give Fogg his missing back-story. According to this book Fogg was the foster son of an alien and learned special abilities, like the trick of controlling his negative emotions, that aid him on his trek and go a long way to explaining the enigmatic Fogg.
For the past two hundred years there has been a secret war waged between two competing alien species and it is being fought right below the noses of the human race. Both sides have lost the ability to reproduce because their numbers are so few and their females dead, so they take in human foster children like Fogg and Passepartout on one side and Detective Fix and Captain Nemo on the other. The aliens have advanced technology to aid their surrogates and according to Farmer this foreign machinery is the origin of Nemo’s Nautilus. Fogg’s dash around the planet has nothing to do with a wager, but is actually in pursuit of a teleportation device that both sides need for their (apparently same) plots of benign sublimation for the human race.
As I said in my review of the original Around the World in 80 Days (read it here), there are many gaps in Verne’s story that are begging to filled and Farmer was certainly endeavoring to do so. Unfortunately, his approach reminded me of the worst kind of fan fiction where a story gets nit-picked apart to such an extent that it stops being fun to read. For instance, Farmer makes a point of saying something should only take 5 minutes when it took Fogg 10, and harps on the fact that Verne never specifically mentions that Fogg carries a watch.
And then, rather than offering interesting explanations or insights from the “other log,” Farmer commits that cardinal writing sin: the rhetorical question. There are sometimes 6 or more in a row! Maybe this is just me, but I was always told that an author should never, ever do this even once without immediately answering it, and even then it is considered lazy writing. Farmer also makes a point of saying that the book is not a novel, but then writes long stretches of dialog that would never have been recorded in a diary and so have no place in the narrator’s interpretation. I also felt that giving all the credit of the technological advancements to the aliens was a disservice to Verne’s characters and the ingenuity of inventors during the Industrial Revolution.
So in the end, I don’t think I’d recommend this book any more than I would the original in terms of pure literary delight, but it is a great example of Steampunk and someone having fun with classic literature of the Victorian era.
Have you read any Philip Jose Farmer? What did you think?
Thanks to Josh Stanton and Andrew Knighton both for recommending this movie! This is my third French movie in the Steampunk ouevre, and before I started my quest to watch and review any movie that anyone has called Steampunk I wouldn’t have guessed there was going to be a lot to find in French. I absolutely loved all three, Lost Portals: The Chronicles of Vidoqc (dark, gritty, adult), City of Lost Children (clever, strange and entertaining) and now The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec.
Adele is a comic book hero who was created in the 1970s by Jacque Tardi. She started out as a foil for a different female lead character, but Tardi decided he liked writing Adele better and made her the star instead. The most recent graphic novel was released in 2007, and a film directed by Luc Besson followed in 2010. I know Besson best for his part in penning my personal gateway into Sci-Fi, The Fifth Element, but he has created characters like Nikita (La Femme Nikita) and has been a part of the Transporter series of films. Originally, Besson said there would be at least three Adele films, but so far no sequels have been announced.
The books were recently re-released in hardcover form and are available in English as well as the original French. The film draws heavily from volume 1, Pterror over Paris, (for the pterodactyl, get it?) which you can get on Amazon.com.
And now on to the movie. We first meet Adele on an expedition to Egypt. Her male compatriots try to ditch her but she soon proves she is the most capable one there and leads them deep into the mummy’s tomb. But Adele is not on a search for riches, she has her heart set on a certain mummy who she hopes can be revived and called upon to save the life of Adele’s catatonic sister. I know, it doesn’t sound like the most practical of plans, but Adele knows a man who has been honing his psychic abilities for just such an occasion.
While Professor Espérandieu is flexing his psychic muscles back in Paris he inadvertently connects to the dormant life inside a dinosaur egg and suddenly a baby pterodactyl is set loose into the skies above the City of Lights. The professor is accused of the “crimes” that result and he is put on death row when no one believes his ramblings about the dinosaur. Louise Bourgoin makes an absolutely charming Adele and her many attempts to free him are hilarious. Thwarted at every turn, she appeals to the President of France, but his hopes all rest on a bumbling big game hunter to bring the beastie down. The professor is still psychically linked to the pterodactyl so if it dies so does the professor, as well as all of Adele’s hopes for her saving her sister.
I totally loved this movie and I highly recommend it if you need something to put a smile on your face. Bourgoin sometimes talks a mile a minute so I am sure it would have been even funnier if I could have watched it dubbed in English instead of reading the subtitles, but I thoroughly enjoyed the characters, action and story. Ancient stuff was all the rage at the turn of the 20th century, especially ancient Egyptian stuff, so even the anachronisms felt like they were just an extension of the period, and I liked the whimsical brush used to paint even the direst of events in the plot.
Do you know of any other foreign-language movies that could be considered Steampunk? I’d love to see them!