Mar 30, 2010

Chenda and the Airship Brofman by Emilie P. Bush

Chenda and the Airship Brofman is the self-published first novel from Emilie P. Bush. It's a sort of bildungsroman, relating the adventures of Chenda Frost, a recently-widowed young lady. Sheltered up until her husband's death, Chenda becomes the "richest woman in the Republic," as well as the inheritor of mysterious blue stones, which force her to become a fugitive: forced to quest for the secret of the "singing stones" and a new identity for herself.

Chenda is what I expect from self-published novels: in desperate need of a professional editor, and fraught with the sort of mistakes most new writers frequently make: multiple changes in point-of-view within a scene, poor diction, inconsistent character voice and action, conflicting tone, use of all-caps for shouting, excessive punctuation, and a lack of thematic unity. Chenda's traveling companion, Dr. Candice Mortimer, is introduced as a strong, independent female, and by half-way through the book has been undone by a particularly robust kiss from the Airship Brofman's captain, after which she lacks the same agency and necessity she had at the outset, replaced in many ways as Chenda's aide by members of the Brofman crew. It was frustrating to engage with Dr. Mortimer with her initial echoes of Philip Pullman's Mrs. Coulter without the evil, and then find her weak-in-the-knees not too long after. Bush also has a propensity towards dropping into modern vernacular, which felt terribly out-of-place in the pseudo-Victorian secondary world Chenda takes place in, with the use of "gonna,' "Who-wee!" "Man alive" and "I went bonkers" from the heretofore erudite Dr. Mortimer. While it's possible that persons living in a secondary world could say anything, this was a lack of consistency, as opposed to the way in which elves and dwarves use current colloquialisms in Michael Swanwick's The Dragons of Babel, which is intended to say something about that secondary world.

In commenting on what Chenda and the Airship Brofman brings to the steampunk aesthetic, it is this use of a secondary world which resembles our own Victorian era in some ways, but allows for the creation of magical technologies, such as the Singing Stones which possess a perfect crystalline structure and therefore emit an amplified, clear musical tone upon being struck, as well as glowing from within. I won't say what these stones do, as such a spoiler is unnecessary for my purposes, and provides one of the page-turning devices in the narrative. In writing Chenda in an entirely secondary world, Bush joins the ranks of steampunk writers such as Stephen Hunt, Ekaterina Sedia, Allan Campbell and Dru Pagliasotti. While this may seem incidental, it's a key facet of steampunk writing since 2000, and challenges the idea that steampunk "takes place in a history that never was." In the case of Chenda's world and other steampunk secondary worlds, the action takes place in a world that never was. While this can be an excuse for a writer to be lazy in their attention to history, it should rather constitute a more rigorous exercise in world-building. One of the greatest challenges to the writer of fantasy is the construction of a coherent, believable secondary world. This is a hallmark of fantasy fiction, and writers who do it well win loyal readers. Writers who do it out of a lack of desire to attend to rigorous detail show their colors very quickly, and fans of fantasy are quick to reject such lazy writing. Bush is somewhere in-between these poles. She's developed elements of a believable world, but on the whole it lacks a credible cohesion. The technology she's imagined for it is great; the society of the Tugrulians is a caricature. At it's best, Chenda's world is filled with cool steampunk marvels; at its worst, Chenda's world is too simple, lacking the sort of cultural complexity real-world societies exhibit.

While my professional demeanor behooves me to comment on the technical problems of Chenda, lest I give the impression it is a flawless work of art, I must admit that Chenda, the one character Bush writes with a fairly consistent voice, is compelling. I wanted to know how things turned out for her, and while I was disappointed in what felt like a deus ex machina conclusion ala Paul Atreides, I thoroughly enjoyed a few of the early moments of personal transformation. The first of these is a bit clichéd, utilizing fire to burn away Chenda's former life. The second of these is much better, and makes good use the airship Brofman to do so:

The Brofman moved faster, heading east. Chenda stood there, alone and afraid ... As the Brofman advanced, the tears in Chenda's eyes spilled out onto her cheeks [and were] quickly blown away ... She wrestled with the pain and fought to control it. The wind pulled at it too, working against her, trying to drag it all up to the surface.
    More tears. More pain. More wind.
    When the struggle to contain it became too much, she gave up. Chenda let the wind take what it wanted from her. In letting go of her baser emotions, she found a kernel of strength. Chenda pulled her hands free from the railing and ... leaned into the wind. More regret and anguish for Edison bubbled up, and then blew away. Chenda took a step forward. The airship moved faster. The wind grew stronger. She pulled up worry and dejection, and tossed them toward the greedy air...
    She raced forward to the bow of the airship, her eyes flowing with tears for Edison. Every drop of her grief flew away as she gazed into the open sky ahead of her. She opened her mouth to wail, and the wind reached inside and stole the lament from her...
    Soon Chenda felt her eyes stop overflowing with tears. She had run dry of all emotion and felt hollow, but in a hopeful way, anticipatory. Now that she was empty, she knew it was only only a matter of time before she started to fill again ... The empty space felt like a promise. (66)

This passage is one of my favorites, as it utilizes the fictional space of the airship in a thematic way, to physically manifest leaving one's cares behind. But it is also why I was disappointed in where the story went: after Chenda's personal transformation aboard the Brofman, I kept wondering how else this airship would figure into her journey of becoming: sadly, it didn't. Given the title, I had imagined that the airship would be pivotal in her progression from dependent widow to independent aviatrix. But any further commentary here would be me conjecturing the book I think Bush should have written, instead of assessment of the one she did. And there's something important to note there: while some will read my words as harsh criticism, I can only hope you're also hearing that I see a lot of promise in Bush's writing, and think she deserves applause for sheer nerve and drive. Self-publication, even in this day and age is nothing to sneeze at. Remember, I'm a jaded academic: I read for meaning. And I should also relate that nearly all those technical mistakes I listed above I've found amongst books I peruse the best-seller rack at the airport. At the very least, I can say this much: I've tried reading Twilight twice, and failed both times out of sheer revulsion for Stephanie Meyers' writing style. I finished reading all of Chenda. So if you read for pleasure and love a good adventure-romance, then you might enjoy Chenda and the Airship Brofman.

Mar 29, 2010

Mission Update - March 2010

For the second month in a row, the numbers of visitors to Steampunk Scholar exceeded the past record, and when I look at the monthly stats over the past year, I'm seeing a strong spike, which brings a smile to my face. Thanks again to all who come by, and especially to those who come back.

The growth of the blog was evident during my visit to San Francisco for the Nova Albion Steampunk Exhibition, where a number of you came up and introduced yourselves. It was cool to make contact in the real world, and I know I owe a post on Kim Newman's Anno Dracula to one of you (met many people and can't recall all the names) as well as my standard play-by-play of the convention with photographs. All these are yet to come, but I'm backlogged like a man without bran, so thanks to all for your patience!

Speaking of my backlog, I'm re-watching Howl's Moving Castle to do a better job of the post for those who have been waiting for it. I'd rather do it right the first time than phone it in. I'm feeling sort of ambivalent about my voting widget, which allows my readers some say in what comes next, but doesn't always line up with what I'm most ready to write. Would appreciate feedback on that, but am leaning towards just going back to writing whatever the hell I feel like, maybe having a "reader's choice" once a month.

Speaking of reading, I finished a number of books this month: K.W. Jeter's seminal steampunk work, Morlock Night, which had a surprising amount of Britannia + Christendom = the hope of the world as a theme; James Blaylock's Digging Leviathan, which was like reading Tom Hanks in The Burbs if it starred Jake von Slatt and was directed by the Cohen Brothers; the self-published Chenda and the Airship Brofman by Emilie P. Bush; Kenneth Oppel's Canadian steampunk Skybreaker which was a hell of a page turner as well as homage to a number of classic adventure books and films; and Philip Reeve's Larklight, which read like a great Spelljammer campaign without the elves and dwarves.

Speaking of elves and dwarves, I finished up my Steampunk Tolkien roleplaying campaign, Steam Lords. It came to a very satisfying conclusion, and while it was a great thought experiment on the steampunk aesthetic, I'm glad to be hanging up my DM hat for awhile.

Speaking of DM's hats, I watched the movie Franklyn this month, which uses a steampunk-styled world as the mental landscape of an insane person. Not sure if that says more about steampunk or my state of mind after being a DM for nearly thirty years.

New steampunk acquisitions included a dramatized audio version of James Gurney's Dinotopia: The World Beneath; The Dream of Perpetual Motion by Dexter Palmer, a steampunk riff on Shakespeare's The Tempest which is available in audiobook as well; Not Less Than Gods by the late Kage Baker; Changeless by Gail Carriger; Napoleon Concerto by Mark Mellon; Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann (Thanks to Cory Gross for passing that along!); Full Metal Alchemist The Movie: Conquerer of Shamballa; and The Dark Volume, the sequel to The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist. I'm re-reading Glass Books before I move onto Dark Volume because there are some key moments in that book related to my chapter for that book on Fairy Tale and Fantasy, "Steampunk: Technofantasies in a neo-Victorian retrofuture." I should also mention that Cherie Priest's Boneshaker is now available in audiobook formats.

I've also updated the primary reading list with the following books:  

Baker, Kage. The Women of Nell Gwynne's. Burton: Subterranean Press, 2009.

Bear, Elizabeth. New Amsterdam. Burton: Far Territories, 2007.

Bush, Emilie P. Chenda and the Airship Brofman. Self-published, 2009.

Flaming, Matthew. The Kingdom of Ohio. New York: Amy Einhorn Books, 2009.

Frost, Mark. The 6 Messiahs. New York: William Morrow and Co. 1995.

---. The List of 7. New York: Avon Books, 1993.

Lupoff, Richard. Into the Aether. New York: Dell, 1974.

Mann, George. Ghosts of Manhattan. Amherst: Pyr, 2010.

Mellon, Mark. Napoleon Concerto: A Novel in Three Movements. Sierra Vista: Treble Heart Books, 2009.

Priest, Cherie. Boneshaker. New York: Tor, 2009.

Reeve, Philip. Predator's Gold. New York: Harper Collins, 2006.

Rutoski, Marie. The Cabinet of Wonders: The Kronos Chronicles Book 1. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2008.

Wrede, Patricia C. Thirteenth Child. New York: Scholastic Press, 2009.

Mar 23, 2010

Disney and Steampunk

I'm fully aware I'm two posts behind, but when Gail Carriger said "This Disney steampunk thing is a far more complex issue than I had thought. Someone (not me) must do a blog" and then demanded "bloggage" from me on Twitter, I felt compelled to weigh in early, rather than waiting to read what others say.

Disney has steampunked it's most iconic animated characters in a new product line called The Mechanical Kingdom. Several posts on Twitter stated that this was the day steampunk had died, or that it was the day steampunk "jumped the shark" (@catvalente and @DawnTaylor666). Like so much of what I read on forums and twitter regarding steampunk, these statements are indicative of a movement that hasn't so much forgotten its roots as never known them. While there are steampunks who have read the original three (Jeter, Powers, and Blaylock), who watched Wild, Wild, West when it had nothing to do with Will Smith or giant steam-spiders, there are those who seem to think that steampunk is the product of the last three years of what I would call the steampunk boom years. Few steampunks read, and even fewer have read early steampunk, or proto-steampunk like Pavane or Nomad of the Time Streams, to say nothing of the handful that have actually read Verne and Wells. So I'm not too surprised when steampunks display an ignorance for the literary origins of the sub-culture. I am a bit shocked though, when people respond as they did to the steampunked Disney characters, being that Disney is a huge part of steampunk's cinematic roots.

The outrage seems to stem from the idea that this means steampunk is finally, incontrovertibly, mainstream, which stems from a gross misconception about Disney's use of steampunk. The misconception is the idea that Disney is appropriating steampunk, cashing in on something hip and cool as yet another way for the monolithic institution to cover the world in mouse-ears. My friends, Disney cannot be accused of appropriating steampunk, because Disney studios is arguably very responsible for creating what we call steampunk.

From Harper Goff's designs of The Nautilus in Disney's 1954 adaptation of Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (which
SF giant Greg Bear conjectured as the beginning of steampunk at the 2009 Eaton Conference), to the '90s adventurous departures from the formulaic musical approach of their 2D animation with Treasure Planet and Atlantis: The Lost Empire (remembering that the design work for Atlantis was done by steampunk fave, Mike Mignola!), Disney has been both inspiration for, and user of, the steampunk aesthetic (And while it wasn't made by Disney, one can't deny the studio's impact on the approach Albert Broccoli and Roald Dahl took in their fanciful highjacking of Ian Fleming's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Dick Van Dyke originally wanted Julie Andrews to play Truly Scrumptious, which would have resulted in a sequel-in-heart to Disney's Mary Poppins). 

Disney's live action adventure films of the '50s, '60s, '70s such as Treasure Island, Swiss Family Robinson, and The Island at the Top of the World are among films many steampunk cite as being what they love about steampunk: the sense of derring-do and whimsical adventure. How about the design of the Tin Man or the evil Wheelers in Return to Oz (1985), or the incredible climactic battle amidst Big Ben's clockwork in The Great Mouse Detective (1986)? What steampunk (or dieselpunk) worth their salt didn't cheer to the on-screen adventures of Dave Stewart's The Rocketeer (1991)? Whether you loved it or hated it, Disney was still playing in the steampunk toolbox with the 2004 version of Around the World in 80 Days. And most recently (and at the risk of someone deciding to add Fairypunk to the ever growing list of punk styled fictions), the Tinker Fairies of the direct-to-video Tinkerbell films share a kinship with steampunk makers. Last year, images were released of what appeared to be a steampunked Disney video-game, which showed a clockwork Goofy, among other things.

Disney isn't jumping on the steampunk bandwagon: they helped build the damn thing. Like the recent release of Steamed, steampunks seem to be more interested in being upset over steampunk becoming popular, than celebrating the fact that more people are about to be exposed to it. This sort of exclusivity is the very thing I hear people paying lip-service to hating at online forums, and yet when the doors get opened wide, it appears that after all, steampunk apparently (and please hear the irony in my writing here), can't be everything.

I close with a quote from Jake von Slatt's keynote speech at Steam Powered in 2008, on the subject of steampunk going mainstream:

And Steampunk continues to attract more people. Recent coverage in the New York Times, Newsweek, and on MTV have introduced new people to our little hobby. Some of you may be here tonight because you spotted one of these stories and were entranced. Welcome!
But as Steampunk expands it will exhibit all of the characteristic of past movements and sub-cultures. Sub-cultures do have a natural life cycle. Some of you will likely find this irritating but it is natural, to be expected, and best ignored. There is no way that someone else can ruin the thing that you are passionate about by liking it too!
Since I posted this, I've had several people comment on how Disney's attractions have also employed the steampunk aesthetic. Check out these posts at Cory Gross's Voyages Extroidinaires to see what they're talking about:

Then go read Cory's post on the Mechanical Kingdom, which bookends where I'm coming from really well:

Mar 9, 2010

The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist

I absorbed Gordon Dahlquist's The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters as abridged audio, and augmented that with reading what the audio omitted. Sadly, while I was reading, I wasn't doing as much highlighting or annotating as I normally do, so my thoughts are going to be less detailed than they normally are. Instead of just analyzing details about what Glass Books contribute to the steampunk aesthetic, I want to reflect on Glass Books as an example of steampunk in mainstream fiction. First, a quote:
"For even the finest writer of horror or SF or detective fiction, the bookstore, to paraphrase the LA funk band War, is a ghetto. From time to time some writer, through a canny shift in subject matter or focus, or through the coming to literary power of his or her lifelong fans, or through sheer, undeniable literary chops, manages to break out. New, subtler covers are placed on these writers' books, with elegant serif typefaces. In the public libraries, the little blue circle with the rocket ship or the magnifying glass is withheld from the spine. This book, the argument goes, has been wifely praised by mainstream critics, adopted for discussion by book clubs, chosen by the Today show. Hence it cannot be science fiction."  -- Michael Chabon, p. 21 "Trickster in a Suit of Lights: Thoughts on the modern short story" from Maps and Legends.

I can't count the number of times I thought of Chabon's words on genre fiction while reading Glass Books. This book should be in the science-fiction/fantasy section of your local Borders or Chapters, but it likely isn't. Borders has it listed as "historical fiction", which is odd, as it's not terribly historical. In fact, aside from cursory references to European locales, there aren't any historical references. None of the standard steampunk history faves have walk-on parts: no Tesla, Edison, or Babbage.

This book is also an unabashed adventure story, complete with contrived coincidences, close escapes, and abundant cliffhangers. The three heroes are standard neo-Victorian types: the jilted Miss Temple, a mix of elegant manners and boudoir curiosity, utterly at home in the nineteenth century when it comes to tea and fashion, but anachronistic in her post-suffragette tendencies; the mysterious Cardinal Chang, the chivalrous assassin-thief; and the endearing Doctor Svenson, reluctant hero, and awkward academic. These three oppose a mysterious Illuminati-like cabal in battle of good vs. evil lacking any postmodern sympathies for the villains.

 The heroes of Glass Books as rendered by Drew Johnson

The villains, in good steampunk fashion, are employing an infernal device of alchemical technofantasy: books made from a strange blue crystal, imprinted with people's memories. These books seem at first but a steampunk version of pornography until the true motive of the cabal is revealed. This is one of Glass Books' great strengths: reading steampunk book after steampunk book, one begins to think they know what to expect. The sensuality and eroticism of Glass Books caught me a bit off guard, but seems very appropriate, given what we know about nineteenth century double-standards regarding sex -- keep your kink behind closed doors, and all is well. The kink is definitely present in Glass Books, and should be of interest to the same type of steampunks who attended the sessions on proper bondage techniques at Steam Powered.

So it's not historical, it's kinky, and it's high adventure technofantasy. Then what the hell is it doing in the regular fiction section? One wonders the same thing while reading Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day or Mark Frost's The List of 7.

In short, it's because, like Chabon and Pynchon, Dahlquist writes very well. That isn't to say you'll like his pacing, or characterization, or the books themselves. That's simply too subjective. But for a story about derring-do, it's very well written. People often misunderstand me when I say this. I'll tell steampunks I think the Difference Engine is beautifully written, but that I thought it a bit tedious. For many people, good writing means enjoyable writing. Twilight is ostensibly very enjoyable, but it's awful writing. I'm enjoying the self-published Chenda and the Airship Brofman for its characters, but I can't say I think it's well-written.

It's the level of prose I'm talking about here. Dahlquist's conceit is ridiculous, a mix of  Machiavellian conspiracies with Sadean mad science and Dumas-like adventure, written so well that you're unaware of how silly it all is until one of the characters escapes yet another cliffhanger moment. And even once you become aware of how silly it all is, you just smile and keep reading, because it's simply too delicious to put down.

Perhaps that's the reason I can't post about the details. I'm simply too biased about what may very well be only a guilty pleasure. But if you're looking for some steampunk masquerading as serious fiction to read while you're hanging around your serious literary friends, then Glass Books of the Dream Eaters are for you. The covers even have those elegant serif typefaces.

Mar 5, 2010

Steampunk Tribes

Another non-blog article for your perusal while I attend to deadlines.

This one came as the result of thinking about how different people define steampunk, and realizing they're often coming at it from the perspective of what aspect of steampunk attracts them - books, making, fashion, or art? It's by no means even remotely close to comprehensive, but here's a whimsical stab at a taxonomy of steampunks.

Steampunk Tribes

I’ve been thinking a great deal about diversity among steampunks. We are drawn to steampunk by a variety of attractors: fashion, literature, politics, nostalgia, etc. As with most subcultures, we often seek to make steampunk “in our own image.” In my own experience, this has meant I am often disappointed at how many steampunks have no connection to the literature that ostensibly spawned the culture. In others, it means that they are offended that steampunks have no connection to politically charged “punk” cultures.

Depending on our proclivities toward exclusionary behaviors, we esteem some (Makers are the “true” steampunks), while deriding others (you bought your costume online? How gauche!). These are only examples of course, and while they are representative of actual conversations I’ve either taken part in or been eavesdropper to, they are not meant to reflect my own attitudes. In fact, my own thoughts on the matter are far more egalitarian.

Rather than seeking homogeneity, let us celebrate the plurality which was the nineteenth century’s inheritance from the Protestant Reformation. While it might seem odd to be using “the Church” as the exemplar for steampunk, consider that the Reformation was the fragmentation of a monolithic institution into radical people’s groups (which ultimately became monolithic institutions, but that’s beside the point). The Reformation encouraged people to think for themselves, and resulted in numerous denominations, often seen as negative schisms.

If we seek to create a homogenous culture of steampunk, we are likely doomed to failure. Instead, I’d suggest an understanding of steampunk as a blanket aesthetic for a number of different applications: in other words, steampunk tribes, or perhaps to be more in keeping with the language of the culture, gangs or leagues. I playfully offer a few possible examples of such tribes, to help identify ourselves with when we gather at big events like SteamX.

Vickies: Stealing the term from Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, these are the steampunks who like their anachronism neat, tidy, and served with tea. They are often steeped in real-world history. For these folk, corsets are matched with a bustle, and top hats are for gentlemen only. Accessories include canes, parasols, and a British accent.

Jeterists: Taking the name from the man who coined the term, these are the literary steampunks, the ones who’ve read at least one of the books by the original three (and if you don’t know who they are, you simply aren’t a Jeterist!), are fans of either Verne, Wells, or Burroughs (or all), and always seem to have read the
latest steampunk book before you have. They may show up at a steampunk event dressed as Fred Flintstone to underscore their deep understanding of the word anachronism.

Read the rest in Issue 7 of Exhibition Hall!

Disclaimer: In the original article, I mention Gentlemen's Emporium in my statement about online steampunk costume purchases. I hope the ironic tone of the article makes it clear that I am not being derisive about people who actually purchase items from Gentlemen's Emporium. If I had the money, I'd have bought a whole outfit from them!

Mar 3, 2010

A Defense of Alternate History

I know I'm getting further and further behind on the promised posts, but Steam Wars edits take priority, as does getting healthy again in time to hit Nova Albion next week. I'm fighting a cold, and the cold is winning.

Instead of a brand new post, here's a link to the research paper now turned article that first got me thinking about writing on steampunk for my dissertation:

Nearly every person who reaches adulthood will have likely engaged in the self-reflexive activity of asking the question, “What if?” The question arises from a polemic of nightmare and fantasy (Rosenfeld, p.11), of regret or nostalgia, for a past more terrible or wonderful than the present. The literary genre of alternate history plays with the same question on a larger scale, asking the ‘what if?’ question to major events in history, and extrapolating possible alternate historical outcomes. The practice of writing alternate history is not a new one, dating back to antiquity with Greek historian Herodotus’s speculation concerning the “possible consequences of the Persians defeating the Greeks at Marathon in the year 490 BCE, while the Roman historian Livy wondered how the Roman empire would have fared against the armies of Alexander the Great” (p.5). Despite this antiquated tradition, it is a genre which has received little attention from academic scholarship (p.12). Alternate history, even in its more respectable form of historical counterfactual, has been dismissed as “an idle parlor game” (E H Carr, in Hellekson, Alternate History, p.16) and has been “attacked by historians because [it is] untrue” (p.16). The genre is not without its defenders, although its advocacy is supported by the disciplines of new historicism, social psychology and literary theory rather than traditional historicism. Lubomir Dolezel states that the alternate history is a “useful cognitive strategy” given that “the acquisition of knowledge about the past … is such a complicated task that no available avenue should be left unexplored. If the consideration of counterfactual, possible courses of history can enhance our understanding of actual history, we have no right to ignore this strategy” (p.800).

Orson Scott Card’s Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus is how a ‘useful cognitive strategy’ can result in an ‘enhanced understanding’ of the actual discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Initially, the ‘what if’? question takes the form of speculating what would have happened had Europe not discovered and colonized America, but becomes more complex as the story unfolds. In this paper, Card’s Pastwatch will serve the dual role of case study as well as providing an ongoing dialogue with the genre’s major features. In honor of alternate history’s connection to possible world theory, the ‘real’ statements of actual academics and traditional history of Columbus’s voyages will be woven along with the fictional conversation of Card’s characters and the ‘alternate history’ of Pastwatch.

Check out the whole article here, starting on page 41 of Issue 5 of Journey Planet.

Mar 1, 2010

Mission Update - February

Hey everyone,

This is an updated version of the earlier post. 

February was Steampunk Scholar's best month ever for visitors, both new (4,600) and returning (650)! The last time I had a "best month ever" was in October of 2009 (I erroneously said January was a best month - it was only better than October in first visits, not returning). The fact that February pulled it off with fewer days felt like an achievement! I added a new element to the blog this month, and so far it's worked out well. You can now vote for what I'll blog about next. I pull the choices from the books and films I've finished, but haven't written up. I'll blog about the winner each week, and when I get time to do two entries in a week, I'll blog about something less popular, to keep you apprised of books you might know nothing about.

The call for papers for the 2011 Eaton SF Conference was announced, so if you're academic and into SF, get those papers in!

My apologies for getting a little behind - I should have blogged about The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters last week, but I was swamped with an opportunity that was too good to pass up. A few weeks ago, Jeff Vandermeer contacted me to ask if I'd write an article on "The Future of Steampunk" for the forthcoming sequel to the Steampunk anthology, aptly titled Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded. You can check out the rough cover and table of contents at Jeff's blog.

To prep for the article, I spent reading week devouring stuff I hadn't read yet. Can't very well comment with authority on the future of steampunk if I haven't read any Stephen Hunt or Philip Reeve, can I? I read all of Joe Lansdale's Zeppelins West, which was one of the strangest reading experiences I've ever had; Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines which is my current steampunk fave--I can't wait to read the rest of the series; most of Reeve's Larklight which is a mixed bag for me - I love parts, and loathe others; half of  both Kenneth Oppel's Skybreaker (Canadian steampunk!) and Alan Campbell's Scar Night, with chunks of George Mann's The Affinity Bridge and Elizabeth Bear's New Amsterdam. I'm nearly done the late Kage Baker's The Women of Nell Gwynne's (which is very compelling) and Hunt's The Court of the Air (a close second to Mortal Engines for current fave). I also started re-reading S.M. Peters' Whitechapel Gods, and am finding it a much better experience than I did the first time. I started Patricia Wrede's Thirteenth Child, but found myself reading more the backlash against the book in relation to RaceFail 09, so I haven't finished it yet. In addition to this mammoth stack of reading, I watched episodes of Full Metal Alchemist and Last Exile. I'm deeply in love with Last Exile: I don't know whether the story holds together or not, but it's a gorgeous looking anime. As the current poll shows, I finished Howl's Moving Castle (a lovely movie - I need to get my own copy), and watched Casshern (another film I want a copy of - incredible visuals!) at high speed with the subtitles on. Taking in so much information over reading week was a great experience, as it really helped me frame the structure of my article for Steampunk Reloaded. While it wasn't quite what Jeff was looking for, a revised version may find its way onto the web later this year, and my participation with the book is being revisited. Sometimes it's just enough to be asked.

"Steam Wars" is going into what will likely be the final edit - I'll let you know if it makes the final cut.

I finally caved to become part of Twitter, and am enjoying it, though I still occasionally can't see the point. It might be responsible for the higher numbers, so I'm not about to complain. Plus it allowed me to experience Sunday's Olympic hockey finals without a TV on, while I was working on the Steampunk Reloaded article. Between two of my friends, it was a written play-by-play.

I also got a chance to make some new friends as well as see a few old ones by presenting at the Greater Edmonton Teacher's Convention. I presented my Nemo research and a Steampunk 101 lecture. Both were well received, aside from a few nonplussed folks who thought my Nemo talk was about the Pixar cartoon. I'd have thought the word "antihero" in the title was a clear indicator, but I guess some people find clownfish edgy. Who knew?
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