Oct 28, 2011

Victorian/Steampunk Monsters

Above model: Candace Miller Photographer: Richard Fournier
 At the end of this year's Airship Awards banquet at Steamcon III in Seattle, Diana Vick announced the theme for 2012's Steamcon IV: Victorian Monsters. Shortly after the announcement, I told Diana it was "dirty pool" to go having yet another fun theme for the fourth year in a row. That famous quote from the Godfather III is rolling around in my head, given I thought this was likely my last Steamcon: "Just when I thought I was out . . . they pull me back in."

Get yourself one of these Steampunk Vampire Slaying kits from Dr. Jubal at Deviant Art!

I don't know who Diana's planning to invite as Guests of Honor, but the website has further clarified the theme as "All the Classic Monsters born during the Victorian period." Arguably, we're looking at Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, Mr. Hyde, the Invisible Man, the Martians from War of the Worlds, Dr. Moreau's hybrids, Varney the Vampire, Carmilla, and Dorian Gray. If I'm in attendance, I'll be bringing along a Wendigo from the Great White North, courtesy of Algernon Blackwood. Given steampunks' love for H.P. Lovecraft, I'll be shocked if we don't see the whole damn Whateley family in attendance, or at the very least, a copy of the Necronomicon.

Still, that's a whole year away, and in the meantime, Halloween is just around the corner, and I've been pondering the intersection of steampunk and horror for a week and a half now. To that end, here's a list, in no way meant to seem comprehensive, of books combining steampunk with monsters:

Obviously, Cherie Priest's Clockwork Century books immediately jump to mind, with the Dust-driven revenants of Boneshaker, Clementine, Dreadnought, and Ganymede. While they sometimes serve more as part of the setting than overt plot device, Priest's zombies are an interesting twist on the zombie as victim of addiction. Steampunk naysayers nonplussed by the anachronistic inclusion of these mutant offspring of the atom should remember that Priest was not the first to include zombies in steampunk fiction: that distinction goes to James Blaylock, who brought us zombies of a kind in the steampunk classic Homunculus back in the '80s. Gunslinger Johnny Ringo returns from the dead to shamble into Tombstone in Mike Resnick's Buntline Special, while other steampunk works that include the walking dead, or close cousins thereof are Tim Akers' Dead of Veridon and George Mann's The Affinity Bridge.  

Dracula, the king of all vampires, makes but a cameo in Kim Newman's Anno Dracula; yet the absence of the big-D is compensated by the sheer volume of nineteenth century vampires parading through the pages of this classic work of horror and alternate history. Titan books reissued Anno Dracula earlier this year, and it's the Halloween treat that will do the trick if you're a fang-fan.

While nowhere near as serious as Anno Dracula, Gail Carriger's paranormal romance series, The Parasol Protectorate, is the antidote to the viral spread of sparkling vampires for that teen who's tiring of Edward Cullen. Carriger's vampires don't lurk in the shadows: they cavort through London in bright coloured waistcoats, setting fashion trends. Her werewolves are an interesting study of machismo and alpha male stereotypes, and her protagonist is a preternatural, a woman without a soul who cancels out the supernatural. Don't let the laughs fool you, though: Carriger can write creepy when the occasion calls for it, from the waxen faced golem VIXI in Soulless to the poltergeists in Heartless 

 While it's not steampunk, fans of steampunk writer Tim Powers will do well to check out his The Stress of Her Regard, which combines a vampire of sorts with the story of how Frankenstein came to be written. Other steampunk novels with bloodsucking include Elizabeth Bear's New Amsterdam; while I haven't read these yet,  I'm excited to get around to Clay and Susan Griffith's Vampire Empire Series, The Greyfriar and The Riftwalker; finally,  Dracula makes another brief appearance in Joe Lansdale's Zeppelins West.

More Monsters!
China Mieville's Perdido Street Station provides us with monsters galore, and monster hunters in pursuit, in what is effectively a steampunk Aliens/Blade 2/Mimic tale: a bug hunt in a fantastic steampunk setting. Jonathan Green's Leviathan Rising fulfills our fear of giant monsters in the water abysses, and Canadian Arthur Slade takes Quasimodo's monstrous visage and renders it heroic in The Hunchback Assignments.

And finally, while I'd hesitate to call Mike Mignola's Baltimore: The Steadfast Tin Solider and the Vampire steampunk, it has the right look and feel for the steampunk crowd. It's a hybrid homage to classic monsters: a pastiche of Victor Frankenstein's obsessive pursuit of his creation, of the vampire hunters who stalk Dracula, and Lovecraft's Shadow over Innsmouth, with poetic prose references to Andersen's fairy tale of the Steadfast Tin Soldier. I haven't had an opportunity to read Mignola's comic series of Baltimore, but the original book was a joy to read. And if a certain con promoter is listening, I think Mignola's the man to have as artist GOH next year at Steamcon IV. Since his tale isn't particularly steampunk, it might fit the bill for "monsters birthed in the Victorian period."

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Oct 17, 2011

Steampunk! - An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories

This is the cover on the ARC I received: Not the marketing strategy I'd have chosen for a YA targeted anthology.

Halfway through reading Candlewick Press’s Steampunk! anthology, edited by Kelly Link and Gavin Grant, I was pining for a course to teach on steampunk. While some might be dismissive of an anthology marketed toward young adults published by a press best known for children’s books (The lion’s share of my son’s primary readers are Candlewick books), they’d be remiss to do so. The talent collected by editors Kelly Link and Gavin Grant is considerable, and not a one has written a throwaway tale with a few cogs and gears slapped on. Instead, each story challenges the boundaries of the steampunk aesthetic, while standing on its own as thoughtful, insightful works of short fiction.

The usual suspects for the constitution of a steampunk work are present in the early stories, but the further in one reads, the farther from London we journey, and only on rare occasion and in dire need, by airship. The technology is still here, but it often takes a back seat to the characters, or as a delivery device for thematic content. Instead of an explanation of how the gizmo works, we’re getting reflections on how the world works.

Read the whole article at Tor.com!

Cassandra Clare informs me this is the UK cover. Lucky blokes!

Oct 7, 2011

Steampunk Gilgamesh: The Annotated Version

The origin of this exercise is perhaps as odd as the idea itself: while weeding my devastated Mad-Max-style front yard in preparation to lay sod this past summer, I was listening to the audio version of Stephen Mitchell’s lovely Gilgamesh: A New English Version. As I listened, I imagined the how the story would look if it were steampunked. Who would Gilgamesh be? What would Enkidu look like? What city would replace Uruk? I never seriously pondered writing it down, until I hit 800 followers on Twitter, and decided to celebrate the landmark with 80 tweets comprising an outline of a steampunked Gilgamesh. As part of Steampunk Week here at Tor, here is that outline with annotated explanations.

1. I’ll be using Stephen Mitchell’s excellent Gilgamesh text as source for the direct quotations in these tweets. I used Stephen Mitchell because he fills in the gaps in the text, making it far more readable than literal translations of a single version of Gilgamesh. If you’re going to read the Epic, this is the version to start with. If you’ve never read Gilgamesh, either take the time to read Mitchell’s version, or read an online summary – the steampunked version will make more sense.

2. Instead of walled Uruk, we behold a skyscraper in New York, early 20th century: “Doc” Gil Gamesh’s achievement. The Gilgamesh Epic (GE) as written by Sin-Leqqe-Unninni begins with a sort of frame narrative, asking the reader to behold the wonders of ancient architecture manifest in Uruk, the city Gilgamesh built. I chose New York over London because New York’s skyline exemplifies the pinnacle of industrial ingenuity better than London’s. Further, I was thinking of how Lester Dent describes New York in Land of Always Night, a Doc Savage adventure: “In the center of New York City, the skyscrapers jut up like silver pines, each seemingly striving to overshadow the other; but there is one building taller and finer than all the rest, an astounding mass of polished granite and stainless steel towering nearly a hundred stories into the sky, a structure that is possibly man’s proudest building triumph.” 

Read the whole EPIC at Tor.com!

Oct 3, 2011

An Interview, Steampunk Week, and Steamcon III

My sister, me, and my niece at Steamcon II last fall. (Photo by the Steamcon Photo Booth Guy)

While the Steampunk Scholar blog has been largely silent this past month, I have not. Earlier this month I was interviewed at Albertan YA writer Judith Graves' website, covering some old ground for my long time readers, but new for Judith's YA paranormal romance audience.

I was also writing and submitting articles and abstracts to academic anthologies that are in the offing (that's all I can really say at this point). I submitted three posts to Tor.com: a longer version of my "Steampunk Gilgamesh" for steampunk week (Oct. 3-7, 2011), and two appreciations: one for Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan trilogy, and the other for Candlewick's Steampunk! anthology. I'll link to all of those as they go live.

Reading from Soulless with Gail Carriger at Steamcon II (photo by Rio Jones)

Finally, I've been prepping to present at Steamcon III, coming up in less than two weeks on October 14-16. Here's my presentation schedule for the weekend:

Friday, October 14
4: 00 p.m. Steampunk Lit to Watch For - Regency C
What writers and new fiction should we be looking out for this year? (Here's the rub - I know a few, but I want MORE! So if you're a steampunk writer with something new to release next year, give me the skinny.)
I'll moderating, with authors Ren Cummins and Andrew Mayer as panelists.

Saturday, October 15
10:00 a.m. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in under an Hour - Grand B
Hurtling forward at Nautilus-like speed, this session will both summarize and illuminate key points from Verne’s classic novel, as well as social commentary and character development excised from most translations.

11:00 a.m. Meet Gary Gianni - Grand E-G
An interview with Artist Guest of Honor Gary Gianni.

Sunday, October 16
10:00 a.m. Steampunking 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea - Grand I
This session catalogues and summarizes steampunk novels using Verne’s classic work as their basis, such as Arthur Slade’s The Dark Deeps, Jonathan Green’s Leviathan Rising, Mark Mellon’s Napoleon Concerto, Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Joe Lansdale’s Zeppelins West, and Thomas F. Moteleone’s The Secret Sea.

11:00 a.m. Captain Nemo: A Biography - Cedar
Combining the fiction of Verne’s novels with historical facts about the British Raj, Sepoy mutiny, and historical figures, this session treats the enigmatic figure of Captain Nemo as a real person, a complex hero and villain, and arguably the protagonist of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

If you're at Steamcon and come to any of the panels or presentations, please introduce yourself! I'll be milling about in the afternoon and evening.

What I look like between panels, because I'm in such a bloody hurry.  (Photo by Taja Blackhorn-Delph)
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