Feb 28, 2011

Getting "Steamed" about the steamy in steampunk

My first big experience of steampunk was at Steam Powered, the Northern Californian Steampunk convention. Among all the entertainments and attractions we've come to expect at steampunk conventions, exhibitions, and the like, was a session on BDSM: how to tie your lover to a bed and not hurt them in the process. In addition to an interest in kink, subsequent research journeys to the Bay Area for steampunk events demonstrated a connection between steampunk culture and burlesque, which has gained ground in other areas in North America. The erotic flavor of Dark Garden's fashion shows can't be denied, nor can we cite "corsets on the outside" as a return to Victorian ethics. In short, many expressions of steampunk are sexy or sexualized. There's nothing intrinsically erotic about steampunk, but the neo-Victorian aspect presents an opportunity for writers of erotica that's simply too good to pass up: the perceived sexual repression of the nineteenth century, and the more expressed underbelly we've come to discover, is a gold mine for writers of erotica.

Color me surprised then, to find my readers somewhat divided in their appreciation of this past month's content. Granted, I went more for erotica than romance, but this was primarily because I got in more reading on the iPhone than I did off hard copies. All the erotica I had to read was sent to me as eBooks, so I got through that quicker, and was able to write about it sooner than the romance.

But it was interesting to see yet another facet of steampunk where people want their steampunk a certain way, and don't like it when it deviates from that model idea. This is the heart of my response to Katie MacAlister's Steamed, which generated some controversy in steampunk circles with its unlicensed use of steampunk images for a book trailer, and was derided as being written by someone from outside steampunk who looked in on steampunk from the outside. Again, as I commented in my post on Steampunk Erotica, this sounds a lot like religious rhetoric: Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses and the Islamic community, writ small. My dislike of Steamed has nothing to do with whether or not Katie MacAlister "gets" steampunk. The number of writers who are doing steampunk right now, but aren't part of the steampunk community, are numerous. Steampunk darling Tim Powers responds with bemusement at his inclusion in steampunk events: he is not part of the community, yet produced one of the "classics" of steampunk, The Anubis Gates. I don't like Steamed much because I think it's poorly written: it's a clunky cross-hatch tale where a steampunk fanboy crosses over into a steampunk world. References to Abney Park in the opening chapter are so thinly veiled as to be laughable, definitely demonstrating that Katie MacAlister's understanding of steampunk was mediated through web search, not research. Yet apparently a number of people really liked it, and it proved to be their doorway into the wider world of steampunk. I've met quite a few folks who sheepishly admit Steamed was their first steampunk read. Stop being sheepish people: some people's first foray into fantasy wasn't Tolkien, but Terry Brooks. I celebrate Shannara for making Middle-Earth accessible to weaker readers.

All this to once again say, let us declare a moratorium on transcendent language in regards to steampunk. Enough with essentialist ideas about steampunk needing to be something. People often misunderstand my goal of definition as essentialism, but there is a difference between defining by observation, and defining by desire. I don't need steampunk to be anything. In truth, if you look back through this blog, or read my article, "Finding Nemo," you'll discover I've already had to revise some of my ideas. I started out thinking the punk/oppositional politics was intrinsic to steampunk literature: it's not. Some books have it, others don't. Appeals to etymology are pointless: the punk in steampunk doesn't mean anything. All the punks who keep saying "you're using our name, expect some bad-ass shenanigans to ensue," are as misguided as Christians who keep bemoaning the loss of "Christ in Christmas,"  as though secular celebrations of that season don't have a cultural reality and validity all their own.

Likewise, I could have come up with some clever way of responding to those who want their steampunk G-rated with an etymological pun on "if you don't want your literature steamy, maybe you shouldn't be reading steampunk." That would be ridiculous. Steampunk isn't inherently polite and prudish, nor is inherently sensual and steamy. Steampunk is an aesthetic: this month, I've investigated its application to romance and more often, erotica. Peter Tupper's The Innocent's Tale is good writing, erotica, steampunk, or not. It utilizes familiar science fiction tropes, but enlarges on them through strong characters and clever world-building. The BDSM aspects won't be for everyone, but as I learned at Steam Powered, they clearly appeal to someone in the steampunk community. If it isn't your brand, don't smoke it.

Feb 24, 2011

Walt and Emily by Paul DiFilippo

Here we are, the month almost completely gone, and I've only dealt with one bonafide romance, and two works of erotica. Given how much I've been publishing on the blog in the past two months, this is more than I'd really expected to achieve this month. Sadly, those still seeking a standard romance review this month are going to remain disappointed, as "Walt and Emily," the third novella in Paul DiFilippo's classic Steampunk Trilogy is anything but conventional. As I read it, I kept thinking, "In the unlikely event this story got made into a movie, Terry Gilliam would be one of the few directors who could pull it off." This is the story of two American poets who never met, and likely would have hated each other had they met, and their love affair amidst a fantastic steampunk journey.

For those who see the subversion of texts and canon as a form of punk-style writing, DiFilippo's steam has punk in spades: to pair up Whitman and Dickinson is some form of poetry heresy, I'm pretty sure, if one considered nothing other than their poetry on the quintessential steam technology, the locomotive. According to Ferris Cronkite, Whitman's "To A Locomotive in Winter" is a the response of a "worshipper" of the train (171), whereas Patrick F. O'Connell sees Dickinson's "I like to see it lap the miles" as a critique "about the theme of progress, as exemplified by the train" which is "devastating in its irony" (470). Whitman is characterized by Cronkite as the technophile, and Dickinson by O'Connell as the technophobe. This distinction encapsulates the polarity these poets represent, though one could find a number of other topics to establish the distance between them.

A reader without background on these giants of American verse will still grasp the strangeness of Whitman and Dickinson as couple, but they'll miss the immediate humor of moments like the opening scene: Dickinson wakes to find Whitman, "a huge hairy bearded barbarian, utterly and shamelessly naked save for a black floppy wide-brimmed hat" bathing in the fountain in front of her home (240). She is scandalized until she learns Whitman's identity, her shock turning to hope of a peer, perhaps a soul-mate, to share her poetry with. DiFillipo's use of both poet's writings is brilliant - they are interposed throughout "Walt and Emily" as actual poetry, inner ruminations, and sometimes spoken musings or responses. Again, the story is intelligible without a thorough knowledge of Whitman and Dickinson's poetry, but aficionados of these poets will have moments akin to the Marvel fanboy watching X-Men movies and catching a glimpse of Colossus or Kitty Pryde.

However, don't let these diversions into the esoterica of poetry and literary history dissuade you from reading "Walt and Emily," or anything else in The Steampunk Trilogy: as I say, the reading is intertextually enriched by knowing the sources DiFilippo is drawing from, such as H.P. Lovecraft, but the experience is rich enough without that knowledge. I would argue instead, that such richness lends itself to a deeper reading experience. During a second reading, try googling any line you suspect is poetry, and then follow up on any poem you find, looking into explications of those poems. In this way, "Walt and Emily" serves as a door to the wonderful world of poetry.

On first reading though, just enjoy the story: DiFilippo has rendered the reclusive Dickinson and the robust Whitman accurately enough (right down to Whitman's speculated bi-sexuality) for the neophyte of Nineteenth-Century American poetry, despite the story's steampunk bombast . The characters and their poetry are the only toe-hold to reality in "Walt and Emily," as in a possible concession to the morbid themes of Dickinson's poetry, the romance is given the backdrop of an extraordinary voyage into "Death's Cold Kingdom" (252). Here, as throughout The Steampunk Trilogy, DiFilippo cleverly steampunks history, conceding the prominence of Spiritualism with the necessary presence of several clairvoyants including Andrew Jackson Davis, and the fictional Madame Selavny: it is through the "science" of Spiritualism, an array of test-tubes and copper wire, and a twin-masted schooner that the voyage to the Summerland is achieved. Yet the actual journey and the means by which it is achieved are window dressing: they are ultimately less important than what Emily Dickinson learns of life and love along the way. "Walt and Emily" is an intelligent ode to the idea of whether 'tis better to have loved and lost, than never loved at all, told with wit, whimsy, and a reverent irreverence for both Whitman and Dickinson, and the poetry they left behind.

Works cited:

Cronkhite, G. Ferris. "Walt Whitman and the Locomotive." American Quarterly 6.2 (1954): 164-172.

O'Connell, Patrick F. "Emily Dickinson's Train: Iron Horse or "Rough Beast"?." American Literature 52.3 (1980): 469-473.

Feb 17, 2011

Steampunk Erotica by Ora Le Broq

At Steamcon II this past fall, I had a woman ask me about the increase of questionable content in steampunk writing. I asked her to clarify what she meant, and understood her response to denote explicit sexual situations in books like Gordon Dahlquist's The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters. Consider yourselves warned: if you found Dahlquist too titillating, then stay far, far away from Ora Le Broq's Steampunk Erotica. My iPod nearly melted while I was reading it. I'll further warn my readers that I'm going to review this with some tongue in cheek off-colour constructions, so either forgive me, or quit reading.

I should further qualify how much steam this eponymously titled work of steampunk erotica gives off. It's not the same steam I spoke of in Peter Tupper's The Innocent's Progress. That is a series of steampunk short tales with explicit sex in them. Steampunk Erotica is a series of steampunk sexual adventures with a tale around them. And what sexual adventures these are! Unlike the liasons of The Innocent's Progress, the heroines, heroes, villains and villainesses of Steampunk Erotica engage in sex in the same way adventure heroes engage in battle. The opening scene in a private girls' school is typical of how over-the-top the sex in Steampunk Erotica is. While heroine Mina Trelawney pleasures herself before an audience, one-by-one her admiring peers succumb to orgasm, overwhelmed with desire for their classmate: orgasm without touch isn't unheard of, but it is rare. Mina's ability to cause such irresistible passion in those around her provides the precedent for a series of hyperbolized sex encounters somewhere between Emmanuelle Arsan's The Joys of a Woman and hard-core porn aimed at hetero males. And there's a type of sex for nearly everyone: girl on boy, boy on girl, girl on girl, a little bit of kink, an orgy, masturbation, but no boy on boy: hence my comparison to hetero hardcore, where anything goes except gay sex. Steampunk Erotica is an adventure story with gonzo sex-scenes where the adventure set pieces usually are. Halfway through reading it, I felt that it should have had a title closer to The Perils of Gwendolyn in the Land of Yik Yak. However, unlike the heroine portrayed by sex-kitten Tawny Kitaen, Mina is no damsel in distress: like other steampunk heroines, Mina takes matters (among other things) into her own hands. 

For example, instead of outwitting the evil mastermind Baron Thaddeus von Vasey, Mina outsexes him. In their confrontation, the Baron uses a whip to slowly disrobe Mina, who has been running about the countryside in her private schoolgirl's outfit. As more of Mina is revealed, she has a sort of epiphany regarding herself shedding the trappings of the society she has been raised to, mediated to the reader through a strip-tease:
Mina looked down and saw that her stockings were torn in several places and her pink-white flesh showed through the gaps. She breathed deeply and felt strangely liberated. The school uniform ... had been surprisingly constrictive. ... She unconsciously undulated from side to side, glorying in the release that the insignificant man had given her ... She looked down at the remains of her torn, grubby uniform at her feet and then back at the huge range of uniforms that the baron had created for his army and she made her first decision—dress for the part.
Mina tore the boater off and flung it away. She bent over and rolled her underwear and stockings down her long, shapely legs ... This also necessitated removing her shoes, which were sensible school shoes with no shape and no grip...
Her corset was also tattered from the baron's whip. Mina tore it from her body in one sudden motion so that she was left with the two halves in her hands before she cast them aside. She stood naked, the red flames of the furnaces flickering over her bleeding body...
Throughout her unselfconscious strip, the baron had gaped lasciviously and stupidly, reluctant to stop Mina's undressing whilst being insensible to what she was achieving. As Mina gazed at him in cool, controlled contempt, he finally raised the whip again, but he had left the end trailing by Mina's foot and she trod on it sharply, preventing the baron from using the weapon. He hissed in puzzlement and anger, but behind this, Mina detected something else.
“You‟re afraid, baron,” she challenged him. “You've always been afraid.”
“I am not afraid of a girl!” squeaked the baron, but his face was agitated and sweat poured from him...
The baron stuttered in anger but was unable to speak. He tried again to raise the whip but Mina, with barely a thought, stepped forward, grabbed his hand and yanked it upright, twisting the baron's body as she did so...
The baron looked in fear at the metamorphosis in Mina's face. The frightened schoolgirl was gone, transformed into a capable and strong young woman. In the heat of the baron's workshops, in which his ambition, vanity and fear had tried to forge the beginnings of a new world order, a frightened young woman found the strength to forge herself into what the baron could never be—her own person, unencumbered by fear or egotism. 
Mina then dispatches the baron with fisticuffs, before returning to her transformation via steampunk fashion:
Having stripped down to the essentials, Mina could now begin to rebuild.
The red flickering glow of the furnaces illuminated her as she strode naked along the workbenches, observing, choosing and discarding various items. A pair of hardwearing leather trousers came first, followed by long, thigh-length boots, with a split-toe design and slightly raised heels. Mina was surprised but pleased at their comfortable fit. She could only guess it was difficult for an army to march into enemy territory in uncomfortable jackboots.
A small leather jerkin with numerous straps and pockets fitted snugly over a severe shirt. It was practical for the pockets and rings that she filled with small tools and knives, as well as cartridges, a revolver and electro-thermal grenades that could destroy solid objects for up to one hundred yards ... A leather great coat went over the top. It was rather too regimented for Mina's liking, with a severe cut and standardized style, but it would be warm and it had built into it a power pack and holster for a Laserton gun ... a pair of skin-tight leather gloves on her hands almost finished her preparations, but before she moved on, Mina selected a pair of Opti-Zoom goggles and slipped them around her neck, where they dangled in place of the discarded boater. Suitably dressed, Mina walked past the unconscious form of the baron, barely glancing at him as she passed and she set out to destroy the baron's dream of world domination. (126-131)
I'm not going to suggest Ora Le Broq win any literary awards, but I have to give kudos where they are due. When teaching critical analysis, I tell students its important to evaluate a work based on the criteria and standards we normally judge that sort of work by, before moving on to more subjective readings. We do not bemoan a lack of realism in a super-hero movie, but are impressed with the level of verisimilitude Christopher Nolan's take on Batman reaches. Yet we cannot say Tim Burton's vision is worse because it does not attempt reality - it is a comic book film - we expect some level of hyperbolization. Likewise, I cannot decry erotica of this kind because the characters are sexual athletes whose bodies and reactions are exaggerations of  real-world sex. In real life, female orgasm is apparently in short shrift, if the articles devoted to achieving it in Cosmopolitan are any indication: the women in Steampunk Erotica don't just orgasm: they have multiple orgasms, often including female ejaculation. And yet, despite all this ridiculous hyperbole, Le Broq includes passages that comment on the steampunk aesthetic, and the steampunk community's perception of it. The transformation of Mina from schoolgirl to steampunk heroine through attire reads like moments in Christian fiction where people get saved: steampunk fashion isn't just cool, it will change your life. Whether one actually buys into this idea is immaterial: in the universe Le Broq has fashioned, Mina's transformation of self is visualized symbolically through steampunk fashion. This is impressive in a book involving an orgy in a factory workers' communal shower.

Whether steampunk can change the world is debatable. That Steampunk Erotica will, isn't. This isn't high-literature. It's a high-flying, orgasmic adventure. There are lots of examples of technofantasy, and many gonzo mash-ups of Victorian and modern sensibilities, which wouldn't work at all in a book with a serious tone.While I take the underlying meaning of Mina's transformation seriously, I can't take the delivery too seriously without missing the point. Steampunk Erotica, is more akin to the 1960s Adam-West Batman, than to Burton or Nolan. It's got a salacious Sock! Pow! (or perhaps a Suck! Pow!) sensibility, a wanton, carefree attitude that endears the reader, even if the sex scenes don't. While the type of over-the-top sex isn't my brand of erotica, it certainly matches the ultra-romantic steampunk world Mina Trelawney inhabits. Le Broq's Steampunk Erotica is an X-rated B-movie, whose D-cup heroine should be A-OK for those who've tired of G-rated YA content. YMMV.

You can purchase Steampunk Erotica HERE.

Feb 14, 2011

"The Steam Dancer (1896)" by Caitlín Kiernan

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

I was up this morning around 4 a.m. with a fevered little girl, and after I got her back to rest, I was wide awake. So I lay pondering what I'd suggest to my readers as the most romantic steampunk tale I've ever read, and was surprised at the rapidity with which the answer came to me. It's a wonderful short tale by Caitlín Kiernan in Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded, titled "The Steam Dancer (1896)." I'm a huge fan of Kiernan's 1998 novel, Silk, and was pleased to discover she hasn't lost her penchant for beautiful prose when I read this short story last fall.

It's difficult to talk about short prose without giving away all the spoilers, but in the case of "The Steam Dancer," the reading experience is less about plot than about character, relationship, and Kiernan's lovely weaving of words. It's the tale of Missouri, a steampunk cyborg, a mosaic of "muscle and skin, steel and artifice" (70), and her relationship with both her deceased father, a snake-oil salesman in life, and the mechanic, the man who rescued her from death, and literally rebuilt her. This is the heart of romance in this tale: to be rescued from the trash-heaps of a shanty town, and remade into something beautiful and graceful, the object not only of desire, but a strong and binding love, resonates with me. The themes of "The Steam Dancer" are love and identity seen as things we choose, and build - things we must be invested in the upkeep of, all tenets of amour I personally subscribe to. While Kiernan uses "What's past is prologue" from Shakespeare's The Tempest as one of her key ideas, the sentence that sums the story's themes up for me is "Other women are only whole ... Other women are only born, not made. I have been crafted" (68). Especially today, on Valentine's Day, as I reflect on 15 years of marriage, on five years of being a father, on turning forty in a month - at this point in my life, I can say with confidence that love is something we choose: while fate and blood play their part, we are the makers of our lives and loves.

I haven't finished wending my way through the tales in Steampunk Reloaded, but I can tell you the price is right if only for Kiernan's tale. The intro blurb gives my the impression Kiernan has plans to write more in this alternate steampunk world, and to that I say, "encore!"

Feb 8, 2011

The Innocent's Progress by Peter Tupper

When I started reading Peter Tupper's The Innocent's Progress, my intention was to read one or two stories and move on. My goals for the month are ambitious, and I have a lot on my teaching plate besides. After reading the eponymous first tale, "The Innocent's Progress," I thought I'd just post story-by-story. By the time I'd finished the second story, "The Pretty Horsebreaker," I was immersed in Tupper's alternate world, a place both historically familiar and yet culturally strange. I've only read the first three stories, having gone further than I intended, so I'll focus on those in the following review.

I love the structure of this book, with its slow reveal of both its world and characters. "The Innocent's Progress" introduces the reader to the Razor Lotus theatre, a space of pleasure and performance. The Razor Lotus strikes me as the type of theatre we imagine took place in the Victorian era, when thespians had low reputations and were considered only marginally above sex-trade workers. Here, Tupper combines this ill-repute with creative environment: the Razor Lotus is a blending of the Théâtre des Vampires from Rice's Interview with the Vampire and the bordello little Nell works at in the final act of Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. The first presents reality as a fantasy, while the second presents fantasies as realities - the space of the Razor Lotus offers both. Be warned - you might dismiss the anthology as simply neo-Victorian based only on this first story. Read on, as Tupper will bring the technofantasy and retrofuturism to in the second and third tales.

The second story, "The Pretty Horsebreaker," expands the reader's view of the City and its environs. Tupper only thinly veils his historical references with slightly removed renamings: Sir Richard Burton becomes Captain Rhisiart Braen, and Oscar Wilde becomes Odgar Wycke. Yet rather than being clunky, as such historical references often are, reducing the major figures of history to caricatures or complete digressions (such as the robust, Captain America-esque Mark Twain in Image comics' Alter Nation), the remove is effective. I was aware of the way Braen resembled Burton, but wasn't distracted by the real history because the Welsh-style names made enough of a remove to keep me thinking of the characters as versions of the historical figures. Further, Tupper's world is easier to accept because it is completely other: I don't balk at a steam car, since in a world where naming conventions have replaced Earnest with Earwin, a steam car isn't an anachronism I need to suspend disbelief about. Instead, it's part of this alternate steampunk world. I was also suitably impressed that instead of the morality police being the ever-shat-upon Church (capital C, to let you know the author thinks of the complexity of multifaceted faith practice as a single, monolithic institution), Tupper renders the authority that takes Wycke/Wilde away to jail the department of Decency: "We're from Decency, sir." It's a nice touch, and one I can't help applauding. Nineteenth century Christianity didn't have the monopoly on Victorian hypocrisy concerning sex.

Tupper's world-building continues to engage the reader in the third story, "Delicate Work." Before I describe the setting of this tale, I want to note how Tupper inserts the main character of each story subtly into the previous tale: we already met Tangwen, the tinker heroine of "Delicate Work" briefly in "The Pretty Horsebreaker." "Delicate Work" is Tangwen's back-story, the narrative of her life before leaving the Honeycomb (this is not a spoiler - she's already on the outside in "The Pretty Horsebreaker" - besides, "Delicate Work" is about character, not plot), a massive shelter for wayward women:
"The Honeycomb was vast, more than a dozen large buildings grown together, connected by tunnels, covered alleys, walkways, and bridges; encrusted with layer after layer of buttresses, iron girders, bricks, tiles, metal barred windows, ivy, moss, and mushrooms ... Inside, it was an endless warren of rooms, corridors, galleries, garrets, and more lit by a jumble of electric lights, gas lamps, mirrors, and candelabras. Rooms were subdivided into smaller cells, while walls were torn down to make larger ones. Floors were connected by staircases, ladders, dumbwaiters, lifts, pulley shafts, crawlspaces, and attics...There were no complete maps. The Honeycomb was too old, too complex, too large, and too variable to ever chart comprehensively." (65-66)
The women who live inside the Honeycomb are factory workers engaged in assembly line production of Wire terminals or difference engines, which are shipped from the Honeycomb to the outside world of the City. Tangwen has decided to leave the Honeycomb, but her lover Betrys wants to stay: this is the real conflict of "Delicate Work." What's fascinating about Tangwen and other Honeycomb girls is how Tupper uses them to play with the steampunk persona of engineer: Tangwen's description in "The Pretty Horsebreaker" could be any number of women at a steampunk convention, dressed in a corset on the outside, above a worker's apron, along with the ubiquitous goggles, which serve the purpose most goggles do: to protect the eyes while working with electricity or other potential harmful components. The corset is a fashion affectation the Tinkers have taken to: lesser writers seeking to play off of convention cosplay or steampunk fashion fail at pulling this off. Tupper's got a world where it makes sense, and it doesn't feel overly contrived.

This is largely owing to Tupper's excellent characters: he writes his people with diverse and believable voices.

Miss Ccri, the heroine of "The Pretty Horsebreaker," is already one of my favorite steampunk heroines: sexy, smart, and yet complex and vulnerable, she got me hot around the collar several times. She's exactly the sort of woman who would both terrify me and make me follow her around on a leash. Despite this, she's completely sympathetic and endearing. Tupper's characters are a joy to read, and his writing style is wonderfully inviting.

There's lots of sex, of course. It's erotica after all. But it's a servant of the story, not the other way around. Tupper isn't writing stock Harlequin plots that eschew innuendo and euphemism. That isn't to say your ears won't turn red if you're a former Baptist boy like me. When the characters engage in sex, love-making, or fucking, it's steamy reading, all puns intended (let's just get that lame chestnut out of the way, shall we?). However, unlike lesser erotica, where boy meets girl, boy eventually fucks girl, sex in The Innocent's Progress happens along the way: it isn't, to engage in one more groan-worthy pun, the climax of the story. The climax of "The Pretty Horsebreaker" involves two women, but they're both clothed, and resolving emotional, not physical tensions. Tupper's a damn smart writer, and anyone who dismisses The Innocent's Progress as just erotica might say The Dark Knight is just a comic book movie. I haven't finished it yet, but I wanted to move on to some other works before February wastes away. However, I'm confident in saying that even if the remaining stories are pure garbage, The Innocent's Progress is worth the money you'll pay for just the three tales I've highlighted here. I'll be returning to Tupper's fictional London in July for Canuck Steampunk Month II (Peter's a fellow Canadian!), and for the time being regretfully pull myself away from The Innocent's Progress to look at some other steampunk erotica and romance this month.

Grade: A
Steampunk Factor: High

Circlet Press, publisher of The Innocent's Progress
Peter Tupper's site, with excerpts from The Innocent's Progress

Feb 1, 2011

February Preview: Steampunk Romance and Erotica

My apologies for a nearly month-long silence. I vowed I wouldn't get behind on grading this term, and so far I'm succeeding. I'm still busy with other steampunk-related projects, but I've wanted to devote a month to Steampunk Romance and Erotica since I first read Gail Carriger's Soulless. I'll begin by shamelessly plugging Parliament and Wake, one of the most innovative steampunk photo sites on the web. James and Kate, the lovely couple behind P & W, consented to my use of their image as photographed by Lex Machina for the header this month. I hope to say more about P & W when I have more time, but let it suffice to say that in a sea of people taking photos in steampunk outfits, P & W sticks out, both with its pinup content and narrative elements. James and Kate go beyond just standing in front of old buildings with rayguns made from candlesticks. They tell tales: some sexy, some macabre, others fey, but always interesting.

My plans are always bigger than I can make happen, and while I wanted to look at the entire Steampunk Trilogy this month, I'll likely be focusing solely on "Walt and Emily." I'll take a look at Gail Carriger's Soulless again, revisiting it beyond review to ruminate on the elements of Austenian comedy she brings to the first two books in the Parasol Protectorate series. I'm going to review some erotica as well, including Ora Le Brocq's Steampunk Erotica and a few selections from Circlet press: Peter Tupper's The Innocent's Progress and Lionel Bramble's 1901: A Steam Odyssey. I'd like to get the chance to talk corsets, burlesque, and Baz Luhrman's Moulin Rouge! We may even bring up that steampunk chestnut, Katie MacAlister's Steamed as well. Let's see what the month holds. It is a short one, after all, and who knows how much work I'll actually get done if I'm reading these after the kids have gone to bed...

To get started, check out my original review of Gail Carriger's Soulless, and my thoughts on Nathalie Gray's Full Steam Ahead by Nathalie Gray.

All apologies to Ricky Pai for using his image of model Yaya Han in this post without consent, but I couldn't find a contact address, but really loved the model shot.
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