Dec 27, 2013

Top 5 Steampunk Reads of 2013

This year was a tough one for steampunk. While precious few steampunk writers continue to produce quality work, from Gail Carriger's manga editions of The Parasol Protectorate and her new Finishing School series, Cherie Priest's ongoing Clockwork Century (of which I am two books behind - I have no doubt Fiddlehead would have been on this list given how much I enjoy Priest's books), and Mark Hodder with Burton and Swinburne sequels, new steampunk voices worth reading in 2013 were rare. By fall, I despaired of being able to construct a proper top list. Arthur Slade wrapped up his awesome Hunchback Assignments series last year with Island of Doom, and no YA steampunk series really fills the void left by Slade, Westerfeld, Reeve, and Oppel. Friends in the publishing industry have told me that the market was flooded by so much poorly-written steampunk, that the term has become somewhat synonymous with B-grade fiction. Much of what I read this year corroborated that claim; rather than give bad reviews to new authors, I chose to simply not review their work. I'd rather recommend what's worth reading than bash what isn't. The Internet is full of invective, and I'd prefer my blog not be a space that perpetuates pointless negativity. To that end, my top 5 steampunk reads are outside the big steampunk series: Hodder's The Secret of Abdu El Yezdi could easily have made the list, but if you're a regular here, you don't need me to tell you Hodder is awesome anymore: likewise Priest, Carriger, and Gilman. Instead, aside from Nemo: Heart of Ice, I chose my favorite reads that were outside the pale of popular steampunk reading. Blaylock, despite being called a legend by his marketing people, is still vastly underappreciated in speculative literature. That said, none of these are courtesy recommendations. They are genuinely awesome books, well worth your attention.
  1. Nemo: Heart of Ice by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill: The top spot for this year's best steampunk read has to go to Moore and O'Neill, for redeeming themselves after the brilliant-but-far-too-esoteric Century: 1910, the last League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book to feature Janni, Captain Nemo's daughter, as a key character. Heart of Ice is a mash-up on par with the earliest League books for accessibility, intertextuality, and sheer-icy fun. Moore mixes At the Mountains of Madness, She, Eddisonades, and Tom Swift in an adventure across the Antarctic. Nemo + Nameless Terror = Happy Reader. And to think, I was once told steampunk's future didn't lie in mashups with Lovecraft. 
  2. Luminous Chaos by Jean-Christophe Valtat - My greatest challenge as a book-blogger is that I hate having to read books at a breakneck pace to review them in time for their release. Thankfully, the folks who sent me a review copy of Luminous Chaos made no such demands, and I was able to savor Jean-Christophe Valtat's exquisite prose. Comparisons have been made between Valtat and Pynchon, and insofar as Pynchon's Against the Day, I concur. Luminous Chaos is easily the most literary work of steampunk I've read since Dexter Palmer's disappointing Dream of Perpetual Motion. Where Palmer tried too hard to be profound, Valtat revels in the absurdity of the steampunk aesthetic, revealing one batshit-crazy idea after another. However, Valtat's gorgeous writing mediates the absurdity as something wondrous and beautiful. Highly recommended for those expecting more from steampunk than the average adventure tales are delivering.
  3. Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff - While I know that some critics see Kristoff's work as cultural appropriation and/or Victorientalism, I have trouble with how earnest the Lotus War series is. I'm also nonplussed that so much attention is focused on minor foibles of creating a secondary world based on fantasy Japan, rather than celebrating his frequent use of strong female characters or his eco-criticism. Kristoff hamstrings his heroine Yukiko with simultaneous problem and insight: she learns why her father became an addict, and why she faces the same potential future. Rather than simply resorting to force/violence or heartbreak/retribution as drama, Kristoff gives Yukiko an inner battle, rendering her physical challenges and adventures all the more desperate. I remain a dedicated fan of this series, and eagerly anticipate the next installment, which is much more than I can say for many steampunk series.
  4. The Aylesford Skull by James P. Blaylock - Many of Blaylock's trademarks are present here: use of Mayhew's dirty and destitute London denizens, a motley crew of Everymen, and St. Ives once again as the reluctant hero. But this book brings the darkness of Blaylock's horror novels to his steampunk London, with a Narbondo more wicked than ever before. Combining the best of what I love in Blaylock's writing, The Aylesford Skull is one of his best steampunk offerings. FULL REVIEW HERE.
  5. Steampunk Wells by H.G. Wells and Zdenko Basic: While I consider H.G. Wells's Time Machine and War of the Worlds early SF, not steampunk, RP Classics' omnibus edition certainly puts the steampunk aesthetic to good use, and for that, I'm including it in my top five list for this year. RP Classics' earlier offerings of Steampunk Poe and Steampunk Frankenstein were also laudatory in this way, but I think series artist Zdenko Basic's art works best with Wells's visions. It's really Basic's art that makes the series steampunk. The texts are pure originals: Shelley, Poe, and Wells. And while Basic's art is great eye-candy, his rendering of War of the Worlds in Steampunk Wells is spot-on. He really captures the violence and darkness of Wells's vision. Kudos to RP Classics for finding a sharp way of introducing a new generation to these classic books. 

I also want to give a shout-out to Trent Jamison's Roil and Night Engines, which weren't published in 2013, but were among my favourite steampunk-related reads this year. 

And while this marks the end of the five year journey I began in the fall of 2008, it does not mark the end of my steampunk research. I will continue to read and study steampunk, along with my other speculative interests. I owe the steampunk community a huge debt, and for that I will always be very thankful. I look forward to journeying with you all beyond the worlds of steampunk, into the larger worlds of science fiction, fantasy, and horror!

Dec 23, 2013

Doctor Who: The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe

At the 2009 Eaton Science Fiction Conference in Riverside, California, SF writer Rudy Rucker commented that the Wardrobe of C.S. Lewis' Narnia chronicles was just another way of traveling to another world, no different from spaceships, transporters, or entering virtual space. It was an inversion of Lewis' own reflections on the idea, when he stated that "I took a hero once to Mars in a space-ship, but when I knew better I had angels convey him to Venus." If ever there were a quotation to sum up the blurry lines of science fiction and fantasy in "The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe," it would be that one, slightly modified: "I took a hero to Narnia in a wardrobe, but when I knew better, I redesigned it as a dimensional portal...thingie."

It is also the quotation that springboards me from being the Steampunk Scholar to rebranding the website as the Speculative Scholar, and I'm going to use "The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe" ("DWW"), to explore a bit of what the blog will be like in the New Year.

The bulk of the content will still be a short article, that talks about an aspect of speculative fiction. "DWW" has a mix of all three of the literary genres John Colombo states make up speculative fiction:  Science Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, and Weird Fiction (we might say Horror for this last one). "DWW" might not be fantasy itself, but it certainly makes fantasy references in drawing Act I of the episode from C.S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (LWW). Certainly, there are minor differences - in LWW, a young girl goes through a portal into another world via a Wardrobe; in "DWW," a young boy goes through a portal into another world via a huge Christmas present. As Rudy Rucker suggested, they are simply devices for getting us into another realm. In LWW, it is magic. In  "DWW," it is technology. We call one fantasy, another science fiction, but in both cases, a small child ends up with in a snowy wonderland beyond the pale of our reality.

But there are further permutations of what be understood as the aesthetic differences between science fiction and fantasy- just as LWW's fantasy wardrobe is rendered as "DWW's"science fiction dimensional portal, the gleaming rocket ship of SF's golden age is made into a flying fantasy tower, powered by the magic of the wooden king and queen. The boundaries of science fiction and fantasy are regularly blurred throughout the episode, much to the delight of someone like me, who doesn't care much for those boundaries in the first place.

Now some might balk that "DWW" has any horror in it, but that would only be those who have long since grown out of their fear of things that go bump in the night. It was plenty scary enough for my children, both from the perspective of the episode beginning with the loss of a parent, and moments with the Wooden King and Queen. These are childhood horrors - the mute creepiness of the Wood Sovereigns, the need for a young priest and an old priest when they speak through others, and above all, the horror of losing a parent. This is a foundational fear of childhood, one I suppose we forget. But as  parent, I could witness my own children's horror, and mirror Madge's horror as a parent who has lost her children. Certainly, it is Doctor Who, and therefore it is a secure horror, but it is a form of horror nonetheless.

Doctor Who is a lovely bricolage of fantasy, SF, and horror elements, pulled together in a speculative soup that continues to delight viewers. And it's a soup I find myself not only needing more tastes of, but also desirous to engage in a similar mission to the one I began with steampunk five years ago. So as with the Doctor, I am undergoing a regeneration - a rebranding. After the top 5 steampunk list next week, the blog will cease to be The Steampunk Scholar and will become The Speculative Scholar. This is not to say I am the only scholar of this nature. Rather, it will be to say that this blog will function as a resource for speculative scholars, and I hope in time, a hub for other speculative scholars to assist in the production of the content.

I will continue to talk about steampunk, but I want to begin disseminating other scholarly studies I've been doing in Giant Monster films, Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, the relationship between World Literature and speculative literature, and really, any area of speculative fiction that appeals to my research interests. Thank-you to everyone who came along this far for the steampunk journey - now, let's step into the virtual TARDIS and see where it takes us. After all, what's the point in being a Doctor if you aren't going to take advantage of traveling through Time and Space? 

dimensional portal... thingie
dimensional portal... thingie
dimensional portal... thingie

Dec 15, 2013

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol

Steven Moffat's "A Christmas Carol," the sixth Doctor Who Christmas special, begins with a galaxy-class starship, an obvious intertextual allusion to Star Trek, hurtling through a roiling cloud mass, to a voice-over to its passengers, asking them to "please return to their seats and fasten their safety belts? We are experiencing slight turbulence." The Captain conveys the starship's certain doom with a mix of Shatneresque resolve and seasonal Whovian whimsy: "Both engines failed, and the storm-gate's critical. The ship is going down. Christmas is cancelled."  The Doctor's newly wedded companions, Amy Pond and Rory Williams, are conveniently on-board; in a meta-moment of self-reflexivity, Amy speaks the words every audience member is thinking: "He'll come. He always comes." And sure enough, as all seems lost, the Doctor sends a message of hope, to which Amy Pond responds, "It's Christmas."

Like any great work of fiction, cinematic or print, "A Christmas Carol" begins with all the elements that will be used throughout the rest of the story. Moffat sets up three concepts around which the rest of the episode will be structured: intertextuality, self-reflexivity, and whimsy, all in service to the hopeful message that Christmas is a symbol for being "halfway out of the dark."

Intertextuality, a term coined by literary theorist Julia Kristeva is "The need for one text to be read in the light of its allusions to and differences from the content or structure of other texts; the (allusive) relationship between esp. literary texts" (OED). I take umbrage with the Oxford English Dictionary's contention that this allusive referentiality is somehow more the purview of literary texts. I'd argue that Science Fiction trumps many literary works for being intertextual. Doctor Who is often intertextual, but "A Christmas Carol" is a mix of both the obvious intertext--we are fully aware from the title credits onward that the episode will be a riff on Dickens's Christmas classic--and the less overt intertext in the face spiders, which sound suspiciously like the face huggers from the Alien franchise. And then there are the countless intertexts of how time travel can affect the past in an immediate way in the fictional present, from James Blaylock's "Lord Kelvin's Machine," (which would prove a very prolific intertext with this episode, since it concerns changing the past to change the villain's disposition), J.M. Frey's Triptych, to movies like Back to the Future and Looper. Dressing Dickens's A Christmas Carol in Whovian garb reminds us that it is a pre-SF tale of time travel. Scrooge is given visions - he does not actually travel through time, but then again, neither does Michael Gambon as Kazran Sardik, this episodes' science fiction Scrooge (whose father, also played by Gambon, looks very much like Charles Dickens). Sardik too, only receives visions and new memories - and it is in the reception of those visions that the program engages in numerous self-reflexive moves.    

Self-reflexivity in literature is the idea that the text is aware it is a text. In cinema or television, it conveys a sense of the film or show being aware of what it is. This is sometimes overt, as in the breaking of the fourth wall in a program like Boston Legal, when characters spoke of the addition of "new characters" at certain points in "the season." At other times, it is subtle, like the many inside jokes Matt Smith and his companions make, winking at the camera without actually winking, as in the brief moment we see the young Kazran wearing a Tom-Baker-era scarf. But less often, it is even more subtle, as when "A Christmas Carol" uses Michael Gambon's gaze as the eyes of the audience, watching his past as projected image. This is an echo of Amy Pond speaking the words we are all thinking in the opening: "He'll come. He always comes." But Kazran becomes our mirror for laughter and tears: we know when it is time to cry, for Gambon's teary gaze tells us it is so. When his childhood self and the Doctor are threatened by a flying shark, he yells what we want to yell: "Run!" It's a lovely moment, reminiscent of Don Quixote standing in a bookshop holding a copy of Don Quixote. We are watching a character on an episode of Doctor Who watching an episode of Doctor Who.
 This self-reflexivity become the means by which Moffat tells his audience that this episode must be read as whimsical. When the Doctor discovers the ostensible reason the flying fish respond to singing, the young Kazran dismisses his explanation by saying, "The Fish like the singing: now shut up!" The script draws attention to this moment, playing out the dismissal with the Doctor as the voice of the hard SF Who-fan who's seeking causality, while Moffat speaks through the voice of the child, and at other times, the Doctor: "No chance, completely impossible: except at Christmas." After all, this is the episode where the Doctor reveals that "Yes, dirty little steampunk-boy, there is a Santa-Claus," and that the Doctor knows him, not as Father Christmas or Santa Claus, but as "Jeff." The fish may indeed be calmed because "The notes resonate in the ice crystals, causing a delta wave pattern in the fog," but saying so will result in you getting bit by those little fish. They are not pleased with the cynical viewer who is sputtering "Bah, Humbug" at the screen. Moffat seems to be sending semaphore to the audience, warning them to steer clear of such inquiries. Time travel paradoxes be damned -- the aged Kazran will need to meet the young Kazran so he can arrive at a point halfway out of the dark. The choice of Michael Gambon as Kazran is almost an intertextual moment as well - of course magical things can happen to this man - he's Dumbledore, one of the greatest wizards who ever lived, after all.
Kazran's cynicism at the outset of the program is the cynicism many bear towards holidays of light and goodwill: "On every world, wherever people are, in the deepest part of the winter, at the exact mid-point, everybody stops and turns and hugs, as if to say, well done. Well done, everyone. We're halfway out of the dark." He says it with an ironic voice, and we can hear the derision - it's the derision I suppose many feel for episodes of Doctor Who like this one. But it is why Doctor Who, unlike so many geek narratives, can have a Christmas special that doesn't feel like an aberration - it feels like a continuation of the same moves we have seen in the series, over and over, of self-reflexivity, intertextuality, and whimsy.
Knowing that Moffat is playing with these three elements in the fashion he is permits the viewer to allow the episode to speak on its own terms, not those we might impose for it. As hard-SF, the episode fails abysmally: one wonders how the study of brain plasticity weighs into the outcomes of Sardick's life - is his brain physically changing? After all, memories are not just visions - they are part of the pathways and programming of the organ in our skull. Hence the need for a whimsical, child-like faith that people can change overnight. Further, the episode needs that overnight change, for the source intertext of Dickens demands this optimism, and reality be damned. It is a reminder, however, that we choose the fictions we live by. We choose to watch Doctor Who because he's the sort of person who, after 900 years of time and space travel, has never met a person "who wasn't important." Knowing that we choose our stories, choose our visions, if you will, is conceded repeatedly by this episode's self-reflexivity. Moffat knows we're out there, and he's waving at us from time to time, reminding us to not take it too seriously. This is not "serious" SF in the sense many would mean it. But what serious SF could wrap up its story with Christmas special cliches like snowfall and singing, and weave them into the story? It's absurd, to be sure, but then again, so is the practice of Christmas.

Dec 8, 2013

Doctor Who: The Next Doctor

My research kept me from enjoying a lot of geek content between 2008 and 2012. I spent most of my "free" time reading steampunk novels, their antecedents, and secondary sources related to the topic. So while my friends were ranting about how great David Tennant was as the latest incarnation of the Doctor, I was reading Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series. Not a bad trade off, but it made me a latecomer to many speculative-fiction TV series and films. Luckily, on the flight back from my in-laws at Christmas of 2009, I caught bits of "The Next Doctor" broadcast on the Canadian Space network.

The last time I'd seen the Doctor was the 1996 TV movie. Before that, I'd been an ardently faithful follower through the reruns of Pertwee, Baker, and Davison on PBS in the 1980s. I had an issue of the Marvel Premiere Classics featuring Doctor Who (reprints of comics from Doctor Who Magazine, I understand). I had read several novelizations of the series from my Public Library, and even owned one! Fans of Doctor Who from the 1980s, especially those living in smaller cities, will know how tough Who-Merchandise was to come by back then. But my work as a minister didn't offer opportunities for journeys through Time and Space with a Time Lord. Then came the revamped series, and there I was, busy researching steampunk.

As I mentioned in my last article, many people had asked me if Doctor Who is steampunk. I'd say it shares a lot of values and ideas that steampunk uses. But on that post-Christmas flight, I didn't much care about whether the show was steampunk. I was too busy being twelve again. I remember the moment David Tennant as The Doctor and David Morrisey as the Next Doctor yelled "Allons y!" and the theme music started, I cried: fast, spontaneous, unexpected tears. It happened to me again the other day when I was reviewing this episode for this series of posts. It's not a sad moment - there are better reasons to cry in this episode. It was sheer nostalgia, taking me back through time and space to the days when I'd stay up late during a PBS fund-raising campaign, when they'd play entire serials back-to-back. I'd tape them on our Betamax to watch over and over. I began writing my own Doctor Who scripts, to film on that same Betamax system.

I was transported back to a simpler time, when I thought I'd grow up to be a film maker. Since it was one of the Christmas specials, my nostalgia was compounded, since Christmas memories of my childhood are particularly fond. Given the episode's emotional appeal to a Husband/Father, I never stood a chance.  I've since learned that "The Next Doctor" isn't considered a particularly superior installment of the new Doctor Who series, but that doesn't matter much to me. It was the first of the new series I was exposed to, and so it will likely always have a special place in my heart.

Having finished my research, I found my recent re-watch a very different experience, once I'd wiped my tears away. While my first viewing transported me to my childhood, my second viewing had me traveling back through my research, thinking about how the episode makes a number of steampunk, or at the very least, neo-Victorian moves. This isn't about the Cybermen or their technology - they aren't particularly steampunk by design. And I pondered how I could write on any of these: how Rosita Farisi as a black woman in Victorian London is an example of social retrofuturism, or how Miss Hartigan is a nicely subtle dig at the treatment of women in the nineteenth century, but is likewise an interesting choice for the overlord of the Cybermen. But that wouldn't be moving forward. That would be me traveling ground I already have.

Five years ago, I started my "mission" to get my dissertation on steampunk written. I finished that mission a year early, but kept the blog going in the same way I had before. Anyone who has been watching Steampunk Scholar this past year will know how ineffective that was. I still enjoy steampunk, but I want to broaden my horizons, to start a new mission that travels more widely through time and space.

Some of my tears upon seeing "The Next Doctor" for the first time were for twenty years of lost time. When I professed Christianity as a teen, I felt compelled by 1980s evangelicalism to give up a lot of my geek interests. I played Middle-Earth Roleplaying in secret. I threw out a bunch of books that a well-meaning but sadly over-zealous friend deemed "occult." I tried to marry my love of SF and Fantasy with my church work, but it didn't go well. Prior to the success of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings and The Matrix as appropriated parable, fantasy and SF weren't all that welcome in the church.

When Morrisey as the Next Doctor realizes that he is really Jackson Lake, a man who has "lost something," I remember tears flowing again. My research had already taken me to three fan conventions, where I felt more at home than I ever had all the years I served as a minister. Getting dressed up as "The Steampunk Scholar" and hanging around with a hotel full of geeks felt more right than any church event ever did. Every time I thought of all the years I'd had to sideline my love of comics, Science Fiction, fantasy, horror, and roleplaying games, it made me sad. "The Next Doctor" was a reminder of the great gap between when I'd dreamed of producing geek content, and when I finally came around to doing that, twenty years later.

But it also reminded me that I had interests outside steampunk: Clive Barker's writing, pulpy Sword-and-Sorcery, Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, Terry Pratchett's Discworld, Superman, John Carpenter's movies, and Godzilla. I never fully lost these things, but I had to repress them - my occasional geek footnotes in morning sermons were often pearls before swine.

I love what steampunk has given me: I don't think a dissertation on Nine Inch Nails' Year Zero as dystopic intertext would have resulted in the situation I find myself today. I have a very active web presence, have never had to work hard to get academic publishing opportunities, have met a number of key authors in the steampunk scene, and have traveled (and continue to travel) to speak on steampunk at conferences and conventions. I chose to write on steampunk at what was arguably the best time to do so. I rode that wave, and enjoyed it immensely.

But I love the non-Victorian episodes of Doctor Who as well. The theologian in my loves "The Satan Pit," where the Doctor gets to mock the "devil," something C.S. Lewis posited Old Nick can't stand: "“The best way to drive out the devil ... is to jeer and flout him." The fanboy in me loves "School Reunion," partly because I had an adolescent crush on the late Elizabeth Sladen, and because I love seeing Anthony Head or any Buffy the Vampire Slayer alumnus getting good work in geek circles.

And I want to write about all those things. When I talked with J.M. Frey about this, she said that this series on Doctor Who was possibly one of the best ways to transition from being "The Steampunk Scholar" to . . . something else. In 2014, I will be changing what I'm doing online. The TARDIS provides the possibility to go anywhere, like the blue police box TARDIS, not the hot-air-balloon Jackson Lake TARDIS, which cannot go beyond the boundaries of the nineteenth century.

One mission ends, another begins. It doesn't mean I'm done writing about steampunk. There are steampunk explorations left. But like the Doctor, I want to travel the whole universe of speculative fiction - cinematic, comic book, literary. Maybe that's why I teared up when the two Doctors yelled "Allons y!" this time - after all, it's French for "let's go!" In the words of Tennyson's Ulysses, "’Tis not too late to seek a newer world," or in this case, worlds. Allons y!

Nov 29, 2013

Doctor Who: The Girl in the Fireplace

In the early years of my research, I was often asked the question, "Is Doctor Who steampunk?" While I haven't been asked the question in some time, the relationship between Doctor Who and steampunk has lingered in the back of my mind, and even formed part of the slideshow for my presentations on the steampunk aesthetic. This series, "The Advent(ures) of Doctor Who" is the realization of that idea.

As faithful readers of the blog know, I define steampunk as a tripartite aesthetic (thanks to Aaron Sikes for that term!), comprised of hyper-Victorianism (originally neo-Victorianism, but in the past three months, I've revised the term), technofantasy, and retrofuturism. New readers will find a summary of the tripartite aesthetic here. So I'm not interested in asking if Doctor Who is part of the steampunk genre, but rather, "In what ways does Doctor Who make use of the steampunk aesthetic?"

Brian J. Robb, in his excellent coffeetable book Steampunk: An Illustrated History of Fantastical Fiction, Fanciful Film, and Other Victorian Visions (one of my top five steampunk books of 2012), in the chapter "Doctor Who and Steampunk: Victorian Style," rightly notes that the steampunk aesthetic was first applied in force in the design of the TARDIS in the 1996 TV movie featuring Paul McGann as the Doctor:
 The expansive new console room was still centered round a six-sided control podium, but this one was much more Gothic in style. This console tended more heavily towards the brass-and-wood look of the earlier secondary console room, with the levers, switches, and valves of the earliest 1960s version emphasized. Additionally, the TARDIS featured an expansive library area in which the Doctor is seen reading Wells's The Time Machine.
When the regular TV show returned in 2005, it was the McGann console room that inspired every variation thereafter, making more than a dash of Steampunk central to the series' ongoing look. Christopher Eccleston's ninth and David Tennant's tenth Doctors' console featured a variety of anachronistic elements, including an old telephone, glass paperweights, a bell, a locomotive water sight glass and a bicycle pump--each a stylized control for different functions. For example, the bicycle pump was once identified as the 'vortex loop control'.
The 2010 reinvention of the control room for Matt Smith's eleventh Doctor was perhaps the most overtly Steampunk to date, with multiple levels and an 'engine room' area beneath the console which itself was positioned on a glass floor. As before, each of the weird anachronistic contraptions had a specific function: a physical handbrake was the 'lock-down mechanism'; a spinning, spiky ball was an 'atom accelerator'; while an old computer keyboard was the 'spatial location input'. Other items included a Bunsen burner, a microphone, a water dispenser, and an analogue typewriter. (103)

However, I first heard the question of whether Doctor Who was steampunk in the year prior to the advent of Matt Smith's incarnation, so there is more to the answer than simply replying, "The recent TARDIS designs use the steampunk aesthetic." This is why I chose "The Girl in the Fireplace" as the first in my Doctor Who series, for the episode is undoubtedly among the handful which spawned the question "Is Doctor Who steampunk?" 

Detractors will immediately balk at the time period of the episode, which is eighteenth century. They may even point at that tripartite aesthetic saying, "you even said Victorian! What did you mean by that?" Remember, I do not define steampunk as a genre, which might constrain the story to take place in the nineteenth century. Steampunk stories take place in number of temporalities, from ancient Rome in "Oracle Engine" in Candlewick's Steampunk! anthology to the far, far future in Dancers at the End of Time by Michael Moorcock. In all cases, these stories evoke the nineteenth century in some form or another through the other two elements of the aesthetic, technofantasy and retrofuturism.

The steampunk aesthetic is clearly at work in "The Girl in the Fireplace," most obviously in the design of the clockwork men who stalk the episode's eponymous lady-in-distress; these automatons are clearly built with the steampunk aesthetic in mind. Whatever hipster naysayers might say about the cog needing to die in steampunk, it's part of the aesthetic's iconography - as I will argue shortly, it isn't that the cog needs to die, but it needs to stop reproducing at an alarming rate. And aside from the TARDIS, that's about all that's steampunk in this episode of Doctor Who. So the answer to the question, "Is Doctor Who steampunk?" is "no." But then again, I'm not sure that Michael Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time is steampunk in the sense of a set of purely narrative conventions. It does not feature airships, goggles, or corsets worn on the outside. It does not feature a 'punk' ethos against empire in the same way that Moorcock's Warlord of the Air does. These narrative tropes are commonly used as "must-have" elements in steampunk writing, and to be frank, this narrow narrative demand appears to be killing steampunk publishing.
I've heard reports from several sources in the publishing industry that steampunk is no longer the hot commodity it was only a few short years ago. While this is only conjecture, I'm suspicious that needlessly strict adherence to a limited range of narrative conventions flooded the market with too many titles which became viewed as creatively shallow derivations of other second-wave steampunk. While this could be the steampunk equivalent of Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam and Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots using similar vocal styles because they sang-along to the same artists, steampunk publishing hasn't tried very hard to establish creative distance between different works. There are multiple steampunk series with a title formula along this line: Exciting title: a (insert name here) and (another name here) adventure/escapade/lark/quest/thing. Most steampunk covers are done by photo-manipulating a steampunk model in cosplay, further restricting the idea of how the aesthetic ought to be applied.

Meanwhile, I'm noticing a steampunk second-life, where the aesthetic, perhaps tired of being pressed into service for badly-written indie-ebooks, poorly-voiced audiobooks, and second-rate comic books (Aside from Lady Mechanika, there hasn't been a decent new steampunk comic release in the last two years), is popping up as an element of a narrative, rather than its focus, like the doomsday device in Cabin in the Woods. It's not a steampunk movie, but it's a movie with a steampunk-inspired device. It's as though the aesthetic looked at how it helped out in one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes and decided to do its best work, not by allowing itself to be vomited all over every page of a book, or every moment of a film, to be lightly sprinkled, like seasoning.

"The Girl in the Fireplace" is not a cherished Doctor Who episode because of its steampunk elements. It did not win the 2007 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form for the design of its creepy automatons. The clockwork design is why I ended up watching it early in my travels with Tennant's Doctor: nearly every instance of "Is Doctor Who steampunk?" was often followed by "Have you seen 'The Girl in the Fireplace?', but it is not why I cry when I watch it. The episode would have been brilliant if the automatons had been sleek, i-Pod style designs beneath those masks. "The Girl in the Fireplace" is a great Doctor Who episode because Steven Moffat gives Tennant one of the Doctor's best character moments in the history of the series. I don't need to go into details about this - if you know the episode, you know what I mean. If you don't know the episode, words will far short of conveying the poignancy, so get thee to a Time Tunnel immediately.

But it illustrates why viewing steampunk as an aesthetic is crucial to what we call steampunk publishing becoming something that publishers salivate over, rather than force bile down for. Steampunk writers and, as it turns out, scholars, face a claustraphobic pigeon-holing if they persist in viewing the aesthetic through narrow lenses of airships, goggles, top-hats and corsets. Don't get me wrong - I love all three. But the idea that steampunk is always "ADVENTURE!" is probably why my top picks for this year's steampunk reads include works like Jean-Christophe Valtat's Luminous Chaos, which is a great piece of writing before it's anything else. It does not feature airships, goggles, top-hats, or corsets. It is very much a piece of steampunk in that it is neo-Victorian technofantasy, and abundantly playful its retrofuturism. But Valtat doesn't seem to have set out to write steampunk. He seems to have set out to write a story, and chose elements that, in combination, bear resemblance to the steampunk aesthetic. If it were realized as film, it would have steampunk elements throughout.

But it would still just be a good story, even if those were muted, and downplayed. If your setting is fantastic but your writing is poor, you have things backwards. Make your writing fantastic, and if it suits your story, add, to use Robb's wording, "a dash of Steampunk." And if you need an idea for what that looks like, just watch "Girl in the Fireplace" again, to remember that good characters in interesting situations will always interest viewers and readers. Clockwork and corsets are just window dressing.

Oct 19, 2013

Fall Roundup - Kinslayer, Clockwork Canary, Charmed Vengeance, Sauder Diaries, and Luminous Chaos

Sorry I've been so quiet this past month and a half, everyone. It's been a busy start-of-term, with provincial budget cuts leading to class-size increases, which results in more grading for me! C'est la vie...

I've been wending my way through several steampunk reads, and I have a few brief words to say about those until I get a full post done up on each:

Kinslayer by Jay Kristoff: A sequel to equal the whole-hearted endorsement I gave Stormdancer. This Fantasy-Japanese steampunk adventure series continues to captivate. This time around though, things are far more bleak. No spoilers, but if you're expecting a happy ending by the half-way point, you're a mad optimist. Don't be fooled by the YA-style cover. This one's not for the kiddies. One of my top steampunk reads of 2013.

His Clockwork Canary by Beth Ciotta: Starts with an interesting premise (the Age of Aquarius meets the Victorian era), but that premise doesn't play into the world-building as anything more than justification for technological and biological "changes" in the world. Steampunk gadgets and mutant powers the result of the psychedelic '60s? What sounded initially like a riff off of an element of Jeter's Infernal Devices, where a woman with late 20th century sensibilities tries to bed a proper Victorian man, never quite delivers on the romantic possibilities, choosing to focus instead on the fantastic ones. The sexual tension between a '60s hippy and a Victorian would have been far more interesting than two neo-Victorians, one an inventor, th other a mutant. To boot, Clockwork Canary lacks narrative tension in its first third, so I've given up on it.

By Any Other Name: The Sauder Diaries, Book 1 by Michel R. Vaillancourt: At this writing, I'm only going by first impressions, but the first chapter says a lot about most writers. If that's the case, then this is going to be a good ride on board an airship pirate ship. Vaillancourt does a great job of playing the perspective of his hero via diary against the reality of the events he is living through.  The simple line "Today I became an airship pirate" as rendered in Sauder's diary is revealed to be a matter of being press ganged, not choice.

Luminous Chaos by Jean-Christophe Valtat: Much to my dismay, I never had an opportunity to finish Aurorarama, Valtat's first steampunk book. So I was very thankful to have an opportunity to read the sequel for review. I'm not yet done, but Valtat's lovely prose, coupled with a sense of the absurd, makes this one of my best steampunk reads of 2013. 

Charmed Vengeance by Suzanne Lazear: Two chapters in, and I'm already seeing the improvement I suspected to see in Lazear's writing after finishing Innocent Darkness. Lazear's fairie realm and steampunk reality are meshing much better this time around, but I still have to don fairy wings and pretend I'm 14 and female to really enjoy what's happening. I'm not the target market for Lazear's books, but nevertheless can recommend her fast-paced, steampunk-fairie-romances to the teen set, or those who are still young and heart and prone to swooning around hunky fairie princes.

Aug 27, 2013

Ether Frolics by Paul Marlowe

This is the first year since 2010 that I didn't do a dedicated feature on Canuck Steampunk. As I said earlier in 2013, I'm no longer looking to produce vast reams of content, both because I'm done writing my dissertation, and also because I'm a bit sick of all the content out there on the 'Net. I'm tired of lists telling you what sucks, instead of encouraging you to read something you'll genuinely enjoy.

Which is why I'm glad to tell you about Paul Marlowe's Ether Frolics. Marlowe's a Canadian writer of speculative fiction whose steampunk short stories in Ether Frolics veer decidely to the fantasy side of neo-Victorian technofantasies. Marlowe is a smart writer who is clearly well read, who knows that the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were obsessed with spiritualism. He's also a very good writer, at his best when writing in first person, which the majority of Ether Frolics' tales are. That isn't to say he's a brilliant writer - that will come at some point, I'm sure, once Marlowe is more adept at creating distinct character voices. But this is a minor quibble, since short story collections are best when read one story at a time, digested in the pieces they originally represented. I kept considering the stories as individual entities as well as part of a larger collection, and can imagine I would have been very impressed if I'd read "Cotton Avicenna B. iv" in Issue 13 of South Africa's Something Wicked.

The collection is divided into three groups, which are each linked together by time or concept, but are all connected by being part of a larger story cycle concerning the Etheric Explorers Club, a group dedicated to paranormal investigation. Readers meet a handful of the group's members, with many of the stories centering on Rafe Maddox, a gentleman scholar and erstwhile scientist and his companions. I thought it admirable that Marlowe's publisher chose to have as muted a cover as he did, given that this book could easily have been called Ether Explorations: A Rafe Maddox adventure, as many titles are boilerplated as these days. Steampunk series abound with the formula: Intriguing Title: A So & So and Sidekick Adventure/Tale/Chronicle/Anecdote. Perhaps Marlowe's publisher knew what I do: smart readers aren't attracted to Photoshopped covers and pulpy titles.

That isn't to say that Marlowe isn't entertaining: he is, but in an unconventional way for a modern writer, even a steampunk one. His writing successfully emulates Victorian and Edwardian conventions without aping them. When steampunk writers emulate nineteenth century styles, they either fail or overdo those styles, which fails to appeal to modern audiences. With Marlowe, I often felt I was reading a book that had been left in a time capsule, which is exactly what the framing narratives of Ether Frolics indicate the collection is supposed to be. The only crack in this illusion is the similarity of narrative voices, but I was able to pretend editorial redaction had created that effect, and pretend that once upon a time, there was a group of paranormal investigators called the Etheric Explorers Club, whose adventures took them to the trenches of the Great War, the underground of Victorian London, the far reaches of Antarctica, and deserted islands, whose tales evoked literary resonances with Dante, Shakespeare, Lovecraft, Poe, and Blackwood.

While not all of the stories may leave you astounded, my bet is that at least a few will leave you wanting to return. For me, those tales will be "The Last Post," a tale of the Great War whose literary antecedent includes The Song of Roland and Terminator, "The Grinsfield Penitent," which contains one hell of a moment in a confessional, "The Mud Men of Tower Tunnel," which is like a steampunk X-File, and "Cotton Avicenna B. iv," which is the sequel to "Grinsfield" and "Mud Men," in spirit and in darkness.

If you're looking for excellent short steampunk fiction from one author, I would place Marlowe's Ether Frolics on a par with some of Blaylock's short work. Definitely recommended.

Aug 12, 2013

The Aylesford Skull by James Blaylock

I've been studying Blaylock's work for four years now, since I first read portions of the omnibus collection of his early steampunk works, "The Adventures of Langdon St. Ives." When I was asked to interview Blaylock at a convention, I thought it best to acquaint myself with his non-steampunk writing as well, and read a few of his urban fantasies, such as "Last Coin" and "All the Bells on Earth." I found that I preferred Blaylock's later writing style to that of his steampunk work. This is not to say I find his early steampunk onerous to read. Blaylock has become one of my favourite writers, but if I were to recommend a Blaylock read, it would be one his modern theodicies. Modern readers generally lack the patience required for Homunculus or Lord Kelvin's Machine. Even The Aylesford Skull, a book that is easily one of his best, which combines the best of Blaylock's urban fantasies' villainous horror with the whimsy and romance of his steampunk world, gets reviews which complain about the blandness of Langdon St. Ives as a protagonist.

I suppose this is due to how steampunk is perceived by neophytes to steampunk literature. It was part of my own learning curve, to discover that the bombast of modern steampunk was not part of its genesis. I was pleasantly surprised by the quaint whimsy of Blaylock's early St. Ives' stories. It was a welcome change of pace from the steampunk-as-summer-blockbuster approach of many lesser writers I've had the misfortune to read. But Blaylock is being marketed by Titan Books as a "steampunk legend," matched with covers that don't necessarily pair well with the content behind them. Consider the cover for Lord Kelvin's Machine, which features an attractive young woman chained to an infernal device: while this can loosely be understood as St. Ives' wife, it's hardly indicative of the tone or events of the narrative.

This isn't a bad thing, per se: I support the repackaging and reprinting of Blaylock's steampunk for this new generation of fans, but one can see how expectation might not match delivery. In truth, I consider this the failing of the reader, not the writer. If a steampunk fan reads Westerfeld or Hodder and then turn to Blaylock, they're likely to be disappointed. By comparison to Hoddder's Burton, Langdon St. Ives is bland. But that's part of his appeal, and it's a consistent feature of Blaylock's writing, steampunk and otherwise.

You see, Blaylock writes hobbits as heroes, all the time. Only his hobbits are humans. They enjoy food and drink and the quiet life, and would love to be left alone. Even in Homunculus, St. Ives is a hesitant hero. He wants to attend to his research, but finds himself caught up in greater events due to loyalty to friends.The heroes of Blaylock's books are average, sometimes even bumblers, prone to errors of timing and limited knowledge. They are like an Everyman version of Doc Savage and his Fabulous Five. And the St. Ives of The Aylesford Skull is no different. If anything, he's even more prepared to stop gallivanting about on wild adventures. He is ready to settle down and become a family man, but cannot, since his nemesis, the nefarious Narbondo, kidnaps St. Ives' four-year-old son as part of a much larger scheme.

This is where Blaylock departs from his earlier steampunk: while the heroes remain hobbit-like, a typical Blaylock-crew of regular joes stuck in the middle of bigger events, the villains have taken on the darker shadows of Blaylock's urban fantasies/horror. Narbondo and his cronies retained an element of the comic in Homunculus, while the villain was viewed through the lens of sympathy and compassion in Lord Kelvin's Machine. In The Aylesford Skull, the villains are monstrous, fully capable of murdering a child. They bear greater resemblance to the real-world style of villainy seen in Winter Tides; Blaylock confessed to disliking that villain more than any other. The consequence of a far more violent Narbondo is a decided loss in Blaylock's trademark whimsy, which runs across the board of his seminal steampunk works.

There is still levity, through the brash character of Tubby Frobisher, one of St. Ives' companions, but it is tempered by the darkness of the opponent they stand against, and the desperation they often feel. Time and again, Blaylock brings the reader to the point of hope, only to dash it on the rocks. Again, the average reader will be frustrated by this, used to formulaic plots that demand that the rescue happen at this point, followed by falling action, etc. Blaylock has never been a formulaic writer, and his steampunk is no exception. I will readily admit that Blaylock may not be to the taste of modern readers used to brainless page turners. If you're looking for thoughtful, whimsical, and sometimes dark prose, Blaylock is your man. And while The Aylesford Skull is easily the most accessible of his steampunk writing, I wouldn't recommend starting here. Get the reprints of Homunculus and Lord Kelvin's Machine from Titan. It would be a shame to meet the jack-of-all-trades Bill Kraken in these pages without knowing who he was before, or experience St. Ives' trusty sidekick Hasbro without appreciating his many abilities (especially in the final act of Lord Kelvin's Machine), or realize how much Blaylock has grown as a writer, including women in the previously all-boy's club of his steampunk adventures. That said, with all the lesser steampunk I'm seeing on the shelves, if it's a choice between nearly anything else and The Aylesford Skull, I'd throw my lot in with St. Ives and his less-than-fabulous-fellows.

NOTE: I read the novel while on summer vacation, so took the opportunity to listen to the audiobook while driving the long Canadian distances between destinations, when I could return to the print copy. William Gaminara's narration is superb, and his delineation of voices by accent, pitch, and mannerisms is among the best I've heard.

Jul 31, 2013

Weighted: The Neumarian Chronicles by Ciara Knight

The following is a review of the audiobook for Ciara Knight's Weighted: The Neumarian Chronicles, which is a brief prequel to the full novel Escapement, a dark romance-adventure set in a post-apocalyptic steampunk future.

Barring its fast-paced and thrilling conclusion, Weighted could be adapted for small stage theatre, since the majority of the action takes place in a torture chamber on board an airship. A young girl who possesses supernatural powers has been captured by a wicked cyborg nation, and is being slowly converted into her enemy, part by part. This is nothing new, of course: the opposition of tech to magic is common in steampunk fantasy. Likewise, the torture chamber of cyborg transformation is common in general SF. However, we must always remember that for YA readers, such cliches are often new experiences, and many young readers are loathe to read the "classics" their parents did. Consequently, YA readers may find Weighted a challenging and provocative read/listen, since steampunk adventures about princesses and star-crossed love (which is where the series goes from here) do not often begin with torture.

Some listeners will find Kimberly Woods' reading of the text too childlike, but my own experience was that this helped immensely, given that the two key characters were both young teens. Too often, narration is given to voices far too old to convey the innocence of young characters. Given the horror that the heroine must endure, it's even more effective.

Many steampunk books mistakenly promise dark and grit, but deliver "action that often takes place at night and has lots of people who need a bath." Ciara Knight actually delivers on the promise of dark and gritty steampunk, and it was a refreshing change from steampunk's seemingly endless stream of romantic adventure tales.

The bottom line of any review is the question of whether I'm hooked as the reader. I was hooked into this single story within the first few minutes of listening. And given how this prequel leads into the larger story cycle of the Neumarian Chronicles, I'm hooked into the series as well. Or to be more accurate, reviewing this as a 42-year-old-academic recalling what I thrilled to as a young reader, I know that the 14-year-old in me is interested in seeing where this series goes. Weighted is a very promising start to an intriguing and genuinely dark and gritty steampunk world.

Ciara Knight's Neumarian Chronicles prequel Weighted, is neither high literature nor the best YA steampunk I have ever read, but neither is it the worst by a long mile. However, unlike most YA steampunk I have read, it is dark and gritty, and will appeal to readers who prefer their black marks on white pages (or audio between the silences) to inhabit the shadows, not the light.

Jul 12, 2013

The Art of Steampunk, Second Revised Edition

I came across Art Donovan's incredible Shiva Mandala in 2009 while retooling my lecture on Captain Nemo for the first Steamcon. It was gorgeous, and seemed to be a concrete representation of the three lives of Nemo in Verne, if one ignored the Craniometer at the bottom. I sent Art a request to use images of the Shiva Mandala in my Nemo presentation, and he graciously assented. So Art and his steampunk creations have been on my radar since early in my research.

For obvious reasons of proximity, I was unable to attend the Steampunk art exhibit at the Oxford Museum of the History of Science in 2009/10. I saw images of the exhibit on the web, but steampunk images on the web were already a dime a dozen, and so the event made no lasting impression on me (I was busy with focusing on steampunk, so the art had become tertiary in my attentions). Since that exhibit, the first of it's kind, the exhibit saw a second life in the 2011 publication of the first edition of The Art of Steampunk. I was hip-deep in full-time teaching and finishing the first major draft of my dissertation, and could do no more than smile at seeing Art's name on the cover of a book in a Michael's craft store.
So it was with some pleasure that I received a review copy of the revised second edition of The Art of Steampunk. I don't normally review steampunk art books. Prior to this, my only other review was for Thomas Willeford's excellent project book. While Willeford's Steampunk: Gear, Gadgets, and Gizmos is a great book for those wanting to dip their toe into the world of being a Maker, it has small value for the steampunk scholar. Donovan's Art of Steampunk is of arguably greater value to the academic, since it acts as a print artifact of the exhibit. If steampunk images online were a dime a dozen a few years ago, they're less than a penny now, adjusted for inflation back to the nineteenth century.

An academic study of steampunk art would face a tremendous challenge, far beyond the one I faced in my literary study. Focusing on which books to study for steampunk research would be relatively easy compared to the deluge of devices, contraptions, and artworks a Google search for "steampunk" produces. And while I'd never claim that the art in The Art of Steampunk is comprehensive, it is indicative of what I've seen at conventions and online. It also has the distinction of being the record of a museum exhibit, which indicates a certain level of exclusivity that academia tends to celebrate. And before I am accused of being a snob, please understand, I'm merely showing how The Art of Steampunk could prove a valuable tool in playing the game of academia. Instead of trying to choose from millions of images, the steampunk scholar can use Art of Steampunk to focus their attention on selections from these 26 artists. The second revised edition further highlights how steampunk art continued to change from 2009 to 2013, with 8 artists added to the original 18.
In addition to curating works by some of the best (or simply best-known) steampunk artists in the world, the collection housed in The Art of Steampunk's pages is also global, featuring work from Japan, Canada, Belgium, Australia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the U.S., and the U.K., which would be valuable to steampunk studies in Comparative Literature. The diversity of the art is not only national, but stylistic. A Google search for Steampunk art can turn up pages of digital paintings, modded computers, Etsy jewellery, and neo-Vic fashion, with nary an image like Jessica Joslin's fantastic creatures, Stephane Halleux's whimsical figurines, or Mikhail Smolyanov's gorgeous motorcycle designs.
What Art of Steampunk offers the casual or critical reader is a concentrated, dare I say, canonical collection of steampunk art, along with thoughtful forewords and prefaces by Donovan and Dr. Jim Bennett (director of the Museum of the History of Science), with a strong essay by G.D. Falksen. It is always valuable for the academic to have someone else's statements to work off of, even (or perhaps especially) when you don't agree with them. In this case, I'm largely in consensus with what is said about steampunk in these pages. I especially appreciated the sign that hung at the entrance to the exhibit, which said that, while "steampunk is rooted in the aesthetics of Victorian technology . . . it is not a nostalgic recreation of a vanished past" (33). That's a statement I can really get behind.

Jun 7, 2013

Preview of Pure Speculation 2013 - 20,000 Leagues Under the Spec!

I first spoke at the Pure Speculation Festival here in Edmonton in 2009, when I presented on Steam Wars and Captain Nemo. Since then, I've attended and presented every year. Each year made me love this little, local event more and more. Unlike bigger conventions and expo-style events, Pure Spec is like summer camp for geeks. The lineup of guests is rarely star-spangled, but that also means you'll spend less of your weekend in lineups as well. You'll spend more time sitting around and chatting with geeks of like mind, have more time to talk to vendors and artists, and won't have to hope you run into a guest of honor. Odds are, they're standing two feet from you at any given time.

The first year I attended, I realized the Dungeon Master running that game over there was Monte-freaking-Cook. Or the guy sitting in the back row laughing at my joke was Robert-freaking-Sawyer. Or the cool panel guest who just invited me for drinks was Tanya-freaking-Huff. And if you don't know who any of these people are, then you're the sort of geek who might not enjoy Pure Spec. Because Pure Spec isn't about a photo-op that lasts less-than-five minutes with William Shatner; it's about getting kicked out by security at the end of the day because your conversation about what's wrong with DnD 4E went into overtime. Which ends you up in the hotel lounge for drinks about it, only to realize once again, that you're only two feet away from a Guest of Honor, engaged in a similar conversation.

There's cosplay, but there are just as many cardigans and converse high-tops. It's chill. Be Finn or Jake if you want to, or just wear an Adventure Time shirt. Spend a zillion hours on a Pathfinder Icon cosplay, or just come and enjoy some Dungeon Mastery or board gaming in the games room. And it's all in a pretty intimate setting. You won't need a map after you've been at the Festival for more than ten minutes.

This year, our theme is 20,000 Leagues Under the Spec. You might say it's the Retro-Spec Festival this year, with steampunk guests galore. For our usual compliment of Canadian guests, we have YA writer Arthur Slade of Hunchback Assignments fame and Liana K, co-star of I Hate Hollywood!, who has cosplayed a steampunk Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, and knocked my socks off in 2010 when she co-presented on steampunk with me. Stephen Hunt, author of the steampunk Jackelian series, will be present from the UK via Skype, while the same technology will permit Diana Vick, mastermind behind Steamcon, to chat from the US. Traveling in person from the US, New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger of The Parasol Protectorate will be gracing the Ramada Inn in Edmonton with her steampunk panache. There's a good chance you'll see an encore of us reading together: this time from one of the Etiquette and Espionage books!

So obviously, I'll be there too! With a theme related to Verne, there are many things I could talk about, and if last year was any indication, I'll be talking about them all. Here's hoping I'll be seeing you at the Ramada Inn, November 16-17, 2013.

Here's a link to some video of me recommending steampunk books at our Pure Spec Fundraiser last month, to whet your appetite!

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