Tag Archives: Steampunk

A Bit of Exciting News

Oh, hey guys. What’s up with me you say? Well, not much. You know, the usual. Except for one little thing. I’ll remember it here in a second here, what was it- OH YEAH, WE FINISHED OUR FIRST DRAFT!!!!

That’s right folks, a little more than two months after I wrote an email to Ellie Soderstrom  saying “Hey, you ever think about cowriting a story?” we’ve finished the final scenes in the first draft of said story.

Our novel, currently under the working title, Darn, We Really Need to Come with a Cool Title for This Thing is a love story about a boy and girl living in a steampunk version of ancient Persia. When the girl is taken to be a member of the king’s harem, the boy sets out to free her. But in the process both of them become enmeshed in an ancient battle between the stalwart clockwork soldiers known as the Cogsmen and a powerful alien race who men worship as gods.

Wanna read it? Well you can’t. Probably not for a good while yet. After all it is only a first draft. But I gotta tell you, it’s a strong first draft.There are copious amounts of polish needed before you readers can see it, but the story is basically strong. And the main reason for that comes from the strengths of this collaborative project.

I know I’ve talked about this in the past, but there is just something powerful about having someone you can call up and say, “I’m having some problems with this scene,” and being able to talk it out. Add to that the amount of preplanning we did on our characters’ backstories (very little of which made it into the story, by the way) and world building, and you’ve got a great foundation to build a great story on.

And I don’t want to jinx it or anything, but…I’ve got a good feeling about this one. This could finally be the story that lands us an agent and goes the distance to publication. Fingers crossed.

So what’s next? Well for me it’s on to  the final edits on The Mulch Pile. I’ve had them in hand for a while now, but I’d been putting them off in order to finish this project. For Ellie’s part, I hear she’s working on some kind of script thingy (though personally I still have my doubts if this whole “movie” craze is going to really last.)

And after we’ve let it cool for a bit, we’ll come back to our book and sort out what kinds of changes need to happen to solidify the story.

And after that…well like I said. Fingers crossed.

What about the rest of y’all? Got some exciting writing news? Share it in the comments will you? We’d love to hear about it. Also, if you’ve got a great title idea for a romance involving robots and aliens, help us out here. We’re seriously not sure what to call this thing.

Thaddeus S. C. Lowe and the Steampunk Space Race

So I’ve got this problem see? A little over a year ago I had the idea for a story. Like many of my story ideas it was crazy, weird, and difficult to catagorize into a specific genre. (By the by, I’m petitioning for “crazy, weird, and difficult to categorize into a specific genre” to be it’s own genre, but so far, no luck.)

The basic premise of the story was this: wouldn’t it be neat if there was a space race between the North and South during the American Civil War?

Don’t laugh. It’s not as outlandish as it sounds.

Okay, yes. It’s exactly as outlandish as it sounds. But the the idea was to write a story that seemed believable, a kind of non-fiction account of an alternate history of the Civil War with a dash of steampunk thrown in for good measure.

I wanted to make the story as believable as possible, so I started doing some research into the flight technologies of the era, which were mostly limited to balloons and maybe a few gliders. Almost immediately I stumbled across a gentleman named Thaddeus Sobieski Coulincourt Lowe, a pioneer in the field of aeronotics and head of the Union army’s balloon corps.

When I read Mr. Lowe’s story something clicked in my head. “That’s my guy,” I thought. “He’s the one I’m going to build this story around.”

Why? Well, for starters his name is Thaddeus Sobieski Coulincourt Lowe. If that doesn’t scream EPIC right in your ear then I don’t know what will.

Thaddeus was a self-made scientist and balloonist. He rose from humbled beginnings and eventually became recognized by the scientific community as an expert in his field. When the Civil War started, Thaddeus demonstrated how the use of balloons could greatly enhance the army’s ability to gather inteligence regarding the movement of enemy troops. Despite stiff competition from several other noted baloonists, Thaddeus was eventually offered the position as head of the Union balloon corps where he served until 1863 at which point questions about the effectiveness of the balloon corps were raised, and Lowe resigned in disgust. A few short months later, Thaddeus recieved a letter from a mysterious gentleman who claimed to represent the interests of the Southern forces which proposed Lowe come to work on a project of far larger scope: the building of a device which would “gain far greater heights than a balloon ever could.”

No, wait. That last part didn’t actually happen. I made that up. Because, hey, I’m a writer. That’s what I do.

The problem is that, to a certain extent, I’m writing about real people in real history which means…deep breath, I can do this…research.

I mean really, I graduated high school for a reason you guys.

And sure, I could just go ahead and fabricate whatever I want to. I mean it’s not like anyone’s going to get bent out of shape that my book about space flight during the Civil War is historically inaccurate, but…darn it if these Civil War balloonist guys aren’t the kookiest, craziest, most egotistical nutcases you’ve ever seen in your life. Even if I wanted to just make it all up, I don’t think I could make up anything as interesting as what actually happened.

I’m still planning to go ahead with the book, but it’s going to take me longer than I initially expected. I’m going to have to dig up all the facts I can about Thaddeus S. C. Lowe and his wacky contemporaries. Something about this is starting to smell a lot like work.

But you know what? I’m kind of looking forward to it.

Bizzaro Book Review: The Devil in Chains by Adam Christopher

Today’s book review comes with something of a caveat. I started doing this weekly feature in order to showcase unusual types of stories, as well as quality self published works. However when I read The Devil in Chains by Adam Christopher I was faced with something of a dilemma.

The problem is this. I do not love this book. That’s not a snide way of saying that I hate it. It’s just a simple statement of fact. The problem is I’m a little squeamish about being critical of self published works. After all, these authors don’t have the luxury of a fat paycheck to cushion the blow of criticism. I’ve felt the sting of criticism myself and I know how badly it stings.

I could take the “If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all,” way out, but that feels somehow disingenuous to me. The thing is, there were some things I did quite like about this book, and I want to be able to tell both the good and bad, and let you decide for yourselves. So here goes.

Starting with the bad.

If I had to sum up my main problem with this book in one word it would be this: flat.

The main character for instance seems to be something of a puppet, a mannequin being moved through the various plot points on a track the author had set up for him. He is given a history within the story, but only as an explanation for his knowledge of the dark arts. There is one moment when the protagonist experiences a flashback to a darker time of war and death, but it is a tiny island of color in a still gray sea.

The book is narrated in a very Victorian style of prose which is beautifully executed. However the detached style serves to distance the reader from the plot. For instance when the protagonist is fighting his way through the dark cave to face the eponymous devil in chains he is set upon by a great swarm of insects. While the idea of such an attack is terrifying enough, the calm manner in which it is related feels completely at odds with the true terror of the situation. When reading this passage I found myself wanting to hear the air thrumming with the wings of the cicadas. I wanted to feel a thousand insectile feet crawling across my skin. But instead I was left with a bare description of the facts.

The book is set in a fairly standard steampunk universe which is rendered well enough, but in by end I was asking myself, “Why?” The setting did not appear to be truly central to the plot in any way. In a way it detracted from the terror one might feel if such a story were told in a more familiar and believable setting.

It also had me scratching my head a bit. The story is set in an alternate universe in the year 2001. However every aspect of the culture is a carbon copy of the Victorian era. This left me asking myself, “How is it that the culture could have stagnated for two hundred years while so many technological advances were being made?” I contend that it would have been far more fascinating to see classic steampunk technology set in a world with a society similar to our own.

Now, for the good.

This is not a bad book. I am sure that statement may sound dubious after reading the previous paragraphs, but it is completely true. The author’s command of his prose is both masterful and polished. Despite my problems with the detached feel of the Victorian style prose, the fact that the author was able to slip into that mode so completely is a testament to his skill.

Likewise, the story was enjoyable on the whole. In spite of my earlier complaints about flat characterization, I found the actual events of the story to be completely engrossing. In particular I found the supernatural antagonist’s ability to create an army of facsimiles from the bodies of the newly dead villagers to be terrifying on a very primal level. One of these facsimiles, the Lambert-thing, may be one of the most unsettling villains I have yet encountered in literature.

In summary, in spite of its failings, The Devil in Chains is a truly unique variation on classic horror themes and it deserves to be recognized as such. At only 25,000 words it is a fast and engaging read. And since it is available for free download from the folks over at Smashwords, the price in unbeatable.

I give it ^ of ! stars. Go and check it out and decide its merits for yourself.

A Clockwork Avacado


I love Guillermo Del Toro.  I won’t be talking about him much this post, mostly because I can’t spell his name to save my life, but he’s an amazing dude.  Why do I hold Del Torro in such high regard?  Well a lot of reasons really.  The man understands stories, and character.  He understands how to meld fantasy and reality in a believable way.  He’s a got a wonderful visual style that gives you just a hint that the world of his movies isn’t quite the same world we live in.  But mostly, it’s because the man loves gears.

Yes, gears.  There aren’t nearly enough of them around anymore.  The gear has become something of an endangered species, an animal which has been banished to the bowels of big machinery and occasionally used for decoration in clocks that no longer require them.  In fact I saw a clock the other day that had gears just glued on to it behind the hands.  Can you imagine?  The sacrilege!

For me, the gear represents a era of history when things were simpler.  You will notice I didn’t say better.  I am not one to wish to be able to live in a different century.  I’m fine right when I am thank you very much.  But even so, there is a part of me that has a strange affinity for the mechanical things of the age before electricity, things that ticked and tocked and bonged out the time.

I recently had a conversation with a man who believed that the steampunk genre, was a reaction to mankind’s uncertainty about his future.  If you’re not familiar with steampunk, it’s basically science fiction set in the age before science fiction, in the heyday of steam power and electrical exploration.  And, of course, gears feature prominently.

My first reaction to this man’s claim was complete denial.  Steampunk doesn’t need some deep seated psycological reason to be cool.  It’s just cool.  Can’t we leave it at that?  But then, two things happened.

First, I was shopping at the thrift store, and I found one of those aniversery clocks.  You know the kind with the thing that spins around back and forth on the bottom?  Only most of the ones you see today just have the spinning thing for effect.  But this one was old and covered in dust, and when I whiped the glass of the bell with my sleeve and peered inside, I saw it was one-hundred percent mechanical.  And for a price of only twenty dollars? Jackpot!

The second thing that happened came a couple of weeks later at Christmas.  I wasn’t expecting much for Christmas last year.  I didn’t think there was much I really had to have.  But when I opened a small box from my father I found it contained something better than any gift I could have hoped to ask for.  It was a pocket watch.

“I think it belonged to your great-grandfather,” dad told me. “Possibly your great-great-grandfather.  The history’s a little fuzzy.”

It was, hands down, bar none, the coolest Christmas gift I have ever received.  I keep it on my nightstand by my bed and wind it up approximately twice a day.  It’s too old for me to feel safe bringing it with me anywhere, but every night before bed I pop open the little hinged cover to look down at the delicate hands, and hold it up to my ear to listen to the musical sound of its ticking.

And it was some time around then when I started thinking again about the conversation I had had about the popularity of steampunk.  I still thing the guy I was discussing it with was wrong, but he was less wrong than I was.  He said that steampunk plays on our uncertainty about the future.  But the more that I think about it, the more I think that the fascination many people have with gears and steam is driven by an uncertainty about the present.

Think about it.  Think about where you are right now.  No, not your physical location.  Think about the fact that you’re sitting in front of your computer peering into it’s softly glowing screen.  Do you understand this computer thing? I’m not asking if you know how to use it, I’m asking if you understand how it works.

No.  You don’t.  I don’t care if you’re a expert in computer science with years of programming experience, you’ll never convince me that you have a top-level overview understanding of this magical box we call a computer.  And our lives are filled with this kind of stuff.  Stuff that works, but that we can’t possibly hope to understand.  We take it at faith that these things will go on working, but we’re disconnected from the mechanics of the whole thing by the necessity of our limited understanding.

But when we go back to the devices of a hundred years ago things are different.  Now we can pry off the casing and look into the bowels of the machine and say, “That thing connects to that thing, and this thing over here spins which causes…”

That is why I love clockwork so much.  Because it’s something I can understand.  I can connect to it with my mind, in a way that I will never be able to connect with my computer, or my cell phone, or even those dime-a-dozen digital clocks that have supplanted the less accurate gear-driven watches of the past.

Arthur C. Clarke famously once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  Today, I would argue that the magic is here.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.  Because these magical machines have opened up doors we could never have dreamed of without them.  But while the digital age may be amazing and wonderful, there will always be a part of me that pines for the comprehensible curiosities of clockwork.


[If you’re wondering what happened to your regularly scheduled writing blog, Do Not Panic.  It will return on Monday.  For the time being, I am designating weekends as “whatever I feel like” days, so the topics will be a little more varied. Thanks for reading.]