Tag Archives: steampunk

The Dirigible King’s Daughter – a review

When Alys West guest blogged with me recently about living tradition (https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2019/06/13/referencing-the-tradition-by-alys-west/) she mentioned a Steampunk novel, so I asked for a review copy.

The Dirigible King’s Daughter is a steampunk romance and I liked it as a romance because it deviates from the usual story shape in some interesting ways. We know from early on that the protagonists are in love with each other – it’s never really in doubt, but it’s more a case of whether love is enough and what it might cost them. This is a question I’d like to see asked more often- I think the assumption that love will always be enough is a harmful one that needs challenging.

On the steampunk side, there’s enough action, adventure, dirigibles and other technology to cheerfully tick all those boxes. There’s also (which is really important to me) a political aspect to it. It’s not all titled people having jolly adventures. Alys has things to say about class and the way in which wealth impacts on how people are treated. She also has a lot to say about gender politics, both historical and by implication, contemporary.

What really caught me off guard though was the emotional intensity of the book when it came to the main character’s backstory – which you slowly piece together heading towards the reveals near the end. No spoilers from me! There turned out to be a number of difficult subjects in this book, handled with empathy that resulted in something both moving and engaging.

I usually don’t pick up books in which a female protagonist is defined in the title purely in relationship to a man. I made an exception for this one, and I’m glad I did, because the story is very much about dealing with the implications the central character – Harriet – has to deal with from having been defined to herself and others by her father’s actions. This is a story about a young lady taking control of her life and emerging from beneath the long shadow her father has cast, it is about becoming someone other than The Dirigible King’s Daughter, and I very much liked that about it.

You can read the first 2 chapters here – https://alyswest.com/the-dirigible-kings-daughter/tdkd-sample-v2/

Or find the book on Amazon –  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dirigible-Kings-Daughter-Alys-West/dp/0993288677

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Hopeless Victims

A few days ago, copies of Hopeless Maine Victims landed at my door. For those of you who haven’t been following my exploits for long, an explanation… I do a gothic/steampunk graphic novel series called Hopeless Maine. I do most of the writing and I now also colour it. The artist and originator of the island setting is my husband – Tom. We got together through working on this.

I admit I was anxious – this is the second graphic I’ve coloured and the first time I’ve worked on all the art for a Hopeless book. I coloured chapters and two pages spreads in Sinners, but that didn’t quite feel the same. On the whole, I’m pleased with it. There’s an inevitable process whereby you know more at the end of a book than you did at the start, but the only thing to do is accept it – if a person tried to re-write, draw or colour a book the same thing would happen at the revision stage and the book would never be finished… Deciding when a thing is good enough is never a comfortable process.

This book represents a significant chunk of my working life last year. I learned a lot – and not just the experience of colouring. I learned what my hands cannot take. For the next book we will be moving at a slower pace so as to put less pressure on my hands and give me options on music and crafting. I have the willpower and discipline to push a hurting body and keep working, but that doesn’t make it a good idea! Just because I can doesn’t mean I should.

This weekend we had some of the two page spreads from the new book out at an event – the coloured images are definitely stronger for display than the black and white ones – much as I love Tom’s original pencils. I’ve gone from starting early last autumn anxious about messing up his drawings to feeling reasonably confident that I’m adding something good to the mix.

We’ve got two more books to do to complete the story I first created more than a decade ago. (Tom’s been working on this idea for much longer.) It’s been through a lot of developments since then, and the process of evolving work over that time frame has been interesting. What happens after the final book I’m not sure – the project has expanded with more people coming in to explore it, including music, and a role play game. I’m going to be working more on the role play game soon – which I’m very much looking forward to. I don’t know what happens next, and I’m looking forward to discovering that in the company of fellow explorers.

Hopeless is easy to get in the UK – any bookselling site is likely to carry all three titles – The Gathering, Sinners and Victims. You may see copies of Personal Demons and Inheritance – these are both in The Gathering and we don’t get any money if you buy them as separate titles.

If you are outside the UK, your best bet is Book Depository with its free worldwide delivery…

The Gathering 

Sinners

Victims


I say Hopeless, you say Maine…

As I write this, I’m still recovering from a most amazing weekend. Stroud had its first Steampunk Weekend, run by John Bassett – he’s a very creative local chap and also an excellent organiser of things. When he expressed an interest in Steampunk last year, Tom and I were very excited and piled in as best we could to help. Tom was heavily implicated in sorting out the day program and we both did a fair amount of luring people in.

It was a touch surreal seeing people we normally have to travel to spend time with. It was also rather lovely getting people from afar who we really like and being able to share them with local friends. There’s a particular pleasure in watching people I like connecting with each other, and this is one of the things a Steampunk weekend can be counted on to do. Steampunk is all about the social opportunities and the creativity. There was a lot of cross pollination over the weekend.

We took a Hopeless Maine Home Companion set to the event – a team piece lead by The Keith of Mystery. It was fantastic for me being able to focus on performance in an ensemble session and have someone else hold the space together and make that work. There’s also something very lovely about seeing my project in other people’s hands. We also took a Cup Full of Tentacles set to the Sunday – this is me, Tom and James singing stuff we like to sing (mostly folk) and using it to talk about Hopeless Maine a little bit. The room we were in had fantastic acoustics, which is always a delight.

Saturday night was so emotionally loaded that I’m still recovering. It all revolved around Professor Elemental. He is one of my favourite people. It was something akin to love at first sight for me, encountering his Cup of Brown Joy song on youtube many years ago. Tom got talking to him at an event in America (after some pleading on my part) and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. The Prof and I co-wrote a novel, which was an amazing thing to get to do. He wrote us a Hopeless Maine song as well – which is out there should you feel moved to hunt it down with a search engine.

In Hopeless Maine sets, my son James performs Professor Elemental’s Hopeless Maine song, but the Prof had never heard him do it. On Saturday night, he had James up on stage to do the first verse of the Hopeless Maine song. Which was brilliant. What nearly broke me though, was Cup of Brown Joy – the song I started with. Normally there’s an audience participation bit – “I say earl grey, you say yes please” and then people in the audience yell ‘yes please’ in response to a few rounds of ‘earl grey’. We also normally get assam – lovely, herbal – no thanks and oo-long…. But on Saturday the song went “I say Hopeless, you say Maine.”

And they did.

Some of this is because Professor Elemental asks you to do something in a gig and you do it because of his strange, hypnotic powers and irresistible knees… but even so.

If you want to go to a gig that will make you feel better about yourself, and the world in general, he’s the person to seek out. If you want to come out of a room feeling love and solidarity with everyone else who was there, he will do that to you. If you want a space to laugh and cry and jump up and down and feel good about things, and like there’s room for you in the world and that we might be able to make lovely things together… go and see him. He is medicine for the soul.

https://www.professorelemental.com/


Female presenting body, in a corset

I have a complicated relationship with my body. It is me, and in many ways feels alien and more like something I inhabit than a place I could call home. I look overtly female, but what’s on the inside doesn’t connect easily with that. I can’t bear the performative stuff – issues of energy and feeling fake and so I don’t do makeup or much with my hair, and most of the time I dress in the ways that make me feel comfortable. I can’t present in a more masculine way because of how I feel about trousers – wearing them without a big tunic or dress, I feel too exposed from waist to upper thigh. I mostly want to cover up there, and make unavailable. I can’t stand swimming gear designed for female bodies.

We have a steampunk event in Stroud this weekend. I bought a corset for it. I have worn them before but not in a long time. I’ve spent the last three Saturdays on my high street, promoting the steampunk event, and for two of them, I wore the corset. It was educational.

Before the first round, I was really anxious about how people would respond to me. I was afraid of being grotesque, of disgusting and horrifying people who saw me dressed that way. I was afraid of being laughable. I also had no idea how anyone I knew would respond to me and how I would feel if any attention had a sexualised feel to it.

No one expressed horror or disgust. I had one round of a stranger putting a hand on my hip in passing, and that wasn’t comfortable at all. No one who knew me was weird with me, there were some slightly flirtatious responses but those were gentle enough not to alarm me. I have a lot of anxiety around being read in a sexualised way and having that reading justify treating me in a sexualised way. I have fears about my clothing being taken as my consent or being read as meaning things about me that I do not mean. I want to be able to be playful and expressive with clothing, but this is often a difficult area for me.

I’ve spent a lot of time asking myself what it means to feel attractive and to feel good in my body. Inevitably some of that is relational and about how people respond to me. Sometimes I find it really affirming when it is the visible femaleness of my body that gets a good response. I have a lot of gender identity issues, and feeling allowed to present as feminine, and it being imaginable that I am not hideous is a big deal for me. But other times, that doesn’t work for me at all and I don’t want to be read as gendered.

So much of it comes down to feeling good enough and acceptable. That putting my hairy mammal body into spaces where there are other bodies is not an affront. That I am tolerable. I put that body into a not-tightly-laced corset so that the curve of my hips was visible, and my breasts emphasised. No one laughed at me. No one told me off. No one said anything to me about my gender identity or my sexual identity or what they had decided to infer from my corset. This is a very big deal for me.


The Secret Order of Steampunk Druids

I’ve had a page on this blog for many years about the Secret Order of Steampunk Druids. It’s not a secret, and there’s no order worth mentioning, and yet a number of people have identified with it, and that cheers me. I think it’s good and necessary not to take yourself too seriously…

Dear Secret Steampunk Druids, a thing has happened. I am going to The Town That Never Was in Shropshire this June, and I shall be standing for election as the mayor of that imaginary place. I have been invited to do so as a representative of The Secret Order. I know that I am up against The Cthulhu Party who have slogans like “Why vote for a Lesser Evil?” so it’s going to be tough!

Over the coming month, I’m going to be putting together my manifesto. Clearly it has to include the right to beards. I’m tempted to get some wicker man content in there too.  There have to be trees. It’s an excellent opportunity for some properly Druidic political satire, and if I can get the balance right, it may even be a genuine opportunity for some interfaith work… there’s also colossal scope to make a total arse of myself in quite the wrong way, so I’ll be thinking about this carefully.

Victorian era Druids were amazing, and mad and ridiculous, and consequently fit well in a steampunk setting. But at the same time I’m likely to have an audience of people who have no idea who I am, or what Druidry is, or how my five minutes of yelling relates to anything else. There’s the possibility that I will be some people’s first encounter with Druidry – new or old.

So, what should I be standing for, and what should I be rabidly against? I’m very much open to suggestions!


Rottingdean Rhyme – a review

Rottingdean Rhyme, by Nils Nisse Visser is a steampunk novel set in an alternative Victorian England. The book connects with Amster Damned (reviewed here) but you don’t need to have read that to enjoy this tale.

It’s a short story about smuggling and steam powered aircraft, and community and poetry, written with charm and heart.

When people write alternate history, the decisions about what to leave out and what to include are really important. For anyone writing steampunk, questions of race, gender and class are ever present. How do we think about colonialism, industrialisation, pollution, and the widespread exploitation of the era? There are many dark aspects to our history, and any novel that’s just jolly japes in period costume while pretending the past was a lovely place, is not for me.  One of the reasons I appreciate Nils’ work is that he gets an excellent balance of squaring up to issues while creating an engaging adventure.

The context for smuggling, is poverty. One of the reasons smuggling, like piracy, highway robbery and other such technically criminal activity is so romanticised, is because in so many times and places there have been so few ways of dealing with relentless, grinding poverty. Robin Hood is the poster boy for this sort of thing, but he’s never been alone. These are all figures who, through British history have raised a finger to the ruling classes and pushed back against abject poverty. When you’ve got nothing, the story of someone who pushed back can be worth a great deal.

Early on in this book, one of the characters enthuses about all the technological advances being made, and another, older, wiser figure puts him straight on this. How many people can afford to take advantage of those developments? How many new technologies are playthings for the rich, and how much use are they when children still go hungry? It’s a question that is tragically still relevant.

This is a great little story, full of adventure and memorable characters. There’s a deep love of landscape and people underlying the whole thing, and a political sensibility full of modern relevance. How can we ask anyone to honour laws that keep them hungry and powerless?

More about the book and other titles by Nils Nisse Visser here – https://www.nilsnissevisser.co.uk/ 


After the Asylum

I write this blog post on the morning after getting back from Asylum in Lincoln – the biggest Steampunk event in the UK, one of the biggest on the world, in fact. Perhaps the biggest. It involves a great many people, and is always an epic experience.

I’ve always gone to the event to work. This year and last year, Tom and I have run space for books and comics people. We’ve taken a team, provided daytime entertainment and looked after a venue. This tends to leave us too tired to do much of the evening stuff. But still, it’s a great thing to be part of.

This year, I got to meet Nils Nisse Visser, whose novel – Amster Damned – I’ve reviewed here. I also got to meet Stephen Palmer, whose Factory Girl trilogy I reviewed here. This is no kind of coincidence. We’re picking people who write excellent books, and who have the kind of ideas that translate well into presentations. As this is not a literary festival, most people going have no interest in book readings from authors they’ve never heard of. Most of us are authors most people have never heard of. Most people do not want to go to talks on facets of the publishing industry or talks about the writing process.

However, what people clearly do want is to be entertained, inspired, and engaged. Workshops are good, drink and draws, talks based around concepts, and things you might join in with. We delivered that this year, we delivered it with knobs on. Collectively, we created a space where people could come and hang out, chat, and be amused, and I want to do more of this.

We had an amazing team in the Assembly Rooms – alongside Nils and Stephen, we had Lou Pulford (who writes as Penny Blake) Craig Hallam, multimedia genius Yoms, Jade Sarson who makes beautiful comics, Chris Mole of Professor elemental Comics and Brigantia, Super-minion and MC James Weaslegrease and creator of fabulous devices Ian Crichton. Plus partners, and children. An excellent set of people to spend a weekend with!

Those of you who follow this blog or follow me on social media will recognise many of these names. It may look to a casual glance that what I do is advance my friends. What really happens is that I find people whose work I love and who I want to support, and become friends with them. I believe in creating opportunities and holding permeable edges, and letting people in. I’ll make space where I can for people doing excellent work and putting forward fine ideas.


It’s Only a Clockwork Moon – review

It’s Only a Clockwork Moon is the second story in Billy O’Shea’s Kingdom of Clockwork series. I think you could jump in here, but it would definitely be better to start with Kingdom of Clockwork, which I’ve already reviewed.

This is a story that unfolds in a distinctly steampunk future where coal is rare and everyone uses clockwork. Clockmaker Nielsen is a bit of a genius for devices, but incredibly naive when it comes to dealing with people and politics. And so he is soon lured into another crazy scheme cooked up by the king, and adventure and mayhem ensue. It’s a very entertaining story.

What particularly interested me about this instalment, is that while Nielsen is at the heart of the story, he’s mostly just reacting to other people. As the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that it’s the women in his life, and women in the wider world who are really moving the action along. We see more of the politics of the wider world here, and it puts our more familiar characters into an interesting new perspective.

Before I started reading this series, I would have told you that I wasn’t the sort of person to get excited about devices in books. It’s an aspect of steampunk that usually does nothing for me. And yet, as the opening pages dealt with entirely human concerns, I realised I wasn’t as in to the story as I had been in the first book. And then, as the device building got underway, I rejoiced! This came as quite a surprise. I love how Billy O’Shea writes the process of creating machines. I’m truly impressed that he’s managed to make me care about this.

More about the book here – https://www.amazon.com/Only-Clockwork-Moon-Kingdom-Book-ebook/dp/B016SC5L6Q


Kingdom of Clockwork – review

Kingdom of Clockwork is, you realise after just a few pages, not set in the past as it first appears, but set in the future, after the fossil fuels run out. It’s a steampunk novel in a speculative era when coal powered steam is not an option. The story is driven by political machinations, as clockmaker Nielsen finds himself lured into the plots and schemes of his king. The king in question may in fact be mad.

The story itself rattles along to good effect, taking the reader in directions I think most people won’t anticipate. The surprises are delights rather than feeling like rabbits out of hats. Each new twist and turn builds a greater sense of how this future world works. The main character and first person narrator, Nielsen, is an innocent out of his depth, and thus able to take the reader with him easily. He’s also a clockwork geek. Now, I’m not a technically minded person and if asked, would have said that the fine details of clockwork would not intrigue me. However, the clockwork in the story I found totally engaging and it really drew me in. It’s very well written.

Charming though the plot and characters are, what made this book a standout for me is the way the author uses the future to speak to the present.

In this imagined future, much information has been lost about the Age of Electricity. The way in which the history is talked about, re-imagined, feared, mythologized and misinterpreted is wonderful. There’s lots to think about here in terms of how we imagine the past – a very Steampunk concern as well.

Billy O’Shea is able to look at our present from a perspective that is truly alien to it – a real feat of the imagination. It enables him to write about how things are now in a way that casts it all in a very different light. His future people do not share our ideas, values and beliefs, but they are influenced by them, and living in a civilization that follows ours. I can’t say too much or there will be spoilers, but I thought this aspect of the book was total genius.

This is a story you can read for the plots, devices and epic adventures – it has much to offer on that score. If you’re the kind of reader who loves layers and extra things to ponder, this is a good book to get your teeth into. I shall be reading the rest of the series if I can – this one stands alone, but it opens up plenty of possibilities for future tales.

Here’s the book on Amazon – https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00LXGSP8Y/ref=series_dp_rw_ca_1  

 


Old Haunts – a review

Old Haunts is the second Alan Shaw book by Craig Hallam– I reviewed the first one here. Book two takes the same sort of format as the first instalment, with a series of action orientated stories with a distinctly steampunk vibe. There’s fiendish devices aplenty, unspeakable magic (often combined with the fiendish devices) Lovecraftian monstrosities, flying machines and steam powered everything.

The main character, Alan Shaw, is clearly an adrenaline junkie, and volume two sees him taking jobs as a privateer, sometimes doing despicable things for Queen and country. Alan isn’t keen on British Imperialism, but he likes being paid to not quite get himself killed, so this is a moral dilemma he’s trying to navigate.

He’s a considered dismantling of the macho hero archetype, and this particularly interests me with Craig’s writing. The classic action hero fights his way through, and may be the last person standing at the end of the book or film. Lovers, comrades, employers and enemies are all there to provide backdrop in the normal scheme of things. It is this habit of thought that the Alan Shaw stories particularly subvert. People don’t die all the time to give the hero motivation. He co-operates, he doesn’t kill people all the time and when he does occasionally kill, he feels it keenly. His life is full of consequences and responsibilities, he has relationships with people. This is key, for me. Action heroes don’t really have substantial relationships in the normal scheme of things. Alan Shaw does, and he feels his attachments keenly and they shape his life.

The underlying themes for me were very much about consequences. What the main character does, for good and ill, stays with him. Sometimes it follows him around, wanting help, or revenge, or explanations. He doesn’t get to blow things up and move on to the next story, all possible baggage burned away before the next round starts. He’s not a man alone, he needs friends, lovers, family. Sometimes he needs rescuing and looking after. Background characters don’t have to be daft, or weak or vulnerable to make him look good, either.

I like this book greatly because the hero is not your standard issue cool and capable man alone, but a far more interesting and complex human.

More on the author’s website – https://craighallam.wordpress.com/tag/the-adventures-of-alan-shaw/

And you can buy the book here – https://www.amazon.com/Haunts-Adventures-Alan-Shaw-Book-ebook/dp/B078SJ7415/