Review: City of a Thousand Planets

Valerian Poster

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Sometimes a good thing is worth waiting for. Fifty years after the debut of the French space adventure comic series Valérian and Laureline, these intrepid heroes have reached the big screen. Valerian is the creation of writer Pierre Christian and illustrator Jean-Claude Mézières. The series has won numerous awards but few people know it in the English-speaking world. Though I haven’t yet read this long running series (it would give Doctor Who a run for its money) judging by the movie, it must be pretty impressive.

Valerian follows the 28th Century adventures of government agent Major Valerian (played by Dane DeHaan) and his partner and love interest, Sergeant Laureline (Cara Delevingne.) The story’s exotic settings include the giant multi-species space station Alpha and the paradise world of Mul. The film is visually stunning and replete with the usual CGI spectacle. The action is non-stop but well paced, not needlessly frenetic like, for example, J.J. Abram’s recent Star Trek and Star Wars movies.

Though “City of a Thousand Planets” is not the most inspired title, I’m at a loss to think of a better one, except perhaps “Series that Spawned a Thousand Imitators.” As I watched the move, I was struck by the number of elements I’d seen in other sci-fi TV shows and movies, including Star Wars, Star Trek, Avatar, The Fifth Element, and Babylon Five. Since the Valerian comic series has been around longer than most of them (and almost as long as Star Trek,) we can guess who was plagiarizing whom. The Millenium Falcon, to name just one example, looks an awful lot like Major Valerian’s spaceship.

Overall, the movie was quite enjoyable but no masterpiece. It couldn’t live up to its amazing trailer, which features a pastiche of the movie’s most spectacular images set to the Beatles song “Because.”

The story is interesting, though not terribly original. I correctly predicted many of its plot turns, which is always disappointing. The main characters are likable though their acting is a bit flat at times. In fact, my favorite performance was by pop singer Rihanna as Bubble the shape-shifter. In particular, I found DeHaan’s youthful appearance jarring. He barely looks old enough to drive a car, let alone pilot a spaceship. The movie’s lowest points revolve around the romantic banter between him and Delevingne, which was at times painfully cliché. The action scenes made up for that.

Flaws aside, Valerian is still a must-see for any science fiction buff, especially Star Wars aficionados who loved the originals. I’d rate it 4 out of 5 stars.

International Tesla Day

N_Tesla

Nikola Tesla, 1898

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Happy Birthday, Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla was born 161 years ago today in Smiljan, Croatia. Known as a pioneer of radio, the father of alternating current, and the archetypal “mad scientist” he was awarded at least 278 patents. A lifelong eccentric, he never married nor had any romantic relationships, though he’s rumored to have been infatuated with a pigeon. Some of his ideas were as offbeat as he was. He proposed free power, transmitted wirelessly, and conceived a “death ray” that he believed would make war impractical. Another well-known aspect of Tesla’s life was his feud with Thomas Edison over which was better, alternating current or direct current. Ironically, he received the Edison Medal from the American Institute of Electrical Engineers in 1916. Tesla has become a cult figure in recent years and has appeared as a character in numerous fictional works including The Prestige by Christopher Priest (also a movie by Christopher Nolan), Goliath by Scott Westerfield, Wonder of the Worlds by Sesh Heri, and Fidelio’s Automata by yours truly. Background info from Wikipedia/Infogalactic.

me_as_tesla

Modern Tesla Imitator

Happy Birthday America

peaceflaggraphic

Peace Flag, image from SoCal Flags, https://www.amazon.com/SoCal-Flags-Polyester-Weather-Resistant/dp/B01CF2THTK

It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were celebrating the Bicentennial and everything was red, white, and blue. Now, 41 years later, we’re having a bit of difficulty getting along with each other, and with the world at large. If America can manage to stay together, I propose we adopt a new version of the Stars and Stripes, one that expresses our most important mission for the 21st century: Peace! Happy Fourth, everyone!

 

 

Cool Summer Reading

KeepCoolIoneD

When I was a kid growing up in North Dakota, winter was the best time for reading a good book. Here in Arizona, however, the summer is the miserable season. This June has been a particularly hot one, with the temperature hitting 120. So when you’re lounging around in your air-conditioned house, what’s good to read? You’re in luck because Arlys and I are offering our e-book Professor Ione D. and the Epicurean Incident for FREE on Amazon this coming July and August. And if you happen to be attending Westercon 70 at the Tempe Mission Palms, come see us on our steampunk-related author panels on 11 AM Sunday and 5 PM Monday.

 

An Auspicious Announcement

SteampunkCouple

Just your average steampunk couple

This coming weekend, Arlys and I will be appearing on two steampunk-related panels at Westercon 70 at the Mission Palms Resort in Tempe, Arizona. To celebrate, we are offering a special promotion for our new e-book, Professor Ione D. and the Epicurean Incident. This is the newest our series of steampunk adventures featuring our feisty heroine as she attends the First Epicurean Exhibition in London. This e-book will be available for download absolutely FREE on Sunday and Monday, July 2nd and 3rd. We make only one request: if you enjoy this book, please leave a review on Amazon. Even a sentence or two would be great. It would help us generate publicity and we would very much appreciate it. (Link)

Panels featuring Yours Truly are as follows:

“The Future of Steampunk in Writing,” with David Lee Summers
Sunday 11 AM -12 noon
David Lee Summers has written over a dozen science fiction and fantasy novels, including the “Clockwork Legion” series of Western-themed steampunk.

“Steampunk before it was Steampunk,” with Katherine Stewart.
A discussion of “proto-steampunk” in books and media before the term was coined.
Monday 5-6 PM

We hope to see you there!

 

Ione D: Birth of a Steampunk Heroine

Professor Ione D

Angelique Endres as Professor Ione D.

Ione D began with an effort by my then-girlfriend Arlys to promote my new steampunk novel, Fidelio’s Automata. She conceived of the character as a young Victorian-era girl who would travel to places mentioned in the book and write about aspects of the local culture, especially the cuisine. Her “Ione D” Facebook posts featured photos of the meals she prepared featuring Cuban, French, Western, and Native American dishes. The name was an homage to her parents, Ione being her mother’s middle name and Dee being her father’s. To create a face for the character, Arlys photographed her daughter Arlys Angelique in steampunk regalia of her own design.

I found the character to be so charming that I decided we would write a novel to give Ione D her own adventures. First was the matter of backstory: Ione would be the daughter of a US ambassador living in London, which would allow her to be a world traveler at an early age. Her mother is French and provides the impetus for her interest in cooking. Then there was the matter of the surname, which Arlys had envisioned as the initial “D” only. I discovered that there is a Welsh river which is called Dee by the English and Dfrdwy (differ-dwee) by the Welsh. Although most Welsh people have English family names, we decided that Ione’s Welsh-American father would be an exception, and take his difficult-to-pronounce name from that river.

I had always intended to list Arlys as my co-author, since she created the character, and gave her veto power over the character’s actions. To my delight she embraced an equal role in the writing, tirelessly editing and rewriting the manuscripts. Though the story lines and settings are mostly of my creation, Arlys has written a significant portion of the dialog, and she’s conceived many of the scenes that appear in the Ione D books. Without her participation, these stories would not be half as good as they are. She keeps me from going off into boring explanations and exposition and provides the woman’s perspective that we need to successfully write a first-person female character.

Epicurean Incident was my idea for the first book, but it proved to be more challenging than I’d expected. First of all, it is based on a cooking contest, something that’s largely outside my area of expertise. We re-wrote the original draft several times. In the interim, I stumbled upon a sci-fi folk tale competition and decided to write a short story in which Ione encountered magical artifacts in ancient ruins. By the time I was halfway done with this, I realized I’d misunderstood the contest parameters, and that what we had written didn’t fit them at all. That didn’t matter, because Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel, a novella featuring the adventures of a 19-year old Ione in Guatemala, had captured our heart. It became the first published Ione D book, predating Epicurean Incident, which is set in 1901, when Ione (born 7/7/1877) is 24 years old and the youngest female college professor in America.

Once Mayan Marvel was finished, we returned to the matter of finishing Epicurean Incident. One factor that helped us was watching the popular anime Food Wars, which features teenagers competing for dominance in an elite cooking school in Japan. It convinced us that a story line involving cooking could have an audience. We also decided to make it a murder mystery, which provided an additional challenge. The original story was too linear, containing none of the misdirections that a mystery novel requires. We needed to learn to think a bit more deviously.

Now that Epicurean Incident is completed and posted to Amazon’s Kindle Direct, we can’t help but look forward to Ione’s next adventure, this time on the island of Crete. Ione is intelligent, spunky, and kind, but not infallible. She does not hesitate to speak her mind, but she is often indecisive in matters of love.

Search “Vaughn Treude” on Amazon.com. Ione’s new adventure should be available shortly. It’s a great read for young adult and other age groups.

 

Happy (Real) Victoria Day!

Queen Victoria, Photograph by Alexander Bassano, 1882

Queen Victoria, Photograph by Alexander Bassano, 1882

Today is the 198th anniversary of the birth of England’s celebrated Queen Victoria, namesake of the Victorian Era, which lasted from 1838 to 1901. It’s an official holiday in Canada, though they’ve adopted the American custom of moving people’s birthdays to Monday, so it was not observed today. It was also celebrated in the United Kingdom as “Empire Day” and later “Commonwealth Day,” until they moved it to March for some reason.

It’s also the day on which Arlys and I had planned to release the second Ione D adventure, Professor Ione D and the Epicurean Incident, in e-book form. It is exactly a year since we released the first Ione D book. And to answer the obvious question, Victoria Day seemed to us like the ideal day to promote a steampunk book. Sadly, we’re delaying the release, because we’re not quite done with the final edit. We estimate this should take us about a week. Stay tuned for more info, and Hail Victoria!

See our book Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel, available as both e-book and paperback on Amazon.

Starchild of a Hipper God

Review, Guardians of the Galaxy 2

Rocket Raccoon and Baby Groot

Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) a.k.a. Trash Panda

Guardians of the Galaxy is yet another Marvel Comics series that has been made into a popular movie franchise. Like the first, it features Chris Pratt as Earth-born star pilot Peter Quill and Zoe Saldana (is she in every sci-fi action movie?) as his green-skinned kick-ass love interest. It’s a lot like the first installment of Guardians, lots of fun and non-stop humor. There are the same classic cliché space opera characters in the same over-the-top action sequences. The biggest change is that the walking tree alien Groot is now Baby Groot, who can be insufferably cute at times.

It’s not quite as cool as the original, though sequels seldom are. The uber-powerful alien-as-god plot has been done before, notably in the Star Trek franchise, and Kurt Russell does a bang-up job as Ego, Quill’s long-lost father. The animation is spectacular, but these days, that’s to be expected. The only drawback is that it will be difficult to top that in the inevitable next movie.

The best thing about Guardians is that there is no overt political message unless the monomaniacal Ego is supposed to remind us of the “Hitler of the week” – there are so many to choose from! The gold-skinned Sovereigns, probably the film’s most original concept, seem to be a good swipe at the self-righteous elitist-type, whoever you conceive them to be.

As usual, the best characters are the (ostensibly) bad ones, and my biggest complaint is that my favorite one gets killed off at the end. This is the occasion for one of the most over-the-top schmaltzy space funeral scenes ever.

I was never bored, even during the tearjerker part, and the only time I said “WTF” to myself was the scene in which Rocket Raccoon (voice of Bradley Cooper) creates a detonator with an “immediate destruct” button that Baby Groot MUST NOT PUSH. It’s a very funny scene with a really weak premise.

All in all, I enjoyed the movie and would recommend it to sci-fi and comic book fans. On the other hand, there’s nothing outstanding that makes it a “must see.” It stands out mainly against a background of the boring hyper-focus-grouped junk that the studios are churning out. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

For adventures of the terrestrial kind check out Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel, now available in paperback!

To Get Ahead, Get a Hat*

Guest post by Arlys-Allegra Holloway

Ione D. for Tea

Photo by @ for book 1 of the Steampunk Adventure Series of Professor Ione D.

Hats were crucial to a respectable appearance for both men and women in Victorian times. To go bareheaded was simply not proper. The top hat, for example, was standard formal wear for upper- and middle-class men. Women’s hats were designed to match their outfits and changed greatly over time. From the top hat and the bowler to a plain straw hat, women redesigned the “manly headwear” of the time to make artistic one-of-a-kind creations.

A woman’s hat in the Victorian era portrayed the very essence of who she was. Many women had a say, if not a hand in their design and construction. Milliners with the experience to please their customers with original designs were highly sought after. Most hat shops were women-owned and operated. Their original creations could cost anywhere from $8 to over $30, which was an extravagant sum at the time.

In the early to mid-1800’s, voluminous skirts held up with crinolines, and then hoop skirts, were the focal point of the female silhouette. To enhance the style without detracting from it, hats were modest in size and design. Straw and fabric bonnets were the popular choices. Poke bonnets, which had been worn during the late Regency period, had high, small crowns and brims that grew larger until the 1830’s when the face of a woman wearing one could only be seen directly from the front. They had rounded brims, echoing the rounded form of the bell-shaped hoop skirts.

The Ultimate Steampunk Hat

Steampunk photo collection of @ Model- Arlys Endres

Now in the 21st century, zteampunk couture has resurrected these wonderful fashions! This science fiction genre and subculture have had the amazing ability to combine the romance of the Victorian era with steam-powered gear-driven vehicles, elaborate weapons and all types of gadgets. Only in the world of steampunk can a girl be coy, sexy and deadly!

In the second book of our steampunk series, Professor Ione D. and The Epicurean Incident, the ladies’ hats are remarkable and match the characters’ personalities to a T. You must read this amazing adventure to discover which lady wears which hat. This exciting novel is scheduled for e-book release on Amazon on May 24th, 2017, Queen Victoria’s 198th birthday.

* Slogan is from a hat company advertisement, circa 1897

Hats, hats, hats!

Photo Collage by @, Hats created by @ for the “Ione D” Steampunk Adventure Series by Vaughn Treude and Arlys Holloway.

Author’s Note:

Please peruse my other articles on Victorian Fashion, cooking and all things Steampunk on vaughntreude.info.

Sources:

Wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorian_fashion#Hats

The Parisian Hat Company History

It’s All About the Dress

Guest post by Arlys Holloway

Victoria's wedding dress

Victoria’s wedding dress. Portrait painted by Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1847, as an anniversary present for Prince Albert.

We all know the importance that the wedding dress carries in our culture.

Everything must be right with “The Dress” for that special day. Your author has been through such an event, so I understand. The prospective bride must consider the cost, color, fabric, theme, style, and construction, as well the movement of the dress and train, and the ease of exit from the dress. It is not an easy task to choose the right wedding gown.

Throughout the Victorian era and the subsequent Edwardian era, tradition, propriety, and superstition reigned. For most of history, women rarely purchased a dress specifically for their wedding day. The bride would typically wear her finest dress to the ceremony, even if it was a dark color. In fact, many brides wore black during this time. Though examples of brides wearing white can be traced back as early as 1406, the 1840 marriage of England’s Queen Victoria to her cousin Prince Albert is considered the archetypal white-wearing occasion. Described as “dripping with orange blossoms,” her stunning white dress inspired thousands to follow suit. Almost a decade after the wedding, Godey’s Lady’s Book, one of the first women’s magazines in America, declared that white was the most fitting hue for a bride, though the tradition was not yet set in stone.

Women of that time were flocking to dressmakers or making their gowns themselves. But what color should they pick? Funny you should ask. Here is poem from the Edwardian era to help brides avoid a fatal mistake in choosing the wrong gown color.

Married in White, you have chosen right,
Married in Grey, you will go far away,
Married in Black, you will wish yourself back,
Married in Red, you will wish yourself dead,
Married in Green, ashamed to be seen,
Married in Blue, you will always be true,
Married in Pearl, you will live in a whirl,
Married in Yellow, ashamed of your fellow,
Married in Brown, you will live in the town,
Married in Pink, your spirit will sink.

Well, that pretty much leaves white as the color of choice.

A dress that had been purchased specifically for the ceremony or was already had in the bride’s wardrobe was often worn by her long after the wedding. But that practice carried with it certain superstitions — shocking, I know. Of course, a lady would never wear her wedding dress to a funeral, wake, last rights or vigil, or any other depressing occasion. She also would never wear it to a close acquaintance’s wedding. Many women decided instead to pass the dress down to their daughters. However, in some higher circles, it was thought to be bad luck to wear someone else’s wedding dress even if it had been your mother’s or grandmother’s.

Most likely due to all the superstitions and restrictions on where and when it was appropriate to wear one’s wedding dress after the wedding, it became popular to pack the gown away. Yet storing it away was looked upon as wasteful. So for some frugal gals, it became commonplace to repurpose the dress instead, turning it into doilies, handkerchiefs, or even curtains, which would be given as gifts or placed in a hope chest.

Skeleton Bride

Photo by @. My actual wedding dress from 1985 Repurposed 2016.

Today we are encouraged to store our wedding dresses. They are usually very expensive and the thought of taking them apart would make one nauseous. We pay to have them shrink-wrapped, framed or pack them away with cedar. I find the thought of passing down the gown to your daughter, granddaughter or great granddaughter very nostalgic and sweet. However, styles change and what my mother wore on her special day may not be for me.

Here we are in 2017. In these enlightened times, very few women stick to any kind of tradition. They find the dress that speaks to them. I have seen some weddings where the bride wears a vintage style gown. But best of all, I have seen some amazing steampunk wedding dresses and I find that to be very cool. My recommendation is, wear whatever you want.

Steampunk Bride Photos

Photos by @ Steampunk Series. Model Arlys Endres

Sources:

http://www.vintageroyalwedding.co.uk/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedding_dress_of_Queen_Victoria (photo, Wikimedia commons)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedding_dress

http://literary-liaisons.com/

The Etiquette of Courtship and Matrimony: with a Complete Guide to the Forms of a Wedding, published in 1852

Cassells Household Guide, New and Revised Edition (4 Vol.) c.1880s [no date]

Check out my steampunk novella, Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel (with Vaughn Treude) now available as an illustrated paperback on Amazon.