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

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!

 

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

Media Monday: Review, Rogue One

Rogue One movie poster.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One was a pleasant surprise. I must admit that my expectations were low, due to the disappointment that was The Force Awakens. I hadn’t been paying much attention to the media, so going in I didn’t know where it fit in the Star Wars time line. Though it’s being billed as a “stand alone” film, Rogue One fills in the gap between the 1977 first movie (also known as Episode IV) and Revenge of the Sith (Episode III.) It’s exciting, action-filled, and best of all, it’s original.
The screenplay was written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy, based on a story by John Knoll and Gary Whitta. Yet another director, Gareth Edwards, takes the helm for this installment, and he does an impressive job. The story line is fairly straightforward: the characters find out about an insidious Imperial plot to build a “planet killer,” which turns out to be the original Death Star.
One of the more satisfying things is how the movie explains one of the most glaring flaws in Episode IV: why does the Death Star have an explained weakness?
Like the force awakens, there’s a spunky female protagonist, Jyn Erso, played by the always delightful Felicity Jones. Unlike Force’s Rey, Jyn doesn’t benefit from a sudden unexpected blossoming of Jedi powers. She has to use her brains and daring to achieve her goal, to steal the plans for the Death Star.
It also introduces an endearing non-human character: the cynical android K-2SO voiced by Firefly alumnus Alan Tudyk. Maybe this is because, as our society becomes more automated, we need to give machines a personality.
According to Wikipedia, one of the film’s controversial aspects was the use of computer-generated imagery to portray the deceased actor Peter Cushing, and to show Carrie Fisher as a much younger woman. I expect we’ll see a lot more of this in the future.
I’d also like to comment on another controversy that’s arisen in the alternative media: that Rogue One serves the “social justice” narrative by casting non-white and Hispanic actors (such as Diego Luna as Cassian Andor) in the heroic roles, while the bad guys are all white. If this was indeed a goal, it didn’t detract from the movie. After all, the Star Wars saga is supposed to take place “long ago in a galaxy far away.” The fact that the characters are even human is one of those unexplainable coincidences of science fiction.
I’d like to close this review by wishing the great Carrie Fisher a speedy recovery from her recent heart attack.

If you like science fiction, you’ll enjoy my novels and stories on Amazon.

TECHNOLOGY TUESDAY: Introducing the Alt-Internet

The Gab.ai logo

The Gab Logo (Ribbit!)

The greatest thing about the Internet is the free informational tools. It’s difficult to remember what life was like before convenience of Google, Wikipedia, Twitter, and Facebook. Lately, though, these sites have been the focus of controversy. Conservatives and libertarians have long suspected them of left-wing bias, and the leaked Clinton emails have confirmed it. Yes, they’re private companies that can set their own rules, but they need competition. Recently, alternatives have appeared: Gab, a free-speech version of Twitter, InfoGalactic, a dynamic fork of Wikipedia, and Duck Duck Go, a privacy-focused search engine.
I heard about duckduckgo.com at a libertarian conference in 2012. Its motto is “the search engine that doesn’t track you” the way Google does. It has a number of other handy features that Google doesn’t. The best thing is the consistency of its searches; it doesn’t consider your previous searches when returning results. I’ve used it for a while now. It’s just as useful as Google, without the creepy suggestions based on my search history.
InfoGalactic debuted recently as an alternative on-line encyclopedia. Currently, most of its pages are clones of those on Wikipedia. This is legal because of Wikipedia’s Creative Commons license. Infogalactic’s administrators are attempting to create an environment free of bias. They’re replacing Wikipedia’s community-editing feature with a more sophisticated set of tools and algorithms. In place of Wikipedia’s ideologically motivated editing staff, they plan to introduce personalized content controls that will allow each reader to select their own viewpoint. This could be useful for debaters looking to hone their arguments. It would also meet the needs of people who might want to filter their information, for example, devout Muslims. So far there’s not much divergence from Wikipedia, and its servers have been rather slow. I’m looking forward to seeing major changes in ideologically sensitive articles.
Gab, the Twitter alternative, is still in beta. Its address is gab.ai, “ai” being the domain of the island of Anguilla. Gab aims to provide an alternative without PC-based censorship. It forbids only material that is legally problematic: child pornography, incitement to violence, and unauthorized release of personal information. The frustrating aspect is that there’s currently a waiting list, but I only waited a few days for my account. At present, I’m using Gab as an opportunity to gain followers as an early adopter.
Facebook will be harder to replace. A promising site called “this.com” started last year but already went belly up this July. () The best alternative seems to be Disapora.com, which debuted in 2010 and is based on a decentralized server model. Like duckduckgo, it pledges not to abuse personal data. It hasn’t yet lived up to its hype, but it’s hanging in there.
In the coming months, I plan to use these alternative sites as much as possible. I encourage you to check them out. I’ll keep you posted on my experiences.

If you’re into alternatives, you’ll want to read my stories. Check them out on Amazon.

Review – Throne of Bones

I first heard of Vox Day in conjunction with the #Gamergate scandal. Day, also known as Theodore Beale, is a writer and game developer who’s become controversial for his outspoken conservatism. My first encounter with his work was a short political book called SJW’s Always Lie, a harsh critique of the so-called “social justice warriors.” The book outlines a simple strategy for protecting oneself from the fanatical progressives who try to silence anyone to the right of Bernie Sanders. Despite his tendency for hyperbole, I enjoyed Day’s abrasive style, and decided to take a look at his fiction. I selected his 2012 fantasy novel Throne of Bones, Arts of Dark and Light, Book One.

In its print version, Throne of Bones is approximately 850 pages, almost as long as a George R. R. Martin work. Due to my busy schedule, and the fact that I’m always reading several books at a time,it took me several months to finish it. But I persevered, and I found it quite enjoyable.

My biggest complaints about Throne apply not to this specific work but to the fantasy genre in general. I prefer novels of about half that length, so I can finish them in a reasonable about of time. There are also too many point-of-view characters and story threads. Just when I get caught up in one of these narratives, it switches to another. If there were just 2 or 3 threads, I’d read on, expecting the author would get back to it soon. When a novel has 7 or 8, I become frustrated.

Nevertheless, there is a lot to recommend this book. Of the plethora of characters, most are well-rounded and interesting. You might expect a notorious radical like Day would create characters who are purely good or evil. Thankfully, he does not. In that way, he’s a lot like (he’ll wince at this comparison) Game of Thrones Martin. This depth of character is complicated by their mores of their world, which are nothing like our modern, tolerant ways. Take for example the general Valerius Corvus, who has his own nephew executed for disobeying orders during a battle. He is a tough, unyielding bastard but is also one of the book’s most sympathetic characters.

The novel’s setting is Selenoth, a Tolkien-like fantasy world. It contains the expected races of humans, elves, dwarves, goblins, and orcs, with some interesting twists. In particular, the elves are not noble and pure like Tolkien’s; they possess a cruel sense of humor and have a xenophobic, genocidal history. Humans on Selenoth are organized loosely in three political groups. The first and most prominent in the story are the Amorrans, denizens of a Roman-type empire that speak a Latin-like tongue and practice a strict, quasi-Christian religion. They rule over a vast number of subservient cities and territories, none of whom possess Amorran citizenship. Secondly, there is Savondir, a neo-French kingdom with a complex aristocracy. Unlike Amorr, which forbids the use of magic on pain of death, Savondir employs battle-mages as part of its military forces. In the third group are the barbarian Dalarn, Viking-like reavers who inhabit the Wolf Islands in the far north.

Much of the action consists of warfare within and between the various human groups, as well as battles against the blood-thirsty, cannibalistic goblins. As I said before, Day does not soften these cultures in line with modern, Western sentiments. There is plenty of killing of and by the protagonists. Amorran martial discipline is enforced by the threat of summary execution. Male-female sex roles are similar to those seen throughout human history, with women taking a subordinate (though often conspiratorial) role. Only among the elves do females have a prominent place in society, due to the magic powers of their virginal sorcerer-priestesses.

My biggest issue with Selenoth society is the imbalance that should be caused by the Amorran ban on magic. I don’t understand how they would not be defeated by Savondir or the elves, both of whom have a magical advantage. The long-lived elves are relatively aloof from human concerns, but the Savonner nobles are as cruel, arrogant, and power-hungry as their Amorran counterparts.

Regardless of what you may think of Day’s politics (and I personally couldn’t care less about an author’s ideology,) Throne of Bones is a great read. If I were to subtract a star for anything, it would be the book’s marathon length and complexity.

Review – Star Trek Beyond

Once again, I missed a golden opportunity. I saw the latest installment of Star Trek on the very first night and then neglected to write my review for a whole week.

Star Trek, Beyond is the third in the series since the “reboot” which changed the Trek timeline and replaced the original cast with fresh new faces. I’ll admit that I was appalled at first, but I’ve grown fond of the new cast. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto do Kirk and Spock really, really well. And tragically, just as we were getting to know him, Anton Yelchin, a.k.a. Chekov died in an accident shortly before the movie’s release.

This story was similar in formula to the previous two post-reboot movies, but a bit better, perhaps because Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty, and also created the brilliant zombie spoof Shaun of the Dead) wrote the screenplay. The pace is less frenetic than its predecessors, and that’s a good thing. It gives the characters more time to spout quotable lines, none of which I happen to remember at the moment. There are of course relationships carried over from previous shows: Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are on the outs, and their improbable relationship drives much of the story’s interpersonal dynamic. There’s a scene in which we learn that Ambassador Spock (young Spock’s other-dimensional self) has died, probably more of a nod to Leonard Nimoy’s passing than an actual story element.

I’d like to note that Sulu’s character (played by John Cho) is portrayed as gay, no doubt an homage to the original series’ actor George Takei. This fact didn’t affect the story in any way, and the choice struck me as a bit too PC. I’d have preferred they’d selected some other random character to carry the rainbow flag into the 23rd century.

As with the last two Star Trek movies, Beyond opens with one or more of the primary characters doing Something Important. In this case, Kirk is presenting a peace offering from one warring race to its adversary. Unlike the over-the-top volcano incident in Into Darkness, this seems more like something a Starfleet captain would actually do. By the way, the scene is quite funny, as well as relevant (to say how would be a spoiler) to the rest of the story.

The plot revolves around the Enterprise’s mission to answer a distress call from a ship that’s crashed on an isolated planet in the middle of a nebula. This nebula is not the dense, electrically charged cloud as these things have been portrayed in classic Trek. It’s more like Saturn’s rings in spherical form; a huge field of rocks, boulders and dangerous space junk, reminiscent of the classic “Asteroids” video game. I’m no astrophysicist, so I can’t say which of these views is more realistic.

Kick-ass women are a staple in sci-fi these days, and Beyond has one, of course, the black-and-white-skinned Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), the only survivor of a crash on this isolated world. I liked the way they emphasize her intelligence as her primary strength, and the fact that she’s survived on this world for years, which is a more satisfying explanation of her expertise than innate talent. (You guessed it; I’m pointing to the egregious example of Rey in Star Wars The Force Awakens.) Jaylah is also an aficionado of late-twentieth-century earth music; I had to laugh when one of the characters referred to Public Enemy as classical music. This is setup for a battle scene that’s so ludicrous that it becomes ironically cool. I like the Beastie Boys, but to see their music being used as a weapon? I can’t decide whether it’s brilliant or idiotic.

The villain, Krall (Idris Elba) is at first quite intriguing. He’s powerful, evil, and conniving, with a look reminiscent of G’Kar from Babylon-5, and a Road Warrior kind of presence. However, I found his back-story (which I won’t reveal here) to be an enormous letdown. I suspect that the writers were trying a bit too hard to surprise the audience.

In conclusion, I’d say Star Trek Beyond is well worth seeing for any sci-fi fan with a reasonable sense of humor. This was not the most outstanding of the Trek movies, but it was a definite improvement on the previous one. In these last couple of years the movie business has been plagued with sequels and franchise entries that ranged from disappointing (the aforementioned Star Wars, which I’ve seen) to terrible (Ghostbusters – considering the reviews, I’ll wait for that one to come to Netflicks, OK?) It was good to see a decent one for a change.

Kiznaiver, or “I Feel Your Pain”

Kiznaiver

Kiznaiver, one of the spring 2016 offerings of the Japanese animation studio “Trigger,” just aired its final episode last weekend. It was better than I expected; I’d rate it at least 4 stars out of 5. Trigger is most famous for the cult favorite Kill La Kill, an over-the-top satire featuring lots of gratuitous (near) nudity and violence, the premise being a bizarre conspiracy to rule the world through malevolent clothing. Kiznaiver is nowhere near that edgy, but it maintains Trigger’s characteristic quirkiness in a show that has a much broader appeal.

The story takes place in the fictional Sugomori City, which was founded years earlier to advance the utopian goal of the elimination of war and violence. Though this idealistic vision seems to have been forgotten, a small group of scientists continues to conduct psychological experiments on unknowing, unwilling subjects. They select seven high school students to receive the “Kizna” (Japanese for “connection”) surgery, which leaves no visible sign except a strange mark on the arm. Its purpose is to connect the study’s participants, so that if any of the seven feel pain, they all do. Furthermore, the sensation is divided in intensity as it is distributed among them all. A side effect is to lessen any injury that one of them suffers. In the first episode, one of the seven falls head-first down a long flight of stairs and suffers only a minor concussion.

Despite its weird science-fiction premise, the show’s intriguing characters save it from being dry and contrived. The seven test subjects begin as anime stereotypes: Yuta the playboy, Tenga the thug, Chidori the nice girl, Nico the cute lolly, Honoka the ice-cold bitch, Hisomu the eccentric freak, and Katsuhira the blank-slate protagonist. Though they are classmates, they have nothing else in common. The Kizna experiment forces them to associate and to overcome numerous trials together. In the process, they share their hopes and fears and reveal the true depths of their personalities. The eighth major character is the beautiful, enigmatic Sonozaki, a fellow teenager who acts as their handler. The show hints at her past association with Katsuhira, which he remembers only through disturbing dreams. Both were involved, as small children, in an earlier experiment that had tragic consequences.

As for the seven test subjects, there’s a constant tension between those who crave acceptance and companionship from the group (Nico), those who reject it (Honoka) and those who just don’t care (Katsuhira.) While the teenagers deal with the burden of shared physical and emotional pain, they become involved in a complex romantic polygon, in which everyone’s love interest is focused on someone else. The most prominent character arc is that of Katsuhira, a boy who feels little emotion and no physical pain, who learns to rediscover his humanity.

For all the heavy moral and ethical questions that Kiznaiver explores, it is never preachy. No one is totally good or evil. The emotionally damaged Sonozaki has a good reason for her lack of empathy. Even the experiment’s ringleader, Sugomori’s scheming mayor, and the two high school teachers who serve as his bungling hench-people, seem to have good intentions. As with most anime series, the show has comic elements, including the omnipresent mascots called Gomorin. These anonymous city workers wear suits of bizarre lumpy creatures whose distorted faces resemble the “Kizna” mark. The show’s worst feature are its groan-worthy episode titles, including this gem: “Wahoo, It’s a Training Camp! Let’s Step in Deer Poop and Have Pillow Fights! Go, Go!”

At times, Kiznaiver borders on melodrama, but somehow the show maintains a balance between message and entertainment. I see it as an allegory about what it means to be human, the importance of community, and the ways people deal with loss. Political animal that I am, I couldn’t help drawing parallels to political and economic systems. The Kizna project, by forcing people to share both physical and emotional pain, is a lot like socialism. Both ideas have noble motivations that seldom work out as intended. As for the show’s actual message, that’s for the viewer to decide.

Kiznaiver can be seen on Crunchyroll.com and numerous other anime websites. Kiznaiver promotional image is from wikipedia.org.

Why Steampunk?

Steampunk Frog

Illustration: Steampunk Frog by Kyle Dunbar. Kyle now has his own tattoo business in scenic Cave Creek, AZ, be sure to check it out!

Note: WordPress won’t let me put a link in the caption, so see Kyle’s Instagram Page here.

For those of you who are wondering, what the heck is steampunk, there are plenty of definitions but I’ll give you mine. Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction set in the past, generally in the period of the late 1800’s we call the Victorian Era. England was at that time the world’s ruling power, and its monarch, Queen Victoria, reigned from 1837-1901. Personally, I would include the reign of her son Edward VII, extending the period to 1910. In America, it was known as the Gilded Age, the time of industrialization and progress when steam power ruled the world.

In one sense, steampunk is historical fiction, but it’s more correctly a form of alternate history, which is why we add the “punk” suffix. According to Wikipedia, sci-fi writer K.W. Jeter coined the term to classify his works. The term was a pun on the term “cyberpunk,” a popular sci-fi subgenre of the 1980’s, which was in turn associated with the “cypherpunk” political movement of computer hackers. In the beginning, “punk” signified the anarchy and decadence of the musical style by that name. Eventually, it was broadened to include any genre in which history is skewed or twisted, giving rise to “dieselpunk” fiction set in the period from around World War I to the 1950’s.

What makes steampunk so popular? I believe it’s because the Gilded Age was a time of great optimism about humanity’s future and the advancement of technology. This is when writers like Jules Verne and HG Wells invented modern science fiction – though admittedly not all their works were optimistic. In our uncertain and decadent times, this era seems inviting, even refreshing. Courtesy was an essential character trait, and honesty and hard work were widely admired. The positive outlook of that time provides a welcome contrast to today’s bleak economic and political outlook. The class distinctions and rigidity of Victorian society, which would be stifling to our modern sensibilities, can seem reassuring when viewed from a distance.

One thing that has surprised me about the steampunk movement is its longevity. At first, it seemed it might be a transitory fad, more about the fun of wearing “high tech” period costumes to conventions than the stories themselves. Perhaps costuming and art are indeed steampunk’s more popular aspects and we have a lot of that in our house, but the literary movement is going strong as well. This is one of the reasons I’ve been writing in this genre- its current popularity, combined with my own fascination with history and technology.

My first exposure to steampunk fiction was the novel The Difference Engine by Willliam Gibson and Bruce Sterling. This alternative history about the rise of mechanical computers in the 1850’s helped establish some of the archetypes of the genre. Alternate history, including the steam era, were frequent themes in science fiction (such as Michael Moorcock’s Warlord of the Air) but only recently did it earn its own category. Since then we’ve seen talented young writers such as Cherie Priest (Boneshaker) and Scott Westerfield (Leviathan) emerge to further develop this trend.

Some of its devotees say that the steampunk genre is much older, going back to the 1960’s sci-fi TV western called The Wild Wild West. It’s set in the 1870’s, when Secret Service agents James T. West and Artemus Gordon have their own train car HQ and lots of proto-James-Bond gadgets. It was one of my favorite shows as a kid, which unfortunately gives away my age.

Though I’ve always been fascinated by history and period novels, alternate history, such as the works of Harry Turtledove (Guns of the South) are even more fun. This kind of writing provided the inspirations for my second novel Fidelio’s Automata. In this book Nikola Tesla did not leave Colorado in 1900, staying to play a part in the Colorado Labor Wars, which pitted radical miners against the companies. I set another part of the story in my home state of North Dakota, involving the real-life characters the Marquis de Mores, an eccentric French nobleman, and his liberated American wife, Medora. In real life, the Marquis’ meat-packing business failed, he returned to France, got involved in extremist politics, and died violently in North Africa. In Fidelio, his business did not fail, and he stayed in America and lived to see the twentieth century.

My latest foray into steampunk is the novella Miss Ione D. and the Mayan Marvel, a collaboration with my writing partner Arlys Holloway. She invented Ione D as a Facebook persona to promote Fidelio’s Automata. I found the character so intriguing that I decided we had to create stories for her. We began with Professor Ione D and the Epicurean Incident, but decided instead to start with Ione D in her younger days, exploring the pyramids in Tikal, Guatemala. (Don’t worry; Epicurean Incident is next!) Ione is the daughter of an American diplomat and a French actress and grew up in the US embassies in Paris and London. She’s a brilliant young woman who travels the world looking for adventure and exciting new recipes, while solving mysteries in the process. Mayan Marvel is a short work and as such it is (in our humble opinion) a good introduction to the steampunk genre. Check it out on Amazon; it’s currently free to Kindle Unlimited members.