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.

 

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!

The Great Glass House

Crystal_Palace_General_view_from_Water_Temple

London’s Crystal Palace, 1854

The Crystal Palace was one of the signature landmarks of Victorian London. It was built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851, which showcased many of the wonders of the Industrial Revolution. After the Exhibition ended it was moved to a park on Sydenham Hill and remained there until it was destroyed by fire in 1936.

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The famous dinosaurs!

Besides the Palace, the park featured the famous Hawkins dinosaur statues, which were among the first scholarly recreations of those prehistoric creatures. Of course, many of their conceptions were spectacularly wrong. Unlike the Palace, these statues remain and were extensively restored in 2002.

At the time, the Crystal Palace was the largest glass-walled structure in the world. It must have been a beautiful sight illuminated from within on a foggy London night. Photographs of its interior show it was big enough to enclose living trees. This reminded me of visits to Biosphere 2 in southern Arizona, another large glass structure, and I wondered how the two compared. According to Wikipedia, the Crystal Palace had 772,784 square feet on the ground floor alone. I didn’t take the time to find accurate specs for the biosphere, but an article I found on the design site Curbed estimates it as 2.5 times the size of a football field. If that includes the end zones, that would be 142,000, or less than one-fifth the size of the Palace. That would make the Victorian edifice impressive even by today’s standards.

Biosphere_2_Habitat_&_Lung_2009-05-10

Arizona’s teeny-tiny Biosphere 2

Therefore, the Crystal Palace seemed like the perfect place for Arlys and I to use as the backdrop for our fictional First Royal Epicurean Exhibition in our upcoming Ione D novel. It makes the perfect backdrop for old-fashioned intrigue and mayhem. Too bad it’s not around anymore! Watch this site for updates and previews of future Ione D and other steampunk adventures, including a sequel to my 2015 novel Fidelio’s Automata.

Photographs from Wikimedia commons.

 

The Glory of Retro Design

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A vintage cover: The Rover Boys On Land and Sea, by Arthur M. Winfield, 1903.

While doing a web search for steampunk art, I came upon a site which displayed a number of pre-made covers for sale to independent authors. I can’t criticize their quality, as they featured high-res photos of attractive models in top hats, goggles, and bustiers. As good-looking as these designs were, they were too modern. They didn’t seem appropriate for a genre that celebrates the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. That kind of cover says 21st Century, not the Victorian era. That’s why I favor custom covers, in an attempt to simulate the look of an old-fashioned leather-bound volume. I contracted out the designs for the covers of my first two books, but for Ione D, I tackled the job myself. Though I’m no artist, I’m good at the Gimp (the Linux equivalent of Photoshop), so thank Cthullu for my collection of antique books whose copyrights have passed into the public domain. For Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel, I adapted a 1918 German-language Artsongbook which I inherited from my grandfather. The attached image is we’d call a “young adult” novel, published in 1903, which I plan to use as the model for the cover of Professor Ione D. and the Epicurean Incident. Watch this site for updates and previews of future Ione D and Fidelio releases.

Steampunk Fashion Extravaganza

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Brittney Reed as Professor Ione D’s childhood friend, Mrs. Emma Farrington

My co-author Arlys once again proved her creativity and fashion sense in a steampunk photo shoot held at our house this weekend. In the above photo, Brittney Reed portrays Ione D’s best friend, Emma Farrington, from the upcoming second book in the series. Titled Professor Ione D and the Epicurean Incident, the story revolves around Ione’s visit to the First Royal Epicurean Exhibition in post-Victorian London. A number of mysterious mishaps arouse the suspicions of our intrepid heroines. Are nefarious parties conspiring to disrupt King Edward’s culinary initiative, or is it just bad luck?

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Arlys’ character-based photography sessions have been a fun and imaginative way to create graphics for our book covers and publicity releases, as well as provide guidelines for our artists’ illustrations. Professor Ione D and the Epicurean Incident is tentatively scheduled for publication next Victoria Day, May 24, 2017. Watch this site for updates and previews.

brittney3

 

Coming Soon: a New Ione D Adventure

Ione D in Steampunk Hat

Arlys Endres as Professor Ione D

While we prepare the Mayan Marvel paperback for production, my multi-talented co-author Arlys has been preparing for the second book in the series, Professor Ione D and the Epicurean Incident. Its publication is tentatively scheduled for Queen Victoria’s 198th birthday, May 24, 2017. Here we see our model Arlys Endres playing the globe-trotting young Professor, Ione Dyfrdwy. This time, we’re getting a jump on getting the illustrations for the novel ready ahead of time. We’ll be keeping you informed of our progress.

 

Spike Jonze’s “Her” – Sex with Siri and the Singularity for SJW’s

The movie Her, directed by Spike Jonze and starring Joaquin Phoenix as a man who falls in love with a computer program, was released in 2013. The film won numerous awards, including an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Somehow I missed seeing it until this week. Though it’s not a new release, as a life-long software engineer, I felt compelled to comment.

I’m conflicted about the idea of a sentient computer program. Knowing how complicated and error prone software can be, it seems unlikely at best. Possible, yes, since the brain is a biological computer. Yet I don’t believe this will happen in the near future, as the movie portrays it.

The biggest problem for me was not the concept, but its implementation. I really don’t understand why people liked Her so much. My theory is that, like that other 2013 release, Twelve Years a Slave, it was a movie people felt obliged to like. Except that Slave was dramatic and compelling, Her was slow, ponderous, and mawkishly emotional.

The first problem was the protagonist, Joaquin Phoenix as Theodore Twombley. He’s the ultimate gamma male, a pathetic loser who apologizes to everyone. Appropriately enough, his job is writing heartfelt letters for other people a la Cyrano de Bergerac. To help provide order to his foundering life, Theodore purchases an “operating system” (actually an artificial intelligence) called OS-1, for which he chooses a female voice and personality. It begins as an advanced analog of Siri or Alexa but, sensing its owner’s loneliness, it names itself Samantha and adopts a flirtatious persona. It’s not surprising that the pathetic Theodore falls for Samantha, but “she” soon falls for him as well, like a modern Galatea to his Pygmalion. With no Aphprodite to bring her to life, Samatha communicates with Theodore and experiences the world through his cell phone.

As the “relationship” progresses, Theodore tells friends and coworkers about “her.” Everyone accepts this bizarre situation without question – except, to her credit, Theodore’s ex-wife. The movie seems to prophesy the current transgender mania, with its inherent contempt for social convention and the limitations of the physical body.

Voice actor Scarlett Johannson does a competent job as Samantha, who is fun-loving, curious, and affectionate. In one scene, she and Theodore have verbal sex, whereupon the screen goes blank for a moment. I thought my disc player had broken, but then realized that Jonze probably meant for the audience to imagine the event. The obvious solution, virtual reality, is mentioned as a way to play video games but nothing more. Samantha could have at least had an appearance for Theodore to fixate on. VR sex would have been more realistic than the ludicrous scene in which they enlist a surrogate (Portia Doubleday) to play Samantha’s role in their assignation. No doubt because of the movie’s relentless political correctness, the surrogate is not paid (which would imply prostitution) but a volunteer. Rather than enjoying the experience, the hapless Theodore feels awkward and guilty about cheating on his “girlfriend,” and the surrogate leaves in tears.

The final insult to our intelligence is how the movie ends. In a nod to the sci-fi concept of “the Singularity,” Samantha hooks up with other OS-based personalities who then collectively “evolve” to a point where they no longer want to deal with humans. Thus they bid farewell to their reality-bound companions and disappear. Nobody worries about what these super-intelligent beings are plotting – will they control the world or destroy humanity? No, we only see the emotional consequences for poor Theodore. In a more realistic scenario, he and his fellow jilted OS owners would have sued the software company that produced such defective products into bankruptcy.

In summary, Her might be enjoyable for those with a taste for unconventional romance, but I found it dull and disappointing. If you want a serious look at the potential of artificial intelligence in the near future, look elsewhere.

If you enjoy stories about computers, you’ll like my novel Centrifugal Force, available on Amazon.

 

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.

Announcing a New Flash Fiction Anthology

Announcing “Christmas in Love: A Flash Fiction Anthology” edited by George Donnelly and featuring a story by Yours Truly. This new collection of short works is now available on Amazon.

The Kindle version is available FREE for a limited time so act now!

From the description on Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MQVG0JL

From an unexpected twist on a classic Christmas tale and a soldier returning home from war to a pair of girls waiting for an unlikely Christmas wish to come true and a creepy evening in a museum, fill your briefest moments with this collection of 18 flash fiction stories.
Commuting to work? Grabbing a quick coffee? Each story tells a complete tale in but a few short minutes with the added promise of a lifelong introduction to new indie writers.
You never know, you might just find your next favorite author.
Christmas in Love, the third anthology in the Flash Flood series, is a hand-picked selection of master works in romance, science fiction and fantasy themed for Christmas and guaranteed to keep you engaged.

If you like Christmas and science fiction, this would be a perfect (and frugal) gift for yourself or friends and family.

Steampunk Holiday Promotion, Part II

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Ione D spies a holiday promotion!

Time marches on. I have long last begun the formatting of Miss Ione D and the Mayan Marvel, my first literary collaboration with Arlys Holloway. Although the novella has been available in e-book format since May, it doesn’t seem quite real to me until I have a paper copy I can hold in my hands. This edition will be supplemented with chapter illustrations by Ben Gill, a very talented local artist we met while working on our play in conjunction with Phoenix Pride.

It’s exciting to take another step toward bringing these stories to life. Someday, perhaps we can find an artist with the time and inclination to work with us on a graphic novel version. For the author, it’s akin to writing a script, complete with scene direction. Artistically, it’s a much larger amount of work, which is why graphic novelists often outsource the inking and shading to a country with lower wage rates. We sure hope the Donald doesn’t find out, or we may be in trouble! Seriously, though, from the comic, it’s a short hop to a full-blown animation, which has always been a dream of mine. How about a score by steampunk luminaries such as Abney Park or Steam Powered Giraffe?

While we do that, we’re also editing the second book in the series, Professor Ione D and the Epicurean Incident, which takes place in London in 1901. Our progress has been slowed a bit by the demands of our day jobs. Hopefully, we will both have more free time after the holidays.

In honor of this next step, we have declared a fiction giveaway contest. No money is required; all you need to do is like and/or share the relevant post as it appears on my Facebook author page today December 4th, or last Sunday’s post (it’s a Steampunk Christmas) in which we first announced it. All who do so between now and December 11th will be entered into a random drawing. First prize is a free novel in paperback form, either my steampunk novel Fidelio’s Automata or my earlier work, Centrifugal Force. There will also be five second prizes of a free e-book download from our works listed on Amazon. For the paperback, we’ll need to have your physical address of course, but don’t worry, we won’t spam you and we never share that information. (Due to the high cost of overseas shipping, US addresses only please!)

https://www.amazon.com/Miss-Ione-Mayan-Marvel-Adventures-ebook/dp/B01G2TBBPU