Showing posts with label steampunk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label steampunk. Show all posts

Fact: NYC Has an Airship Dock

A friend of mine visited New York City recently and sent me this very important information along with photo evidence.
"The top section of the Empire State Building, including the spire, was actually designed  to allow dirigibles to dock at the building and passengers to disembark at the top. The interior of the spire has a massive winch installed where a drag line from the blimp could be attached and reeled in, then a small walkway would be extended to the bridge of the ship."
Click to enlarge
 Apparently the only reason it was never used was due to high wind speeds at that height.

Click to enlarge
Such a freaking shame. We were just a few gusts away from a steampunk utopia.

First Impact: THE EYELET DOVE by Lindsay Kitson (First Page)

It's time for another First Impact Critique, where we take a look at your queries, first pages, back cover copy, and more. You want to make an impact right from the start. We're here to help you do that.

If you'd like to submit your first impact material, send it to Details here.

Remember, anyone who offers their comments this month is eligible for either $10 for Amazon or B&N OR a 20-page critique from me.

This week we have the first page for THE EYELET DOVE, a dieselpunk novel (yes, that's a thing) from Lindsay Kitson. You might remember we did the back cover copy of this book last year.

My overall thoughts are at the end. As always, this is all just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

First Page
Claire wanted to fly.

The last sentence here makes me
immediately think of LEVIATHAN.
I'm hoping this differentiates itself
from that soon.
It was an overcast day but the clouds were high up when she walked out onto the River City Base tarmac for pilot tryouts. Claire had tucked her shoulder-length hair up under her flight cap and drawn her goggles down over her face. With any luck, no one would guess her sex until after she’d proved herself in the sky.

She’d never felt so lucky to have a less than feminine jawline and small breasts.

That was why she’d joined the Ladies Division of the Avaline Air Guard in the first place, whatever she told
I'm confused. If there's a Ladies' Air
Guard, why does she have to hide?
people. She didn’t tell people the truth because she knew they would only laugh at her.

The truth was, working alongside the men who flew the machines that sailed among the clouds was the closest she might ever come to flying them herself.

But even that wasn’t enough for her any more.

The concrete airstrip stretched out to her left, bright white in the diffused sunlight. Some of the dreadnought crew had come out to watch the tryouts. Some of the hangar deck crew were out of their canvas coveralls, but the fly-boys wore their leather flight jackets like badges of pride.

Creepy. I hope the very next sentence
explains why she's still with him. I
guess because he teaches her?
Thomas wasn’t there though, thank Pete. Her boyfriend would have recognized her for sure, and he wouldn’t have hesitated to out her. It had taken no end of cajoling to convince him to teach her. He was a
creep—enough that the other girls wanted nothing to do with him. He made her skin crawl every time he laid his hands on her, and he bragged to the other pilots that she liked to do it in the sky, with no end of uncreative puns applied to the word cockpit.

Adam's Thoughts
I like the setting, but if you recall my comments from your back cover copy, you knew that.

I think I get the Ladies' Division thing, but it took me a couple of reads. I guess the Ladies' Division isn't allowed to actually fly, yes? That could be clarified.

I don't have a lot to add beyond my comments in the text. It does immediately bring LEVIATHAN to mind, perhaps too much for someone who has read that. So I personally want to know what makes this novel different as soon as possible. And the last paragraph creeps me out, so to keep Claire sympathetic, I want to know why he's still "her boyfriend," rather than her ex or something.

Other than that, I'm anxious to get to the action :-) What do the rest of you guys think?

Stormdancer Sketch

A scene from Jay Kristoff's STORMDANCER, based on the excerpt you can read at

This is one of my sell-out sketches, drawn trying to win an ARC of the book. I didn't get the ARC, but I did get a copy of THE LITTLE STORMDANCER, which is easily the next best thing. My kids love this little book.

If you haven't heard of STORMDANCER, here is everything you need to know about it: Japanese steampunk with griffins.

Yeah, that's how I felt about it too.

A Steampunk Chart and Writing to Trends

This data comes from Wikipedia's list of steampunk works. I didn't see any glaring mistakes or omissions, so I ran with it. I've called out a few moments in steampunk history, though they are not meant to be comprehensive or even telling. Mostly, they're just some of the steampunk works that influenced me.

Data from Wikipedia, retrieved July 7, 2012.

You can glean what you like from that chart. Here's my (almost certainly biased) analysis:

Something new hits the populace. People get excited about it and create more stuff like it. Then eventually they get bored of it and the trend goes back down.

But, if enough people still haven't heard of it and a second new thing comes along within the trend, the cycle could start again. It could even get bigger as a whole new group of people get into it, and the old people go, "Wait, that's a thing again? I was into that when we called it 'steam-driven punk.'"

I think it's safe to say THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE and its precursors sparked that first little bump from '92 to '95. I don't know what triggered the spikes in 2001 and 2004 -- maybe PERDIDO STREET STATION, or maybe the manga STEAM DETECTIVES or even WILD WILD WEST (a bad movie can start a trend as much as a good one, as people think about what might have been great).

Now we're in the middle of a whole new wave, triggered by movies like STEAMBOY and THE PRESTIGE, books like AIRBORN and MORTAL ENGINES, along with everything that came before it as more and more people explore the history of steampunk. This wave is big, though I suspect it's coming to its end in the next couple of years (at least on the book side, see below).

It was interesting to me that almost every bump in the graph started with books, then film and TV carried the cycle while books backed off the trend. This really shouldn't be a surprise, since most movies are based on books.

But it's important to remember: if you write steampunk because of SHERLOCK HOLMES or LEGEND OF KORRA (for example), you might be too late to cash in.

We see something we like and go, "Cool! I want to make something like that!" So we do, though even with self-publishing, it takes a long time to make a (good) book from scratch and get it to market. That's why bumps tend to occur a couple of years after certain inspirational works.

But here's the thing: we're not the only ones who have that idea. That's why agents get hit with waves of similar stuff: vampires, werewolves, angels, people who control the elements. They're often triggered by the earlier release of something that inspired a bunch of people.

That inspiration is a good thing, but chances are, by the time you've heard of a trend, you're already behind the curve. This is why we're told not to write to trends.

What do you do about this if we genuinely love the trend? I mean, I've loved steampunk for as long as I knew it was a thing (I think that would be Brisco County Jr. in '93). I still love it. But what if nobody else does?

I think there are two reasons this doesn't matter:
  1. Because eventually it will trend again. Maybe. Just hang on to the idea and try to time it later after the hype has been forgotten.
  2. Because if you really love whatever it is, you could be the one to trigger the next up-cycle. When someone writes something just to cash in, it shows. Steampunk for steampunk's sake is boring. But when you write something out of true passion, it can transcend the trend to become something awesome.
So no new conclusions here: Screw trends. Write what you love. But being aware of what's trending -- and what hasn't trended in a while -- is a good thing too.

What do you think? Have you ever written to a trend? Are my chart-based conclusions way off?

Books I Read: The Alloy of Law

Title: The Alloy of Law
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Steampunk Fantasy
Published: 2011
Content Rating: R for action violence

Three hundred years after the events of the Mistborn trilogy, the world has been reborn and is in the midst of an industrial revolution, with trains and guns, skyscrapers and electricity -- and outlaws and the lawmen who bring them to justice.

Wax Ladrian is one such lawman, retired after his last job ended in the death of the girl he loved. He's just getting used to the noble life he had abandoned long ago, when his fiancee is kidnapped by a notorious band of criminals, led by a man whose Allomantic powers render him nigh immortal. As Wax gets more involved in the investigation, he learns that the city can be even more dangerous than the outskirts he used to protect.

You may recall I loved the original trilogy, and I love this. It's not as epic; Sanderson admits that he wrote it for fun, basically, and it totally is. It's a classic Western story wrapped up in a world where the kind of metal you wear (or eat) determines whether you launch yourself into the air, heal yourself, or stop time.

I have to admit the occasional character or plot event felt too . . . straightforward to me. But I love the mystery and detective work. I love the way Allomancy (and Feruchemy, which we didn't see as much of in the trilogy) interact with this new industrialized world. And I LOVED the banter between Wax and his deputy Wayne (who reminded me an awful lot of a certain pilot of a Firefly-class vessel).

Wax and Wayne. Heh, I just got that.

So You Want to Read Steampunk...

While not pretending this list is comprehensive, these are some of the steampunk novels I've read that I would recommend to someone just strapping on their goggles and starting down the clockwork rabbit hole.

What is steampunk? Very, very simply, steampunk is Industrial Revolution-era fiction with a sci-fi twist. Computers running on gears and steam, floating battleships, bio-mechanical soldiers, stuff like that. Steampunk is much more than that, of course, but that's the archetype.

Jules Verne and HG Wells are considered the precursors to steampunk. Technically they're science fiction, not steampunk, because they were written in the era in which they take place. But if you want to understand the steampunk feel, you can hardly do better than to read The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

One of the first steampunk novels is The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Published in 1990, it takes place in a 19th-century Britain where Charles Babbage has built the first computer out of gears and cranks -- becoming a Lord among a new breed of tech-savvy nobility -- where race cars and tanks run on steam, and where the Japanese build clockwork robot servants.

These are my three favorite steampunk novels. You can read a more in-depth review by following the links.

Boneshaker -- An experiment gone wrong turns 19th-century Seattle into a walled-off zombie town, and a hard-working mother must go in to rescue her son.

Leviathan -- An adventure novel set in World War I, except instead of Central vs. Allies it's the massive machines of the Clankers vs. the genetically-engineered monsters of the Darwinists.

Perdido Street Station -- A dark tale that mixes technology, psuedo-scientific magic, a myriad of sentient species, and bio-engineered monstrosities in a city with the feel of 19th-century London, but way creepier.

That's just a beginning of course. Other books I've heard of, but haven't been able to read yet, include Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, the Steampunk anthology edited by Jeff and Ann Vandermeer, Jay Lake's Mainspring trilogy, and Kenneth Oppel's Airborn.

And probably lots more I've never heard of. Steampunk readers, got any good recommendations I've missed?

5(ish) Reasons I Love Steampunk (and a Winner)

Last week, I held a contest. After busting out my d20, the winner is: SID G! E-mail me at adamheine(at)gmail(dt)com to name and collect your prize.

And now, five reasons I love steampunk.

1. Floating mechanical castles

2. Because where else can you take over the world with only science and a really awesome facemask?

 3. Airships

4. Because you can introduce a guy with a mechanical arm, and nobody ever asks how it works.

Arm and photo courtesy of Phillip Valdez

(Seriously, I don't know what's wrong with me either, but LOOK AT THESE! AREN'T THEY AWESOME?)

Books I Read: Perdido Street Station

Title: Perdido Street Station
Author: China Miéville
Genre: SF/F/Steampunk/Horror(?)
Published: 2000
Content Rating: R for language, sex, and the sucking of brains

Beneath the ribs of a dead, ancient beast lies New Crobuzon, a squalid city where humans, arcane races, and bio-engineered Re-mades live in perpetual fear of Parliament and its brutal militia. Everyone's got something to hide, including Isaac -- a brilliant scientist who's in over his head. He's been hired to help a de-winged birdman fly again, but that's not the problem. The problem is one of the specimens he collected for his research: a caterpillar that feeds only on a hallucinogenic drug. What finally emerges from the cocoon turns out to be so terrible, not even the Ambassador of Hell will aid in its capture.

The world in this book is AMAZING. It felt like a dark, more-serious version of Terry Pratchett's Discworld. It's got everything: steampunk tech, psuedo-scientific magic, fantastic sentient species, monstrous terrors, mafiosos, oppressive governments, even artificial intelligence.

The writing is really good, if you don't mind the tangents into a description of some new burrough of New Crobuzon (which really aren't tangents, as the city is one of the main characters in the book, but some might not see it that way). The plot, too, was really strong. I admit there were moments I felt were too coincidental (like when Isaac learned what to feed the caterpillar), but it led me along nicely. And especially once the cocoon hatched, I couldn't put the book down.

Assuming the content doesn't freak you out, you should totally read this book.

Dr. Bananas

K. Marie Criddle is challenging herself to draw something every day for a year. It has inspired me--no, not to draw every day, are you INSANE? It inspired me to draw for the first time in 6 weeks (gosh, every time I put a sketch up here, it's been months since my last one...maybe I SHOULD draw something every day *slap* *slap* NO! What, are you INSANE???).

(Yeah, okay, maybe a little).

Her first sketch also inspired me to draw something with a gun for an arm, so I'm not being very original here. But then this is what was in my head. You HAVE TO draw what's in your head, right?

The Kitchen-Sink Story VS. The Rule of Cool

The Kitchen-Sink Story: A story overwhelmed by the inclusion of any and every new idea that occurs to the author in the process of writing it.

The Rule of Cool: Most readers are willing to suspend their disbelief for something that is totally awesome.
-- TV Tropes (intentionally unlinked because I care about you)

Yesterday I posted this on Twitter and Facebook:

Most of the responses were combinations. Steampunk ninjas. Jumper elves. The most common response, though, was all six: elven ninjas with Jumper powers, driving steampunk mecha in a genetically perfect waterworld (possibly fighting dragons).

It sounds great, largely due to the Rule of Cool stated above. Take two cool things, slap them together, and nobody cares how impossible the outcome is BECAUSE IT IS AWESOME!

But the fear, then (well, my fear), is being accused of writing a Kitchen-Sink Story. "You're just throwing in ninjas because you think they're trendy, not because they add anything to the work!" "Mecha don't make sense anyway, but in a world covered entirely in water?!"

At first glance, it sounds like these are two different sets of people: the SF geeks (who love ninjas) vs. the erudite literary heads who Take Fiction Seriously. But the SF geeks who find all this stuff awesome are also the folks who will nitpick your story to death. They want the cool stuff and a world they can dig deeply into (I know, I'm one of them).

Fortunately folks like me are willing to accept any explanation you can give them, provided it's consistent. So I think I'll do what I always do. You can feel free to follow suit:
  1. Ignore those who Take Fiction Seriously. Much as I'd love to win a Hugo, those guys aren't my target audience.
  2. Pick the elements I want, figure out why it makes sense later. It worked with Air Pirates, after all.
  3. Apply the Rule of Cool where necessary. Giant mecha don't make sense, neither tactically nor physically, but who the heck cares? They're awesome.
  4. Ensure whatever I make up follows its own rules. Sufficiently strange technology, or elements that don't exist in the real world, is treated like magic. State the rules, then follow them.
I don't know what I'll actually decide (depends on the story, I guess), but I'm definitely going to lean on the Rule of Cool rather than be afraid of the Kitchen-Sink Story. What do you think?

Oo, KRAKEN! Those are definitely going in the waterworld.

The Great Criddle-Heine Art Swap

The great K. Marie Criddle approached me to exchange sketches, which does all kinds of nonsense to my ego (e.g. "Your ego's so fat, it uses Wilson Fisk's socks for finger puppets"). ESPECIALLY since I failed to win a Criddle sketch from her recent contest. It's like I won the contest for free!

Well, not free. I got to draw this:

This is Miss Hannah P. Bartleby, the main character of a manuscript Marie is revising for her agent. She's not the most graceful of young ladies, but she can be a mean duelist with that grappling hook when she wants to (that's right, it's for DUELING).

And for me, Marie drew a picture of Ren from Air Pirates:

He's a machinist who took care of Sam for a number of years (before Sam ran off to become a pirate). His face and arm got kinda messed up in the war, but he can still wield a mean sledgehammer.

Speaking of Air Pirates, the YA revision is finished (did I mention that yet?) and in the hands and Kindles of some betas. Also the query is being worked on, even though I plan to do at least one more revision/beta cycle before I call it finished. I'm getting excited, but that always happens in this stage. Talk to me again in 6-8 months when I either have a new idea for revision or have decided nobody wants a steampunk adventure about fortune-telling stones, air pirates with mechanical arms, mothers who were presumed dead...


Books I Read: Leviathan

Title: Leviathan
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Genre: YA steampunk
Published: 2009
Content Rating: PG for action and mild violence

It's around the start of World War One, except Archduke Ferdinand (whose murder started the war) has a son, Alek, who could inherit Austria should the emperor die. He goes into exile with only a walking warmachine and a small band of men to help him. On the other side is Deryn, a girl from Britain who wants to join the air corps so badly she disguises herself as a boy.

These two find themselves stuck in the middle of the biggest war the world's ever seen, between Clankers and Darwinists.

Oh, you don't know what those are? Dude, they're the best part of this novel. Clankers (Austria, Germany, and some other Central Powers) have advanced machine technology beyond what we have today, to the point where they sport multi-legged land dreadnoughts and Stormwalkers instead of silly tanks. The Darwinists, on the other hand, (Britain, France, and other Allied Powers) have taken the teachings of Charles Darwin to a whole new level and are fabricating animals to serve them in a variety of ways. Among them: talking message lizards, hydrogen-breathing jellyfish, and an enormous living airship.

If you're not excited yet, maybe this isn't the book for you, but I loved it. It's illustrated too, bringing to life all the best, most interesting aspects of the world. And on top of everything, there's action and adventure every other page. This is a totally fun book. My only complaint is I wanted more closure at the end, but that won't stop me from getting the next book when I get a chance.

Books I Read: Boneshaker

Title: Boneshaker
Author: Cherie Priest
Genre: Science Fiction (Steampunk)
Published: 2009
Content Rating: R for violence*

Seattle, 1863. Inventor Leviticus Blue tests a powerful drilling machine, nicknamed the Boneshaker. In the process, he destroys several city blocks and releases a poisonous gas called the Blight, which kills, and often reanimates, anyone who breathes it. Soon the entire city is destroyed.

Sixteen years later. A giant wall has been erected to contain the Blight and the ever-hungry rotters it has created. Blue's widow, Briar Wilkes, lives outside, struggling against poverty and her husband's reputation. When Briar's boy goes behind the wall to try and clear his father's name, Briar is the only one who can save him. She must face her past as well as the Blight when she finds something worse than rotters behind the wall.

I worried this would be a horror book -- and it is, but only a little. This is an adventure story, and to that end it does very well. I got annoyed with the main characters at first; I felt they did dumb things or were too stubborn or (in the case of the teenage son) just talked too much. But it didn't ruin the action for me, and a lot of Briar's stubbornness was even explained in the end. Overall, Boneshaker was a lot of fun to read. If you like steampunk, zombies, or even airships (which play a big part too), I'd recommend it.

And for the record, I would totally play an RPG set in this world.

UPDATE: Looks like Boneshaker was just nominated for a Nebula Award.

* Content ratings based on what I think a movie might be rated, if the things shown in the book were shown in the movie. Ratings are very subjective, and I don't always remember/notice things. If you're unsure whether the book is right for you, do some research so you can make your own decision.

Land of Smiles

To continue Positive Waves Week, I bring you pictures from Thailand, the land of smiles. (If one of these doesn't make you smile, we may need a whole Positive Waves Month until you get better).

I posted this first one a long time ago, back before most of you knew I was here. This ad was in the window of the local Toyota dealership. No, I don't get it either. While it didn't make me want to buy a Toyota, it did make me want to go pirating.

This snack reminded me of a scene from a certain favorite movie. They served it at church. I kept expecting one of the youth to flip out and kill everyone.

E-books have finally come to Thailand! Oh, wait. No. No, they haven't.

Thailand might be behind the curve, but my boys aren't. Here's Nathan and Isaac sporting the latest in steampunk fashion.

You can't see it, but Isaac's shirt says "The animal to pirate". Again, I'm not sure what that means, but I know that boy's going to be swinging from the monkey bars some day with a wooden sword and an eye patch. *snif* I'm so proud!

(If you'd like to continue Positive Waves Week on your own blog, feel free to drop a link in the comments. I'll follow every one.)

Steampunk, What is It?

They say steampunk's the next big thing. People are talking about it. Some folks are writing it. But what the heck is it? Honestly, steampunk is a lot of things, so as a certified expert on the subject* I'm going to give you an overview.

* Note: I'm not actually an expert, just a fan of steampunk... and of Wikipedia.

Steampunk as Historical/Science Fiction
At it's heart, steampunk applies the old sci-fi question -- what if? -- to the Industrial Revolution. The Industrial Revolution changed the world in a lot of ways, but what if those changes took a different path? What if steam power turned out to be more practical than electricity? What if airships became the most common mode of transportation and warfare? What if France went to war with Britain -- while ruled by Luddites? How might the 19th century have changed?

The classic example is The Difference Engine by Gibson & Sterling. It takes place in a 19th-century Britain where Charles Babbage has not only conceived of the computer, but has actually built one out of gears and cranks, where race cars and tanks run on steam, and where the Japanese build clockwork robot servants.

Another example is Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy, in which a boy inventor gets caught in a struggle between his father and grandfather, as their ideals about science collide. And when I say "collide," I'm talking steam-powered super-soldiers, jetpacks, and a flying fortress. (Seriously, if you're not sure about steampunk, watch this movie, and if you are, why haven't you seen this movie yet?).

Steampunk as Speculative Fiction
In the 19th century, science was changing dramatically. Evolution challenged centuries of creationist thinking. Subatomic structures were being discovered within the irreducible atom. In steampunk fiction, science may progress at any rate or discover things even we in the 21st century aren't aware of.

It may take the form of science fiction: a 19th-century scientist reanimates an army of the dead, or fashions a destructive laser using giant lenses and a ruby found in the Mayan ruins. Or it may be pure fantasy: magicians in the London underworld or an occultist's attempt to bring Genghis Khan back to life.

Often, it's a mix of the two. Like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, in which steampunk scientists like Captain Nemo and Henry Jekyll might team up with lady-turned-vampire Mina Harker or the immortal Dorian Gray.

Steampunk as Alternate-Earth Fantasy
Not all steampunk takes place in our history. Video games like Arcanum (gears, factories, and elves) and Skies of Arcadia (airships and pirates on a world of floating continents) take place in fantasy worlds -- even World of Warcraft has a little steampunk in it. Treasure Planet is steampunk in space. Avatar: the Last Airbender pushed the punk edge with the Mechanist and his bender-powered airships, submarines, and tanks.

What these alternate-Earths have in common is a 19th-century feel, regardless of the actual technology (or magic) level.

Steampunk as Fashion
Though steampunk is rooted in fiction, there is a massive offshoot in aesthetics. Steampunk clothing, for example, borrows styles from Victorian England or steampunk fiction: boots, top hats, coat and tails, goggles, tool belts, frills, trenchcoats, you name it. (Also guns, apparently).

There's also steampunk design. This might be anything from gluing gears onto a pair of headphones to a full-on computer/work desk modification. A lot of it is taking modern technology and making it look like it was built in the 19th-century (in the process, making it look super-cool).

So there you go. Are there any questions? Did I miss anything?

(Steampunk not mentioned in this post, that perhaps should have been, includes: Wild, Wild West, The Adventures of Brisco County Jr, Laputa, Howl's Moving Castle, Disney's Atlantis, and Air Pirates. Also, I'm not familiar with every expression of the subgenre, so others will, no doubt, be mentioned in the comments.)