The American Civil War, which occurred in an industrialized nation in the middle of the nineteenth century, is a remarkable window on the technologies of the steam age and their usefulness in war. And though one might well debate the accuracy of calling the Civil War the “first modern war” (a popular title for it in some circles), there is a reason why there is such a strong association between the Civil War and the concept of modern war. Like the Crimean War before it, aspects of the Civil War anticipated the structures of wars to come in the twentieth century.
Because of this cross between anticipation of future wars and Victorian-era technology, the American Civil War is a wonderful and fertile ground for exploring steampunk in the midst of an historical event. And while great mechanical monstrosities and terrifying super-weapons are all well and good, a study of history shows them to be unnecessary for the purposes of Civil War steampunk. The historical fact often reads like fiction, and with only a slight heightening of the application of certain technologies, this “war between the states” quickly takes on a steampunk appearance.
The steampunk subculture is an extremely friendly and open community that eagerly welcomes anyone who shares its fascination with 19th century science fiction and fashion. But while the community embraces modern principles of openness and equality, it can look back on the time period that inspires its aesthetics and study with curiosity the comparatively backward and often unsavory views and practices of the age. This article will look into the 19th century and explore several of these social issues.
Please note that while this piece will discuss the topic of different 19th century cultures, it is not an extensive study of multiculturalism. Anyone interested in multicultural steampunk should take a look at Tor.com’s first ever article on the subject, written by me for Steampunk Month one year ago, as well as my earlier articles on the subject for the Steamfashion community. I also heartily recommend Miss Kagashi’s delightful and informative blog, Multiculturalism for Steampunk.
The latest episode of Castlehas gone steampunk, and it has done so with all of the elegance, charm, respectfulness, and accuracy that I have come to expect from the show. The episode, titled “Punked,” has clearly been the result of careful research and dedicated writing.
You may recall my review of NCIS: LA’s “steampunk episode” last year, and the scathing review I gave it (and for good reason, I might add). At the end of that review, I issued a challenge for someone to produce a real “steampunk episode” and cited Castle as one of the only programs I felt had the ability to do it right. I have been told by Castle creator and executive producer Andrew Marlowe that “Punked” was their answer to that challenge, and let me say that they have more than exceeded my wildest expectations. Castle’s “Punked” was everything that the NCIS: LA episode was not, and it should go down in television history as the first real “steampunk episode” of a mainstream TV show.
The Warrior’s Way is going to be a steampunk film. Let me say that again: this film is going to be steampunk.
For those of you who haven’t yet seen the film’s trailer, watch it now and prepare to be amazed.
In addition to being visually gorgeous, The Warrior’s Way looks to be a remarkable blend of the classical East Asian warrior saga and a violent tale of the Wild West. It takes the story of a deadly warrior who, due to a stroke of conscience when ordered to kill a child, turns his back on his former master and is hunted for it. But instead of telling the story entirely in an Asian setting (which has been seen before in countless films), The Warrior’s Way then carries the epic tale across the ocean into the rugged and brutal American West, a setting perfectly geared for just such a plot of redemption and revenge.
Although there appears to be no set date for when the film takes place, the Wild West motif and the weaponry witnessed in the trailer make it clear that it occurs some time around the turn of the 20th century (the most glaring proof of this is the machine gun with a water-cooled barrel at time 1:35). Add to this a beautiful circus performer and a drunkard played by the ever-charming Geoffrey Rush and you have an epic steampunk tale for the current generation.
Words cannot describe how much G. D. Falksen is looking forward to this film. Chances are he will be discussing it further on his Facebook and Twitter.
To those who say that the motif of the zombie apocalypse has nothing new to offer, there is one stunning reply to prove them dead wrong. The role-playing game Unhallowed Metropolis, created by Hallows Eve Designs, envisions a world a hundred years in the future that has been ravaged by the horrors of an undead plague. But what makes Unhallowed Metropolis so remarkable is that the outbreak that spells the end to civilization as we know it occurs not in our time, but in the year 1905. Indeed, Unhallowed Metropolis is a stunning and skillful blending of the steampunk and zombie apocalypse genres, being the first and one of the best attempts at such a match up.
The creators of AIR, the steampunk MMORPG currently in development by Hatboy Studios, are preparing to produce a graphic novel set in the game world to introduce the public to the setting. They are looking for artists with graphic novel experience to join the production team and illustrate the story. This is a great opportunity for any artist looking to work on graphic novels or video games. If you’re interested in becoming involved with the graphic novel, check the application details here.
For everyone else, keep your eyes open for more AIR developments.
G. D. Falksen is the lead writer for AIR, and can say from experience that the development team is professional and a great bunch of people to work with. More details about him can be found at his Facebook and Twitter.
In keeping with this weekend’s release of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a comic book-turned-film which uses a surrealistic world based on the structures of video games as a metaphor for the trials of teenage dating, I would like to introduce you all to a remarkable music video that uses the same principle to describe history.
“A Complete History of the Soviet Union through the eyes of a humble worker, arranged to the melody of Tetris” by the band Pig With The Face Of A Boy is exactly what its name says: a history of the Soviet Union set to the theme of Tetris. The “humble worker” who “arranges the blocks” that keep industry moving and society functioning is the narrator, and the complexities of the Tetris game serve to illustrate the frustration and repetition of the worker’s life.
The teaser trailer for Bioshock: Infinite takes us from the depths of the ocean into the great blue beyond. After a brief and intentionally misleading sub-aquatic shot, the viewer is taken in hand (literally) by a half-seen mechanical monstrosity (complete with glass-encased human heart) and flung out into one of the most dramatic introductions to a setting I have ever seen. While plummeting in first person toward the unforgiving ground, we are given a glimpse of the new game’s stunning world: the glorious flying city of Columbia.
The world’s steampunk credentials appear impeccable. The game is set in the early 20th century in a city that clearly recalls America’s “Gilded Age” and all its glories. Buildings are constructed with a strong Art Nouveau style iconic of the early 20th century, and the buildings in Columbia are kept aloft by great balloons and propellers, which the trailer demonstrates in action. With the added appearances of an airship, the aforementioned mechanical entity, and enough flags and vintage propaganda posters to satisfy any early-century jingoist, Bioshock: Infinite promises to take us from the grim pulp-noir darkness of the first two games and into a majestic steampunk adventure. And there can be little doubt that the flying Columbia will prove just as monstrous and terrifying as the claustrophobic Rapture we all know and love.
G. D. Falksen is a writer and lecturer who is looking forward to seeing all of you at Dragoncon, where he will be appearing as a guest. He eagerly awaits the arrival of Columbia and its madmen of the air. More information can be found at his Twitter and Facebook.
Heartless: The Story of the Tin Man by Brandon McCormick is a charming and chilling short film from Whitestone Motion Pictures. As the name states, it is the story of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. Specifically, it imagines the Tin Man’s origins and the life he lived before he became, as the title states, “heartless.” In brief, and without giving away any spoilers, the film takes the premise of a young woodcutter and his beloved fiancée, and adds resentful mother, a cursed ax, a brilliant inventor, and a wagon load of beautifully constructed steampunk props and imagery.
Heartless is both quick and enjoyable. While the short length does leave one wishing it were longer, the quality of the story, acting and staging more than makes up for its brevity. It is well worth the watching.
G. D. Falksen’s only complaint about Heartless is that it was too short and would have made a magnificent full-length film. More information can be found at on his Twitter and Facebook.
Zelda is a remarkable and charming new magazine devoted to roughly the first half of the 20th century (1900-1940 specifically), or as the magazine itself puts it, to “Vintage Nouveau.” In addition to highlighting aesthetics and history of this period, Zelda examines the modern neo-vintage culture inspired by the early 20th century. With content ranging from interviews and articles to fashion advice and helpful hints for the neo-vintage crowd, this magazine shows great promise as a very enjoyable resource for anyone with an interest in Vintage Nouveau. The magazine is released bi-annually, and speaking personally I cannot wait to see what else Zelda creator Diane Naegel has in store.
G. D. Falksen is a great fan of neo-vintage, and consequently finds Vintage Nouveau an exciting breath of fresh air. More details about Zelda can be found at its website and Facebook group. Information about Mr. Falksen can be found on his Facebook and Twitter.
Cherie Priest’s Hugo-nominated steampunk novel Boneshaker is a rollicking and energetic tale that seamlessly weaves together the two distinct genres of steampunk and zombie fiction. This is a feat in and of itself, and Priest is one of the few people out there to have carried it off, which she does with the same precision and attention to detail that one finds in Unhallowed Metropolis, the originator of the steampunk-zombie match-up. And creating a story in this particular genre mix that approaches the accomplishments of Unhallowed Metropolis is no easy feat.
On March 19th, a Universal Pictures film entitled Repo Men will enter theaters. This film envisions a near-future world in which replacement organs can be purchased on payment plans available from a giant corporation. In the event that an organ buyer defaults on payment, the company dispatches “repo men” to retrieve the company’s property, which will presumably result in the death or at least the suffering of the victim. This is the backdrop against which the story in Repo Men takes place.
If this movie concept seems eerily familiar to you, you’re in good company. As many fans have already noted, this is exactly the same concept found in the 2008 Lionsgate film REPO! The Genetic Opera. So, is this an incident of film plagiarism? Well, as REPO! co-creator Terrance Zdunich notes in his blog, the situation (at least from a legal standpoint) is far more complicated.
The Nova Albion Steampunk Exhibition in California will be held on March 12th through 14th. Already it’s looking to have a smashing line-up of events and guests. The literary community will be well represented here, including guests such as James Blaylock, Gail Carriger, and Tor’s own Liz Gorinsky. And while I will not be able to make the event myself, the Exhibition approached me about providing a piece for them, which will be appearing in the program. If you’re going, keep an eye out for it.
The Molting by Terrance Zdunich (creator of Repo! The Genetic Opera) is a new graphic serial that presents the story of a dysfunctional family living in Anaheim, California. It is a powerful and sorrowful tale that further demonstrates Zdunich’s remarkable sense of tragedy and his ability to convey that sense clearly in both the most fantastical and the most mundane of settings.
In an effort to encourage support for the relief efforts in Haiti, Crossed Genres is collecting links to free stories online made available by their respective authors. That’s right, completely free. No sign-in, no log-in, no payment, nothing. Just links upon links to amazing short stories. There are many familiar faces on the list of contributed stories, and probably some new people you will be delighted to learn about.
All they ask in return is that while you are enjoying this amazing fiction, you support the relief efforts in Haiti by donating to a charity of your choice that is involved in helping the Haitian people in their time of need. It is an extremely important cause, so please help however you can, and while you are at it, enjoy the free online fiction.
From its first minute onward, the film Ink takes its viewers and throws them into a surreal realm where time and space have subjective meaning. After an initial (and initially confusing) one-minute segment culminating in an unexpected car accident, the film progresses into an almost dream-like state following a workaholic father, John, and his inability to raise his young daughter, Emma, who he loves dearly but who becomes a second priority after the demands of John’s work. The story that builds from this point is complex, dramatic, often confusing but always beautiful.
Photographer and digital artist D. E. Christman of Grendel's Den Design Studio is gifted with a powerful sense of camera angles and unseen suggestion. His work retains the clear lines of a photograph while blending in surreal imagery that appears, against all sense of sanity, to be real. Indeed, such is the vigor in Christman’s work that one can well envision what Lovecraft meant when, in Pickman’s Model, he writes of a horrific and impossible thing existing in “a photograph from life!” Christman’s Lovecraftian images look and feel real, giving rendering in a visual format the monstrosities and hauntings described in Mythos fiction.
The skull image in “Gimme A Kiss” is a fusion of the human and the bizarre, done in a morbid form that blurs the line between man and monster. In death, the tentacled horror is shown to be like us, but with a number of important, wriggling differences.
Melita “Mel” Curphy, better known as Miss Monster, is one of the most remarkable artists one can have the pleasure of finding. Her art is lively and rich in composition, and every curve and line give the impression of actual animation, even life. Her range of content is remarkable, but no matter how diverse her portfolio, each piece retains the unique style found in all of Miss Monster’s work. From a Lovecraftian perspective, her work is of special interest. Several of her pieces are actual depictions of Lovecraftian figures, while still others feel as if they could have walked, crawled, flown or swam directly out of the Mythos.
The header piece here is a stunning demonic creature, or perhaps a fallen angel. Yet rather than be content simply with horns and wings, Miss Monster has graced the figure with a head full of vibrant tentacles that seem almost to twist and wriggle before one’s very eyes. Such a creature is surely the same sort of fiend that inspires tales of devils and the like in Lovecraft’s superstitious, witch-haunted New England towns.
The aptly named League of STEAM (Supernatural and Troublesome Ectoplasmic Apparition Management) is a remarkable organization dedicated to studying the paranormal, advancing science and protecting us all from the dreadful ghouls, ghosts, and goblins that are wont to lurk about trying to cause mischief and steal one's cookies, especially this time of year. In keeping with the holiday spirit, these capital chaps and lovely ladies have created a very charming short film entitled “The Fright Before Christmas,” which is bound to terrify, delight and entertain. Without further ado, I present to you, “The Fright Before Christmas” by the League of STEAM.
G. D. Falksen is a firm believer in the importance of cookies and paranormal investigators. More details on him can be found at his website (www.gdfalksen.com) and his Twitter (twitter.com/gdfalksen).