content by

S.J. Chambers

What Lies Beneath the Clock Tower, Free Will and Adventure: An interview with Margaret Killjoy

The Choose Your Own Adventure series comprised a large portion of my childhood reading. There was nothing more exciting than having the fate of say, James Bond, within your page-flipping fingers, and I have found myself longing for adult versions of the reading game. Thankfully, I’m not alone and several clever and fun Choose Your Own Adventure riffs have trickled throughout the years, like Emma Webster’s Lost in Austen, and Margaret Killjoy‘s What Lies Beneath The Clock Tower: A Steampunk Adventure of Your Own Choosing, out through Combustion Books.

Clock Tower smartly revamps the make your own adventure recipe with a fantasy base flavored with a pinch of Steampunk and a splash of politics. The plot is this: lead the foppish, British rake Gregory from decadent indolence in fin-de-siècle France to “the depths of the undercity” where Gregory is involved in warfare between “colonialist gnomes” and “indigenous goblins.” There’s action and absinthe, difference engines and monsters, romance and of course, zeppelins.

[To venture futher, go to paragraph 3]

The Steampunk Bible Tour, Part 2

Since the official release of my and Jeff Vandermeer’s The Steampunk Bible in May in Austin, I’ve been on tour throughout New England promoting the book, meeting many of the people who we featured in the book, and falling in love with the steampunk community as a whole.

The second leg of my tour for The Steampunk Bible was completed earlier this month and proved to be every bit of a positive experience as the first leg, which can be caught up on here.

[Read more]

The Steampunk Bible Book Tour Extravaganza: Part I

Since the official lease of my and Jeff Vandermeer’s The Steampunk Bible almost a month ago in Austin, I’ve been on tour throughout New England promoting the book, meeting many of the people who we featured in the book, and falling in love with the Steampunk community as a whole. With a few stop and go’s in Austin and Waltham, MA, overall I am visiting 7 cities in roughly two weeks. At the time I’m writing this, I’ve already notched five off my list, and it has been a whirlwind tour of not only Steampunk, but Natural and American literary history. Below I thought I’d share some highlights.

[Read more]

VanderMeers Import Finnish SF/F Literature

Last April (11-16), Ann and Jeff VanderMeer were flown out to Finland to participate in Vandercon. A seven day, countrywide event spanning from Jyväskylä to Helinski, Vandercon was not to be only a celebration of the couples work, but to also be a cultural exchange for Finnish SF/F literature, which was made possible by a FILI (Finnish Literature Exchange) grant. While there, Ann and Jeff met a myriad of talented writers, discovered Floridian hockey is alive and well, and discovered that Finland is a veritable hotbed for Weird fiction (so much, that Ann, editor of the Hugo Award winning Weird Tales, unexpectedly purchased a short story from a workshop, which she writes about on the Weird Tales site here).

[Read more]

The Steampunk Bible Is Coming to NYC

The authors and contributors to the recently released Steampunk Bible (out from Abrams Image) are coming to NYC at the end of May! The event features quite a few steampunk experts, many of whom you can find original pieces from right here on

The event details:

Thursday, May 26 at 7 PM
Barnes & Noble (West 82nd & Broadway)

Co-authors Jeff VanderMeer and S.J. Chambers host an event featuring a calvacade of Steampunk Bible (Abrams Image) contributors. Join Beyond Victoriana’s Ay-leen the Peacemaker, author Dexter Palmer, artist Aleks Sennwald, editor Liz Gorinsky, fashionista Evelyn Kriete, writer G.D. Falksen, and Silver Goggles’ Jaymee Goh for a multi-media presentation focused on new steampunk projects, highlights from The Steampunk Bible, and Punksteamer Jeff VanderMeer’s patented “Contraptor’s Single-Question Revealing Interrogation” of each participant. With signing, and time for audience questions.

The Steampunk Bible Tour: Austin, TX

Two weeks ago, on May 1st, the coffee table book The Steampunk Bible (Abrams Image) by myself and Jeff VanderMeer was released. We celebrated with a book release party in Austin, TX at the U.S. Arts Authority.

I’ve recieved a flurry of inquiries as to why I picked Austin as the location for the book’s launch, and it’s because it has some amazing steampunk roots in writers like Rick Klaw, Michael Moorcock, and Bruce Sterling, who all contributed to the book. There is also a very amazing and newly active group called The Austin Steampunk Society.

[More reasons why….]

Jeff VanderMeer’s Monstrous Creatures: A Review

Monstrous Creatures: Explorations of the Fantastical, Surreal, and Weird is the latest non-fiction collection from the award winning author Jeff VanderMeer. It will be released through Guide Dog Books March 11 (this Saturday) at Fogcon in San Francisco, where VanderMeer and his wife and Hugo-Award winning Weird Tales editor Ann VanderMeer are guests of honor. It is here I should pause for full disclosure, which is that I am also VanderMeer’s co-author on The Steampunk Bible, coming out through Abrams Images this May. Co-authorship aside, as an editor and a writer, I have always looked at VanderMeer’s non-fiction as an example to follow in the field of speculative fiction, and here in one convenient volume is his best work since 2005.

As the title hints, the monstrous is the collection’s overall theme, which VanderMeer’s introduction defines as “the intersection of the beautiful with the strange, the dangerous with the sublime. Things that seem to be continuously unknowable no matter how much you discover about them.” VanderMeer extends this definition to the literary life, which to him: “The best fictions always have those qualities. They reveal dark marvels but they withhold some of their secrets as well.” This collection demonstrates VanderMeer’s attempts to uncover some of those secrets through essays, forewords and appreciations, and interviews.

[Go hunting for monsters…]

Baltimore Cuts Poe House Funding

If you are an admirer of Edgar Allan Poe and his work, The Baltimore Poe House and Museum needs your help. Last week, The Baltimore Poe Society posted a special announcement on their website stating the House and Museum is in danger.

“Since December 18, 1977, the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum at 203 Amity Street, in West Baltimore, has been run by the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP), a division of the Department of Planning with the City of Baltimore,” the announcement explains. “Unfortunately, the city, suffering under intense and continuing budgetary problems—and perhaps hoping that hardly anyone will notice—has decided that the Poe Museum must become self-sufficient or it must be closed.”

[Read on for how you can help…]

I Am Catwoman, Hear Me Roar Giveaway

I have a stash of Catwoman comics from the 90’s tucked away in my closet. For Batman week, I was going to re-read them to decipher who the real Catwoman might be, complete with pseudo-academic nuances like what she meant to nineties feminism and her role as an object of desire. But after a few issues, I realized that bringing all that to a comic series can become a labyrinthine task worthy of better scholars than myself. I also realized I wasn’t as interested in Catwoman’s symbolism or existentialism as much as which Catwoman is the best.

A question that may be forever open to debate.

[And now there’s a new Catwoman in Gotham…]

Series: Bat-Week

Shared Worlds Awarded Grant

Shared Worlds, the non-profit teen science fiction writing camp, has just announced it has been awarded a $15,000 grant from, which will help the 2011 program fund guest writer invites and student scholarships.

The grant is the largest donation Shared Worlds has received in its history. “Shared Worlds takes a truly innovative approach to developing our next generation of great writers,” said Jon Fine, director of Author and Publisher Relations for (via Shared Worlds’ press release). “We look forward to the terrific new works the Program’s graduates are bound to create in the future.”

Hosted by Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina since 2008, Shared Worlds has offered young writers, ranging from eighth to twelfth grade, opportunities to work with top science fiction/fantasy writers in a workshop setting.

The Class of 2011, which will be comprised of approximately 50 students, will get to work with guest instructors Jeff VanderMeer, Ann VanderMeer, Minister Faust, Ekaterina Sedia, Nnedi Okorafor, and Will Hindmarch. Applications for the 2011 summer camp are open, and the session will be held July 18-July 31.

For more information on Shared Worlds SF teen writing camp, applications, instructors, and its Grant, please visit here.

S. J. Chambers is senior editor of Articles at Strange Horizons. Her recent project includes The Steampunk Bible, a coffee table book co-authored with Jeff VanderMeer that will be out May 2011 through Abrams Images.

Smells Like Steam Spirit: Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Phoenix Steamworks Series

Smells Like Steam Spirit; or, The Industrial Revolution Never Smelled This Good

At least, that’s the premise behind Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Phoenix Steamworks and Research Facility line. The collection features 11 perfume oil blends, available in .5 ml amber apothecary vials. Each vial is individually illustrated by Julie Dillon and alludes to the artwork of such Steampunk giants as Art Donovan, Jake von Slatt, and Mike Libby. With names and concepts such as Aelopile, Galvanic Goggles, and Antikythera Mechanism, each fragrance is redolent of mad science and invention.

[Smell on…]

Series: Steampunk Fortnight

Poe and the Philadelphia Gothic: An Interview with Ed “Philly Poe Guy” Pettit

January 19, 2010 marks Edgar Allan Poe’s 201st birthday and the end of what has been a stellar bicentennial in ’09. Among many of the highlights of the Bicentennial is an ongoing debate among Poeists, known as the “Poe Wars,” or “The Great Poe Debate” that questions Baltimore’s claim to Poe, who is buried in Charm City. Independent scholar Ed Pettit, the author of the Ed & Edgar blog, instigated the conversation in 2007 with a piece in the Philadelphia City Paper where he wrote:  “…I want to exhume his body and translate his remains to the City of Brotherly Love,… That’s because Poe is ours. He belongs to Philadelphia.”  Pettit has been defending his stance ever since (earning him the moniker of “The Philly Poe Guy,”) and has no intention of waning as the Bicentennial winds down. He was able to take a break from the fight to talk with me about Philly Goth, the origins of urban horror, and why we still care about Poe.

S.J. Chambers:   Many people think of Edgar Poe as a Southern Gothic pioneer, but really most of his macabre writings neither depict nor were written in the South. You argue he’s part of the Philly Goth tradition. How did you get into Philly Goth and what was Poe’s role within it?

Ed Pettit:  The “Southern Gothic” tag for Poe has always bothered me because it’s anachronistic. There’s no such thing as Southern Gothic while Poe is alive. Southern Gothic is a 20th century sub-genre that reflects the fallen, once great South. You can’t really have Southern Gothic before the Civil War.

[Quoth the Author, ]

Lovecraft Fresh: “The Color Out of Space” and “The Call of Cthulhu”

“The Color Out of Space” and “The Call of Cthulhu” are two stories that have already been reviewed in Seamus Cooper’s awesome series 12 Days of Lovecraft. He does a stellar job of summarizing these stories, and for that I refer you to him.  I really enjoyed these two entries because my reactions to the stories were opposite Mr. Cooper, and helped me question why I liked “The Color Out of Space” despite it being a snoozefest, and why I was underwhelmed by “The Call of Cthulhu.”

I chose the “The Call of Cthulhu” because I couldn’t very well introduce myself to Lovecraft without experiencing this Elder God first hand. Perhaps it’s due to all the hype and cultists, but meeting the tentacled immortal was a bit underwhelming for me. I agree he is a horrible and frightful thing, but I have found that I am more intrigued by Lovecraft’s unique environments and madness than his actual mythos.

What I did like about “The Call of Cthulhu,” was the use of the narrator’s uncle’s research papers and clippings, as well as found artifacts and paintings, that documented the weird wave of Cthulhu’s call. While the narrator basically paraphrases all of it, the papers’ existence paired with the various sources and witnesses lends the story an authenticity necessary to winning the reader’s trust. He creates this authenticity also in “The Color Out of Space,” by witnesses, newspaper articles, and scientific data.

[More evidence below…]

Series: December Belongs To Cthulhu

Spreading the Love: An Interview with Innsmouth Free Press

Innsmouth Free Press is not your typical literary magazine, or fanzine for that matter. Begun earlier this year in March, Innsmouth Free Press is a mock newspaper that reports all the weird happenings around Innsmouth and the Lovecraftian beyond. In addition to these “monster bytes,” they also publish Lovecraftian-inspired short fiction from established writers such as Mary Robinette Kowal and Nick Mamatas and emerging and talented writers like Kirk Barrett, as well as articles and reviews. Innsmouth’s mission is not to publish Lovecraft rehashes, but to explore his mythos in new contexts and perspectives. In honor of Cthulhumas, Innsmouth Free Press publisher Silvia Moreno-Garcia and editor-in-chief Paula R. Stiles chatted with me about celebrating and expanding Lovecraftian tradition.

[Monster Bytes below…]

Series: December Belongs To Cthulhu

Lovecraft Fresh: “The Hound”

A sphinx-like mongrel chasing down decadent grave-robbers? Yeah, I’m sold. I loved this story so much I called all my friends to rave mad about it. But rather than preach to the choir here, I thought I would nerd out about the Decadents (a.k.a. Symbolism), whose heavy influence in this story won my heart.

Symbolism was an art movement that spanned most of Europe and the United States in the last few decades of the nineteenth century. It began in France, under the influence of Mallarmé and Baudelaire (both who translated and advocated Poe in France), as a literary movement, but immediately carried over into the visual arts of Gustav Moreau, Odilon Redon, and Arnold Böcklin. Symbolist theory began to emerge not only under the guidance of Mallarmé, but also in conjunction with the rejection of the Naturalist and Realist schools. These two schools advocated in both writing and fine art the depiction of nature and life as it is seen, sans exaggerations. These movements were more concerned with social issues, prescribing to the positivist trend that boomed with the Industrial Revolution.

Positivism called for a world based upon reason and technology, and only acknowledged “…one level of reality: nature,” as Michael Gibson writes in his Taschen coffee table book Symbolism. In Positivism, dreams were only for those who slept, and the sleeper was Symbolism.

[Dream on…]

Series: December Belongs To Cthulhu

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