Of all the steampunk novels I have read, The Dream of Perpetual Motion is the strangest and most bizarre. If I had to sum it up in one sentence it would be this: “Shakespeare’s The Tempest written in a steampunk world while Shakespeare was on a bad trip.”
Dexter Palmer draws heavily on The Tempest in his novel. The original features on several occasions and we meet strange versions of Prospero, Miranda, Caliban and Ferdinand. They are all protagonists in The Dream of Perpetual Motion to varying degrees of importance.
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While dieselpunk is commonly associated with a pulpy, noir-and-Jazz America, there remains a fascination in the subgenre for the crepuscular world of Interwar Europe.
It was a time of artistic ferment and architectural genius, of electricity and of the machine entwining themselves into the fabric of urban life, of cultural clashes and sexual politics, of ambitious administrators uttering proclamations and of humbled citizens trying to find a place in the brave new world.
It is this brief epoch, and the imaginative potential it nurtured, that finds a new home in the ethereal world of Les Cités Obscures.
Continue reading “The Invisible Frontier”
Patience is a virtue many modern men and women lack. Patience, to most, can be tested when queued up at Starbucks or waiting for your email to load. Yet the patience of most folks is the blink of an eye when compared to the creative endurance of artists Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett.
The husband and wife have put together the stunning Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel. The hardcover artbook, all 168 pages and 350 color illustrations (along with numerous black-and-white photos, sketches and scribbles), covers the fictional (yet lovingly pitched as real) life of Boilerplate, a robot soldier and adventurer, creation of inventor Professor Archibald Campion.
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The era of steampunk ends with the First World War. While authors have played with twilit eras of brass and steam existing deep in the twentieth century before, these tend to be aberrant epochs, places where the life of the Gilded Age has been unnaturally prolonged. When the war breaks out, as it does in Ian R. MacLeod’s House of Storms (2005), and as it is implied to do in Stephen Baxter’s Anti-Ice (1993), it symbolizes the end of an age, the final verdict of a world too frivolous to last, yet too innocent to deserve the coming judgment.
However, Scott Westerfeld, a specialist in young-adult science-fiction, who made his mark with the popular Uglies series, has taken a different tack. Rather than positioning the Great War as the end of steampunk, Leviathan imagines a war that has been colonized by the steampunk aesthetic.
Continue reading “Leviathan”
Nellie Bly is a free-spirited woman. Anything a man can do, she can do as least as good and she won’t stop at anything to prove it.
This doesn’t sound too strange, were it not that she lived in the United States of the turn of the century, where the social situation of women wasn’t exactly what it is now.
Continue reading “The Alchemy of Murder”
For the most part, steampunk is a versatile subgenre. The tropes and themes commonly associated with it, the trappings of era fiction and the wonders of industry, can be applied and reimagined in any number of settings. Today, literary steampunk can run the gamut from straightforward Neo-Victorian adventure to imaginative alternate history to the wildest flights of high fantasy.
However, there is always a risk of carrying things too far.
Continue reading “The Court of the Air”
It is a truism of alternate history that no good deed ever goes unpunished. Whenever someone attempts to change the world for the better, the intervention all too often allows some greater calamity to transpire. Kill Hitler and the Soviet Union will conquer Europe. Start an industrial revolution in Renaissance Europe and nuclear war will break out by the end of the sixteenth century. Give the prehistoric peoples of the Americas seed grain and livestock and their conquest by Sung-dynasty China is assured.
The Company of the Dead, the first novel by Australian author David Kowalski, shares this basic conceit, describing a world not entirely unlike our own doomed to destruction by the actions of a single honest man.
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George Chetwynd Griffith-Jones is one of the forgotten luminaries of the classic British Scientific Romance. A best-selling author and sometime rival of H.G. Wells’ at the beginning of the twentieth century, his work has been mostly forgotten by later generations. While much of them are steeped in the opinions and prejudices of his day, Griffith’s tales contain many elements that would lay the basis for the first great boom of science-fiction.
The Astronef series is a good case in point.
Continue reading “George Griffith’s Astronef Series”
The sequel to Scarlet Traces (our review here) takes place in the Britain of the 1930s, with the invasion of Mars by the British Empire going badly.
We follow the Lady Charlotte, a photographer and reporter for The Interceptor, the last remaining liberal newspaper. With an insurgency in Scotland getting worse and branching into suicide attacks, Oswald Mosely as home secretary and the Commonwealth trying to withdraw its troops from Mars, Lotte manages to sneak onto the frontlines only to discover that she is stuck with the rearguard — and there is no rescue coming for them.
Continue reading “Scarlet Traces: The Great Game”
H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds never had a sequel. Thankfully Ian Edington and the artist who calls himself D’Israeli have filled that gap in comic-book form with the formidable Scarlet Traces.
Their premise is simple: after the defeat of the Martians, Britain adapts their technologies to make themselves the world’s greatest superpower. The factories of the North are replaced with mechanical estates, the cavalry trade their horses for multi-limbed fighting machines, and homes are warmed by a spinoff of the Heat Ray. All is well in 1908 — or is it?
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