Perry Mason

Perry Mason

HBO has brought back the hard-boiler defense lawyer Perry Mason in a drama series starring Matthew Rhys, of The Americans fame, in the title role.

I never saw the long-running CBS drama series starring Raymond Burr (1957-66), but I did read most of Erle Stanley Gardner’s novels on which the characters and stories are based. Matthew Rhys’ Mason isn’t as smooth as the one from the novels, but this is a prequel. Set in 1932 Los Angeles, at the depth of the Great Depression, is tells the story of how Mason became a lawyer and took over the practice of his mentor, E.B. Jonathan (John Lithgow).

Like the novels, which typically feature a (female) client falsely accused of murder, the HBO series stars Gayle Rankin as Emily Dodson, who is charged with kidnapping and murdering her baby son by a district attorney played brilliantly by Stephen Root (whom dieselpunk fans may recognize as Hawthorne Abendsen from Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle).

Juliet Rylance and Chris Chalk complete the cast as Mason’s loyal secretary, Della Street, and ally, detective Paul Drake.

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How to Turn the Cold War Hot

Most World War III fiction wasn’t written as alternate history. During the Cold War, many authors and filmmakers imagined how East and West might end up in a (nuclear) war. Because the two sides never did, these stories have become counterfactual.

A Third World War was seldom portrayed as the outcome of outright American or Soviet aggression. More often, the war happened as a result of miscalculation, escalation of a proxy conflict or the Soviets feeling the West left them with no alternative. These were cautionary tales and reflected the fear, widespread at the time, that global thermonuclear war might occur, and kill billions, without either side wanting it.

Video games are an exception. Typically made in Europe or North America, they are more likely to make the Soviets simple villains and give the player the power to unleash nuclear catastrophe just for the heck of it.

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Steampunk Doesn’t Have to be Political for Everyone

Steampunk performer Professor Elemental is back with some common-sense advice on how to deal with politics in steampunk:

At times, I have tried my hand at politics on stage, and had people shake my hand and thank me for taking a stand. But other times, I have annoyed or upset people who were just out for a good night and a bit of escapism. As the world gets harder, I’m trying to make live shows softer, sillier and less partisan. Some people don’t want politics with their steampunk and we need to respect that and stop bothering them.

I remember when I argued in my controversial “Who Killed Steampunk?” article more than a year ago that the genre had become too political, and this was chasing people away, Elemental was one of many critics who thought I was exaggerating.

A few months ago, he, too, recognized that politicizing steampunk can do more harm than good, and he urged people to stop excluding others on the basis of political beliefs.

Sounds reasonable, except when I suggested the same, I was accused of tone policing; of only caring about white and straight people (although I’m gay); prioritizing the hurt feelings of those who want to oppress others; and called naive, a racist, the son of skinheads and a complete and utter jackass.

In short, I was “canceled” — like so many others who have stepped outside the narrow confines of accepted political thought as defined by steampunk’s leading (and loudest) opinionmakers.

It’s a fate Elemental has so far been spared. Let’s hope that, as an opinionmaker himself, he can help turn the tide.

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The Art of James Ng

If you’ve ever searched for steampunk art, there’s a good chance you’ll have found James Ng’s “Imperial Airship”. But did you know this is only one in a series of artworks? Called Imperial Steam & Light, they depict a world in which China, not the United Kingdom, industrialized first.

The Hong Kong-born Ng imagines the possibilities:

Maybe skyscrapers would look like Chinese temples? Cars would look like carriages? Perhaps China will still be in imperial rule? And maybe we would have fantastical machines that look both futuristic and historical.

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Lost Cause: Genre Trope to Avoid

Now that monuments to the Confederacy have been torn across the United States, non-Americans may be wondering why the country honored a rebellion in the first place.

The reason is the “Lost Cause”: an extensive mythology developed in the aftermath of the Civil War by Southern artists, authors and politicians, which denied the true cause of the conflict (slavery) and idealized the Antebellum South.

Gone with the Wind

The best-known example is the 1939 movie Gone with the Wind, which was based on a 1936 novel of the same name by Margaret Mitchell. But there were many more books, magazines, poems, songs and statues that promoted the Lost Cause. Cities, streets and military forts were named after Confederate leaders. The Confederate battle flag was incorporated into the state flags of Georgia and Mississippi.

The goal was to give defeated white Southerners a new sense of pride and purpose and roll back the emancipation of freed slaves.

Given how omnipresent the Lost Cause was in Southern art and literature, and how widespread Confederate nostalgia remains, it can seep into our alternate histories if we aren’t careful. So let’s take a look at what the Lost Cause is and how it can work, so we know what to avoid.

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