Lady Mechanika, Volume 4: The Clockwork Assassin

Lady Mechanika, Volume 4

Lady Mechanika, Volume 4: The Clockwork Assassin (chronologically the fifth in the series, as the unnumbered volume La Dame de la Muerte fits best in between 1 and 2) takes us to Mechanika City, home to the Lady Mechanika and her friends.

It is one of her closest friends, perhaps her closest, Mr Lewis, that this volume focuses on. You see, people from his past have started to die, and the murderer has an M.O. suspiciously like that of his mechanically augmented friend.

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Changing the World: L’Hexagone

What they call France here is the land beyond the Loire, which to them is a foreign country.

Jean Racine, 1662

The year is 1941. The location a nightclub and gambling den in French Morocco. A group of boorish German officials are belting out a loud piano rendition of “Die Wacht am Rhein”, to the forlorn disapproval of the rest of the patrons. With the tacit approval of the proprietor, Paul Henreid instructs the house band to play “La Marseillaise”.

Such is the set-up for one of the most emotionally powerful scenes in cinema history, from the 1942 film Casablanca. The location of the scene, the nationalities and loyalties of the characters, and the time and place in history of the both the story and the film’s production all combine in those emotions. The anthems being sung by each nation’s citizens — France and Germany — are given new context amid global war and the occupation of the former nation’s homeland by the army of the latter.

Both “La Marseillaise” and “Die Wacht am Rhein” were originally written at a time of national awaking. In implicitly identifying their people with their nations, they implore the former to fight for the latter. It is no coincidence that both songs reference the Rhine River, long thought of as representing the natural boundary between France and Germany.

In our history, a powerful French state has been a near-constant of the European map since the Dark Ages. Modern-day France exists within the limits of physical geography. She is bounded by sea coasts and by the ranges of the Pyrenees, the Alps and the Jura mountains. Only her eastern frontier is less clearly defined.

But how inevitable is the emergence of this powerful, unified French state? Does geography make l’Hexagon inevitable? What limits does geography set for an alternate France?

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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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Hugo

Hugo

I must admit that when I heard Martin Scorsese had made a kid-friendly film, I was taken aback, given his pedigree of Taxi Driver (1976), Goodfellas (1990) and most recently The Irishman (2019). It seemed like something out of character for the man, and so it was in the spirit of curiosity, more than anything else, that I watched Hugo on Netflix.

I was enthralled the entire time. My doubts were entirely misplaced.

First and foremost, this feels like a Scorsese movie even without the grit and mobsters. It has his trademark tracking shots, one through Gare Montparnasse in Paris, and it’s gorgeous. It has his way of using music that I can’t quite put my finger on, but is undoubtedly filled with a certain je ne sais quoi that shows how much the man loves the medium. More generally, it has the craftsmanship that Scorsese excels at.

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Enola Holmes

Enola Holmes

Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister has grown up in the country, raised by her single mother and away from her famous siblings Mycroft and Sherlock. After the disappearance of her free-thinking mother, she escapes Mycroft’s attempts to make her socially acceptable — and less of an embarrassment to him, a government official — to travel to London in search of the missing Holmes family matriarch.

On the way she gets embroiled, like Holmes family members tend to do, in the case of a missing aristocrat, has her brothers trying to find her, for various reasons, and is slowly stumbling across the plot her mother has gotten herself into.

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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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Changing the World: Unnatural Limits

If otherwise mountains had arisen, rivers flowed or coasts trended, then how very different would mankind have scattered over this tilting place of nations.

Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803)​

Last time we discussed whether it was by fluke or fate that a single United Kingdom had come to occupy the island of Great Britain. The UK being able to set most of her borders upon the shoreline has proven something of a geographic and historic advantage, one many other states and nations lack. What options remain for less blessed lands? Natural borders perhaps?

A “natural border” is a border between states that follows natural geographic features (rivers, mountain ranges, coastlines). But just how “natural” are natural borders? Say you’re creating an alternate-history map or else worldbuilding for a story or timeline: should the nations on your world map be created with semi-random borders in the interests of maximum divergence from our timeline? Or should their borders instead snap to natural features wherever possible — in effect converging to where these have occurred in our own history. Is there something inevitable about natural borders that makes them more likely to arise in any timeline? Does physical geography even hold so strong a control on borders in our own timeline?

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Les 4 Maisons

Les 4 Maisons is a Harry Potter speciality store, but it is also a clock-, steam- and dieselpunk decor shop. Are you looking for a new globe? A pen and quill set? A coffee table that used to be an ocean liner travel cabinet? This, and much more, can be found at Les 4 Maisons.

If you can’t visit the physical store in Liège, Belgium, fret not, they have a webshop! But, as you can tell from the pictures, a visit to the store is well worth it!

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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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