Music review: Queen of the Wave

Label: Catskills Records
Reviewed by Meg Kingston

cb61ad3b32af3ad2d762f5792b048ce4_1328016411_cover__Calling itself “An Esoteric Pop Opera in Three Parts”, Queen of the Wave is a bold attempt by the Scandinavian duo Pepe Deluxe to reinvent the prog rock concept album for the 21st century. I love the idea, I enjoyed some of the tracks, but it didn’t really flow in the way I would expect from a concept album. It sounds more like a collection of tracks strung together almost at random. The story they tell is similarly mixed up.

The accompanying book is similar, a collection of images comprising fragments of the story, the history of the group, the lyrics and miscellaneous retro-futuristic machines. It’s appealing at first glance, but I reached the end feeling that my expectations were unfilled.

There’s no denying the talents of the contributors or the scale of their ambitions. I loved several elements – especially the Stalagpipe Organ (exactly what it sounds like). But the overall feel suffers from a lack of coherence.

This work has been submitted to the magazine as a “Steampunk” work. I don’t believe it is, though it’s retro-futuristic, full of references to odd machinery, Atlantis and other trappings that could be part of the Steampunk aesthetic.

Is it Steampunk? No, I’m afraid not. Did I enjoy Queen of the Wave? In part, yes.

Personal Score: 3 stars (out of 5)

Interwith with Bryn Pryor, creator of Cowboys and Engines

A humanoid robot with a zombie-like face and pipes coming out of its back.Bryn Pryor and his team want to bring steampunk to the big screen on a new, huge scale: Their film Cowboys and Engines has robots, zeppelins, space travel, and mysterious gadgets galore, all set in a detailed alternative history. I got to ask Bryn a few questions about alt history, world-building, and the film itself.

Just to start off with everyone’s favorite question: How would you define steampunk?

I define steampunk as Victorian adventure/sci-fi mashup with an eye towards the fact that aesthetics are as important as function. That being said, I’m different from many steampunk fans in that it’s important to me that I can believe everything really works. The look and feel of gear and wardrobe is important, but it also needs to be functional. Often, I see steampunk cosplayers and think their designs are pretty, and would look great in stills, but the minute they have to move, it becomes apparent that the gear is completely impractical. I just don’t buy it. So my version of steampunk is a bit more gritty and stripped-down.

In the world of Cowboys and Engines, North America is split into five different nations – can you tell us a bit about what each of those are, and how much of each we get to see?

The five nations of C&E’s North America break down according to the alternate history of the world I’m trying to build, and I’d like to think they make sense in that context. We have the United States, which is the entire northeast, extending as far south as Charleston, SC, and as far west as Denver and Cheyenne.

The Confederate States are smaller than we are used to, including much of the south, but not Florida, Louisiana, or the southern portions of Alabama and Georgia, which are controlled by Neuvo Hispanola, or New Spain.

This latter nation is one of the oldest on the continent. In our timeline, Spain never lost control of Florida, and there was no Seven Years War. Instead, Spain and France fought The Mississippi River War, with France ceding control of Louisiana and the southern Mississippi basin to Spain.

Texas, (as has often been imagined by speculative writers dating back to before Texas was actually a state) is a nation unto itself, officially the Republic of Texas, stretching down into northern Mexico, and encompassing the Oklahoma panhandle, New Mexico, and much of Arizona.

Everything else, from southern Mexico to Alaska, including Idaho, Nevada, and much of Utah, is the vast, powerful and massively wealthy Calexican Empire.

Much of what is currently Canada is hotly contested in an ongoing war between the French and British, but is not a nation, per se, in our 1876.

Politically, North America is a mess. Our civil war started earlier, in 1858, and is still raging in 1876, taking a terrible toll on both the United and Confederate States. Texas, while technically neutral, supports the CSA with money, weapons and advisers. New Spain, while being a close ally with Texas, supports the USA in a similar fashion, fearing expansionist aggression from the CSA should they secure their independence.

The US also gets financial support from France, where Napoleon’s son is still Emperor of France, and King of Italy and Prussia.

The Calexican Empire pretends neutrality, but in fact works against all the other players in the region, hoping to destabilize Texas, the US and the CSA so that it might take advantage of their weakened positions and expand outright. The only true alliance the Empire has is with Britain, and it is largely due to gold from Calexico’s coffers, and the Empire’s military aid, that Britain has maintained its independence from Napoleon II.


What’s the technology in this world like? Favorite gadget/machine?

The tech of this world is clever, but clunky. Electricity is still in it fledgling state, but much steam- and clockwork-based tech is built around the Tesla coil, the work not of Nikola Tesla, but of his father, Milutin, who abandoned the priesthood at a young age in our world, deciding instead to study natural philosophy (aka, the newly-named “science”) at Charles University in Prague. There, along with Professor Nicholas Timéon, Tesla created a small device that exploits barely-understood natural electrical reactions to create intense heat for several months without fuel.

Eventually, refinements to this device would allow a single Tesla coil to remain in use for two-three years without changing. In essence, without really understanding its principles, Tesla and Timéon stumbled upon nuclear plasma fusion and created what amount to nuclear batteries. These now power much of the technology in the world, despite being dangerous when handled incorrectly.

My favorite gadget is probably Professor Timéon’s Temporal Engine, which is central to our story. However, while I can tell you it isn’t a time machine, I can’t really reveal what it does…

What’s your process like for creating an alternate history like this? Where do you start to develop such a detailed world for such a relatively short story?

My process is sort of ridiculously complex. I approach worlds like this the way Lucas approached the world of the original Star Wars, which is to say, I don’t want to explain it to the audience, I just want to drop them in it and have it feel intuitive and real. The way you do that is to have so much detail informing the story and the world that the characters just feel at home. As long as the characters understand what’s going on, and why, the audience will generally understand without having it spelled out for them.

However, as I mentioned, I’m a stickler for things working. I’m the top cop on the bullshit squad, and if I don’t believe it, it doesn’t work for me. So I couldn’t just imagine a “different” 1876; I had to backtrack and figure out why it’s different. Where, in history, did various elements diverge to create this altered timeline? So I kept moving back, step-by-step, tweaking and adjusting elements in history that could logically have led to where the world is, and it turned into a huge, twisting rabbit-hole of detail. It turns out my timeline starts to diverge in the early 12th century, when several pieces of technology that led to the 12th century Renaissance arrive from China a few decades sooner than they actually did, including the blast furnace and the sailor’s compass.

Does any of this bear directly on the movie? No, but it lets me construct our new world on a strong foundation that might not literally work (science fiction rarely does), but functions well enough to suspend disbelief pretty painlessly for the viewer.

How much of the historical back story will we see on-screen?

A lot of the near-term historical background is referenced. We understand that the Civil War is ongoing, and we get a sense of its ravages when we see the Myrmidon; My two leads encounter a renegade mechanical soldier that has wandered away from some battlefield, possibly years ago, and it is horrible. It’s the corpse of a fallen infantryman that has been mechanized, armored, and sent back into battle, partly as a psychological weapon. To me, this indicates how nearly two decades of war have both depleted available manpower, and degraded the morality of the combatants. It’s an example of how the history informs the action, without being implicit.

The fact that Cade Ballard, my main character, saved President Lincoln from assassination when he was Texas’ ambassador to the US is important in that it has made Cade a celebrity, something he very much wants to avoid. The Calexican Empire’s wealth features prominently in the plans of Dr. Clay, the antagonist, in a way I’d rather not specify. And the scarcity of railroads in the West and Midwest — due to the popularity and speed of airships — allows us to have only scattered, isolated, tiny towns between Dodge City and major ports like San Francisco.

Again, these are just examples of how the history gets presented. I never sit the audience down and give them a history lesson, because who would want to sit through it? But it’s always there as a backbone to the story, and I think the narrative would suffer without it.

You say on your website that Hollywood has failed miserably at bringing steampunk to the screen, and I was wondering if you had any thoughts on why that is?

Frankly, I think Hollywood fails at most genres because they are fostered by studio execs who don’t understand what drives them in the first place. It would be like me making decisions about haute couture when I haven’t got the slightest notion what that world is about. Also, when there’s a ton of money on the line — take, for instance, the execrable Wild, Wild West — studios try too hard to broaden the appeal. In their minds, this means appealing to the lowest common denominator, and the result is always shit.

The Kickstarter campaign for the movie ends on March 9th, so if you’re interested in seeing it happen, you can support it here!

Fiction Review: The Steam Mole

Publisher: Pyr 2012
Reviewed by Nimue Brown, with co-reviewer James

SteamMoleWhile Steam Mole is a sequel to the exuberant YA novel Cuttlefish, it would stand alone so don’t hesitate to jump in here if this one comes to you first. Young adventurers Clara Calland and Tim Barnabas find themselves in a steam powered Australia as this alternate history takes a series of new and dramatic turns. Imagining Australia without the social effects of the Second World War and with radical climate change creates not only a different political and geographical scenario but also allows Freer to explore the horrors of racial prejudice and corporate abuse.

The plot of Steam Mole is an absolute page turner, throwing the young protagonists and the adults who surround them into a series of perilous events and dangerous adventures. Inclusion of more adult characters and narrative adds depth to the setting and takes this book forward from Cuttlefish, delivering more story and vision than the first book held – which really is saying something.

As the title suggests, Steam Mole takes us underground, with steam powered mining and underground transport technology. In the lethal heat of this imagined Australia, most humans cannot survive on the surface, so underground cities are a must. The underpinning science has clearly been given a lot of thought and anything not explained within the story is tackled at the end in the very useful author notes.
As with Cuttlefish, this book is clearly aimed at the YA market, but will prove irresistible to any adult readers who enjoy this sort of thing. My YA co-reviewer said it was at least as good as Cuttlefish, and like the first book, he found it “amazing”. He was able to engage with the adult perspectives in the story and, despite being a boy, quite liked the romantic elements of the plot! Freer clearly has an eye to appealing to readers of both gender. The romance, as with other emotional aspects of the story, is handled with a light touch, but remains deeply affecting throughout. Younger readers won’t be overwhelmed, while adults will find this aspect powerful. At several points, events in the story almost had me in tears, although it’s not a plot spoiler, given the genre, to mention that things work out in the end.

Overall, a most excellent read. If Freer continues this as a series, I shall keep reading. Highly recommended.

Wired reviews Steampunk Magazine

Wired has reviews of several fabulous Steampunk publications, including our very own magazine. If you’re looking for some new reading material, check out their recommendations!

Thanks for the kind review!

Issue 9 Giveaway!

SPM Issue 9 cover: A cloaked, top hat wearing man riding a mechanical wildebeest.Issue 9 is about to hit the presses! (Check out the cover art, by the amazing  Kelley Hensing.) To celebrate that, and having just passed 6,000 followers on our Facebook page, we’re holding a giveaway!

To Enter

Comment on this thread to enter the giveaway. Entries will close on Monday, Feb. 18th, at noon (EST). One entry per person, please; a valid e-mail address is required to enter. Two entries will be randomly selected for prizes!

The Prizes

First place:

The Steampunk Magazine anthology (including issues #1-7,) Issue 8, and the upcoming Issue 9!

Second place:

A copy of Issue 9!


Some fine print:

Because of shipping costs, we can only accept entries from the United States. Sorry!

ART: STEAMPUNK in plastic?

TOYSREVIL: Rivals Vinyl on Kickstarter (Nautical x Steampunk = Awesome).

Fiction Review: The Night Circus

Publisher: Anchor
Reviewed by Cheyenne Kam

1-ba07b7651dYou are invited to a circus that only opens after dark, and closes at dawn. A circus that appears without warning, overnight, whose black-and-white tents hide feats of magic and mechanical engineering, with moving statues, masked performers, mystery and danger. You might think you’re just a member of the public but once you step inside, you’re part of the show.

Le Cirque des Rêves— the Circus of Dreams—is more than a mysterious, beautiful piece of showmanship: it’s the creation and testing ground of two young magicians, raised to face each other in a magic showdown since they were children. Their combat is almost as much a mystery to them as it is to the reader, because their mentors are keeping secrets about the goals and outcome of the challenge. Meanwhile, the performers at the circus—the contortionist, the fortune teller, the impresario and his friends who designed the circus, the engineer who made the clock that stands at the entrance, and especially the twins who were born the night the circus opened—are drawn in to the ongoing challenge.

I almost don’t want to tell you anything more about this novel, I love it so much. You should get to read it with the same delighted surprise that I did. Most of the story is set in the years 1880 to 1902, concentrating on the two magicians, Celia and Marco. Other sections follow Bailey, a young boy who has been enamored of the circus his whole life. While magic is at the core of the story, there are steampunk elements in the circus’s mechanical illusions, Victorian setting, and the awareness of the eve of the Twentieth Century. Anything seems possible; not knowing where the magic ends and technology begins is part of the fun.

The characters are likable, but flawed: all of them make mistakes that they have to try to fix (with varying degrees of success). But it’s the descriptions of the circus that push this novel into the realm of the fantastic. You’ll want to visit it. Or you’ll believe you did, in your dreams.

For a first novel, this is an incredible debut from Morganstern. I plan on following her career for the foreseeable future.

ART: Need to Flash them Bills, yo? – Reproduction Banknote Printing Press

Steampunk Fashion – Reproduction Banknote Printing Press.

ART | DC Universe Gets Steampunked.

 Wonder Woman steapunk

DC Universe Gets Steampunked. Photography by Mike Rollerson.

via Video Action Girl — DC Universe Gets Steampunked. Photography by Mike….

Fiction Review: A Drop of the Venom

Publisher: Penny Gaff Publishing, LLC
Reviewed by Leanne Tough

CC_3Ep_1_Final Front CoverA Drop of the Venom, Part One, is both an engaging read and a visually stunning eBook. The first thing I fell in love with was the art work and the gorgeous pages; ‘antiqued’ to make them both aesthetically pleasing and, as a bonus, also easier on the eye than ordinary white pages. This is what eBooks should look like – there are so many opportunities for full-colour illustrations and adjusting the design of the text-only pages to fit the genre of the book, and I feel this particular eBook really goes the whole hog, as it were! The team at Penny Gaff Publishing should be proud indeed.

As for the story itself, it is engaging, which makes the ninety-eight pages disappear in a matter of moments. It certainly leaves you wishing there were more available – alas, I shall have to wait until Autumn to find out what happens next! It is so refreshing to find a book labelled ‘steampunk’ which focuses on the machines, their development, and the consequences. This is not a light-hearted gaslight romance; it is dark, enthralling, and tragic. It is essentially a gothic tale, inspired by Victorian tales and myths. I love the development of the myth and how it takes over the lives of those involved. My favourite thing about the story is that because it is told by one of the characters, and certain tragedies are hinted at from the start, it keeps you wondering and guessing at what happens – leading to a truly unexpected twist.

The character development is especially interesting; it keeps you engaged and sympathetic, allowing you to get to know the characters in only a few pages. You do begin to feel for the characters, wanting the best to happen but knowing, as they seem to know, that it may all be hopeless. The whole past tale which Quinn relates to Mr. Lighthouse carries a dark aura; you do not expect a happy tale. But what it ‘lacks’ in mirth it makes up for in twists, machinery, and a fast pace.

Finally, the illustrations, though few, are beautiful. I spent a few minutes at least exploring each one, taking in the details. It’s so rare to find an illustrated novel or novella aimed at an adult audience, especially in colour! The centrefold is of the Leviathan’s Bane, the first machine introduced, and I found it so interesting to see how my vision of the ship compared with the illustrator’s.

Overall, I would recommend grabbing a copy for when you have a spare hour or so to just enjoy the tale, which will leave you wanting more.