ART: Forsaken zanzibar, to the light

forsaken_zanzibar__to_the_light_by_lordoffog-d5r8luy

Forsaken zanzibar, to the light
by ~lordoffog

Fiction Review: Venus on Mars

BY JAN MILLSAPPS
Publisher: Falernian Press
Reviewed by Lori Holuta

VoMfrontcoverI’ve always loved road trips. There is a freedom of mind and body that can only be found when you’re far from home and the only physical object that ties you to your identity is your car. Some of my favorite books and movies have involved the Classic American Road Trip.

Of course I was immediately interested when I began reading Venus on Mars and realized I’d be riding shotgun along with Venus Dawson, who’s just left New Orleans, Louisiana and is on the road to Pasadena, California. Venus has just attended to her mother’s burial in New Orleans, and is on her way home, where a job she loathes awaits her return.

Before she leaves the funeral proceedings, an uncle she’s never met gives her a package, explaining that he promised her mother it would be passed down to the next generation. He tells Venus she is ‘supposed to have this’. She cracks into the package during her first diner stop, finds her great aunt Wrexie Louise “Lulu” Leonard’s private journal, and begins to read it.

Venus is drawn into Lulu’s life, and we, the readers, are taken along for the ride. But there’s room on the road trip for yet one more notable woman. The author cleverly slips in details of the life of Letha Broussard Dawson, the almost-blind mother of Venus who’s just been buried, and is still in her ‘discovery’ stages of Crossing Over.

As Venus meanders her way across the country, she becomes more and more engrossed in Lulu’s journal. She starts to connect with her great aunt and finds a bond of both kinship and sympathy for the life of a Victorian woman who struggled with her astronomy career and the man she worked alongside. Venus has her share of both those challenges, too.

Eventually, the impact this little journal has on Venus goes well beyond words on paper. She veers off the main road, both in reality and also metaphysically, until all paths of her life are changed forever. There’s no clear way to describe this transition, it really needs to be experienced first-hand by the reader.

I’m aware that other reviews of Venus on Mars focus heavily on the planet Mars. Indeed, much of this story revolves around the red planet, which forms the pivot point of this story. Mars is wonderfully revealed (and revered) by each of our characters as they try to solve its mysteries.

But for me, what I will remember most are the lives of Lulu, Letha and Venus. Separated by time, bonded by blood, and joined by circumstances, when all is said and done, each has an amazing story to share. Inspired by their stories, you may find a chapter of your own life, just waiting to be written.

The author maintains an eye-opening website (janmillsapps.com) that’s well worth exploring. Here, she explains the ‘augmented moments’ that you’ll come across now and then in Venus on Mars. If you have access to a QR Reader for your mobile device, you can take advantage of these bonus features, but the novel plays out perfectly well on it’s own.

ART: STEAMPUNK MP3 player

steampuk_mp3_v2_0_by_42rus-d5r7ugx

Steampuk MP3 v2.0
by ~42RUS
My new music player , design a retro radio
Materials: brass, veneer
Completely handmade

Fiction Review: Cuttlefish

BY DAVE FREER
Publisher: Pyr 2012
Reviewed by Nimue Brown, assisted by James

CuttlefishThis is a particularly intriguing alternate history novel that does not have an immediately obvious point of departure from actual history. Helpfully, author Dave Freer includes an author note at the end explaining the little, human change that gives him a flooded and steampowered reality with a lingering British Empire and subversive heroes. His choice of when to branch off (I’m not saying what, it would be a spoiler) is fascinating all by itself.

The world building is exquisitely handled; developed through action and storytelling in a way that will really pull you in. The page turner of a plot has smaller, character-driven narratives underpinned by a much bigger and more political storyline. Younger readers may not pick up on all these details and may not know enough history to fully get the setup, as was the case with my co-reviewer, but this is no barrier to really enjoying the book. As with the Harry Potter books, it’s the background with its politics and adult themes, just visible behind the young protagonists, that will fascinate the older reader.

Characters in this story are engaging and plausible, and the same can be said of the science. Author notes clarify the technical aspects and reveal the one small ‘cheat’ in the mix. People who like solid science in their Steampunk worlds, and who want to know how it all works, will no doubt enjoy this aspect, but for those who are more concerned with fiction than fact, I should add that it doesn’t intrude on the flow of the story at all.

My ten year old co-reviewer did not want to put the book down, describing it in the following terms… “amazing…surprising… well written…wow…mad in a good way…completely unexpected.” I’d suggest this is an excellent buy for YA readers generally, and especially younger Steampunks. Cuttlefish should engage YA readers of both genders, and the grownups are going to want to read it too.

With a world flooded by elevated sea levels, Cuttlefish is set up to make comment on our own environmental issues. That historical ‘what if?’ is also a potential future what if?’ Many of the political aspects have real world relevance too – issues of power, authority, use of resources and more. These give the book considerable depth. However, the dramatic plot lines and colourful settings mean that none of the content gets preachy or clunky. The balance of meaning and play, enjoyment and intellectual interest, is about as perfect as anyone could hope it to be. Highly recommended.

ART: PURE STEAM

pure_steam___ironclad_maritime_warship_by_47ness-d5rv6vx

PURE STEAM – Ironclad Maritime Warship
by *47ness

(Pure Steam is a steampunk campaign setting compatible with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game)

ART: Beautiful Street Scene

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Steampunk
by ~TaKe-bamboo

 

ART: HAND of GOD

 

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 “The Hand of God”.

Wood, mummified tissue, brass, velvet.
Dorian Dupin, c.2013
Grenouille Collection.

 

Music review: The Devil or the Barrel

BY THE LANGER’S BALL
Self-published
Reviewed by John Smith

TLB-DOB-cover-webThe latest album from Celtic rock band The Langer’s Ball shows that this Twin Cities five-piece isn’t scared to take sides in that age-old dilemma “The Devil or the Barrel.” And the side they take is pretty clear. Want a hint? It’s the barrel. The International Whiskey Association (if they existed) would have no choice but to give this album the coveted Whiskey-Themed Album of the Year award (if it existed). In fact, if someone would have bet me $100 that any band could successfully include the word “whiskey” in an album this many times, that’d be $100 I’d never see again. The Kickstarter-funded album blends slightly re-imagined traditional Celtic pub favorites with some totally original takes on traditional music destined to become pub favorites. While the album itself is as a matter of fact a revamping of classics, the scarcer picks are truly what make this album worth owning. For instance: the clever “Whiskey Chaser” with the instant-classic chorus: “I used to chase the women, but they left me in a lurch/Then I chased salvation but just ended up in church/Chasing fame and fortune, I got caught up by the fuzz/Now I’m chasing whiskey and I always catch my buzz.”

While it’s only natural to compare The Langer’s Ball with other well-known American Celtic-punk bands like Flogging Molly or Dropkick Murphy’s, The Langer’s Ball belongs in a much tamer category; a category where accordions replace bagpipes and step-dancing replaces moshing. It feels more traditional, just enough lilt to be convincing without overdoing it. This album transports you to the Emerald Isle in a grand new fashion. It takes you away to lush green fields and handsome redheads in green plaid. If you close your eyes you can easily drift away to a hazy, poorly-lit ale house, the band in the corner raising the crowd to a frenzy with an energetic whiskey anthem, then bringing the rowdiness down with a strong slow ballad. Ah man, and just when you were about to Lord of the Dance all over this place! No worries, with The Langer’s Ball you can be assured that there’s another foot-stomper coming up soon.

Fiction Review: Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate

BY DAVID ERIK NELSON
Ars Architeuthis Press; 2 edition
reviewed by William H. Rose, III

windmill-high-res-jpg[Cover image and illustrations for Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate by Chad Sell]

I’ve written previously regarding the flexibility of Steampunk in genre fiction and how its themes can appear in almost any type of literature. Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate by David Erik Nelson is a superb example of how Steampunk can be written, and skillfully crafted, I might add, into any category of speculative fiction. It’s not often I’m introduced to a work of fiction that is remarkable in style and content, is exceptionally engrossing, and contains a message. Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate is such a story. In this case, Mr. Nelson has incorporated clock-work men, the American Civil War, sex, alcoholism, humor, an ex-Confederate Soldier, exclusionism, and racism into a condensed novella about mechanical men that have outlived their usefulness as soldiers and make efforts to fit into society. It is Steampunk, to be sure, but above all it is a story that brings to the forefront the principles of equality and the human condition, even if only in emulation. Don’t be fooled by the title, either. While there are elements of the ribald scattered throughout the story, what Mr. Nelson shows us is a displaced group of “people,” albeit mechanical, that simply wish to “become” as human as possible. What they’ll do to meet those ends, while comical in execution, is often moving and surprisingly tragic.

Although Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate contains elements of post-Civil War era living, it centers on the displaced nation of mechanical men, known as clockies, residing near a small, frontier town in Utah. Mr. Kawazoe, the narrator, a Japanese veterinarian (or perhaps, a medical doctor, his profession somewhat ambiguous), is a respected member of the community but still considered untrustworthy and an outsider because of his nationality. He is motivated to spy on Dickie Tucker and his ill-conceived methods of teaching the clockies the fundamentals of frontier life more in the name of science than voyeurism. The story is poignant, human-driven, and well-crafted but the antics of the clockwork men really steal the show. Dickie Tucker teaching clockies to climb a ladder, dance, or make stew is guaranteed to make you chuckle but teaching them farm-related chores has to be the funniest scene I’ve read in a very long time. So much so that I’m obligated to share an excerpt of it.

“Dickie’s attempts to teach the mechanoman to shoe horses had led to one shod horse, three-quarters of a shod horse (the fourth leg having been broken entirely off; this was swiftly tourniqueted by Sy Everett’s boy, Seth, who happened to be in his father’s neighbors’ barn for purposes never fully explained, and heard the injured animal’s unearthly screeching), four shod cows, a shod sow, and three shod ducks. A similar training session on milking led to 16 gallons of milk (which spoiled well before it was discovered that the clockies had taken the notion to warehouse the milk in the chicken coop), one calloused cow, and one clockie kicked to bits by a bull uninterested in the clockies ministrations to his “single udder.””

While teaching the clockies to learn mundane farming skills is fun for the reader, it’s when Dickie Tucker teaches the clockies to copulate that the real story begins and we learn a lesson or two about what it means to be human. Some folks will do almost anything to fit in and the clockies are no exception.

It’s not surprising then that Tucker Teaches the Clockies to Copulate was a Nebula Award nominee in 2008 and although he didn’t win or make the finalists list, he certainly could have. In my opinion, what the world could use more of is additional entertainment like this. I would be remiss if I didn’t say that I feel this story needs to be expanded into an entire world of many Clockie books; the more the better. I hope Mr. Nelson is listening.

Recommended for Steampunk fanatics, western lovers, those interested in the human endeavor, anyone seeking a story with humor, fans of clock-work men, and those looking to get lost in a compelling story.

5 out of 5 stars

William H. Rose, III
The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

ART: Guns a Ready…..

fbdad77034fb7b87f4309956ab3ba1e4-d3evc9zBrought to you by Malefice and Aeternis