ART: Where’s the Instruction manual?

by PATRICK REILLY

STEAMPUNK by PATRICK REILLY

Luckily I personally know the great Patrick Reilly, so it’s a treat to show off his work on here!

ART: Introducing STEAMPUNK MAGAZINE ART section

created by FABIOLA GARZA

STEAMPUNK FOREVER! created by FABIOLA GARZA

“It is better to be beautiful than to be good. But… it is better to be good than to be ugly.” -Oscar Wilde

…and with that I want to say hello to a new section to STEAMPUNK MAGAZINE, dedicated to ART, in all the forms that Steampunk can be, it is a visual genre as much as it’s Music and Literature. I have the distinct pleasure to bring youm from various corners of the Net, all the wonders done with Steampunk in it’s mind, ranging from Visual Arts, painting, pencils to Jewelry, Cosplay, and beyond.

If you’d like to feature your artwork on here, please contact me at art@steampunkmagazine.com

Music review: Under the Rose

BY MACHINA SHOGUNATE
Self produced by Machina Shogunate
Reviewed by Lori Holuta

Under the RoseMachina Shogunate has existed since 2007 and are carving their niche through a balance of music and visual performance. Their first EP feels both long overdue and at the same time the work of a band still finding their way. Under the Rose takes us on a journey, one that no doubt speaks of their own experiences while resonating with those of their audiences.

The EP leads off with “Jagged Shadow”. To start on a positive note, I love the chorus, during which V-zhon’s sweet voice delivers disturbing lyrics in a perfect pace, not only to my ears but to my spine, in the form of a chill. However. Beyond the chorus lies the verse. I itch to snip away a word or two far too often. The belaboring of as many haunting words as can be welded together gives the effect of a hurried need to sing fast enough to keep up. I should be feeling the desperation of the pursuit, not thinking about running to catch a bus.

But it is only the beginning of our journey.

“To Kill A Demon” is a confrontation. It begins with a moment of upbeat, slick instrumental, then quickly moves to the message. The ultimatum is delivered firmly, the music and lyrics taking full control of the message. The band has not only caught up with the bus now, it’s going to torch it. We hear a sharper focus of concept now, with dreamlike sounds alternating against the heavier instrumentals. I am pleased at the progression of vocal emotion from “Jagged Shadow”–now V-zhon’s living the words, not just reciting lyrics.

And now we delve into “Sub Rosa”. The vocals are stronger, but in balance, not competing against the music but working with it. The lyrics are a wordsmith’s dream, braiding lush and sometimes beautiful imagery with clarity and an awakening realization of the horrors of reality.

Our journey reaches its peak in “Beauty and Broken.” All components come together effortlessly, and I can’t help but feel we’ve traveled miles from the struggling “Jagged Shadow.” The repeated message of the song is solid under our feet. “Existence is fleeting. Nothing is guaranteed. We live for the moment. Embracing opportunity.”

Machina Shogunate embraces opportunity and isn’t afraid of hard work. They not only write and perform their music, but also do their own producing, promoting and managing. This speaks of a firm belief in their style and message. I will be listening to see where their self-paved road leads.

Music Review: Electric Rain

BY VICTOR SIERRA
Label: Sierra Data Studio
Reviewed by William H. Rose, III

2245296858-1One of my great joys in life is discovering exceptional, new, alternative music that moves me. Especially compositions that fill a void, become a part of me, or contain their own unique signature. In my ever-expanding exploration for innovative music I look for sounds that reside outside the monotonous “heard-that” drone of Rock n’ Roll or that exist beyond the boundaries of generic top-40 radio. Electric Rain, the third album by Paris-based Victor Sierra, is just such an eclectic, international mixture of ethereal sounds.

The band features Bob Eisenstein on strings, Anouk Adrien on vocals, and Big Machine on keyboards, synthesizers, and drum machines. Victor Sierra is an alternative trio that blends aspects of punk, industrial-orchestration, and minimalist-electronic influences with Steampunk zest. The lyrics, both original and poetic, could easily be crafted into Steampunk stories, especially The Road Not Taken, Blood in the Skies, and Bridge To Nowhere. The melodies are rhythmic and loaded with swirling, sober and mysterious keyboards, industrial percussion, airy, diverse guitars, and stunning vocal harmonies.

El Topo, perhaps titled after the bizarre Alejandro Jodorowsky western of the same name, brings to mind the sounds of the desert with the swirling miasma of Eisenstein’s strings and Anouk Adrien’s haunting vocals. The Road Not Taken (see Robert Frost but with teeth) is a hard driving, beautiful, steam-powered song with undercurrents of a locomotive standing in for the rhythm section and an otherworldly and memorable hook. Blood in the Skies begins with an industrial, machine-driven drum-beat and an evocative guitar intro and is one of my favorites. Other memorable songs include White Rabbit, a Jefferson Airplane cover, and Scratch My Door, which features excellent guitar work both electric and acoustic and a keyboard pan-flute you’ll find hard to resist.

The only negative thing I might say about the album is that three of the songs are sung in languages that I don’t understand, but that’s my shortcoming not the bands. The addition of an accomplished bass player might help expand their sound, but that’s a very minor flaw. Victor Sierra employs an industrial, Steam-powered sound that grows on you and the more I listened to the album the more enjoyable I found it.

When asked to provide biographical background front-man Bob Eisenstein replied:

Enter Victor Sierra’s universe…

Victor Sierra is named after the cryptic alphabet of the legendary Flying Dutchman. Bob Eisenstein is the commander of the airship Hydrogen Queen and enjoys questions answering questions, bourbon whisky, unsolvable equations, and musical instruments. He knows several languages both dead and alive, doesn’t like to be disturbed when flying high in currents of inspiration, and likes to convert improbable ideas into impossible visions. Anouk Adrien is somewhat of a legendary converted princess ever moving across the road not taken. She loves poetry of the living past, enjoys rum, and the sound of distorted guitars. She sew clothes with the stuff steam is made of and wears Chinese Red lipstick. Big Machine powers the Hydrogen Queen, is man-machine constructed from parts of unknown origin, and is a long-time member of the Difference Engine league. He enjoys analogical lullabies, coffee as black as night, and can read the future and the past in any available time anomaly.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Electric Rain is the band’s 3rd album and was recorded, mixed, and mastered at Sierra Data Studio. Release date: 29 November 2011.

4 out of 5 stars

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Fiction review: Worldshaker

BY RICHARD HARLAND
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Review by Barbora Lyčková

Worldshaker pbkFINAL bright.95.cvrEven though the good fight is often a tricky theme to work with, it remains central to a vast number of novels, and Richard Harland’s Worldshaker presents its incarnation for young adults in a tale of fantastic machinery, steam and social revolution.

It is the year 1995 and the juggernaut Worldshaker, a huge, moving city, has been traversing the world for the better part of two centuries. Amid the sheltered elite of the Upper Decks lives our hero, Colbert Porpentine, a young man preened by his grandfather to follow in his footsteps as the Worldshaker’s Supreme Commander. However, when one of the Filthies, the primitive human-like creatures who work in the juggernaut’s bowels, propelling the ship forward, slips into Col’s room in search of safety, the young man’s moral values are suddenly called into question. It would appear that the Filthies are more like himself and the other people of the Upper Decks than he would have liked to imagine.

While this quick summary of the first part of the plot may sound like a promising read, it is also enough to hint at the gaps which occur, sooner or later, in the weave of the story. Colbert, as well as most of the people he’s surrounded by, has been brought up in the belief that Filthies are sub-human. Yet a Filthy girl appears in the very first chapter and the reader finds her perfectly ordinary (albeit covered in grime) and as human as Col himself. The spell is broken – for all Col’s later musings on the matter, for all the contempt and revulsion the other Upper Deckers show towards the Filthies, the reader knows they’re all wrong, and – especially should one be acquainted with the themes of H. G. Wells’s Time Machine in one form or another – the two hundred pages it takes for the main characters to figure out the mystery of the Filthies’ origin can be very taxing.

Blatantly showing the reader what is right from the first page may perhaps be a necessity for a young adult novel, stemming from the fear of appearing (even for a moment) to be on the oppressors’ side. This anxiety, however understandable, unfortunately turns the portrayed social revolution into a black and white schematic. The author allows for no gray areas – the villains are evil and have to be eradicated, the oppressed Filthies, despite the terrible conditions they have been kept in for the last century, are moral enough to refrain from bloodshed, and the ‘good’ Upper Deckers have done nothing about the whole situation because they have been kept in blissful ignorance all this time. The revolution goes forth in a very straightforward, easily foreseeable manner, and one has to wait until the Worldshaker’s sequel for this image to be at least partly remedied.

Richard Harland’s Worldshaker is not a bad novel. On the contrary, it is told with an unusual, yet catching, sense of humor, and the colorful characters that make their appearance are anything but bland or boring. The story is, however, very insistent in capturing the good fight in a manner suitable for young adults and, in its zeal, introduces a mere shadow of the monster against which this battle should in fact be waged.

Fiction Review: SteampunX

BY BENJAMIN JACOBSON
Self-published
Reviewed by William H. Rose, III

SteampunX “In the grand tradition of Charles Dickens and Johnny Rotten, this serialized tale comes both to celebrate the past and bury it.”
– Benjamin Jacobson

Steampunk is one of the fastest growing genres in literature today. Simply employing the word to describe a work evokes images of the Victorian era, and gears, and corsets, and goggles. It can be written in an array of different stylistic forms and unique voices. For example, I’ve read a series of novels where a dirigible acts as a main character and another where swashbuckling air-pirates drive the plot. Others center on a mystery or a murder and still others that are motivated by suspense or political intrigue. Some are mech-centric or filled with fantasy, romance, or time-travel and, well, I think you get the idea – elements of Steampunk can be applied to almost any genre. And that’s what makes it so compelling to me as a reader. Because of Steampunk’s flexibility, fans of every genre of literature will become exposed to it, and that will only help it to grow in popularity and thrive in the marketplace.

SteampunX, an online serial novel by Benjamin Jacobson, is an example of the elastic qualities of Steampunk and is a unique and distinctive variation of the genre in its own right. I prefer to call it “New World Steampunk” but that alone does not give it the weight it deserves nor is it a precise enough label to fully explain its uniqueness. While most Steampunk focuses on the Victorian point of view, SteampunX takes a much different approach. In a true reversal of sides this story is told from the perspectives of members of a peaceful tribe of Native Americans forced to the brink of war by conquering invaders. While unique in both its approach and world-view I found SteampunX entertaining, ably-conceived, expertly-crafted, and as alive as any published work I’ve ever read. SteampunX is an incredibly engrossing story that is, in essence, a cautionary folk tale of the spreading stains of technology across an innocent nation.

To date, Mr. Jacobson has produced three complete episodes as well as supporting and apocryphal anecdotes to complement the serialized novel. In Episode One, Funk and Puck, the fore-named teenage protagonists and Thunder, a powerful wizard, deflect an attack by invaders determined to steal the secrets of Thunder’s steam-work mechanisms. But the assailants have broken a long-standing truce that may force an entire continent to war. In Episode Two, SteamDisco Destruction, the band of Native Americans journey to the nearby Kingdom of Neufrancaise to seek audience with the Marquis de Chartres but get caught up in a slave rebellion. In Episode Three, The Railroad Undergroun, the band attempts to garner support from the freed slaves of New Liberia only to be cast away. The group then sets off for Aztexico, a land of “strange spirits and fantastic pyramids,” where they hope to win military support for the inevitable war to come. Mr. Jacobson’s world-building is nostalgic and intelligent and is slowly revealed to the reader in a number of clever sub-plot twists. Not only does he craft a creation story but he takes us to an unusual slave-powered house party, teases us with a glimpse of a mechanical zombie soldier, and thrusts a main character into the lair of a mad scientist that takes great pleasure in surgically altering people into steam-borgs.

With cover art evocative of turn-of-the-century Scientific American Magazines and Victorian-era serialized novels, you are quickly swept back to a time before the advent of modern technology, when steam-power ruled the land and wizards created clockwork contrivances. After each episode Mr. Jacobson includes a few pages of authentic-appearing Victorian-style advertisements. Some, while completely fictitious, are none-the-less decidedly entertaining and depict the precise style and nuance of a by-gone age, while others are actual advertisements for Steampunk-centric merchandise, paraphernalia, clothing, jewelry, and objects d’art.

I recommend Benjamin Jacobson’s SteampunX to fans young and old, of Steampunk and its many variations, those who take pleasure in alternate universe stories, and anyone interested in New World folklore, shamanism, steam-powered contraptions, and gears (of all sizes). SteampunX is available to read online and as a free download in various formats at Smashwords.

File with: Orson Scott Card’s Alvin Maker novels, Chris Wooding’s Ketty Jay series, Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century cycle, and Mark Hodder’s Burton & Swinburne books.

4 ½ stars out of 5

William H. Rose, III
The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

New Year, New Editors, New Submissions!

Victorian New Year's card.Happy New Year, Everyone!

It’s the time for resolutions, and ours is to continue bringing you fine Steampunk fiction, nonfiction, art and reviews. Issue 9 is coming up soon, and starting today we’re open for submissions for Issue 10.

My name is Katie Casey. I’ve been involved in the magazine and the website for several years, and I’ll be serving as managing editor. I’m looking forward to it! The other editors will be some familiar faces:

 

Reviews: Belle Cooper
Fiction: Allegra Hawsmoor
how-tos: Sam Kimery
Art: Juan Navarro
Design: Margaret Killjoy

Check the Deadlines and Submissions page for information about how to submit your work to Issue 10, and keep an eye out for Issue 9!

Yours,

Katie Caesy

Fiction review: Her Majesty’s Explorer: a steampunk bedtime story

BY EMILIE P. BUSH, ILLUSTRATED BY WILLIAM KEVIN PETTY
Publisher: Coal City Stories
Reviewed by Canis latrans

Cover image of Her Majesty's Explorer, featuring a humanoid robot in a pith helmat and a robot duck.Follow St John Murphy Alexander, a youthful automaton soldier, on his unarmed nonviolent ramble through the wilderness. This mechanical soldier comes fully equipped with colonial pith helmet and cute (if not entirely practical) bindlestiff. His apparently exploratory mission includes pages of whimsical creatures and interesting terrain he encounters along the way, narrated with a slightly awkward rhyming scheme. Parents will surely enjoy the length of time he spends on grooming before bed, but may want to think twice before presenting their kids with an imperialist character motivated by “country, cause, and queen.” Then again, perhaps an accurate portrayal of military service would be unlikely to produce restful dreams.

Fiction review: Mechanique

BY GENEVIEVE VALENTINE
Publisher: Prime Books
Reviewed by Belle Cooper
Cover read "Mechanique, A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti" with a picture of mechanical wings.“THE MECHANICAL CIRCUS TRESAULTI
FINEST SPECTACLE ANYWHERE
MECHANICAL MEN beyond IMAGINATION
Astounding Feats of ACROBATICS
The Finest HUMAN CURIOSITIES
the World has ever SEEN
STRONGMEN, DANCING GIRLS
& LIVING ENGINES
FLYING GIRLS, LIGHTER than AIR
MUSIC from the HUMAN ORCHESTRA
BARGAIN ENTERTAINMENT for ONE and ALL
No Weapons Allowed”

One thing is immediately clear as one starts to read Mechanique, the freshman novel by Genevieve Valentine: that this is not going to be a typical novel. Even before you reach the text of the Circus Tresaulti’s advertising poster (quoted above), you find yourself directly immersed in the spectacle of it all: the lights, the dancing girls, the jugglers, all covered in a fine layer of glitter and metallic gleam. I mean that quite literally; the second paragraph firmly establishes a second person voice, inviting the reader directly to come watch the show.

Mechanique is the story of the Circus Tresaulti, a travelling show of steampunk-esque cyborg acrobats directed by the enigmatic Boss, making its way through a post-apocalyptic world decimated by centuries of war.  The plot hinges on two equally important threads: an archetypical government man who wants to harness the power of the circus’ technology for his own gain, and the battle between two of the performers over a coveted pair of bone-and-copper wings.  It’s the story of the struggle for freedom and for home, and of what a person is willing to give up of themselves–their name, their past, their life, their very humanity–in order to find and keep those things.  It’s about life and death, about power–both that which is struggled and fought for and that which is given unasked–and about the beauty in invention and in the grotesque.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the novel is the structure, at once methodical and highly variable.  The narrative is told in the first, second, and third persons, bouncing effortlessly from present to past tense as it weaves through flashbacks and flashforwards, the timeline cycling back on itself in a manner reminiscent of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. While the transitions between narrative voices is jarring at first, they’re not illogical.  The first person sections are all from the perspective of Little George, the circus’ barker and Boss’ protege in the art of creating the half-mechanical performers.  The third person is used for the other members of the circus, and for the government man, and the second is reserved for world building and establishing shots.  The plot itself is eked out in fits and starts, scattered in hints and foreshadowing across the first half of the book, which is made up primarily of anecdotes to establish all of our players, before it really dives into the central conflicts. This is not an easy method of storytelling to maintain, yet with very rare exception Valentine manages it, and manages it well–the changes between voices and journeys back and forth across the intricately woven timeline are made organically once they’ve been properly established.  The only criticism I have in regards to the unique style of the work is the use of parenthetical asides, tangents that at times wander too far away from the central plot and may go on for paragraphs and even pages before finally bringing us back to the actual scene.  Still, this manages to be mostly charming, albeit distracting, and only really detracts from the readability on one or two occasions.

Overall, the prose and the plot both perfectly reflect the main attraction of the work, the performers of the Circus Tresaulti itself: the flying girls with hollow copper bones, the strongman with a spine made of bits of scrap metal and gears, the musician who’s more instrument than man.  With a subtle refrain, Valentine sets up an almost musical pace, her stylistic flourishes and quirks like the silver overlay bedecking the dancing girls, the golden watch inlaid in the strongman’s spine.  They’re tricks and pretences, set in place over top a dark, twisted core of madness, death, and resurrection, of war and the costs of true power, true beauty, and true freedom.

Mechanique is not a novel for everyone.  But for those looking for something different to read, something that plays with the conventions of storytelling and of steampunk, with vivid if chilling descriptions and strong, not always likeable characters, it should prove quite a treat.

Fiction review: Ironskin

BY TINA CONNOLLY
Publisher: Tor Books
Review by Cheyenne Kam

Cover of the novel Ironskin: Brown-haired, light-skinned woman wearing a flowing grey dress and a grey mask, in a wooded setting.Ironskin is a YA novel touted as being a steampunk reverse-Beauty and the Beast, and while there are elements of both genres, it’s more accurate to say it’s a steampunk-fantasy Jane Eyre homage. Some aspects  of the novel work better than others, but the weaker portions are bolstered by a strong narrative voice, unpredictable twists, and very good world-building.

Spoilers ahead:

The action takes place in an alternate England around 1900, where a war against Faerie was won five years earlier. (Or was it?)  The world, which used to depend on fae energy to run its transportation and power, is now turning to coal-based and steam-based engines, with varying degrees of success. More painful for the survivors are the memories of loved ones who were possessed by fae attackers and had to be killed to be freed of their spirits, and the scars borne by those who survived fae attacks– scars which are psychic as well as physical, and can only be contained by iron masks and armor (“ironskin”), lest those around the victims be forced to experience the worst emotions of the survivors.

Jane Elliot wears an iron mask to contain the energy which would otherwise inflict on those around her the rage she feels at the loss of her family and her face, thanks to the war. She’s lost a handful of teaching jobs over recent years as each employer becomes uncomfortable with being around an ‘ironskin’, until the day she comes across an advertisement for a young girl needing a governess, a young girl with “special needs.”Jane is hopeful that she can help someone like herself learn to cope with their fae scars– but of course, all is not as it seems.

There’s no crazy wife in the attic, but Ironskin’s Mr. Rochart is as mysterious as his progenitor Mr. Rochester.  Unfortunately, the weakest part of the novel is the romance between him and Jane. There simply aren’t enough scenes between the two of them, when the story is told from Jane’s first-person viewpoint.  Her scenes with Dorie (her stubborn young student), her sister, the other servants, even one of Mr. Rochart’s mysterious clients are all sharper and more vivid than those between the two protagonists. Rochart is not sympathetic, but he’s not clear enough to even be unsympathetic.  Jane’s feelings for him seem to be due more to proximity than any other factor. In this, the book falls short of Jane Eyre and its various allusions to Beauty and the Beast.

On the other hand, the world-building–steampunk plus faerie–is new and original, and Jane herself is likable and strong.  Her slow realization that she needs to confront her own past in order to help Dorie is one of the better parts of the story. The true antagonists remain hidden over half the novel, but the world she moves through bears traces of their presence everywhere.  It’s a classic technology vs. magic confrontation, with humans in the middle.

The final showdown, though, is almost anticlimactic. Throughout the book, ideals of beauty, fears of the unearthly fae who crave that beauty, and Jane’s wish to be “just normal”are all treated with intelligence and looked at from opposing viewpoints. This makes the final transformation somewhat unsatisfying and conventional–though Jane’s defiance, and my favorite line in the book (“A defeated warrior is not a victim”) just about save it for me.

A sequel is due next year, and if it expands on this universe and the characters, than this will be a good prologue to a potentially very enjoyable series. I’m definitely going to take a chance on it, on the strength of this first installment.