A Review of The Clockwork Man

The Clockwork Man by William Jablonsky is the story of Ernst, a fully sentient clockwork driven automaton. The story is told by Ernst through a series of entries in his personal diaries and chronicles his life as he learns what it means to be alive, exercise free well, and about right, wrong, and the shades of grey in between.

The journal Ernst keeps is an exercise in self-reflection, and as a result, much of the story’s exposition is about Ernst’s inner thoughts and experiences. The story takes place in two parts, the first during the late 1880’s in Germany, and the second half in the United States in 2005 after his reawakening. This format effectively breaks the book up into two halves, and thus tells two related but markedly different tales as Ernst learns about the world in which he exists and the people who surround him.

I personally found that I enjoyed the first half of the book better than the second half; despite the odd romance and the contradictory notes on what Ernst is able to “feel” I found myself having to suspend disbelief in the second half of the book more so than in the first. Ernst seems to take his introduction into the modern world a bit too smoothly and seems more puzzled than alarmed or offended by his new world which contain many aspects which would be sure to alarm his Victorian era sense of decorum, and writes it off as an effort not to be judgmental. At the same time, he struggles with concepts of right and wrong, indicating that he has the ability and interest in discerning between the two.

Overall, though, The Clockwork Man is a good, quick read. It’s entertaining as long as you’re willing to suspend disbelief and simply enjoy the tale. Many of the themes in this book are interesting to explore and are likely to leave you pondering in between moments of reading, and that, to me, is part of the elements of a story well told.

The History of Science Fiction

When I think of science fiction in terms of its long and grandiose history, I admittedly get a little lost among all the talented writers and their works. Where should I start? What should I read next to understand how this work influenced that work, etc? Hundreds of years of literary history crammed into a reading list can be rather overwhelming.

Because the creative process typically builds off itself, with past works inspiring new creations, there is a certain benefit in knowing the history of science fiction. Histories of science fiction do exist, but most people would just rather read the science fiction themselves than be troubled with an elaborate history of the genre. And so, to that end, I would like to present to you a graphic history of science fiction:

Click to see the Full Image

That strange looking blob is actually an elaborate history of fictional works that eventually birthed and defined science fiction and its various offshoots. Click on it to see it in all it’s detailed glory. Be warned, though. This image is huge and not at all for slow connections.

If you look just to the right of Cyberpunk, you’ll even find a mention of Steampunk on the chart itself listed alongside The Difference Engine.

Top 25 Novels for Steampunk Aficionados

Steampunk literature seems to grow by the day as new and genre defining works are published. Even as a voracious reader, I find it hard to keep up with all the recent works by the many talented Steampunk authors.

A recent article entitled Top 25 Novels for Steampunk Aficionados helps to cut down Steampunk reading into a manageable syllabus for the study of Steampunk literature. The list goes in chronological order, which helps to see how Steampunk has evolved over time. It starts with a proto-Steampunk staple, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and explores over 150 years in Steam driven fiction.

The list continues, mentioning many of Steampunk’s most defining novels. For both the newcomer and the veteran of Steampunk, this well compiled list helps to choose that next steamy read.

Steam-Powered

One of my favorite things about Steampunk is that there is space for just about everyone within it. Since its foundations are built largely by geeks and nerds who have had more than our fair share of teasing and estrangement growing up, the culture of Steampunk is largely one that embraces people’s differences and encourages the expression of those differences in a safe environment.

Which is why the existence of Steam-Powered by Torquere Books makes me very happy. It’s an anthology of Steampunk Lesbian short stories.

Here’s the description of the book from their website:

The fifteen tantalizing, thrilling, and ingenious tales in Steam-Powered put a new spin on steampunk by putting women where they belong — in the captain’s chair, the laboratory, and one another’s arms. Here you’ll meet inventors, diamond thieves, lonely pawn brokers, clockwork empresses, brilliant asylum inmates, and privateers in the service of San Francisco’s eccentric empire. Though they hail from across the globe and universes far away, each character is driven to follow her own path to independence and to romance. The women of Steam-Powered push steampunk to its limits and beyond.

If you find yourself enthralled with Lesbian Steampunk fiction and love to write, there are two Steampunk oriented publications looking for fiction with lesbian identified protagonists, Femme Fatales and Steam-Powered 2, Steam-Powered’s sequel. I’m sure they’d love to receive your work for consideration.

A Christmas Carol for the iPad

Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of the holiday season’s classic pieces of literature. Along with The Night Before Christmas, it’s one of those works of literature that embodies the holiday season. Dickens’ work is the foundation behind so many Victoriana inspired events, from Dickens on the Strand in Galveston, TX to Dickens Faire in San Francisco.

Times change, though, as to modes of story telling, so today’s post features the newest forms of an old classic, A Christmas Carol for the iPad, with a Steampunk twist! Check out the trailer for this re-imagining of Dicken’s tale:

I think this is all kinds of neat, and if I had an iPad, I would definitely be downloading this like, right now. Here’s the link if you wish to do the same.

The Politics of Captain Nemo

On this day celebration of the United States’ independence from Britain, I wanted to further explore the themes of resistance and rebellion that I insist are central to Steampunk.

My post two days ago about cosplay and the politics of Steampunk got me thinking about where I get some of my crazy ideas about Punk and its importance to Steampunk as a subculture. Some of the people who don’t support a political aspect to Steampunk point out that the word “Steampunk” was coined on a whim by K.W. Jeter as a publishing term for Victorian fantasy in 1987. Cosplay Steampunks point to the origin of the word and claim that there is little backing for a political aspect of Steampunk because of the nature in which the word came into being. What proof or backing to do I have claim that Steampunk is inherently political, or what those politics should be?

Turns out, I didn’t have to look very far to find a great example of Steampunk politics as I view them in what is one of the most famous proto-Steampunk works, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne. Captain Nemo is perhaps the progenitor of Steampunk political thought before Steampunk itself was ever a unified concept.

If there’s a single Steampunk character the embodies my idea of the Steampunk mindset, its invariably Captain Nemo. My encounter with the good Captain came in middle school when I was busy reading the classic Victorian literature rather than the teen focused works in which my classmates were absorbed. The character of Nemo as a lone individualist standing against oppression resounded with me and led in part to my eventual plunge into Steampunk.

Captain Nemo despises imperialism and oppression, and will go out of his way to aid the weak or tyrannized, be it Cretans rising against the Turks ruling them, poor Ceylonese pearl-divers, or grey whales being attacked by sperm whales. Captain Nemo is ardently anti-establishment and also quite the do-it-yourselfer: he designed and built the Nautilus on his own and is the sole inventor of her incredible technological advances. Nemo is also entirely independent of dry land, producing everything he and his crew could need from the sea itself.

Nemo’s escape from the world above the surface of the ocean is to me, rather symbolic of the lifestyler’s choice to fully involve him or herself into the Steampunk subculture. Here, where conventions are meant to be broken and the establishment subverted, we can be free. Perhaps the good Captain sums it up best:

“On the surface, they can still exercise their iniquitous laws, fight, devour each other, and indulge in all their earthly horrors. But thirty feet below the (sea’s) surface, their power ceases, their influence fades, and their dominion vanishes. Ah, monsieur, to live in the bosom of the sea! …. There I recognize no master! There I am free!” -Captain Nemo

Steampunk is to me the world under the surface (or the radar, for all you Abney Park fans).

Jules Verne: Extraordinary Voyages

Earlier this week, I presented to you LibriVox, an online compendium of audio-books in the public domain in the hopes to increase your exposure to the literature that laid the foundations for today’s Steampunk writers. Among the trailblazing masters of science fiction is Jules Verne, one of my favorites among the proto-Steampunk authors.

Jules Verne often takes the opposite view of technology than H.G. Wells. Where Wells condemns the continued progression of technology as the prelude to humanity’s destruction, Verne sees technology as the key to unlocking the human spirit and all its potential.

Barnes and Noble is offering a magnificent collection of Verne’s three best known novels: Around the World in Eighty Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in hardcover.

This magnificent tome is also illustrated with the artwork of Nate Pride.

You can get all of this for just $11.68. Quite a bargain if you are looking to add a bit of Verne to your personal library. As far as modern editions of these novels go, you can’t get much better than this.