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.

A Review of A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!

The 1975 novel, A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! by Harry Harrison is on its surface, an excellent concept. In an alternate world, today’s United States still belong to the British Empire after a failed revolution attempt some two hundred years ago. The name of Washington is synonymous with traitor, and the distant ancestors of the rebel George are still burdened by his treacherous reputation. Our hero, Augustine Washington, hopes to redeem his family name and give glory to the Empire by using his skills as an accomplished engineer to create a Transatlantic Tunnel connecting the Americas to Britain.

There is so much opportunity for a rich tale in the concept of this novel. Unfortunately, it lacks execution, and many of the most interesting aspects of the novel get brushed aside in favor of describing the details of tunnel construction. The characters are flat and seem more like tropes than living, complex people.

That being said, A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! is a quick and easy read (providing you can get into the novel itself). It’s sure to appeal to Steampunks who are particularly interested in the tech aspect of Steampunk fiction. Technology moves the plot along in this novel more than action or character interaction does, which can make this a tedious read for some, but a unique and enjoyable experience for others.

While I would not call A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! the best book I’ve ever encountered, I would also not consider it the worst. The technology is interesting and the concept of the alternate world is intriguing although unfortunately hollow in its implementation. If you’re aiming to flesh out your experience with books that could be considered Steampunk, this is one that is worth adding to your ‘To Read’ booklist.

Sepiachord Companion: A Review

While I was at Steamcon II, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Mr. Jordan Bodewell of Sepiachord in person who I interviewed the month previous. When he wasn’t overwhelmingly busy running all the live music at Steamcon, Jordan was kind enough to chat with me a bit Sepiachord. After sending me A Sepiachord Passport, he wanted to be sure that I got the opportunity to experience Sepiachord’s first album, The Sepiachord Companion.

This album, Sepiachord’s first compilation, is an incredible collection of retrofuturistic music. Listening to this album is like attending the Steamcon II Cabaret all over again. Many of my favorites are on this album, and there’s a few new artists that The Companion has exposed me to that I have to further explore. If you didn’t get the opportunity to attend Steamcon, listening to The Sepiachord Companion gives you just a tiny slice of how awesome the cabaret was, and just how amazing this genre is.

Unlike most albums, there really was not a bad track on this album. The entire album is an enjoyable and unique listening experience.

Within the album in a note to listeners, Mr. Bodewell writes that he hopes that this album serves as the beginning of the listener’s venture into exploring the music that Sepiachord embraces. I can only express the same hope to each of you. There are so many talented artists on the Companion… you are sure to find a new favorite here, regardless of your musical tastes.

To purchase the album, please visit Rodentia Music, and to learn more about Sepiachord and the great work they are doing, please visit their website.

Important: It has come to my attention that Mr. Bodewell has run into a medical issue for which he finds himself unable to fully pay. To afford his own healthcare, Mr. Bodewell is preparing for the possibility of having to terminate his internet connection and hosting contracts that keep Sepiachord live and updated daily.

Losing such a fantastic publication like Sepiachord that so unabashedly gives back to the Steampunk community would be a severe detriment to retrofuturistic music everywhere… not just in Seattle. Please, in Jordan’s time of need, please consider donating to Sepiachord to keep the blog alive. Visit their website and click the Help Support button.

Review: The End of Days

This review has been something I’ve wanted to post for a while, but I wanted to give everyone enough time to get their copies of The End of Days by Abney Park and listen to it for themselves before I came on here and told you what to think about it. If you haven’t received your copy of End of Days yet, or haven’t yet bought it (?!) and want to enjoy the music yourself before outside opinions influence your reception and perception of the music, please go ahead and skip today’s post.

That being said, The End of Days ROCKS.

I received my copy of The End of Days with nervous anticipation. After the glory that is Aether Shanties, I was worried about how Abney Park would manage to top their previous album. What if it didn’t live up to my expectations? What if it was too different from Aether Shanties? Conversely, what if I liked The End of Days more than Aether Shanties… would Aether Shanties feel like I was cheating on it?

Fortunately, The End of Days is fantastic in its own right, but is different enough from Aether Shanties that I don’t feel I’ve betrayed all those memories from Aether Shanties.

The End of Days is Abney Park’s third Steampunk album and its eleventh since its inception. It is an impressive work that reminisces in the mutual tradition of Aether Shanties, but stands on its own as something new and markedly different. The End of Days has the same instrumental components that have created Abney Park’s signature Steampunk sound, but The End of Days contains many new instruments played by both band members and contributing artists that add a new and distinctive layer of sound including Unwoman on cello, Carey Rayburn on Vintage Muted Trumpet and Richard Lopez on Trombone and Alto Flute. These guest artists add a rich new layer of sound to The End of days that was not in any previous album.

Lyrically, The End of Days is a definite departure from Aether Shanties. Whereas Aether Shanties is largely about the adventures of Steampunk fiction, The End of Days is largely (although not entirely) about the factual Steampunk lifestyle. Many of the songs either directly or metaphorically speak about the struggle to live a Steampunk lifestyle despite the pressures of mainstream and corporate America. This album is in many ways, a tribute  to the growing Steampunk lifestyle. Anyone who claims that there is no real lifestyle associated with Steampunk absolutely must listen to The End of Days.

The End of Days is most definitely a darker album in its focus on Steampunk reality rather than  fantasy. It’s laced with themes of struggle and rebellion and calls upon the Steampunk community to embrace the punk suffix of Steampunk. It’s not meant to bring you down, but rather to enlighten and encourage to reconsider your life’s course and your definition of Steampunk. What does it really mean to you? The message in The End of Days is one I wholeheartedly embrace, because I’ve been advocating for the Steampunk lifestyle for years now only to be told that there’s no such thing, and that it’s just cosplay, so chill out. The End of Days is a musical argument to the contrary.

As with any album regardless of the artist or genre, I have a few tracks that emerged as my favorites from End of Days and deserve special attention here:

  • The End of Days- An excellent track that sets the pace and tone for the album. The End of Days is the embodiment of post-Apocalyptic Steampunk. Despite being about the end of civilization as we know it, the song manages to bring a positive message to humankind’s future in true Steampunk fashion.
  • Neobedouin– I dare you to listen to this song and not dance! It cannot be done! This is an excellent track to follow The End of Days with the same post-apocalyptic themes.
  • The Wrath of Fate– I LOVE this ballad of an airship wreck and the resolve of captain and crew to sail again. This song and its adventuring theme could have easily fit into Aether  Shanties, but it is surely rich with metaphor representing the band’s struggles.
  • Victorian Vigilante– Another song that’s sure to inspire dancing. I adore the heavy Victorian imagery in the lyrics, and Nathaniel’s performance on the banjo is very impressive. I have to admit, when I first heard of the plan to include the banjo into this album, I was a tad bit mortified. The banjo’s sound conjures up all sorts or unwanted images of hicks and the film Deliverance. Not exactly what I wanted from an Abney Park album. Thankfully, my concerns were misplaced. Nathaniel’s outstanding performance on the banjo brings an element of the epic to this track.
  • Letters Between A Little Boy & Himself as an Adult– I cried the first time I heard this track. Hearing a song that simultaneously encaptured my disappointments in the past and hopes for the future took me by surprise and unexpectedly moved me. If you’ve ever daydreamed or doubted what you are “supposed to” do with your life, this song is for you.
  • Off the Grid- A true Steampunk lifestyle piece in every way, Off the Grid is a fun listen and embodies the desire to break free from the mainstream. This track is an overt challenge to Steampunks to examine themselves, break away from the drudgery and live their dreams.  Sometimes, we just need to be reminded that our dreams are valid and worth pursuing. Off the Grid does just that.

Overall, I’m very pleased with The End of Days. Its unifying theme is one that speaks to me in a very personal way and the music is fresh and unique, just what one is to expect from Abney Park. If you haven’t picked up a copy of the End of Days, I must demand to know what in the world you are waiting for. This is a fantastic album musically and lyrically that contributes a broader discussion of Steampunk as a social movement with its own lifestyle and philosophy. Do not miss out on this album.

You can purchase The End of Days via the Abney Park online market where it is available as a CD or a digital download.

A Sepiachord Passport Review

Veronique Chevalier, Mr. Jordan Bodewell, and the people at Projekt Records were kind enough to send me a copy of the recently released A Sepiachord Passport. The album is a compilation of contemporary artists who use pre-modern musical techniques and traditions to create entirely new music.

A Sepiachord Passport is aptly named. Listening to it feels like an adventure through the Steampunk genre. It succeeds in presenting the many facets of Steampunk music in a highly entertaining and engaging manner. It is an anthology of retro-futuristic music that explores the furthest reaches of what Steampunk music could be. From bubbly and optimistic to dark and punky, A Sepiachord Passport is an all-inclusive auditory escapade through the Steampunk genre.

I especially appreciate A Sepiachord Passport’s success in exposing me to some Steampunk and retro-futuristic bands I’ve never heard of previously. Because Steampunk doesn’t have uniform sound, online radio stations like Pandora don’t necessarily help me in discovering new Steampunk music. A Sepiachord Passport succeeds where Pandora fails. And although there is a wide spectrum of sounds, textures, and lyrical images, the composition of the Passport is one that flows smoothly and enjoyably.
Some of my favorite tracks on the Passport included Charlie by the Men Who Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing, Scarlet Carpet Interstate Part One by Nathaniel Johnstone and the Brazilian Surf Mafia, and The Dance Master by Veronique Chevalier.

A Sepiachord Passport comes enthusiastically recommended to Steampunks and other retro-futurists interested in further exploring the vast talent of the artists featured. You can buy it from Projekt Record’s website here where it is currently on sale for 9.98 USD.