Tag Archive: steampunk


Wind Whales of Ishmael cover

Written in 1971 by notable sci-fi author Philip José Farmer, The Wind Whales of Ishmael is intended as a sequel to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  As to genre, it fits into modern steampunk, with its exploration of Earth’s future without reference to the scientific realities of the latter 20th century, and its sailing ships in the sky.  Wind Whales continues the story of Ishmael, the only survivor of Ahab’s failed whale hunt in Moby Dick, a story many literature students have struggled to get through because of its dauntingly long passages of a solitary life at sea.  Ishmael is rescued but by clinging to Quequeg’s canoe coffin he is plunged through some type of vortex, much like the Bermuda Triangle, into Earth’s distant future.  This future world is unrecognizable, and has a few similarities to the distant planet from Avatar.  Along with other of Farmer’s works, Wind Whales is being re-issued by Titan Books in a new library aimed at steampunk readers.  The new printing of The Wind Whales of Ishmael hits bookstores tomorrow, March 12, 2013, with a foreward by editor Michael Croteau and an afterward by Farmer’s nephew, author Danny Adams.

The oddity in Wind Whales is that it has very little in relation to theme, writing style, and characterization to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  So it could have been a standalone story, or a sequel to any number of classic works.  There is of course a future world of whaling and fighting “air sharks” which ties Ishmael to his past life where he threw away all else to enter a life at sea.  Yet the future world of far distant Earth is so different that Wind Whales may have more in relation to Frank Herbert’s Dune series with its giant worms.

Continue reading

Steampunk dirigible

Resident young adult novelist and borg.com contributor Elizabeth C. Bunce has been a fan of James Blaylock since stumbling across a copy of The Paper Grail in her college library.  When borg.com was offered an early look at The Aylesford Skull, the latest installment in Blaylock’s steampunk series about gentleman explorer Langdon St. Ives–and an interview with the author–she literally jumped at the chance.  And there may also have been some fangirl squealing.  Welcome to borg.com, Jim!

ECB:  First, let’s talk a little about “steampunk.”  How would you define the term, and especially how your works fit into the genre?  What do you make of the current craze of non-literary steampunk “lifestyle”–costumes, conventions, etc.?

JPB:  This is a complicated question, but I’ll give it a shot.  I’m not crazy about defining the term at all closely.  Definitions are best left to reviewers and critics; writers shouldn’t have anything to do with them.  Most Steampunk is Victorian, but if that were a requirement, then Tim Powers’s early novels don’t qualify.  The Anubis Gates, which is pre-Victorian (George III, if I’m not mistaken) is obviously a seminal Steampunk novel and one of the best ever written.  His recent Hide Me Among the Graves is Victorian, but there aren’t many Steampunk trappings in it, and he certainly didn’t write it with the idea that he was producing Steampunk.  Definitions seem to me to be immaterial at best.  With apologies to a number of contemporary writers, I can’t quite say how The Aylesford Skull fits into the genre, because I don’t read very much contemporary science fiction and fantasy.  I’m not anxious to know anything about requisite genre contrivances.  That being said, I’ve always been a fan of dirigibles.  I remember very clearly my mother and I walking several blocks from our home in Lakewood, California, to look at a Goodyear blimp when I was four or five years old.  I grew up dreaming about that blimp.  It’s not surprising that my first Steampunk novel (written years before K.W. Jeter coined the term) featured a dirigible.  I put it in there because the story wanted a dirigible and because I wanted a dirigible.  Along those same lines, my father kept a small keg on his workbench at home that was full of all manner of small metallic and wooden pieces of this and that, which he pitched into the keg instead of into the trash.  As a child I spent a heap of time sorting through it, picking out clock gears and other likely looking oddments, sorting them, and arranging and rearranging them on the bench top.  There was no purpose in it.  I simply liked the look of a gear. Clockwork somethings were bound to find their way into my stories.  I find that it’s impossible for me to write anything if I’m wondering what the audience wants or expects, and so for the sake of my writing I can’t think in terms of genre expectations.  It’s also impossible for me to write without loading up the story with the things that I want, including dirigibles, gears, fog-shrouded streets, squids, leaf-like fish and other magical things.  I hope that makes sense.

AylesfordSkull cover

One last thing in that regard: reviewers often refer to my novel The Digging Leviathan as Steampunk, or as having Steampunk “tropes” or a Steampunk attitude.  In fact it’s set in the Los Angeles of the late 1950s, or at least an imagined Los Angeles.  Reviewers seem to be saying the same thing about my novel Zeuglodon, which is set in northern California in what seems to be the same out-of-time world in which The Digging Leviathan is set.  Readers with a fixed idea of Steampunk might be slightly mystified, I think, if they were to read those two books after reading such a review.  Perhaps it’s enough to say that they have Steampunk “sensibilities.”  I like that very well, because it’s sufficiently foggy, and it inflates the definition of Steampunk to the point at which the term threatens to lose its shape entirely. As for the non-literary Steampunk lifestyle, I love it.  I marvel at the whole lot of it.  I’m far too introverted to wear costumes, although I wore an Edwardian tuxedo on my wedding day (or so it was described by the rental company).  I’m a big fan of Steampunk jewelry.  I buy into so-called Steampunk philosophy.  Also, I’m attracted to the idea that Steampunk aficionados aren’t merely being theatrical, but that they’re in fact creating a Steampunk world within our own world in which they can exist.  I wonder whether the Steampunk craze will reach some kind of critical mass, and such a thing will come true: one day we’ll walk out the front door and there’ll be a dirigible hovering overhead and someone wearing a beaver hat tootling past on a steam-driven octopus velocipede.  I’d open a bottle of champagne.

Continue reading

Warlord of the Air

Review by C.J. Bunce

It’s been 41 years since Michael Moorcock first published The Warlord of the Air, the first novel in his Nomad of the Time Streams series following Edwardian British Army Captain Oswald Bastable as he becomes unstuck in different timelines in the 20th century.  It has all the elements of steampunk, despite being written more than 15 years before the term came into common meaning, including a focus on airships being the preferred form of transportation in the novel’s alternate 1973, as well as technologies and events that did or did not occur in our own timeline.

Moorcock serves to pull the reader into the story through the device of finding writings from his own grandfather, also named Michael Moorcock, in which his grandfather personally encountered Captain Bastable on a small island in the Indian Ocean in 1903.  Bastable has been unceremoniously ousted from a steam-powered, seafaring vessel and appears disoriented to the narrator so he takes him into his house and learns of the story recounted to the reader as the bulk of the novel.

Continue reading

AOS cover

Review by C.J. Bunce

The magical, multimedia, computer-generated art of Archeologists of Shadows is at once both like something you’ve never seen before yet strangely familiar with bits and pieces of so many different influences.  The characters seem to have evolved from the green planet in Avatar and the villains from the Iowa State Patrol borg police of Star Trek 2009.  The compositions have influences in the creepy worlds of both artist Dave McKean and at the same time the otherworldly spaces of filmmaker Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.  The fantasy evokes painted high fantasy pulp cover art and the mystery and old religions and myths of The Dark Crystal.  The colors and lights throughout the book are reminiscent of the work of artist Lee Bermejo.  The industrial architecture conjures the oppressive cityscapes of Fritz Lang, and the surreal buildings of  Antoni Gaudi.

As to the story, we’re introduced to a far off place, maybe Earth’s own future, the world of Terminator if the Connors have failed to save humanity, where humans have degraded to the point where they have only few organic parts.  The protagonists, Alix and Baltimo, are indeed borgs, with elaborate, realistically visualized cybernetics with a definite steampunk vibe.  They are on the brink of a crossroads like the dull citizens of George Lucas’s THX 1138–readying for the final steps of full mechanization.  Like the cast of Waiting for Godot, they wait for something to happen, maybe godlike intervention, until a stranger offers assistance.  Like Neo in The Matrix, do you act or not act, and which action bears the most risk, the doing or not doing?

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: