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Tag Archive: Tim Powers


Ian McShane Teach Pirates Blackbeard

Review by C.J. Bunce

When Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales hits theaters in 2017, the tenth largest money making movie franchise will give fans its fourth sequel.  Usually the fifth film in a franchise is so far from the spirit of the original that it fails miserably.  But the last Pirates entry, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, was such a visually stunning production with–more importantly–an interesting story that it could be the Johnny Depp-led franchise may just be hitting its stride.  The first of the films released on Blu-ray 3D is a showcase for the home viewing technology, and is worth another look, especially if you only saw it in the theater on 3D or just the DVD version.

Still derived on the amusement park ride and the adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow, the role that earned Johnny Depp one of his best actor Academy Award nominations, On Stranger Tides kicks up the film’s action compared to the prior two films, Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End.  In part because director Jerry Bruckheimer branched out and borrowed the film’s story from an award-winning novel by Tim Powers (1987’s On Stranger Tides), this new film is simply better all around.  Except for some scenes that could stand to be edited down, On Stranger Tides is nearly as good as the original Pirates of the Caribbean, The Curse of the Black Pearl. 

pirates-of-the-caribbean-on-stranger-tides

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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.

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