From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Category Archive for ‘Non-Fiction’ rss


Top 10 Steampunk Gadgets

Cultural movements that inspire devotion and fanishness are often not given enough credit for the inventiveness they inspire. Steampunk is especially rife with masterpieces of fashion, art, craft, and technology. Every time you think you’ve seen the coolest, most out there steampunk creation another comes along. Of the specimens we’ve come across, these are our ten favorites.

3. Steampunk Mouse

While this could definitely be paired with the laptop from #5, we had to rate this mouse higher because it looks like a tiny golden (many-geared and thing-a-ma-bobbed) tank. And tank beats station wagon in every game of rock paper scissors I’ve ever played. Even the cord and the USB port on this puppy are classy.


Randym Thoughts: Punk’d

Steampunk is a fine example of a semi-mainstream trend in fashion and technology that developed hand in hand with a similar trend in fantasy literature.

But there are some other, lesser-known trends inspired by fantasy literature that a few brave souls tried out, but sadly failed to inspire a large-scale following.

Join us as we explore the Heropunk, Seusspunk, Nimhpunk, Pernpunk and Heraldpunk movements (and their unfortunate outcomes).


Top 10 Steampunk Media

Yesterday we gave you steampunk lit, and today we move on to other media. There are a lot of great steampunk movies to choose from (though Repo! is, sadly, not among them), but also some great websites, music and games.

8. Treasure Planet
Full three-masted sailing ships in outer space rather sum up the aesthetic of this retelling of Treasure Island. The same pirate-filled action-adventure about a young English boy, but this time with cyborgs and solar-powered surfboards.

5. Castle Falkenstein
Half-novel and half-tabletop RPG, Castle Falkenstein is set in an alternate universe that combines our sense of Victorian England with traditional steampunky tech, faeries and futuristic ray guns. The RPG is designed for an actual Victorian aesthetic; as dice are something that vagabonds and other unsavories play with, Castle Falkenstein is based around playing cards.

4. Clockwork Cabaret
Steampunk music is featured on this weekly online radio show. What counts as steampunk music, or “music o’ gears”? An intriguing mix of jazz, blues, goth, folk, swing, dark cabaret, classical, and other genres that come together to create a unique sound.


Shakespeare + Steampunk — Gears and Cogs Love The Bard

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is one of my favorite plays. I’ve seen over a dozen productions, love the 1996 movie, and have adapted the play numerous times for my own projects. It is an almost perfect blend of drama and comedy and, if you look at it with a modern eye, very feminist. I’ve never been particularly fond of the ending, but even old Willy wasn’t always perfect.

Whenever I attend productions of Twelfth Night there are two elements that must be in place for me to really enjoy myself. Foremost is the acting, of course. This is a challenging play, and also has some moments of awkwardness and dialogue that goes THUNK. But excellent actors and good direction can smooth that over. Almost as is important is the Idea of the play, which encompasses the set and costume design, choices of time period, and the overall feeling of the production. When these two elements blend perfectly you get a great theatre experience.

There have been many great Ideas for Shakespeare plays, ranging from setting it in different time periods (Victorian England is a favorite, as is Europe during one of the world wars, as is America in the 20’s), placing it in a completely fantastical world, and creating an island in the middle of a random lake just so you can accurately recreate the world of The Tempest. Yes, I did see that once. One recent idea that caught my eye is a production of Twelfth Night with design elements inspired by steampunk. After seeing some images of the set and costumes, I knew I had to see the play. So I kidnapped Stephen Segal of Weird Tales and we set off for the theatre.


Top 10 Literary Steampunk Works

Halloween is on the horizon, and we know the steampunk set will be out in full force with the goggles or monocles or corsets or lace. Though Jeff Vandermeer helpfully pointed out to us that the steampunk subculture arose independent of literature, we still think that the heart and soul of the gears, steam and magic is found within the pages of books. To that end, Fantasy staffers Nicole D. Leffel and Samantha Chapman solicited the opinion of several steampunk aficionados on what books and stories fans of the genre should read. Our thanks to Jeff Vandermeer, Jay Lake, Keith Thompson, and Evelyn Kriete for helping us out.

10. The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia (IndieBound | Alibris | Amazon)

7. The Scar by China Mieville (IndieBound | Alibris | Amazon)

5. The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman (IndieBound | Alibris | Amazon)

3. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore (IndieBound | Alibris | Amazon)


Alex Rose, Author Of The Plagiarist

The Plagiarist had many lives before reaching its current state. Originally, I’d written it as part of a novel — a kind of intertextual detective story — which ultimately went nowhere. So I lobbed off my favorite parts of the ill-conceived crime novel and crafted them into stand-alone short stories. My favorite section involved a character hired to follow a woman whose husband had suspected her of adultery, only as the man follows her through the apparently mundane activities of her day, he finds himself entering and re-entering a series of narratives which may or may not have been written by the same jealous husband. Anyway, that soon became vertiginous and impossibly convoluted, so I scaled it down further and further until it reached its current state: man finds magical book on subway. At the time, I’d been very influenced by Cynthia Ozick’s marvelous (and totally neglected) novel, The Messiah of Stockholm, which is about a bookseller searching for the lost manuscript of Bruno Schultz — in real life, the greatest fabulist writer of mid-century Poland.

Where do you get your ideas?

Usually, they begin as a form of plagiarism. Really. I fall in love with books — usually non-fiction books — and attempt to emulate them. I do so clumsily, and eventually fail, and the failure becomes something of a model for a first draft. My hypertext novel, Synapse,was borne of a failed attempt to recreate Don DeLillo’s White Noise by way of Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood. My story collection, The Musical Illusionist, was a stab at recasting the Museum of Jurassic Technology in LA as a work of fiction. Jonathan Lethem published a ingenious essay in Harper’s last year about plagiarism; I defer to him on the subject.


Sofa Sunday: American Gothic

American Gothic was one of those Brilliant, But Canceled shows that, had it aired during the days of digital downloads and DVRs, might have stood a chance at lasting longer than a season. The show was dark but not morose, supernatural but not woowoo, and starred some stellar actors, including Gary Cole. Yes, the Office Space boss. Gary has a really wide acting range, if you didn’t know, and as the somewhat demonic Sheriff Buck he’s damn sexy.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

American Gothic’s protagonist is 10-year-old Caleb Temple (Lucas Black), who resides in the fiction small town of Trinity, South Carolina. The story begins when Caleb’s life becomes a complete mess — his sister is murdered, his father is accused of said murder, then commits suicide, and the local sheriff has taken an unnatural interest in him. As the story progresses, we learn that Sheriff Buck (Gary Cole) has a deep connection to Caleb, that he’s capable of making bad and good things (of a supernatural nature) happen to the people in town, and he’s pretty damn ruthless. On the “good” side are Caleb’s distant cousin, a reporter from “the city”, a new doctor, also from some city (in the north), and his dead sister, now an angel watching over him.

American Gothic balanced the darker aspects of its storylines with a little humor and mundane, but powerful, scenes that dealt with the hardships of being 10, small town life, and growing up. None of these elements came off as sappy, which is why the show worked.

Caleb is the show’s heart, but Sheriff Buck is its center. His charm and menace are in perfect balance. He’s shown to be cruel and evil, but, in one of my favorite episodes, also shown to be necessary. “Strong Arm Of The Law” illustrates what could happen to Trinity if Buck wasn’t there to “protect” its citizens. It also raises some interesting thoughts about the concept of a necessary evil.

Click over to Fantasy Magazine to see some of this show’s best episodes.


Saturday Morning Cartoon: Mighty Max

Mighty Max aired on UPN from 1992-1993. Though it only ran for two seasons, there are many gems in its forty episodes. The premise casts Max (voiced by Rob Paulsen, familiar to many as Yakko Warner on The Animaniacs) as the standard Chosen One, or in the words of Virgil, a talking chicken (fowl, actually) from Lemuria, “the Mighty One”–thus making him “Mighty Max.” Max possesses a magical baseball cap that allows him to open portals scattered all over the world, a convenient way of hopping from one exotic location to another in the course of their adventures; he’s often referred to as “the Capbearer,” which is perhaps a less impressive title.


Bits and Bytes: Republicans Like Doctor Who, But Will They Dig A Black Doctor?

Democrats and Republicans Respond to TV Differently… Film at 11

Nielsen (the ratings people) apparently rate the “engagement” people have with the shows they watch and crunch this data along many lines, including political affiliation.

“Engagement” refers to the amount of attention paid to a television program by the average viewer. […] Nielsen’s analysis found that the cable programs that received the highest overall engagement scores… also received the most bipartisan support…

According to the table at the link, shows with the highest Republican engagement include Doctor Who. I know, a bunch of question marks popped above my head, too. Apparently conservatives engaged with our dear Doctor even more than they engaged with the ladies vying for Bret Michaels’ love. I’m not sure how to wrap my brain around this.

The most engaging SF/F show for Dems? TIN MAN. That’s right, dear readers! Liberals are all about the bad Sci-Fi channel movies. I may have to switch parties…

My Black Doctor Brings All The Racists To The Yard

Nick Kaufman finds crazy Doctor Who wank so you don’t have to. Apparently there’s a rumor about that when David Tenant finally gives up the mantle of the Doctor, one of the guys being considered for the role is British actor Paterson Joseph. He was the Weakest Link finalist with Rose in the first season DW finale and also had a prominent role in BBC’s Jekyll. Besides being absolutely brilliant and handsome, Joseph is also black. This, predictably, is making Who fans freak the hell out.

Nick’s picked out some of the choicer quotes for your amusement and head-shaking, but it’s interesting to point out that some fans are completely okay with a black Doctor. But a woman? HELL NO, SIR.

I weep.

(and there’s more…)


Satan’s a Tool

If you’ve spent any time at all on YouTube in the last few years, follow Red vs. Blue, or seen the very special episode of South Park “Make Love, Not Warcraft”, you’re probably already aware of machinima as a way of using existing video game environments and characters to “film” movies with virtual sets and actors–kind of like the latest Star Wars films but with better dialogue and a measure of actual creativity.

The applications of these tools are limited only by the imagination, as most of these quality productions can be created with little more than a personal computer. More and more, true innovation is happening in the virtual space, flooding the Internet with new kinds of digital entertainment. One interesting application has been mashups, which combine and modify one or more media sources into a single derivative piece, such as creating a music video using a popular song set to video generated via machinima.

One of the most successful and enjoyable examples of this new art form is a video in which YouTube user jerzwyqt4evah (aka “Kate”) has set musical comedian Stephen Lynch’s song “Beelz” to video of Satan dancing and singing, using character mods from The Sims 2. The combination of these two forms of popular entertainment is naturally greater than the sum of its parts. While watching this, you may wonder why Satan has breasts. I wish I could tell you.