Monday, October 31, 2011

The Machine

Cool animated short about a machine who would conquer all the obstacles in his path.

THE MACHINE from Bent Image Lab on Vimeo.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fashion Friday: Book Cover Art

A blog post on Publishers Weekly got me thinking about the importance of good cover art, so I thought I'd assemble some of my least favourites. Maybe next week I'll actually pick some good ones, but these are way more fun.

Now, the moment you've surely scrolled past my intro for, thus ignoring my hard work. The top (or bottom) 5 worst covers.

These first two represent the art movement I like to call "Photoshop Diarrhoea", sharks, dogs and flamingoes, nothing is safe! If you can find a picture of it, just paste it in there, the more the merrier!

There is no shortage of bad cover art in old SF and Fantasy. This one pretty much sums it up. Green men in green spacesuits travel in their green UFO to visit the floating giant blue cat-head people. I don't even want to get in to the problems with the title. I have no idea what the book is about, and I'm a bit scared to find out.

I think this is meant to be erotica for retirees. The grin on grandpa's face is just... disturbing.

Last, the classic when it comes to bad title decisions. No comment necessary.

Bonus! A sixth bad cover! Do I deliver the goods or what. The possible captions here are endless, create your own and leave it in the comments. I'll post the best next week.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Writing, Titles and Mind Space

As I've discussed before, I started on my latest manuscript with the intent to keep it dark and gritty. The actual Industrial Revolution was not a very pretty time for most people. Well, it's really starting to take shape now. I'm 45 pages into the first draft and I know where things are going. The path is a little fuzzy in parts, but I know how the novel ends now.

I am finding it much harder to write than my previous novels though. For those I set a quota of 2,000 words a day, and almost never failed to hit that mark. For this one I'm lucky to get 1,000 words a day. Partly because it is more closely related to our own history, and I have to pause quite often to research bits of information. Was the catalpa tree in front of St. James Church on Piccidilly around in 1911? I looked up pictures of the church, but it took me nearly a half hour to find out if the tree had been there when Robert Bexley visited there in 1911. Apparently not, one source said 'around 1900' whereas another said 1929, the latter seemed more accurate. Maybe that's just a boring detail, but I find that getting the little things right lends an air of authenticity (although I no doubt have made mistakes and will be properly strung up by the history buffs when the book is released). The other reason why the going has been slow is that it's hard, putting myself in Robert's shoes. Things pick up for him later, but at this point his life really sucks, and I have to be right there in my head for it to strike the right emotional tone.

Well, with any luck I'll be done the first draft before the end of December.

The other thing this novel has been giving me difficulty with is the title. For my last two I had titles fairly early on that sucked, but I could leave them alone, later as the manuscript evolved the right title just came to me and I'm happy with how they came out. With this one it's like a scab I can't stop picking at. So far it's been, "Dark Mechanics", "Dark Machinations", "Under an Iron Moon", "Heart of Iron", and "Perpetual Motion". None of which works, or makes particular sense. I'm tempted to change it again, this time to, "Ghost in the Machine", but that's too close to "Ghost in the Shell".

Anyhow, that's my progress for the past two weeks. 45 pages down, another 250 or so to go.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monday Inspiration: Wood

I love some good woodworking. Nothing better to offset the cold technical metal components than some naturally beautiful wooden parts. You don't have to be a woodworking genius either, as shown below a simple block of wood (and a clever imagination) can turn your iPhone dock into a work of art.

This desk lamp is far more complicated, and maybe it could work with brass, or other materials, but the wood gives the mechanical a natural, graceful feel.

Finally, I'm sure this Christmas gift will be a hit. Puzzle boxes are awesome in general, but I only dream of having the skills to make something like this. Truly a work of art.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday Inspiration: Absurdity

It takes a lot of imagination to come up with something pleasingly absurd, I mean absurd enough to be interesting, eye-catching, without being so absurd it's just silly or stupid. That fine area in between is populated by some of the most interesting things in the world.

Lisa Black and her Steampunk Taxidermy fits the bill in my mind. That's all we need, cyber-zombie-bambi. Crossing three genres at once.

Of course you don't have to try to be absurd, magazines like Popular Science and Science and Invention tried their best to actually predict the future. It's only with the benefit of hindsight that we can see how truly loopy some of the ideas presented there were.

I'll leave you with this important public service message, you know, just in case.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Raveonettes - Heart of Stone

Great animated, Steampunk-themed music video. (click on the blue-outlined thumbnail to play)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Fashion Friday: Where do I Find Cool Parts?

I see this question a lot on Steampunk forums. Partly the answer depends on how much you want to buy. If you're planning on starting an Etsy shop, or just want to have tons of bits, your local auctioneer may be a great place to start. They often have boxes of antique clocks, old machinery, tools etc. Just be sure to check out the kind of auction you're going to. Many auction houses list their upcoming auctions online, so check there first.

For smaller purchases, try estate and garage sales, try to imagine what's inside the items you're looking at, because the best (and cheapest) gears are often hidden away, and the owner may get upset if you go around smashing their antique clock collection open before buying them.

If you have a little more money, or you don't like the random nature of the above suggestions, try Etsy or Ebay. Things are more expensive there, but you can browse until you find the things you need.

Last, and cheapest of all, ask to poke around your parent's or grandparent's basement. Often they'll store things away for decades without any real plan for the items. You can find some amazing things to take home for the price of a little wheedling. They may even throw in a hot meal!

I love searching through this stuff, everything I find gives me ideas, and has me wishing I had more time and money to spend on crafting. If you've created something recently, or you'd like to share your own tips for finding parts, please comment.

Obvious to you

This one is for all the frustrated creative minds out there.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dark Steampunk

I've always preferred dark, edgy fiction. Partly it just seems more realistic to me. If you take the kinds of risks associated with nearly any Fantasy or Action/Adventure series the odds are friends are going to be badly hurt or die.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for good triumphing over evil in the end, I just think too many authors take the easy road to that end, they coddle their characters too much. I don't think of myself as sadistic towards my characters, but I do want them to suffer, so that their eventual triumph is all the more poignant.

That is why I'm drawn to dystopian societies I suppose. That and it just seems fitting to me that Steampunk should be presented in a hard-edged fashion. After all, wasn't the Industrial Revolution one of the worst times in the history of man to be alive? Unless you were among the lucky few who owned the factories that is. If you were unlucky you could be apprenticed to a chimney sweep at age six, and if you survived the long hours of torturous climbing (often encouraged to greater speed by the master sweep literally lighting a fire under your ass), you'd most likely die in your teens or twenties from 'soot wart' an especially aggressive form of cancer caused by the coal tar they were exposed to twelve hours a day.

In other words, life was like a troll, short, brutal and ugly. Perfect for writing good fiction.

As I wait for responses from the publishers my agent has sent my manuscript to I'm contemplating writing a completely different sort of steampunk novel. The year is 1912 and the Industrial Revolution is going much better than anticipated. Already machines have grown so efficient that the work-force required to run a factory has been reduced by a factor of twenty. Men who were merely wealthy a dozen years before are now sultans of once unimaginable wealth. Hiring a few hundred men for a private security force to prevent sabotage beats keeping on thousands of vermin-ridden, ever-complaining peasants.

Enter Robert Bexley, young scion of the Bexley dynasty, proud, arrogant and lazy. He helps the wrong lady in distress and finds himself on the other side of the law for the first time in his life.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Monday Inspiration: The Universe

Sorry this is a day late, long weekend for Turkey Day here in Canada.

I am constantly in awe of the Universe. The incomprehensible enormity of it all, as Carl Sagan used to say biiillions and biillions... A billion doesn't really mean anything to me though. 1/7th of the population of Earth, grains of sand on a beach, whatever your comparison, it's just too large a number to grasp. Then to think there are hundreds of billions of galaxies, most of them with hundreds of billions of stars. Numbers that high cease to have meaning that a human brain can properly understand. Here are some pictures I like to look at to help me wrap my brain around the subject.

This is Galaxy Messier - 101, also known as the Pinwheel Galaxy. It has around 100 billion stars, which means it's about average-sized as far as galaxies go (they range from around 10 million to 100 trillion stars).

This is the Hubble Deep Field picture. It shows approximately 3,000 galaxies, of an estimated total of 170 billion galaxies in the observable Universe.

What inspires you? I'd love to hear your thoughts, or suggestions for future Monday Inspiration posts.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Fashion Friday: Bathrooms

I thought I'd take a bit of a different angle on fashion today and look at some interior design. The bathroom is not exactly the first place people would think of when they consider Steampunk-ifying their lives, but there are some very cool ideas out there.

Toilets are of course, essential, and while I probably wouldn't want (or, for that matter be allowed) to have either of these models in my house, they do present some interesting design ideas and elements that could be incorporated into a simpler, less extreme version (a man's home is his castle after all, so the throne has to be at least somewhat comfortable).

This shower is more my style, I could absolutely see something like this in my house one day.

The Bathroom at Smith and Mills Restaurant in New York is delightfully steampunk looking (although in reality it's just very old), it was made out of an old elevator car, and the sink comes from a train berth. To empty the sink you fold it up against the wall.

Finally, here's a Steampunk bathroom I think I could actually get my wife behind. I love these old-style tubs that sit in the middle of the room like that.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


I'm reaching the end-stage of plotting the sequel trilogy to Aetherstorm, so naturally I've been thinking a lot about endings lately. I think readers will find the ending to Aetherstorm mostly satisfying. The main conflict is resolved, but our hero, Konrad, does not exactly live happily ever after, and the antagonists are not punished in a really satisfactory way.

I plan to end the Aether Cycle on book four, the third book of the trilogy, and leave the world I've created for good. So the ending to the series has to be completely satisfying, to me and my audience.

The problem is that there are irresolvable conflicts (see the previous post). Short of genocide, there will be war in this world. I can live with that, some conflicts are not meant to end, and it gives things a certain feeling that life really does go on, unlike a fairy tale there simply is no such thing as happily ever after.

A lot of the characters will die, although it saddens me to kill them, there are some I have created who I am really going to miss, but if ya wanna make an omlette... Other characters will live of course, and I want to leave them in a better place than I found them.

The antagonists must get their comeuppance. For everyone else, life goes on, much as it was before. Anything else just wouldn't ring true to me, real life is too complicated.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Why Steampunk?

I first learned about Steampunk many years ago, when issue #4 of Girl Genius had just hit the stands. My brother is an avid comic collector and he encouraged me to read them. I found them really cool, but at the time I was busy with many other things, and the whole idea of Steampunk got put on a back-burner in my mind.

A little over a year ago, I was struggling to get my first novel out there, (which is still unpublished, with some re-writes and more experience I'm sure it will do well though) and looking for my next big idea to base a novel around. I hit upon the idea of a world of flying cities, which naturally dovetailed into the Steampunk genre. After I had some idea of the world I wanted to set my tale in I began to work on plot, carefully avoiding exposure to Steampunk other than what I already knew in the hopes of creating something truly new and innovative.

So the world evolved. A rift in the Aether caused massive mutation throughout Europe, and made it possible for people to tap a nearly unlimited energy source. The physically superior cousins to humans created were labelled Synari, and enslaved by Humans. Their population exploded as they outbred humans 10:1 and their generally obedient nature encouraged sales to cultures across the Earth. Because it was a recipient of slave labour, not a continent destroyed by slavers, Africa became far more significant than it is in our world.

But, as with all good things (well, good if you were a Human), it came to an end. The Synari decided they didn't like being slaves. Riots broke out in every major city in the world. Wealthy industrialists and politicians saw the end coming, so they created flying cities. The aristocrats, their servants, soldiers and such left the Earth, never to return. Cities with less wealth built zeppelins to escape, and those on the coasts fled to the few island chains that had been purged of Synari.

Humans cannot allow the Synari to breed too much, or develop a civilisation capable of advanced technologies, so they run aerial patrols, gassing Synari camps whenever they are found. The Synari, angered by this treatment would destroy every last Human to be free of their tyranny. But neither is capable of destroying the other, and there is no possibility of peace, because peace would allow the Synari to spread, and once their numbers grew great enough they would surely win any war between the two.

Into the greatest flying city in this world, enters Konrad. An eighteen-year-old, with a secret.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Werewolves and Greek Demi-Gods

It's not steampunk, but well worth the watch for fans of dark fantasy. Remarkably well done for a fan film, I'd go watch something like this in the theatre if it was a feature film and it had a larger FX budget.

Welcome to Hoxford, the fan film from Julien Mokrani on Vimeo.

From Vimeo: "Raymond Delgado is no ordinary prisoner...
On a good day he'll take the time to tell you he's the son of Zeus before he tears out your jugular. On a bad day, you won't even have a moment to call out for help.
After a yet another "incident" Raymond has been transferred to Hoxford, a correctional facility and mental institution known for its radical methods.
At Hoxford, Raymond’s not the only predator...
Come nightfall, under a full moon, bloodcurdling screams pierce through the darkness of the prison courtyard. It's hunting hour!
As the other Hoxford prisoners huddle in the obscurity of their prison cells trembling in fright, Ray cracks a smile. He thrives on confrontation.
Lock a human beast in a cage with a legendary monster and, in your opinion...
Who will devour? And who will be devoured?"

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Monday Inspiration: Kinetic Sculpture

I love kinetic sculpture. Something about the machine as art just makes a shiver of delight run up my spine.

Brett Dickens displays seven of his wall-mounted kinetic sculptures. What can I say other than geargasm!

Theo Jansen creates awesome walking sculptures powered by the wind.

Finally, if you're like me, and you grew up playing with Hot Wheels, you'll appreciate this one. Over 1,000 cars circle Chris Burden's building-sized Metropolis II.