Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Nazi Fetishism

Some time ago, I joined a dieselpunk group on facebook, and this post came up in my feed:

I wasn't sure how to react to that. My first thought was do these people not realize the reaction they're naturally going to get? 

I mean, sure, the swastika is a very old symbol, predating Nazis by a few thousand years at least, and has usually had positive connotations. But that's not what we're talking about - they're not invoking eastern culture, they're specifically invoking the Nazi connotations, and there isn't anyone who's going to see them wearing it that's not going to associate it with this:

(I went with one of the milder pictures - we all know there are more discomfiting images out there....)

And there is no getting around that association. These people cannot expect people anywhere in the world to look at them wearing Nazi uniforms and not think that these are people who probably hate Jews, Romani, Gays, and the mentally challenged.

And since they say they're not, it begs the question, are these people just wanting to be contrary and stir up trouble because their mothers didn't give them enough attention as children?

I was at an artist gathering where the models were dressed on a steampunk theme a few months ago, and one of the male volunteer models was dressed as an un-dead German soldier, gas mask and everything. He had a character backstory though, that it seemed very important to him that everyone know: This character had been involved in one of the failed assassination attempts on Hitler, and was killed in the attempt. (And subsequently re-animated, but that's beside the point.)

It was important to him that people be reminded that not all Germans in that period were entirely comfortable with Hitler's actions, and there were indeed people who stood up and tried to do something about it. And see, that's a commendable way to present that, and he wasn't being stupid about it. Not only was he trying to educate people, but he recognized that there was no getting around people's reaction to what he was wearing.

So I'm kind of on the fence about it. If it's your thing, I guess, go for it, but don't do it for attention, and don't go around being surprised about how people react to it, and what assumptions will be made about you. And Steampunk and it's derivatives aren't about historical re-enactment anyway. If you just like the style, and you really are into dieselpunk, don't just dress up in a Nazi costume - make it your own some how - use anachronisms, play around with the style, be creative. If it's true dieselpunk, it's about invoking the old images and twisting them, subverting them, turning them upside down, not re-creating them.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Book Review: The CaseBook of Newbury and Hobbes

Join the indomitable detective duo of Sir Maurice Newbury and Miss Veronica Hobbes in the dangerous street of Victorian London as they battle to solve some of their most challenging cases yet.

After the slew of Sherlock books I was reviewing, it was fun and refreshing to find this little gem in my mail box. Not only is the cover beautiful (commence petting) but the stories inside are engaging and well written. If you enjoy chilling plague revenants, clockwork monsters and the occasional evil nemesis, this book is for you.

If you haven't read other Newbury and Hobbes stories, you can still get away with reading this, though there are some instances that refer back to previous adventures, but nothing that would take away from the pleasure of the stories.

My one complaint was that Ms. Veronica Hobbes doesn't feature very much in this book, in fact, nearly halfway through I was starting to think it simply should have been called "Newbury".

Other than that, there are no negative points going towards this book, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Clever and well done.

If you want to take the "Newbury and Hobbes" plunge, but don't know where to start, I suggest reading "The Infinity Bridge", which is a steampunk classic, and will introduce you to the two intrepid detectives.

I give this book 7 out of 8 on the octopus scale!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Film Review: Iron Sky

I re-watched this one to review it for you guys because this movie does what I thought was a really interesting thing. It's definitely got some heavy dieselpunk elements in the Space Nazi side of things, in a very over-the-top way. It's meant to be ridiculous though, and the movie doesn't take itself too seriously at all.

The thing I find interesting though is the way they handled the Nazis. It's always risky to use Nazis in a comedy, because the Holocaust is so very much a sacred cow, and you don't want to make jokes about that.

These Nazis left the earth before the holocaust, though. The premise is that Germany had a space program and sent colonists off to live on the dark side of the moon. These people are unaware of the Holocaust - only of German nationalism to a comical extreme. The irony of course is this.

That's right - the American president thinks "This is brilliant - this is how to win an election!" and applies the German nationalist message to American nationalism.

And the audience watching the movie thinks "What the hell? Do these guys remember what these people did to the Jews/Rom/gays/mentally disabled, etc?"

And the interesting thing is that it's never once mentioned in the entire movie. Were they trying to pretend it didn't happen for the sake of the movie? How can you have a movie about Nazis without acknowledging the Holocaust?

But the answer is actually easy. It's because the writers know that there isn't going to be one single person who watches the movie who isn't aware of the Holocaust, and isn't going to have it in the back of their mind as they watch it. They wrote it assuming that we would be thinking about it, knowing that they wouldn't have to remind us "Hey, by the way audience members, you remember what the result of this extreme Nationalism was right?" They assumed their audience wasn't stupid. (Rare thing, I know - probably because the movie wasn't made in the USA.)

Keep your eye out for a follow-up post to this - there's a bit of a controversial topic I'd like to discuss.

Rating it eight cylinders.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Steampunk Photoshoot and Interview

I had the privilege of sitting in on a Steampunk photoshoot recently, and it was a ton of fun to watch Adrienne Paul playing in front of the camera, and helping assemble a number of steamy and spectacular outfits. So of course, I jumped at the chance to interview Maj Jose, the photographer and fellow Steampunk.

How did you get into photography and what do you love about it?

My love for photography started when I was in High School in the year club. As an awkward teen, I learned I could meet people and have them smile when I pointed the camera. The hours spent in the darkroom developing my images and craft gave me a sense of peace and belonging. My camera was my security blanket, I was accepted everywhere.

When did you first discover Steampunk and what is your favorite part about it?

I first discovered SP in the movies. I have always loved old movies set in the Victorian, Art Nouveau , and Art Deco period . I loved the costuming , the light and the scenes. I remember the movie the Time Machine the 1960's version not the 2002 , and how it captivated me and held my attention. I like the simplicity of this complex idea. Time and history could be changed. It's like any science fiction story that our fate is in our hands and our history can be changed. That's my favorite part of SP, role-playing a fantasy. That my images, even though it's for a short period of time, can be reality .

What was your favorite aspect of the Steampunk shoots you've done so far? What is it about SP that inspires you?

Combining my 2 passions , science fiction and my love for antiques. My tired dusty antiques become a living breathing work of art. When one of my wonderful models adopts their persona I am transported back in time and place and it frees my imagination. I also like collaborating with my fellow photographers to use different photography techniques to achieve the look that I envisioned.

Favorite SP accessory?

I can't choose just one accessory! I love them all, from pocket watches, goggles to odd looking machinery with gears and heavy metal!

Favorite SP movies and books?

I'm a visual artist so I love movies, can't pick just one! Wild Wild West, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Around the world in 80 days ( both versions) . Even the 5th Element.

What would you say is your favorite "version" or style of SP? Gritty fighter pilot? Grungy street thief? Romantic, sweeping skirts? Or something altogether different?

I would say something altogether different … I grew up in Toronto during the 80's and that decade has influenced me tremendously! Reading graphic novels by Neil Gaimen, as I hung out on Queen Street ( that's where the old book stores and junk shops were before it became trendy ). Watching movies during the Toronto Film Fest. Back then Punk Rock ruled and seeing someone in biker jackets and a vintage skirt was normal for me. I remember the creativity that surrounds that area. And I want my images to convey that feeling of whimsy with a touch of flare and grit.

Would you consider playing with any of the offshoots of Steampunk? Like Dieselpunk. Clockpunk, Cyberpunk, ect?

Possibly …..

How is a SP shoot different than a normal shoot? Does it give you more room to play? Are the shots or models different? Different mindset?

Every session is different because every subject is different. I take the same amount of time prepping for SP shoots and Portrait sessions. However SP and fantasy shoots are my favorite because of the familiarity of the subject. I connect with these creative individuals faster when I am shooting SP and Fantasy sessions. In a word, I have more FUN!

Do you plan on doing more SP shoots in the future? If so, can we have a hint of what's to come? Themes? Ideas?

I plan to have more SP shoots in the near Future . I was thinking of a Christmas card depicting a Steam Punk banquet and tea party . But then again I might incorporate images on a tarot card that's all in Steam Punk…. or maybe Neil Gaiman's character's from the vertigo comics Sandman…. or Baron Munchhausen or …. the possibilities are ENDLESS! 


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Novel Experiment

Recently we did an article on "A New Way of Storytelling" which was people joining the story through youtube videos, acting out characters and moving the plot along that way. Today, we're talking about something slightly different.

Fair warning: Children of the Archive is the Steampunkette's project, so this article is going to be totally biased about how cool this is.

What's it About?

Amelia Harris has always wanted to be a writer, but her uptight family thinks it isn't a respectable career for a woman.

When Amelia gets a letter in the post informing her that she has made it into Proustworth Academy, the prestigious school of Rune Scribes, she finds herself shipped off before she has time to consider if she wants to learn magic or not.

At Proustworth, everything is run on a schedule, and Amelia finds herself memorizing old scrolls full of runes and attempting to fit in with the spoiled and wealthy children of aristocrats from all over the country.

In spite of the dull lessons and dusty classrooms, she finds herself fascinated with the magic of the runes, learning spells to scramble the words in books, make them deadly to the reader, and even bring stories to life. When she meets Leon – a boy with a bad heart and a passion for writing that equals her own – Amelia begins to think she may actually like school.

But when the Archive’s valuable Libris Mortis (The Book of Death) goes missing, the school is thrown into chaos. Someone at Proustworth now has access to dozens of deadly spells, and they seem to be very interested in Amelia.

How Does This Work?

COTA, a gothic fantasy with steampunk elements, will be a full-length novel serialized on a Wordpress platform. What makes this different, is that readers can participate in the story. Essentially, this is the ultimate "choose your own adventure". Readers will be able to create characters, back story and drive the plot along. They will create their own runes to be featured in the story, and decide what monsters populate the forest that surrounds the school.

How Can I Get Involved?

Getting involved in the creative process can be as simple as commenting on the posts with suggestions, or as complex as drawing your own runes and sending them in.

When Does it Start?

There will be a "Call for Runes" post going up this weekend, after that a new "call" will be going up every week until Halloween. The first chapter of COTA will go up October 31st.

Let us know what you think of the idea of interactive storytelling in the comments below, and be sure to check out Children of the Archive HERE.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Sherlock Holmes: The Stuff of Nightmares

A spate of bombings has hit London, causing untold damage and loss of life. Meanwhile a strangely garbed figure has been spied haunting the rooftops and grimy back alleys of the capital.

What I Liked About it:

-I have to start off by saying that The Punkettes gets loads of Sherlock Holmes. To the point where we are turning some of it down. So "The Stuff of Nightmares" was a refreshingly different take on the classic stuff. I very much enjoyed the idea of Baron Cauchemar, who was a kind of "Iron Man meets Spring Heeled Jack" character. 

-The story is well written. I know the mystery writer is a good one when I end up genuinely surprised at the twists and turns of the story. There were several things I didn't see coming, and several points that made me smile and shake my head at how clever Mr. Lovegrove is.

-I also found the portrayal of the character of Holmes to be fairly true and accurate in comparison to the original. He always leaves me irritated on Watson's behalf, and this book was no different. I consider that a good sign.

What I Didn't Like:

-Let me first say that I am aware that the writer rarely has any say in his cover. But I was a little disappointed with how the Baron's suit is drawn on the front. To me it doesn't scream "Steampunk". It's just a little too slick looking, like something I'd expect to see Tom Cruise wearing in the next Mission Impossible. 

-I actually found myself irritated with Watson while I was reading. I would easily pick up something that was foreshadowed, or something I'd consider painfully obvious, while the character of Watson was still scratching his head. Of course, then Holmes would step in and explain everything. This only served to convince me that this version of Watson seemed a bit...well...slow.

-There is a good deal of long-winded explanations and interruptions to the narration, which I normally don't mind in a Sherlock book, but at times it interrupted the flow of the action and jerked me out of the story, and I ended up skipping it to get to the juicy action parts.

-At the end there is a transformer bit involving a steam engine which set my eyebrows to raising, and then the bad guy tops it off by monologuing, which reminded me of some cartoonish villain who is conveniently explaining all his dastardly plans to the good guys before he kills them.

-There is also no real room for women in this book, apparently, aside from Mrs. Hudson, who answered the door a few times and made them soup. The only other female character was Watson's wife, who got a few lines about how brave and noble both of the men were. 

In Conclusion:

If you are a Sherlock fan and you want a fresh spin on things, I recommend checking out The Stuff of Nightmares and adding it to your collection.

Oliver the Octopus Gives this 5 out of 8 Tentacles.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Book Review: Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff

I discovered this book when another author retweeted one of Jay's tweets where he mentioned chainsaw Katanas. I thought "Chainsaw katanas? How can you not?"

I love the intro he's got left as a review of his own book on good reads. You gotta read it, it's awesome: Go read it, I'll wait.

And then when you're done that, watch the book trailer. I seriously have never seen a book trailer that actually made me want to read a book until this one:

Okay, so I was already invested. Female main character who kicks ass, Japanese inspired secondary world steampunk setting, with chainsaw katanas and airships - I'm sold. It may even be more dieselpunk than steapunk - the fuel they use is "Chi," harvested from the Blood Lotus, and there's no specific description of the engines, but I couldn't imagine the chainsaw katanas running on anything but an internal combustion engine.

What I wasn't expecting was that the book would be hitting all my hot buttons. It's actually a dystopian setting, and I love dystopias. It's about an oppressed people struggling against an elite wealthy class. And lastly, there's the griffin - the Arashitora, a being that belongs in the sky, and his love of flying, well, being a pilot, lets just say I couldn't help but smile and think "Yeah, I know."

I read reviews before reading it, talking about how the Yukiko-Buruu dynamic was magical, and it's really hard to pin down what it is that makes it so. It's just somehow very real and very foreign at the same time. I've read plenty of person-forms-magical-bond-with-supernatural-creature books, and I think this one does it better than any I've ever read.

The world Kristoff takes us into is vivid, and interesting to the point that I didn't have trouble getting through even the parts that were just introductions to the world. The pacing of the action is slow at the beginning, but that's typical of secondary world stories with a lot of worldbuilding to do, but the author keeps the story moving at a steady pace despite that, even in the beginning.

I really identified with the main character being so angry with her father for the decisions he's made, and over her mother leaving them. Having come from a broken home myself, I get it, and there's not a lot of fantasy out there that deals with the frustration my generation feels with the bad decisions our parents have made, and the way our parents have failed us.

The thing I love the most about the whole thing though, is the social commentary. It's a scathing allegory of the current economic state of the world. The country being bled dry by corporations, the warmongering government, the success of both dependent on taking advantage of poor people of third world countries. The control over the media, suppressing information as they please, and religious zealots attacking minorities. All the while their own people cower in fear, unwilling to take action to change. I won't spoil anything, but as the story goes on and you find out what goes into making the fertilizer for the Blood Lotus, the allegory becomes even more brilliantly poignant.

If you like bustles and tea parties, think books should be for entertainment only and not a soapbox for political statement (some people feel this way - I don't get it) and abhor foul language, this is not the book for you. However, if you like kick-ass heroines who swear, political intrigue, dystopias, political social commentary, Japanese culture, and lots of action, this book was fracking awesome. It's been a while since I've finished a book this quickly. Ten Cylinders.
And book two comes out tomorrow, Sept 17th! Here's Jay's Goodreads intro: