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:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A New Way of Storytelling: Part 2

As a second part to our post "A New Way of Storytelling", we present to you, an interview with Lisa England, creator of Aurelia: Edge of Darkness.

What’s the inspiration behind Aurelia: Edge of Darkness?

AURELIA is based on the world of my serialized steampunk-fantasy novel Rise of the Tiger. This 48-episode, fully-illustrated serial is still online, and many of our actors have read it as a part of their involvement, although I specifically designed the show so that prior "study" was not necessary to have an enjoyable and fulfilling experience. Rise was totally en experiment for me; what started out as a project designed to blast me out of my perfectionistic "hiding and hoarding" of my work," turned into a rich collaboration with many artists, and now into the web show AURELIA.

That being said, the influences for the novel first, and now the show, are really varied. John Milton’s Paradise Lost has always been a huge creative inspiration for me, and I believe his work speaks a lot to the turbulence we see and experience in our world today. So Paradise Lost was a big foundation for the world of AURELIA—as it has been for Lost, Watchmen, and many other influential fictional stories in the last few decades. With our modern worries about sustainable energy solutions, I wanted to tie in those themes to my own personal story of a 'paradise lost.' And that's where steampunk came in to Aurelia. Since steampunk focuses so much on an energy source, and critiques the obsolesce of all technology, in a way, it seemed like a perfect match-up.

In addition, I love the classic works of fantasy like those of Tolkien and Lewis, and more recent authors such as Patrick Roth fuss and George RR Martin who create dark fantasy worlds with less emphasis on traditional magical beings, and more emphasis on human turmoil. I also lived in Nepal for a while, and experiencing a heavily stratified society, where a caste system was very much in place, helped pull me toward making Aurelia a similar social structure. And of course, all my childhood hours spent reading Jules Verne gave me a big soft spot for fantastical technology and Edwardian/Victorian visions of the future. Mash all those wildly disparate elements together, and somehow AURELIA (or rather, the original novel Rise of the Tiger) came out of it.

Overall, I seek to travel, have lots of experiences, and consume books, graphic novels, and films of many genres. It’s amazing where inspiration comes from sometimes—often not directly from other books in the genre I've chosen.

How did you get into the Steampunk movement? What do you love about it?

For me, I guess it's my love for old things. As an only child, I accompanied my parents to a lot of antique shops and historical sites, and I spent a lot of time in imaginative play alone, where I lived in the past, particularly the Victorian and Edwardian eras, which both influence steampunk. But I also love traditional medieval fantasy and science fiction, so when it finally clicked for me (as an adult) that people were tell science fiction and fantasy stories with Victorian-type gadgets (i.e.: steam-powered computers, and the like), I got really excited. Sure, that was a superficial understanding of steampunk ... but hey, it got me started! Steampunk brings the past and the future together, which is incredible. So many genres are located squarely in one dimension or the other. Steampunk embraces both.

Also, there's the attraction of making things. Steampunks are such a creative and tactile group! People come up with brilliant ideas and bring them to life through tools, handcrafts, treasures foraged in thrifts shops and attics, etc. That maker culture is fantastic and often inspires my own work as a writer -- where I deal in bringing disparate ideas together, rather than tangible fabrics or metals.

Aurelia has been going on for some weeks now. Is it ever too late to start participating in Aurelia: Edge of Darkness on

Absolutely not! We've got about four weeks remaining, and we'd love to have some new faces join us! A Theatrics story (as I often say) is more like a highway than a linear narrative. This isn't a web show where you have to "catch up" on all the content in order to contribute. It's like a moving conduit of story, where you can enter via the on-ramp (our "Participate" button on the homepage!) at any point. Simply make your character, introduce yourself in a video or blog post, and then get caught up in the flow and create your story as you go. It's very reactive. I create, you create, someone else creates, and in that act of creation, we all refine and enhance our ideas for our own next plot event. Some people focus more on following the meta-story (our overarching structure that holds everything together loosely). Some people focus more on their own individual stories or collaborative stories with other actors. Both are great! After all, this is a community -- and in a community you may interact more with one person or a small group of people, than the whole.

How has it been working with

Theatrics has been a very supportive partner. This type of close creator-audience collaboration (in a story) is pretty unique, and naturally, as a new show runner I had a lot of questions about how it would actually work. Theatrics literally spent hours working with me to make the show the best it could be and build a nurturing yet flexible environment for people to take the story core and run with it to its fullest possible extent. I'm doubly blessed in that I'm a beta tester of the public platform, so when I've recommended software updates or features to add, they've delivered on all of them. The actors have literally seen their feedback on user experience turn into improvements that they then got to use!

How would you explain to people that have never heard of them?

Theatrics is a unique cloud-based environment where artists or brands and their audiences come together in an interdependent relationship, to create a continuous stream of original content. In our case, that's a storyteller and her audience partnering to tell a brand-new story about the world of Aurelia. In the case of a company or a brand, it could be a manager and his/her team, or a product development team and the products consumers, working together to solve a problem or extend a product in a new way. The key is symbiosis. In the traditional model, storytellers put out stories and audiences react. Some storytellers listen to audience feedback and make adjustments going forward, but for most, the product is "done" the moment they put it out. With a Theatrics experience, the storyteller and the audience commit to co-creating the story. The energy of the original creator/show runner fuels the audience to create their own content, which fuel the creator/show runner to create the next piece of the story, which fuels the audience's next move, etc. It's very responsive and reactive, which equals awesome, in my book!

If it were up to you, how would you like the story to end on Aurelia: Edge of Darkness?

Well, obviously I'm not going to give away the climactic discovery that I'm guiding the story towards. :) Suffice to say, though, that the city will make progress toward solving its quest for a sustainable power source -- but not via the means or with the result that people anticipate. My overarching structure is very much intact; the route by which we get there has been very circuitous, as I've used actors' ideas, trends among videos, and backstage discussion to drive the journey. However Aurelia ultimately arrives at the destination, it will for sure leave the city strengthened, yet still in need of more help ... which is good, because now I have to go write the sequel to Rise of the Tiger, which concerns that very assistance, and where it's going to come from.

Do you plan on working with in the future on another project?

Well, for the moment I have to get back to my own writing. In addition to writing the next book of the Rise of the Tiger saga, I'm revising the first book for e-publication (although the original version remains fully online at, finishing a full-color bestiary of monsters/mutants/machines in Aurelia, finishing a comic book about one of the minor characters in the original novel, writing a new novel set in an entirely different universe, and working on a couple graphic novels at City Beast Studio, another creative endeavor of mine. So as much as I've loved doing AURELIA: Edge of Darkness, it's time for me to return to the written word for the foreseeable future so I can continue to deliver fresh, original stories to my fans. That being said, I'm continuing to dialog with Theatrics about the platform itself -- and would absolutely love to work with them again in the future to bring another of my worlds (or someone else's!) to life in this co-creative way.

What tips do you have for people that want to be active on

I would say this: Leave your preconceptions at the door, along with your fears of "doing it wrong." There is no wrong here; there is room for multiple interpretations, styles of acting, storylines, etc. This has been particularly challenging for some of our talented and dedicated actors from a LARP background, where they were used to strict gameplay and a structured environment. AURELIA is more improv acting, with some role play techniques thrown in. The more fluid you can be, letting your story unfold and using "curveballs" thrown by other actors' stories as a powerful moment of creative discovery, the better off you'll be. Even as a creator, some of the most amazing moments for me have been when I saw someone else take a concept I had created (and of course imagined in a particular fashion) and turn it totally on its head. At first, I was like, "Yikes! That's not consistent with Aurelia!" But in almost every case, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that this person's "take" on my world was actually genius in its own way -- and it pushed me to expand my view of the breadth and depth of my own world. Basically, I'm saying: Just jump in and do it!

Who and what are your Steampunk literary influences?

For AURELIA itself, in particular the source novel Rise of the Tiger, the story has a weird literary history that ties more with high fantasy and classic literature, as I mentioned earlier, than specific Steampunk works. (That's a whole other discussion ... ) But in general, I love the Girl Genius series, The Difference Engine, and Clockwork Heart. Mostly, though, I love works by Wells, Verne, and Lovecraft, as well as Robert Louis Stevenson and G.K. Chesterton, which are all "founding fathers" of the genre rather than the genre itself.

I think I actually come at Steampunk lit backwards: I'm more interested in the history and literature behind Steampunk -- the stuff that makes the genre tick -- and from there, I reverse-engineer my way into a story by applying classic lit and real Industrial-era history to my own sci-fi or fantasy twist. A quick example is Industrial Revolutionaries, a really absorbing biography of many of the most powerful (and sometimes least-known) inventors of the Industrial era. That book is brimming with fodder for all kinds of original steampunk stories; all that needs be applied is the fantastical twist and a unique plot. I've used it to help me develop AURELIA, because the foundation is all there in history. Another great example is The Cogwheel Brain, a biography of Charles Babbage and his quest to build the difference engine. There's so much there just waiting to be exploited (in a good way!) by a steampunk writer.

To join the story: START HERE