Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Book Review: Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell

Title: Mechanica
Author: Betsy Cornwell
Published: August, 2015 by Clarion Books
Publisher's Description:

"Nicolette’s awful stepsisters call her “Mechanica” to demean her, but the nickname fits: she learned to be an inventor at her mother’s knee. Her mom is gone now, though, and the Steps have turned her into a servant in her own home. 

But on her sixteenth birthday, Nicolette discovers a secret workshop in the cellar and begins to dare to imagine a new life for herself. Could the mysterious books and tools hidden there—and the mechanical menagerie, led by a tiny metal horse named Jules—be the key to escaping her dreary existence? With a technological exposition and royal ball on the horizon, the timing might just be perfect for Nicolette to earn her freedom at last.

Gorgeous prose and themes of social justice and family shine in this richly imagined Cinderella retelling about an indomitable inventor who finds her prince . . . but realizes she doesn't want a fairy tale happy ending after all."

Hi there, punks! Mythpunkette here to review Mechanica by Betsy Cornwell. This book was up in the air for me. When I love a book, I love it. When I hate it, I hate it. Very rarely do I fall somewhere in-between. I read this book a while ago, and I definitely needed time to let my thoughts settle. This book had so much going for it, but there were certain elements I couldn't get past.
The Good:
This book is unique. I honestly cannot compare it to anything except perhaps Cinder, but even then, Mechanica has much more emphasis on the whimsical magic of fairytales. After reading it, I can assure you one is not derivative of the other. 

The worldbuilding. The world of Mechanica was fabulously lush — the agendered Faeries, the mixing of magic and science. I have to give Cornwell serious credit for creating a truly original story. That is not an easy feat to accomplish!

The feminism. I love the narrative of Cinderella, but for my modern sensibilities, it can be a bit backwards. Often times, Cinderella is seen as a more passive character who waits for her prince to come save her. I have some problems with this, and I think Cornwell does too. In Mechanica, Nicolette takes charge of her fate and basically invents her way out from under her Stepmother's control.

There's even a reference to Jules Verne! As I started reading this book, I wondered how it could go wrong! Unfortunately it did. Here's how.
The Bad:
Pacing. I reached page 70 and almost put the book down for good because the first 70 pages were filled with worldbuilding and backstory. Granted, it was fascinating stuff, but by that time, I was craving some action. Even worse, all the backstory wasn't stuff we needed to know for the future plot. Those awesome faeries with tons of page-time in the beginning, don't really come into play. Yes, the humans are at war with them, but they have little direct influence on Nicolette and the inventions that save her. Basically, I wanted more. I was told about this awesome, misunderstood race of creatures, and then they didn't make an appearance.

Voice. The book was sold as YA, but the actual writing seemed to fit more with Middle Grade novels. The characters seemed so young and it just left me confused since it wasn't what I expected from a YA novel. What made it more confusing was the literary nature. The book seemed to focus more on the building of friendships than it did on a plot, which leads me to my next point.

There was no build up to the end. This book was one giant flatline when it came to the plot. I don't even know how to explain it, except that I kept waiting for more to happen. The book is both genre fantasy and YA which both beg for plot. Mechanica just didn't deliver.

With so much about the Faerie war left unsatisfied, I could tell the end of Mechanica was set up for a sequel. And here it is! It's expected to release sometime in 2017. Mechanica wasn't for me, but the premise of Venturess is pretty much what I wanted from the first book. Here's the publisher's description:

"Young inventor Nicolette Lampton is living her own fairy tale happy ending. She’s free of her horrible step-family, running a successful business, and is uninterested in marrying the handsome prince, Fin. Instead, she, Fin, and their friend Caro venture to the lush land of Faerie, where they seek to put an end to the bloody war their kingdom is waging. Mechanical armies and dark magic await them as they uncover devastating secrets about the past and fight for a real, lasting happily-ever-after for two troubled countries—and for themselves.

Smart and unconventional, this novel will appeal to readers of romance and adventure alike."

I'm still not sure I'll pick up the sequel. The problems of pacing, voice and plot have me wary of trying another book from Cornwell. I'm hoping she realized the struggles of the first novel and makes changes. She is a true visionary when it comes to worldbuilding, the next book just needs to have the plot to back up that world. For now, I'll wait for the first reviews before I give this series a second shot.

I give Mechanica 2 out of 5 Brass Slippers

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Mad Max: Fury Road - thoughts on feminism

This review is totally late, but when the movie came out, I was in the middle of prep for my commercial flight test (which I passed - I'm officially a commercial pilot!) so sue me.

This movie was awesome in every way. My husband was skeptical because I'd put on the original Mad Max to educate myself on the franchise and the movie was a very 80's style movie with a lot of draggy bits, and so little dialogue as to make the plot confusing, and all the female characters got fridged.

So he wasn't expecting much until I explained that the anti-feminists were freaking out and boycotting it, at which point he said, "Well, then it must be good!"

There's been a ton of reviews already, and it sounds like it's been nominated for a whole bunch of awards to do with the aesthetics of the movie, which were amazing. This is like, the definition of dieselpunk, and the style of dieselpunk I like most. The creativity in the worldbuilding and set and prop design are amazing.

I'd like to comment on the whole feminist thing. It wasn't really a "feminist" movie. It just wasn't misogynist. It's nice to have something to point to when directors are including gratuitous sexual assault scenes in a movie to vilify their villains, to show them you can have a movie centred around sex slaves escaping their former captor without on-scene rape.

And the fact that there were so many female characters with developed personalities, meant that they could kill more than a couple without it being an every-female-character-dies situation. The one female character doesn't have to represent all of womanhood with her character, because there are others. You can have female characters be weak and it not be offensive if it's balanced by the other female characters who are strong. The way it's done with male characters.

So, there have been people lamenting the fact that what passes as feminism these days is just a lack of mysogyny. That just treating female characters with the same respect they do male characters, and giving them the same development is enough to upset pissbaby Mens Rights Activists. But on the other hand, the definition of feminism is believing in equality between genders and sexes, so in that sense, it very much is feminist.

Friday, April 22, 2016

A #Steampunk anthology you need to have!

Need help steaming up your Summer?

The other day I made myself a cup of tea and sat down to read the THIRTY DAYS LATER anthology put on by Thinking Ink Press. I wasn’t expecting the soirée of steam/clock infusion. I soon found my tea turning cold and me turning the next page. Thirty Days Later is full of interesting diverse stories that will appeal to a wide variety of readers with sightings of Royals, ghosts, dragons, Japanese folklore, spies, and even a Sasquatch(?!). While the packaging didn’t capture my attention, the high caliber creative content did. From Hugo award winning author to fresh new voices, this is one collection steampunk enthusiast should not judge by the cover.

I got to chat with a handful of the authors and asked some questions:

Tell us about yourself and your writing history.

AJ Sikes: I'm a scribbler, an idea follower, and more often than not a stuck-in-the-weeds author who wishes he could outline more fully before diving in. I've written a number of short stories, two novels, and countless bits of text-that-shall-not-be-named (or read, for that matter).

Kirsten Weiss: I've been writing since I was a kid, but I didn't get serious about my writing until about five years ago. Now I write steampunk, urban fantasy, and mystery novels.

Steve DeWinter: Steve DeWinter is a #1 Bestselling Amazon Action & Adventure Sci-Fi Author who has also co-authored two fantasy novels with one of the greatest Victorian writers to have ever lived, Charles Dickens. Yes! That Charles Dickens.

Sharon E. Cathcart: I’ve been writing since childhood, sometimes for a living.  My first book was published in 1995, at a time when I was a newspaper editor-in-chief.  My background as a journalist made historical fiction a natural fit for me; I love doing the research.

Anthony Francis: Hi! I'm Anthony Francis; by day I work to bring about the robot apocalypse, but by night I write science fiction and draw comic books. I got my writing start doing computer-themed hard science fiction ("Sibling Rivalry" in The Leading Edge magazine) but my big break was the urban fantasy Dakota Frost series, including the award-winning FROST MOON and its sequels BLOOD ROCK and LIQUID FIRE.  My first published steampunk story was "Steampunk Fairy Chick" in the UNCONVENTIONAL anthology, set in the world of my forthcoming novel JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE.

Katherine Morse and David Drake: We have written technical papers together for more than 20 years in our chosen profession. We decided to team-write The Adventures of Drake & McTrowell 6 years ago as our contribution to the steampunk community.

Emily Thompson: I've been writing since I was 14, and recently started to really get the hang of it.  I stick to writing Fiction as much as possible, and love reading old classics. 

Justin Andrew Hoke: Producer/Writer at Dreadfully Punk.

Lillian Csernica: Lillian has published SHIP OF DREAMS, a pirate romance novel, under her romance pen name Elaine LeClaire through Dorchester Publishing's Leisure Imprint. Her short fiction has appeared in Weird Tales, Fantastic Stories, and the newly released TYPHON: A Monster Anthology. Lillian's historical short fiction has appeared in And All Our Yesterdays and These Vampires Don't Sparkle. Two paired stories are included in the Clockwork Alchemy 2015 anthology Twelve Hours Apart. Another pair of stories set in the same series appear in 30 Days Later. Born in San Diego and a veteran of historical reenactment, Ms. Csernica is a genuine California native. She currently resides in the Santa Cruz mountains with her husband, two sons, and three cats. Visit her at lillian888.wordpress.com.

Mike Tierney: I write my steampunk-laced alternate historical fiction stories from my anachronistic Victorian home in the center of Silicon Valley.  After writing technical and scientific publications for many years, I started writing fiction seriously about three years ago. Trained as a chemist, I bring an appreciation of both science and history to my stories.  My first novel, a steampunk adventure story titled To Rule the Skies, was the product of participating in NaNoWriMo 2012. A prequel is in the works.

Dover Whitecliff: I grew up in Hawaii in the middle of an east-west melting pot of fantastic myths and legends, so it's no surprise that 've been telling stories to myself forever. I've been writing seriously since high school, and now, an undisclosed number of years later, have finally challenged myself to stop faffing around and be the author I wanted to be in 8th grade when mom and dad said "You can't just write that Star Wars stuff. There's no future in it." If they only knew...


Can you summarize your Thirty Days Later story to one or two lines? And what inspired this story?

AJ Sikes: A mob enforcer with a conscience decides enough is enough and puts everything on the line to save an innocent life. He succeeds, but it costs him plenty. The protagonist is a side character in my second novel. I wanted to explore his origins more fully than the novel allowed and wanted to give readers of 30DL a taste of what the novel is about.

Kirsten Weiss: Secret agents getting in trouble! It was inspired by O'Henry's series set in a South American banana republic, Of Cabbages and Kings. I liked the idea of bringing a troublemaking South African "emperor" to gold rush San Francisco. The other wraps up one of the stories from the 12-Hours Later anthology, where my heroine is left in possession of a mysterious chest. Now we find out what happens next. Finally!

Steve DeWinter: The Clockwork Writer is an episode of The Twilight Zone, Victorian Style. My story was inspired by a documentary I saw on The Writer Automaton, a 240-year-old doll that can be programmed to write any 40-character sentence, including spaces. I thought, what if he wrote something that wasn’t programmed? And what if what he wrote came true later?

Sharon E. Cathcart: Inspired by the June Rebellion of 1832, “Two Days in June” focuses on two characters and their lady friends during an event that might have gone unnoticed had not an author been caught behind the barricades in Paris. I was inspired by my studies of the French Revolution and the historical events of “Les Miserables.”  I’m a long-time Francophile, and the history behind the June Rebellion is fascinating.

Anthony Francis: When a plague of infectious alien gears threatens her city, grounded Liberation Academy cadet Jeremiah Willstone steals a pair of Falconer's wings to track it down - and pays the price. Thirty days after her crash, she awakens from a coma facing the question of whether she's saved the city from disaster - or just gotten herself expelled. When writing the THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, I discovered Jeremiah had washed out of the Falconry - her world's version of the Air Force, AKA the brass jetpack brigade. Inspired by the "thirty days later" theme, I decided to explore that story - making the event of her washout not a simple failed test, but a spectacular smash-up with a city at stake.

Katherine Morse and David Drake: Vengeance is mine sayeth Sparky. Not so fast dear sayeth Drake. Some of the elements are taken from apocryphal stories from Sparky's family, but the theme of 30 days later naturally lends itself to lunar cycles and lunacy.

Emily Thompson: The choice to leave your ordinary life behind and follow dreams of adventure and glory, is a very tricky one. The main character in this story, Vivian Swift, was originally a very minor, side character in the 12-part novel series that I'm writing now.  When I first wrote her in, something about her struck me, as if there was much more there than I thought at first.  There was no place in my series to explore Vivian's life, so I put the thought of her aside until I found an opportunity to give her her own story.  I'm very pleased that I finally was able to find out who Vivian really was.

Justin Andrew Hoke: They're a lesson. This story is about looking to the heavens as a way to pass God(s) and finding that you may create a few monsters of men along the way. I was inspired by the current political climate in the USA. Election season brings out my soapbox a little.

Lillian Csernica: British-born Dr. William Harrington now serves as personal physician to the Abbot of Kiyomizudera, the Pure Water Temple in Kyoto, Japan.  His role as one of the Abbot's guardians brings unwanted attention to him and his family from the creatures of Japanese myth and folklore. I love Japanese culture.  From bushido to the many arts and handicrafts, there's so much to learn and enjoy.  Japanese gods and monsters are quite different from those in the West.

Mike Tierney: A Victorian astronomer makes a world-changing discovery.  Or does he?  Only his more sensible assistant knows for sure. Or does she? Indirectly, the story is inspired by an episode of bad science that I was involved in many years ago.  Remember cold fusion?

Dover Whitecliff:  Wild Card and Straight Flush follow Kenna Wolfesdaughter, the Superspy with the Clockwork Eye, through an alternate world version of Las Vegas in a race to prevent the murder of three continents worth of world leaders at the opening ceremony of the Great Exposition. It's Cyber-Steam James Bond in the city of lights, vices, and guilty pleasures, with a couple of clockwork sea serpents thrown in. These two stories are sequels to Hunter and Hunted from last year's anthology, Twelve Hours Later. Kenna had a rough time of it in those stories and deserved an assignment someplace fun. Where better than Vegas? I had a blast reimagining it as a cyber-steam city of wonders and then throwing Kenna into a city I love to see what she'd make of it.


What attracted you to the steampunk genre?

AJ Sikes: At first it was whimsy. Then it was the freedom to imagine anything and everything, and finally the maker aesthetic - the DIY whenever and wherever and for whatever reason occurs to you. Steampunk for me, reflects a life lived to the fullest, following one's own true pursuits and aims.

Kirsten Weiss: Years ago I'd written a mystery novel set in 1848 California. It wasn't very good, and I didn't do anything with it. Then when I learned about steampunk, I thought perhaps I could rewrite that story with steampunk elements. I ended up turning it into a novel of suspense and using very little of the original aside from the characters and place settings. But I really enjoyed the foray into steampunk, so I kept writing.

Steve DeWinter: I fell into the Steampunk genre by accident. I set out to retell The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as a science-fiction tale only to discover that it was better set in the same time the original stories took place, but with a Steampunk aesthetic. My 8-book Steampunk OZ series came out very well if I do say so myself.

Sharon E. Cathcart: I don’t write steampunk, although a few people think my Phantom novels qualify because parts of them take place in the bowels of the Paris Opera.  I’m really a historical fiction author at heart.

Anthony Francis: The creativity and maker spirit of the steampunk community inspired me to write a series of stories about a world where women's liberation happened a century earlier and, with twice as many brains allowed to work on hard problems, they're more advanced in 1908 than we are today - only, with more brown, brass and buttons.

Katherine Morse and David Drake: The visual aesthetic and the freedom to, even expectation, of creating our own universe.

Emily Thompson: Like many fans of the genre, I suddenly realized one day that all of my favorite books, movies, and video games belonged in one genre called Steampunk.  Once I found out what Steampunk was, it became much easier to find more things to enjoy.  I love the sense of adventure and creativity that I see in so many stories that fit into the genre, as well as the alluring gleam of a pretty old pocket watch.

Justin Andrew Hoke: I was attracted from the gateway drug known as Cyberpunk. Steam & Cyber are my absolute favorite Punks to write. I love how open to interpretation they are. You can really do anything with them in the sense of creation; they have a chameleon like frame you can put over any history, political climate, race of people... etc. That's what makes it so Punk, I guess. It doesn't bend to the norms of other genre based literature.

Lillian Csernica: The 19th Century is a pivotal time in history.  Advances in technology brought together some of the greatest minds in science, engineering, mechanisms, etc.  I enjoy setting my stories in Japan because once the Shogunate fell, so many of the Western countries came running to help bring Japan into the modern era.  That makes for plenty of conflict, intrigue, and suspense!

Mike Tierney: I’m a scientist, enjoy science fiction, and I live in a Victorian house.  I love old technology and am constantly amazed by the unlikely events and personages that existed throughout history.  How could I avoid being attracted to steampunk?

Dover Whitecliff: I've loved steampunk longer than it's had a name. From Journey to the Center of the Earth, to The Two Georges, to the multitude of fantastic makers and writers and cosplayers that we have now, steampunk is the most welcoming community of them all, but I'm not biased at all. Really.


If you could have tea with H.G. Wells or Jules Verne, who would it be, where would you take them, and why?

AJ Sikes: Verne, hands down. I'd take him to the Monterey Bay Aquarium because I'm original like that.

Kirsten Weiss: Jules Verne. Anywhere. As much as I admire Well's works, he seems a little too intense for me.

Steve DeWinter: It would have to be H.G. Wells. Simply because he is the only one of those two who created the technology to jump ahead through time yet still manages to be late for tea. We would swing by my favorite tea house, The Tipping Teapot in Saratoga, CA.

Sharon E. Cathcart: I’m opening the door and choosing a different Mystery Date, LOL.  Give me Victor Hugo or Gaston Leroux(both of whom journalists before becoming novelists), in a Paris cafe, and I’ll be perfectly satisfied.

Anthony Francis: Well, I'd love to take H.G. Wells, author of "The Time Machine", to the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff and tell him about how his work inspired my work, but I don't know if there's a cafe there. If tea is strictly required, I'd take Jules Verne, author of "From the Earth to the Moon", to the National Air and Space museum, which does have a food court - and then I'd just answer his questions.

Katherine Morse and David Drake: We would invite Jules Verne to tea on our patio on a sunny spring day. I would make cookies and brew tea from Het Klaverblad, because hospitality and good food are fuel for intellectual discourse.

Emily Thompson: I would take Jules Verne to the nearest Paris cafe and chat for hours about all things adventure!  You can really see that Verne loved the craft of writing, in the way that he wrote.  He introduces his characters the way you would introduce your best friend.  He doesn't explain environments simply, but talks about them as if he were standing beside you on the journey.  The adventures he takes you on are thrilling and delightful, and people usually get out alive and happy at the end.  Given the chance, I'd love to talk with him about spinning a good tale.

Justin Andrew Hoke: Jules Verne. Why? I have to know everything about how he personally saw his extended universe. I've always wanted to know what made his worlds tick. Every author has a wider field of vision on their own universe, as compared to their readers. I'd really like to know what new readers never get to learn... also the man got shot in the leg and survived in a time where the answer to everything was "Chop it off!"

Where: Not gonna lie, this is going to sound like a fanboy date (...it is). Souplantation, Universal Studios, then a flight from LAX to JFK, and a round of drinks at the closest bar to raise a glass to a good day.

Souplantation: Because Jules Verne was a diabetic and I like all you can eat soup and salad.

Universal Studios: Between the people watching and the backlot tour, he'd have a million questions about things I like to answer. The key to being a good tour guide is knowing your tour. I know movies and people. I know it would be more classy to take the man to a library or a museum, but after years of watching Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, I do believe he would enjoy a theme park trip.

LAX to JFK: This is the classy part. First class all the way and make sure to grab a tablet and some headphones. We'd totally stream some music, movies, and read some e-books (comics too). Another great way to spark conversation on topics. At the end we'd make our way into the terminal's first available bar, we would order one round, and he would explain what it's like to live in his imagined universe.

Lillian Csernica: Jules Verne.  Aboard the Plongeur, the French submarine that was the model for Captain Nemo's Nautilus.  I'd love to know what Mr. Verne thought the storytellers of his time should be writing about, what they could do with their writing.  The world was changing so quickly.

Mike Tierney: I think I’d choose Jules Verne, as I think that we share an appreciation for science and technology.  I’d take him to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and let him revel in the exhibits gape-jawed.  I’m not sure if there’s a good tea shop nearby, but he’ll surely need something to fortify himself after that visit!

Dover Whitecliff: I would take HG Wells to Linde Lane Tearoom in Dixon, California and introduce him to the wonder that is "Gold Rush" tea. He'd fell right at home in their décor, and it's quiet enough that I could pepper him with questions for hours.

Finally, If you could impart one thing to the Steampunk community what would it be?

AJ Sikes: You do you, and keep doing you.

Kirsten Weiss: Keep having fun!

Steve DeWinter: Much like the evolution of life in our own time, Steampunk is ever changing to meet the challenges of re-imagining a time where we have all the conveniences of modern life, but driven by something other than computers and silicon.

Sharon E. Cathcart: I appreciate that I’ve been welcomed into your hearts, despite my lack of gears and goggles!  Thank you!

Anthony Francis: Remember, the thing that makes steampunk more than just alternate history is the steam plus the punk - it's our focus on making things that push the boundaries of both technology and culture that sets us apart!

Katherine Morse and David Drake: Optimism through futurism.

Emily Thompson: There are two sides to Steampunk at the moment: the brighter, fun, adventurous side, and the dark, gritty, dystopian side.  I love the lighter side, but sometimes it seems like dystopia is taking over.  I can understand the appeal; I just don't prefer it.  If I could add in anything to Steampunk, it would be just a bit more delight and trilling adventure, to keep the scales even.

Justin Andrew Hoke: You may be the first Steampunk some people meet, so be a good Steampunk! Be yourself and support one another. Don't ever compromise your personal values or beliefs, but don't ever compromise another's. This community is budding with talent that wishes to be seen and heard. Make sure you give everyone an equal chance at your attention. If you enjoy them, do your best to praise and support. I see a great amount of positivity in this scene. There are a great many positive, helpful, and beautiful people in Steampunk. I think we need to focus on the positive as this art form/movement/genre/community grows into a mainstream idea.

Lillian Csernica: We must constantly feed our imaginations.  The great inventions have come from minds full of information where sudden connections yielded brilliant inspiration.

Mike Tierney: Steampunk is supposed to be fun!  Stop worrying about what is and is not steampunk “enough” and enjoy everyone’s contributions to the culture.

Dover Whitecliff: Steampunk ROCKS! It is fantastic, creative, beautiful, intellectual, diverse, mechanical amazement. There is no need to set boundaries on what steampunk 'must' be because it lessens the wonder, the creativity, and the magic of the genre. Other than the addition of steam and punk, the possibilities are endless!

I’ll leave you with that inspiration! Be sure to get your copy of THIRY DAYS LATER on June 1st, keep up to date with it’s launch here!
                                                                                      xo-The Clockpunkette (Rebecca Sky)