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The Adventures of Ibn Battuta

by Jonathan 2 Comments

I’m very excited about this early Christmas gift from my wife:

Known as the greatest traveler of premodern times, Abu Abdallah ibn Battuta was born in Morocco in 1304 and educated in Islamic law. At the age of twenty-one, he left home to make the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. This was only the first of a series of extraordinary journeys that spanned nearly three decades and took him not only eastward to India and China but also north to the Volga River valley and south to Tanzania.

What’s not to like?

In addition, I received The Arabian Nights (Norton Critical Edition), Jeff and Ann VanderMeer’s Steampunk anthology, The Iron Council by China Mieville, All My Friends Are Going to be Strangers by Larry McMurtry, The Hero Has a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell and Cruising Paradise: Tales by Sam Shepard.

Before I get to reading, let me leave you with this trailer for Journey to Mecca:

The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello

by Jonathan 0 Comments

I may have posted this before, but I’ve been thinking about it lately. Great story. Great animation. Steampunk at its finest.

Here’s the synopsis:

Nominated for an Oscar and for a BAFTA award, Jasper Morello is a short feature made in a unique style of silhouette animation developed by director Anthony Lucas and inspired by the work of authors Edgar Alan Poe and Jules Verne. In the frontier city of Carpathia, Jasper Morello discovers that his former adversary Doctor Claude Belgon has returned from the grave. When Claude reveals that he knows the location of the ancient city of Alto Mea where the secrets of life have been discovered, Jasper cannot resist the temptation to bring his own dead wife Amelia back.

But they are captured by Armand Forgette, leader of the radical Horizontalist anti-technology movement, who is determined to reanimate his terrorist father Vasco. As lightning energises the arcane machineries of life in the floating castle of Alto Mea, Jasper must choose between having his beloved restored or seeing the government of Gothia destroyed. Set in a world of iron dirigibles and steam powered computers, this gothic horror mystery tells the story of Jasper Morello, a disgraced aerial navigator who flees his Plague-ridden home on a desperate voyage to redeem himself.

For more on this world, visit here.

Steampunk Education

Steampunk right there in Seattle Image by Jessica Palmer at bioephemera.com

I posted the other day on my need to be better read in the steampunk genre (Since then I’ve received The Difference Engine and Boneshaker and have them piled comfortably on my desk, ready for reading). In addition, for the last seven or eight months I’ve periodically surfed the internet for information on anything from steam engines to dirigible flight to static electricity to historical Mediterranean commerce. I can’t say that I’ve understood everything I’ve read, but the time I’ve spent researching these things has been in an effort to inform Shadow of the Black City with believable, yet fantastic elements. If presented in the way I hope, those strange, yet somehow familiar things will be fun to read and imagine.

Lavie Tidhar explains the draw of steampunk in his guest post  at the SF Signal website:

Technology has always been a kind of magic. And our lives today are suffused with a magic we can rarely fully comprehend. The Internet, mobile phones, reusable launch vehicles (RLVs), jet planes and stealth bombers, GPS and smart bombs, Google and Twitter and Facebook, PCs, satellites and a forty-year old flag on the moon… technological advances expand exponentially, and Victorian London represents the moment when technology exploded beyond a single person’s ability to understand the mechanisms underlying it.

The thread of burgeoning technology and the wonders and fears it evokes can be woven throughout countless stories and myriad themes. I like this flexibility because there is so much that can be done with it from alternate history to fantasy to retro sci-fi.

Steampunked: Keeping the Novel Afloat While Surfing the Genre

by Jonathan 5 Comments

Before the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa season I reached approximately the half way mark in my second draft of Shadow of the Black City. I’ve got a pretty good idea of the large story arc and have enjoyed filling in the gaps.

Then the holidays came and the writing stopped.

It’s been a good break because I’m forcing myself to rethink the setting and feel, the direction and destination, and character development of my novel with an eye on these things for the next revision. After reading this, I feel justified in revisiting these things now.

I’ve managed to delve into China Mieville’s New Crobuzon in Perdido Street Station. I’m about 250 pages in and it’s given me much to consider. Shadow of the Black City is definitely steampunk, although my reading of the genre is scant. To remedy that, I put a number of books on my wish list for Christmas. I recieved The Anubis Gates, Perdido Street Station and The City and The City so far. I have a line on The Difference Engine from my brother. I also have an eye on Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker.

Is it silly of me to pursue this genre while not being well-read in it? Maybe. However, while the steampunk setting is pretty cool, the story — about people — is what interests me. Soooo, my goal is to have those steampunk elements seep through as the story is told, not be steampunk for the sake of being steampunk.

I’ve juxtaposed my steampunk city, Bogozeçi, with the desert realm of the Jashem. The protagonist, a nomad from the Jashem, has been to Bogozeçi once before. Events force him to travel there again and dredge up a host of feelings and memories he would rather not face. The city will be fleshed out through character interaction there, both nomads and city-dwellers.

Having read as much as I have of Perdido Street Station, I already see commonalities in the tropes I’m developing and the stuff Mieville has concocted. Stuff that existed in my head before I began reading Perdido Street Station. The last thing I want is for a reader to say, “Hey, this is a rip off of Perdido Street Station!” If it is, what’s the point in writing it?

Again, the solution comes back to story. I’m assuming those who enjoy the steampunk genre won’t mind seeing  familiar manifestations of steampunk elements as long as the story is compelling. That said, I’m striving for some originality, if not in the concepts themselves, then in the way they are arranged and used. We’ll see. That’s part of the fun.

If you’ve faced similar challenges, I’d love to hear. If you have any steampunk recommendations, especially in those works that are darker and heavy on the literary style and lighter on the gosh-wow side, please feel free to comment.