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Monday, May 23, 2016

Genre Question: Is Steampunk Science Fiction?

A man riding a steampunk-style robot cat.
Photo Credit: Solomon Barroa/Pixabay.com



Defining science fiction can be tricky. The term science fiction can refer to anything related to science that is fictionalized, even if the story is simply set in space and with a futuristic technological background. Star Wars falls under this loose definition of science fiction, which many, including the creator of the franchise himself, George Lucas, do not like to consider it as such. Others have a more strict definition which is often: any scientific, plausible phenomenon that has not yet become a reality. Along with this definition is that the scientific phenomenon is central to the plot. Perhaps trickier yet is defining science fiction’s subgenres such as space opera, post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk and steampunk. In fact, some raise the issue whether or not steampunk is science fiction.


Defining Steampunk

So what is the definition of steampunk? For sure, steampunk is alternative history fiction which doesn’t necessarily have to convey scientific explanation. However, in its early years, this subgenre often dealt with retro future technology or technology reflecting our own of today with the exception that it ran on more primitive resources available during its time setting, the 19th century, such as steam and coal. William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s novel, The Difference Engine is an example of this in which information and communication technologies are used in the setting which are much like our own computers of today only at a much more primitive level.

Is It Science Fiction?

However, over the years, steampunk has opened up to ideas that go beyond alternative Victorian settings and retro futures based on them. It has come such a long ways that many people now ask, “Is steampunk science fiction?” This is something that was discussed at a panel entitled “Steampunk Is SciFi (?/!)” at this past Sunday’s Intergalactic Expo, Sacramento’s big annual sci fi con. The panel was almost canceled, but a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in years until then, saved the day. The panelists themselves were not able to make it, but my friend, who I won’t name here because I did not get his permission to use it, decided it would be a great idea to turn it into a Q & A session.
At the panel, we discussed how steampunk has opened up to other cultures beyond that of Anglo Victorian, cultures such as Asian, Latin American and U.S. Western. It has also opened up to many fantasy genre elements like magic and the supernatural, including the paranormal such as vampires and werewolves. Some stories mention very little about the science and technology of the setting and centre more on the fantasy. Yet some are equally mixed with supernatural and scientific phenomena. Many of China Mieville’s books are like that, namely Perdido Street Station. Sometimes this mixing of genre elements are for not much more than commercial ends rather than literary or ascetic ones, other times they are just the opposite and truly convey the author’s (or director’s/screenwriter’s) vision.

But let’s return to the question: “Is steampunk science fiction?” My friend gave a straight out answer of yes. Mainly this was because, as with all science fiction, it is a subgenre that asks the question “What if?” Like much of science fiction asks questions about what future technology and science will do to society, steampunk asks questions about alternative pasts, such as “What if the atomic era never occurred?” (I credit my friend for this example), or “What if World War I was never fought?”, or, better yet, what if Imperial England never lost her colonies?” Whereas science fiction overall asks questions about the future such as “What if robots become the most intelligent race on the planet?”, steampunk asks questions about the past, questions that speculate what would have happened if certain events in history didn’t occur, or if certain ones did occur that didn’t in reality.


To Come

Speaking about steampunk and retro futures, I’m planning to launch an atompunk blog. However, I don’t have a date for it yet. I’m also still working on the colouring for my book cover art for “Circa Sixty Years Dead”. I’ve been behind on it, especially this past week since I’ve had graduation ceremonies and related events to attend for graduates in the family. I’m hoping to catch up on it during the week and to publish the book in the next couple of weeks. So next week I will try to have the cover reveal. I’d also like to talk about the other neat panel I attended at yesterday’s expo; it was about the history of science fiction and was hosted by a really interesting author by the name of J. Daniel Batt. The best way to keep updated is by subscribing to the blog. You can do that on the form at the lower right.


So, in your opinion, is steampunk science fiction? Feel free to leave your answers in the box below.

Until next time . . .





Sunday, May 15, 2016

How Do You Motivate Yourself to Write On a Bad Day? Watch Author Interviews

Friday the 13th logo with black cat.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com


I almost didn't do a blog post today. It's been a rough couple of days. And I literally mean a couple of days. So that mean's it started yesterday--Friday the 13th! I'm not superstitious (in fact, 13 is one of my favourite numbers), but, believe it or not, it started with a broken mirror. However, I can't say whether the mirror broke yesterday or earlier in the week. It was the passenger side-view mirror to my car which I  hadn't been driving in all week until yesterday and so I didn't notice that it had fallen out of its frame until I started driving. But apparently it had fallen off and broke into about four or five pieces.

So I've been on a quest for a new mirror since yesterday and have been to three places. The first place didn't sell mirrors for Chevy Classics, the model of my car. The second place ordered the mirror and I picked it up today only to find out that it didn't fit the frame due to its shape. The O'Reilly counter clerk said it was the only mirror for that model of car they were able to order from their main Sacramento store. He suggested that I try the Auto Zone. I did that only to find out that not only did they have to order the mirror, which would take three days to arrive, but they charge 40 bucks for the glass alone (which is all I needed, was the glass). O'Reilly only charged $13 for the mirror.

I was so pissed that I was not in the mood to write. Then I remembered some YouTube videos of author interviews that I intended to watch this morning but didn't get a chance. Normally when I have writers' block or lack inspiration or motivation to write I'll either read an author's bio or interview or will watch a video of either and that motivates me again. This is especially the case if the author is one who I really like such as Neil Gaiman or Harlan Ellison.

While I was watching some of these videos earlier this evening, I saw a lot of links to full length ones and so ones that covered a half hour to an hour-and-a-half's worth of footage. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to watch the full length ones but will watch them eventually. There are full length interviews of and speeches by authors such as Neil Gaiman, Charles Stross, Anne Rice, and Margaret Atwood. I included a speech here by Gaiman from a few years back when he attended a college graduation at the University of the Arts. This speech helped me continue pursuing writing for a living regardless of all odds. I thought I would include it here since this is graduation time for both secondary and post secondary schools. If you ever doubt you can make a living as a writer because of what mainstream, practical society says then I strongly suggest you watch this video. For those of you who may not be writers, I also suggest you watch it because it can help with just about any career you desire.





Book Cover Illustration

I just started the colouring for the cover illustration for "Circa Sixty Years Dead". I was slowed down a little because I realized that I needed to select a hue for it since that's what seems to be popular among horror fiction covers right now. The hue I selected is a combination of blue and black for a night setting in the scene. I'm going to try to have it done by next weekend. 

Let me know what you think of Gaiman's commencement speech in the box below.

Until next time . . . 

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Art of Storytelling Vs. the Art of Selling Out

A Lego man figure.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com



Lately, Hollywood has been turning to big brand toys and games for its movie ideas. One of the biggest examples is the series of Transformers movies. But another big one are the Lego movies. Recently, Hasbro teamed with Paramount with plans to merge several of its universes, which are the settings of its character products, into a single series of movies. The characters from these universes, most of which are based on action figures, are the 1970s’ Micronauts and Rom, and the 1980s' M.A.S.K. characters. Apparently the producers of these films are not good storytellers themselves. According to TheGuardian.com, "with each new [movie] adaptation, Hollywood further underlines just how un-interactive its product is, and lacking in playful imagination its producers can be." And so the two companies selected some writers from outside the film industry to help develop the stories. One of these writers is Pulitzer prize-winner Michael Chabon who wrote the novel, The Amazing Adventures of Cavelier and Klay. So, big brand name companies like Hasbro have invaded storytelling in film and the next target may be prose fiction.

In a sense, this isn't a new thing to prose fiction. During the 1980s, much prose fiction was already merging with game products. Sure, many games have their storylines and named characters, especially role playing games (RPGs). However, they are meant to be played rather than read; the purpose is for the players to interact with a story rather than read one that the reader interprets in his or her own mind. Dungeons and Dragons had its own series of novels including the “Choose Your Own Adventure”-like books where the reader decides the course of the story, and more recently there have been several novels based on popular video games such as Halo.

The biggest wave of commercial brands invading cinema today doesn't just consists of games such as Battleship. It also consists of toys such as Legos and My Little Pony (for which an animated film is in the works, although this is nothing new since an animated feature had already been made about the same time the Pony figures came out in the 1980s). The Pony characters also have a TV series on The Hub network, among many other children’s shows based on Hasbro toys, according to National Public Radio.

It's rare that a big commercial product company turns to a prize-winning author of prose fiction, such as Michael Chabon, to write the storyline to their movie. It makes you wonder what Chabon was thinking when he took the job which, of course, is his right and choice. At the same time, however, it seems like it would be somewhat insulting to him to give into the commercial system to use his high quality fiction writing to make, what are basically, approximately two-hour commercials (or “extended infomercials” as The Guardian calls them). Science fiction and fantasy authors are being taken seriously unlike 20 years ago. Because of this, a high quality author such as Chabon, who writes speculative fiction on and off, developing the story to a brand product's movie may be a door open wide enough for big corporate CEOs to get a foot too far in to literary fiction. Therefore it might leave a way for big brand companies to buy out fiction authors and turn their stories into literary commercials.

I’m a fiction writer because I want to tell my stories, not somebody else’s. If a story's goal is to sell someone's product, it's going to be about the product more than about the characters themselves or the author's own vision of life. The art in storytelling would go out the window. Then it wouldn't be art, it would be commercial strategy. If it would be any kind of art, it would be the art of selling.

Do you think film and prose fiction are influenced by commercial brands too much to where they prevent the writers from telling their own stories? Leave your answers in the box below.

Until next time . . .

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Progress Photo for 'Circa' Book Cover Illustration

A skull sits on two open books.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com



Sorry about missing last weekend. I was sick (allergies) and so got behind in my projects. I’m still trying to catch up. My book cover illustration for “Circa Sixty Years Dead” is one of the projects I’m trying to catch up on. The outline is almost complete since I added some more basic details as you’ll see below. If you don’t remember my last progress photo of the book cover art, you can look at it at that week’s post and then come back here to see the comparison. So here’s what I’ve added so far (for a clearer view, click on the photo):


Rough sketch of a giant six-armed goddess statue looking down on man.
Photo Credit: The blogger
I drew in the blocks for the statue’s pedestal. I also fleshed out the man below, filled in the details for the camera he’s dropping and sketched in the dunes and some sand ripples. There will be more ripples and maybe some more, smaller, dunes when I colour-pencil in the picture. I use the scant details in the sketch only for a guide for when I colour in the picture and add the more precise details.

If you look closely, you’ll see a wavy line running across the base of the pedestal. This is the sand piling up against the surface. I haven’t erased that part of the pedestal that the sand accumulation is overlapping. This is only one of two things I have left to do for the outline. The other is erasing the notches that you might be able to see that were from measurements for the blocks. These measurements were a pain in the ass to make because I’m not an architect and was never good with numbers, but it was worth it; I got a proud feeling of accomplishment after making them and drawing in the blocks.

I hope to have the book cover illustration completed, including the colouring, by next weekend but can’t guarantee it. I have a mini comic con to go to then for Free Comic Book Day (it’s at Empire Comics Vault in Sacramento, if you’re in the area and interested). If I don’t have it done by then, I may have an article for you that I’m in the middle of revising. It’s about fiction authors writing for movies based on brand games and toys, a major trend in the past few years. Too major.

Let me know what you think of the sketch by leaving your comments in the box below.

Until next time . . .

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Updates: 'Circa Sixty Years Dead' Cover Illustration; Plans for an Atompunk Blog

Graffiti art of robots hauling scrap metal
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com



I didn't get much done with the cover illustration for "Circa Sixty Years Dead" this week. I've been working at my day job everyday and have been in the process of taking on a new freelance assignment. I've also come to the conclusion that I need to refocus my newest blog, The Super Freek. In fact, I just posted about it there. In the process of planning the refocusing of The Super Freek, I decided to make a new additional blog that I will dedicate to atompunk topics. You can read about it there.

I'll have updates on the progress of "Circa Sixty Years Dead" and the cover illustration next time.

Until then . . .

Saturday, April 9, 2016

My Book Cover Illustration for 'Circa' So Far

Book Cover Art for My Upcoming Horror Short Story

I wanted to have the full outline of my book cover illustration for “Circa Sixty Years Dead” done knowing that I wasn’t going to get it painted by today. But an uncle of mine asked if I could help him clean out my grandfather’s house that he’s been renovating and, being family, I didn’t want to turn him down. I mostly cleaned out the house’s dungeon and took several things to Good Will which both put me back in the illustration a bit. The dungeon? Yeah, right! you say. Actually, it’s the nickname we give to the cellar, although sometimes I’ll call it the catacombs even though nobody’s buried down there (at least nobody we know of).

As you’ll see below, a little under half of the outline to the book cover illustration is done, but it won’t take me long to finish it and then start painting (with coloured pencil) by the end of the week. It's very light, so if you want you can look at the concept sketch to it. So I can’t say the whole thing will be completed by next weekend, but I’ll show you a photo of the progress that I will have made.


An incomplete sketch of a six arm feminine statue.
Photo and Art Credit: The blogger



Kim Stanley Robinson to Appear at Sacramento Author Festival

As I said last time,  Kim Stanley Robinson will be speaking in Sacramento at the Central Library in downtown tomorrow at noon and I’ll be attending. If you’re in the area, and you’re interested in hearing him speak about his new book, Green Earth (The Science in the Capital), you have to register ahead of time which you may still be able to do at the library’s website . If not, you can probably catch him at the Local Authors’ Festival there at the library which starts at 1. There will be authors from the Sacramento area of various genres, both fiction and non-fiction. You don’t have to register for the festival itself and it’s free like the talk before it. So check it out, and say hi if you see me there. If I don’t see you there then . . .

Until next time . . .



Here’s a set of music videos by a far out sci fi band from the 70s that I was listening to while working on my book cover art. They’re called the Rockets. They sound a lot like today’s electronica (though that term covers a very diverse area of music) and so can be said to be a band before their time, even though you’ll hear a lot of funkedelic elements in their music. You might want to check them out.







Sunday, April 3, 2016

Kim Stanley Robinson to Speak at Sacramento Library

Planet Earth
Photo Credit: Pixabay.com



As global warming continues to rise like the very oceans it causes to, today's science fiction reflects the issue more than ever. It attempts to anticipate what could happen if we don't reduce global warming and its causes. One of the authors who are most known for doing this is Kim Stanley Robinson. Best known for his award-winning Mars Trilogy of novels, his latest work that directly addresses the global warming issue is Green Earth which is a trilogy of earlier novels combined into one.

I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Robinson speak at UC Davis's Whole Earth Festival back in 2013 when he read from his novel, Shaman. I spoke about it in an article in my "Life, the Earth and the Universe" post back then. He is giving another presentation, this time on his Green Earth, Sunday the 10th of April from noon to 1 at the Sacramento Central Library, in Sacramento California. If you're in the area and plan to attend, you must register at the library's website, something I didn't find out until just earlier today (Saturday). So I'm registered and will be there next week. If you attend and see me, feel free to say hi! (Unlike in my profile photo, I'll have a beard.)