Sunday, December 29, 2013

Symbiosis

'Symbiosis' 
written by Bhob, illustrated by Jim McDermott and Shawn McManus
from Heavy Metal, December, 1983





Thursday, December 26, 2013

Steampunk: An Illustrated History

'Steampunk: An Illustrated History' by Brian J. Robb



'Steampunk: An Illustrated History' was published in 2012 by Voyageur Press, Minneapolis, a company specializing in books on a variety of eclectic topics. 

At 11 inches x 9 3/4 inches this is a heavy, well-made, chunk of a picture book.

Its production values are not just high, but perhaps too high; for example, each page is overlaid with a 'watermark' style graphic designed to impart a fusty, aged appearance reminiscent of a 19th century tome, but this stylization can render the text rather difficult to see.


'Steampunk: An Illustrated History' features a Forward by James P. Blaylock, one of the founders of the genre. Following an Introduction by author Robb, the book provides 9 chapters that range the genre from its beginnings in 19th century Britain,  to the present time .

Chapter 1, 'The GIlded Age', is an overview of 19th and early 20th century sci fi and fantasy and showcases Verne, Wells, and Burroughs, among others.


This chapter also devotes considerable text to the appearance of proto-steampunk in the 1970s, and the prominent role of authors such as Michael Moorcock.


Chapter 2, 'From Cyberpunk to Steampunk', primarily is devoted to the three authors who, while attending college in Orange, California in the early 1970s, would come to create the genre known today as Steampunk: Tim Powers, James P. Blaylock, and K. W. Jeter.


Author Robb also devotes some discussion to the interaction of the burgeoning Steampunk movement with the Cyberpunks, as exemplified by the release of The Difference Engine, by Sterling and Gibson,  in 1990.


Chapter 3, 'Reinventing the Victorians', covers Steampunk literature during the late 80s on through the 1990s, when, following the efforts of Blaylock, Jeter, and Powers, more authors began to embrace, and expand, the genre.


Here, Robb takes a generous view of what comprises Steampunk, including novels that I would call 'Steam fantasy', or 'New Weird', fiction.


Chapter 4, 'A Young Lady's Primer', deals with the prominent role of female protagonists in Steampunk. This chapter struck me as a contrived effort to present the argument that Steampunk plays some sort of post-modern role in female emancipation. The contents of this chapter probably would've been better utilized by being integrated into the other chapters.

Chapter 5, 'Nitrate Nightmares and Selenium Dreams', focuses on the portrayal of Steampunk in movies and tv. This is a well-written and comprehensive chapter that starts with the efforts of Georges Melies in 1902, through the serials of the 1930s, on up to today.



Chapter 6, 'Clockwork Graphics', looks at Steampunk-themed comic books, graphic novels, and video games. This is another well-organized and informative chapter, with plentiful examples of works spanning the interval from the 1980s up till today.




Chapter 7, 'An Empire Strikes Back', examines the Steampunk movement in Japan, in fiction, comics, and films.


Chapter 8, 'Of Cogs and Corsets', covers the advent of Steampunk as a pop culture phenomenon in the US during the 2000s, a decade which saw Steampunk fashion morph from cosplay unique to sci fi conventions (and other refuges for the socially awkward) to a genuine hipster movement. The chapter also looks at fandom's embrace of Steampunk-inspired music and art. 

This aspect of Steampunk has been avidly embraced by people under the age of 40, particularly young singles, as evidenced by events such as the 'Tweed Ride', sponsored by the 'Dandies and Quaintrelles' association, that occurs each Fall in Washington, DC.



The final chapter, 'Back to the Future', covers the recent history of Steampunk as a mainstream phenomenon, which -arguably - came about in May, 2008, when an article about the culture appeared in The New York Times

Steampunk now has become a dominant force in sf and fantasy publishing, and Robb covers the massive increase in Steampunk novels, comics, films, and television shows that has taken place since 2010. 


While this chapter provides a good overview of recent Steampunk, in my opinion,  the author shies from the important question to whether much of this output is of good quality, or simply an effort by publishers and editors to exploit the phenomenon. 

With Steampunk novels being launched every month by publishers like Angry Robot, Pyr, and Tor, one has to ask: just how much of this material is really worth being put into print ? In my opinion, the economic future of Steampunk publishing risks collapse due to overproduction, and a diminution of quality.

Summing up, 'Steampunk: An Illustrated History' is a very good examination of the genre. While I recognized many of the comics and novels listed in the book, there were quite a few that I was not familiar with, and these seem worth investigating. 

Accordingly, I recommend this book not just to Steampunk fans, but to anyone who is a fan of sci fi and fantasy literature.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas 1983: 'Jingle Bell Rock' by Hall and Oates

Christmas 1983: Hall and Oates, 'Jingle Bell Rock'



Thirty years ago, if you turned on MTV at Christmas time in December, 1983, you were certain to see this video of Hall and Oates performing the old Bobby Helms tune 'Jingle Bell Rock.'



Hall and Oates made a wise decision to give the video the cheesiest possible atmosphere (at one point early in the video, Hall struggles to keep from laughing on-camera)....and made it a Christmas classic all over again.......


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Book Review: Tomorrow

Book Review: 'Tomorrow' by Philip Wylie


3 / 5 Stars

Philip Wylie (1902 –1971) wrote a number of apocalyptic sf novels, with ‘When Words Collide’ (1933) perhaps his best known work. ‘Tomorrow’ (1954) and ‘Triumph’ (1963) were nuclear war novels, very much the spiritual predecessors to Streiber and Kunetka’s 'Warday' (1984). Wylie's posthumous novel, ‘The End of the Dream’ (1972) was an eco-disaster novel.

Wylie had considerable experience as a reporter and writer on the atomic bomb and its implications for national defense and world peace. During the mid-1940s Wylie was an advisor on matters of nuclear weapons to senator Brien MacMahon, who chaired United States Senate Special Committee on Atomic Energy. MacMahon introduced the bill for the Atomic Energy Act of 1945, which in turn created the Atomic Energy Commission in January 1947. Wylie also served on the Dade County, Florida civil defense council. 


illustration by Alexander Leydenfrost for 'If A-Bombs Blast US City', from the February, 1951 issue of Pageant magazine


Wylie’s attitudes toward nuclear war centered on the necessity of civil defense, and the need for the United States to maintain a massive retaliatory capacity in order to deter the Soviet Union from launching World War Three. 

 image taken from


‘Tomorrow’  was first published in hardback in 1954; this Popular Library paperback, 288 pp, was released in February 1956. 

A Readers Digest Condensed Books version, published in 1954, featured excellent illustrations by Ed Vebell; these can be viewed at the 'Today's Inspiration' blog.

illustration taken from 


'Tomorrow' is essentially a polemic.....about Civil Defense.

The book takes place in the Midwest, in the twin cities of Green Prairie and River City. The narrative follows a cast of characters drawn from families living in the outlying middle-class neighborhoods of Green Prairie.

The Connors include Henry and Beth, sons Ted and Chuck, and daughter Nora. Next door live the Baileys, husband Beau, wife Netta, and daughter Lenore. 




front cover of 'Atomic War !' No.1, November 1952, Ace Comics (US)


The Connors are devoted to Green Prairie’s Civil Defense Corps, dutifully reporting to exercises and drills, even as their relatives scoff at such nonsense. While her parents are indifferent to CD, Lenore Bailey serves as a radiation monitor, doffing a yellow overcoat and wielding a Geiger counter for her share of the local drills.



 image taken from

Wylie spends the first three-fourths of the novel laying out the personalities and foibles of his cast, and this is a major weakness of ‘Tomorrow’, as most of its length is essentially occupied with suburban melodrama.

Later chapters give increasing hints of the apocalypse to come, and, if the reader sticks with ‘Tomorrow’ long enough, X-Day does arrive, and with it a nuclear attack on the twin cities. At this point the novel kicks into gear, and Wylie does a very good job of conveying the gruesome aftermath of a fission bomb detonation.


panel from 'Atomic War !' No. 1, November 1952, Ace Comics (US)


Needless to say, those characters who scoffed at CD get their just desserts, even as Wylie overlooks some aspects of a nuke detonation - such as the scope and effects of fallout - that would in large part nullify many CD efforts.
 
 image taken from

As a 'what if' novel, 'Tomorrow' exhausts too much of its content on tedious expositions in which author Wylie excoriates those of his fellow citizens who are too lazy and stupid to recognize that Civil Defense was a vital part of their duties as Americans. 

The nadir of this approach to storytelling comes near the book's midpoint, when Wylie has a newspaper editor deliver a 14-page screed that, among other things, touches on the evils of McCarthyism, the futility of negotiating with Commies, and idiocy of entertaining the 'it can't happen here' mindset of the petite bourgeoisie.

I won't disclose any spoilers, but I thought 'Tomorrow' hit a false note in its concluding chapter.....I was hoping to see some evidence of the sort of black (some would say sick) humor that marks the  'Fallout 3' franchise, but it simply doesn't make an appearance.

 illustration by Alexander Leydenfrost for 'If A-Bombs Blast US City', from the February, 1951 issue of Pageant magazine

In summary,  if you're willing to overlook the fact that much of 'Tomorrow' is overbearing, it succeeds to some extent as a work of sf about World War Three and nuclear devastation.