Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Scare Me Blogfest: Mirrors

Scifi Media are hosting a Halloween blogfest, called Scare Me, where entrants have to "write about the scariest book that you have read, Movie you have watched, Ghosts you have encountered, and/or to share your own scary story." 

For me, there are two types of scary: the things that jump out at you, giving you a quick fright (which I hate!), and the slower, creepier, underlying scary that has you peering nervously into dark corners for hours. One of the things that has always creeped me out late at night is mirrors. In the dark, they distort shadows, and I've always had this urge to try and peer around the mirror's edge, to see what might be behind it. With this in mind, I wrote the below piece a little while ago. It's not particularly steampunk, being more of a psychological thriller but I hope you enjoy!

James clutched the corner of the basin with one hand while his other gripped the straight razor, tapping the sharp edge against the basin's edge with each of his slow breaths. Breathe in. Tap. Breathe out. Tap. But sucking in air was difficult in the bathroom's suffocating heat. The damp in the air clung to each inhalation, and to his skin, coating his bare arms in a slick sheen.


It was barely a whisper in his head, but he glanced around the room, halting his rhythmic tapping. No one was there, of course. No one ever was.

Taking a deep breath to steady himself, James released his grip on the basin to lift his hand and wipe the fog off the mirror, smearing his face onto the glass. His reflection wobbled as he peered at it. Droplets of water dribbled down, curving with the mirror as it rippled outwards. He blinked to try clear his vision, then splashed his face with water.

The mirror continued to waver.

James leaned forward, his reflection leaning too, but distorting in rainbow waves. He slowly raised his hand to the mirror again, tensing when he realized that the glass wasn't cool like he'd been expecting. It was warm. And soft. He pressed all four fingers hard against the surface, frowning as they sank into the silver, until the tips of them had completely disappeared.


The whisper - her whisper he now realized - came from the front of him this time. In the misshapen mirror, a fog swirled around his face, turning it into an unrecognisable haze. The skin on his arm prickled, but he didn’t move his hand, to mesmerized by what was appearing before him.

Her eyes appeared first, black with their intensity.

James... how could you?

Her face materialised behind his hand and with her words, the fog misted out of the mirror and swirled into the steam of the bathroom.

James tried to tug his hand back, but it was only then that he realized it had completely sunk into the mirror and he couldn't budge it. “It was an accident.” The words rasped from his mouth as he tugged on his hand, dropping the razor in the sink to grab his wrist with his other hand and pull harder.

A cackling laugh filled the room, bouncing off the bathroom tiles, and Grace’s mouth twisted into a smirk. You killed me... you killed me after you promised we’d be together, forever.

“You’re not real.”  James shut his eyes, but she didn't disappear, her twisted face. “You’re dead and I’m going mad.” When he opened them again, Grace had moved back from the mirror, and her hand was outstretched, touching her fingers against his buried hand.

Her head was bowed, her face hidden behind a mass of thick brown hair. We can still be together. Her shoulders shook, and James reached out with his other hand, wanting to touch her.

Grace's head shot up, and her gaze fixed on his, her eyes bloodshot and streaming with red tears. We will be together. Her hand reached out, out of the mirror, out towards him, and wrapped around James' wrist, tightening around it and digging her long fingernails in.

She held something in her other hand. James looked down at the empty basin, but by the time he realized the razor wasn't there, Grace had already lashed out. A line of red dripped down his arm, dribbling onto the tiles. His knees buckled from under him and Grace let go as his other hand freed from the mirror.

When he fell to the tiles, the blackness swooped in, but not until he had a chance to see the red writing smeared onto the mirror in front of Grace's dark glare.


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The parasol - an underused steampunk accessory

Steampunk Train at Night I was fortunate enough to head along to an "Olde Hallows Eve" event at MOTAT, which transformed the Museum of Transport and Technology into a creepy, Victorian styled Halloween. Appropriately scary for all ages, it was great fun, but what I found the most interesting was the costumes. The Victorian era is what has inspired steampunk, and while this event wasn't focussed on the steampunk genre, there was plenty of steam, and the costuming (and makeup) was incredible, combining the most beautiful Victorian elements with the gothic and ghoulish.

There was a beautiful, black lace parasol that I absolutely fell in love with, and managed to steal temporarily for this photo. I have vowed to get one for myself as soon as I can!

Steampunk Parasol

It got me thinking though, are parasols an underused steampunk accessory? Sure, we all think of goggles and gadgets, but the parasol seems like something that could add great value. Of course, Gail Carriger has already seen the merit in the parasol, with her Parasol Protectorate series. It is such a beautiful accessory, and they have so many possibilities as a steampunk gadget that also looks amazing.

The obvious choice would be to have a parasol that doubles as some sort of weapon. Add a sharp tip that is steam propelled to fly out at an enemy (only in theory of course) at the push of a button or the turn of a cog...

For costuming purposes though, making a parasol more steampunk doesn't seem ridiculously hard (although, admittedly, I have yet to do so myself). I suggest sticking with neutral colors - black, white or ivory, and thinking about how you can integrate steampunk elements into the pattern in the lace (if you have a lace one like I plan to). I think a clockwork design would look great, if you can get enough cogs, and having them follow the ribbing up to the middle of the canopy is one of my ideas. For the handle, I'd want to spraypaint it black, and then dry brush it with copper and/or silver paint. You could get more intricate here of course, using cogs and/or string (to look like wiring) as a design.

It doesn't seem so difficult, but despite extensive googling, I can't find anyone who has done this (and bragged about it online). So, am I missing something, or has no one really bothered to go above and beyond with the parasol?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel

Obviously, I'm a big steampunk fan, so, on my usual trawling through recommended books I found this. THIS being Dearly, Departed, by Lia Habel. THIS being steampunk meets zombies meets post-apocalyptic in one crazy sounding mash-up. THIS being the one of best books I've read all year (and given that I'm at 68 and a half books to date in 2012, that's saying something!).
Steampunk Zombie Book Review Dearly Departed by Lia Habel

Love conquers all, so they say. But can Cupid’s arrow pierce the hearts of the living and the dead—or rather, the undead? Can a proper young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie?

The year is 2195. The place is New Victoria—a high-tech nation modeled on the manners, mores, and fashions of an antique era. A teenager in high society, Nora Dearly is far more interested in military history and her country’s political unrest than in tea parties and debutante balls. But after her beloved parents die, Nora is left at the mercy of her domineering aunt, a social-climbing spendthrift who has squandered the family fortune and now plans to marry her niece off for money. For Nora, no fate could be more horrible—until she’s nearly kidnapped by an army of walking corpses.

Zombies in the future mixed with steampunk? Yes please! Other than being original, the plot itself was fantastic. Fast paced, intriguing, and with a nice dose of romance. Speaking of romance, it was subtle, and didn't make you as squeamish as you might expect, considering its a zombie-human relationship:

“The fact that she made this beeline for me both warmed my soul and made me want to turn around, walk out the door, and find a cliff to fling myself off of.” 

Nora Dearly makes a wonderful protagonist, being able to take care of herself while still being realistically terrified of the undead when appropriate. Her banter with Bram is what really makes the book worthwhile, because despite being... well, dead... Bran makes a fantastic hero and his and Nora's developing relationship unfolds beautifully.

Dearly, Departed's style is a little odd because it's written from the first person perspective of about five characters, but it still manages to be a wonderfully funny, riviting read for anyone who likes paranormal, zombies, steampunk, and/or romance. And, best of all, there's a sequel! I shall be eagerly awaiting its publication.

Like the sound of this book? Check out Steampunk Princess's Best Steampunk Books.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Steampunk Hats

Steampunk clothing is generally thought to be modeled off Victorian clothing, with special features related to steam technology, like cogs, gears and goggles. It might seem a bit silly really - after all, we're a computer technology generation and we don't see people wandering around with computer chips stuck to their hats, but the thing with steampunk is that regardless of how realistic its clothing might be, it still manages to look amazing.

 Because each item of Victorian clothing was very class based, and steampunk gives it extra intricacies, I've decided to look at one type of clothing today: hats.

 I'll start with Victorian traditional headwear for men, but in steampunk gender clothing can be crossed, so while in Victorian times the below hats were reserved for men, in steampunk they can be used for both genders (with woman's hats often being adorned with slightly more feminine elements like feathers and lace). Hats back then were a status symbol - only the very poor went without one, and the richer you were the more elegant the hat. And in London (where steampunk stories are often - but not always - set), why wouldn't you wear a hat? You loose a large amount of heat from your head, so with London's weather they served a practical purpose.
Steampunk Top Hat
Top hats were all the rage, perhaps because they made a man look taller, or maybe it's the same reason men like large cars...
Steampunk Gibus Opera Hat
If one was to go to the opera, they could wear a gibus - a collapsable top hat - for easy storage under the seat.
Steampunk Bowler Hat
Bowler hats were also common amongst British civil servants, and in the American west. They had a practical element to them because they didn't blow off your head easily.

Steampunk Homburg Hat
For slightly less formal wear, Homburg hats were worn...
Steampunk Trilby Hat
As were trilby hats.

Steampunk fashion tends to favor the top hats, but it is important to remember that in the literary world of steampunk there are usually hierarchies in society, and the use of other hats should not be discounted. In steampunk the hats can be simple, as above, but they are often decked out, as mentioned before, to represent the steam technology that is such a huge part of this genre. Clockwork Couture has some amazing examples of hats:

Steampunk Hat Couture

Steampunk Ladies Tophat with Feather

Steampunk Tophat Compass

For women in Victorian society, bonnets were the main type of headwear, but they came in all shapes, sizes and with an incredible amount of different additions. They did become smaller in the second half of the 19th century, to show off the face and hair more. Riding hats also became popular during this time, and were once again adorned with a variety of different things.
Steampunk Riding Hat
Steampunk Bonnet

Because these hats were already adorned with so much, in order to make these more "steampunk" it's a simple replace job: replace some flowers with cogs and gears, and you have yourself a steampunk hat:

Steampunk Clock Tophat

So, there you go. Steampunk hats are traditionally Victorian, with a touch of industrialism, and the combo is a style that is absolutely gorgeous!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Steampunk Chronicles, by Kady Cross

Steampunk Book Review The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross

Steampunk may have once been obscure, but as a literary genre it has come into it's own, with a vast range of fiction works across multiple sub genres. The latest steampunk series I've been reading is Kady Cross's Steampunk Chronicles, with the first book being The Girl in the Steel Corset, the second, The Girl in the Clockwork Collar, and the third (not published yet, but I can't wait!), The Girl with the Iron Touch.

One of the wonderful things about steampunk being set in Victorian times, is that is enables authors to give their work a feminist streak by placing female characters in a society where they really have to fight for their rights. Finley Jayne is one kick-ass character. As was probably common in 1897, a young lord tries to take advantage of Finley, but not being particularly meek of mind, or strength, Finley fights back. She's quite capable of knocking a man out with a punch, and while she is concerned what her dark side could mean, Finley loves her abilities and thrives on them. She's a character who isn't afraid of much - not of men, or dark alleys, or monsters... The only thing Finley is afraid of is herself, which makes for a very interesting character.

Steampunk Book Review The Girl in the Clockwork Collar by Kady Cross

The setting is another strong element in this series. This first book is set in London, while the second is set in New York. Both cities are brought to life by Cross, from dark alleyways to glamorous balls. It's simply spectacular, and a visionary feast for your mind. Setting plays a huge part in steampunk, as it often contrasts the gritty underbelly of society with alluring aristocracy. That, combined with the seamless integration of technology with shouldn't work, but does with complete believability is what makes this series so incredible.

If you like your steampunk mixed in with action and a dash of romance, Kady Cross's Steampunk Chronicles will leave you as eager for book 3 as I am.

Like the sound of this book? Check out Steampunk Princess's Best Steampunk Books.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

What is steampunk?

Steampunk Gear
As my blog description this online dictionary here says, steampunk is "a subgenre of science fiction and fantasy featuring advanced machines and other technology based on steam power of the 19th century and taking place in a recognizable historical period or a fantasy world." But here's a quick list of how to work out if what you think is steampunk, actually is part of this genre:

  • Is it set in the 19th century, particularly Victorian times?
  • Does it include technology that is far advanced for the 19th century?
  • Is the technology largely steam based?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, then you're probably reading or watching something set firmly within the steampunk genre.

Simple, right?

Er, no.

Steampunk has many variations, which are often given slightly different names.

  • The technology can be based around clockwork: Clockpunk
  • It doesn't have to be set in the 19th Century, eg Scott Westerfeld's LEVIATHAN (alternative history steampunk), or set in another world altogether, eg INCARCERON by Catherine Fisher.
  • It can have supernatural elements, eg, THE PARASOL PROTECTORATE series, by Gail Carriger
  • Or be a downright strange mix of genres, eg DEARLY, DEPARTED by Lia Habel (a steampunk zombie romance)

Steampunk is difficult to define because it is really the feel to it that makes it steampunk. Steampunk worlds are complex, dark and often philosophical. And that's the beauty of it.