Steampunk Month: What to Expect

June is steampunk month. From the first to the thirtieth, we will be covering all sorts of steampunk related material roughly 80% of the time. There will be a couple things talked about that aren’t related to clockwork and zeppelins, such as a review of John Scalzi’s novel Redshirts that comes out in June, as well as of the new film Prometheus that just begs for discussion.

As a tie-in to this month, our first pick for the Android Dreamer Book Club on Goodreads is the novel Dreadnought by Cherie Priest, which will be discussed throughout the month on our Goodreads club and will be formally reviewed here the last week of the month. You are encouraged to join the discussion and share your thoughts, which may be used (with your permission) in this very website in an article about group member reactions to the book of the month.

Among the steampunk related materials we will review are: James P. Blaylock’s Homunculus, Lavie Tidhar’s Camera Obscura, William Gibson & Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine, Lindsay Buroker’s Flash Gold, and more. We still intend to make Fridays into the day where we post original fiction, but are still looking for the right writers. If you have written a steampunk short story that you think is up to snuff, we encourage you to submit your work to us for consideration.

Also a part of the fun that will go on well beyond this month: starting this coming Sunday, I will be reviewing the entire Firefly series on episode at a time every Sunday until all fourteen episodes, its film, and the tie-in comic series’ are done. Whether or not Firefly is actually steampunk is irrelevant; I’m doing it anyway. If this goes well, we may pick a new series to do one piece at a time after it is done.

If you can think of a steampunk related book, movie, or otherwise you think we should review, feel free to drop us a line at androiddreamerblog (at) gmail.com. We can’t guarantee every suggestion will be read or watched, but we would love to see them anyway. Thanks for reading!

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Review: Railsea by China Mieville (2012)

Railsea by China Mieville
Del Rey, 2012

Rating: D

In a strange, steampunky-world connected entirely by a convoluted railway system, a young man named Sham Yes ap Soorap works with a group of hunters whose job is to take out giant skinless mole-like creatures called moldywarpes. They burrow under the ground and jump out at passersby, leading Soorap and the crew to harpoon them from the relative safety of their trains. Apparently the creatures terrorize the locals, and are useful for their meat and various other typical parts that would be used by hunters.

China Mieville’s greatest weakness and greatest strength is that each one of his novels is completely different from the last, not just in general story but in narrative voice and overall feel. It seems like Mieville painstakingly goes out of his way to reinvent himself every time he puts pen to paper, and in the case of Railsea the reinvention comes across as cluttered, to say the least. Instead of the word “and”, Mieville uses an ampersand throughout the novel, which is explained at some point as being symbolic of the idea of the Railsea as a thing in his world, but instead the strange grammatical decision comes across as extraordinarily amateurish and blatantly pretentious. To compound the agony of the style, Mieville takes a handful of chapters to break the fourth wall as the narrator and pat himself on the back as the writer, as if to say “See how wonderful I am?”

Railsea is a frustratingly bad novel that oozes with pretension and borderline awful prose. Originality is generally a good thing, but there are times to remember that sometimes something has never been done before because it is not a very good idea. The characters in Railsea are completely uninspired and what little plot that is here is barely more than a convenient vessel to push the world the author has created. Although the world is strong, it is the only redeemable quality of an otherwise completely unreadable book. With unlikable characters and a plot that is both meandering and completely tedious, it is hard to see why anyone would enjoy this novel in the least.

Wanting to Have Sex with Scarlett Johansson Does Not Make You A Bad Feminist

Scarlett Johansson, BAFTA Award winner and Golden Globe nominated actress best known for films like Ghost World, Lost in Translation, and more recently, Iron Man 2 and The Avengers, published an article Thursday on The Huffington Post to discuss all the tabloid magazines that have claimed that she used dangerous fad diets to shed the weight she needed to in order to fit into her Black Widow catsuit. In the excellent article, she discusses extensively how bad and dangerous it is for these rags to lie to their readerships and lead people to believe that there is some magical cure all out there that will fix their personally weight issues. It is an important article, as most of the fad diets described in these articles are simply dangerous, especially for the younger generation.

A small handful of people who read the article responded by condemning Johansson, essentially for being sexy. They strongly imply that by virtue of her appearing in a catsuit, she is somehow damaging women and encouraging objectification. It is implied by these commenters that two things are inherently anti-feminist: finding a woman’s body attractive, and a woman showing off a body that she is proud of. It is easy to sympathize with women who feel like they are thought only in terms of what they look like, but I think it does all men (and women) a disservice to imply that by being attracted to someone because of their looks, we are some how bad feminists and bad people.

Biologically speaking, just about every person is genetically wired to what to have sex with anyone who looks remotely healthy. Without this genetic need to procreate, we would go extinct. Although human intellect allows us to hold back our internal animalistic urges significantly, if we were ever able to completely control our sexual urges, the population would plummet rather significantly over the course of a few generations. Would you fault your pet cat for wanting to mate with a female companion that he just met? If you accept that humans are animals, then to call into question whether or not they should want to have sex is absurd.

Basically, if you want to have sex with Scarlett Johansson, it means that you have pulse, not that you are anti-woman. If you, like me, read this article and suddenly found yourself even more attracted to her because not only is she absolutely gorgeous, but she is also highly intelligent and snarky as hell, then it proves that you are more than simply objectifying her. If she was just an object, would it matter how smart she was? It boils down to this: objectifying women (or men) in terms of your sexual desire is perfectly normal; humans are perfectly capable of balancing this with their intellectual desires. If you think that is okay for women to be paid less for the same work, or that they shouldn’t be able to vote, or that they shouldn’t have control of their own bodies, or if you simply think that you are smarter than a woman because of your gender, THAT makes you a bad feminist. Having sexual desire for them does not.

Review: The Executioness by Tobias S. Buckell (2011)

The Executioness by Tobias S. Buckell
Subterranean Press, 2011

Rating: B-

A woman whose father worked as the city executioner is on his death bed, and his daughter is forced to take up his axe to execute a criminal to continue putting food on the table so her children don’t starve. Things get more interesting when her family are captured by raiders, and Tana is forced to leave the city, axe in hand, to track down her lost children.

Set in the same world as Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Alchemist, Buckell’s novella was released at the same time and is complimentary to the other work. Despite the strength of development of this world remaining, The Executioness doesn’t end up having the same strength of narrative or general impact of its companion. Buckell writes good prose and dialogue, but the plot is a bit paint by numbers by comparison. Although there is nothing necessarily wrong with a pissed off mother going after her kidnapped children, I can’t help but think it’s a gender-reversed fantasy adaptation of a certain Liam Neeson film.

This novella still has redeeming qualities; Tana is a strong protagonist that it is not only likable, but very well developed considering the rather small word count involved in a novella. Buckell does an extraordinary job of giving the reader a good sense of who Tana is, including some real change over the course of the story. It is a real feather in one’s cap as a writer when you can develop a character more over the course of about one hundred pages than many science fiction and fantasy writers manage to do over the course of a novel three or four times as long.

Despite not being able to live up to the quality of Bacigalupi’s work, the strength of its character development and the fact that it still shares that perfect fantasy world make The Executioness a worthwhile read. Buckell has, at the very least, established himself here as a writer that is worth taking notice of in his future endeavors. This world deserves revisiting by either of its writers, and it would be a welcome read to see further adventures of Tana.

The Gay Race of Comic Books

This week, both DC and Marvel Comics made pretty big announcements in regards to their characters and homosexual revelations. In the case of Marvel, the reveal that Northstar will be proposing to (and subsequently getting married to) his long time partner isn’t a huge deal, but it is kind of interesting that suddenly that character is going to be relevant again. He was always a well written character, and has been “out of the closet” for quite some time, but has been reduced to a background role without much to do in the greater Marvel universe for more than a decade.

On the other hand, in the case of DC, Shazam! (previously known as Captain Marvel) has been a pretty important character for quite some time. They have announced that he will be coming out of the closet in this recent rebooted version of their universe. Although it is a positive to think to see the comics medium continue to be very progressive and forward thinking when it comes to social issues (see the Green Lantern/Green Arrow team-up book from the late 1960s, where they talk about homelessness and drug addiction among other things), it seems like an unnecessary contest between the two big imprints that they would have these announcements come at the same time.

The fact of the matter is that there are pretty few comic book fans who only read one of the company’s products, and those that do tend to be loyal to one side or the other are not going to suddenly jump ship over something like this, so why compete on it? I’m glad Northstar is getting married, but it is hard not to be cynical and point out that it is probably little more than an attempt to get GLBT youth buying their comic books and putting more money into the business. Sure, business is business, but it feels forced.

There is an unfortunate tendency in comic books to make characters who are gay be known only for being gay. Northstar is basically known first and foremost as “that gay guy from Alpha Flight.” Shazam has a longer history behind him, but will he just be known as “the gay super hero” from now on? I think the point of the LGBT equality movement needs to be that we get to a point where being gay is no big deal. It shouldn’t be a media circus when a comic book character is gay, because there are a LOT of gay people. Why is this still a novelty? Having a diverse cast of characters from all walks of life, including sexual orientation, race, and otherwise, should just come naturally to these writers, and shouldn’t be just the big comic book event of the summer.

Science Fiction Summer: A Quick Look at Recent and Upcoming Novels

This summer looks like it will shape up to be pretty significant in terms of science fiction releases. The number of big names putting out new books over the next few months is pretty impressive, and as such it is worth taking a quick look at what we will be reading through the warmer months.

  • The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi – The hottest novelist in science fiction returns to the world he created in Ship Breaker with a new young adult novel that follows two young refugees from a war torn world, where one of them is kidnapped and the other is forced to decide between saving his friend or finally getting freedom. Was released on May 1st by Little Brown Books
  • Railsea by China Mieville – A science fiction-y retelling of Melville’s Moby Dick tells the story of hunters tracking down enormous  mole-like creatures with harpoons while travelling down an endless system of rails across the Railsea. They discover a derelict train that leads them to something mysterious and impossible. Was released on May 15th by Del Rey
  • Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi – Scalzi parodies the classic Star Trek series in a comedic novel that follows a young Ensign who begins to realize that every time a team leaves the ship, it comes back with one less lower ranked crew member while the officers always mysteriously remain in tact. Tongue-in-cheek sci-fi adventure in the typical Scalzi good humor. To be released June 5th by Tor Books
  • The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross – Bob Howard is a computational demonologist working for the English government when a mysterious televangelist with healing powers named Ray Schiller starts to get a little too cozy with the Prime Minister. When the government dispatches a brilliant woman named Persephone Hazard to infilitrate the healer’s religious organization, Howard has to make sure everything doesn’t blow up their collective faces. To be released July 3rd
  • The Coldest War by Ian TregillisThe long awaited sequel to the brilliant Bitter Seeds, an alternate history story set in a world where the British use warlocks to fight the Nazis and their superhuman soldiers. Raybould Marsh was one of the best characters in recent science fiction memory and his re-appearance will be worth the price of the book alone. To be released July 17th by Tor Books
  • Whispers Under Grounds by Ben Aaronovitch – The third novel in Aaronovitch’s series about Peter Grant, a mixed race copper and amateur wizard living in London and investigating crimes involving paranormal magic. This novel takes Grant and his allies into the subway, still on the hunt for a mysterious wizard called The Faceless Man. To be released July 31st by Del Rey

This is just a handful of the really exciting science fiction novels coming out this summer. Rest assured that your dear editor realizes that this list is a bit of a sausage fest so please let us know what we’re missing from the list that you are looking forward to in the coming months.