Fun Friday: Writing Resources

And it’s Friday yet again.  Funny how that day of the week keeps turning up, isn’t it?  The week has been a glorious roller coaster ride here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia:  first things are great, then they’re terrible, then they’re entertaining, then they’re frustrating.  Never a dull moment here in our treetop lair.  Right now I’m watching a sign of the apocalypse unfolding in my very own front yard:  my husband is working on my car (something he’s been putting off for a looong time).  Sigh.  I guess I’m going to have to keep that man for another few years, even if it he getting a little long in the tooth (for myself, I’m still as bright and fabulous as I was when I was twenty, and I defy anybody to tell me any different!).

Gotta ask a question.  Okay, so my daughter recommended a book to me last week, and (because she loves the book and threatened dire vengeance if didn’t) I read it.  It was billed as steampunk, and I enjoyed it very much.  BUT.  I don’t think it was steampunk.  It was set in what appeared (marginally) to be Edwardian times, but beyond that, no, nothing that screamed Steampunk at me, either in props, story, character or tone.  My question is, what do y’all want me to do when I come across a book/movie/media like that?  Review it anyway, and pronounce my opinion that it doesn’t fall in our beloved genres?  Skip it entirely?  I’m kind of torn myself.  A couple times I’ve reviewed marginal material like that, but I am unsure.  I don’t want to water things down too much.  Tell me what you think in the comments.

Still no joy on the email thing.  Son is busy and I’m hesitant to try it myself; I’m sure to screw it up.  If he doesn’t pop up soon (like in the next 24 hours), I’ll try something else.  We’ll be back up and running by Monday or else!

Okay, on to business.  Most of the time I don’t get too deep into the writing stuff here on the blog.  Yes, I’m a writer, and I adore my job (writing is something you do for love, because I guarantee you’re not doing it for the money).  But I didn’t want to do yet another writing blog; I seldom read them myself unless I’m looking for specific information, and who the heck am I to give advice anyway?  Besides, exploring my beloved genres is much more fun than talking about characterization any day!

But the fact remains that I am a writer, and I do end up collecting writing stuff that I find online.  My bookmark list is filled with tidbits marked “Reference material” and “inspiration” and “Editing advice.”  Not all of it applies to Steampunk, Dieselpunk or New Pulp, but a lot of it does.  And while not all of you are writers, I know some of you are.  And if you’re not, you may be gamers who need to write scenarios to torture your players with.  Or if not that, the sorts of info that writers dig up can still be fascinating stuff for you curious types.  This is especially true with our genres, where so much of it is firmly rooted in historical eras, events and people.

The first resource I have for you is a delicious one.  I have it filed under all things Dieselpunk, but it would be useful to any of the genres, and is just fascinating reading for anybody who likes anything spy related.  The Encyclopedia of Espionage is exactly what it says on the tin.  It’s a clearinghouse of articles on espionage and spying, focusing mostly (but not exclusively) on World War II to the present.  It’s hardly comprehensive, mostly focusing on specific events, and there are almost no discussions of specific people or their contributions as primary listings, though it has internal linkings.  For example, there is no primary listing for Mata Hari.  But under “Espionage – Chronology,” she’s listed, and a link is provided to a very good article on an outside site.  Not one hundred percent user friendly in that regard.  But there’s a dedicated search engine at the top of the page which is very helpful (it’s how I found Mata Hari’s listing).  And all the pages I’ve seen have very good links and bibliographies for those of us who can’t give up our addiction to the delicious smell of paper and glue.

Next, for our Steampunk friends, here is a page I found a few months ago.  Steamed is a blog shared by a bunch of established Steampunk writers:

  • Suzanne Lazear, author of The Aether Chronicles
  • Theresa Meyers, author of The Legend Chronicles
  • Maeve Alpin, author of The Steam-Gyptian-Punk series
  • Cindy Spencer Pape, author of a bunch of stuff, including some Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences offerings and The Gaslight Chronicles
  • Ray Dean, prolific short story writer and contributor to the Tinkered Tales series, among others
  • and O.M. Grey, author of the Steampunk Guide to Sex, Avalon Revisited and the Nickie Nick Vampire Hunter steampunk YA series.

Quite the collection of Steampunk authors, no?  And to have that much concentrated oomph in one blog is a treat.  Many of the posts are after-action convention reports (with lots of pretty pictures), talks about developments in the genre or things of general interest to Steampunk enthusiasts.  But what caught my attention and landed the blog on my bookmark list was a subpage entitled Writing Steampunk.  It’s a little collection of brief essays on the craft of creating Steampunk stories.  There’s not a whole lot here, just fourteen articles (so far).  But they’re good, informative essays written by people who are actively shaping the genre in real time, not just theory.  I have consulted these several times while working on this blog, as well as on my radio drama, and they have been very helpful.  Even if you’re not a writer, read them because it’s good to know what the pros are thinking about the path of Steampunk and what defines our genre.

Finally, something for fans of New Pulp.  Anybody who’s been reading in the genre for more than ten minutes has heard of Lester Dent and his Master Fiction Plot, which, for the non-writers out there, is Dent’s generalized template that will let anybody write a 6000 word pulp short story, regardless of subgenre (for the record, the above link is from Paper Dragons, an RPG page that has a nice resource section for anybody interested in the late 1930’s).  I like Dent’s general template okay; it’s a nice overview, but it usually leaves me a little flat.  Don’t ask me why; I guess I just find it a little too general.

So I went looking for something with a little more detail, and found this.  Pulp Centric is another RPG site (I love RPG sites; nerds ROCK) devoted to, duh! pulp-centric RPG’s.  It’s defunct now, and was apparently fairly short-lived.  But one of its subpages is the 10-Minute Plot Formula.  This is a gem! It takes the Lester Dent template and breaks it down, explaining in detail how to make each step happen.  It even gives examples and variations on structure and approach.  I find this an invaluable tool when I’m stuck for where to go next, or when I just need a little impetus on a story my brain is balking on.  I recommend it in highest terms.

Okay, as usual on Fridays, this blog post is a little short.  Other than, “Lookie here, ain’t it great, check it out!” there just ain’t that much to say about link lists.  You know the drill:  share, comment, tweet.  Like I said at the top, I’m going to have the email situation fixed one way or the other, or else.  I’ll be back on Monday with the long-awaited final installment of April Tyree’s adventure in the New York pyramid.  I’m sorry for making y’all wait, but I guarantee I’m finishing it up, because I have a big plan for what comes next.  Let’s just say that my steampunk fans will not be disappointed!  In the meantime, y’all enjoy your weekend, and be good.  Of course if you can’t be good, better not to get caught.  Bye for now!

Categories: Dieselpunk, Fun Friday, Pulp, Steampunk | Leave a comment

On Doing Things The Old Way: Letter Writing

Wednesday morning and finally!!!!!  The weather here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia has gotten hot.  We had 90F (32C) heat for a brief moment this weekend, and have enjoyed temps in the 80F’s (27C-31C) since then.  My sister even turned on her air conditioner!  Why yes, now that you ask, I am exactly like a lizard in that regard:  I adore warm, nay, hot, weather.  Hot weather reminds me of the happiest moments of my childhood.  Plus, it also helps that the warmer the weather, the less my body hurts, so there’s that.

I need to apologize for failing to provide any installments of April Tyree the last two weeks.  Mea maxima culpa.  I had a temporary brain lock:  no writing was coming out, even my blog posts were an absolute struggle.  Why I had the brain lock is a long and unimpressive story, so let’s not go there.  But like I said, I think I’ve gotten past it.  Time will tell.

In the meantime, I want to ruminate a moment on a subject that should be dear to the hearts of any Steampunk, Dieselpunk or Pulp afficianado:  Doing Things the Old Way.

A letter by Jane Austen. Note the vertical writing on top of the normal horizontal writing? That is what they mean when people say they “crossed a letter.” It was done to save cost: paper was expensive, and on top of that, the number of sheets determined how much it cost to send through the post. More pages, more money. Note also the address and stuff in the middle of the left half. Again, it was cheaper (and more fun) to creatively fold the letter itself, rather than spend the extra cash for an envelope.

You know what I received the other day?  I received a letter from a dear friend, Thomas.  Not an email.  Not a cold missive that had been typed up on a computer, printed off and barely touched by human hands.  It was a proper letter, handwritten on stationery, with envelope, stamp, delivery by an actual mail carrier, the works.  And because Thomas is as passionate about his letters as I am about books, it was even closed with sealing wax.  With a signet stamp in the wax!  The stamp, in the shape of an oak leaf (the perfect symbol for Thomas), was something new, and everybody in the family just had to have a look at that tiny treasure.  I took special care not to break the wax when I opened the letter, because that stamp was worth preserving.

Thomas and I have known each other for fourteen years now, and for maybe six of those years we have carried on an off-and-on correspondence.  This is entirely by snail mail; I am not even sure the man looks at his emails, because I guarantee he doesn’t answer them (at least not with me).  I still have every letter he sent me; I save every letter like that, from Thomas or from anybody else.  I’m not quite twee enough to bundle the letters with a scented ribbon, thank goodness.  I have a beautiful mahogany box (a gift from Thomas) where I save all my correspondence; it’s stuffed to overflowing now, so pretty soon I’m going to have to get a new one.

Letter writing, proper analog letters that have never seen a keyboard or a text function, is becoming a dying art.  Heck, in some schools they’re no longer teaching elementary students how to write in cursive!  And I think that’s a terrible thing.  There’s something special about sending and receiving letters.  The main argument against writing letters is that they’re slow.  It’s slow to write one (unless you type by the Finders Keepers method, typing is faster than writing by hand), and it’s slow to send one (Thomas’s letter was written on Monday; I received it on Thursday).  And “oh they’re sloooow!” is pretty pathetic as an argument, if you ask me.  Not when you look at the arguments in favor of them.

1.  They’re permanent

You know what my little sister found a long time ago?  A bundle of letters between my mom and her first husband.  My sisters and I knew Mom had been widowed before she met our dad, but beyond that we didn’t know much more than his name — Billy — that they had met and married while both were in university, and that he had died of a genetic illness only a month or three after they were married.  Yet here were these letters, written by man I had never met, who had died before I had ever been thought of, but who loved my mother very much. HIS hands wrote those letters to my mom.  HIS thoughts were caught it the little yellowing pages.  Not some imaginary person my mom occasionally thought about:  this was a real person with real feelings.  Billy instantly became a person to me, in a way he had never been before.

To move beyond the personal, there are lots of historic periods where the only solid data historians can find are in letters people wrote to one another.  Soldiers and their families writing back and forth when they are separated have been collected and printed in book form (a perfect example:  Gone For A Soldier, by Pvt. Alfred Bellard, is the collection of letters of a young man fighting in the American Civil War).  These letters tell us something more important and more interesting than the dry “this battle started on X date, ended on Y date, Z number of casualties, blah blah, blah.  These letters tell us what it was like to stand on that front line and know that the enemy is coming, there’s very little to stop him and all he wants to do is kill you in the name of his cause.  That’s powerful stuff that you don’t get from the dry facts in your high school textbooks.

There are more than soldiers writing letters.  One of my mother’s prized possessions was a book that held a collection of letters written by the Bronte sisters.  In it they discussed their daily lives, the adventure of publishing “our little stories” (some of the most brilliant pieces of Georgian/early Victorian literature ever published) and, amazingly, even talked about their shared play worlds, Angria and Gondol (a paracosm; read more about it here, it’s fascinating).  For myself, I treasure a collection of some of H.P. Lovecraft’s letters (the man was obsessed with writing letters; some of his letters are longer than novels.  I shit you not.)

Every generation up to now have contributed to this body of knowledge by way of their letters.  The generation that grew up on email and internet, they’ll be the first generation since…. well, pretty much since the beginning of the written word, to NOT contribute to the group knowledge.  Email isn’t permanent, servers and clouds may still exist in a hundred years or five hundred.  But I guarantee your emails, that you dashed off in half a minute without thinking about it and sent it with the same lack of concern, those emails will not be on those servers and clouds in a century or even a decade.

 3.  They can contain more than just a letter.

Do you know what else — besides letters — is in that lovely mahogany box on top of my piano?  The dried up leaf of a palm tree.  My husband sent it to me when he was in the Navy.  It was right after we were married:  we were young and we were 4000 miles apart.  He sent me letters every day, and in them, he enclosed things that he and I, both children of Appalachia, had never seen.  Like a palm tree leaf.  Like a pinch of sand from the Pacific Ocean shore.  I sent him things, too.  A lock of our infant son’s hair.  A little swatch of green cloth from a quilt I was making.  A pressed Rose of Sharon blossom from my mother’s front yard.

And there were things that we didn’t plan to enclose in those letters, but they got in there anyway.  Like the smell of chili powder because I was dividing my attention between writing a letter and cooking supper; apparently my fingers carried some of the powder onto the letter.  Hubby loved it, said it reminded him of my cooking. For me, it was the smell of his cologne that was on every letter he sent me; he used an embarrassingly cheap brand of cologne, but on him it smelled very nice indeed.

Yeah, I’m talking a lot about smell. The sense of smell is very strongly linked to memory, according to what I’ve read.  It used to drive my husband crazy that I put a little spritz of perfume on my letters to him; he said it made him homesick.  (I don’t think it was quite hearth and home he was thinking about; like I said, we were very young and full of hormones, hehehe).

Anyway, how do you send stuff like that in an email?  A digital photo just doesn’t begin to substitute for a lock of hair.  You can’t touch a baby’s hair in a digital photo.  You can’t smell a pressed flower through the computer screen.  You can’t tell from a selfie whether that sexy guy smells of leather and cologne, or whether that beautiful woman’s skin is as silken as it looks in a picture.

And just as important as what’s inside the letter is the physical truth of the letter itself.  This isn’t some lights on a screen.  A letter is something permanent that you can hold in your hand, that is real in a way emails aren’t.  You can pull it out and look at it a thousand times, you can smell its scent and touch its creases and just experience it.  I know that sounds New Agey, but you know what I mean.  It’s real; it’s not a bunch of colored lights that can be erased from existence with just a few clicks of the mouse.

 3.  They are SO punk!

Do I even need to say that, in the time period covered by Steampunk, if you wanted to communicate across long distances, there were only three options available to you:  telegram (quick but expensive, usually only used for time-sensitive or urgent information), messenger (speed varies, not always reliable), or letters.  By the time we get into the Dieselpunk era we’ve more or less lost the telegram, but added the telephone.  But even then, much communication was still by letter, especially personal communication.

We spend a lot of time creating costumes and gadgets, pimping our accessories, our wheelchairs (hi!), our hair, to look like we stepped out of our favorite genres.  We fantasize about living those adventures and visiting those imagined times.  Why isn’t letter writing the logical next step?

Think about it:  the whole concept of -punk is that the person wearing that descriptor does not conform to the norms of his society, that he has to go his own way, for whatever reason.  I’m here writing this blog and you’re reading it because the -punk side of Steampunk and Dieselpunk strikes a nerve somewhere in your brain, right?  The entire world uses email and texting and a thousand flavors of instant messaging and that’s fine for what it is.  But does that automatically mean we have to communicate the same way?

Writing a Letter isn’t that Hard

The problem is often that, if you had the same sorts of teachers I had in school, they turned letter writing into a painful or a dull (or both) exercise.  It wasn’t about communicating your thoughts to another person; in those classes, it was about getting the date in the right hand corner, do you put the address on the left or right, do you put a comma or a colon after the salutation, and do you say, “Yours, Truly,” or “Sincerely” or something else entirely when it’s time to sign out.

Jeez, I think my breakfast is getting ready to come back up, thinking about how stressful those classes were.  Blech!  Yes, I know, it’s important to know how to do that sort of thing, and I know I’ve used it in the past, so it’s not useless information.  But they make what should be a pleasant process into a chore and who wants to do chores?  Then there are the “How to write a letter” pages online make it even fussier.  I don’t get it:  if I don’t have a dedicated stationery and a fountain pen, it’s not a real letter?  Get serious!  I’m not a bit ashamed to write a letter on a sheet of printer paper, folded over to look like a greeting card.  One of my friends writes to me only on lined loose leaf paper, the same kind you used to use in school.  Do I care that he didn’t buy an expensive cream colored stationery to talk to me? What do you think?  I am just glad to hear from him.

My parents between them taught me how to write a letter and enjoy it.  My mom showed me the folded printer paper trick.  If you’re as long winded as I tend to be (you would not believe the word count on this blog right now), the folded paper turns into two or three papers nested inside one another like a folio booklet.  She also taught me about crossing a letter (see the illustration above), and, when I did need to know the fiddly bits, she showed me how to make it all work.

With one sentence, my dad told me how to write the body of a letter.  He said, Talk to [the person to receive the letter], just as if he’s right there beside you on the soft; only instead of saying it out loud, put the words down in the letter.”  He told me that when I was eleven years old, and it still is the best advice on letter writing that I ever had.

For the record, I do have stationery that I’m using at the moment.  I keep it in a beautiful little leather folder, also given to me by Thomas (he really wanted to encourage my letter writing!).  I also have several fountain pens.  I even know how to cut and use a goose quill pen (I used to be in the SCA; it’s astonishing the disparate skills you pick up when you run with that bunch). I do not have sealing wax or a signet stamp like Thomas does and don’t think I’m not envious as hell!

I can see why a Steampunk would want to pick up the same sorts of tools as soon as possible, were he to decide to start writing letters.  The idea of fountain pens date back many centuries, but the kind we would recognize today were developed in the late 1840’s to early 1850’s, totally within the Steampunk time frame (here’s an article that shares an 1870’s article about letter writing).  A heavy stationery, with or without envelopes, liquid ink from a fountain or dip pen, the wax and seal, they convey a 19th century elegance that modern epistles just can’t match!

Now for Dieselpunks, things are much easier.  Envelopes, lots of different kinds of pens, lots of paper opportunities.  A little Google-Fu can net you letterhead from all sorts of official places (I found one that was from the desk of J. Edgar Hoover!).  The same arguments about Steampunk apply here, too.  Yes, they had the telephone, but long distance calls were expensive as heck.  If you wanted to talk to your sister on the other side of the country, a letter was the way to go.


Did you know you can tell stories with letters?  Go look at the original Dracula novel by Bram Stoker.  That’s called an epistolary novel, because it’s told in the form of letters going back and forth between the principal characters.  You can play games through the mail, too:  chess is famously played by correspondence.

Have you ever heard of Ghost Letters.  I’ve seen it called The Letter Game, but I know it as Ghost Letters.  Basically, the idea is that two players get together and decide on a a setting for each of them (1943, player one is in Paris, player two is in London).  Each player decides on a character, how he knows the other player, and why they have to write letters instead of just meeting in person.  Then they start writing letters back and forth to one another, IN CHARACTER, and by that they write a collaborative story between them.  One lady has made a career of writing books based on this game.  I’m not suggesting you do that, but I can recommend the game.  It’s really fun, especially if you like writing fiction.  I’ve played it a few times; it’s hard to find a partner willing and able to play along (any volunteers?  you know my email!)

Okay, this blog has gotten out of hand; sorry I went on for so long.  I have other “Old Way” ideas I might throw out from time to time.  In the meantime, you know the drill:  write, share, tweet, comment.  If you have a recommendation for Fun Friday (which is my next installment, so be here in two days!), please write me at ajwriter-at-ajclarkson-dot-net.  Between now and Friday I have a crapload of sewing to do, plus another crapload of writing.  Lot of work ahead of me.  So while I’m running myself ragged, ya’ll be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: Dieselpunk, DIY, History, Personal, Pulp, Steampunk, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fun Friday: More Pretty Pictures!

It’s Friday again and Welcome to May!  I can only hope this herald of spring marks the end of the cold mornings and rainy days we’ve been enduring here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia.  I want it to be warm again!  Heck, I want to spend an afternoon whining about “it’s too hot!” and “why are we spending another year without an air conditioner?” (hint:  I don’t really want an AC; I like the heat too much)

I have big plans for my weekend.  As I’ve mentioned about a kajillion times,  daughter Sarah Lydia and I are going to Vandalia-Con at the end of this month.  Tomorrow, she and I are going to the piece goods shop to buy the materials needed to make our Steampunk costumes (and hopefully to pimp my ride).  After that, it’ll be a flurry of sewing, painting, and debating a thousand details until we’re both satisfied.  It’s going to be a delight; I am finally well enough to do a big project like this, and I can’t wait!

But that’s tomorrow.  For today, it’s Fun Friday and I have just the thing to give the end of the work week a little zing:  pretty pretty pictures!  Normally I’m a musician (when I’m not being a writer), so I don’t often pay that much attention to visual arts; it doesn’t help that my eyesight is so crap I’m practically the female version of Mr. Magoo (ask your parents).  But I was surfing the Internet the other day and stumbled across a couple things that I thought might tickle your fancy.

For you Steampunk fans out there, I offer you the works of Mr. Brian Kesinger (he’s the one I stumbled across).  Kesinger is an animator at Disney Studios, starting there at age 16 (making him the youngest artist ever to work for the company).  He worked on Treasure Planet, naturally, but also on Winnie the Pooh, Tarzan, Tangled, Chicken Little, Home on the Range, Bolt and Meet the Robinsons.  This is all well and good, but I’m not really a big booster of Disney (not political; I’m just uninterested in most of their movies).  So I’m more interested in his non-Disney works.  He has several gallery-focused blogs online (the bottom of his Wikipedia page — linked above — has links), a few brief video discussions of his work on YouTube courtesy of DeviantArt (here, here, and here) and one conglomerate gallery here.

Among the Steampunk community he is probably best known for his Otto and Victoria series, as seen above.  Victoria is a lovely Steampunk girl, a proper Victorian lady, seen at work and at play with her pet cephalopod, Otto.  Each drawing is more creative than the last, and they have been collected into two full color books and one coloring book (!!!), which can be purchased at Amazon.com (here, here and here).

Yes, Otto and Victoria are charming, make no mistake.  But honestly, I prefer his “Tea Girls” series, pictured on the conglomerate gallery.  They are less ballyhooed, and haven’t been collected in book form, which I think is a pity.  Look at this:

Isn’t that gorgeous?  I like how they look like the art is springing forth from a tea stain on the page.  It’s just clever as can be.  The Tea Girls tend to be more Steampunkish than Otto and Victorian (who are more Lovecrafty, IMHO; the octopus says Lovecraft to me), and, while they definitely fit in the Disney style, they’re more adult and less cartoony than Otto and Victoria.  But Steampunk girls isn’t all he has available.  Let me just leave you with this thought and image:  STEAMPUNK MEGATRON!!!!!

Seriously, go check him out.  Good stuff, and merch to boot!

Next up, something for the Dieselpunk. As I said before, I have but a passing interest in visual arts, so it’s not like I spend a lot of time on DeviantArt.  But maybe I should, because there are guys like Alexey Lipatov doing some really impressive work over there.  I can’t find out anything about him except what DeviantArt has on his profile:  he’s a male artist from the Ukraine.  He has all kinds of pictures over there, but one folder, marked “Dieselpunk,” definitely caught my eye.

As you can see, he has a more comic book style than Brian Kesinger, but still, I like.  He does work in both color and monochrome, and there are a lot of half-dressed women in his pictures, plus even more retro-futuristic tech.  None of this is a bad thing as far as I’m concerned.  I would share more, except his collection isn’t as big as the Steampunk one, and the individual pictures are ENORMOUS.  I don’t want to crash my computer (again), so if you want to see, you need to go take a peek for yourself.

Finally, for my beloved Pulp:  I have no new artists to show you pretty pictures, alas.  But I don’t come to you empty handed.  I have found The Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists.  I don’t know if this is a comprehensive collection of classic pulp art — both covers and interior art — but it’s definitely an impressive one.  This webpage was built by somebody named David Saunders; again, my otherwise-impressive Google-Fu skills failed to tell me anything about the guy.  But he has done a masterful job of collecting tons of art from the covers and pages of the classic pulp magazine.

The page is well organized.  The artist are listed in alphabetical order.  Once you click on an artist’s name, a new tab tells you a brief bio of the artist in question and a brief timeline of his work.  On the left are all the samples of his work that the collection has; they work as a slideshow, which I like because my computer doesn’t like bunches of new tabs, and it HATES pop-ups, even when I summon them on purpose.

Pretty!  And the art makes me want to read the magazine!  Which, now I think about it, is kind of the point of these paintings and sketches in the first place.

Anyway, I think that’s about it for me today.  I hope you’ve enjoyed, and I hope you’ll let me know what you think!  Share, tweet, comment, of course; if you want to email me, either for questions/comments, or because you want to share a Fun Friday idea, my addy is ajwriter-at-ajclarkson-dot-net.  I’ll be back on Monday with the latest installment of April Tyree’s adventures.  Between now and when next we meet, be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: Classic pulp, Dieselpunk, Fun Friday, Steampunk | Leave a comment

5 Steam-tastic (and Diesel- and Pulp-) YouTube Channels You Must See!

Morning, folks, and welcome to another meeting of the Order of the Reeking Camel, that cabal of despoilers and defiers of everything Hump Day.  Much as I love April (my sister and I had our birthdays last week and never you mind how old we are now!), I am glad to see the end in sight.  May promises warmer weather, an end to the spring rains, and maybe I’ll get my garden planted before it gets too hot.

Did you know that YouTube is the second most frequented search engine in the world?  I heard that and was sure it was bull cookies.  But apparently it’s not.  And I have made more than my fair share of contribution to that statistic.  When I was ill this past winter, I spent a lot of time surfing Teh Interwebz, including YouTube.  It’s not something I am proud of.  It’s the sort of thing that happens when you’re too ill to invest any real energy in sensible occupations, and you don’t watch a lot of TV.

While on YouTube, I found a lot of videos that I wanted to share with y’all.  I tried to bookmark them so I could use them for Fun Friday fodder.  Some of them I have already shared, some I haven’t.  Now is my chance to pass along a few recommendations.  These are mostly video channels that have been dedicated to something Steampunk, Dieselpunk and/or Pulp, either new or classic.  A couple are playlists instead, and I have noted those as I come to them (with one exception).  I chose them because they made me smile, or impressed me somehow.

Remember how I’ve ranted multiple times about my devotion to indie creative producers?  How I love their joie de créer and will seek out their work, even when it’s less than perfect?  Yeah, that still applies; consider yourself warned.

One:  Table Flip

Might as well go ahead and do the exception first.  The first recommendation is neither a channel or a playlist on YouTube.  It’s just three videos, parts one, two and three, of a show called Table Flip, which is a non-Punk game review/demonstration channel; kind of a bargain basement TableTop, without the irritant of Wesley The Wonder Weenie.  The episodes in question (linked above, as if you hadn’t already noticed)  are the demonstration of a game called Betrayal at House on the Hill.  Betrayal at House on the Hill is a horror game about an intrepid party of Scooby Gang wannabes investigating, you guessed it, a haunted house on a hill.  What originally brought these videos to my attention was the guest appearance of YouTube personality, Markiplier (I’m not linking to him; use your Google Fu, grasshopper).  My son, my nieces and I are all big fans of this Let’s Play celebrity; he can be adorkably funny.

What makes this link noteworthy for y’all is the decidedly steampunk sensibility Markiplier and his hosts bring to their demonstration.  They dress the part, which is fun all by itself.  They take on Steampunk personalities for the duration, and, more importantly, they seem to apply a steampunk sensibility to the game.  It doesn’t really affect the game play or the results; it simply changes the flavor in a way that intrigued and pleased me.  It’s a little thing, but I like it; I’d like to see Steampunk flavors added to other board/table top games, see how it might make things more fun.

Two:  The Danger Element

I am sure I have mentioned The Danger Element in one of my Fun Friday posts.  But it bears repeating here.  Apparently this dude John Soares (here’s a Wikipedia entry about him) is quite the Internet auteur, making viral videos.  I am neither qualified nor interested in making comment on that.  But I do like The Danger Element, and its pulpy goodness more than qualifies for ClarksonPunk.  There are twelve installments of this serialized story (plus two teasers and a behind-the-scenes featurette included on the channel).  In the story, there is a secret society of super-powered do-gooders vs. a secret society of super-powered do-badders.  Simple enough.  But our hero (from the good side) has been made a deal with a beautiful woman:  she’ll help him recover a stolen element (the Danger Element, natch!), if he’ll help her find and rescue her father, who has been taken by the aforementioned do-badders (the same ones who snatched the element).

Like too many indie productions, the writing is … less than stellar and the acting is obviously sub-par.  But the visual effects are absolutely stunning for a semi-amateur production company.  The same can be said for the stunts, and the Dieselpunk-friendly guns, vehicles and gadgets?  Yeah, I was drooling, and I’m not even that into the modding side of the field.

Here’s the shorter of the teasers, so you can take a peek:

Three:  Postmodern Jukebox

I know I’ve mentioned these guys before.  This is a music entry, the brainchild of a Long Island pianist called Scott Bradlee.  I’m not gonna get into how he ended up doing this sort of thing (here’s a TED talk given by him that explains it much more entertainingly than I could).  Practical upshot:  this guy takes modern music — Iggy Azalea, Radiohead, Ke$ha, Taylor Swift, you name it — and retools them to sound like classic Motown, Prohibition-era jazz, Wild West saloon style (my personal favorites are the adaptations to ’60’s style Frank Sinatra swing or the turn of the century bluegrass).  A LOT of the music falls very comfortably in the Steam, Diesel and pulp eras, and, on top of that, are shockingly hummable and toe-tappable, even for old geezers like me.  What do they call them, earworms?  Yeah, their version of All About That Bass got stuck in my head for several weeks.  Check them out.

Four:  Serial Squadron

It’s wonderfully gratifying to me to see how many of the old Republic serials are available online.  I can remember sitting up waaaaaay late at night one summer week — with my parents’ permission! — because our local TV channel was having a week-long celebration of all things Buster Crabbe.  Every night at midnight, I’d be on my sofa, big bowl of popcorn at the ready, so I could watch Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, you name it, I was THERE!  I have no idea to this day what prompted my mother to let me sit up so late when I was so young (around nine or ten).  All I know is that summer had a profound impact on my tastes in fiction.  Doc Savage novels, Flash Gordon serials, and Star Trek (the original series, of course!) were what made me the pulp-addicted old broad you see before you today.

I know I’ve mentioned one or two of my favorite serial channels.  This is a relatively new one:  Serial Squadron, it’s called.  It’s relatively new, and not as well organized as the Jaeckel channel, for example.  But it has some serials that I had not seen before, and that’s a good thing.  A couple of the offerings are very old indeed, dating back to the Silent Era.  What brought me to Serial Squadron was their offering, “The Voice From the Sky,” made in 1930, and was the first serial with sound.  It was considered lost until just a few years ago.  You wanna see?  Follow the link.

Five:  Steampunk and Dieselpunk playlist

Remember I said there was gonna be a playlist?  This is it.  Nothing too amazing:  just somebody took it into their head to start compiling various online offerings of single and multi-part videos in our fields.  It’s nothing you couldn’t find on your own.  But isn’t it so much better to have somebody else do the compiling for you?  Here’s the link.

Bonus:  Remember WENN

I stayed away from copyrighted material that’s been illegally copied to YouTube.  Those Republic serials are out of copyright for the most part, and the rest of the stuff I’ve linked to today is indie stuff released by the creators or on a Creative Commons copyright.  For this, however, I’ll make an exception.  Back when my kids were little, American Movie Classics had their first original series, called Remember WENN.  It was about a 1930’s era radio station, the actors and performers that did live broadcasts from that station, and how they dealt with the strange routines of their lives.  It was pretty good, and it’s set firmly in the year or so leading up to World War II.  Somebody has posted the whole thing onto YouTube, here.  I’m pretty sure it’s been posted wihtout the originators permission, and there’s no telling how long it’ll stay up before YouTube figures it out and pitches a fit.  So go check it out now, before they get wise.

Okay, that’s it for me today.  Next up is Fun Friday, and I think it’s safe to say, there won’t be any YouTube videos in the offering!  You know the routine:  tweet, share, comment, write.  if you have any suggestions for Fun Friday, give me a shout at the email addy on my About Page.  In the meantime, don’t forget about Vandalia Con, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: Classic pulp, Dieselpunk, Music, Pulp, Steampunk, Video | Leave a comment

Fun Friday: Saints, Sinners, and Artificial Men

Wow, I’m cutting this one close to the wire!  Shame on me for getting caught up reading.  Oh, who am I kidding?  I’m never ashamed of getting caught up in reading!  Hi, guys, it’s Friday again, and time to have a little fun! Here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia, there is much talk (from my husband) of firing up his smoker and doing a little cookout.  Problem is, it’s April and that means the weather, while beautiful now, cannot be counted on to stay pretty for more than ten minutes running. I do hope it stays pretty; Hubby has been waiting so patiently to do a cookout, and I’m hoping Daughter will bring Grandsons out to join the fun.

Okay, on to business.  What I got caught up in reading, and made me nearly miss  my deadline, were my possibilities for today’s Fun Friday installment.  I actually have an embarrassment of riches this week, and I can’t really decide which ones to share and which ones to save to another day.

Let’s start small.  You’ve heard of the Raimi Brothers, right?  Sam Raimi is a Hollywood wunderkind, directing the Spiderman movies, and being a co-creator of one of my favorites, the Evil Dead Franchise.  Well, his brother Ted (a character actor and quite charming, in my humble opinion) has started a pulpy little series on Youtube called “Deathly Spirits.”  Each video is very short, just about five minutes.  Ted Raimi is the host, playing… well, a creepy dude who lives in a creepy Edwardian house.  Raimi gets the show started, then tells a (very) brief horror story, and then wraps up by describing how to make a cocktail that (sort of) matches up with the story.   When asked, Raimi said he was inspired by the old horror anthology radio shows of yesteryear, how wonderfully moody and atmospheric they could be, and how wonderfully chilling their hosts were.  He is consciously trying to reproduce that.

There have only been two installments so far on this little series, but it has promise.  The stories he tells aren’t all that scary, but then again, he’s basically giving an audio version of a drabble.  I’m not a drinker, so I’m not qualified to comment on the cocktail recipe’s quality.  But I think the idea of pairing these two concepts is cute and clever, though not really unique.  Here’s a link so you can check it out.

Speaking of radio, that brings me to our next installment.  Maybe you’ve heard of The Saint; Val Kilmer made a pretty crappy movie of it back in 1997 (it made good money, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t suck).  This crappy movie was loosely based (very loosely) on a series of novels by British-American author Leslie Charteris (you can find a comprehensive list here).  The novels, unlike the movie, were pretty good.  The movie depicted The Saint as more of a freelance spy.  In the novels, he was more a thief with enlightened self-interest.  Every description I have seen compares him to Robin Hood, and not without merit.

The Saint, who is actually named Simon Templar is a thief who, with the help of certain friends and cohorts, uses his thieving and con artist skills to take down mobsters, corrupt politicians and others who prey upon the less fortunate.  He gets his nickname from his calling card, which he leaves at crime scenes:  a stick figure with a halo.

There were lots of incarnations of these novels.  There was that Kilmer movie (which I am not going to say anything more about.  I hope.). There were magazine short stories and comic books.  I remember watching the TV series incarnation, starring Roger Moore; it wasn’t bad for sixties television (no, I’m not that old; it was reruns.  Besides, the TV show was British; we didn’t get first run here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia).  But what I’m here to share with you today is my personal favorite incarnation:  the radio show.

Yes, I know, I am more than a little biased about radio.  What can I say?  I have found my niche, and I love it there.  But anyway, there were several iterations of the Saint on radio, with runs in the late forties, and early fifties.  The one I’m looking at was from 1950, and starred, of all people, Vincent Price, the King of Golden Age Horror. And he does a cracking good job playing the part; he sounds like he’s having a grand old time, which is what a character like the Saint needs.

Anyway, the Internet Archive has a collection of the recordings available to download or to stream for free, so I totally recommend you give it a listen.

My final installment is another oldie.  Would you believe my first encounter with Tintin comics was when I was a little girl?  And in German?!  True story.  My mother and father both taught at the same high school, so I spent a lot of time in that building.  One day I wandered into the library and found a copy of a Tintin comic in a hardcover library binding.  Now this is a high school library, and I was seven or eight years old; finding a comic book, something with colorful pictures in it, yeah, that was like finding the mother lode.  The fact that the whole thing was in German didn’t faze me at all; I wouldn’t stop whinging until Mom checked them out for me (there were like four volumes).

Luckily for me, I spoke enough German as a child to read the books fairly well.  Okay, fairly is overstating it, but I understood what the stories were about, and Dad was glad to fill in the blanks (all my sisters spoke at least a little German, out of self-defense; Mom and Dad spoke German when they wanted to discuss things they didn’t want small ears to hear)

ANYWAY (man I can wander off topic sometimes), I fell in love with those Tintin comics.  Now I’ve grown up, I see the flaws in the comic, but I can’t give up my affection for this series.

Who exactly is Tintin?  He’s a cub reporter, an investigative journalist who travels around the world with his little fox terrier companion, Snowy, looking for stories and finding adventure and danger.  Okay, they say he’s a reporter.  But you never actually see him reporting on anything, or even just writing anything down, so take that “reporter” thing with a big grain of salt.  What he does do is get into trouble, all kinds of trouble, from tangling with spies to science fiction to deathtraps that 60’s era Batman would respect.

Tintin is another one they made a movie of not too long ago, this time an animated venture that was visually very striking and not a bad story, too.  But the original Tintin adventures were a series of comic strips by Hergé, a Belgian artist.  They were in French, and first appeared in 1929 in a youth supplement to the Belgian paper, Le Vingtième Siècle.  At one time, it was considered one of the most popular comic strips in all of Europe.  It has been collected in comic books, and appeared in radio, theater and the movies as well as continuing as a comic strip all the way up into the 1980’s!

Fair warning:  these comic strips are not even close to being politically correct.  Especially in the earlier comics, they are brazenly racist, depicting black people as almost subhuman (Tintin in the Congo), Russians as unrepentant villains (Tintin in the Land of the Soviets), and we’re not even going to discuss how orientals are depicted.  There’s also a lot of paternalism in the books, as well as a casualness to violence against animals and people.  I’m not going to argue about this; if you can’t stand that sort of thing, don’t read it.  But if you can get past it, understand that this series is from a different time and a different world, then you might very well enjoy this series.  Rather than try to link to all of the books (there are 20-something volumes, in half a dozen languages), I’ll just give you the Goodreads listing; from there you can click your way to Amazon or the book outlet of your choice.  Give them a try:  good pulpy fun!

Okay, I should have had this posting out almost an hour ago.  Feel free to blame my daughter.  She called me just as I was getting ready to write my closing paragraph and sign off.  But I don’t feel too guilty; being almost an hour late was worth it to talk to my daughter and sing the ABC song with my grandson!  Anyway, forgive my tardiness and, well, you know the rest:  tweet, comment, share, write.  My addy is ajwiter-@-ajclarkson-dot-net.  If you have something to share for Fun Friday, give me a shout.  And until we meet again, be good.  And if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

P.S.  Don’t forget:  Vandalia Con is in less than six weeks!  http://www.vandalia-con.org  BE THERE!!!

Categories: Classic pulp, Comic/Graphic Novels, Dieselpunk, Fun Friday, Horror, Pulp, Radio, Uncategorized, Video | 2 Comments

“Imitation Game” and Enigma

(Rotor:  II, IV, III; Rotor Start:  NRN; Rings:  AAA, and Plugboard: HC IL WO BX AV UF GZ JS NP KR)


Confused yet?  Heh heh heh, I’ll explain in a minute.  In the meantime, HI!  Guess what I’m doing tomorrow?  Getting my picture taken!  Seems that a friend of mine needed a model for a project for her photography class, and, silly creature that I am, I volunteered.  What’s interesting is the project itself:  do a photo study that imitates the Victorian look entirely, in setting, costume, pose and photographic techniques.  Pretty cool, huh?  I get to get all Victorian and have my portrait done!  The artist picked out the costumes, which is just as well, since I’ve never really done the cosplay thing before this year.  I’m not accepting any pay for being her model; my price was that she had to give me copies of the photos, and permission to post one or two of them on my blog.  Which she was delighted to do, because Jan rocks! So yeah, be watching for those pictures to make their appearance.

Okay, so on to business….

The Imitation Game (2014) with Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightly. I don’t really get all the fuss and frenzy over the man, but I do have to admit, he’s a handsome man, and interesting to watch.


So I saw this movie, The Imitation Game, the other day.  It had Benedict Cumberbatch playing computer pioneer Alan Turing, and focused on the cryptography work he did at Bletchley Park during World War II.  It was a pretty good movie, focusing a lot on the character of Alan Turing (depicting him as extremely eccentric, which may or may not be accurate), his homosexuality — about which he was surprisingly open for the 1940’s — and his relationship with fellow cryptologist/mathematician Joan Clarke (played by Keira Knightly in the film).  The movie is based on the nonfiction book, “Alan Turing:  The Enigma.”

The movie was fine for what it was, I give it two thumbs up, and recommend the movie to all computer geeks and WWII history buffs (like me).  But the movie is not what I really want to talk about.  The part that interested me was the actual cryptology work they were doing at Bletchley Park.  During WWII, the Germans used a coding machine called “Enigma,” to encrypt their military communications.  Enigma looked like the picture to the left:  a complicated typewriter.  But the insides held a truly ingenious system of rotors and circuits (as you can see) to create an almost unbreakable code.  Interestingly enough, it was based on a civilian model, easy to purchase in Germany before the war, that industries used to protect their own internal communications from industrial espionage and the like.  The military simply  added a single layer more of encryption (the pegboard at the front), and adopted it.

And for a long time, it kicked the Allied cryptographers’ butts.  It simply could not be broken.  Okay, I take that back.  According to my research, a given day’s code (they changed every day, on a thirty day cycle) could be beaten by a man with a notepad, a pencil and a lot of patience.  But it could conceivably take days and days to solve a single day’s code, and that simply wasn’t fast enough.  But then along comes Alan Turing, with his ideas, and his Turing Machine, which is the father of our own modern day computers.

And this is where I let the experts take over.  My elder son is an unashamed computer geek, currently working for a computer computer company whose name you’d recognize instantly.  When Elder Son was in college, he turned me on to this YouTube channel called “Numberphile.”  In it, mathematicians talk about numbers and complex maths in a way that even math-challenged idiots like me can understand.  And one time (okay, four times)  they talked about Enigma and the work of Alan Turing.  The videos together are long, over an hour cumulatively.  But I strongly recommend you give them a listen; they take something painfully complex and break it down to the point where even I can understand it (and I’m challenged by balancing my checkbook!)  Go on, I’ll wait.

Here’s step one:

Here’s step two:

Here’s step three:

And here’s Step Four

Did you make it through all four videos?  Fascinating stuff, huh?  This whole business caught my attention from a gadget-happy Punk perspective.  The layout of this device is so elegant, almost simplistic.  Yet it can give complexities in numbers that I can’t begin to wrap my head around.  I can totally see this popping up in a Steampunk or Dieselpunk setting; it just fits.

Now, guess what a little Google-Fu turned up:  two, count ’em two, Enigma Simulators.   Both of them are online, which makes them fun and easy to play with.  The code at the top of this blog was fun through the first emulator.  It says, “Welcome to Clarksonpunk, the home of all things Steampunk, Dieselpunk and New and Classic Pulp!

There’s even an app for your Android! 

Be very careful:  time suck danger!  I meant only to code that one sentence, and ended up wasting an hour just playing around with the settings.

And for those of you who enjoy building gadgets for your Steam and Diesel fun, here’s another cool page.  It gives you a print out and instructions on how to build your own Enigma machine from paper.  Not real sure how that works, but it looks intriguing.

Okay, I think that’s it for me.  You know the drill:  share, tweet, comment, write.  If you have any recommendations for Fun Friday, contact me through the email address on my About page.  I’ll see you all on Friday, and between now and then, be good.  And if you can’t be good, don’t get caught


Categories: books, Dieselpunk, History, Video | Leave a comment

Fun Friday: “Giant Sea Monster Attacks Tokyo Seven Years Before Godzilla Movie” ….Wait, what?

Looks like another Friday, and it’s been a quiet week here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia.  In fact, it’s been dull as heck.  Did a little sewing here, did a little audio mixing there, little writing in between, lots and lots of reading, of course.  Truth is, I don’t have a lot to report to you.  Just passing the time, waiting for the rain to ease off and summer to officially arrive.

So about the title of today’s blog.  On May 29, 1947, WVTR, the official Armed Forces radio station in Tokyo, interrupted their programming to report that a 20-foot sea monster had climbed up out of Tokyo Bay and was laying waste to everything in its path inland.  Over the next hour, there were news bulletins, eyewitness reports; reports of troop movements as the U.S. Army moved in with tanks, flamethrowers and grenades (apparently bullets only pissed the thing off) to try and contain the threat.  residents were advised to stay inside their homes.

Finally, after an hour of breathless reports, the monster reached the center of Tokyo, and a young corporal-journalist screwed his courage to the sticking place and approached the monster, live on the microphone.  It was at this point that the monster gave its one and only sound bite.  In a woman’s voice, the monster congratulated WVTR on its fifth anniversary in existence.

For realz. I’m not making this up!

No kidding.  All that fuss for a lighthearted joke (for a certain, decidedly bizarre, definition of a joke) to celebrate the station’s anniversary.  But, as Orson Welles claimed to discover, the public didn’t appreciate the humor of the situation.  The fake broadcasts had caused a very not-fake panic; thousands of calls poured into the radio station, the military police mobilized, and the Japanese civilian authorities mustered themselves to face what they thought was a very real threat.  Suffice it to say, once the smoke had cleared, so to speak, the authorities were not impressed with the station’s sense of humor.  People were demoted, relieved of duty, reprimanded, all the other things the military does to express its displeasure with a boneheaded move on the part of one of their own.

No, there was probably no direct connection between this little stunt and the movie Godzilla, which was released in 1954.  Instead, Godzilla was said to be indirectly inspired by a 1951 Ray Bradbury short story and a 1953 movie based on that story.  But still, there were amazing coincidences between the plot of Godzilla and the events of May 1947.

Not impressed?  Okay, so how about this more Steampunk-flavored article…..

A Man Eating Tree Grows in Madagascar

In 1874, the New York World newspaper carried an article describing a fantastic new discovery that had recently been made on the island of Madagascar, to wit, an enormous tree that looked like an eight-foot-tall pineapple, had tentacles to defend itself, and ate people.  According to the report, a local native tribe, the Mkodos, sacrificed a young woman to the tree (part of a religious rite?  Unclear) and the reporter, “eminent botanist Carl Leche,” was witness to the death in all its gory detail.

The article was reprinted all over the country, appearing in publications like The Garden and The Farmers’ Magazine even two years later.  It was the source of ongoing speculation even up into the early days of the 20th century.  It spawned several expeditions into Madagascar to find the tree, one as late as 1932.  Obviously it was a hoax, one of several supposedly perpetrated by Mr.  Edmund Spencer, who had written a number of articles (of dubious accuracy) for the New York World.

Where am I finding these stories of frauds?  On a webpage called The Museum of Hoaxes.  It talks about hundreds of frauds, hoaxes, jokes and “misunderstandings,” divided by decade and type.  They have whole sections devoted to photo fakery, April Fools jokes, military frauds, etc.  Some of the stories are funny; some re mind-boggling, some are just sad.  It’s not typical fare for ClarksonPunk, not being overtly Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or Pulp.  But it covers decades, topics and people from all three eras, so I feel confident in recommending it to your attention.

But be warned:  there is a distinct danger of being trapped in Archive Binge Land.  I don’t think there are giant sea monsters or man-eating trees in Archive Binge Land.  But I can confirm that there are Dreaded Time-Eaters there.

Now, see the pretty red in the picture here to the left?  In America, these are called suspenders.  In Britain they’re called braces.  Here in Appalachia, we call them “gallows” (pronounced “gallusses.”  Don’t ask, I don’t know why, I just go with it).  I’m not really digging the bright red color of this set (nor do I like the metal adjustment buckle thingie), but I do like the fact that they button to the trousers.  But I can’t afford to buy these guys; what’s a fashion conscious novice cosplayer to do?

Duh!  Make your own!  And apparently the rumor is true:  if you can think of it, there’s a page about it on the Internet.  A while back I bookmarked this article that describes how to make your own, custom fitted gallows, complete with a shopping list and diagrams.  An absolute must-see for the well-dressed Steampunk gentleman.

And don’t think I’ve forgotten the ladies!   Here and here are pages that describe how to make your own garter belt (I’m eschewing the picture for this one; decorum and all that).    While in Steampunk the lady is more likely to wear a simple garter band (like you see in weddings), the belt is perfect for Dieselpunk cosplay.

Okay, our last installment is at hand.  Now, anybody who’s talked to me for more than ten minutes knows I have a wild obsession with the indie arts.  Independent music, indie publishing, indie movie-making, indie game design, you name it, I’m willing to give it a go.  No, no, no, I’m not a hipster, I’m too old for that pretentious crap.  But you have to admit that a lot of what’s coming out of the mainstream “creative” industries ain’t all that creative; they’re telling the same old stories, over and over again.  And I understand that, they’re in business to make money, and those old stories are guaranteed moneymakers.  I’m not opposed to them making money, more power to them.

But I don’t always want to see the same old stories.  Honestly, after seven Fast and Furious movies, how much more is there to be said about driving fast and chasing pretty girls?  Sometimes I just want something new and fresh.  So I surf Smashwords for indie books, I surf YouTube for indie music and movies, I subscribe to Lets Play channels for news of indie games.

Now a lot of indie works have a bad reputation.  Supposedly, since these products not going through the gatekeepers of the mainstream industries, there’s a lot of under-edited, under-developed, under-tested crapola getting out into the world.  And I have to say, there’s a lot of merit to that argument; those mainstream industries spend a lot of money to hire the best editors, musicians, and film crews so that their products are the absolute best they can be.  Many of the books on Smashwords — I’d even argue that the majority of the books on Smashwords — are so not ready for prime time; storytelling, editing, and proofreading are skills that the budding writer must constantly hone.

The same can be said of independent videos posted on YouTube.  Sometimes the writing is a little clumsy.  Most of these guys are getting their buddies to be the stars, so the acting is uneven, amateurish, or downright painful.  Indie games can be buggy, crashy, or worst of all, just not interesting enough to be worth their price on Steam.  To their credit, most of the indie musicians I hear on YouTube aren’t actively bad (you have to go to American Idol or Britain’s Got Talent audition episodes to find truly hideous singing).  No, the sin of bad indie musicians is to just be uninspired, unimpressive, or just plain boring.

BUT!  If you keep digging through the virtual stacks, you WILL find gems.  Last year the Slenderman game on Steam was absolutely huge and spawned an avalanche of sequels, imitators, etc. Heck, those games were based on Marble Hornets and EverymanHYBRID, a pair of independent vlog-structured video series on YouTube, which were themselves based on some photograph manipulations and horror short stories (okay, “stories” is a loose description) that appeared in the Creepypasta forums.  Nowadays, the big indie breakthrough game is Five Nights at Freddy’s, which I’ve seen played and I can see why it’s big, though it’s not really my cup of tea.

Indie author Michael Coorlim is my own personal discovery; I’ve mentioned him before, particularly his Galvanic Century stories about Bartleby and James (follow the link, follow the link, follow the link! The first book is free!!!).  I adore his light touch with the Steampunk genre and I strongly recommend him. I found him on Smashwords, while doing another, now-defunct indie book review blog with a fellow writer.

However, Coorlim is not why I bring you here today.  Today is for this:

I only stumbled across this last week, and I’ve not yet seen the whole thing; have to wait until I have a spare bit of money to buy the DVD (remember I have  hospital bills).  But this caught my eye because of the subject matter.  Frankenstein is already proto-Steampunk in its own right.  To carry it those final few steps over the line?  Yeah, quit talking and take my money.  Granted, the acting in the trailer is right on par with what I expect from amateurs, though not without some merit.  It’s hard to tell on the script writing; there’s just not enough of a sample to judge.  However!!! The costumes and sets?  Oh, my goodness, that’s some terrific production values for a film that cost the same as a used motorcycle.

It’s not like me to discuss a Fun Friday focus when I haven’t seen it myself.  But this one intrigues me.  Here’s their webpage, if you want some more information.  And here is the movie’s listing on Amazon, if you want to check it out. And if you do check it out, please do contact me and tell me how you liked it.  If you write a proper review, I’ll post it here on another Fun Friday (you get a byline, but, other than my unadulterated gratitude, there’s no pay).  When I finally see it, I’ll be sure and report back.

And with that said, I’m outta here.  Y’all know the routine:  write, tweet, comment, share.  My email addy is ajwriter-at-ajclarkson-dot-net.  Enjoy your weekend, but don’t enjoy it too much, if you take my meaning.  And if you do, don’t get caught!

Categories: Dieselpunk, Fun Friday, History, Pulp, Steampunk | Leave a comment

The Laundry Series by Charles Stross

Morning!  It’s pretty cold this morning here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia, and I have spent most of the morning thus far cooking.  See, it gets hot here in my little valley; 90 degree heat with 70% to 80% humidity in mid-July to early August is not only not unheard of, at times it’s practically de rigeur.  The last thing I want in that kind of weather is to stand over a hot stove and heat up the house.  So I prep as much food as I can well ahead of time (like now, when the mornings are cold) so that, when that hot weather hits, all I have to do is pop something pre-prepped into the oven for thirty minutes.  NO running the stove all afternoon, no standing in the heat minding a grill, no fuss, very little muss, and I can go back to my preferred pastime of lounging on the front porch with my Kindle and a glass of lemonade.

But enough of my ongoing food fetish.  Onward, to the Punk!

So here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia, it’s hard to find an expert on the pulp genre.  The only one I knew personally was my father, who was an absolute junkie of the genre.  But he’s gone, God rest his soul, so who am I to ask these strange questions.

Hey!  I’ll ask the Interwebz:  do spy novels belong in the pulp genre?  Is there a cut-off, this one belongs in the pulps, that one doesn’t?  Why?

I think some of them do.  The original James Bond novels by Ian Fleming were written in the early fifties, and were firmly pulp.  Just check this book cover and tell me that doesn’t scream “pulp!!!!”  The books were high on action, light on characterization (though I have to say that Bond is a much darker, less slick character in the books than in the movies), and not afraid to titillate.  Ian Fleming’s writing style was minimalist, clipped, terse, not at all uncommon in the pulps; to me at least, the feeling was a cross between a spy story and a Sam Spade type hardboiled detective.

All that says “pulp” to me.

What confused me for a while is the fact that, while Bond is anchored in the pulps, the series has gone WAY mainstream, and has done almost since its inception.  It was a breakout hit when the series first appeared.  Then the movies, spin off novels (oh yes, there are Bond books by other authors, mostly John Gardner or Raymond Benson, though occasionally other guys contribute).  Then came the book spoofs, the send ups (Our Man Flint (1966) and its sequel, In Like Flint (1967), affectionate send-ups of the Bond style, predated the hyperactive Austin Powers movies by nearly half a century;  by the way, James Coburn ROCKS in the lead role in these movies.  I’d watch him for days before I’d bother with Mike Myers.  (I don’t have a problem with the Austin Powers movies; I’ve seen them all and they’re cute as heck.  But ultimately, I’m underwhelmed)

But you see my confusion:  how can something so mainstream, a character so embraced by the general public, still be “one of us,” still be a pulp.  I have this thing in my mind that says that pulp is not mainstream, and shouldn’t be mainstream.  No, I’m too old to be a hipster.  I’ve just been in the pulp ghetto for so long that I’ve come to like the place.

Anyway, the point is, spy novels, some of them at least, belong to us.  And this allows me to include the works of Charles Stross on this page (the lengths I go to to justify what I wanted to do anyway!  I should be ashamed).  In fact, Stross’s Laundry Files series belongs here anyway, thanks to its Lovecraftian connection.  And boy, does it deliver.  Stross creeps me out in ways that…..

Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Who is Charles Stross and what is this Laundry series I’m talking about?  Charles Stross is a British author of hard science fiction.  He has a Wikipedia page here.  He has written a crap-ton of hard science fiction, most of which I’m not even gonna fool with here; there’s a bibliography on his Wikipedia page, go check them out.

What I’m singling out here on the blog is Stross’s Laundry series. How can I describe Bob Howard’s life in the Laundry?  Hmmm…. Imagine Dilbert and James Bond had a baby, and that baby grew up to use an iPhone to fight Cthulhu.

Yeah, it’s like that.  For realz.

There are five books in the Laundry series…

  • The Atrocity Archive
  • The Jennifer Morgue
  • The Fuller Memorandum
  • The Apocalypse Codex
  • The Rhesus Chart

and half a dozen or so short stories, most of which are available online for free (again, check the bibliography on the Wikipedia page linked above; they’re well worth the effort)

Here’s the thing:  in the Laundry series, all the stuff Lovecraft wrote about, the monsters from other dimensions, strange and dangerous races living under the sea and mating with the occasional fisherman, the magic that destroys the mind and consumes the soul?  Yeah, all that stuff is for real.  Except it ain’t magic.  It’s mathematics.  Seems that certain very high level  non-Euclidean, Fermat’s Theorem-level mathematics can open gateways between worlds. Combine that math with various material components (some wire, a few lasers, an iPhone, a severed hand, just stuff you have lying around the house).

So when Bob Howard (our hero) was in university in England, he was playing around on his computers when he (and I’m quasi-quoting the Laundry Files Wiki), “nearly landscaped Wolverhampton by accident when creating a realtime rendering algorithm that used a logical shortcut which turned out to be an open and ungrounded summoning grid. ”  The British government frowns on that sort of thing, and came for him.  He had two choices:  forcible re-education and prison, or join The Laundry.  He chose the Laundry.

The Laundry (called that because it was housed behind a laundry shop during WWII) is a very secret branch of MI5 focused specifically on occult threats.  Their job is to find the mad Bond villains who are trying to destroy the world by summoning something incredibly nasty.  They’re also tasked with finding the schlubs (like Bob) who stumble onto dangerous knowledge while dicking around on the Internet or in their math classes.

So what’s life like in the Laundry?  Well, Bob’s day-to-day really does read like a Dilbert comic strip:  cubicles, post-it notes, boring team meetings, mandatory teamwork (or whatever) classes, dealing with clueless supervisors, computer illiterate types who can’t figure out how to turn on the printer without the computer guy’s help, crap-tons of paperwork, plus executive level types who are scary as hell.  Only in this case “scary as hell” is much more than just a metaphor.

At the beginning of the first novel, The Atrocity Archives, Bob had been another cubicle slave, just marking time and hating his immediate supervisor.  But, since he had volunteered for active service, one of his supervisors tapped him for a little errand.  An “Active Service Errand” in this case means breaking into an office park, stealing somebody’s files and getting out without being spotted.  Entry level spy stuff.

From there the whole thing escalates.  In the first book, the Atrocity Archives, Bob is asked to repatriate a young, beautiful scientist who accidentally stumbled across a very dangerous mathematical formula; this seemingly coincidental encounter leads to an alternate dimension that was populated by Nazis from WWII and is now about to destroy our own dimension.  (an image you won’t forget:  the face of the moon carved to look like Der Fuhrer).  The cool thing is that Bob hooks up with the girl scientist he rescued at the beginning; she is his girlfriend and later his wife for the rest of the series.  I like this, it’s a nice change of pace from the womanizing of most other spy thrillers (yes, Bond, I’m looking at you).

The second book, the Jennifer Morgue, Bob is teamed with a young woman from the underwater realms, to help supervise a megalomaniac’s attempt to find a sunken prize.  This book is very deliberately plotted to reflect a James Bond novel.  It gets kind of meta:  the characters realize they are being forced to follow a Bond novel plot and there is a science fiction-y justification for why it’s happening.  There’s even some interesting confusion as to which player is the Bond expy.  I have to confess, this is my least favorite of the series, so I have only read it the one time.

The third book, The Fuller Memorandum, concerns a mad scramble by factions inside and outside the Laundry to find a document that will give the holders control of a Nyarlathotep-type nightmare that still walks the earth.  Nobody knows who the nightmare currently is, which becomes very important.

The fourth book, The Apocalypse Codex, sees Bob helping an “outside asset” (a very scary woman called Persephone) to infiltrate an American religious movement, one whose leader has gotten rather too close to the British Prime Minister, and seems to have the sort of powers that The Laundry routinely looks for.

The fifth book, The Rhesus Chart, involves vampires as captains of industry.  This one is tough for Bob because the toxic girlfriend he had at the beginning of book one is one of the vampires and, as a member of the Laundry herself, knows way too much about how the Laundry does its work.   According to Wikipedia, at least two more books are scheduled to follow Rhesus, which is good news as far as I’m concerned.

What I like about The Laundry Files is the tone.  Yes, Bob fights tentacled freaks from the 8th Dimension, using only an iPhone and a pigeon foot on a string around his neck (long story, just trust me), all very derring do stuff.  But when he talks about it, he sounds like just one of the guys.  He’s not got a cape or a big S across his chest; he’s just a guy doing a job.  A deeply weird and terrifying job, but still just another wage slave.  He worries about spending too much money on a gadget and what is his live-in girlfriend, Mo, going to say about it.  He hates his supervisor and enjoys goading her.  He’s full of snark and the sort of random mischief that I see my computer geek sons get up to all the time.

For all the Dilbert-level office hell, there’s still plenty of action (my favorite part).  It’s cool to see just an ordinary guy go up against the forces of darkness armed only with a pigeon foot and an iPhone (no, I’m not kidding about the pigeon foot).  Stross is very good at making me believe that the danger is very very real; I have been genuinely frightened a couple times by the stories, in a Cold War paranoia kind of way.  But “Duck and Cover” isn’t going to work against Hastur any more than it would against Kruschev’s little toys.  And this is where Stross impresses me again:  he’s got me freaked out, that’s good.  But then he pits Captain Ordinary against the Forces of Darkness, and he makes me believe it when Captain Ordinary wins.

It’s one thing to throw an ordinary guy up against something terrible and writing him out of it.  Any chapped ass monkey with a keyboard can do that.  But to make me believe it, to convince me that Captain Ordinary has the wherewithal to pull it off and walk away from a battle with the Forces of Darkness?  Yeah, I am impressed.

While I was doing the brushing up for this blog, I found something interesting, something I didn’t know before.  Each book in the series thus far have been pastiches of other, more famous installments in the spy thriller genre.  The Atrocity Archive was a conscious imitation of Len Deighton‘s “Ipcress File.”  As I said before, The Jennifer Morgue imitates Ian Fleming’s Bond series.  The Fuller Memorandum is a pastiche of Anthony Price‘s books about Dr. David Audley and Colonel Jack Butler.  The Apocalypse Codex imitates the Modesty Blaise stories by Peter O’Donnell.

What’s cool is that I didn’t know this.  I don’t often read spy thrillers, and almost never wander out of the science fiction/fantasy/horror ghetto, so I never was exposed to most of these writers (though I recall my father reading them voraciously).  But — and here’s the important thing — I still enjoyed the books.  I didn’t need to recognize the pastiche to have fun with the books.  That’s what annoys me about a lot of pastiches:  you have to know the source material to get the joke and thus to appreciate the story.  Here, you didn’t.  I could read the books, enjoy the hell out of them, and be blissfully innocent of the inside joke.  Now that I know, I can go back and read Ipcress, then read Atrocity Archive again and enjoy the book on an entirely new level.

That’s cool.

Anyway, I’ve gone on too long about this.  Go to your favorite source of books right now and pick up The Atrocity Archive.  You’ll enjoy it.  Delicious modern day pulpy goodness.

And that’s it for me.  We just had a thunderstorm start; I hope I can get this out before the lightning ganks out internet connection.  So I gotta make this fast:  share, tweet, write, comment.  My email is ajwriter-at-ajclarkson-dot-net if you wanna talk or if you wanna share some Fun Friday goodness with me.  Fun Friday is up next and I’ve got some fun stuff for you (Hence the name “Fun Friday.”)

Be good!  And if you can’t be good, don’t get caught.


Don’t forget about Vandalia Con on May 22-24 in Parkersburg WV. Come and have some Steampunk fun and support women’s health in Appalachia!

Categories: books, Dieselpunk, Pulp, Review, Science Fiction, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Foundation Media: Band of Brothers

Wednesday again!  To misquote Douglas Adams, I never quite got the hand of Wednesdays.  The hours always seem to creep up on me.  Meh, oh well, onward and upward, right?  Have y’all been keeping out of mischief while I’ve been hiding out in my treetop castle here in the deep, dark jungles of Appalachia?  For myself, I’ve been cooking.  Vegan cooking!

Yeah, I know, right: vegans in Appalachia?  No such creature!  Don’t look at me; as a rule I like dead animal.  However I was playing around in the kitchen and stumbled into this bizarre combination of Jewish latke, Korean pajeon, and British bubble & squeak, and because I had no milk or eggs in the house, the thing became vegan by default.  Who says food can’t be multi-cultural, right?  😀  It tasted really good, so I played around with it a little and then sent the recipe to my son.  He and his wife are Russian Orthodox; their church takes its fasting seriously (and I mean seriously) and they’re always looking for Lent-friendly (ie meatless, dairy-less, egg-less) recipes.

But enough about my adventures in cookery!  Time to move on to Clarksonpunk business!  On Monday, we talked about nonfiction sources of information on World War II.  As I recall, I also promised that today we would talk about fictionalized accounts of real people/places/events in the war.  And so we shall.  As I said on Monday, i don’t want to get into actual pieces of proper fiction about the War (such as Saving Private Ryan).  We talk about proper fiction all the time, and, only rare does a piece of fiction become a Foundation media.

For that matter, it’s not so much that Monday’s contributions or today’s necessarily qualify as Foundation media in and of themselves.  But World War II was such a watershed event in history that it can’t be ignored as a shaper of our attitudes.  The war quite literally changed the world, for the good, for the bad, every which way, but always profoundly and permanently.  We can’t ignore that, not in our fiction.  For those of us born after the war (and that’s practically everybody I can hope to have as a reader, now my mother has passed away), it’s difficult to even try to imagine a WWII-less world.

Of course, that’s part of the fun of Dieselpunk, isn’t it?

Anyway, onward and upward!  Okay, I may have implied that I was gonna cover more than one nonfiction source today.  And so I had planned it.  But the fact is, I have a lot of things to say.  So I’m going to break it up into pieces.  There’ll be more to be had on Monday, I promise.  Now, as you can tell by the post title, we’re going to be starting with Band of Brothers. Here’s a trailer to remind you, if you’ve forgotten (though I would find that hard to fathom)

This 2001 HBO production was a 10-part miniseries following the progress of a genuine paratrooper company (E “Easy” Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division) from their beginnings at jump school, through D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, and other battles, right through to the U.S.  capture of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgarten.  The miniseries, produced by Stephen Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks, is based on the 1992 non-fiction account of the same subject by author and historian Stephen Ambrose.  Some of you may recall that, when this was originally released, it was huge.  Everybody was watching it, everybody was talking about it.  Well, at least until 9/11, which happened a week after the first episode; people weren’t quite as excited about it after that, having other things to discuss and think about.  HOWEVER, it was very well received, overall, and received Emmies, Golden Globes and a Peabody Award.

The ensemble cast is full of solid, reliable character actors, but nobody who jumps out at you as hugely famous, with the possible exception of Donnie Wahlberg from the Saw movies (and from New Kids on the Block, if you’re an old fogey like me and remember annoying ’80’s boy bands).  However, the cast does a really, really good job.  A funny note on the cast:  I don’t have HBO, and I seldom watch TV, so I didn’t actually see this series for the first time until just a few months ago.  When I did, the actors who caught my eye were not the leads, but rather the walk-on performances by Shaun of the Dead‘s Simon Pegg (as an American grunt carrying messages back and forth) and Scottish hearthrob James McAvoy (as a young reinforcement soldier assigned to Easy Company) before they were famous.

As I said, I did not see this series until back in the fall.  But!  I have read some of Stephen Ambrose’s work, like Citizen Soldiers and the Victors.  He does a good job describing the daily lives of soldiers, and more importantly, putting them into the context of the war at large.  It’s much easier to understand why a person makes a decision when you understand what he is experiencing, what information he may or may not have, etc. I find his books a compelling read, putting human faces to larger-than-life events.

With that said, however, it should be pointed out that Stephen Ambrose has come under no small amount of criticism.  Apparently he has been accused of plagiarizing his fellow historians, of making sloppy errors in his research, and of misrepresenting people and events in his work.  Not quite cricket for a nonfiction writer and alleged expert.  Are those accusations accurate?  Good Lord, I don’t know; my historian credentials involve the phrase, “enthusiastic amateur and full-time book gourmand.”  For our purposes, the lovers of Dieselpunk and New Pulp, the controversy isn’t that important; we’re here to get a flavor, a zeitgeist and mid-20th century paradigm, not to spot check one author’s research (yes, I know, there are those among us who do take that stuff seriously, and all props to you for it.  I can be quite the stickler myself in my fields of expertise.  But most of us are not that invested).

The truth is, don’t go to Band of Brothers, either the miniseries or the book, to get an in-depth view of the causes of the Battle of the Bulge, or the political and military impact of  D-Day.  You’re not gonna get it.  What you ARE gonna get is an intense insight into what it was like for a soldier taking part in these big events.  Your average grunt (or platoon commander, or company commander, even) doesn’t know the Big Picture; it’s not part of his job.  He sees the battle, and the war, from a very tight, very vivid perspective.

That’s what is brilliant about the book and the miniseries:  it gives a face and a heart to battles and events that we’ve all read about, but were born too late (and too lucky) to experience.  It is INTENSE.  Sometimes too intense; there were times I had to turn the show off and catch my breath, because it was just too much for me to bear.  One that jumps out to my memory is in the second episode.  The paratroopers are flying over the French coast, getting ready to jump into Normandy and start the D-Day invasion.  The men are crammed into flying sardine cans, flying death traps as the anti-aircraft start shooting.  I had nightmares after seeing this ep, dreams of being trapped in a tiny room as fire engulfs me and mine.

Here, take a look.  The part that was too much for me starts right around 2:00.

Or try this:  the liberation of a concentration camp.

Like I said, intense.  But that’s not to say the series is unrelenting heartache.  There are some really funny scenes in it (the kid imitating their commanding officer to get their company commander in trouble?  I ran it back and replayed that scene half a dozen times and laughed my butt off every time!).  There are some sweet scenes. Sad scenes.  Scenes where you want to cheer and jump and up and down.  It’s a roller coaster ride.

And it’s all TRUE!  It all happened. One of the coolest, most touching things about the miniseries is that, at the beginning of each episode, they show a series of old men talking about the real events.  Turns out these old men are the real guys, the members of Easy Company being depicted in the episode.  Moreover, the DVD set has a documentary just about and of these men, talking about their experiences in the war and talking about the making of the series.

Yes, Stephen King is right: making the truth into a movie turns it into a fiction, after a fashion; no matter how good or accurate the movie is, it’s never going to be the absolute truth.  But sometimes that’s the best way to depict the truth, in a way that lets the audience connect to it and internalize it.  And I’m telling you, check out this series if you’ve never seen it.  If you have seen it, go look at it again.  It’s worth it.

Okay, two quick announcements.  First, for those of you who may have come to Clarksonpunk via the audio drama community, I am sooooo sorry about the delays in releasing new episodes of Blackburn Gaslight Adventures or Fortuna.  See earlier blog posts about my being ill.  But I’ve been working my little fingers off, and, assuming nothing blows up between now and Monday, I’ll be turning in finished mixes to my producer starting early next week.  Yay!

Second, I have been asked by readers when I might be getting back to Fiction Monday.  I’ve been pondering that myself and I think it’s gonna start back right after Easter, how’s that sound?  I don’t know if I’ll be finishing the Fortuna short story, however; I feel I’ve lost the plot on it, and i”m not sure I can get it back.  However, I have a new Richmond and Waite story ready to roll, and I have a few other options that might be fun.  Give me a shout, tell me what sort of stories you might like to see!  I’m open to most anything.

And here’s a third announcement.  If you have a short story in the Steampunk, Dieselpunk and/or New Pulp vein, and you would be interested in sharing it, I would be happy to post it here.  I can’t pay you anything.  But the upside is that you keep all copyrights and you’ll get some exposure.  It’s a thought, right?

Aaaaaaaand…. yep, that’s it for me.  Next up:  Fun Friday, and I haven’t a clue what’s going to go up there.  Ain’t winging it fun?    In the meantime, you know the drill:  share, tweet, comment, email.  If you have a question or a contribution for Fun Friday, my email is ajwriter-at-ajclarkson-dot-net.  Give me a shout, I’m always delighted to hear from you.  Now, go, be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: Dieselpunk, Foundation media, History, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Foundation Media: NonFiction Sources on WWII

Hi, guys, did you enjoy your weekend?  Mine was kind of an up and down adventure; Saturday was a truly painful disappointment, in that some plans that I was really looking forward to fell apart in a very unpleasant and disappointing way.  That sort of thing happens, of course.  On the other hand, Sunday went much better; after church, Big Sis and I went to lunch and then saw the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Rear Window, on the big screen at our local movie theater (courtesy of Fathom Events who also provides periodic Rifftrax fixes).  There’s even a picture of me with a couple of my favorite objects:  my Kindle and a big serving of G.D. Ritzy’s chili cheese fries! Check it out!

me at Ritzy'sYeah, I know, I look pretty bad.  But you know I spent most of the winter extremely ill (hence all the missing blog posts, blah blahbity blah).  I am starting to gain the weight back, though, and that gorgeous bowl of chili cheese fries definitely contributed to that effort.  No, I didn’t finish the whole thing on my own; Big Sis and I split it between us.  I had to leave room for the double bacon cheeseburger right beside me and my Kindle.  Dean Winchester ain’t got a thing on old AJ!  We even had ice cream afterwards!  Nobody can say I’m not making a good faith effort to put back on the weight.  I’m not complaining, mind you, but eating 4-5 meals a day, as recommended by my doctor, ain’t quite as easy or as fun as it sounds; after a while, it starts to feel like poking food in your face is all you ever do!

So anyway, on to business.  As you may recall, I said I wanted to spend a few blog posts talking about World War II.  Today I’m going to lay some heavy duty non-fiction on you, and lots of it. As a writer, I’m a big believer in reading a wide variety of writing, in genre and out of it, fiction, non fiction, poetry, plays, you name it.  As my dad always asserted, reading is good, whether it’s War and Peace of a comic book.  When I’m working on a new setting (particularly a well-known historical one like this), I like to cram on the subject, gorging on as many historical sources as I can find, as well as reading other writers in the same genre / subgenre.

What got me started on this one was when I was first planning the Richmond and Waite stories.  Even before I started power-studying, I got into a long, fairly heated debate (heated as in intense, not angry) with fellow writers (Hi, guys at the AW Cantina!  If you are a writer, I cannot recommend the Absolute Write forums enough  )  about why Operation Sea Lion (the discussed but never executed Nazi plan to invade the UK) never happened and how might it have played out.  It took a bit of doing, but I was finally convinced that there was no way a conventional invasion (conventional as in “not involving magic, space ships, and/or zombies”) would never have worked with the situation as it historically stood at the end of the Battle of Dunkirk.  Obviously my fellow writers (special props to SLCBoston at AW; the man knows his history) knew a little more than I did.  So I started reading.

Okay, boys and girls, first we’ll start with a name:  Andrew Roberts.  Write him down, ask for him by name.  Andrew Roberts is a British historian, an expert on both the Napoleonic era and World War II.  He is the author of three books that I cannot recommend enough, if WWII is your bent:  Hitler and Churchill: Secrets of Leadership, Masters and Commanders: The Military Geniuses Who Led the West to Victory in World War II, and The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War.

Each of these books looks at the war from a slightly different perspective.  Hitler and Churchill looks at the political aspects of the subject, focusing, obviously, on the two primary leaders.  I must say that I agree with one of the reviewers on Goodreads; Roberts makes no secret of his admiration of Churchill, warts and all.  I don’t know that it makes for an unfair comparison between him and Hitler, but it is something to hold in mind.

Masters and Commanders looks at both military and political angles and the interplay between them.  He examines Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill again (told you he was a Churchill fan), American General George Marshall and British General Alan Brooke, and how these four complex men interacted with one another (clue:  not always smoothly, particularly with Brooke, who comes off as a bit of an ass).  I did not find this book as useful as the others.  Neither Brooke nor Marshall served any significant time as field generals during the war, instead staying behind to liaise between the field generals and the political leaders.  While I’m not knocking that, it’s an important job, I wish Roberts would do something similar with Eisenhower and Montgomery, and the rest of the ETO operational leaders.

The Storm of War is actually the one I read first.  It’s probably the best known of the three, landing on the NYT bestsellers list in 2011.  It’s a more generalized overview of the war, covering a much broader base than the other two books.  I liked it very much, but found it uneven in places; it focused in tightly on some bits, and then glossing over stuff I wanted to know more about.  But until somebody takes a Shelby-Foote-like approach to WWII (Shelby Foote is known in U.S. historical circles for writing the definitive multi-volume description of the American Civil War), this is going to be one of the best alternatives extant for a consolidated view of the war.

Want to see a little more of Andrew Roberts?  Well, I heard about Storms of War on YouTube.  After the conversation with SLCBoston, I went hunting and found a speech given by Andrew Roberts to the American Army War College (they do things like that; fascinating stuff).  The speech is called, “Why Hitler Lost the War: German Strategic Mistakes in WWII” and is really gripping stuff.  Roberts is a good speaker as well as a good writer.  You can hear him here:

I’m not going to embed any more documentaries or speeches.  But I’ll link you to some gooders.

Crap!  Every time I think I’ve got a good, FINISHED list of WWII things I want to share with you, three more items pop up that fall under, “Oh, can’t forget that!”    Sigh.  I’ll have to add the new stuff to the list and hope I remember to stick it in.  This time we talked about nonfiction; Wednesday, we’ll talk about fiction that tries to illustrate non-fiction (biographies, stuff like that).  I don’t want to get into outright fiction (as in made up stories in that setting) because I deal with that sort of thing most of the time already.

In the meantime, I’m gone, getting back to compulsive eating and reading.  Y’all have the usual marching orders:  share, comment, tweet, email (email addy is still ajwriter-at-ajclarkson.net) and send along your ideas for Fun Friday.  Until we see each other again, be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: Dieselpunk, Foundation media, History, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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