Nightside series by Simon R. Green

It’s too damned cold to be the beginning of June!  I swear, if I have to endure another cold summer, I’m going to have to sic the flying ninja monkeys on somebody at The Weather Channel.  Seriously, it’s been a cold, wet, miserable few days here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia, so I’ve been staying in my Happy Place.  Me, some ginger ale, my Kindle and my netbook have been very happy and warm inside my pillow fort, and I am not coming out until the temps top eighty degrees again (that’s twenty-seven-ish for you Celsius types). I want my sauna-like Appalachian summer, darn it all, and I’m going to throw a tantrum until I get it!

Okay, that’s not strictly true.  The other night, Big Sister, who is a terrific cook, sent over a bowl of something that involved chicken, peppers and onions, a ricotta sauce and gnocchi (she likes challenging my palate, and I think she’s trying to fatten me up after the Long Illness, which I’m not opposed to).  I had never tried gnocchi before, but it was very very nice.  Nice enough that I am going to try making it myself.  I’ve never made pasta before — it looks intimidating, and I don’t think I have the right tools — but gnocchi doesn’t seem to require anything more than a bowl and a knife, which I can totally provide.  If it goes well, it may land on the dinner rotation here in our treetop fortress.

So on to business.  I’ve mentioned before that I have fairly loose parameters for what defines a genre.  I think a measurable amount of urban fantasy could arguably fall into the Pulp vein because so much of it plays on the Hardboiled Detective tropes, which are solidly pulpy.  I also think that it can still be steampunk even if there’s not a dirigible to be seen.  Genres are as much about attitude and tone as they are about the props, and, as I pointed out in my last book review, having the right props doesn’t automatically mean the story wins any cred from me.

But I understand that others can feel very differently. So it is with no small amount of trepidation that I present you with the Nightside series by Simon R. Green.  Why do I think it belongs here on a blog focused on Steampunk, Dieselpunk and New Pulp?  Because, while our hero constantly claims he is no great shakes at investigation, the stories fall very strongly into the Hardboiled Detective category, in tone, approach and style, and that says Pulp to me, as I said above.  The hardboiled detective started out as a classic pulp genre (hell, it helped define pulp as a classification of fiction), long before it went mainstream.

So, Simon R. Green is a prolific and respected British author, who has done other books besides Nightside.  Memorably, he did the Secret Histories (starting with “The Man with the Golden Torc), as well as Hawk and Fisher, Ghostfinders and the Deathstalker series.  As you can tell, his focus is on science fiction and fantasy, my favorite words in the whole English language.  But Nightside is his most well known work and arguably his best written (personally, I couldn’t get past the Marty Stu-ness of the Secret Histories, and his Ghostfinders just didn’t work for me for a lot of reasons, though your mileage may vary.  I may change my opinion in the future — I am a big one for re-reading — but for now, I’ll pass).

  1. Something from the Nightside
  2. Agents of Light and Darkness
  3. Nightingale’s Lament
  4. Hex and the City
  5. Paths Not Taken
  6. Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth
  7. Hell to Pay
  8. The Unnatural Inquirer
  9. Just Another Judgement Day
  10. The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny
  11. A Hard Day’s Night
  12. The Bride Wore Black Leather
  13. Tales from the Nightside (short fiction anthology)

The Nightside is a series of twelve novels (plus one collection of short stories) that depict the adventures of one John Taylor, a private investigator, native of the Nightside, and the Chosen One of at least one prophecy.  Being the Chosen One is never a good thing, but in the Nightside, it’s especially bad.  Which is why, when John Taylor finally left the Nightside, he stayed gone up to now.  But at the beginning of the first book, the search for a missing/runaway teen brought him back to his old haunts.  From there, things just snowballed and he took his old place back in the darkness.

So what is the Nightside?  It’s a fictional inner neighborhood of London, older than the city itself.  It’s always night time here, 3:00 am to be exact, “the midnight of the soul,” some call it.  John Taylor describes it as “a place where dreams come true and nightmares come alive. Where one can buy anything, often at the price of your soul… or someone else’s. Where the music never stops and the fun never ends.”  Every possible vice you can think of (and several you wish you hadn’t thought of) is practiced here.  Moreover, what is impossible in the outside world is common as dirt in Nightside:  angels, magic, monsters, time travel, carnivorous cars, homunculi, you name it, it’s here and probably causing trouble.

  • Angels in the Nightside are not benevolent guardians in the Nightside.  They are messengers of God, and scary as hell.
  • Gods are real, all of them, and they hang out in the Street of Gods.  Stay out.  No, really; I don’t care how good a person you’ve been, seriously, stay out.
  • Time slips are invisible, undetectable holes in time.  Sometimes people fall out of them and are stuck in the Nightside present forever.  Sometimes people from this side fall in, and are never seen again.  Watch where you walk.
  • Cars are dangerous.  They go way too fast, brake pedals are for pussies, and cars like the flavor of human flesh.  Cross the street at your own peril.
  • Ghosts can actually be pretty cool.  Knowing you have nothing more to lose is probably very relaxing.
  • Houses can and will eat you.  It’s not pretty.

John Taylor plies his trade, detective and/or thug for hire, here in the Nightside, and keeps the business running more or less.  He is hired to find missing girls, figure out why an up-and-coming singer’s beautiful voice is driving people to commit suicide, figure out why the power grid for the Nightside (they’re only nominally connected to the London grid) is failing, things like that.  But, as is inevitable for hardboiled detective, nothing is ever straightforward.  Yes, he has a small but useful magical talent:  when he concentrates, he can feel where something is, no matter how far away or how well hidden.  An inborn magical GPS for missing stuff is very handy for a PI for hire.  On the other hand,  even with magical GPS, it’s hard to play the PI game when your mother is a demigod and is weaving the destruction of the world when she’s not stalking you.  Or when an army of nearly-unkillable homunculi are looking to destroy you.  Or just when all the scary things from your nightmares think your name is a curse word and your body is great target practice.

To say John Taylor has “friends” is to stretch the blanket a little too much.  But he has colleagues and contacts who  at least respect him.  There’s Walker, who represents The Authorities.  Walker is more or less the police force of the Nightside.  No, he doesn’t care if you kill people, steal, rape, pillage, meh, who cares, so long as Nightside itself is protected.  Walker is an old friend of John’s dad.  Walker and John do NOT like one another, but neither is above using the other when the situation merits.

Alex Morrisey owns the bar John usually hangs out in.  Alex is a direct male descendant of Merlin.  The Merlin, the one and only.  Sounds cool.  But a spell cast by Merlin means that Alex can never leave the bar, ever ever.  Not for a date, not for a quick piss in the alley round back.  This makes Alex more than a little sour; he wears all black all the time because “there’s nothing darker.”  He is the closest thing John has to a friend, and Alex has bailed John out a couple times.  Then there’s Suzie Shooter, bloodthirsty bounty hunter (“dead or alive” means “dead, because there’s less paperwork”) who often partners with John on jobs when he needs muscle; she’s also his love interest, for a certain value of the term “love interest.”  Their relationship is complicated.  Then there are characters like Dead Boy, the Walking Man, Razor Eddie, and The Collector.

The prose style is classic first person, delightfully Chandleresque.  It’s a pity Humphrey Bogart is dead; he’s the only one who could do justice to an audiobook for Nightside.  Green’s style is spartan and clean, but nevertheless it describes the night and neon character of Nightside well enough that even a non-visual reader like myself can picture the place.  The stories are pretty straightforward.  As I’ve said before, I’m not a huge follower of the hardboiled genre (for some reason, I just can’t follow the logic sometimes), but I can follow these and enjoy them.

Downside?  This is pretty dark stuff.  The trigger warnings in these stories would require a whole new blog post just to list them; do not read if you have a weak constitution or are easily offended/disturbed.  For myself, I can’t really binge-read the Nightside series like I usually do Jim Butcher’s work, for example, just sit down and read and read and read until I’ve consumed the whole series.  I tried it with Nightside twice.  I enjoyed the reading, don’t get me wrong.  But around about Book Seven, I started feeling depressed and fatalistic.  I do better reading these stories in small doses.  Again, your mileage may vary.

All in all, I recommend this series if you’re down with the hardboiled detective pulp genre, but are in the mood for a dark fantasy/SF twist, aren’t easily offended, or just can’t resist the “hidden world” scenario in fiction (my personal favorite flavor).

Aaaaaaand that’s it for me today.  You know the drill:  share, tweet, comment, write.  Next up is Fun Friday, and for that I could really use some recommendations.  Contact me at ajclarkson-at-talwyn-dot-net.  I’m sure there’s something I’m forgetting….. Meh, it’ll come to me.  In the meantime, I’m out of here; now I’m in the mood to read Nightside again!  Y’all be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: books, Opinion, Pulp, Review | Leave a comment

Fiction Monday: When the Cat’s Away Part Four

Good morning campers, wakey wakey out of bed, and celebrate glorious Monday!  Aww, come on, don’t use that kind of language, there are children present (Really tall children.  With whiskers and chest hair.  And driver’s licenses.  Okay, they act childish at times, is that good enough?)!

I’ve been dragging my heels on the last short story.  Life gets in the way sometimes.  But I can’t just leave you hanging forever, right?  That would just be cruel.  So guess what:  I’m giving you another installment of the adventures of April Tyree in the Wooden Pyramid; in fact, it’s the last installment.  When last we left our plucky girl detective, she had found Charity and was getting ready to make their escape when Patty the Possessed turned up.  Will April defeat Patty?  Will she rescue Charity and save the day?  Will she ever stop snarking in the face of almost certain doom?  What is the thrilling conclusion?

Let’s see…..


When the Cat’s Away

An April Tyree short story
A.J. Clarkson

Part Four

Patty dangled my pistol from her fingertips.  If we were unlucky, she’d turn the gun around and point it at us.  If we were very very unlucky, she wouldn’t; that would mean she had something even worse than hot lead to throw at us.  Not good.  Not good at all.

“I guess we’re past the point where you’ll let me and the kid walk out the door and all is forgiven and forgotten, huh?” I said.

“Pretty much,” said Patty.

“You’re really gonna kill me in a horrific blood sacrifice-y way, and then evict the Teeny Bopper out of her own body so Hemet Nesu Weret can move in,” I said.

“Pretty much.”

“You know I can’t let you do that.”

“Yeah, I kinda was hoping you’d say that,” said Patricia.  That’s when she brought her other hand out where I could see it.  Caught tight in her clenched fish was the squirrel that had saved my butt half an hour ago.  The little creature was panicking, struggling and curling around her fist in its efforts to escape; as I watched, it bit Patricia’s forefinger hard enough to draw blood.  Patricia didn’t flinch.  She lifted the ginger creature level with her eyes and said, “That’s enough.”

The little squirrel squealed in pain and terror as Patricia started to squeeze.  I could hear its little bones crunch as Patricia crushed it in her fingers with no more effort than it would take me to crush an empty beer can.  This is what will happen to you, Patty’s smug little smile said.  When the squirrel stopped struggling, she held it out to me, opening her hand so I could see:  some of the rib bones had poked through the flesh, so blood was slowly staining the ginger fur of the crushed torso.  Its head lolled over against Patty’s thumb, the eyes lifeless, like black beads.

“No, thanks, I got some Chinese takeout before I stormed the castle.  Pyramid.  Whatever,” I said.  That quip sounded better in my head.  “But please, don’t stand on ceremony with me.  Enjoy your lunch and be careful of bones.  The teeny bopper and I can find our own way out.”

Patricia turned her hand over, letting the crushed squirrel fall to the floor with a wet splut! that made my stomach clench.  “Forever flippant.  We’ll be sure and put that on the grave marker when you die,” said Patty.  She sighed heavily.  “Don’t you understand?  Your fate has already been determined. You will die tonight.  All you can decide is the manner of your demise.  If you surrender to my will, I can make your death swift and relatively painless.  If you continue to resist, well, I’m don’t think your puny mind can grasp just how long I can prolong the agony preceding death.”

It was my turn to sigh.  “Well, I don’t think you can imagine just how unimpressed I am by your little monologue.  It’s so last year,” I said.  “But I do like the forever flippant thing.  I may get a tattoo of that.”

“Stubborn, foolish child!” Patricia hissed.  As I watched, her eyes went from gray to black again and her posture changed.  She seemed to be swelling up as I watched, growing taller, more imposing, filling the small room with her presence.  The air began to crackle with an all-too-familiar energy as she started to mutter an incantation.

Crap, crap, crap!  I didn’t have the time to crank up another spell — not that I had a good attack spell at my fingertips to defeat possessed crazies about to blast me into the afterlife.  Magic is all about preparation; I always sucked at doing the extra credit on homework.  I didn’t have my gun.  What I had was a half-asleep teenager, a ratty mattress on the floor and… well, that’s about it. Crap!

Patricia’s hair started to move and stand up as the energy caused a static charge to build up around her body.  It made her look like that Eraserhead character from the movies  Her black-with-no-whites eyes glowed and her mouth twisted into a grim smile.  And still that incantation continued.  I didn’t understand the words she was saying, but they only had one possible resolution:  with me being killed to death.

Suddenly I ran up to Patricia and punched her right in the nose.

What?  It was all I could think of.  Okay, I didn’t think, I just reacted; that nasty little smile reminded me of this chick in elementary school who used to take great delight in shoving me into mud puddles or poking me in the back with a pencil until I screamed, getting me in trouble for disrupting class.  I hate bullies.

Patricia/Hemet Nesu Weret’s head snapped back and blood started gushing from her nose.  She continued to chant, but now there was a nasty liquid sound to her words and her teeth were stained red.  More important, I’d wiped that nasty smile off her face, replaced by an expression of real alarm.

I’m such an idiot!  The incantation!  That’s what had put that look of alarm on her face.  Once you start an incantation, you have to finish it.  Stopping halfway through, regardless of the reason for stopping, has nasty consequences, usually for the caster.  All that energy wants to go somewhere and if you don’t give it a path, by finishing the spell, the energy could do something like, oh, say, backing up like a blocked toilet and burning the caster from the inside out.  Yeah, not pretty.

So Patty had to keep chanting, no matter what.  She couldn’t stop long enough to even wipe the blood from her chin.  And all I had to do was make her stop.  I turned my back to her, looking for something, anything I could use as a weapon.  Mattress — nope, doubt she was up for a nap.  Pillow, nope.  Ratty blanket wadded up in the corner, nope.  Naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling, could be useful if it were a little longer.  No pictures or crosses hanging on the wall, nothing but a big wooden ankh mounted on the center of the door.

Wait.  The ankh — a cross with a circle on top, an old Egyptian symbol for life — looked pretty heavy.  Maybe, if I could get it off the door, I could bap her upside the head with it.  I ran to the door and started trying to pry it off.

“This old lady, is she singing?” said Charity behind me, still sounding pretty stoned.

I didn’t bother looking back at her.  “Yeah, something like that.  And if she gets to the end of the song, I’m toast.  Then you’re toast.  We’re all toast.  It’ll be bad,” I said.

“What are you doing?” said Charity.

“Trying to get this — “ I grunted with effort, and managed to get the bottom arm of the ankh pulled free of the door.  I started swinging ti back and forth, trying to lever out the other nails holding it in place.  “– this stupid thing free from the door, to use the weapon.”


“So we can get out of here before she finishes that chant and the toasting party starts,” I said.

“She’s not stopping you –”

“She can’t do anything right now.”  I pulled the ankh free with a shout of triumph.  I hefted it in my hands; not perfect, but it would get the job done.

“So…. why don’t we just go out the door?” said Charity.

“Ummm….”  It’s all right, you can say it:  April, you’re an idiot. I resisted the urge to facepalm. “You have a point.  Come on,” I said.  I circled around Patty and grabbed Charity’s arm to steady her.  As we darted around Patricia, I glanced up at her face.  She looked pissed enough to spit nails, but there was nothing she could do.  Until she finished the incantation, she was stuck.  Tough noogies on her.

We got to the door and I opened it.  Running down the narrow corridor was a phalanx of red hooded minions.

Crap.  I slammed the door.  “Plan B!” I said.

“What’s Plan B?” said Charity.

“Still working on that,” I said.  I ran to the back of the room, dragging Charity with me.  We got to the back wall just as the door slammed open and the red robed figures, four in all, burst into the room.  I shoved the teenager behind me and hefted the ankh like a samurai sword.  The minions were unimpressed with my weapon, and launched themselves at me.  I slammed the ankh down on the first man’s head, and he fell back with a yell.  The second one came at me and I swung the ankh like a baseball bat, catching him on the cheek.  I kicked the third one; the fourth one hung back, waiting to see how the others would make out, I guess.  Chicken; I threw myself at him and swung for his head.  He dodged — damn it! — and the ankh smacked into the wall behind me.  The big hoop at the top snapped off, leaving a jagged splinter.  A sharp jagged splinter.  This I could work with.  I stabbed at the fourth guy with my shankh — a sharp ankh, get it?  Aww, man, nobody appreciates my sense of humor — and he danced back out of the way before I could connect.  I kept him at bay by waving the shankh back and forth.  Standoff.

Well, for a couple minutes, at least.  But more red-robed figures were coming in, filling the front half of the room, and effectively blocking the door.  No way could I get past all of them, certainly not while dragging Stoner Barbie with me.  No where to go behind us, and no way to go forward,  I was out of options.

Patricia’s chant had become a scream.  Energy was arcing off her like an electrical storm now, as she gathered in vast amounts of power, much more than I ever have or ever could.  Tiny black lightning bolts, surrounded by a nimbus of purple light, leaped between her outspread fingers, arced like Jacob’s ladders between the strands of her hair, and sizzled across the bloodied surface of her face.  She was shouting the words of the incantation now; there were only seconds until it went off.  She pointed at me, and little lightning bolts jumped off her fingers, trying to reach me.

I was out of time, I was out of options, and I had to get out of there.  I grabbed Charity and said, “No matter what, Barbie, when I say do this, you run.  Don’t look back, don’t stop, just keep running, okay?”

“Wait, what are you gonna do?” said Charity.  She was finally awake enough to realize what a jam we were in, because the muzziness in her speech had been replaced with fear.

“Something stupid,” I said.  I squared off in front of Patricia.  Her blood-smeared mouth twisted into a nasty smile as the words of the incantation spilled out of her lips.  All the lightning that had been dancing around her now shot down her arm, making her hand glow black and purple.  The tip of her index finger began to glow brighter and brighter, like a electrical wire about to burn through.  A bolt of that crazy black lightning started to grow from her finger, a lightning bolt moving in extreme slow motion, coming directly at me.  I had maybe three seconds before I was royally screwed.

I admit, I didn’t think this through entirely.  I just acted.  I started shrieking at the top of my lungs; no words, just incoherent rage and frustration coming out in incoherent sound.  I ran forward and slammed the sharpened end of the ankh into Patricia’s gut.  It sank in with and ease that surprised me so much, I let go.  It surprised Patricia, too.  She stopped chanting, looked down at the length of wood sticking out of her gut, the blood that was starting to spill out around it.  She looked up at me, bewildered.  I was as bewildered as she was, and stepped back.

The red robed followers stood there, just as confused as Patty and I were.  That was their mistake.  Patricia had stopped the incantation, mere syllables from the end, but still too soon.  The glow on her fingertip died as the lightning began to roll back up her arm.  It started dancing around her, wrapping her in lacy arcs of light and color.  Her hair burst into flame, then her clothes.  Her eyes flickered gray to black to gray again, over and over again.  She opened her mouth to scream, but two voices came out:  a shrill soprano and a roaring like a voice from the deepest pits of hell.

Suddenly, Patricia threw her head back and black light shot from her opened mouth, splashing against the ceiling.  Yes, I meant the word “splashing;” that was the only way to explain how that light moved when it hit the raw wood.  Wherever the light touched, the wood blackened and smouldered.  From Patricia’s hands, lightning shot out in thick bolts, striking the nearest red-robed figures. These two shouted in agony, before going stiff and jerking like they’d grabbed a live wire.  Two more bolts of light shot from these poor souls, striking the people to the side and behind them.  It spread, jumping from one man to the next quicker than I could track.

It didn’t take long for the light to come back at me.  You know how I said it looked like the minions had grabbed a live wire?  Yeah, well, it felt worse than that.  It was a cold burning that shot down all my nerve pathways at once.  i thought I was being frozen to death and burned up at the same instant.  I think I shouted something, probably a swear, but I don’t know.  I lost consciousness about two seconds in, and trust me, two seconds conscious during that was an eternity.

The next thing I know, I can taste the flavor of ozone on my tongue, and I can smell something burning, a combination of woodsmoke and burned meat.  Somebody was patting my face.  It was annoying, so I slapped the hand away.

“Come on, wake up, you stupid bitch!” shouted a voice above me.  I opened my eyes, and saw lots of blurry color.  I blinked, twice, three times, and Charity’s voice slowly came into focus.  She was crying.  “Are you awake?  We gotta go!” she said.  Her breath smelled of vomit.

“Don’t call me bitch,” I groaned.  I hurt everywhere; I felt like I had pulled every muscle in my body, and I could feel myself trembling.

“You can ground me later,” Charity shouted.  She grabbed my arm and started jerking on it, trying to get me onto my feet.  “First you gotta get up.  We have to get out of here or we’re gonna burn to death!”

“Burn?”  That would explain the smoke.  I forced myself to sit up.  The room was rapidly filling with smoke from a flame that was licking along the ceiling and working down the walls.  In front of the door, half the red robed figures were smoldering or burning.  The others, the ones that survived, I guess, were stirring, crawling, or otherwise trying as hard as me to pull it together and get the hell out.  Patricia., what was left of her, was a smoldering black blob that nevertheless pulsated and twitched; every time she moved, puffs of smoke belched out of the blob, smelling of a pork roast left too long on the fire.

Charity climbed to her feet, pulling me with her.  I pulled free of her hand so I could lean forward, my own hands on my knees, trying to keep from heaving.  there was already a puddle of vomit on the ground; I guess Charity lost her battle, and who could blame her?  I managed to keep my lunch, however, and straightened after a couple seconds.  “Come on,” I said, and grabbed her hand.  We couldn’t run, because we had to climb over the red-robed minions.

“Are they all dead?” said Charity.

“Dead or dying,” I said.  “You don’t take a magical hit like that and live.”

“You did.”

“So far, so good.  I only caught the tail end of it,” I said.  “Conversation later, okay?”  By now we had reached the door.  Thank goodness they had left the door open; we could never have gotten it open past the bodies blocking it, not in time.  We got out into the hallway, and started running.

It took us a few minutes to find our way out, and by then, most of the pyramid was on fire.  We ran out into the night, getting back at a safe distance before stopping to turn and look.  Some of the red-robed minions had gotten out as well, and milled around in the high grass, bewildered or sick with smoke inhalation or both.  They never gave us a second look, and that was just as well; I couldn’t have defended us from a bad-tempered kitten, much less a cultist who’d just had their cult jerked — or burned — out from under us.

“What the hell happened?” said Charity.  I noticed that she didn’t have shoes on, and her legs and feet were scratched up and covered with dew, though I don’t think she noticed.

“How much do you remember?”

“Passing out at a party.  A long nightmare with those guys in it — “and she pointed at the cultists.  “Then you shouting at me.  What did I miss? How did that woman make lightning everywhere?  What was she doing?”

“That’s a long story,” I said.  “Come on, my car’s this way.  Let’s get you home.  You need your mom, and I need a shot of vodka.”

The End

To Part Three

And that’s it for April this time.  I know it ran a little long, but I wanted to wrap things up.  On the ankh/shankh line, send your groans and thrown tomatoes to lilywhite, who came up with it late last night. smartassery should never go unpunished.  Tell me in the comments if you liked the story and want to hear more from April.  She’s a new kind of character for me, so a little encouragement would not go amiss.  Sometime today all the installments should be listed on the Fiction Index page, so latecomers can catch up without having to run the entire gauntlet of my blog.

And, like April, that’s it for me today.  You know the routine:  share, tweet, comment, write.  I posted on Friday about my new email addy.  I’ve also put it on the “About Me” page for when you want to contact me, with questions/comments, with suggestions for Fun Friday (or anything else, really), or if you just want to shoot the breeze.  I’ll be back on Wednesday, though I’m not sure what I’ll be talking about.  Meh, I’ll figure it out.  Until then, y’all be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: Pulp, short fiction | Leave a comment

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: Welcome to my Webcomic Wonderland….

It’s Friday, and, for the record, food poisoning sucks.  Oh joy.  Oh rapture.  I have spent so much time in the bathroom the family is ready to start charging rent.  Started late Wednesday night (after my outing with Big Sister) so I hope it’s run out of steam.

In other news, I did go out with my sister before the food poisoning hit.  We went to a Rifftrax show.  Have you heard of Rifftrax?  MST3K? I’m not going to get into a big explanation.  Here are the Wikipedia links (MST3K and Rifftrax). But the short explanation is that there is a movie, generally bad (though not always); our heroes (Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett, who wrote and performed in both shows) are overdubbing the soundtrack with smart ass remarks, heckles, jokes, parody dialogue, you name it.  Just the sort of thing you and your friends do during those drunken attacks of “let’s watch tv!”  Only Nelson and Team are, you know, actually funny.

So the Rifftrax folks do this simulcast thing, wherein they do a live show in Nashville, and it’s broadcast to movie theaters around the globe.  That’s why Sister and I can watch a Nashville show right here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia.  Big Sister and I have seen the live Rifftrax of Starship Troopers (or, as my sister likes to call it, “Apocalypse 90210”), Night of the Living Dead, Sharknado (wow.  Just wow).  This time, we saw the Riff of The Room by Tommy Wiseau.  Yeah.  It was painful at times; this is a movie that NEEDS a Rifftrax audio track.  But yeah, it was very funny.  They’re doing Sharknado 2 this summer; I’m hoping we’ll go to that one, too. Check out Fathom Events, the sponsor of the live shows, for more information about tickets, schedules, etc)

ANYWAY! I get sidetracked so easily.  What were we talking about? Oh, yeah, right Fun Friday.  What delightful delectables have I got for you today?  Apparently the wind inside my too-empty brainpan has turned west or something.  I don’t normally read webcomics.  I use a netbook 99.99% of the time, and webcomics don’t display well on my tiny, tiny screen.   But this time, I’m making an exception.  Three of them, in fact.

The first is a Steampunk offering, sent to me by Maggie Maxwell, writer and all around good person (her blog is here).  She says this is her favorite web comic, and I take her at her word, since I’m not that big on webcomics.  The name of the webcomic (technically it’s a web-graphic web-novel) is Phoenix Requiem, written and illustrated by Sarah Ellerton (who is also the creator of Inverloch). Phoenix ran from 2007 to 2011, and was nominated for a number of awards for both story and art.  It is set in an alternate Victorian era, one where magic works.  The story is that Anya, a young nurse studying to be a doctor, is involved in the care of Jonas, a young man who was found in the woods, unconscious, shot and bleeding.  They get Jonas back to health, but now the town they’re in is falling victim to this plague, a disease that is sweeping through this community, and eventually others.  Some of the townspeople believe that Jonas may brought the plague with him when he stumbled into town.  Meanwhile, skeptic Anya, who doesn’t believe in magic or ghosts, is suddenly receiving visitations by ghosts and vengeful spirits, people who died from the plague.  Things only escalate from there.

As I said a moment ago, Phoenix received a lot of nominations from the webcomic community, particularly for the artwork, which is a beautiful, clean not-quite-manga style.  It also received some criticism for the story, and I agree with the general complaint:  the beginning is very slow.   It seems to take too long to get to the actual story part of the story.  However!  Once you wade past that part, you’re golden; the story is good, the pace cracks right along with no problem.  You just gotta get past that slow part first.

Anyway, if you want to check out Phoenix Requiem, the link is above.  Check it out, and tell ’em Maggie and AJ sent you!

The second webcomic is… well, it’s hard to classify.  I think it’s Steampunk.  It’s called Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether.  It’s exactly what it says on the box.  Lady Seneca Sabre is the leader of a band of pirates, sailing around the world in their airship.  They split their time between swashbuckling, sword fighting, romancing, shedding blood, whipping bad guys and pinochle.  Only not the pinochle.

What exactly is swashbuckling, anyway?

The artists behind Lady Sabre are Rick Burchett and Greg Rucka, who are professionals; they’ve won awards for their work on such comics as The Batman and Robin Adventures, Gotham Central, Queen & Country, and Whiteout: Melt.  They do these outside projects, like Lady Sabre, out of a desire to create without the restrictions of the mainstream comic industry.

The art is absolutely beautiful, stuff you would see in a good, high quality comic.  The style is very comic book, which makes sense.  The stories are good, not so clean fun, exactly what you’d expect from a pirate story.  They do not suffer the same flaw as Phoenix Requiem; “slow” is not a word that applies to this story.  Also unlike Phoenix, this one is still rolling along; it started in 2011, and its last post was February of 2015 (as of this posting).  If you want to check it out, start here.

Finally, I have one called Steampunk Soiree.  To quote the webpage, “Steampunk Soiree chronicles the adventures of two traveling thieves and performers, August and Berkeley, as they journey from town to town in their generic steampunk airship.”  And that pretty much covers it.  The two heroes travel from place to place and get into mischief.  The drawings are in a very deliberate anime style, which I don’t personally enjoy, but I can see the merits of it.  I can’t find out much about the creators, other than they are called Benson and Shaina; she writes and draws, he maintains the webpage.  Beyond that, not so much.

This comic lacks the depths of Phoenix Requiem, and it lacks to artistry of Lady Sabre.  But that’s not a condemnation.  I think of it as brain candy:  not all that good for you, but pleasant to consume.  If you want to consume it, you can start here.

Okay, that’s it for me.  Now I have a headache to go with the tummyache and nausea.  If this turns into the flu, I’m going to kill whoever brought it into the house.  Anyway, you know the drill:  write, tweet, share, comment.  My email addy is on the About page.  I’ll be back on Monday with more fiction.  Until then, be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: Comic/Graphic Novels, Fun Friday, Pulp, Radio, 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

Fiction Monday: When the Cat’s Away Part Three

So it’s Monday morning again, and I can’t say I’m thrilled.  My weekend was rather up and down:  good times, bad news, stressful necessities and pleasant surprises all warred for my attention.  Sometimes life can be a roller coaster, even here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia.  That’s not necessarily a good thing.

However, that’s my problem, and nothing you need to worry about.  On the Steampunk, Dieselpunk, and New Pulp front, things are all coming up Clarkson!  I have a sparkling new sub-pile on the To Be Read Mt. Everest that lives inside my Kindle (and Amazon wish list), and that’s always a treat.  More importantly, we’re now officially less than a month out from Vandalia-Con!  I know, I know, it’s a small con in an out-of-the-way town in Appalachia.  But I am really looking forward to it.  Generally speaking, I prefer small events over large ones; small ones mean you can sit down and talk, actually interact with people, places, things, etc.  Large events become too frenetic, overwhelming and less fun, at least for me.  Seriously, if you’re within driving distance of Morgantown/Parkersburg (hi, Pittsburgh readers, I know you’re out there!), make an effort to come on down and join the fun!  It’s going to be the best kind of small event, and all the money raised is going to a terrific cause.  Fun AND altruism, together in the same Steampunk package?  How can you beat that?

Okay, I’ve stalled long enough.  I owe you the next installment of April Tyree, Girl Detective.  Will she avoid her fate as sacrifice?  Will she free the girl, save the day and escape from the secret pyramid?  What happens next?  Well, you’re about to find out….

When the Cat’s Away…

AJ Clarkson

Part Three

Damn it, where was Charity Rostavitch!?  For that matter, where was the stupid exit?  The inside of this insane wooden pyramid was a maze of intersecting corridors, rooms, open chambers, secret passages.  For all I know, that crazy twit Patricia Blumenthal had smuggled in her own honest-to-goodness minotaur.  All I know was that I’d try a door, tiptoe further down the hall, turn a corner, hide in an alcove when I heard footsteps or voices, (both of which echoed so much there was no way of judging which direction it was coming from), then start the whole ridiculous mess over again.

At one point, I could hear shouts and pounding; I guess Patty and her flunkies had gone back to the chapel and found where I had wedge-jammed the door; it may have been un-openable from the inside, but a few good thumps from out here in the hall and my little jamming trick was toast.  Three loud bangs let me know they’d figured that out; the echoing bang and then voices and scurrying feet told me they’d gotten Mercedes and company out.  Which meant there were now at least seven people looking for me now, and all of them knew the layout here better than me.

Then I turned a corner.  There was only one door down this little cul-de-sac.  It had a symbol smeared on it, in a dark brownish-red substance that looked like dried blood.  The marking looked like this:  y

I recognized it.  I told you already, the weird hangs out on my side of the street; there’s money to be made in knowing how the underground magic scene works.  In this case, that mark was a warding sigil, a powerful one.  Nothing could go in or out of that door unless you either had the countersign or knew how to break the sigil.

What?  Yeah, you heard me right.  Magic is real. Well, some of it is real.  Some of it is pure hokum.  There are such things as wizards, people who do nothing but practice magic, and I’m ambivalent about those sorts.  On the one hand, wizards embrace a level of nerdiness that makes that annoying kid in your high school math class look as suave as the Dos Equis guy.  On the other hand, that much power is a whole new world of scary.  Patty — or whatever’s sub-letting her brain pan — is a practitioner.  A good one, too, if this sigil was any indication.

Most people aren’t at the wizard level of magic-slinging.  Most of us don’t bother with any of it, because magic is generally difficult, dangerous and expensive, even for the wizard nerd types.  Most spells require blood.  Or rare and/or precious minerals, objects, what have you.  Or all of the above.  And that’s in addition to you needing to know how to read and write a couple of dead languges, and to follow the recipe for a particular spell.  If you don’t get it letter perfect, well, the backlash is a world class bitch.

Yeah, I can cast a few spells.  Nothing on the level of Patty’s work, though. Or Herek-al-Hootchie, or whatever her name is, whoever is sub-letting space in Patty’ brain pan.  Luckily for me, breaking this sigil didn’t require that much magic.  I wasn’t casting a spell, technically.  I was just ruining somebody else’s work.  It’s always easier to destroy than to build.

Normally I would have used the kris knife to cut my hand.  But I already had a steady supply of blood, thanks to Patty and her crazy altar of doom.  I pressed my fingertips to the gouge Patty had cut in my forearm.  Okay, that hurt.  Bad.  I had to steady myself against the wall; my knees wanted to buckle from the pain.  I found myself panting hard, waiting for the lightheadedness to pass.  Wow.  I must be hurt worse than I thought.

Anyway, when I could stand up without falling over in a heap, I began muttering, not too loud, so Patty and her minions couldn’t hear me.  I would tell you the words to the incantation I used, but there are rules about that sort of thing.  Besides, I can barely pronounce them, much less spell them.  You think speaking German is hard on the throat, try reciting the thirteen forbidden names of the Sleeper at the Edge of Darkness.  Not fun.

I hate the feeling of magical power building up.  You ever touched an electric fence, or stuck your finger into a light bulb socket when the power’s turned on?  it doesn’t precisely hurt, not the way a cut or a burn feels.  But it’s so not nice, either.  To me, it feels like a fistful of gravel, just under your skin, rolling up your arm.  That’s sort of like what magic feels like as it builds up in your system, waiting to be released.  Only the gravel is hot (sometimes icy cold, but usually hot), and instead of following the nerve paths from your fingertip to your brain, it’s just moving in tight circles, bracelets of not-pain swirling around and around at lightning speed until you want to scream.

Those bracelets of not-pain were spinning around my hand and arm as I finished the incantation; the last syllables (I hesitate to call them words) came out in a harsh whispering rasp as I actively fought to keep from screaming.  Instead of that, however, I slammed my hand down on the sigil, daubing my blood onto the wood and smearing the blood of the sigil.  The magic crawling under my skin zinged out;  there was a whiff of scorched wood and a pop! that I felt more than I heard; that almost-sound was the wards, whatever they were, dissipating.  When I reached for the doorknob a second later, it was almost too hot to handle, a side effect of the broken ward.  I was lucky; if it had zigged intstead of zagged, it would have grounded out through my hand, and I’d be a crispy critter.

Magic is dangerous, boys and girls.  Don’t let anybody tell you different.

But whoever had laid the sigil hadn’t bothered to lock the door — idiot! — so the knob turned easily in my hand.  The room beyond was lit by a single bare light bulb dangling from a wire in the ceiling.  A single, stained mattress lay against the far wall.   On that mattress was a thin, narrow-hipped girl with blonde hair, wearing only a camisole and flower-print panties.  She was lying on her side, her back to me; I could see where the handcuffs that held her hands behind her had dug ugly, bloody gouges into the flesh of her wrists.

She was still alive; I could see her breathing.  But beyond that, nothing.  The girl didn’t move, not even a flinch, at the sound of the door opening.  “Charity?” I hissed.  No reaction.  I glanced back over my shoulder; so far nobody had noticed me.  I closed the door behind me and spoke a little louder.  “Charity?  Hey, girl, wake up!”  Still no reaction.

I didn’t have long before Patty or one of her kooky followers got the bright idea to check in here.  I knelt beside the mattress and felt her neck for a pulse; it was there, but slow, like a sleeper.  I undid the handcuffs (yeah, I carry a handcuff key with me all the time; it comes in handy at times.  Don’t judge me!) and rolled the girl over onto her back.

It was Charity Rostovitch all right; the face matched her photos.  But her eyes were wide open, staring, the pupils narrowed to the tiniest pinpricks. They were keeping her drugged.  Great.  Just great.  I shrugged out of my jacket and started forcing Charity’s arms into the sleeves.  “Charity, honey, come on, up and moving!” I said, as loud as I dared.  “Come on, girl, pull it together!”

Those bizarre pinprick eyes rolled over slowly in my direction, tried to focus, then gave up the effort.  “Mom?” she sighed.

“Nope.  I’m April.  Your mom sent me to bring you home.  You wanna go home, then you’re gonna have to make an effort and help me!”

“Sleepy,” Charity moaned, and tried to roll back over.

“No no no!  Now’s not the time for another nap, Charity,” I said.  I grabbed her shoulders and pulled her up to a sitting position. I jumped up, got behind her, wedged my forearms under her arms and levered her up onto her feet.  Not easy, because A) she was taller than me, and B) her legs were as bendy as Laffy Taffy.  AND she complained the entire time, giving me half-sleeping moans of “I don’t wanna go to school!” and “five more minutes, Mom, please?”

The reason I plan to never reproduce is those cute little babies eventually turn into whiny teenagers.  Blech.

Anyway, I finally got her to stand on her own, more or less, and I braced her against me, her arm around my neck, my own tight around her waist, half holding her up.  We got a whole three steps before the doorknob rattled.  The door swung open and Patty walked in.  I stepped back in reflex; unprepared for the sudden change in momentum, Charity stumbled and reeled backward, sitting down hard on the mattress.  She nearly pulled me down with her; the backs of my heels hit the edge of the mattress and I windmilled wildly, barely managing not to sit down on top of Charity.

Patty watched this graceful drama play out without a word.  When I had finally regained my balance and turned to face her, she smiled and gave me a slow clap.  “Very entertaining, Miss Tyree,” she said.  “But now that playtime is over, shall we get on with business?”

I slid my hand behind me, where my pistol was tucked into the back waistband of my jeans.  But there was no pistol snug against the small of my back; I felt only the wrinkled cotton of my shirt. Idiot!  They must have taken my gun when they tied me to that stupid altar!

Patty must have understood my gesture, and the expression on my face. “Looking for this?” she said.  She reached into the sinus of her robe and came out with my 9mm Springfield X.D, still in its holster; it dangled from her forefinger, thrust through the trigger guard.  Clumsy.  Dangerous. And useless to me, because I still had to get past Patty, whatever was sub-letting her skull (if there really was anybody in there besides a buttload of crazy), and her kook-buddies before I could get this stoned teen home to her mom and collect my pay.  And I had no tools to do any of it; I was well and truly stuck.

I sighed heavily. “Well, shit.”

To Part Two



Well, that’s it for me for now.  What happens next?  Will they escape the pyramid?  Will Patty turn out to be even nastier than she already appears?  Will April end up a sacrifice to some dark god?  Tune in next Monday, same Pulp time, same Pulp channel!

In the meantime, you know the routine:  tweet, comment, share, write.  My email is ajwriter@ajclarkson.net if you want to ask questions, share goodies for Fun Friday, or just shoot the breeze.  I’ll be back on Wednesday to share my love for all things Punk and Pulp.  Until we see each other again, be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: conventions, Pulp, short fiction, Steampunk, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Fiction Monday: “While the Cat’s Away” Part Two

When I first started this blog, a blog-savvy friend told me, try not to write any blog over two thousand words, because people won’t read it.  I’ve tried to stick to that maxim.  But this installment of April Tyree’s adventure is running longer than that and has resisted all attempts to trim it back.  So I’m skipping the niceties and pushing right on to the reason you’re here.  Without further ado…..

When the Cat’s Away

An April Tyree Story
AJ Clarkson
Part Two

I fought against the ropes holding me down as Patty, her eyes glittering that bizarre black with seemingly no whites at all, raised the knife over her head, ready to plunge it into my chest. She began to chant words that didn’t make any sense to me, but obviously meant something, because the air vibrated with energy.

This wasn’t just about the crazy. There was real power being summoned. Great. Just great. Crazy is easier than the spooky stuff.

“Wait! Wait!” I shouted.

“Too late!” hissed Patty. Her eyes flickered from black to gray to black again. Her posture and facial expression changed in time to the color changes in her eyes. That was a clue, I know it was. But I was too freaked out by the sharp death above me to put it all together.  I couldn’t breathe; fear was a weight on my chest, killing me as quickly as that kris knife would do when it struck home. I jerked hard on my left arm, where the ropes were starting to loosen. That was my only chance, to get that arm free and maybe stop that knife from driving into my chest.  It didn’t work, mostly because of the robed creep holding tight to my arm.

“Hemet Nesu Weret, look!” said one the fellow holding my other arm.. Patty flinched, her eyes narrowing to a scowl at the interruption.  That was when I finally started to notice that the Patty’s devoted followers weren’t focusing on the task at hand.  Their attention wasn’t on me or on Patty; it was on the altar table.  I followed their gaze and when I saw what had distracted them, I couldn’t keep a grin from crossing my face.

“Well, look at that!” I said.  “Not exactly the cavalry riding to my rescue, but points for being adorable.”

“What are you babbling about?” said Patty.

I nodded toward the altar table.  “You’ve got company.”

Finally Patty seemed to register that something was disturbing her ritual and that her own people weren’t focusing on the task at hand.  With a sigh she lowered the knife — Hallelujah! — and turned to see what the fuss was about.

A red squirrel had found its way onto the altar. I’m not that surprised; these woods are alive with wildlife, squirrels being one of the most prolific, what with all the trees surrounding this pyramid. Heck, I’m surprised it took them this long. This particular squirrel was holding what looked like half a hazelnut shell in its mouth as it used its paws to scamper through the various bowls, candles and other artifacts currently laid out on the red-clothed table.

As we all watched, mesmerized, the squirrel threaded its way to the center of the table.  It sat up on its haunches, took a second to shake and fluff its ginger tail to maximum puffiness, and then pulled the hazelnut shell from its mouth.  Its shiny black eyes darted here and there, but seemed to feel no fear as it started to nibble at the fragment of shell.

In case you don’t know, squirrels are like a lot of the smaller animals: they like shiny things. In this case, all the gold and silver amulets and tokens lying on the red cloth.  The little visitor dropped the shell and, with the darting quickness typical of its kind, the squirrel picked up one of the amulets and began to examine it, rolling it over in its paws, sniffing it, even tasting it once.

This brought a collective gasp from the robed followers.  “The Cartouche of Anubis,” said the fellow by my left arm.  “We can’t complete the ritual without that!”

The words seemed to shake Patty back to reality.  “Quit whining, Brian, and get rid of that nasty creature,” she snapped.  “We can’t afford another interruption.”

The fellow positioned at my feet turned approached the altar table.  The squirrel watched, unfazed, until he was almost within arm’s reach.  Then it bolted.

Did I mention it took the amulet with it when it ran?  Brian didn’t even get to begin the move to grab for the cartouche but the little squirrel was on the move, the shiny golden amulet clutched in its teeth.  The amulet’s braided gold chain bounced and jangled, sparkling in the light of hundreds of candles.

Patty used language that I can’t repeat in mixed company.  “Brian, go!  Catch it before it gets out of the temple.  Georgia, go with him.  Retrieve the cartouche,” she said.  Brian scurried out the door, followed by another, smaller robed figure who stood by my right knee.  That only left four here with Patty and me.

I turned my head to look at Patty.  “With Brian and Georgia gone, you don’t have a quorum.  I guess we’ll have to leave this sacrifice business ’til the next meeting.  Sorry about your luck.”

“There won’t be a next meeting.  Not for you, at least,” said Patty.  “So we’ll just wait until my faithful followers return, if it’s all the same to you.”

“Crap,” I sighed.  “I was afraid you were going to say that.”  I looked up at the robed figure standing at my right elbow.  Though the hood cast the face into shadow, I could see the glittering eyes and narrow bone structure of a young woman hiding in there.  I say “woman” loosely; she was barely more than a girl, actually, probably a college freshman at best.  Certainly younger than me.

“So tell me, hon — wait, what’s your name?” I said to her.

“Silence,” said Patty.

“What?” I said, exasperated.  “You said yourself we’re on recess until your flunkies — oops, I mean followers — come back after waging war on the squirrel.  My union doesn’t like me playing the sacrificial victim while I’m on official break time.  So you just cool your jets.”  I turned back to the robed girl.  “Where were we?  Oh, yeah, your name.”

The girl looked to Patty, who scoffed in exasperation and waved her hand.  “Go ahead.”

The girl hesitated a second longer, then pushed back her hood to reveal a startling pretty woman, around nineteen, with light brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, and light blue eyes. “My name is Mercedes.”

Mercedes?  She’s named after a car? Her parents must have been hippies or whatever the early 90’s equivalent was for hippies.  New Age loonies.  Then again, my parents named me after a month (btw, I was born in September, so how I ended up named April is a mystery even I can’t figure out.  Parents can be weird.)

Maybe I thought all that, but I’m not fool enough to say it out loud.  “Hi, Mercedes, I’m April.  Too bad we couldn’t meet under less, well intense, circumstances.  I mean, what with you being an accessory to kidnapping, torture and murder.”

“What?  I mean — what do you mean torture?  We haven’t tortured anybody,” said Mercedes.

“You mean this big bleeding slice in my arm was foreplay?  ‘Cuz I don’t play those kinds of funtime games, especially not with an audience,” I said, rolling my eyes around to indicate the other three figures and Patty, still standing at my left.  “Tell me Mercedes, why are you doing this?”

“Because Hemet Nesu Weret wills it,” said Mercedes, as though that were obvious.

“Really?  I don’t see any ancient Egyptian princesses lurking around upstate New York.  Even if you did build her her own pyramid,” I said.

“Hemet Nesu Weret speaks with the voice of Patricia Blumenthal.”

“How can you tell?” I said.

“Patricia channels Hemet Nesu Weret.  She invites the spirit into her body.  Then Hemet Nesu Weret speaks with Patricia’s voice, moves with her body,” Mercedes said.

“So? I know all the words to Blue Hawaii and I can do a mean pelvic thrust.  That doesn’t make me Elvis.”

“Huh?” Mercedes’ cocked her head like a puzzled puppy.  It might have been adorable under other circumstances.

“What.  If.  She’s.  Faking,” I said, biting off each word.  Sometimes you have to slow down and spell it out.

“Why would she do that?” said Mercedes.

Was this chick serious?  I started to answer, but I made the mistake of glancing at Patty.  Her eyes had gone from gray to black again, only this was scarier than the last time.  Her whole eye had gone black, including the white part.  They looked dead, flat and shiny, like doll’s eyes.  Her face was contorted into a rictus of rage.  The skin on her cheeks and forehead started bulging in places, pulsing slowly in and out, as though something were underneath the skin, trying to get out.

“What the hell?” I breathed.

But just then a muffled BOOM! exploded shockingly nearby.  I jumped and looked toward the doorway.  Mercedes and her fellow cult members all did the same.  When I looked back, Patty’s eyes had gone back to normal and her face had stopped that freaky bulging thing. But her face was still twisted in rage.  She sheathed her kris knife, laid it on the table beside my head, and walked to the door.

“Brian!” she shouted into the corridor.  “What in the name of everything holy are you doing?”  She disappeared out the door, and I could hear her footsteps echoing on the wooden floor.  A few seconds later came the sound of people talking.  I couldn’t make out what they were saying, but Patty was definitely pissed off.  I did catch a few words, like “amulet” and “shotgun.”  Best I can figure out, Brian had gotten a shotgun from his car or someplace, and was trying to bring down the squirrel in classic redneck fashion.  There was some more shouting, a few swear words, and then multiple footsteps echoed through the halls again, this time growing softer as the walkers moved further into the pyramid.

Not that I care one way or the other.  Patty the Freak was out of the room, and Mercedes and her buddies were distracted.  Now was my chance.  I jerked on the loosening loops of rope on my left arm.  It hurt the deep cut Patty had carved in my forearm, and the blood started flowing more openly.  The warm blood seeped into the ropes, making them slippery.

One more tug, and my left hand was free!  I instantly grabbed the kris blade Patty had abandoned by my right ear, and started sawing on the rope holding my right arm.

This didn’t go unnoticed.  I had not yet freed my right hand when the robed cultist standing to my right shouted, “Hey!” and tried to grab the blade from my hand.  I slashed blindly at him with the knife, just swinging it in a long, sloppy arc.  The tip caught him across the chest, slicing through his robes and the t-shirt underneath; a stripe of blood appeared on the pale skin peeking through the slashes.  The man looked down at the blood and then looked back up at me.  Under his hood, his shadowed face looked stunned.

I didn’t have time to explain the facts of life to him.  I went back to slicing the ropes holding my right arm.  Now Mercedes other companion noticed.  It didn’t take long until I fell into a rhythm:  slice at the ropes, slash wildly at robed idiots, go back to slicing rope.  Why the four of them didn’t attack en masse is beyond me.  Scared of  losing the luck lottery and being the one who ended up on the wrong side of that kris knife.  In my opinion, they’ve been indoctrinated by too many chop socky movies.  Sensible bad guys don’t wait their turn to attack the hero; sensible baddies realize they’re going to get cut eventually, suck it up, and dog pile the hero.

Kids today, right?

Finally I sliced my way free, and, still using the kris knife to hold Mercedes and her buddies at bay, I slid off the sacrificial table.  “Look at the time, my word, it’s been a really sucky party and I must be getting home,” I said.  My hosts looked at me, blankly; nobody gets my sense of humor.  One of the robed figures sat on the floor, holding his hands to a hole in his side that was oozing blood at an alarming rate; I may have cut him a little too deeply, sorry about that.  The other three had various shallow slashes on arms and chests.  They didn’t advance on me as I eased toward the door.  “Any of you care to tell me where Charity is being kept?”

No answer.

“Oh, well, it was worth a try,” I said.  “You just sit tight, look after your friend.  Somebody will be along directly to take you to get stitches.”  I sidled out the door, keeping that blade between me and Mercedes the entire time.  As soon as I was out in the hallway, I closed the door.  The door opened in, so I couldn’t barricade it, and I didn’t have a key to lock it from the outside.  So I used the blade to slice a fairly large splinter of wood off the corner of the door.  This I wedged between the door and the door frame, jamming the door.  It would take all four of them to force that door open from the inside; they were stuck, unable to get out and backstab me, or to carry news to Patty.

Now I was free for the moment.  I looked up the dark hallway, seeing doors and chambers opening off both sides.  I looked the other way and saw the same thing.  I had been unconscious when they brought me in here, so I had no idea which way was the exit, much less where Charity might be.  But I had to make a decision, because Patty would be back any minute.

“When all else fails, use the scientific method. Eeney meenie miney mo, out goes Y-O-U,” I muttered, pointing back and forth down the hallway with each syllable.  The last syllable ended with me pointing to my right.  So I turned to my left, squared my shoulders and said, “Here goes nothing.”

And away I went, hoping I’d find Charity before I ran into trouble.

To Part One

To Part Three

Whoo!  That ran a little long!  But it was fun, no?  Part Three will be up next Monday, no playing hookey this time, I promise.  in the meantime, tweet, share, comment, and/or write, let me know what you think of things thus far.  Also do contact me if you have any suggestions for the next Fun Friday.  I’ll be back Wednesday, bright eyed and bushy tailed.  In the meantime, be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: Pulp, short fiction | 1 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

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

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