Video

Fun Friday: Even More Web Series

And yet another Friday rolls around.  The week has been fairly quiet here in the family’s treetop fortress:  lots of home cooking.  I tried my hand at making pasta (gnocchi) with good results; at least everybody had good things to say, and nobody’s dropped from food poisoning yet.  Early days on that, though.   I’m not much of a TV watcher, but I made an exception this week.  A friend correctly argued that comics and comic book derivations are as much a part of the classic pulp phenomenon as Science Fiction or hard boiled detectives.  He also argued that, were it not for pulps and comic books, the superhero subgenre would have died with Beowulf.  I’m not sure I agree with him on that one, but he did have a point.

So the practical upshot of all this is that I started watching TV.  Specifically, I started checking out some of the superhero shows currently running; this time I focused on  The Flash, and Arrow.  I’m ambivalent.  I’ve been a fan of the Green Arrow comic since I was a kid, but the television show was hella dark, much darker and more soapy than I remember.  But then again, John Barrowman as a villain?  Yes, please.  The Flash was lighter in tone, which was cool; it only took me half the episodes for me to stop looking at the lead and saying, “Hey, weren’t you on that annoying Glee thing?”

Meh. One of these days I’m going to have to take a closer look blog at superheroes and the genre in general.  MAYBE I should take a run at writing something in the superhero range for Fiction Monday.  Then again, maybe not; have to see if inspiration attacks.

Ooh ooh ooh, slightly off-topic.  Y’all know I am not one for romances, but every once in a while one slips past the barbed wire and since we were already discussing superheroes….  Heels and Heroes by Tiffany Allee is a novella about romance among the superhero community.  It’s short (novella length), superhero oriented, and fun.  Allee strikes a nice balance on her descriptions of an unusual world for novels.  I really like her characters; I don’t know how realistic you can be with superheroes, but I found it surprisingly easy to identify with the lead.  It’s a little smutty, but, being Missy McPrudeyknickers, I just close my eyes for that bit.  I have begged the author to write more about this world, but so far, no luck.  😦  (I’m telling you, Tifferz, ya gotta!  How often do I endorse a romance, huh?  I mean, seriously!)  This is not Allee’s first rodeo; she has other romance/fantasy offerings.  I’ve read several of them and was pleasantly surprised; she even got me to not hate a romantic vampire.  Shocking, right?  Anyway, check out her oeuvre on Amazon.

Okay, enough fooling around in the world of Spandex and capes.  On to today’s Fun Friday offerings.  So I was goofing around on YouTube the other day, as I am wont to do when I’m between books.  Y’all know what a fool I am for serials.  So, on a whim, I typed “steampunk web series” into the search bar.  Wow!  There is a lot more out there than I thought.  Taking a chance, I did the same thing for dieselpunk and pulp; not nearly so much joy there.  But there was plenty of Steampunk.  So I bookmarked a bunch of them, and took a look.

The first I looked at was simply called “Felix Blithedale.”  The brainchild of Erik MacRay (who also plays the eponymous main character), it’s supposed to be the video journal of a fledgling inventor in a steampunk San Francisco in 1903.  Felix is the assistant of an established inventor, and has claimed that inventor’s basement as his own personal lab.  Here he builds various gadgets and conducts various experiments.  He’s a game young fellow, ambitious and excited, but rather hapless; his life is kind of a mess, his love life is a nerd-flavored disaster, but he keeps right on trying, bless his little heart.  As each new blow comes, he shakes it off and keeps right on stumbling forward.  The episodes are shot in sepia tone, just the one set, minimal props, only one or two characters on the screen at a time; very much done on a shoestring.  Each episode is entitled “Felix vs X,” with “X” being whatever is going wrong at the moment:  “Felix vs The Foreclosure” involves the loan to save the family home.

Let me say this unequivocally:  THIS IS WONDERFUL!!!!!! Remember me saying that I will sit through a lot of dreck in the indie art mines before coming across a diamond?  THIS is one of the diamonds.   The set design and costumes are spot on.  The little scenelets are fun, and the interactions of the characters is funny and absolutely convincing.   I laughed out loud multiple times.  The writing, so important, is solid; Mr. MacRay writes like somebody who has listened to how people really talk.  Fledgling writers forget, it’s not enough that dialogue or monologue convey information.  It has to sound natural; you have to listen to how real people really talk, and be able to duplicate the rhythms and feeling without duplicating the boring bits.  Think of it as enhanced speech; as natural as possible, but cleaner and more streamlined than the real thing.

And the acting;  Oh, the acting, God bless them!  The writing and the acting is where most indie offerings fall down; the young people who are attempting these videos are just not experienced enough in these two arts to deliver solid products.  But Felix Blithedale is a true gem:  the acting is superb!  I had to go looking to confirm this wasn’t a professional production.  Felix, the lead, triggered an immediate Mommy response in me:  I wanted to cook him something homey and comfortable, ask him if he’s getting enough sleep and see that his laundry is being washed and mended (what?  I’m a grandmother, I can’t help myself!  Don’t judge me!).  He is played by Erik MacRay as delightfully diffident, inept, naive, eager, optimistic; it was adorable!  Edward Rockridge (cute name, somebody knows their Mel Brooks trivia!) is the lodger renting rooms from Felix and his sister, and is an adorable scoundrel, making his living as a low-rent crook and card cheat.  Again, played with delicious aplomb by Adam Mayfield, Eddie is depicted perfectly as the sort of high spirited overgrown 12-year -old who women can’t help wanting to mother and the girls want to flirt with.

Okay, you can tell I liked this one, because I’ve pissed away about half my word limit just gushing.  You wanna watch the show, here’s where they can be found on Youtube.  They also have a webpage and a Facebook page.  They wrapped last June, so I’m betting the chances of a second season are essentially nonexistent.  But still, they have a donate page on their webpage to fund a second season, so maybe we’ll get lucky.  In the meantime, here’s a little taste of the show (I picked one of the middle of the run eps; the first ep doesn’t really give a feel for what a treat this show is)….

Before I forget:  I noticed something the last few months.  Don’t you think it’s interesting that Steampunk seems to generate a ton of art across many media:  video, comics, etc., bunches more than dieselpunk.  But Dieselpunk kicks steampunk’s butt when it comes to indie music offerings.  You just don’t hear that much in the way of overtly steampunk music.  The biggie in Steampunk is Abney Park and frankly, I’m not seeing it.  They dress the part, and their videos play the steam card a lot, but the music itself is 90% industrial, and only a little bit steam.  There’s a lot more dieselpunk music available.  I think it’s because of WWII era swing being so popular and emulate-able.  Hey, it’s a theory.  Thoughts?

Okay, now we’ve gotten that bizarre little sidebar out of the way, time to move on to the next web series.  Dirigible Days has good cred, I have to say.  Anthony Daniels — yes, that Anthony Daniels, the one who played C3P0 in the Star Wars movies — does all voice-over narration.  The Steampunk band Vernian Process wrote the theme music exclusively for this series.  It has a tie-in comic book with surprisingly good graphics. 

But with that said, I don’t like Dirigible Days as much as I liked Felix Blithedale.  I’ll explain in a moment.

Dirigible Days is the story of the S.S. Beatrix, an airship plying its way through the aether, doing whatever job, legal or otherwise, comes its way.  At the beginning of the story, the ship is stranded with engine failure, and Captain Santiago Dunbar is at the nearest pub, getting polluted while trying to interview for a new engineer.  He finds one, but more importantly, he finds a job.  Or rather a job finds him:  a Pinkerton operative has a prisoner that needs to be transported to the nearest facility.  Problem:  the prisoner is a big dog in a very nasty, very determined Cthulhu Cult.  And they want their big dog back.

The production values worlds ahead of other web series:  the costumes are perfect, the sets are lavish (a lot of that is coming from green screen work, but that’s okay), props and set design are spot on.  The actors look and move well; their sounding the part is less perfect, but that’s nothing unusual in the indie video world, and they do better than the average.  The writing is pretty solid; with a few hiccups here and there, it does well on dialogue, and is kicking ass in the plot department.  Somebody really thought it through, which puts them ahead of the game.

But with that said, I just didn’t enjoy this as much as the Felix Blithedale piece.  The descriptions I’ve seen online (and this has gotten written up in several articles here on the web, thanks to the cred I mentioned at the first) describe it as “Whedonesque” and “akin to Firefly.”  Well, I’m not seeing it.  This story lacks the charm of Firefly.  Their is no chemistry between the players, no real emotional connection, whether it be love or hate.  Remember how I said watching Felix made me go into serious Mommy mode?  It was an emotional connection, an identification with the character that made me feel protective and indulgent at the same time (the same way I do when I see my own children when they fumble).  With Dirigible Days, I never felt that; I couldn’t make an emotional connection.

BUT!  That’s just me.  It may be that I’m not the right audience for this show.  And you should definitely check it out anyway.  Even if you don’t connect with the characters, you’ll adore the steampunk-i-ness of it all, with such terrific production values.  Definitely take a peek.  The show’s presence on YouTube is here.  Their webpage is here.  At the first ep’s page there are links to their twitter and facebook pages.

Here’s one of their promotional trailers.  Take a peek:

And that’s it for me.  Wow, that took a while.  That’s what I get for lurking on YouTube watching episodes of web series, right?  So you know the drill:  write, tweet, comment, share.  You have a suggestion for a Fun Friday, contact me on the email addy on my About Me page.  If you have questions, suggestions, just want to tell me I’m a idiot and I’m totally wrong bout Abney Park, same address.  I’d be very glad to know of any Dieselpunk web series that I may have overlooked!  But in the meantime, be good this weekend.  And if you can’t be good, well, you know what comes next, don’t you:  DON’T GET CAUGHT!  Enjoy your weekend!

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Categories: Fun Friday, Steampunk, Video | Leave a comment

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

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

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

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

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

One:  Table Flip

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

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

Two:  The Danger Element

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

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

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

Three:  Postmodern Jukebox

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

Four:  Serial Squadron

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

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

Five:  Steampunk and Dieselpunk playlist

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

Bonus:  Remember WENN

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

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

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

Fun Friday: Saints, Sinners, and Artificial Men

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Imitation Game” and Enigma

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

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

Okay, so on to business….

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

 

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

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

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

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

Here’s step one:

Here’s step two:

Here’s step three:

And here’s Step Four

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

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

There’s even an app for your Android! 

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

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

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

 

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

Foundation Media: One more installment

It’s Monday again and only two more days of March left!  I can’t say I’m sorry to see it go; March weather always gives me a headache with its “snow today, sunny tomorrow, windy the next,” etcetera ad infinitum.   I really do have a headache, which sucks.  It started last night, and was still here when I woke up this morning.  That’s never good.  So I think the blog post is gonna be short today; it’s just too hard to concentrate when my skull is throbbing.

Have y’all kept busy this weekend?  For myself, I spent it reading and surfing the Interwebz, looking for good material to share with you.  I found more than you might imagine, enough to keep me busily typing right up into summer.  I think this is a good thing.  Your mileage may vary.

So anyway, let’s move on to the last installment on my WWII frenzy.   Now some of you may think this is a strange recommendation.  But I’m gonna talk about a rather obscure little TV movie called “Ike:  Countdown to D-Day.”  This little flick starred Tom Salleck as General Eisenhower, and was produced for the American A&E channel in 2004.  It was generally well received by the public; there was some quibbling about historical errors (which ships actually took part in which part of which landing, that sort of thing.  There’s a brief list of them here).

You know the basic story.  This follows General Dwight Eisenhower for the three months leading up to D-Day.  It starts with him being appointed Supreme Commander by Winston Churchill, and ends the night of the first day of the landing at Normandy, after the first waves of soldiers have hit the beaches, and the battle is engaged.  It’s not about shooting; not a gun goes off through the whole movie.  It’s about what happened behind the scenes, so to speak:  the alliance between Eisenhower and Churchill, an alliance they had to have to make this happen; the political maneuvering that is inevitable when you have half a dozen generals, all of them as full of ego and confidence (arrogance? maybe) and opinions that are part and parcel with rising to such a high rank in the military; the dirty, difficult decisions that had to be made.

I know, I know.  There are lots more movies out there that deserve my attention more than this little flick that nobody’s heard of, probably.  But I like this one.

Lookit, stories are always about people.  Any chapped-ass monkey with an internet connection can pull up the facts about the landing on D-Day.  Who landed where, how many soldiers, where were the Germans, blah blah blah.  But what I want to know is, what did Private Joe Jordan from Crapdoodle, Arkansas feel as he saw the beaches and heard the shooting?  What did the Lieutenant Bob Berkeley from Bristol do when his little landing craft was hit by shelling and started to founder?  What went through the mind of the Major Alvin Albright do when he sent a company of men into hell, and knew that every death was his responsibility?

That’s what I like about this movie. They do a great job of depicting Eisenhower and the decisions that he had to make, how it must have weighed on him.  I was never a big fan of Tom Salleck.  I didn’t have anything particularly against him, but I think I only saw two episodes of Magnum PI (not really my speed), and the one movie I saw him in (Quigley Down Under) I didn’t like.  But in this movie he blew me away.  He was GOOD.  The idea is to sympathize with the character, right?  To feel his pain along with him?  Yeah, you feel it with Tom as he plays General Eisenhower.  You feel the weight he is carrying, you hurt for him with every death, every blow to their plans, knowing that he’s carrying a terrible responsibility.   In this movie, he’s not just some guy you read about in history class; he’s a real person, who makes jokes and has arguments and is forced to make the most difficult decisions of his life, sending thousands of men to their deaths.

If you want to take a look at this movie, it’s available on DVD from Amazon, or you can watch it on YouTube for about three bucks.

I told you it was gonna be short today.  I think I’m going to leave off here.  You know the routine:  share, comment, tweet.  If you wanna talk, or you have a recommendation for Fun Friday, give me a shout at ajwriter-at-ajclarkson-dot-net.  And I think that’s it.  I’ll see y’all on Wednesday.  Until then, be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

Categories: Foundation media, History, Video | Leave a comment

Solomon Kane

Monday morning is here again, and things are restless here in the darkest jungles of Appalachia. For starters, it’s snowing, which sucks in a big big way. Appalachian roads are notorious for being twisty, winding things; my mom always said, “When they laid this road, they didn’t move a single tree or cow.”  And to make the twisty bits even more horrible, they go up and down hills, too. So hilly, twisty roads plus snow equals dangerous, scary travel.  Blech.  Besides, I hate the cold; I much prefer summer.

The second source of restlessness for me is that I have a medical procedure — a combination endoscopy and colonoscopy — scheduled for bright and early tomorrow morning. It’s all to do with why I vanished from the blog through the Christmas season; the doctor is hoping to see what has been causing the problems.  So we do the thing tomorrow morning, and this means I have to fast all day today; nothing but clear liquids and a growly tummy until after lunchtime tomorrow.   I’m hungry!  I’ve only gotten back the ability to eat without horrible pain!  I know, I know, I can tough it out,where’s that hillbilly pluck?  Yeah, well, I have plenty of pluck, but I still want some scrambled eggs and fried potatoes.

 

Robert E. Howard, age 28, two years before his death

So enough whinging.  I have spent the last few days reading The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, by Robert E. Howard.  Those of you who have spent more than ten minutes in the world of classic pulp has heard of Robert E. Howard:  he’s the creator of Conan the Barbarian.  Howard is a strange and really fascinating character in his own right.  He was born, raised and died in the town of small town Texas.  This picture below is one of him only two years before he died; I’ve always thought it reflected the dichotomy of the man brilliantly.  On the one hand, he’s dressed and posed to look like he should have been running with Al Capone and his cronies in crooked gangland Chicago; tough as nails.  But I look at his face and he looks so young, so innocent of what’s coming.

Just like the picture, Howard was a divided man.  This is a man whose earliest passions were for poetry and stories; but he also spent part of his youth studying boxing and bodybuilding.  Howard never married, and was in every sense a “mama’s boy” (he never married, lived with his mother until his dying day; he killed himself upon being told that his mother wasn’t going to wake from a coma; she died the next day)  But at the same time, he was the creator of one of the most iconic action heroes in 20th century letters, Conan the Barbarian, and the founder of what some call “The Sacred Genre,” sword and sorcery.

Howard was a prolific writer throughout his professional career. He never published a novel, but his short stories and poetry covered sword and sorcery, historical straight adventure, boxing stories, westerns, and some horror, pretty much covering the waterfront of pulp fiction in the 1920’s and 30’s.  I first heard about him because he was a contemporary of and correspondent with H. P. Lovecraft.  He even wrote several stories for the Cthulhu Mythos.

But what brings me to mention him today is Solomon Kane.  Now I saw the Conan the Barbarian movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger, same as every other member of my generation.  This motivated me to hunt down Howard’s original stories, and I read ten or twelve of them (there were 21 completed stories, plus a number of unfinished fragments).  I didn’t care for them.  I know, they are iconic, they are the foundation for Sword and Sorcery, blah blah, I know all this.  My problem was that the stories felt disconnected.  After reading 10 of them, I didn’t feel like I understood Conan the character any better than I did after reading the first sentence of the first one.

Whatever, right?  I was young, barely 17 at the time, so what did I know?  I set the stories aside and got on with my life.  I occasionally read his horror shorts if I happened across one (“Pigeons from Hell” will give you nightmares forever!), but I was not motivated to seek out anything specifically until I heard of Solomon Kane through a fellow writer.  It had been thirty years since my disappointment with Conan; it was past time to give Howard another try.

First, what is Solomon Kane?  Like Conan, Solomon Kane is a short story series created by Howard.  He is a Puritan… well, I guess paladin is the best word for him.  He has no backstory and no motivation beyond “God thinks I should kill these people.”  He is a wanderer in 16-17th century Europe and Africa (kinda loosey-goosey on a firm timeline), using a rapier and occasionally a flintlock pistol (later picking up a magic staff) to protect the innocent and crush the evil-doer beneath his boot. Solomon went up against mundane pirates, murderers and other ne’er-do-wells, but he also went toe to toe with vampires, demons, demi-gods and evil wizards; since the first Kane stories predate Conan and Kull (another one of Howard’s creations), they can be argued to be the true foundation of the Sword and Sorcery genre.  These stories were very popular, even more so than Conan in Howard’s lifetime, and continue to be well-received even today, spawning several comic book appearances (with Marvel and Dark Horse Comics) and a 2009 movie.  I have not checked out the comics or movie, so I can’t yet report back on those.

Now, on to Savage Tales of Solomon Kane.  This is a complete collection, comprising all the completed short stories, several unfinished fragments, and a couple of poems.  The stories are for the most part pretty short, and very succinct; they do not spare a syllable on fluff.  If there’s anything Howard does well, it’s give you plenty of bang for your buck, with the action starting as soon as humanly possible, and keeping it going for as long as necessary.  He doesn’t spare the gore, either, which surprised me, considering how prissy some of the writing from the 1920’s can be; there’s plenty of blood, guys cutting off limbs and stabbing each other through the eye, etc.

Truth be told, Solomon Kane is what I imagine a true paladin would be like:  humorless, dour, driven, judgmental, scary.  A proper paladin would be less like Sir Galahad, and more like the assistant principal at your school, the one who desperately needs a rectal stick-ectomy.  Only, you know, heavily armed and all.  But beyond this, nothing.  I have no idea why Kane is bent on this creepy crusade, what keeps him going, what pleases him, what frightens him.  Nothing.

This is what bugged me about Conan.

Readers (and writers) can be safely divided into those who revel in a good plot, and those who revel in a good character.  I am one of those who needs to be able to connect to the character.  With the best characters, I have this feeling of, “I wish I could be friends with him!” or “I wish I could be her!”  AT the very least, I need to think, “I wouldn’t choose to do that, but I understand why he chose differently.”  No. I couldn’t do it with Kane.  He’s like a marble statue animated; he is smooth and well-carved,but there’s no texture, nothing to give me a firm grasp on who or what he is.  Even James Bond has more depth to him, and Bond (in the books and the movies) is practically the poster child for “no back story.”  Maybe that’s not a problem for you as a reader.  For me, it’s a deal breaker.

Beyond that, if you check this one out, be warned:  racism and sexism are very much on display.  It’s part of the times, I understand that; Howard was writing in the Deep South in the heyday of Jim Crow.  And he is better than his contemporary H.P. Lovecraft; at least Howard was willing to allow for black characters to be good and heroic occasionally.  But the blatant racist mindset is very jarring to encounter if you’re not expecting it. Same with the sexism:  woman are either Madonna or whore, perfectly good and innocent or blackhearted vipers; no middle ground.  This is less surprising to me, coming from a man who never married and, so far as I can find out, never even went on a date, AND had an unhealthy attachment to his mother (remember why he killed himself?).

If you can deal with that — lots of action, essentially no character development, the foundations of a huge genre, but lots of racism and sexism — then I can wholeheartedly say that Solomon Kane is a character you should check out.  Otherwise, give Kane a pass; check out Howard’s horror stuff instead.

And that’s it for me.  I got a little longwinded, huh?  Sorry about that.  All prayers for tomorrow turning out well will be welcome; I’m not afraid, but I desperately hope the tests will finally give us some answers.  In the meantime, don’t forget to email, share, tweet and comment; and send along your recommendations for Fun Friday.  Be good, and I’ll be back on Wednesday (Okay, I’ll be back on Wednesday if you’re not good).

Categories: books, Classic pulp, Comic/Graphic Novels, Pulp, Review, Video | Leave a comment

October Flurry Fun Friday: Scary Movies

hmmm… let me see.  It’s October, the month of spooks and spectres.  My own kids are past school age, but I have my nieces here, and they’re off school for the day (in service day for teachers, I think).  It’s cold and rainy, definite pillow fort weather.  So how can the clan celebrate this particular Fun Friday in the treehouse lair?  Isn’t it obvious?  Order in some pizza and watch some scary movies!

But I still owe y’all a blog post for Fun Friday, and I hate leaving you out of the spooky movie fun.  So here are a trio of flicks available online to spice up your punky, pulpy Halloween.

First, a bit of visual stimulation:

Yeah, the picture is apropos of nothing.  But I saw it online, and found it deliciously creepy.  I thought y’all would enjoy it.  You’re welcome.

Next, did you know that the first real Frankenstein movie was made by Thomas Edison?  For real, it’s true!  It was made in 1910, at Edison Studios in the Bronx, and starred established actors Augustus Phillips (Dr. Frankenstein(, Charles Ogle (the Monster), and Mary Fuller (the Doctor’s fiancée.)  It’s a silent film, obviously, and was shot in only three days.  It was written and directed by J. Searle Dawley, and while there is no documentation, it’s generally agreed that Thomas Edison himself was the producer.

Most important for our purposes, it’s in the public domain, and therefore free for anybody who wants to own it or show it. And, the Internet being what it is, naturally it’s on YouTube (or you can download it here) It’s only about sixteen minutes long, and, in my opinion, not all that scary; the directors made a point of bowdlerizing the more lurid parts of the story.  But it’s an important piece of film history, and therefore worth the watching.  In my opinion, it belongs here among us because the setting and tech sits right on the border between Steampunk and Dieselpunk.  Plus I just think it’s cool.  Here, take a peek for yourself.

Next, ever hear of The Crimson Ghost?  No? Okay, you ever seen this logo of the punk band, The Misfits?

Ever heard the song “The Number of the Beast” by Iron Maiden?  Yeah.  The logo was inspired by the appearance of The Crimson Ghost; the Ghost made an appearance in the music video for the Iron Maiden song.

“So quit being so damned coy and tell us who the Crimson Ghost is already!”

Yeah, yeah, I hear you, keep your knickers on!  The Crimson Ghost is a Republic serial from 1946.  I think we’ve already established that I’m a shameless fan girl of the old Republic serials, so you should have seen this one coming.  This one is considered one of the best serials of the time, and was directed by William Witney, who even in his own time was hailed as the best there was at making serials.  It’s another one that skirts the borderland between subgenres; it’s solid New Pulp in its approach and settin, but the plot is early Atompunk:  the eponymous character is a villain trying to steal an atomic device called the Cyclotrode, which is kind of like an EMP machine; the heroes are trying to stop him, obviously.

It deserves its reputation; it’s a fun show.  Serials faded out as a viable storytelling format because, by the time Ghost came out, they had started to become very trite and contrived.  But this one escapes the worst faults of the medium.  It works.  Here’s where you can watch it on YouTube.  I’m giving you a link instead of an imbedded video because I want you to see the entire playlist; all 12 episodes in order, unadulterated and at your fingertips.

Okay.  I know I’m running a bit short on the blog today. But that’s all I got for you today. Two movies, one of them a serial, should keep you out of mischief for a goodly portion of the day, right?  So I’ll be back tomorrow to continue The October Flurry.  In the meantime, tweet, share, comment, and email if you have any recommendations for Fun Fridays.  Be good (and if you can’t be good… yeah, you know the rest.)

Oh, yeah, just because I can (and because it freaks me out every time, even after all these years) another picture off the InterWebz:

Categories: Classic pulp, Dieselpunk, Fun Friday, Horror, October Flurry, Pictures, Pulp, Steampunk, Video | Leave a comment

Fun Friday: Deadlands and Pretty Pictures

Wow, non sequitur title much, Batman?  Hi, guys, another Friday has rolled around, and the blessed weekend is staring us in the face.  I have big plans:  Greek Festival.  One of the local Greek Orthodox churches hosts a big festival every September, with lots of music, dancing, tours of the church, vendors and food — GLORIOUS FOOD! — on offer for the general public.  Big Sister and I make a point of going every year, mostly because of the food.  Gyros, spanikopita, moussaka, keftedes, dolmades, you name it, I’m in favor of it (And hummus! Oh God, I love hummus!).  Sadly, money is very tight this year in the Clarkson treetop lair, so I won’t be able to do my usual practice of buying a box or two of Greek pastries to enjoy at home (delicious, but expensive).  Sigh.  Maybe I’ll post pictures on my Facebook account, so you can grind your teeth in envy at all the delicious food I’ll be enjoying.  Or, if you’re near the darkest jungles of Appalachia, you can join us; here’s a webpage.

Anyway, enough talk about my fixation on delicious food.  On to Fun Friday!  First, behold the pretty pictures!

Isn’t that cool?  Somebody over on Imgur took it into his head to take modern webpages and make Dieselpunk/Pulp style magazine advertisements for them, apparently just for the lulz.  Normally I don’t do Imgur or Instagram; I’m not a terribly visual person.  But I was searching for something else, and ended up here instead.  And they’re great; the art is well done and spot on imitations of the vintage magazine art.  The text sounds like period ads.  They just rock, and they’ll put a smile on your face.  Go check them out here and give the artist some love.

Some more pretty pictures.  Check this out:

How cool is that?  Seems there’s been a lot of recent attempts to portray superheroes, especially from the DC Universe, as WWII era pin up girls, fighter nose art, and art deco portraits and ads.  Just this morning I’ve found five different sites showing various images like Wonder Woman above.  All of them are terrific.  Here’s Number One, Number Two, and Number Three (my personal favorite) Number Four, and Number Five.  Now if only I could find one of the guy superheroes, I’d be a happy girl.

Okay, enough with the eye candy.  On to the brain candy.  So I was surfing YouTube the other day, and I stumbled across this video called “Deadlands Noir:  Hardboiled in the Big Easy.”  It was a four episode animatic-illustrated short story about a private detective in a Dieselpunk New Orleans.  Before I go any further, here’s the first video so you can see what I’m talking about.

 

So far, so good.  I liked the videos and I thought I’d write them up here.  So I go to do my due diligence and research the creators of the video.  And discovered there was a lot more information than just some cool videos.  Turns out these four videos were created as part of a Kickstarter campaign for something called Deadlands Noir.  Which is itself a spin off of something simply called Deadlands.

Okay, confession time.  I used to be a hardcore role playing gamer.  I used to write and edit for a gaming magazine, back in my misspent youth.  I would love to be in a group right now, but time, the vicissitudes of life, health, money and the inability to find a group have cut my gaming down to, well, nothing.  So I’ve sadly fallen out of touch with the latest RPGs and trends out there.  Which is exactly what happened here.  Like Weird War, which I wrote up a while back, I’d totally be playing Deadlands if I’d heard about it before and could coerce my friends into playing it with me.

So what’s Deadlands? It’s a series of RPG’s put out by Pinnacle Entertainment Group.  According to their webpage, Deadlands is a horrific journey into the “Weird West.” Mysterious beings called the Reckoners have given life to monsters and magic, causing history to divert from July 4th, 1863 forward. The South has won its independence, California has shattered into a labyrinth of flooded sea-canyons, and a mysterious super-fuel called “ghost rock” has spawned as much war and strife as it has “steampunk” devices.  Sounds promising already, right?  Players can play gunfighters, sorcerers (called hucksters, and using card-based magic!), shamans or native braves, mad scientists, etc, and go up against all manner of baddies.  The game has won no fewer than eight Origins awards for the setting, and has appeared in classic, d-20, GURPS and Savage Worlds versions (the Savage Worlds version is called Deadlands Reloaded)

Moreover, there are any number of spin off games:

  • Deadlands:  Hell on Earth.  The setting is shifted forward to an alternate future, where the Reckoners (one of the serious baddies) has turned the world into a hellish wasteland, combining the Wild West with Mad Max.
  • Deadlands:  Lost Colony.  This is the Hell on Earth concept, only shifted further forward and time, and set on an offworld colony.  It adds SF concepts to the already eclectic mix.
  • Deadlands:  Noir.  Again, the same basic concept, only shifted forward into a pulpy New Orleans setting.  This is the game that spawned the videos that started this whole search for me.

That’s not to mention two different MtG type collectible card games, three variant tabletop / miniatures war games, two traditional board games, and one video game that unfortunately was never released.  According to the Wikipedia entry on the game series, in 2014, Microsoft announced they were trying to make a TV series based on the game, and to be aired through the X-Box.

I want to play this game.  If you have, give me a shout, tell me how it plays?  In the meantime, I’ll just have to read up on the game, and watch the videos again.

Okay, so that’s it for me.  You know the routine:  share, tweet, comment, email if you have any suggestions for Fun Friday.  Monday we’ll have another installment of Fortuna’s “Cat Like Tread.”  Wednesday is the first of October!  Yay!  Until then, be good, and if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!

 

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

Penny Dreadful

Good morning!  So I had a weird night last night.  As you all know, I have been gorging on audio drama over the past month, and have finally gotten to the end of my (fairly extensive) collection.  So I switched to reading, and started off with the novel tie-ins for The Red Panda Adventures (mentioned in last week’s review of the audio show, here).  All fine and dandy, at least until I went to sleep.   Then my subconscious started chewing on the pulp I had been filling my brain with, and spit out the most bizarre dream.  In the dream, I was a guy (which is weird enough), but not just any guy; I was a hard-bitten, cynical Chandleresque wet dream.  As this hardboiled guy with a shaved head and a .38 in a shoulder holster, my job was to accompany this girl as she did an investigation into what is arguably the weirdest building I have ever seen, either in real life or in my dreams.  All sorts of bizarre things were going on; it was great!

So all through this dream, I am NOT lucid dreaming.  But some part of me was aware that it was a dream, because this voice in my head kept saying, “This would make a terrific audio drama!  Why aren’t you writing it all down?”  The voice got so insistent that Dream-Me actually found himself with a piece of chalk in hand, and began writing everything down on whatever surface would hold still:  the wall, the floor, a trash can lid.  At one point I was even scribbling notes on the front of the shirt I was wearing.

Finally, I realized that I was no longer dreaming; I had awakened in mid-scribble.  The dream may have been gone, but the urge to write it down would NOT go away. So I sat up, grabbed my laptop, and started typing just as fast as I could go.  Now that I look at the idea, I realize it won’t work as an audio drama; too much of the story requires significant visual information, which audio just can’t do.  But it will make a great short story, and the potential is there to even be a cycle of short stories.

Welcome to the world of being a writer. Sometimes it just happens like that.  Like walking down the street and finding a forgotten $100 bill.

So that’s how my time has been spent since we last met.  I hope yours is going as excitingly.  BTW, while I”m thinking about it, and apropos of nothing, please look to the top of this page and you’ll see a new tab, just to the right of the one that says, “About AJ.  The new tab says, “Fiction Index.”   It’s a link page that lets you surf through the fiction that has and will appear on this blog, without having to run the gauntlet of the entire archive.  Check it out!

Now, after that VERY long introduction, time to move on to the subject of today’s conversation…..

Penny Dreadful is a ten-episode long series on Showtime (the series producer promises a second season to arrive sometime in 2015), created for Showtime and Sky by John Logan and executive produced by Logan and Sam Mendes.  It’s obviously named after the Victorian magazine pre-cursor to the pulp genre. I don’t know if this can be classified as Steampunk; it has but few of the obvious tropes that typify the genre.  No dirigibles, no clockwork or steam-powered anything, no robots.  More importantly, the tone is very very grimdark.  I think this would fall firmly in the “gaslamp fantasy” subclass of the genre.  It taps deeply into the Gothic (gothic as in the literary movement, not the teenage fashion statement), and, borrowing a page from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, features actual characters and situations from Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray and Frankenstein.  It bills itself as a “psychosexual horror story.”

The story takes place in Victorian London, and the nominal main character (there are several who step into the viewpoint position at various times) is American Ethan Chandler (played by Josh Hartnett). Chandler is a hard drinking, sharpshooting performer in a Wild West show touring England, and it is during this tour that he encounters the enigmatic Vanessa Ives (played by Eva Green).  She has a proposition for him:  earn some money by using his gun skills, no questions asked.   Any sensible man would walk away from that sort of offer.  But Chandler is apparently not sensible, and he joins their party, who also includes Sir Malcolm Murray, as they into the darkest stews of London to go hunting for vampires.

Sir Malcom Murray (played by former James Bond Timothy Dalton) is the father of Mina Murray, the young fiancee of Jonathan Harker from the Dracula novel by Bram Stoker.  Mina has vanished, presumably carried off by vampires.  And that’s where the story starts:  will Chandler help Murray and Miss Ives find Mina.  But it’s never that simple, is it? The story leads in lots of interesting directions, as the characters recruit Victor Frankenstein to their cause, unaware that he is conducting his fateful experiments in his own lab simultaneous with their adventures.  Moreover, Miss Ives encounters and falls into a sexual obsession with the forever beautiful, forever debauched Dorian Gray, of the Oscar Wilde novel.

I have a love/hate relationship with this show.  The settings and costumes are astonishingly beautiful — the British film/tv industry are unparalleled in their skill with period dramas. The effects are brilliant, and startling in their verisimilitude.  The writing is wonderfully atmospheric and intense; you don’t just watch this show, you experience it.  All the acting is powerful. In particular I am absolutely fascinated by Eva Green’s performance as Vanessa Ives; she is mesmerizing, sexual and scary at the same time.  When she appeared on the screen, I was unable to look away, and when she wasn’t the center of attention, I missed her presence.

But!

First, the lesser of my complaints. Here is something every writer of horror needs to remember:  Gore does not automatically equal terror.  I can handle lots of violence and gore in a story, though I don’t particularly enjoy the gore.  Gore doesn’t scare unless the reader/viewer is engaged.  Hell, I could go on for days, but Stephen King explains more eloquently than I can (if you want to read his opinions on this, and a lot of horror tropes, I strongly suggest you check out his nonfiction treatise on the subject, Danse Macabre).  Gore is fine and dandy, and when well applied, can totally give me nightmares.  But you can’t just sling gallons of blood and guts around and expect me to automatically scream.  Retch, maybe; scream, not necessarily.

Next.  The Frankenstein subplot.  Yes, I adore the Frankenstein story.  Yes, I have used it myself in fiction, and am always glad to see another variant of the same theme.  No, I did not like the version that appeared in Penny Dreadful.  Visually, it was beautiful, with a truly brilliant make up job on the Creature that made him utterly believable.  But I didn’t like it.  I didn’t like the portrayal of Victor Frankenstein.  I appreciate that the character is the personification of hubris; but this script turned him into a Victorian version of a hipster.  He was arrogant and annoying.  As for the story of “do I create a mate for the abandoned and enraged child of my intellect and hubris?”, I just didn’t care.  Don’t know why, but I was bored instead of horrified.

But that’s a minor complaint.  Here’s my big one  Sigh.  I know the show is billed as “psycho-sexual horror.”  Yes, there was horror.  Yes, there was “psycho,” in that it played upon the viewer’s expectations, and pushed any number of buttons, taboo and otherwise.  And yes, there was sex.  And there’s my main problem.  Look, there’s a rule I go by when I’m reading a story or watching a show.  I ask one question:  if I took the sexual activity out of the story, would the story still work?  If the story falls apart without the sex, then you have to leave it in.  I am no lover of “Fifty Shades of Gray,” but the fact is, without the sex, you have no motivations for the characters to act the way they did; without the sex, the story falls apart.

If I went through the episodes of Penny Dreadful, and removed every sexual scene, every flash of nudity or congress, the story would NOT fall apart.  Yeah, it was interesting in places, and maybe it even made sense in context (particularly in the relationship between Ives and Dorian Gray).  But if it doesn’t advance the story, doesn’t enhance the story, WHY ARE YOU PUTTING IT IN THE STORY?

Look, I understand that Showtime is a for-pay cable network, which means the rules are more lax than regular cable.  I understand that they need to show more Hard-R stuff to justify their fees, even their very existence.  But the first rule of writing is, if it doesn’t enhance the story, if it doesn’t illuminate the characters or move along the plot, then it has no business in the story. And the sex in this show was there to justify their place on a pay-cable network; it didn’t advance the story, it didn’t illuminate the characters, it did nothing for the plot.

Does that make me a prude?  Possibly?  Does that make me wrong?  No.

All told, I liked this show.  I liked it a HELL of a lot better than I did the American Horror Story series, which are in the same basic genre, without the gaslamp setting.  I’m certainly looking forward to the second season.  But it wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot.  But you don’t have to take my word for it.  It’s still available on Amazon, I believe.  Here are two trailers, if you want to get a taste.

and

 

Okay. Enough ranting from me.  Coming up next on ClarksonPunk is Fun Friday!  Do you have something you think would be good for Fun Friday?  Pictures?  Videos?  Music?  Cool crafts?  If so, contact me via the email posted on my About AJ page. Then on Monday will be the next installment of the adventures of Fortuna.  In the meantime, don’t forget to share, tweet, comment.  You can find me on Facebook and Twitter; the links are also on my About AJ page.  And while you’re up there clicking on links, check out the Fiction Index page.

That’s it for me!  Be good until Friday; then we’ll find some weekend mischief to get into!  Later!

 

 

 

 

Categories: Horror, Review, Steampunk, Video | 1 Comment

A Blast from the Past, Revived!

Monday morning sneaks up on us yet again, ruining an otherwise lovely late summer weekend.  For myself, I was almost relieved to see Monday morning.  This weekend was a roller coaster swinging between fabulous and “oh dear God, just shoot me now” (which is how I ended up missing Fun Friday; completely forgot about it in a storm of karmic poo; sorry)  I ended the weekend by pulling an all night writing session; I didn’t plan it that way, it just kind of happened.  But I got some terrific work done, and I’m still chugging along, to the point where I was a little reluctant to pull away long enough to get blog post up.  But I couldn’t disappoint you, Dear Readers, not two posting days in a row.

I just love serendipity; it’s like a surprise present from the universe. Nobody sent me this next link, and I didn’t go looking for it.  On my web browser is a little app wherein I can do instant searches on any number of engines, just with a couple clicks.  This morning I was doing a search for Lester Dent.  I was planning a Google search, as I was looking for a bibliography of his work.  But, me being the absent minded hillbilly that I am, I forgot to flip the app over to Google Search, and therefore it went with its original setting, YouTube Search.  And oh, dear what a cool thing it found.

Anybody who has the least interest in the Golden Age pulps knows who Doc Savage is.  If you’re new, Doc Savage is a pulp quasi-super hero created by Street and Smith Publications in 1933, and written under the house name Kenneth Robeson; the vast majority of stories were written by Lester Dent.  Doc appeared in magazine short stories, freestanding novels, radio, comic books, and movies.

The radio show, which is the one we’re concerned with, ran from 1934-35, in 1943, and were written by Lester Dent himself.  In 1985, National Public Radio did their own run of shows, dramatizing two of the most popular novels, Fear Cay and The Thousand Headed Man.

So what I stumbled across on YouTube is a live performance of an original , previously unrecorded Doc Savage radio play. Seems there were two pilot episodes written for the 1934 rado show, but only one was produced at the time.  At the 2013 InConJunction convention, the WCRS Radio Players did a live performance of the unproduced series pilot.  I went searching, but I can’t find that this particular play was ever produced anywhere else, ever.  So this is a unique find!  Here, watch and listen for yourself.

Fair warning:  if you’ve never watched a live performance of a radio show, it’s weirdly underwhelming. X number of people (three in this instance) standing around microphones and reading off scripts.  Sometimes the same person will play two, three, four or more characters, simply changing his voice to change characters.  The more interesting visual thing on a stage show of this type are the foley artists, the guys who produce all the sound effects; they’re always doing something interesting to look at.  For this particular recording, they have pre-recorded sound effects, which is less fun.  I have my Hillbilly Ridge Runners out searching for a sample of what I’m talking about, specifically a show I saw years and years ago.  It was an onstage radio performance of “From the Earth to the Moon,” by Jules Verne, and starring Leonard Nimoy.  Fascinating stuff, seriously.

Okay, that’s what I’ve got for you today.  I gotta get back to writing.  Next week, we resume Fiction Mondays with a new short story.  And I have a treat for you pulpy space opera fans out there!  It should also be a treat for my audio drama listeners as well.  I’ll be back here Wednesday for the next installment from the deepest jungles of Appalachia.  In the meantime, don’t forget to share, tweet, comment, and send along your suggestions for Fun Fridays!

Categories: Classic pulp, Radio, Video | Leave a comment

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