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It’s no secret that I like science fiction.  Fantasy as well, but sci-fi is what I was bred and buttered on in my youth, as they say.  In particular, I always enjoyed (and still do) the incredible stories of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, among others.  Who didn’t?

Throughout my young, formative years (in the 70’s and early 80’s), these authors’ stories were classified as simply “science fiction”.  Same as Bradbury, same as Asimov, same as Heinlein,  same as Douglas Adams.  There was no further breakdown of genre– it was all simply stuck under the heading “science fiction”.

Turns out there is now a name for the particular sub-genre of sci-fi into which most of Verne’s and Wells’ stories fit.  It’s called “steampunk”.

Wikipedia defines “steampunk” like this:

“Steampunk is a sub-genre of fantasy and speculative fiction that came into prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. The term denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century, and often Victorian era England—but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date.”

Ah!  So it took until the last half of the twentieth century to find a need to create a name for this particular sub-set of science fiction?  So be it.  Who am I to argue? It doesn’t change the stories themselves, which  still stand the test of time–nearly two hundred years of it.

But there is new steampunk being developed today–stories that capture the essence of Verne and Wells and a host of others.  One of these is an animated video titled “The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello”, directed by Anthony Lucas and–according to the video’s description–inspired by the work of authors Edgar Alan Poe and Jules Verne.

Let me pause here to mention that, in mentioning this film before having read the description of it, I once said it was “a meeting of Jules Verne and Edgar Allen Poe”.  Clearly, since my independently-arrived-at assessment so closely matched that of the producers’, they inarguably achieved what they set out to do.

The story follows steam-powered airship navigator Jasper Morello on a quest that leads him away from his wife and from a dread sickness sweeping his home city, reuniting him with an old colleague who carries a dark secret, and dredging up ghosts of Jasper’s past.  To say much more would require spoilers, so I’ll leave it to you to watch the film yourself. Suffice it to say that if Verne and Poe had collaborated on the movie “Alien”, the result would be much like “Morello”.

Jasper”s world is filled with gears and pulleys (in places it seems like there is little else), flying machines, dials, levers, rails, squeaks and rumbles…in short, everything you might imagine a steam-powered world would contain. The characters are interesting and believable–which is saying much, since the film utilizes the silhouette style of animation and is only twenty-six minutes long, so there is not much room for character development and very little in the way of facial expression (as in, none at all).

Despite that, Morello’s world is rich and detailed, with something new to catch the eye in nearly every scene. “The Mysterious Explorations of Jasper Morello” is true entertainment, true steampunk, and true horror in a well-made package.

You can watch the video here on YouTube. Because it contains somewhat disturbing themes and occasional graphic gore, “Morello” is not recommended for young children.

Leave a comment and tell me what you think of “Morello”, or of steampunk in general.

Some full-length steampunk (or steampunk-inspired) animated films:

Steamboy (Katsuhiro Otomo)

Castle in the Sky (Hayao Miyazaki)

Howl’s moving castle (a mix of fantasy and steampunk) (Miyazaki)

Atlantis (Disney)

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As any true Treasure Island fan might guess from the title, Flint and Silver, by John Drake, is a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic pirate tale, but be forewarned – where Treasure Island is a yarn for children of all ages, Flint and Silver sails strictly in the “adults only” category.

Drake dives into the human side of Long John Silver, showing us the one-legged man’s emotions in ways Stevenson only ever hinted at.  He also shows us a human – but altogether different and darker – side of Joe Flint, Silver’s former captain and shipmate, and only the strong of heart and stomach should attempt to get to know the man.

For Flint is a sadistic, troubled, entirely cruel and heartless pirate, and Drake’s descriptions of the man’s increasingly twisted tortures take the reader deeper and deeper into Flint’s insanity.

“Foxe’s Book says there’s over five fathoms of guts inside a man,” Flint tells us – as well as his own loyal crew man, whom he has bound and gagged before him, “I’ve often wondered if that really is the case.”  This line hints at the levels to which Flint is prepared to stoop to protect what he believes is his – he is entirely ready to find out the length of a man’s guts, with the unfortunate crew man alive as both subject and witness.

There are softer parts of the story as well, though. We feel with Silver the loss of his leg – feel it in ways Stevenson never even hints at – as well as his pride in his first ship.  We see Silver falling in love, we see the compassion he will later show toward young Jim Hawkins, and we see how he earns and then keeps the loyalty of his crew.

There is violence, there are sexual situations, there is language…and in all cases, Drake does not hold back.  At times, I felt the story could have moved along just as well without these, and indeed I skimmed past a few small passages to get back to the action.

Because there IS action, a lot of this, and again Drake does not hold this back, taking us into the thick of cannon-fire, the betrayal of back-stabbing pirates, the force of wind in sail.

My only real complaint about Flint and Silver is that Drake – particularly in the early chapters of the book – darts backward and forward in time, so it is  important to pay careful attention to the chapter headings, which detail the dates and locations for each chapter’s actions.  In the latter half of the book, Drake settles down and follows a more chronological approach, which is good since this is where the meat of the action takes place.

An excellent read (for adults only), and an altogether satisfying take on Stevenson’s characters and situations.  I look forward to Drake’s sequel, Pieces of Eight, which continues the story of Flint and Silver.

That said, Stevenson’s Treasure Island is still and will remain my favorite pirate story. 🙂

July, 1969

The following is a deleted excerpt from a story I’m working on.  I thought it appropriately commemorative of today.

Thirty-six stories tall. Seven million pounds of mass. Five immense engines that are so powerful they have to be lit at millisecond intervals so their combined force won’t shake the massive rocket to pieces. The rumble of the launch can be felt six miles away, can be heard a hundred miles from the pad, while inside the tiny cone at the rocket’s apex, three sardine-packed men are living that rumble, feeling each pound of thrust building up in mere seconds three hundred feet below them, pushing the mighty Saturn V away from the Earth. A mere six inches off the ground, rocket and men are in the zone of no return. If the monster’s engines fail now, disaster and death will follow.

But the engines don’t fail. The huge beast lumbers off the pad, slowly–oh, so slowly–taking more than twelve seconds to clear the tower, but gathering speed like nothing that has ever come before it. Only two and a half minutes after that rumble began it has already pushed the rocket thirty-eight miles above the clear, sparkling Atlantic. The rocket passes through the zone of maximum dynamic pressure, and in their sardine tin the men are certain they will be shaken to pieces. Then the pressure eases as the rocket accelerates through the danger zone and the first massive stage separates with a bone-jarring jolt, followed seconds later by yet another jerk that forces the aeronauts–they won’t be astronauts for another twelve miles, though that barrier is mere seconds away–back into their beach-chair seats as the second stage engines flare to life, pushing the rocket to even greater speed, even higher altitude, while the useless first stage tumbles back to the world from whence it came like a discarded tin can.

The second stage accelerates the capsule to fifteen thousand miles an hour, and still it is not going fast enough to break free of the gravity grip of Mother Earth. It is enough, though, to put three men into orbit one hundred fifteen miles above their home soil, but they do not stay there long. A mere orbit and a half is all they have time for, and after another jolt of ignition the third stage finally pushes them toward the moon, out of Earth’s grip, away from the only home they have ever known.

The mighty Saturn V rocket is mankind’s most impressive machine. A team of four hundred thousand people have worked for nearly a decade to design it, build it, test it, and design and build and test some more, all for the purpose of sending three people to the moon, landing two of them on its surface, and returning them all safely back to their mother planet.

It succeeds beyond everyone’s hopes. And that mission is only the first of six of its kind, five of which will succeed on putting men on the moon, and all of which will bring them all home safely again.

For the first time in the entire history of the planet, Earth’s children have set foot on a world that is not the one on which they had been born, have taken their first toddling steps toward God.

The Fantastic Planet is a gem of science-fiction animation from a by-gone era. Produced in 1973, it provides all the elements of a proper psychedelic film – a heavy, guitar-laden soundtrack, bizarre settings, weird creatures and surreal situations.  It also provides all the elements of a proper science-fiction film – surreal situations, weird creatures, bizarre settings and a heavy, guitar-laden soundtrack.  🙂

The Fantastic Planet tells the story of Terr, a human raised as a pet by the Draags – giant blue humanoids who are only just getting their minds around the idea that the Humans (the Draags call them “Oms”) might actually be intelligent and self-aware.  This doesn’t stop their efforts in periodically “controlling” (meaning, exterminating) the nests of wild Oms outside, though.

This delay in recognizing the Oms’ intelligence proves to be The Draags’ undoing, as Terr escapes the Draag child who keeps him.  Terr, stealing the Draag child’s Headphones of Learning, falls in with a group of savage Oms.  Together they use Terr’s knowledge and that of the headphones to survive the Draag’s horrific extermination sweeps and implement a daring plan of escape to a sister planet nearby.

There are no epic space battles, no laser fights (well, there is sort of one), no mind-controlling computers, but there is tension and survival and an intriguing story line.  It keeps well the feel of a good science-fiction short story. There is some blood, some nudity, and some violence, but for the most part it is handled non-gratuitously and is – by today’s standards – pretty tame.  The extermination scenes are the hardest, due primarily to the sheer numbers of Oms being killed, rather than the amount of blood being shown.  Not for very young children, in other words, but adults who enjoy the less “space-battle-oriented” science-fiction tales of a by-gone age – not to mention those who just need a break from the Anime stories so prevalent today – will enjoy The Fantastic Planet.

I should note that I did NOT see this when it was first released in 1973.  I caught it at the drive-in some time in the late 70’s, playing in a double-bill with a terrible movie called Starcrash. I may have to dig that one up again in order to exorcise it from my brain. 🙂

It is interesting to note that “La Planète Sauvage” (the original French title) translates literally to “The Wild Planet” or “The Savage Planet”, either of which would have been a more-than-appropriate title for the English version of the film.  Perhaps the distributors, hoping to cash in on a particular demographic, thought “Fantastic” was more of a hook into the psychedelic nature of the film.

Learn more about The Fantastic Planet on IMDB.

If you can, find The Fantastic Planet on DVD, for a full, rich viewing experience.

Well, God willing and the creek don’t rise–as they say–I will soon be submitting two new pieces for publication.  The first is a new space opera (or science fiction if you like) serial, with grand space battles and exotic new worlds and species.  With luck, this serial will run through at least twelve installments, possibly more.

The second is a shorter piece–my first poem, but it’s not your usual style of verse.  And yes, this one is also a sci-fi piece.  🙂

Keep your eyes peeled here for details as they become available!

On June 1st, Digital Dragon Magazine launches its premiere issue online, and I am proud to announce that my short story “The Horses” will be appearing therein!  No, it’s not about the four-legged animals of equine persuasion…you’ll have to read it to find out what I mean, but if you like stories with spaceships and mysterious visitors, you’ll enjoy this one.  🙂

Take a gander at it, as well as the other pieces inside, and be sure to let me (and DDragonMag editor T.W. Ambrose) know what you think!

Oh yeah, and there’s still time to get your free eBook of The Ballad of Scabbard Pete: On the Seas of Hell.  Pop on over to http://PaperGizmo.com to claim yours!

-TL

Well, the formatting has been done and the eBook version of The Ballad of Scabbard Pete part 1: On the Seas of Hell is now available!

Here’s how to get your free copy:  pop on over to PaperGizmo.com and click on the Contact button.  On the page that opens, just fill out the form.  Be sure to include a valid email address, and tell me how you were first introduced to Pete.  That’s it!

But act fast, because this offer won’t last forever!