Pterodactyls, Mummies, and Magic

I’m beginning to think the French are particularly adept at making steampunk films. I enjoyed 2013’s Jack and the Cuckoo-Clock Heart which had lovely animation and used steampunk images and metaphors to tell a tale of falling in and out of love that included among other things a loving tribute to Georges Méliès. Last week, I discussed the 2015 animated film April and the Extraordinary World drawn in the style of cartoonist Jacques Tardi. This week, I take a look at a film that precedes both of these, 2010’s The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, which is based on Jacques Tardi’s comic book series of the same name.

The film is directed by Luc Besson, probably best known in America as the director of The Fifth Element starring Bruce Willis. Adèle Blanc-Sec is a writer and adventurer living in 1912 who, as the movie opens, has traveled to Egypt to look for the mummy of the physician of Ramses II. Meanwhile, back in Paris, a professor uses mental powers to resurrect a pterodactyl at the French Museum of Natural History. The pterodactyl breaks free and manages to kill a high ranking French official. Like in The Fifth Element, many disparate characters and situations eventually come together, sometimes with humorous results. Sometimes tragedy ensues. In the end, I felt like I had been treated to a good and satisfying yarn.

As it turns out, the original comic series goes all the way back to 1976 and predates the K.W. Jeeter’s 1987 letter to Locus magazine where he gives Victorian fantasies the name “steampunk.” Even so, the adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec have all the hallmarks of good gonzo, historical fiction. We see a 1912—and even glimpse an ancient Egypt—where technology is so advanced for some, that it’s indistinguishable from magic. We see a pterodactyl brought back to life. For reasons that become clear over the movie’s course, we discover that Adèle wants to bring a mummy back to life. I have no problem calling this movie set just before World War I, steampunk.

Steampunk literature has brought us some strong female protagonists. Among them are Alexia Tarabotti in Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series, Briar Wilkes of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker and Agatha Heterodyne of Phil and Kaja Foglio’s Girl Genius. I’d like to think that Fatemeh Karimi and Larissa Seaton of my Clockwork Legion novels could also stand by their sisters. There’s no question that Adèle Blanc-Sec qualifies. In fact, one thing that impressed me about the movie was Adèle’s lack of interest in romance. There’s a young scientist who is enamored with her, but she doesn’t share his infatuation. Her character isn’t defined by any kind of a romantic interest. Like many good action heroes, her character is defined by the object of her quest.

If you’re looking for a good steampunk romp, it’s hard to go wrong with The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec. In its way, it’s very much an heir to Jules Verne’s own extraordinary adventures. Perhaps being a countryman of Jules Verne or Georges Méliès helps when you set out to make a steampunk film. I think Hollywood could do worse than pay attention to France’s successes in this area.

If you enjoy The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec and would like more rollicking tales featuring strong women, be sure to check out my Clockwork Legion Series.

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Gaslight Gathering: A Martian Holiday

The Gaslight Gathering Steampunk Convention will be held from May 2-4 in San Diego, California at the Town and Country Hotel. The theme is “A Martian Holiday” and I’m honored to be back as a presenter this year. Among the guests of honor are author Cherie Priest and Gentleman Rapper, Professor Elemental. You can find more information at the convention’s website: gaslightgathering.org.

Gaslight-Martian

My schedule at Gaslight Gathering is as follows:

Friday, May 2

    8:30-10:30 pm – Martian Astronomy Viewing. I’ll be bringing my 8-inch telescope to Gaslight Gathering. Weather permitting, drop by the pool area and catch a glimpse of the red planet!

Saturday, May 3

    2:00-3:00 pm – Mars: A Land Across the Aether. Come to Garden Salon I and learn how Mars went from being a point of light in the sky to a place people dreamed of visiting during the Victorian Age. Among the people who studied Mars during the Victorian age were Queen Victoria’s watercolor teacher, a prominent Italian astronomer, the brother of Harvard’s president, and Nikola Tesla!

    4:00-5:00pm – Steampunk Poetry Salon Denise Dumars and I will be hosting a workshop and reading at the Brittany Room. Whether you are a late-Romantic, Pre-Raphaelite, Decadent, or Martian ambassador, we invite you to enjoy our literary salon and learn from these widely published poets. Bring your own work and a notebook or infernal device upon which to write.

Sunday, May 4

    1:00-2:00pm – AutographingI’ll be signing my wares in the dealer’s room. Come learn what’s new and what I have coming soon!

If you’re in San Diego next weekend, I hope I’ll see you at Gaslight Gathering!