When Steampunks Discover Black

“Steampunks are Goths who discovered brown,” is a quote attributed to author Jess Nevins that was popularized by Cherie Priest. The quote holds at least a little truth from my personal perspective. I started writing short vampire fiction in 2000 and then published my first vampire novel in 2005. Although I wrote and published my first steampunk story in 2001, I really didn’t really appreciate it as a subgenre separate from historical fantasy until I was introduced to Cherie Priest’s novel Boneshaker in 2009. I was delighted to meet Ms. Priest at the very first Wild Wild West Con in 2011 just before my first steampunk novel Owl Dance was published.

Bloodshot by Cherie Priest

Although Cherie Priest is well known for her steampunk work, I knew she’d also written Gothic fiction, including vampire fiction. Her novel Bloodshot was published in 2011, the same year I met her at Wild Wild West Con. Given my interest in returning to my Scarlet Order vampire series and given that this week, I’ve been proofreading the new edition of my steampunk novel The Brazen Shark, I thought it would be fun to take a look at Bloodshot.

Bloodshot is a mystery thriller that tells the story of a vampire thief named Raylene Pendle who is hired by a blind vampire named Ian Stott to find and steal records that should help a doctor restore some, if not all, of his sight. The military had captured Ian and experimented on him and other vampires to find ways to develop biotechnologies that could improve the fighting skills of soldiers. Right after her first meeting with Ian, someone breaks into Raylene’s warehouse in Seattle where she keeps the stolen goods which didn’t find a home. Soon after that, she manages to open some top secret documents, which trigger the government to come hunt her down.

Raylene makes her way to a facility in Minnesota where records are literally put on ice. She breaks in and gets a lead that sends her to Atlanta, but not before she attracts even more unwelcome attention from the government. Soon, she’s working with a drag queen whose sister was a vampire in the program with Ian and wants to get to the bottom of who ran the program so he can shut them down. There’s a lot of great action along the way. Raylene is the story’s narrator and she presents herself as a loner, but reveals herself to be a little lonely and someone who cares for the other people in her life, including the homeless kids Pepper and Domino who have made a home in her warehouse.

I’ve often found it interesting how two different authors can develop similar ideas in parallel without being aware of the others’ work. Clearly Cherie Priest and I share a number of common interests and I think it’s interesting that we both wrote about a government program existing to investigate and adapt vampire abilities to soldiers. We also both explore the idea of a vampire thief. Still, there are distinct differences. In Bloodshot, it’s not clear the program actually accomplished much through its experiments. In Vampires of the Scarlet Order, the government did create a kind of vampiric soldier to horrific results. Cherie Priest told her story in first person. I used an epistolary narrative, which allowed me to retain first person intimacy, but explore multiple points of view. Bloodshot and Vampires of the Scarlet Order are by no means copies of one another, but it’s interesting that our related interests led us to explore a few similar ideas in our own unique ways. So now, I need to move on and read Bloodshot’s sequel, Hellbent.

You can learn about my Scarlet Order vampire novels at http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order. If you’d like to get some sneak peeks at the new book as it develops, if you just like this blog and appreciate its ad-free experience, or if you’d like the ebook of The Brazen Shark as a bonus when it’s finished, please consider supporting my Patreon at: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers

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.

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!