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New Inspiration: Steampunk Johannesburg

I’ve made a new observation: I’m not observant enough. I spend at least two hours in traffic and apart from the massive billboards vying from my attention, I don’t really look around much. Or I may look at a car but never really my surroundings.

As one who loves nature, I’m far more fascinated with drives down to Durban or Drakensberg, where the concrete towers and varying high walls and buzz of incessant traffic give way to sprawling greenery against a backdrop of harsh, grey mountain dipping its feet in deep-blue tranquil waters. I can watch that all day. How I love that scene. That image.

image of Drakensberg mountain

Image courtesy of: Go Self-Drive Tours

It was only quite recently, following a trip back to the city from nature’s beauty, that I became aware of landscapes around my home-city too. Then during the walk through the Joburg Central Business District (CBD), I started to notice the little things about it. The varying trees growing within the city. The modern buildings directly across their older, derelict kin. The repaired roads running parallel to the new public transport lane of the Rea-Vaya and its co-joined Bus lane. The uneven, mud-caked site populated by squatters and hawkers right beside the refurbished pavement leading towards the Mandela Bridge.

I noticed the cluttered, and varying shops with displays just outside their glass facades, with the door man calling out to us passing by. The street vendors cooking seemingly shady meat on equally-shady grills. Then I noticed the people. Like really noticed the people. All shapes and colours and fashions and styles. A marriage of cultures, languages, people, nations. Truly a rainbow nation.

image: Johannesburg CBD, Mandela Bridge

Johannesburg CBD and the Mandela Bridge

 

Same City. But Different: Egoli – City of Gold

So this new idea I’m rolling with (amongst others, I know, I know) came to me as a series of intermingled thoughts finding connections I hadn’t seen before. They are:

  1. Johannesburg is nicknamed, the City of Gold by miners who worked in the gold mines. e’Goli – where there is gold. I spend a lot of time in these streets. In a car, but… still.
  2. Many of you know I have a love for all things Steampunk. I even started a steampunk tumblr account at one point and I’m still (still) working on my steampunk novel Junk Yard Angel – 5 years strong.
  3. Worldbuilding is one of my favourite activities while I’m driving. Spending too much time in my head thinking of different scenarios. Concepts as trivial as what my first speech will be when I publish my book, to creating whole worlds where the species is telepathic which means we would not be able to hide our thoughts and someone just created a device that stops that from happening and its implications. You know. The usual drivel.

Then came that truly mind-blowing thought: Steampunk Johannesburg made with real gold buildings and political leaders broadcasting their campaigns on airships crossing the city skyline. The air has a constant buzz, not only from the passing pedestrians of every ethnicity, but from the gears that run the city, and the continuing mines constantly searching for the precious metal. Yes. I can see it now.

It’s so beautiful.

image: Johannesburg skyline sunrise

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Wednesday Book Review: The Mammoth Book of Steampunk Adventures

the-mammoth-book-of-steampunk-adventures

Title: The Mammoth Book of Steampunk Adventures

Author: Multiple authors – Edited by Sean Wallace

Genre: Steampunk

Book procurement: Bought the book at the now defunct Exclusive Books The Glen.

Synopsis:

Looking to the future through the lens of the past, here is a second fantastic collection of over 30 typically anarchic mash-ups that push the boundaries of steampunk from the same editor of the bestselling Mammoth Book of Steampunk.

Review:

First Thoughts

I picked this up while I was writing my first Steampunk novel, hoping to get a glimpse into his mysterious world of amazing steam and clockwork powered inventions, and alternate universes where electricity was obsolete. I was hoping for grandiose descriptions, compelling characters, incredible machines, fantastical worlds, and grungy, sooty Victorian-Era stories. What I got was a little bit of that, but mostly it was other genres set in a steampunk world where you don’t see much of the steam. It wasn’t the greatest anthology but it was just enough. Just.

Story

There were 30 stories in this anthology, and not all of them were great, which is why I’ve been reading this book for over a year now. Haha *looks away guiltily* Some of the stories I ate up like a good double bacon and egg burger, and other’s I chewed over like overcooked steak. Here were a few that stood out:

Tanglefoot – Cheri Priest

Harry and Marlowe and the Talisman of the Cult of Egil

Edison’s Frankenstein – Chris Robertson

Green Eyed Monsters in the Valley of Sky, An Opera

The Clockworks of Hanyang – Gord Sellar

I Stole the DC’s Eyeglass – Sofia Samatar

The Collier’s Venus – Caitlin R. Kiernan

Final Thoughts

Eh I wasn’t severely impressed. A few stories were tantalizing only to end abruptly, while other’s dragged on forever and they weren’t the most compelling. I got a sense of the Steampunk genre but not enough to fall in love with it as I had expected. I think I’ll have to read a proper novel next.

Rating: A meh 3 out of 5

Monday Book Recommendation: Buffalo Soldier

buffalo-soldier

Having stumbled onto a plot within his homeland of Jamaica, former espionage agent, Desmond Coke, finds himself caught between warring religious and political factions, all vying for control of a mysterious boy named Lij Tafari.

Wanting the boy to have a chance to live a free life, Desmond assumes responsibility for him and they flee. But a dogged enemy agent remains ever on their heels, desperate to obtain the secrets held within Lij for her employer alone.

Assassins, intrigue, and steammen stand between Desmond and Lij as they search for a place to call home in a North America that could have been.


maurice-broaddus

Maurice Broaddus is a fantasy and horror author best known for his short fiction and his Knights of Breton Court novel trilogy. He has published dozens of stories in magazines and book anthologies, including in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Black Static, and Weird Tales.

Character Backstory Woes

I made a terrible discovery yesterday. The minor character in my novel who dies in the first chapter (well supposed to anyway…suddenly undecided) has a better backstory than my protagonist. This minor character has a rich beautiful backstory that won’t be part of the novel while my protagonist has nothing interesting at all. I figured it was time for a little Extreme Makeover Novel Edition *cue music

extreme_makeover_home_novel_edition

Meet the Character

Protagonist is a fluffy poodle of wasted potential badly planned and written even worse. He’s been living as an incomplete in the First Drafts Section for over three years with no hope of ever coming to the fore. However, in a dramatic turn of events, he’s found a new home in Second Drafts which is being renewed and refurbished. However, will that be enough?

Back to Basics

We’ll be crafting a new identity for this quagmire oozing latent aptitude to be the a great Protagonist. First we must consider their traits:

letsdoamakeover

  • Who are they: Name. Last name. Nickname. Age. Race. Language. Height. Weight. Imagine them fully fleshed out as a walking, talking real person. If Protagonist is not alive to you, they won’t be alive to readers.
  • What are they: Human? Orc? Pizza-slice animated to life and seeking the purpose of life? Are they working or students or mage or detective? Are they the Chosen One or the stable boy or a passing wind offering fruits of wisdom to strangers? What Protagonist is, defines social life, goals, aspirations, challenges, advantages. Paint the details that specify Protagonist.
  • Past|Present|Future: Who was Protagonist before the start of the novel? Who are they during the course of it? Who will they be at the end of it? Has the “Who” and “What” changed during these transitions? For good or bad? In short, does the wise wandering old mentor turn out to be a random man who found fortune cookies in the dumpster behind the Chinese restaurant. How does that change your character?
  • Choices: Choices made by the protagonist, antagonist, and other characters affect the protagonist in some way. These also after the story being told. Don’t forget that story and character are deeply intertwined like the flavouring of your 2 Minute Noodles and the bottom of your pot/plate/microwave.

After careful application of these concepts, Protagonist should come out shiny and new, with purpose and depth sure to stun readers into swooning stupors of joy.

Backstory Vs Back Story

backstory

One is the history of the character and the other is a story about the character’s back (or a command to tell the story to back-off). Same thing. Whatever. Either way, a character is defined by their history and what’s behind them (see what I did there?), much like we are. Look back (ha more puns) into your own past at a choice or decision you or someone else made that could have changed who you are today.

You can start with a character and who you want them to be, and fit a matching backstory as you see fit. Alternatively you can define the world or history around them and let that define the character.

Protagonist is now ready to delve into the story. You know who they are, what they are and where they come from. You know how they walk and talk, and importantly where they are going. It’s time to match character to story.

Novel Reveal

Following this intense procedure of revamping the character and their backstory, the story may or may not change. What does change, is the revelation about your character that will drive your story forward.

revelation

Junk Yard Angel, which is the novel I am currently working on, has seen some dramatic changes in its story. While keeping the original idea intact, the character improvement has also restructured the sequence of events. This means new characters, new settings, new technology and more importantly, a deeper, richer story to tell. It also added more links to my mind map which have spawned a new idea for the novel: side stories.

Side Stories will be the untold arcs that won’t appear in the novel but will add a profound depth to the world where Junk Yard Angel takes place. Worldbuilding added to much of these untold stories. It’s a really exciting time ahead and I look forward to completing my novel.


Have you realized any profound changes to your novel WIP and had to re-work the characters/world/story? How did it work out for you?

Friday Fiction: The AGA

Today’s Friday Fiction is courtesy of microcosmsfic.com. 300 word short story using the following elements.

Character: Songwriter Setting: Village Genre: Aga Saga


agacooker_02

Vanessa sneered at the aged AGA. A bulky, 3-door cooker sitting against the kitchen wall like a squalid interloper. It’s front creame-coloured door was peeling to reveal the shiny metallic interior. From the back, a pipe ran along the wall and attached to the black bent-tube boiler built into the wall.

“Shall you fix it then?”

The village Engineer wiped his forehead with a grimy handkerchief.

“I’ll try my best mam. We been doin’ more Aether-boiler jobs than steam… and this is very old.”

“Well I ask you do to more than just try. This is an heirloom sir, it best be fixed.”

“Of course, mam.”

She saw the scowl creasing his wrinkled face, smudged with soot like the lower-class civil servant he was.

“I’ll be in the Drawing Room. Find me when it is done.”

She whirled away in a flurry of ruffles flaring from her crinoline. Like an inverted rose, the scarlet dress flared around her hips, silk crawling up to the high-collar styled with intricate golden gears. Although the daughter of the Royal Engineer – she drew no correlation between her father and the man in her kitchen.

“Must you always be so rude, Vanessa?” mother asked without lifting her head, seated with a cello angled away from her knees.

“Is he not below us?”

“Your privileged ancestry began with a man very much like him.”

Vanessa glided across the carpeted floor and gazed out the window. The village, once further away, now loomed closer. Threatening to overtake.

“Do we not come from a family of cabaret singers, song writers and… whatever it is you do mother.”

Mother raised her eyes and sighed,

“Much like the AGA you despise so, the future catches up to us. Apart from your class, what shall you offer to it?”

JYA Novel – First Drafts and Mind Maps

junkyardangel-anovel

Today I skimmed over my first novel attempt – Junk Yard Angel. Although I’d written this close to 4 years ago, I’m pleasantly surprised by the writing in this first draft. I see a lot of places where improvements can be made and some places I’m going to delete, but there are a lot of pieces I will definitely include in the second draft. It’s a relief to know I was not a completely terrible writer, and that I’ve improved over the years. It can only get better from here right?

Mind Your Novel

Mind maps are like my thing now. They used to be when I was far younger, encouraged by English teachers to use planning, then I stopped when I found the joy of discovery writing, but now I see the value of them once again and have become an official Plantser. Mind maps allow me to contain all my ideas, plots, characters, and general thoughts into one document, divided into pages for each topic.

  • Main Story: Details the overarching theme. Lists all significant plot points and any side arcs.
  • Characters: Lists every character, role, character arcs,growth points and anything else related to the character.
  • World: Maps out the world and the continent/countries. Detailed descriptions for each location. Points out key locations and how they tie in to characters, main story and anything else significant.
    • Also includes details regarding culture, religion, technology, weather, people, economy, fawn, flora, etc etc
  • Technological Advancement: Explains where the world is technologically, and what the current world utilizes in day to day activities.
  • Resources: All links, references, pictures etc used to form the novel.

First things First

I’ve been reading the Mammoth Book of Steampunk for a number of months now. Steampunk is one of those sub-genres that fascinate me. It requires a lot of research to keep it authentic, while inventions need plenty out-of-the-box thinking.

the-mammoth-book-of-steampunk-adventures

For Junk Yard Angel, the first thing I will be tackling is the in-depth research. I’m exploring current trends in technology and wondering how they would work in an alternate Earth where there’s no electricity but steam. How it would have come to fruition. What technology in real life was invented during the pre-electricity era, and what could have propelled those inventions forward had electricity failed.

The story is also set in various locations, which means each place has technology unique to them. Different people and cultures will also have varying needs. Weather and temperature will affect requirements. Weaponry. Living space. Lifestyle. Religion. All of these aspects have to be explored and meted out in order to build a believable living world.

Onward!

I’m genuinely excited. My mind is already creating images and scenery inspiring me forward. Mind maps are starting to shape up. World building is also one of my favourite parts of writing a novel before the real hard work begins.

I hope you continue with me on this journey towards writing my novel.

 

Junk Yard Angel – 2017’s Old-New Novel Goal

White Angel Artwork

White Angel by – JasonChanArt.com

In December 2012, I wrote a short story called Junk Yard Angel, inspired by the beautiful image above by Jason Chan. A year later I attempted my first NaNoWriMo with every intention of writing a Junk Yard Angel novel. The premise was as follows:

In a pre-technology era, the world was moving along fine and at a steady pace when a new technology was introduced. Steam powered contraptions began to appear all over the world, slowly at first but increasing rapidly with time and along with them, junk yards. Now the world relies heavily on this new technology (and the ridding of the old), even more so now as natural disasters seem to be occurring more often than before. And then rumours began to stir among the people, rumours of a saviour of sorts,the girl with the white hair – the Junk Yard Angel.

This was my first foray into the world of Steampunk. An exciting fantasy sub-genre where steam and natural gas are the primary sources of power as opposed to coal and electricity. Although I spent a lot of time on the story, writing 22155 words during NaNo, I felt that my story didn’t become the epic novel my mind had been brewing. The reason? Lack of world details, a weak plot, non-existent character arcs and flat characters. I was just a current firing off with the synapses without any forethought.

giphy

In the time between then and now, I’ve always thought about that novel, my first attempt at intentionally writing a novel and the potential in the idea. Steampunk popped up in other stories as well, including another novel attempt that was a steampunk horror inspired to be the spiritual successor of Junk Yard Angel. I’ve decided, after almost four years of deliberating, to once again attempt to write and finish Junk Yard Angel. This is the main goal for 2017.

Second Attempt Goals

Rather than jump right into writing the novel, I’ve decided to build it all up slowly with proper planning. Looking back, I don’t know how I thought I’d get anything done without a plan in the first place. As much as Pantsing is fun, and you can discover a lot of amazing things along the way, I always hit a brick wall when I do. Every time. This time, I’m going to be intentional and it starts as follows:

  • Build the world

Steampunk may seem like a limiting genre. You can only have a Victorian Era style of characters, clothing, language etc. I think that’s a serious misconception. The world then was not limited to just one area and different cultures would have exprienced the same era with varying results. This is my goal. A new world. My world.

  • Culture Shock

The original novel took place in a lot of areas. I’m not going to throw all those ideas out but build on them. Let’s see how different cultures and people were affected by this amazing technology. This will mean a lot of research and brainstorming. For instance, what if steam technology was introduced to a village where snow fell constantly. What inventions would they build, as opposed to London city folk?

  • A Living World

Details are important. What sort of transportation was being used? Was money important? What did it look like? Did markets exist? In what form? Were there any buildings? What sort? What were they using to build them? What materials were being used for buildings, clothing, weapons, and the world around them. If I cannot see the world where the story takes place, if it is not living in my head, then how can I write it?

  • Endless Possibilities

While there may be people who would frown upon what I’ve written, and would prefer the classic Steampunk renditions as seen in The Golden Compass, Wild Wild West, Treasure Planet, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the like, let’s not forget that Steampunk is a Fantasy genre and therefore anything can happen.


I’ve changed my site theme (again) just to see how it works. Sorry for all the changes.

Monday Book Recommendations: Keeping It Real (Quantum Gravity #1)

Keeping It Real

The Quantum Bomb of 2015 changed everything. The fabric that kept the universe’s different dimensions apart was torn and now, six years later, the people of earth exist in uneasy company with the inhabitants of, amongst others, the elfin, elemental, and demonic realms. Magic is real and can be even more dangerous than technology. Elves are exotic, erotic, dangerous, and really bored with the constant Lord of the Rings references. Elementals are a law unto themselves and demons are best left well to themselves.

Special agent Lila Black used to be pretty, but now she’s not so sure. Her body is more than half restless carbon and metal alloy machinery, a machine she’s barely in control of. It goes into combat mode, enough weapons for a small army springing from within itself, at the merest provocation. As for her heart, well, ever since being drawn into a game by the elfin rockstar Zal (lead singer of The No Shows), who she’s been assigned to protect, she’s not even sure she can trust that any more either.

Add it to you TBR list on Goodreads or buy it on Amazon.


justina_robson

Justina is from Leeds, a city in Yorkshire in the north of England. She always wanted to write and always did. Other things sometimes got in the way and sometimes still do…but not too much.

What are you currently reading or looking forward to read?

Friday Fiction: Puppets

Outlast

Drip.

Drip.

Drip.

Incessant. The dripping. It’s… incessant. Oil. Or perhaps blood. I can’t tell from so far but it’s far too thick to be water. And far too dark. Everything is dark. Except – I can see. I can see in the dark; luminous emerald visions. I can see everything. I can see…

Them.

They cannot see me. Ghastly elongated figures. Human. Monster.

Sulfurous redolence encompasses them and wafts into my nostrils. Beings erratically twitch about on legs half bent, and arms twisted into irregular angles like broken tree branches. A gorge yawns where mouths should be. Alabaster barbs for teeth.

Them.

A whisper drifts to my ear.

“Puppets.”

A scream catches in my throat. I whirl about towards the voice; a mirror image.

“That’s what they all are. Puppets.” the living reflection breathes.

He takes a step forward. I shuffle back against a contorted leg and fall. My hands graze the ragged, cold floor, slick with the same thick liquid dripping in the distance. I scramble away from the hissing creature as it lunges for me. Then away from the advancing man who shoves the creature aside with casual grace; it hisses at him but he is unperturbed as he stalks closer. The replica. Me.

“Careful. Don’t get too close again.” He warns casually. I bump into another of the creatures. Its stench washes over me and I gag at its split feet; gnarled leathery claws. The creature swipes at my head with root like fingers. I watch. Fascinated. Horrified. Awed.

Pain splits across my face.

Emerald vision doubles, spilling flamed streaks. A cry escapes me and fills the void.

Blurred limbs languidly twist towards me collectively. They lurch towards the sound. Towards me. Floundering mutant abnormalities; what are they? What are they!?

Schick…

Schick…

Schick…

They drag towards me.

Schick…

Schick…

Schick…

Closer.

I steal glances towards the man bearing my face and the limbering monsters. I see him/me watch with intrigue.

“Stop!” he suddenly shouts.

The creatures halt in mid stride. A hiss escapes their agonized mouths in coiling ropes, distinctly crimson even in my green-amber-hued vision.

The man steadily marches towards me, almost robotic in his irregular gait. He kneels before me.

“The problem with puppets” his fetid breath explains “is their lack of humanity. But you…” crooked fingers caress my face, the sound like two pages rubbing, the sensation like wet used sandpaper, still rough yet sickeningly smooth. And damp.

“You are my perfection. A gift from the aether. Mechanical as you are mortal. Soon you shall be complete and my soul shall replace the void that inhibits you.” The fingers graze my neck, slip around and rest on a bone on my spine. A toothless smile grows on the scaly lips.

“Rest well my Pinocchio. You’re gonna be a real boy.”

Monday Book Recommendation: Nyssa Glass and the House of Mirrors

Nyssa Glass and the house of mirrors

Nyssa Glass is a reformed cat burglar turned electrician’s apprentice, settled into a life repairing videophones and radio-sets. However, when her past comes calling, she finds herself forced into one last job. No one has entered Professor Dalhart’s secluded mansion in almost a decade, at least not and returned to tell the tale. If Nyssa wants to ensure her freedom, she’ll brave the booby trapped halls and mechanized maids. Nyssa has skills, but this house has more than its share of secrets. As she steps into the cobwebbed halls lined with dusty mirrors, she has to wonder. Is the House of Mirrors really abandoned?

 


I heard of the Nyssa Glass series from another steampunk blog I follow: Magic and Iron and once I read the premise, I was definitely interested. Are there any steampunk books you have read and loved? Please recommend them in the comments below. Thanks!

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