Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Steampunk Zombies!

When this book arrived in the mail I was first struck by the wonderful production; a beautifully designed cover and slipcase, an airship token in a velvet bag. A great looking book. The book takes place in an alternate Victorian London. It is a pulpy adventure mystery starring two detectives Newbury and Ms.Hobbes. The pair try to unravel the mystery of a crashed air ship and a missing automaton while London is under siege by murderous zombies. A really fun read and there are more books in the series on the way.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Run Down City Of Ember

A different type of anachronistic tale is the post-apocalyptic . This fast paced, engrossing story by jeanne DuPrau is about a city in a vast empty, dark world where the lights are going out and it's up to a couple of children to see if there is anyone else out there. All this the result of an old ctastrophe that ruined the Earth.
The technology in this story is very much industrial, worn out and the machines are sputtering and emitting gouts of smoke.
A great, fun read.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

David wyatt, Illustrator Of Yesterdays Tomorrows.

1 Was there a lot of research involved in the Larklight books or were you already very familiar with Victorian technology?  Was this something new to you?   I did do a lot of research – the classic Steampunk look is usually taken from the late Victorian period so I had to try and root our look in the mid 19th century, so there would be more brass and wood instead of iron and rivets. This was quite difficult as I’m quite a fan of the late period, particularly the Gothic Revival excesses, the Pre-Raphaelites, William Morris etc. so I’m naturally inclined to think of those styles when I think of Victoriana. Of course, being an extravagant historical fantasy I could get away with mixing things up a little. Being in Britain means there’s a lot of accessible reference, so a even a trip down the high street, or a fireplace, would give me lots of ideas. Also, there are lots of National Trust properties where you can see what a shower looked like, or toilet paper, or pumping houses, etc 

2 Was this your first science fiction work since 2000 AD? And how did it differ?   I’ve done a few book covers, but being interested in history I’ve always prefered the anachronistic or post-apocalyptic sci-fi as you can mix up the styles. I’m always drawn to that rather than the ultra-modern, sleek spaceship kind of thing – possibly a result of seeing Star Wars at an early age and responding to the lived-in, battered look...

3 What, if any, do you feel is the appeal of older technologies?  Firstly, while modern technology is astounding and there’s a lot to celebrate, there’s a feeling of removal from the tools. For instance, if I look under the bonnet of my car, it looks similar to the inside of my computer. I’ve got no idea where anything is. Look under the bonnet of an old Land Rover and even I can see what bit is what, and I’m in with a chance of fixing it myself. Also, there’s a fundamental human delight in things that are well crafted and built to last, unlike a lot of stuff these days that is expected to be scrapped very quickly and consequently designed as such.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Alchemy Of Stone.

 I place this book written by Russian born writer Ekaterina Sedia with the VanderMeer’s Steampunk anthology as establishing the depth and range of aesthetics for anachronistic storytelling. While the heart of this story is about sentient, clockwork automata Ms. Sedia has created a very full, complete world almost gothic in its mood. It certainly fits the definition Brian Aldiss gave to science fiction : "[S]cience fiction is the search for a definition of man and his status in the universe which will stand in our advanced but confused state of knowledge (science) and is characteristically cast in the Gothic or post-Gothic mode." Although I must admit this book blurs the line between science fiction and fantasy but it certainly has it’s roots in the Promethean /Frankenstein tale.

 The story is about a physically frail and beautiful automata called Mattie who longs to be free of her creator. In order to do this she begins her tutelage as a potion maker. The backdrop to this is a medieval feeling city of stone which may have been built by a race of sentient gargoyles.

 This is a haunted book, a world where machines might have souls and a fascinating exploration of gender equality and technology and class prejudices.  I haven't read another book quite like it.


Monday, March 16, 2009


I’ve been a huge fan of Phillip Reeve’s work since I stumbled upon his work at a children’s book store that I worked at. He is one of the most compelling science fiction story tellers today and terribly underrated by SF readers. His work is inventive, emotional, funny and odd. Larklight is the first part of a trilogy that takes place in an alternate Victorian universe. It is a fast paced, steam powered outer space adventure. And the book is wonderfully illustrated throughoutby David Wyatt  which truly adds to the narrative.

Mr. Reeve began this story because it occurred to him while visiting a science museum and looking at Georgian scientific paraphernalia that he wanted “to do a sci-fi story full of brass and mahogany"and in the book there is a real sense of fun and inventiveness.  And as with the best steampunk there is a satirical note as well. You would not mistake this story for an unbiased love of Imperialistic Victoriana.

The basic concept is that mankind has been exploring the universe a full century before the Victorian age, when this story takes place. The plot surrounds two teenagers crossing a peril filled universe in search of their parents. 

 Reeve is brilliant at portraying super advanced Victorian technologies like interstellar travel and rayguns. This book is more in the Star Wars camp of fantasy rather then troubling itself with hard science.

This book is perhaps one of the best examples of synthesizing Wells and Verne into something totally unexpected. A very fun read.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Doctor Grordort’s Contrapulatronic Dingus & Directory

I'm not sure how to describe this wonderful book. It's part fake catalog of Steampunk and Atomicpunk merchandise, part graphic novel, part art book and part actual catalog of model rayguns. These Rayguns can actually be purchased. The full bodied atomic driven armour is as yet unavailable...This wonderful and strange little book is put together by Weta conceptual artist Greg Broadmore and published by Dark Horse Comics.

As Mr. Broadmore says on the Dark Horse website " As a child I was massively inspired and awed by the black and white serials on Sunday afternoon TV, in particular the 1930's Flash Gordon and the many Sci-Fi movies of that era. This book allowed me to pay homage to that world of science fiction and create something new at the same time...."

While ostensibly Steampunk/Victorian in it's scope the actual technologies and quite a bit of the aesthetic comes from the early atomic era and could be better described as Atomic Age or Raygun Gothic. I think this synthesis is extremely effective, adding to a sense of historical authenticity, after all an advanced atomic era would have many remnants of an advanced Victorian era.

Something that really deepens the scope of this book is the way it both embraces the wild, exuberance of the technology and critiques the colonial attitudes associated with having control of greater technology.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Difference Engine

The Difference Engine was written by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling and was published in 1990. This book definitely changed the course of science fiction by popularizing the idea of an altered Victorian world. It ushered in the era of re-imagined pasts.

 The Difference Engine is considered by many to define the subgenre of Steampunk.  The book takes place in an alternate Victorian era where Charles Babbage has perfected a computer one hundred years before it’s time. While there are references to the Babbage computer and various steam powered machines the real focus of this book is history and Victorian culture. Above all this novel is about politic. The Science Fictional what if’s in the book are mainly political : What if the British Empire had continued to thrive and grow dominant? What if Japan had opened international trade with Britain instead of the U.S.? What if Lord Byron became a great political power? It’s actually quite fun to compare this world to ours and all it’s might have beens.

I think I would have found this novel more compelling if there was more exploration of technology and mankinds relationsip to it. Instead the technology in this novel is really a very minor aspect.

The story follows three characters through this transformed Victorian London during an aborted uprising.

 My favorite part is the last few pages, which follows the concepts of the novel to a strange conclusion.


Saturday, January 31, 2009

Glorbes: The Deiselpunk World Of bruce Ross

When I look at Bruce Ross’ work I can smell the spilled oil and hear the P51 Mustangs roar overhead. Bruce (aka Glorbes) creates characters that are evocative of a time and place that seems very real, the imagination starts to spin. I am amazed by this brilliant dieselpunk world of World War 2 robots, crackling, worn machinery and rugged pulp heroes.

Bruce’s work is a great synthesis of Science Fiction concepts, Military history, comic book characters and Pulp tales of heroism. This synthesis is close to the heart of what I’m going after in this blog; in fact it was one of the man inspirations for it. Bruce has a remarkable story telling sense coupled with incredible skill as an artist.

Bruce Says:

"Customizing with figure parts is more about finding the right recipe of parts to create a unique character, or a unique take on a character, and then building from
there. When it comes to sculpting or construction, head sculpts like Tars
Tarkas and my original characters, as well as my vehicles (and Iron Man) are
indeed made from scratch."

Monday, January 26, 2009

Baltimore, A Haunted World

One of my favorite books from last year was Baltimore, or, the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire. In a long tradition of illustrated books this one stands out as something special and unique.

Mike Mignola is one of the best comic book artists/writers to come out of the States. His synthesis of styles and his ability to contrast the dynamic and the understated makes for some of the most unique and compelling work to come out of comics.

Christopher Golden is one of the best horror writers in decades. I think He is so good because he knows where our sympathies really lie, what we really want. Golden can make the horrific real and palpable. They have fashioned an incredible tale of Vampires and plague in a strangely askew post World War One Europe. A sort of haunted dieselpunk world where the technology is both antiquated and exaggerated. I was able to ask Mr. Mignola a few questions on what was behind the world of Baltimore:

1.The technology in Baltimore fits well into a world in which the supernatural and the spiritual exist. Is there something about older technology (pre-1960's to give it a pretty arbitrary date) which fits better into a world of ghosts and monsters, as opposed to modern technology?

Being very old school I associate supernatural with gas-light and guys in big coats, couches, old trains, etc. You get much past WW1 and you start to loose me. I just like how the old stuff looks and feels.

2. You've described the world of Hellboy as "our world with monsters" and the world of Baltimore seems more of a fully realized secondary world with a similar but alternate history.What was behind this decision?How did you find telling this type of story?

Hellboy is meant to embrace all mythologies and religions and at the same time has it's own super-mythology, a creation myth (made up of/inspired by) several mythologies that is somewhere behind all the supernatural working of the HB universe. The Baltimore world is meant to be much simpler and very Catholic. My original intention was that it be our world (more or less) if everything just came to a screeching halt in the middle of WW1 because of a super plague.
3. You and Mr. Golden have placed this story in the Gothic Horror tradition. What books or stories (or films,comics etc.) had an impact on the atmosphere and story telling of this book? ) It's kind of a Vampire version of Frankenstein--With a vampire swearing to have revenge by destroying a guys family. There's a lot of Ahab from Moby Dick in there (never read the book, but love the John Houston movie) and the puppet scene is inspired by my love of the Pinocchio--love the film, but REALLY love the book. Baltimore owes a lot to Victorian supernatural literature in general and specifically various short story collections that used the device of people sitting around swapping stores.
4.Is there something intrinsically cooler about older technology?
Yes. It looks better (Disney Nautilus is a good example) and it's not as reliable. I like a steam powered giant robot and relies on some sweaty guy shoveling coal into a furnace in it's belly.
There you go...

I also had the opportunity to get a quick quote from Mr. Golden regarding the decision to tell a story in an alternate history.

“We had some interesting responses to what we did with alternate history in Baltimore. Our alterations were apparently a bit too subtle for some people (though we didn't think they were subtle at all while we were writing them). Some readers didn't notice, and others were actually upset that our changes weren't more obvious from the outset and more drastic. Strange.”

I am extremely grateful to both Mr. Mignola and Mr. Golden for taking the time from their busy schedules to consider my questions.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Steampunk Anthology, The Mythic Roots Of Science Fiction

The volume that has perhaps most defined the current interest in anachronistic science fiction is Jeff and Ann VanderMeer’s Steampunk anthology. The book has a wonderful breadth of vision, from the funny to the somber, from the fun to the disturbing.
The L.A. Time’s review of Steampunk centered on the books mythic roots: “the mythic, romantic roots of science fiction” and while it is difficult to pinpoint the full aesthetic of such a varied subgenre I think that’s an eloquent beginning.
Jeff VanderMeer was kind enough to answer some questions about the anthology and the subgenre in gereral.

Eric Orchard: Is Steampunk a relevant part of science fiction I think the feeling among some in the science fiction community is that this is just a novelty.

Jeff VanderMeer: As an aesthetic, it’s definitely relevant. As a movement, not so much. I can think of no active authors who self-identify as steampunks. But I do think many writers see steampunk as part of their “toolkit” on an aesthetic level. It’s definitely a relevant part of the wider world, though—in the Maker and crafts movements, it’s huge right now, and that energy may in turn create a “third generation” steampunk movement in fiction.

EO: Do you think that there is any value in a romantic, optimistic view of technology that is sometimes seen in Steampunk? As opposed to the science fiction as critic of technology

JV: Yes, there’s always value in hope, if it’s grounded in something real. The nuts and bolts of steampunk nowadays has to do with DIY and sustainable technology—getting back to a time when you could fix your car yourself. True, any car is an environmental threat, but a lot of people feel powerless when it comes to current technology. Being able to find a way to make technology “accessible” again to people isn’t just romantic and optimistic, it is practical.

EO: Do you see Steampunk as primarily an escapist fiction?

JV: Because I believe it’s as much an approach as a movement, it’s hard to generalize. But if I had to generalize, I would say usually it is escapist right now. My story “Fixing Hanover” in Extraordinary Engines was a specific response to that escapism, and in that sense the story is, ironically, given the current context in which it exist an anti-Steampunk story. But the pendulum will swing around again, because of all the new energy coming from places in Steampunk other than the literature. But in the meantime, I think of Steampunk as New Weird’s slightly naive cousin—the one who could get hit with a 16 ton weight and jump up smiling and whistling.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The World Of Tomorrow, Yesterday.

Retrofuturism is all about anachronism. It is the science of yesterday tomorrow and the world of tomorrow yesterday. It is the examination and celebration of the aesthetic of science and science fiction, regardless of whether or not it spills over into fantasy.

Wikipedia has two definitions for retrofuturism:

“…a total vision of the future as seen through the eyes of the past, often a utopian society characterized by high technology”


“…altered but recognizable versions of the past (with) exaggerated technological innovations.”

I’m interested in both of these definitions, though I will admit to being more motivated by the second one.

This is a broad subject reflecting our optimism and our fears, our utopias and dystopias. While usually used to describe a certain type of post atomic aesthetic I'm using it in a broader sense, using Wikipedia's definition as a starting point.

Why do this blog about anachronistic science fiction? Mostly because I love this aesthetic and am excited about it and want to share my explorations. I love science fiction and I love anachronisms and how they are portrayed in art and books.The works in MetaChronicles are referencing the histories of science and science fiction and creating something new.

Also, this blog is a way to compile my research and thoughts for my own work. If you are familiar with my own art and writing you may have noticed an ongoing reoccurrence of retrofuturistic themes; antique robots, Victorian technologies, industrial aesthetics etc. I see this blog as a dynamic format to compile research and explore ideas for stories. These are exciting places for adventures to happen. The opportunity to explore soaring chrome monoliths, Victorian airships and rusted, post-apocalyptic ruins is too great to resist.

My focus in this blog will be on retrofuturism in visual art and writing. I will also try to provide some context, pulling together fragmented ideas into something cohesive through an overall aesthetic framework. I will explore the subgenres that are contained by retrofuturism, like steampunk, dieselpunk, Flintlock Fantasy and clockpunk. I will discuss the periods that seem ubiquitous in retrofuturism; the Victorian era, the atomic age, the space age, post industrialism. In addition I will explore all the various sides to this subject: pulp fiction, serials, comic books, movies, architecture, toys, robotics history, automatons, military history, spy thrillers etc. etc.

With this blog I hope to cast a net and contain some of the scattered works of retrofuturism into something coherent. And to learn more about this aesthetic and the artists and writers at it’s heart.

The banner for MetaChronicles is by Steve Thomas.

The artwork in this post is by Tom Kidd.