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.