Steampunk, and proud of it!
Steampunk, and proud of it!
What books should you be purchasing with your hard-earned cash? Well, come closer, beloved reader, and I will give you some excellent recommendations. This is the first of three posts about recommended readings. You can give them as gifts, buy them for your summer holiday reading, or just as a treat.
Blackbirds Sing, by Aiki Flinthart, is going to be considered a classic in future years. It is a series of interlocked tales, embroidering a story arch into a rich tapestry. It is set in an alternative past. Flinthart has quite a few successful novels under her belt, but this is a new venture for her. There is still plenty of action, but the intricate interweaving – of the characters and settings – is rich, deep, and wonderful. The illustrations by Caitlyn McPherson are glorious.
Pamela Jeff’s Five Dragons is an anthology of dragon stories, including a Steampunk dragon tale. Yes… she had me at Steampunk dragon. If I say anything else, you will just think I’m gushing.
Gillian Polack is one of the best writers in Australia (and the world), using her academic background to strengthen her narratives, making them compelling reading. I can recommend all her books, but I have a particular fondness for The Wizardry of Jewish Women, with its haunted lemon tree. The Year of the Fruitcake is her latest book. I think. I haven’t read her books in order of publication, because you don’t need too. They stand on their own merit.
I have a Steampunk story in this anthology. The link is above. As a teaser, let me tell you that the story was inspired by Shakespeare.
Want to see a fabulous anthology with me in it? Want to get in on the ground floor for discovering a new publisher? Here you go!
The Department of Curiosities: The Aussie Connection
WARNING… Some SPOILERS Ahead.
I started writing The Department of Curiosities in 2013. The story was set in busy, 1883 London, with very English heroes and villains. London was an easy choice of setting; just about everyone has either been there, read about it or seen versions of it in movies or on television. Most readers have developed a mental picture of Victorian era London. It’s crowded, noisy, full of mystery and potential danger. I could tap into that picture.
Like I said, it was easy to set The Department of Curiosities in London.
But there weren’t many steampunk stories set in Australia – and I really wanted to write one…
But Queen Victoria plays a significant part in the story, and she never came to Australia…
But I really wanted to write Australian characters. Perhaps I could set some of the story here in Australia?
At the time, I kept reading articles bemoaning the state of Australian fiction: ‘readers weren’t interested in reading books about Australia.’ This annoyed me. A lot. I’m an Aussie author and I wanted to write Australian stories.
That was 2013.
In 2018, I picked up my (almost completed) original manuscript for The Department of Curiosities. I had a few ideas and plot snags to add, but I was still happy with the main story. After setting my last book, Aunt Enid, in Adelaide, I was determined to make The Department of Curiosities a more Australian story. Perhaps if I started the first book in England, and then transported the characters to Australia…?
I did some research. (Did you know South Australia has many scientific, medical, political and inventive ‘world firsts’ in history?) and decided to make Adelaide the ‘world hub’ for mechanical research at the time. Everything fell into place – a steampunk adventure that would take our heroine half way across the world, and back again!
Though most of the action in The Department of Curiosities is set in London or countryside England, there are several connections to Australia. Firstly, there’s Tillie.
Matilda (Tillie) Meriwether was born in Australia and spent her young childhood in Adelaide with her father. We first discover this when the General (Director of The Department of Curiosities meets Tillie for the first time and mentions her (almost lack of) accent.
“I was aware Meriwether’s niece was Australian; I expected a Colonial accent. How long have you resided in England, my dear?” [said the General]
“Fifteen years; since I was a young child.”
“Ah, that explains it.”
Tillie bit her lip. No one usually bothered to check on family in the Colonies. She wasn’t sure how curious the Department was, and how exhaustively they would search.
(Until this time, most of the story is told in Tillie’s POV, and she wouldn’t notice her accent, would she?)
As we move through the story, there are more hints of Australian accents and connections, including The Department of Curiosities itself! Various discoveries suggest Tillie will find answers to her father’s secrets in Australia. This leads our heroine and her companions on a voyage to the other side of the world to Adelaide, South Australia. Much of the second book in the series will be set here.
In my steampunk/alternative history world, the word ‘mechanicals’ is used to describe any technology such as gadgets, contraptions, steam powered machines, clockwork machines. The use and ownership of mechanicals is regulated by Royal decree as Queen Victoria feels it isn’t in the Empire’s interest for the population to have access to such potentially dangerous items.
When Tillie arrives in South Australia, she discovers South Australia is a ‘new world’, full of gadgets, mechanicals, and few restrictions on their use and ownership. It’s home to The Conceptualisation Co-operative – a sort of think tank for ideas and inventions – attracting inventors, engineers and creators from all over the world. (We’ll find out more about this in the next book.)
And of course, the photographic work for the cover, social media cards and book trailers are all shot in and around Adelaide, including historical buildings such as The Largs Pier Hotel, who let us roam around their halls for a day of filming.
Authors are: Aiki Flintheart (also editor in charge), Megan Badger, Ted Johnson, DA Kelly, Caitlyn McPherson, Jo Seysener, Belinda Messer, Geogia Willis, Melanie Sienkiewicz, Susan Ruth, Jo Sparrow, and yours truly.
Even among the high quality of Australian Steampunk Authors. Karen Carlisle is a standout. She is an expert cosplayer, Steampunk crafter, Vlogger, as well as an author. She is currently having a blog tour, and this blog is part of her tour.
All of the Viola Stewart narratives are excellent, but I wanted to review the first in the series, Doctor Jack. This is the story that intoduces the series protagonist, Viola, and when what an introduction it is. Viola is not your typical Victorian woman. She like cars and wants one of her own. She breaks off her relationship with an abusive beau – though his behaviour would not have been considered out of place in the era. Best of all, she is active and curious without being ‘feisty’, and a woman of science with a medical background. She is also disabled, because she is missing an eye, but she never lets that slow her down.
The antagonist is her ex-beau, Doctor Jack, a cad and a bounder, and a member of the Men In Grey (I can’t say anymore in case of spoilers). Her actual romantic interest is Doctor Collins, who is rather dashing and interesting, but personally I think Viola could do better. It isn’t that Collins isn’t lovely. But Viola would lose so many of her rights if she ever got married.
The actual story for this book is excellent … a mystery and a thriller. Viola has a talent for finding trouble. It isn’t that she is a meddling busybody. Her active lifestyle means that she knows a lot of interesting people and attends many events, and things happen. She doesn’t faint at the thought of danger and her skills set as a detective means that she is often the best person to investigate the occurrence. Men often try to protect her – both literally and figuratively – but she is quite cabable of looking after herself and rescuing the men, if needs be.
However, she is sensible enough to accpet help when she needs it.
Viola grabbed the door handle. It jiggled/rattled in her hand, refusing to turn. That would have been too easy.
Doctor Collins joined her on the low step. He motioned, with a quick flick of his head. “Keep watch.”
Viola turned, then scanned the street. The sun was almost directly above them, shrinking the long shadows. Only fine wisps of mist lingered now. The street was deserted.
The handle rattled behind her. There was a loud click. Viola turned to face her friend. He stood in the open doorway.
Viola stared at him. “How did you…?”
“With all of your detectiving, I had to find a way to keep up with you.” He raised his eyebrows and grinned.
That is one of the reasons I like Viola Stewart. She gives credit when credit is due. She doesn’t need to be in charge, but she isn’t scared of taking charge if she has to. She gets things done without making a big fuss. However, if a big fuss is needed, she is quite ready and capable of kicking one up.
I would recommend Karen’s books to anyone who enjoys reading in the Steampunk genre, but I think they would appeal to any keen reader.
Viola has gone on to have further adventures. They are available here for purchase:
Karen Carlisle does more than write. She is a keen cosplayer and an active member of the Steampunk Community in Adelaide. She is a keen vlogger, see Karen J Carlisle on Youtube
Karen J Carlisle is an imagineer and writer of steampunk, Victorian mysteries and fantasy. She was short-listed in Australian Literature Review’s 2013 Murder/Mystery Short Story Competition and published her first novella, Doctor Jack & Other Tales, in 2015. Her short story, Hunted, featured in the Adelaide Fringe exhibition, ‘A Trail of Tales’.
Karen lives in Adelaide with her family and the ghost of her ancient Devon Rex cat.
She’s always loved dark chocolate and rarely refuses a cup of tea. She has a compeition running every day this week, so visit her website after reading this article!
Where to find Karen:
For info on where to buy Karen’s books: www.karenjcarlisle.com/shop
As an added bonus – an excerpt from the novella, ‘From the Depths’
© 2017 Karen J Carlisle
A shriek pierced the air. Viola flinched. Brine filled her mouth and rushed up her nostrils. She spluttered, thrust her legs downward into the deep chilly water and kicked to keep her head above water.
Men shouted, their cries unintelligible through water-logged eardrums. The other bathing machine thundered into life. Chains rattled, the engine strained. Frenzied splashes of water accompanied its retreat.
The water trembled around her, pounding on her chest. Viola gasped for air. A new undercurrent tugged at her legs. She rubbed the salt from her eyes and searched the surrounding water. Nothing.
Bubbles tickled her body and erupted on the surface. Something solid grazed her calf. Viola’s heart jumped. The Lurker? Goosebumps crawled over her skin.
There’s no such thing as monsters.
Water rumbled and churned. Waves sloshed against her torso. She jerked her knees up to her chest, struggling to untangle her limbs from the snarl of the heavy woollen skirt of her bathing costume.
There’s no such thing as monsters. There’s no such thing as monsters.
Viola shivered. She had drifted further from the bathing machine than she had thought; the candy-striped change box was nearly eighty yards away, the shore even more distant.
A crowd was gathering on the shoreline, waving their arms and shouting.
“Get out of the water!”
Two men swam toward her. Another bathing machine trundled in their wake. The sea hissed. Too close.
Spurts of water burst from the surface. A large shadow lurked beneath her.
Viola’s heart raced, her breathing shallow. She wanted to run, to flee, to swim to the safety of the change box, but her arms refused to move.
There’s no such thing as monsters.
The shadow turned and glided southward towards the headland. A trace of bubbles marked its course, fading as the shadow disappeared into deeper waters.
The two men splashed closer. Uncomfortably close. Their bare arms glowed white against the dark water.
“Get out of the water!”
Viola spun to face them. The weight of her water-logged pantaloons dragged her downward, slowing her movement. Her skirt swirled up in the current, floating up around her thighs. Balloons of fabric surfaced on the water, leaving her legs exposed…
Viola pulled the skirt below the water, yanking low to cover her legs and cursed under her breath. Big mistake; salty water caught in her throat. She sputtered and caught her breath and swam hastily back to the bathing machine. She dove headlong onto the steps and dragged herself into the change box. The skirt clung to her legs; her loose hair wrapped around her neck like tentacles.
The splashing outside stopped. The walls shook with a thud. Viola jumped, skidded in the growing puddle on the floor. She grabbed the hook, draped with her stockings.
“Are you all right, Miss?” The voice was deep, and close to the doorway.
Viola steadied herself. “Yes, I am well.” Her voice was a bit shakier than expected.
“You’re not injured?”
“Did you see it?” asked a second, reedier voice.
“The Lurker? It was right under you.” There was a pause. “Did you see the monster, Miss?”
“Shut it, William,” replied the deep voice. “We don’t want to scare the lassie any more.”
There was a shadow on the step.
Viola snatched her robe and flung it around her shoulders. “What monster?” she asked, as she peeked through the doorway.
A tall redheaded man stared back at her. Deep furrows etched his forehead. A sandy-haired man appeared at the bottom step. His eyes widened. His gaze lingered on Viola, tracked down a drenched tendril of hair, fell to the puddle at her stockingless feet, and flicked back to the dark water surrounding the change box. His cheeks reddened.
Viola pulled her robe tight.
“You’re a long way from shore, Miss,” said the sandy-headed man. “Do you not know of the legend of The Lurker?”
“Willam!” The redheaded man’s deep voice echoed through the change box.
“There’s no such thing as monsters.” Viola cleared her throat. “It’s just a story to titillate the tourists.”
“If you say so, Miss.” William scoffed. “Come on, Mr Fraser. We know when we’re not wanted.”
Fraser nudged William and lowered his voice. “Perhaps it is time to return to shore, Miss?”
Viola stared down at the water. Ripples formed a few hundred yards away. Something glinted just above the surface. A dark hump broke the waterline, turned seaward and slipped back under the surface.
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