The Other Worlds Austin 2017 preview Day 4

Design by tattoo and graphics artist David Poe

Returning for a fourth exciting year, Other Worlds Austin, one of the premier SciFi Film Festivals in the US, features some of the best and unheralded genre films. Beginning on Thursday December 7 at Flix Brewhouse, the four day event includes 16 full length films, a slew of shorts, and a screenwriting workshop. Not terribly surprising to anyone who regularly follows my writings, I’ll be at there.

Here’s what to expect at Other Worlds Austin 2017.


Sunday, December 10


Toshihisa Yokoshima | Japan | 45min

Writer: Toshihisa Yokoshima
Cast: Yuuki Takada, Sawako Hata, Mutsuki Iwanaka, Masaki Terasoma,Yoshiko Kamei,Yayoi Nakazawa

There is a world in which an endless rain of dark ash fills the sky, and covers the earth. Bundled up in their protective suits and hidden away behind their masks, humanity has fled deep within the underground. This is the story of the children growing up in this fearful world, and two boys who join a recovery team that ventures out to the outside world.

(Animated, Japanese with English subtitles)

The Other Worlds Austin 2017 preview Day 3

Design by tattoo and graphics artist David Poe

Returning for a fourth exciting year, Other Worlds Austin, one of the premier SciFi Film Festivals in the US, features some of the best and unheralded genre films. Beginning on Thursday December 7 at Flix Brewhouse, the four day event includes 16 full length films, a slew of shorts, and a screenwriting workshop. Not terribly surprising to anyone who regularly follows my writings, I’ll be at the event.

Here’s what to expect at Other Worlds Austin 2017




Location: Austin School of Film at Motion Media Arts Center
Address:  2200 Tillery Street – Austin, Texas 78723

(Open to the public, but please RSVP as a courtesy)

Can the familiar still frighten you? How do movies marvel us with visions of a future inspired more often than not, by other movies we’ve seen? Join acclaimed screenwriter Philip Eisner (EVENT HORIZON) as he breaks down some well-travelled cinematic set pieces (haunted houses, mystical swords, blood-thirsty monsters) across the genres to show how writers build off memory to construct their own mythology. Featuring clips from a variety of films, this workshop is perfect for genre filmmakers and fans alike. Remember, where we’re going, we won’t need eyes to see.



Adrian Selkowitz | USA | 13min
Writer: Lauren Kincheloe

Claire, a beautiful and calculating trophy wife, has convinced her husband to invite an influential Hollywood power couple to dinner, believing that preparing an elaborate meal for them might result in her starring in her own cooking show. Things begin to go awry when the arriving guests step over a woman’s naked body in the driveway.

Paul’s Bad Day

Phil Bucci | USA | 2min

After blacking out, Paul wakes to find his world changed forever. (Alumi: Special Forces‘16)

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The Other Worlds Austin 2017 preview Days 1 and 2

Design by tattoo and graphics artist David Poe

Returning for a fourth exciting year, Other Worlds Austin, one of the premier SciFi Film Festivals in the US, features some of the best and unheralded genre films. Beginning on Thursday December 7 at Flix Brewhouse, the four day event includes 16 full length films, a slew of shorts, and a screenwriting workshop. Not terribly surprising to anyone who regularly follows my writings, I’ll be at there.

Here’s what to expect at Other Worlds Austin 2017


Thursday December 7


Paul W.S. Anderson | USA | 96min | 1997

Writer: Philip Eisner
Cast: Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Jason Isaacs

A rescue crew investigates a spaceship that disappeared into a black hole and has now returned…with someone or something new onboard. Twenty years ago, Paramount took us to the darkest edges of space, terrifying audiences with what has become a cult classic.  Screenwriter Philip Eisner joins us to celebrate one of the most unforgiving examples of mankind tampering with what they should not.  If 1997 was a sort of watershed year for the 2nd wave of SciFi — with THE FIFTH ELEMENT as a new take on the galaxy-building of STAR WARS, CONTACT clearly a new CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND — nothing captures the horrifyingly cold neutrality and danger of space first glanced at in ALIEN like EVENT HORIZON.

Continue reading

The newly discovered Tapanuli orangutan of Sumatra

To the surprise to almost no one, I found this very interesting.

New Species of Orangutan Is Rarest Great Ape on Earth

On November 20, 2013, the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme got a call about an injured orangutan found in the mountainous region of Tapanuli.


“He had cuts on his face, on his head, back, hands, and legs,” recalls researcher Matt Nowak. “They even found some air rifle pellets inside his body”—indicating torment and harassment by people. Despite veterinary treatment, the orangutan, named Raya, died eight days later.


But Raya lives on as the representative member of a new orangutan species, Pongo tapanuliensis, or the Tapanuli orangutanthe rarest great ape species on the planet.


An adult male Tapanuli orangutan in the Batang Toru Forest.

Books, Piss, and Kneecaps: My First Month in Austin

This month marks 30 years living in Austin. Like many before and since, I moved here because of a girl.

After passing only three classes in two semesters, not surprisingly with A’s in both of my English classes and a B in political science, I wasn’t welcome back to the University of Houston. Nineteen, still living at home, working as a bookseller and a pizza delivery driver, and feeling adrift in Houston, something needed to change. Many of my high school friends had gone off to college or moved on to the next period in their lives. Perhaps most importantly, my high school sweetheart Sandy had moved away a year earlier to attend the University of Texas in Austin.

We started dating our junior year in high school and were practically inseparable for those two years. During that year apart, there were many trips to Austin. She lived that first year in the Castillan dorm and although she wasn’t supposed to have overnight guests, I spent many a night there. During that time we got engaged.

In late August 1997, I loaded all my meager belongings into my Jeep Eagle Wagon and moved to Austin. I borrowed some money to get an apartment on east Riverside in the same complex where Sandy now lived. That first week, I sold my car for $1400, which enabled me to pay back the loan, covered my first two months rent, and allowed for some food money while I looked for a job and acclimated to the city.

That first month I laid around my apartment a lot and read. Across the street was a used paperback bookstore, all books ranged from a quarter to a buck, depending on condition and original cover price. Over the next month or so, I was a regular customer. I don’t recall everything I read. I know there was a lot of Phil Dick, Michael Moorcock (probably read my first Cornelius and Von Beck stories), LeGuin, Chandler, Hammett, Heinlein, and many others. It’s when I developed my distaste for Norton, Asimov, and Tolkien.

My most memorable read of that month was The Mote in God’s Eye and not just because the Niven/Pournelle novel is a compelling read. I was two-thirds of the way into the classic, when I had to pee. I took my worn copy into the bathroom, which was SOP. As young men are apt to do, I stood to pee. I kept reading when the last third of the book decided to rebel, separating from its compatriots, and fell to a watery death in the toilet below. Disgusted with myself, I fished out the pee stained, water logged pages, threw them in a plastic bag, and returned to the bookstore. Thankfully they had another copy and I was able to finish. You’d think I learned my lesson but a similar thing happened a few months later with H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man.

Before I found a job, I dislocated my kneecap for the second time in 3 years. The first happened on the last day of school before summer break. I was 16 and working as a sacker for Randall’s. Paper bags, in the days before the rise of plastic, were delivered to the stores in large, heavy bundles, 25 bundles per pallet. When the bags arrived, several of the younger men were rounded up to unload the bundles. While lifting a bundle from a higher stack, I slipped between the slats of the pallet, dislocating my right patella. Up to this point in my life, I had several concussions, a shattered knee cap (on that same knee), and many stitches, but the pain associated with this injury was the most excruciating. The ride in the ambulance to hospital was no picnic either. Every bump sent jolts of pain.

The procedure for fixing a dislocated joint is relatively simple. The joint is popped back into place. But with me being a minor, the doctors weren’t allowed to even do that without permission from my guardian, never mind administer pain killers. At the time, portable phones were reserved for the uber-rich or science fiction. My mother had taken time off work to run an errand with my sister and couldn’t be reached. My aunt, who held documents giving her explicit instructions to act in my mom’s behalf in such matters, was MIA as well. I languished in the hospital, with a large bag of ice on my knee, for over two hours before my grandparents could be located to give permission. I really messed things up. I tore the tendon behind my leg. The doctors placed me in ankle to hip cast that I wore for most of the summer.

The second dislocation happened before a midnight screening of Heavy Metal on the UT campus. As Sandy and I took our seats, I slipped and the same knee popped out. Again another ambulance ride. This time since I was 19, they fixed me up right away, took some X-rays, gave me some painkillers, and sent me home. A week later I saw a doctor who informed me that no permanent damage was done but that I should be careful in the future since this likely would be a chronic issue. Thankfully, it’s never happened again though it acts up when rain is coming. Unlike the previous, the swelling was gone within two weeks and everything was back to normal.

While in the months and years that followed I met many important and interesting people, it was the unexpected re-connection with Dan Harris that was my first significant Austin friendship. Dan and I were tangentially associated since junior high. We shared the same best friend, but rarely spent time together beyond the occasional Dungeons & Dragons games. We didn’t even like each other all that much. But to be honest, we barely knew each other. Although we went to the same junior high, we didn’t go to high school together. I didn’t even know he was in Austin.

Sandy learned of a role playing group that met on the UT Campus. I walked into the meeting not knowing what to expect. There were tables with sign up sheets and lots of geeks standing around talking including Dan.

Since he was the only person in the room I knew, I approached him.

“Hi, Dan”

“I don’t go by that name anymore. I’m Asshole.”

This response shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows Dan. A) that’s how his sense of humor works and B) he is an asshole.

After that rocky start, Asshole.. er.. Dan and I decided to sign up to be part of a D&D campaign. We ended up playing monthly with that same group of guys for five years or so.

Turned out that Dan lived just around the corner from me. Thanks to our joint geek interests and proximity, we started hanging out. A year later we moved in together and have been friends ever since.

Dan introduced me to the cyberworld and the communities within. My comfort with social media and, though I was introduced to it years later, Linux are directly attributable to those early years.

Ironically, neither Dan or I are friends with that best friend anymore.

By the end of September with my financial resources dwindling, I finally got a job at Bookstop. Though I had sold books briefly while in Houston, this new experience lead to my lifelong vocation. But that’s a story for another time.

Thurman; or How I Became an Astros Fan

As many of you know, I’m a huge baseball fan especially of the Houston Astros. But that wasn’t always true. With the Astros playing the New York Yankees for spot in the World Series, I thought this would make an ideal time to share this previously unpublished essay “Thurman,” which reveals my early love of the Yankees.

Honestly, I’d forgotten about this piece until my mom uncovered some of my childhood writings. Among those missives was a paper on the tragic Thurman Munson, who was one of my childhood heroes. When she told me about this, something went off in my head and I began looking through my files where I uncovered this essay written about 20 years ago (probably nearly 20 years after the one my mom found).

In the late nineties/early aughts, the burgeoning site Salon held an essay contest for writers to share tales about people who affected their life in some way. I quickly cranked out the below piece and sent it off. In my haste, I missed the fact that it must be about a living person. I did write another piece, “Michael Moorcock: No Ordinary Buckaroo.” While still a quality essay, it’s inferior to the emotional “Thurman.” Though it met the prerequisites, the second piece didn’t win, but it did eventually see publication in Geek Confidential.

So enough preamble, let’s play ball!


About the only worthwhile thing I learned from my father was that it was okay for a man to cry. My folks had split by the time I was five and, like so many of my generation, I was raised without a father. It’s really a sorry state of affairs for my generation, the so-called Gen X, afflicted with so many deadbeat dads. Luckily for me there was my grandfather and there was Thurman Munson.

Arguably the greatest American League catcher of the 1970’s, Munson donned the mantle as the first Yankee captain named since the great Lou Gehrig’s forced retirement back in 1939. A leader who won the 1976 American League Most Valuable Player while leading the fabled Yankees to their first World Series in over ten years. Sure they lost that series but then came 1977 and ‘78. The Yankees won those and to the boys living in New Jersey, there was no one greater than Munson. We could emulate his batting stance. We knew he learned to fly planes so he could visit his family in Ohio on off days. He was the first Yankee to win both the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards during his career. In short, he was our Superman. And for many of us, he became a surrogate father of sorts. There he was every day, playing for the team you loved. We knew all the guys in the Bronx like they were our neighbors. Reggie, Willie, Catfish, The Chicken, Louisiana Lightning, sometimes Billy, sometimes Lemon, and above all Thurman. From 1976 through 1979, I don’t think I missed a Yankee game on the tube. Only school could keep me away. It was a blissful time to be a child. But then the fantasy ended.

August 2, 1979, the saddest day in Yankee history since the death of the great Gehrig. It feels like it just happened. A group of us, 10-11 year old boys, were playing ball when a neighborhood kid named Patrick emerged in the park with tears in his eyes.

“Thurman.” He had trouble breathing. He kept gulping for air between the tears, but he finally got it out. Thurman Munson died! We stood there stunned. Surely he was wrong. Patrick managed to tell us he saw it on the news. He went down in a plane while visiting his family. Tears welled up inside of all of us. There we were five pre-teen boys, standing in the park with our gloves and bats, bawling for our dead hero. We all cried, but not just for Munson but for losing someone we loved. Again. For some of us, it was our fathers leaving again. Here was this great man, doing the right thing, but now he was gone as well.

A memorial for our fallen hero occured before the scheduled national TV game with the Baltimore Orioles on August 6. To this day I have yet to see a sadder thing on TV. All the Yankees wearing black armbands, the crowd eerily silent for five full minutes, and then the kicker of them all: Reggie Jackson in tears on national TV. I cried along with him. I ceased being a Yankee fan that day, my love going down in a plane over Akron, Ohio.

Even now, the memories of that day cause a lump in my throat and bring a tear to my eye. For my thirtieth birthday, my aunt gave me a Thurman Munson statue. It was one of the most thoughtful presents I ever received. A reminder of the legacy of Thurman Munson. You must do what you can today for tomorrow may never come. And above all don’t forget or forsake your family, something most of us never learned from our own fathers. A lot of boys of my generation learned that lesson that day. We are all the better for it.


A few weeks later, we moved from Old Bridge, NJ to Houston, TX and I latched onto my new team and to perpetual heartbreak Houston Astros.

It’s ArmadilloCon time again: Where I’ll be talking, reading, etc.


It hasn’t rained in forever, the mercury is hitting triple digits, and we’re just passed the halfway point of the baseball season. It must be time for ArmadilloCon once again!

This year’s con, the 39th such affair, takes place this coming weekend, August 4-6.

Guest of Honor:  Nisi Shawl

Toastmaster:  Don Webb

Fan Guest:  A.T. Campbell, III

Artist Guest:  Mark A. Nelson

Editor Guest: Trevor Quachri

Special Guest: Tamora Pierce


As I have for roughly the past 25 years or so, I’ll be in attendance and because apparently the con organizers have learned nothing, I’ll be sitting in on several panels.


Social Media for Writers
Sat 10:00 AM-11:00 AM Ballroom E
Rick Klaw, Alan J. Porter

Tips and tricks for social media amplification


Movies You Should Have Seen
Sat 3:00 PM-4:00 PM Ballroom F
A.T. Campbell, A. de Orive, D. Johnson, R. Klaw*, G. Oliver, P. Sullivan


ST/TNG: A Generation Later
Sat 4:00 PM-5:00 PM Southpark B
R. Eudaly, P.J. Hoover, R. Klaw, D. Liss, A. Porter*, H. Walrath

It’s been 30 years. Seriously? What has aged well, what not? How does it stand up against later SF on TV?


Western and Noir Themed Speculative Fiction
Sun Noon-1:00 PM Southpark A
B. Crider, K. Hoover, G. Iglesias, R. Klaw, J. Lansdale*, A. Marmell


Sun 1:30 PM-2:00 PM Conference Center
Rick Klaw


Hope to see everyone this weekend.

The Steam-Driven Time Machine: My Adventures in Steampunk

As revealed in my previous post, I’m moderating the Steampunk panel at this weekend’s Comicpalooza. Newer folks may wonder why I’m moderating such a panel. (Or not, but I’m going to share this with you anyway).

Way back in 2008, I produced this little essay for Ann and Jeff VanderMeer’s bestselling, seminal anthology Steampunk. The magnificent book came out just at the beginnings of the latest Steampunk craze. After nine printings, one could argue it helped fan the flames of the movement.

Without further ado, here’s the unabridged piece.

The Steam-Driven Time Machine:

A Pop Culture Survey


Rick Klaw

When I was a child in the seventies, it seemed like the 1961 Ray Harryhausen special effects-laden The Mysterious Island played constantly on the TV. Not that I minded. Michael Craig leads a crew of Confederate P.O.W. escapees as they pilot a hot air balloon toward points unknown. Crash landing on an apparently deserted island, the castaways encounter giant animals: a crab, a flightless bird, bees and an cephalopod, all presented in Harryhausen’s dynamic stop motion animation. The group discovers the presumed dead Captain Nemo, who had mutated the animals as part of an experiment. Throw in the pirates that attack the island and you have the recipe for a near-perfect movie. By nine years old, after many repeated viewings the film entered my personal zeitgeist, informing my later tastes and many of my creative decisions.

Mysterious Island was my first exposure to steampunk, long before K. W. Jeter coined the word in the late 1980s.

Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for [Tim] Powers, [James] Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like “steampunks,” perhaps… (Locus, #315 April 1987)

Featuring interviews with Jeter and Blaylock plus a cover by Tim Powers, the Winter, 1988 issue of Nova Express introduced me to the term “steampunk.” By that time Powers and Blaylock were both part of my reading repertoire. Jeter joined a few years later.

Among many of the advantages of living in Austin as a young science fiction fan in the late eighties and early nineties was the strong and fairly well organized creative community. The local science fiction literary convention, Armadillocon birthed though probably as a surrogate the Cyberpunk movement, as it was the first North American convention to feature William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Lewis Shiner, and Pat Cadigan as guests of honor. Austinite Lawrence Person’s previously mentioned ‘zine Nova Express further encouraged science fiction critical studies with insightful interviews and reviews by professionals and fans alike.

Some twenty years later, pop culture has embraced steampunk. Publishing, film, and even the Internet embolden the term as a branding tool. Nary a week goes by without Boing Boing (, the venerable group blog, posting about some sort of steampunk inspired gadget, cartoon, or essay. A search of their archives generates almost 1500 articles. Subjects vary greatly: laptops, keyboards, watches, Transformers, planes, Car Wars, submarines, and so on. Many articles showcase functioning modern technology using steampunk methods and materials. Others present actual working machines from the 19th century. Images presenting artistic depictions of steampunk, paintings, sculptures, architecture and the like. Reinterpretations of popular shows such as Star Trek and Star Wars litter the listings. Original short films featuring steampunk tropes offer many amusing and sometimes exciting diversions.

The user-generated online encyclopedia Wikipedia ( contains lengthy, extensive entries for both “Steampunk” and “List of steampunk works”, citing an array of sources. The English language version of the Polish site Retrostacji, Steampunkopedia ( offers the most comprehensive steampunk works chronological bibliography available on the web along with numerous links to steampunk-inspired videos. Sadly, the site stopped updating in February, 2007.

Using the collaborative wiki-method, ther Emporium ( claims “to provide a onestop resource and archive for all things Steampunk”. Potentially very interesting, the sparse site supplies some intriguing information and views from the nascent steampunk subculture. Another online cultural source, SteamPunk Magazine (, dedicated to “promoting steampunk as a culture, as more than a sub-category of fiction”, produces a pdf format magazine and for-sale print version under the auspices of the Creative Commons license, an agreement that allows anyone to share and distribute the work as long as it is not for commercial or financial gain. Each of the three currently produced issues contain fiction, features exploring different aspects of the subgenre, and interviews with steampunk luminaries.

Even Wired (, home of the techno elite, lists some 930 archived pages about the subgenre. Often sharing similar coverage with its cyberculture cousin Boing Boing, the subjects run the pop culture gamut. Oddly, the domain name works as the home for The Speculative Fiction Clearing House, a portal for science fiction websites. The site has only a tangential relationship with the subgenre.

Back in the late eighties, I encountered my first steampunk role playing game. Featuring Victorian space travel and steam powered devices, Space 1889 (1988) was the first primarily steampunk rpg. At the time, I immersed myself in the rpg community, envisioning myself more of a gamer and possibly role play games creator than an essay or even a fiction writer. This delusion lasted for about two years, after which I decided to devote my creative energies toward other writing and editing pursuits.

Prior to Space 1889, steampunk elements frequently cropped up in games. Most Dungeons & Dragons campaigns contained various steam-powered devices, usually projectiles or vehicles. Hero Games’ pulp era adventure game Justice, Inc (1984) featured many steampunk-type props, most notably steam-powered robots. Cthulhu By Gaslight, Victorian era rules for the Lovecraft-inspired Call of Cthulhu game, premiered in 1986. While set in the 1890s, the supplement relied less on steampunk– beyond an odd section on time travel– and more on real-world settings.

In the ensuing years, steampunk routinely appeared in rpgs. Within the popular gaming universes such as Warhammer, GURPS, and Dungeons & Dragons, steam-driven devices and Victorian era tropes became commonplace. The cross-pollination of the American Old West and anachronistic devices thrived within several games, chiefly Deadlands and the Japanese title Terra the Gunslinger.

Even LARPers got in the act. Premiering May 21, 2004 near Baltimore, MD with a three-day episode, Brassey’s Game, a steampunk live action role playing game (LARP)1, involved approximately 30 players in Victorian garb, who relied on heavy character interaction. The initial campaign ran for six weekend-long episodes. Six other stand alone Brassey’s Game episodes took place during the first campaign. Since its introduction, several other groups from various parts of the US, using modified versions of the original rules, participated in their own Brassey’s Game events.

Another element of my seventies childhood, The Wild Wild West, the first, best, and longest running steampunk television series, forged my future love of the weird western. The show related the adventures of two Secret Service agents- James West, a charming, womanizing hero, and Artemus Gordon, inventor and master of disguise– as they protected, often in secret, the United States, its interests and citizens. In four seasons from 1965-1969, the duo encountered all sorts of odd villainy including a brilliant but insane dwarf, recurring arch-villain Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless, and bizarre weaponry such as cue stick guns and a triangular steam-powered tank with a barbed tip. Combining the best elements of traditional westerns and James Bond, The Wild Wild West spawned two late seventies TV movies with the original cast, a dreadful 1999 big screen movie, two separate comic book series (1960s Gold Key and 1991 Millennium Publications), and four novels, as well as influencing a generation of writers including Joe R. Lansdale, Norman Partridge, and Howard Waldrop.

The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., the direct thematic descendant of The Wild Wild West, premiered on August 27, 1993, starring the cult actor Bruce Campbell of Evil Dead fame as the title character. Set in the 1890s, Brisco attempts to capture the members of the Bly Gang, the cutthroats responsible for his father’s death. The series sported an intriguing cast of characters: Lord Bowler, bounty hunter and rival, lawyer Socrates Poole, Dixie Cousins, con-woman and Brisco’s great love, and inventor/scientist Professor Wickwire, brilliantly portrayed by John Astin and supplier of Brisco’s steampunk-like gadgetry. Even with clever story lines, the show lasted for only one season.

Perhaps the most unexpected use of weird western steampunk tropes occurred in the second season of the animated Adventures of Batman & Robin. “Showdown” with a Joe R. Lansdale teleplay from a story by Kevin Altieri, Paul Dini, and Bruce W. Timm tells of the immortal Batman villain Ra’s al Ghul’s 1883 confrontation with the DC Comics gunslinger Jonah Hex. The battle centers around a plot to blow up the nearly-completed tracks of a transcontinental railroad using dirigibles loaded with cannons and other explosives.

Because starring in one Wild Wild West­-inspired short lived TV series is never enough, Bruce Campbell portrayed the title character for two seasons in the disappointingly inane Jack of All Trades (2000). Jack Stiles, a secret service agent stationed by President Thomas Jefferson on the fictional French-controlled island of Palau-Palau, defends American interests while serving as the aide to a French aristocratic. Jack employs many steampunk-type weapons and gadgets. Loosely based on the classic 1919 novel, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World amazingly ran for three seasons (1999-2000) with poor special effects, bad acting, poorly crafted storylines, and some minor steampunk elements. The 1982 Q.E.D., set in Edwardian England, last for only six episodes. Voyagers!, a time travel adventure series with periodic steampunk bits, managed 22 episodes over one season (1982-1983). Steampunk materials appeared in several episodes of the various Doctor Who incarnations.

Under the premise that Jules Verne actually lived the adventures that he wrote about, The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne (2000) delivered steampunk action with airships, steam powered devices, and even a steampunk cyborg! Playing upon the inherent metafictional possibilities, several episodes featured “real life” authors and personalities such as Samuel Clemens, Queen Victoria, Alexander Dumas, Cardinal Richelieu (a time travel episode), and King Louis XIII. The promising show never jelled and was canceled after one season.

The Japanese have also embraced steampunk television, albeit the animated variety. Based on the long running manga Fullmetal Alchemist, set in an alternate late- 20th century society that practices alchemy and uses primarily early 20th technology, enjoyed a 51 episode run (2003-2004) and an 2005 anime feature film. Steam Detectives (1989-1990) follows the adventures of a young detective in a reality where the only source of energy is steam power. Set on a floating world with stylized Victorian fashions, Last Exile (2003) relates the story of airship pilots Claus and Lavie and their involvement in a plot about a mysterious cargo.

Another steampunk show derived from the works of Jules Verne, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (1989-1991) inspired a feature film sequel (1992) and a manga series. Set in 1889, circus performer Nadia, young inventor Jean Ratlique, and the famed Captain Nemo attempt to save the world from the Atlantean known as Gargolye who is bent on restoring the former underseas empire. Translated into eight different languages, the series achieved worldwide popularity.

Based on a series of popular video games, Sakura Wars relates an alternate 1920s reality that uses steam primarily to power all sorts of modern devices. Developed into numerous video games on several platforms, a manga, a tv series, five OVA2 tie-ins, and a feature length movie, Sakura remains a uniquely Japanese cultural phenomenon.

Back in the seventies, Mysterious Island opened my eyes to new worlds as I encountered many more steampunk films. The 1930s Universal monster pictures with lighting-powered monsters, chemically induced madmen, and animal-mutating mad scientists exploited the yet undefined genre. Beneath a Victorian backdrop, Victor Frankenstein empowered his creatures in both Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) using the highly unlikely method of electrocution. In the latter film, Dr. Pretorius joins forces with Frankenstein, attempting to create life through alchemical means. Director James Whale recognized the inherent Victorian melodrama and the treated the films accordingly, thus creating two masterpieces.

Two of H. G. Wells’ science gone-amok novels inspired a pair of 1933 Universal movies. The Invisible Man, directed under the masterful hand of James Whale, relates the story of a man who goes mad after imbibing his own creation: an invisibility potion. Starring Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi, The Island of Lost Souls adapted The Island of Dr. Moreau for the first time. The story of Dr. Moreau and his rebellious mutations, like that of The Invisible Man speak to the Victorian notions of science and sadism. The Island of Lost Souls has been remade poorly twice as The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977, 1996).

Fittingly, the first film recognized as steampunk was the 1902 fourteen-minute French animated short Le Voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon), based on Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon and H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon. Wildly popular upon its release, the Georges Méliès film– one of his hundreds of fantasy films– achieved canonical status within science fiction.

Hollywood rediscovered Verne with a vengeance in the 1950s and 1960s, making numerous film adaptations including the steampunk films 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1958), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), Mysterious Island (1961), Master of the World (1961), Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962), and tangentially Captain Nemo and the Underwater City (1969). Wells was not far behind with most notably The Time Machine (1961). One of producer George Pal’s special effect spectaculars, The Time Machine thematically remained close to the source material especially the portrayal of the machine itself. An awful version of Wells’ book was made in 2002.

The seventies witnessed a severe drop in steampunk related films as whiz bang space science fiction became the norm. A notable exception, the entertaining Time After Time (1979) suggested that Wells invented a time machine and traveled to 1979 in pursuit of Jack the Ripper.

In 1986, Hayao Miyazaki released his groundbreaking anime Castle in the Sky (aka Laputa: Castle in the Sky). A magical tour-de-force featuring floating cities, airships, and pirates, the film follows a young girl, Sheeta, and boy, Pazu, on their quest for the mystical, missing city of Laputa. Miyazaki returned to steampunk in 2001 with his masterpiece Spirited Away, the highest grossing movie in the history of Japan. Easily the most awarded steampunk work in any medium, Spirited Away won the Academy Award for Best Animated Film, the Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival Silver Scream Award, the Nebula Award for Best Script, the San Francisco International Film Festival Audience Award Best Narrative Feature, five Mainichi Film Concours Awards, two Awards of the Japanese Academy, four Annie Awards, and many others. Miyazaki’s eagerly anticipated follow up was the steampunk Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), based on Diana Wynne Jones’ popular young adult novel. Successful both financially and critically, Howl’s plays as a traditional European fairy tale but with steampunk elements.

Sadly with a few exceptions, Miyazaki’s works represent the abnormal in modern steampunk. While movies such as Vidocq (2001), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), Hellboy (2004), Van Helsing (2004), Around the World in 80 Days (2004), Steamboy (2004), and The Brothers Grimm (2005) display strong stylings, they all fall short on substantive storytelling.

The third and perhaps weakest of Terry Gillum’s Trilogy of the Imagination, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) recounts the legendary tales of eponymous Baron. Littered throughout with steampunk tropes and devices, Gillum displays a magical world in this delightful, if overlong film.

The French duo Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro created the strange, surrealist masterpiece 1995’s The City of Lost Children (La Cité des enfants perdus). Unable to dream, a mad scientist steals the dreams of children. The kidnapping of a circus strongman’s little brother leads to some bizarre and fascinating confrontations between the strongman, the children, and the scientist. Beautifully imagined within a late 19th century industrial city complex, The City of Lost Children magically envisions a dark steampunk society.

The disappointing film version of The Golden Compass, the first novel of Phillip Pullman’s extraordinary trilogy His Dark Materials, premiered in 2007 amidst a maelstrom of controversy, as various Christian groups–most notably The Catholic League– urged their members to boycott the movie citing the story’s perceived anti-God bias. The protesters had little to worry about since director/screenwriter Chris Weitz stripped the original tale of any complexity and relevant subtext, presenting a dull, lifeless movie. Even with gorgeous visual effects (particularly of the dæmons and the airships), superior acting (especially Dakota Blue Richards’ authentic portrayal of a fierce twelve year-old girl), and a $200 million budget, The Golden Compass offered yet another 21st century steampunk film failure.

Some thirty-five years after my initial discovery, steampunk still fascinates. I eagerly await to read about the new devices listed on Boing Boing. Even given the poor quality of most steampunk movies, films with airships and Victorian stylings still excite me. Clearly I am not alone as evident by the sheer amount of steampunk material continually being produced and the very existence of this anthology. 

Vive la vapeur!

1a form of role-playing game where the players physically act out their characters’ actions.

2Original video adaption, a phrase coined by the Japanese for direct-to-video films.

A return to Houston…

It’s been quite sometime since I’ve been to the old hometown, but I’ll be there Mother’s Day Weekend as guest at Houston’s Comicpalooza. That’s right it’ll be Chuck Norris, Anthony Mackie, Felicia Day, Judge Reinhold, Jim Butcher, Lev Grossman, Mary McDonnell, and me. You’ll see me listed after you scroll through a zillion other names in the dreaded Authors – Continued section.

I’m there because of my so-called literary chops. They even put me on three panels. Will these people never learn?

Friday, May 12

2:30 – 3:30pm Is That Steampunk, or Did You Just Glue Some Gears on Your Hat?

Jim Butcher, Rick Klaw, George Wright, Padgett Michael, Ashleigh Finn (I’m moderating this one)


Saturday, May 13

2:30 – 3:30pm Horror for the 21st Century: Film and Literature

Naveen Ramineni, Alan Cerny, Channing Whitaker, Rick Klaw, Hank Schwaeble


Sunday, May 14

4:00 – 5:00pm Wordsmith For Hire: All About Freelance Writing

Holly Lyn Walrath, Rick Klaw, Alan Cerny, Wayne Basta, Kevin Tumlinson


Seriously, I had a great time at my previous Comicpalooza and I’m looking forward to my return trip. I hope to see everyone there.

New (to me) volume of The Obscure Cities coming soon!

I ran across this preview of The Theory of Grain and Sand at CBR:


The second book of The Obscure Cities series following The Leaning Girl. Gholam Mortiza Khan comes to Brüsel to sell some jewelry, but before the sale can be closed, Khan dies in an accident. Thus begin events sparking an investigation by Mary von Rathen: accumulation of sand in the apartment of Kristin Antipova; accumulation of stones in the house of Constant Abeels, and Maurice who is loosing weight by the day. The events have a catastrophic effect on Brüsel and time is of the essence.

Newly translated into English by Ivanka Hahnenberger and Steve Smith (translator of The Leaning Girl and The Beauty) and edited by Smith and Karen Copeland at Alaxis Press for publication by IDW.

  • First time translated into English for western readers!


To say I’m excited would be an understatement. When The Leaning Girl came out back in 2014, I had this to say:

After a freak accident, thirteen year-old Mary Von Rathen begins to lean at a 45 degree angle. After nothing fixes her affliction, her selfish mother and hen-pecked father send her away to a private school. Shortly after, Mary runs away and quite literally joins the circus where she remains for several years, performing her amazing leaning girl act. A newspaper editor tells her of a scientist, Axel Wappendorf, who is planning on a journey to a planet that might unlock the secret behind Mary’s trouble. Interspersed within Mary’s tale, is the story of fine artist Augustin Desombres, who escapes from his busy world and buys an empty building on the French countryside. He begins painting murals of strange globes and worries about his sanity. Mary’s and Wappendorf’s explorations bring them into a collision course with Desombres and hopefully the answers that Mary’s seeks.

Part of the legendary Obscure Cities sequence, this extraordinary French graphic novel serves as an ideal introduction to the long running series produced by writer Peeters and artist Schuiten. Expertly employing the tropes of 19th century science fiction, the duo’s creation achieves the unique duality of both very familiar and very different. Schuiten’s exquisite line work pairs perfectly with Peeters’ prose in creating the mythical worlds, outlandish ideas, and commonplace people. Further enhancing the work’s uniqueness is the Fumetti style of Desombres’ story as envisioned by the black & white photography of Plissart. The riveting, beautiful Leaning Girl fascinates, while providing one of the best reading experiences of the year.

Years later and, The Leaning Girl remains one of my all time favorite comics. I’m eagerly awaiting the next volume.

Until The Theory of Grain and Sand comes out, I’ll just have to be satisfied with this sample page. Visit the CBR post for more images from the book.