Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Great Steampunk Online Comic

Here's a nice holiday treat for you. If you have not run across Phil and Kaja Foglio's Girl Genius on-line steampunk (although they call it "gaslamp") comic, you are in for a treat. The art's great, as you would expect from Phil Foglio, and the story is a lot of fun. Enjoy, and if you like it a lot, consider buying the new novel out for the storyline, Agatha H. And The Airship City.

Here's the Link.

Enjoy and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Historical Characters in Steampunk

Some writers set their steampunk fiction in worlds so dramatically removed from our own there is little reason to expect historical characters to show up. Many worlds, on the other hand, are closer to our own reality and Space: 1889 certainly is among that number. Writers crafting stories in that setting naturally need to pay attention to what historical personages the novel's characters might bump into as they go about their business, and the same is true for GMs constructing adventures. That said, novelty is the key to all good stories and adventures, and so a continuous parade of Very Famous People never seems very plausible. Young Winston Churchill followed by young Teddy Roosevelt, followed by young someone else wears thin fairly quickly, and strains credibility as well, as the coincidental "star sightings" pile up. So what's a person to do?

Here's a technique I've found useful, and it's one everyone can do who has access to the internet -- which means everyone within sound of my electron-carried voice. In a story I'm writing I wanted to know who was who in the Austro-Hungarian embassy in London in 1889. The ambassador is pretty easy to track down, but his pay grade is way above the sort of people to whom my characters are likely to gain introductions. No, I needed the clever under-assistants, but where on Earth do you find that, without going to Vienna and digging through musty archives?

I reverse engineered the problem, because I wasn't just looking for an underling, I was looking for one who might be historically interesting. So I researched Austro-Hungarian ambassadors in the years leading up to and during World War One, or about twenty to twenty-five years later. I needed an English speaker so I looked at ambassadors to England and the United States, and then checked their biographies (mostly available at least in abbrevaited form on line) to see who, if any of them, had served in the London embassy in the 1880s.

Oh, my. Jackpot! I give you Konstantin Theodor Dumba.

Dumba, born in 1856, entered the Austro-Hungarian foreign service 1879 at the age of 23 after obtaining a doctorate in law, so he was clearly a bright and hard-working student. He served in the London embassy as a staffer from 1881 through 1886, apparently his first overseas assignment. Later he was sent to other European postings, but since my story involves the Austrian response to the assassination of their ambassador in London, and his hasty replacement with another diplomat, it makes sense the Austrians would call back a junior staffer with extensive experience in Britain to help the new ambassador find his feet. But what makes Dumba particularly interesting is the later part of his career. He was the last acredited ambassor from Austria-Hungary to the United States and was expelled in 1915, before the U.S. entered World War One, for his involvement in a plot to sabotage U.S. arms manufacturing.

So here we have a bright, ambitious, and highly competent junior staffer, thirty-three years old, fluent in English with connections to the British Foreign Office, and having at least a latent interest in espionage and the more dangerous side of international affairs, as well as probably a relaxed attitude toward inconvenient obstacles such as the law. Now that's an interesting historical character, and the advantage of drawing on a real person for this is that he begins to do part of your work for you, giving you clues as to how he would react to a situation -- sometimes in ways you might not have come up with on your own.

The world is full of intriguing people and each one has a story to tell you. You just need to look and listen.

Monday, December 19, 2011

From Whence Inspiration?

I am asked sometimes where my ideas come from. I imagine at one time or another every author is asked that. I cannot answer for anyone else, but for me, ideas are like snowflakes in their uniqueness and delicacy. I am afraid sometimes if I try too hard to understand, and thus explain, where they come from, they will stop. Ideas seem to present themselves in massed ranks to some authors, to throw themselves in inexhaustible numbers at them like human wave attacks -- lucky bastards -- but for me ideas are more bashful and so their mating grounds are best left undisturbed, lest they stop coming around altogether.

But I will tell you where I got the idea for How Dark The World Becomes, my upcoming novel from Baen Books. I got it from a song.

I am a Tom Waits fan from way back. I followed his musical career from the mid-70s on. His early music has a strong jazz and blues influence and his lyrics are not simply incredible poetry and story-telling, his melodies can be hauntingly beautiful. Then along came Swordfish Trombones and he frankly lost me. His muse took him off in the direction of what, to me, sounded like discordant and atonal noise, not music. I never begrudged him that, by the way. Artists have to keep growing and changing, have to keep finding something new to say, or they end up just a Las Vegas stage routine, doing the same act over and over forever, because "that's what sells" -- until it doesn't any more. Even back then, I think I understood what I years later read Lois McMaster Bujold put so succinctly and so well: "The author reserves the right to have a better idea." Or in this case, the musician does. If I can't see his vision as clearly as he can, it's not his fault.

So for a number of years I did not follow Waits's newer music, although I remained a dedicated fan of his early work. Then a few years ago a friend and fellow-Waits fan, and one who had stuck with him, played a Waits album called Blood Money in his car CD player. I didn't care for it, for the same reasons I'd drifted away in the first place: harsh, jarring music and a bleak, angry world view. But over the next few days I couldn't get the first song on the album -- Misery Is The River of the World -- out of my head.

It's not that I liked it; it's that it just kept rattling around up there and would not go away. I ended up driving out and finding a copy of the CD, buying it just to listen to that song and so exorcise it. It was as bleak as I remembered, even more so once I listened carefully to it.

Misery's the river of the world.
Misery's the river of the world.
Misery's the river of the world; Everybody row!
Everybody row!

Waits's command of the language is still as powerful as ever, if harnessed to a black dystopian view of a corrupted world.  He may be, as another friend described him, America's greatest living poet. He's a guy who manages to sum up, and then dismiss, the entire ascent of man in two lines:

The higher up the monkey can climb,
The more he shows his tail.

So here's what I started thinking as I listened to this song again and again: if some guy from a hundred years from now heard this song and it resonated with him, with his life experiences, what sort of world would he come from?

The other thing I realized as I listened is that, no matter how bleak and hopeless Waits's music may sound, it is not without hope. If there is no hope, then there is no point to rage -- and there's plenty of rage here. Out of that first question came the idea for this novel, or rather for its protagonist, and out of that second understanding came the theme. Here's the brief setup:

About thirty years in our future, we are contacted by a star-faring civilization, a mostly-peaceful "Star Collective" encompassing all the settled worlds of five intelligent races -- all they have ever encountered. We are invited to join and we do so, becoming the sixth race of the Collective. Fast forward seventy more years and, due to the intellectual property laws of the Collective, we are locked into all the low-tech, low-wage, dead-end grunt jobs. There are a couple areas at which we excel. We have a creative streak unmatched by the other races, and so Human musicians, composers, visual artists, architects, even interior designers are in demand throughout the Collective. For those without a creative streak, or the ability to fake it, Human mercenaries are widely used as well. Finally, we are very, very good at crime.

The title comes from a quotation from Leo Tolstoy, as I believe I mentioned in a previous posting, but it is worth repeating as it captures the theme of the novel completely:

There is something in the human spirit which will survive and prevail, there is a tiny and brilliant light in the heart of a man that will not go out no matter how dark the world becomes.

That is to say, the novel is hopeful in tone, a celebration of our better angels which remain with us-- if we let them -- regardless of how black things appear.

By the way, Blood Money is a remarkable album, one which gets in your head and grows on you over time. The music was written for the 2000 musical stage production of Woyzeck, co-produced by Waits and Robert Wilson and based on the famous incomplete stage play of the same name. written by George Buechner and published posthumously in 1879. Strange to contemplate the play's origin in the middle of the Victorian era, but there you are. The song God's Away on Business from the album appears in the 2005 film Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.

I highly recommend the album -- but not for the faint of heart.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Abattoir in the Aether Coming Soon

We have a final cover for Abattoir in the Aether, by L. Joseph Shosty, and so the book itself should follow soon. Abattoir takes place on an orbital heliogragh station, but not one in planetary orbit. Instead Peregrine station is in solar orbit between the orbits of Mars and Earth so it can relay messages between the two planets when they are in orbital opposition, or close enough to it the worlds are not visible in the night sky. Of course, there's more to the station than simply that . . .

Abattoir in the Aether is Book 4 in the first season of Space: 1889 and Beyond stories. Book 5, of course, is my own A Prince of Mars, and no little kid anticipates his Christmas presents more than I wait for that one to appear. Oh boy!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Writing and Rewriting

I have been remiss. This has been a long dry spell for the blog and I can only plead that I have been writing every day -- just not this.

I've been doing a lot of preliminary plot work for Conspiracy of Silence, the lead book for season two of Space 1889 and Beyond. I have been nearly consumed by a major rewite project I'll tell you about some day, but suffice it to say it is steampunk. Now I am getting started on my rewrite of the novel Baen Books has picked up (not steampunk). Since all the contracts are signed and exchanged, and the advance is deposited, I suppose it's okay to talk about it without tempting fate. I am not a superstitious guy, but even I hesitate to tempt fate. If harm seldoms come from it, good certainly never does.

The novel was originally titled Bird Song's End. I thought it was an okay title, but nothing special. Baen liked it even less than that and wanted a new one. After floundering around for a week or so, I came up with the title we both like:

How Dark The World Becomes

It is based on a quotation from Leo Tolstoy:

There is something in the human spirit which will survive and prevail, there is a tiny and brilliant light in the heart of a man that will not go out no matter how dark the world becomes.

So now I am rewriting. Rewriting is something just about every writer does differently, and it has a lot to do with approach. I like to get the first draft as close to what I'm aiming for as possible, but I know a lot of very good writers who just concentrate on getting something -- anything -- down on paper for a first draft and then do the bulk of their work in the rewrite. I'm more inclined to rewrite as I go, to double back and fix earlier passages to fit what I've written later, and so I do lots of small rewrites along the way. I've read authors advise against that, but it seems to work for me. If something different works better for them, that's fine.

I think the reason rewiting is so important is that it mirrors the way we learn the craft of writing. We write poorly, then we write better. I've read of people who sit down and write a brilliant novel their first time out of the starting gate, and do so in a matter of weeks. Are these folks the norm? I don't think so. In fact, my immediate reaction is more along the lines of, "Burn the witch!"

I believe that, for the vast majority of us, writing poorly is the essential first step toward writing well. If you are afraid to write because you fear your prose may not be that good, you will never get good. A Russian author (I forget who) once said the first million words we write are garbage, and it's a formula repeated often in the writing biz: be prepared to throw away your first million words. But first you need to write them. If you don't write those first million words of unremarkable prose, you will never get to the point where your prose makes people take notice.

So write. Then rewrite. Then rewrite again. Write poorly, and then make it better, but write.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

November Bestsellers Announced by Untreed Reads

I just received the November sales data from Untreed Reads through their online store. All three "Space 1889 & Beyond" books made the list!

Mark Michalowski's "Ghosts of Mercury," which wasn't released until almost mid-month, debuted at the number one spot. Congatulations Mark! (That cool video trailer you did must have something to do with it.)

Andy Frankham-Allen's "Journey to the Heart of Luna," the first release in the series, is still hanging in there at number 4.

K. G. McAbee's "Vandals on Venus" is not far behind at number 6.

Big congratulations to everyone. My own "A Prince of Mars" will hit the e-street later this month, along with L. Joseph Shosty's "Abattoir in the Aether." I've got some big sales numbers to live up to, but you folks are all going to buy a copy and recommend it to all your friends so I'm not going to be embarassed, right?


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Some Thoughts on Writing Steampunk Fiction

I have been reading some steampunk lately – big surprise, huh? – and I find myself irritated by some of it. The plots and themes don’t bother me, it’s the style of writing in some works which honestly makes it hard to keep reading. I won’t tell you which ones. I’m a writer, not a critic, and what bothers me may not bother the next person coming along. But the phenomenon deserves some comment.

What is it that bothers me? I am tired of reading an author write this:

Reggie had at length been forced to recognize that, in the interests of his continued epicurean well-being, he might find it somewhat to his advantage to be transported to a certain nearby and well-recommended butcher, and perhaps even a green grocer, whereupon their finest wares could be partaken of by him.

When what he or she set out to say was this:

Reggie decided to go grocery shopping.

I understand that part of the style of many (not all) steampunk works is the pretense that the book was actually written in the time period covered by the story, and so is written in Victorian style, or at least what the author imagines Victorian style to be. I don’t have a problem with that per se, but I do have a problem with how it sometimes manifests itself. Here are the main culprits, in my opinion:

1) Poor Tense Use: A tendency to use past continuous (he was going to London) and past perfect (he had gone to London), and sometimes even past perfect continuous tense (he had been going to London) because they “sound more Victorian,” when simple past tense (he went to London) works fine. Read this paragraph and see if it doesn’t make you edgy.

John was sitting in the chair in the den as Mary was telling him what transpired at the council meeting. John was listening to her but was also thinking about what action to take tomorrow concerning the deed.

Now try this:

John sat in the chair in the den and listened to Mary tell him what transpired at the council meeting. John listened to her but also thought about what action to take tomorrow concerning the deed.

Neither one is timeless prose, but the second one is easier to read. The first one makes me want to do something else, like take out the trash. Past continuous tense sounds passive and past perfect tense sounds remote. Past perfect continuous tense – well, don’t get me started. All of them distance the reader from the action. I think they should be used when absolutely necessary, when they are the precise tense needed, but never as a stylistic flourish.

2) Passive Voice: This is a big one, and a pet peeve of mine. Why do folks think passive voice sounds more refined, or Victorian? Beats me, but some of them seem to, even in action scenes. “She was seized by the pirates and her face was slapped by their leader.” No. “The pirates seized her and their leader slapped her face.”

I saw passive voice a lot in academic writing as well, there with at least a glimmer of a justification. Passive voice is another way of distancing the reader from the action. In academic writing, where you may want a sense of detachment and objectivity, that’s not an entirely bad thing (although it’s still dry as dust to read). In fiction, it is the death of a thousand cuts.

3) Lumber: By lumbering up a sentence we mean piling as much dead wood into it as you can. Adding meaningless clauses like “insofar as he could determine” and “or so it seemed to him.” Adding lots of adjectives and adverbs, preferably a bit over-the-top, such as, “He recoiled cravenly in abject horror.” It also means adding what I call "weasel words," words which chip away at the substance of a sentence without adding any value. You know the words I mean: He was somewhat confused. He was rather annoyed.

All this lumber may make your story sound like it was written by a Victorian author, but not by a good Victorian author, and that’s really the point. Bad writing is easy. Good writing is hard. A desire to achieve a period feel in the style of writing should not be an excuse for bad writing.

Do you need all these stylistic curlicues on your prose to make it read as if it comes from the Victorian period? No, you do not. Here are three examples of prose from the Victorian era, all written within ten years of 1889.

The Honorable Thomas L. Hammer, one of the ablest men Ohio ever produced, was our member of Congress at the time, and had the right of nomination [to West Point]. He and my father had been members of the same debating society (where they were generally pitted on opposite sides), and intimate friends from their early manhood up to a few years before. In politics they differed. Hammer was a life-long Democrat, while my father was a Whig. They had a warm discussion, which finally became angry . . . after which they never spoke until after my appointment. . . . [Hammer] cheerfully appointed me. This healed the breach between the two, never again reopened.

-- Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant (1885)

My wife at least did not find my experience incredible. She ate scarcely a mouthful of dinner, and ever and again she shuddered at my too vivid story of the death of the flag-bearers. When I saw how deadly white her face was, I ceased describing. “They may come here,” she said again and again. I pressed her to take wine, and tried to reassure her. “They can scarcely move,” I said. I repeated all that Ogilvy had told me of the impossibility of the Martians establishing themselves on the earth, at first for her comfort, and then I found for my own.

-- War of the Worlds, H. G. Wells (1897)

It was difficult to decide which was most remarkable, his shrewdness or his capacity of labour. His quickness of perception and mastery of details made him in a few years an authority in the office, and a Secretary of the Treasury, who was quite ignorant of details, but who was a good judge of human character, had the sense to appoint Ferrars his private secretary. This happy preferment in time opened the whole official world to one not only singularly qualified for that kind of life, but who possessed the peculiar gifts that were then commencing to be much in demand in those circles. We were then entering that era of commercial and financial reform which had been, if not absolutely occasioned, certainly precipitated, by the revolt of our colonies.

-- Endymion, Benjamin Disraeli (1880)

Of the three, Disraeli is clearly the weakest, although even the ruffles and flourishes in his florid prose serve a purpose. Something to remember about Victorian authors is that while they could sometimes wax long-winded, they did so for a purpose, not simply to add words for the hell of it. A. W. Kinglake, a Victorian historian who wrote a decade or two before the others, had a very long-winded style, but his verbiage always added detail and precision to his writing, never “lumber.”

Along the course of the little rivers which seamed the ground, there were villages and narrow belts of tilled land, with gardens, and fruitful vineyards; but for the most part this neglected Crim Tartary was a wilderness of steppe or of mountain-range much clothed towards the west with tall stiff grasses, and the stems of a fragrant herb like southernwood.

-- Invasion of the Crimea, vol. I, A. W. Kinglake (published in eight volumes from 1863 through 1887)

Bottom line? If emulating the style of Victorian writers, emulate the good ones.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Thanksgiving Greeting and Some News

Thanksgiving is upon us (as you can see from the steampunk turkey to the left), and it is my favorite holiday. I love it so much because of its simplicity. It is nothing more than a feast day spent with friends and family, with no pressure to buy and wrap gifts or send cards, and so sense of guilt at having failed to get just the right gift for someone or, in my case, failing to send out cards at all. Don't get me wrong; I love Christmas. But it's no Thanksgiving, that's for sure.

This year I have special reason for celebrating my gratitude at the passage of another good year. My first published work of fiction, A Prince of Mars, will be out next month from Untreed Reads, and my first full-length novel, Conspiracy of Silence, will follow mid-year next. But something I didn't know until the last couple weeks, and wasn't official until I signed and returned the contract this week, is that I am also now a Baen author. Baen Books will publish my debut print novel, and I'd gladly tell you the title but we haven't agreed on one yet. (I had one, of course, but neither of us liked it very much. We're still trading ideas for a better one.)

Well, plenty of time to fill you in on that later. I will tell you that it is science fiction but not steampunk. I hope you'll forgive me for letting a non-steampunk subject intrude on this blog. :^)

So I intend to have a wonderful holiday! I sincerely hope all of you have a very joyous Thanksgiving as well -- including those of you overseas who do not normally celebrate this holiday. Have a big roasted fowl for dinner Thursday, and a nice nap afterwards. Do you a world of good.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New Space: 1889 Villain Announced

This just in from Andy Frankham-Allen, series editor of the Space 1889 and Beyond series.

"And it’s all over. Our first Space: 1889 & Beyond competition closed yesterday. A big thank you to all who took part and sent your answers in. The question we asked was simple enough; “which world bookends series one?” and the answer was, of course, Luna (featured in both the opening and closing stories of series one)! We had many responses, some wrong and some right. But, as is the way of things, there could only be one winner. And with the help of Mark Michalowski, author of this month’s The Ghosts of Mercury, we picked out three names at random.

"The 1st Prize was a chance to be immortalised in literature by becoming a villain in the second series of Space: 1889 & Beyond, and receive a free copy of the new book, The Ghost of Mercury. And the winner of that first prize is… LISBETH LARIVIERE!

"The two runner-up prizes were free copies of The Ghosts of Mercury, and the winners of those are… GASPAR QUELHAS LIMA TAMEERIS and JASON HILTON.

"Well done and congratulations to all three winners, and a final big thank you (again!) to all who took part."

I'll add my own congratulations, as well as a greeting more appropriate to a villain.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Steampunk Game Pictures From Fall-In

As I mentioned a few days ago, I ran Mars Needs Steam at the Fall-In convention in Lancaster, PA over the Halloween weekend. It was not a scheduled game, but there was a cancellation the first night of a different game, and I had some figures and vehicles along, so ran a pick-up game.

I said before that the game benefitted from some very nice terrain my friend Glenn Kidd put together -- very nice and of genuinely epic scale! This Martian mesa is topped by almost a dozen High Martians. To give you an idea of size, those are 25mm minitures up there.

A unit of British prepare to advance, supported by an armed aerothopter.You've seen my aerothopter before but this is a different angle. For those of you exclusively into gaming, and who have never bumped up against the wider world of steampunk culture/fandom/whatever, one thing which the devotees have as a shared interest is actual physical craftsmanship and tinkering -- modification of costumes, props, accessories, you name it. That's actually a point of convergence with steampunk miniature gaming as well. There are some great figures and vehicles available commercially, and I've reviewed a few here in this column myself. But almost everyone I know who runs steampunk games takes particular pride in the vehicles and figures they have converted, and I'm no exception. Love that aerothopter!

You've seen our Venusian Schutztruppen before as well, but here's a nice closeup of the unit.

I wasn't the only one running steampunk games there. This is a detail from a the U.S. 5th Cavalry on Mars game run by Highlander Studio's Rod Campbell. This is fairly late in the action, as the cavalry have shot their gashants and are taking cover behind them.

This shot is from earlier in the action. Those are some very brave or very stupid Hill Martians.

Someone else ran a Space: 1889 miniatures game set on Mars using the Gaslight rules. I like the clean look of the terrain and there were a number of nice detail pieces that made this especially good-looking. Those are very nice Victorian SF combat walkers, converted from some Games Workshop pieces.

The RAFM fantasy lizards we use for Venusian lizardmen are long out of production, but this guy has converted some Games Workshop lizard warriors to Venusians, and I think they look great.

While I was there I picked up a bunch of figures from Bob Charrette at Parroom Station -- lots of sinister minions and a couple great anarchists, complete with floppy hats, long cloaks, and round black bombs. This stuff really is too much fun.

Friday, November 11, 2011

This Just In - Ghosts of Mercury Live!

Oh . . . wait. That should read "Ghosts of Mercury IS live." :^)

Jay Hartman, Editor-in-Chief at Untreed Reads Publishing, writes:

"I'm pleased to tell you that Ghosts of Mercury is now live and available for immediate purchase and download from:

The Untreed Reads Store (

Amazon Canada

Amazon Germany

Amazon France


Barnes and Noble

Apple iBookstore (32 countries)

Lightning Source (a distributor, primarily North America)

"All other retailers and distributors will roll the title out in the days and weeks to come. As always, we appreciate you sending traffic through The Untreed Reads Store or Apple's iBookstore whenever possible. This ensures the best royalty for everyone involved. . . . We do offer MOBI (Kindle) format at The Untreed Reads Store, which can then either be emailed to someone's Kindle account or transferred directly to a Kindle device via USB."

Great news.

Book 4, Abattoir in the Aether, and Book 5, A Prince of Mars, hopefully should be coming soon, although we'll leave a decent interval for you to devour Mercury first. (Hmmm. Having written that, it occurs to me it doesn't sound very healthy.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Your Chance To Enter Literature as a Villain!

I sometimes joke that one of my resume entries should read, "was an important supporting character in a work of alternate historical fiction." My friends Mike Dobson and Doug Niles, in their alternate history book of an invasion of Japan at the end of World War Two,  MacArthur's War, include the character Captain (later Rear Admiral) Frank Chadwick. The fact that there really was a Captain Frank Chadwick on Nimitz's staff had something to do with it as well. :^)

Well, here's your chance to become a villain in a work of steampunk fiction.

Untreed Reads is running a contest from now until November 14th. Simply answer the following question: "Which world bookends series one of Space: 1889 & Beyond"? Send your answer to:

One entry per contestand, please. On November 15th the winner will be drawn at random from the correct entries.

1st Prize: One c opy of The Ghosts of Mercury (book 3) in the digital format of your choice AND you will be featured in series two of Spacee 1889 & Beyond as a villain!

Two runners up will each receive a copy of The Ghosts of Mercury in the digital format of their choice.

Friday, November 4, 2011

One Day Only Deal on EBooks

If you have been putting off getting the eBooks for Space: 1889, there's a great one-day deal going on over at Books on Board. They are running a one-day-only 30%-off sale of non-agency publishers (which includes Untreed Reads). Here's the link for their site.

Once you're there, search the site for Untreed Reads and all their titles will come up. Buy as many as you like, of course, but the two of particular interest will be Journey to the Heart of Luna and Vandals on Venus. The great thing about this sale is that although you pay the discounted price, Books on Board is paying the full price to the publishers, so the authors get their full royalty. Nice way to show the authors some support and still save yourself a couple bucks.

On the same subject, Untreed Reads just released their in-site bestseller list for October, and both Space: 1889 and Beyond books made the top five. Andy's Journey to the Heart of Luna came in at number five, its second month on the list, and Vandals on Venus debuted at number one! Not bad, and thanks to all of you who bought it.

Ghosts of Mercury should be out very soon. It was going to release on Halloween, but there was a technical glitch with the ISBN number which temporarily held it up, but it should be out soon.

Late this month (probably the last week) we'll see the release of both Abattoir in the Aether (book 4) by L. Joseph Shosty, and A Prince of Mars (book 5) by (ahem) me.

I ran a game of Mars Needs Steam! out at Fall-In in Pennsylvania last week and should have pictures for you very soon. My pal Glenn Kidd did some kick-ass Martian terrain you'll really like, but that will have to wait for next time.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Ghosts of Mercury Almost Here

We hoped to release Ghosts of Mercury by Mark Michalowski today but a technical gremlin decided otherwise. That's what comes of trying to release something on Haloween, I suppose. It should be out in a couple days, however. In the meant time, the cover art is shown above and here is a video trailer for your enjoyment.

Also, here is an exclusive exerpt from the book. Enjoy.

He was there. Again. Standing silently in the corner of the room. There but not quite there.

When Corporal Heath looked directly at him, he seemed to jump, as if instantly whisked to some other part of the room that was now at the edge of his vision. Heath couldn’t help but still try to catch it out, hoping that, just once, the ghost might forget to jump.

Heath ached—not only with the pain in his leg and ankle and chest, but with frustration. He had lost count of the number of times the ghost had vanished completely, and he’d found himself staring down at his white hands, balled up into fists, clutching the hospital sheets. He sensed something not altogether right, not happy about the ghost. There was a darkness there that he didn’t like at all. Realising how tense he was, Heath consciously relaxed and let his chin drop to his chest, triggering a jolt of pain from the torn muscles around his collarbone—before looking up suddenly, another bolt of pain shooting down his left arm from his shoulder. There was something going on in the corridor; he recognised Doctor Schell’s voice. The door to the ward was flung open and in swept the doctor, in his wake a slim, striking woman with black hair and the most hypnotic eyes Heath had seen for a long time. She had a healthy tan which immediately marked her out as a newcomer to Mercury. In her arms, she carried a large, buff folder, holding it close like it was the most important thing in the world. Behind them, hands flapping and a look of intense annoyance on her face was Nurse Lopez. She shot a glance at Heath as if to apologise for letting Schell and this new woman in.

“Heath!” beamed Schell coming to a sudden stop at the side of the bed and folding his arms. “How the devil are you, man?”

“Can’t complain sir,” Heath replied, knowing that an angel must surely have been looking out for him all those weeks ago.

“Good man,” Schell said. “Good man. Been through the wars, haven’t you? Good to see you on the mend, though. Bearing up, hmm?”

Schell turned to Nurse Lopez who stood there, glowering at him. By all accounts, Nurse Lopez’ parents—and in particular her mother—were possessed of fiery Latin temperaments that their daughter had clearly inherited.

“This man is sick, Doctor Schell. I do not think you really need me to tell you that, do you? You are a doctor after all. He needs rest and time to recover, not being interrupted during dinner.” Her English was impeccable with barely a hint of a Spanish accent. Doctor Schell looked up and down the bed and at the side-table. There was no sign of any meal, either fresh or half-eaten.

“Not hungry, Heath?”

“Not really, sir, no. Sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologise for not being hungry, you know,” interjected the dark-haired young woman who sounded, from her accent, like an American. She smiled at him and gave him a wink.

“Well that just won’t do,” said Schell with a firm shake of his head. “You need to get something inside your belly. No man ever got better from not eating, now did he? And many have gotten much, much worse.”

“Maybe later, sir.”

Schell raised an eyebrow and glanced back at Nurse Lopez. “Well make sure you do—and if he doesn’t, Lopez, I’ll be wanting to know why.”

“Corporal Heath is doing very well, doctor. He’ll eat when he wants to.”

The doctor nodded as if he’d just won that round and turned to the woman he’d arrived with. “Corporal Heath, this is Miss Annabelle Somerset. She arrived on Mercury today. She’s a close family friend of the colonel, so make sure you show her some respect. She’s here…” He paused and looked at Nurse Lopez. “That’ll be all, thank you, Lopez. I’ll shout for you if I need you.”

Nurse Lopez pulled a sour face, looked Miss Somerset up and down as if appraising her as a potential rival—as women, in Heath’s opinion, were wont to do—and then turned on her heel and left, letting the door bang behind her as a final gesture.

“Sorry about that,” Schell apologised to Miss Somerset. “She gets very protective about poor Heath here. Good thing, I suppose, considering she’s a nurse. But still… Anyway, the colonel says that Miss Somerset here would like to talk to you, if you feel up to it.”

“What about, sir?”

“About your accident,” said Miss Somerset. “And…and what’s been happening to you since then.”

Copyright 2011 by Mark Michalowski

Space: 1889 © & ™ Frank Chadwick 1988, 2011

All Rights Reserved.

The Ghosts of Mercury by Mark Michalowski, soon to be available from Untreed Reads Publishing.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mars Needs Steam Pictures

Last weekend I ran a Mars Needs Steam! game up in the Chicago area and my pal Tom Harris shot some pictures. The game featured the British and German allies against the Russians (with Fenian allies) and Oenotrian Imperial Canal Martians, with a mixed Franco-Turkish force remaining scrupulously neutral throughout. This game also featured the debut of my kit-bashed small British flyer, which I've dubbed an "aerothopter."

Here's a pretty good view of the aerothopter, showing its open cockpit and crew of two as well as its armanent of a 3-pounder Hotchkiss revolving cannon. It is held aloft by two ducted fans rather than liftwood.

Here's a longer view of the aerothopter as flies over some British mounted infantry and scattered woods. The forward part is from a 1950s-era science fiction playset, and includes the cockpit section, ducted fans and grasping arms. The rear superstruction was my own addition, the power plant being part of a terrain piece (half of the power transformer) from Itar's Workshop, which has some very nice steampunky bits. Here's a link to their webpage. The Hotchkiss revolver is scratchbuilt, but there are commercial versions available as well. (I was just in a hurry to get it done.)

The Oenotrian Imperial legions advance, their artillery drawn by massive ruumet breehrs. The figures are all RAFM, Canal Martians for the foot and gashaant-mounted cavalry and elves for the gun crews. The ruumet breehrs are conversion from toy rhinos.

This picture is a little blurry, but it shows a squad of German Venusian lizardman Schutztruppen, with bearded German NCO in the lead. Some German colonial troops are just visible in the foreground. I know, Venusian Schutztruppen were not actually employed on Mars, so this was not strickly speaking an historical game. The lizard Schutztruppen are conversions from RAFM's old line of fantasy lizard  men.

A squad of Fenian infantry advancing in support of the Russian steam tank. They have a shifty look about them and are clearly plotting some outrage against The Crown.

The Russian personalities and leaders, from left to right, the colonel commanding the military forces, his aide de camp, the highly esteemed (and decorated) geologist, and the lady naturalist -- quite unusual in a Russian party but not unheard of.

Another view of the German lizardman Schutztruppen as they secure a Martian village and are attacked by a clockwork infernal device (lower left) unleashed by a renegade human inventor in league with the Oenotrians. The German archaeologist (center) has paused to examine the decorative lawn statue which graces the entryway of the native hut.

Turkish infantry and artillery prepare to advance, supported by a squad of the elite French Garde Rouge (upper left).

Great fun and another successful playtest of the rules.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Steampunk Web Comic, and Some Thoughts on Story Telling

I just ran across a Sseampunk web comic called Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether. So far Chapter 1 is up.

I have mixed feelings about it. The art is really excellent. The story and background -- I'm not sure.

 I know, it's only Chapter 1 and I'm not supposed to know what's going on, since all of Chapter 1 is a swordfight between Lady Sabre and the evil Captain Hans, over something she's stolen. She fights Hans and about five of his henchmen, dispatches all of the henchmen (probably because they're wearing gasmasks -- that's got to be a terrible handicap in a sword fight) and then jumps into space to land on her waiting ship. Why she didn't do that to start with, instead of hanging around to fight, is one question which occured to me. Why none of the henchmen thought to bring a gun is another. (She did -- a derringer -- and shot two of them.) But the big question I have is why I should care.

Donald Maass, one of the smartest guys out there on the art of the novel, once said that the two types of scenes which bore him most are fight scenes and sex scenes. Both are exciting to do, but a lot less exciting to read about. He doesn 't say fight scenes are a waste of time, but he makes the point that until you know the characters and are invested in them, action scenes are just a bunch of people you don't care about running around and shouting -- and he's right! Starting a story with a big unexplained action scene has become a cliche, and in my opinion a very bad one.

Until you know the characters and what they want, there's nothing at stake in the action, so it's just . . . well, kind of pointless and boring. In this case it is doubly so, as Lady Saber spends the entire fight making wisecracks and grinning from ear to ear. She seems to know there is no danger of anything bad happening to her (or if there is, she apparently doesn't care), so that pretty much sucks any tension out of the scene. It's like watching George Cluney in some of his less successful action films. I don't care how bad the briefer says the situation is, as long as George has that sort of half-smirk on his face, it's clear he knows nothing bad's really going to happen and hell, he's read the script.

That was my real problem with the first chapter of Lady Saber and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether -- it's just a long, pointless sword fight with no tension, suspense, or sense of danger. The art, as I said, is great, so we'll see if this actuallys grows a story, a plausible world, and most importantly some characters worth caring about.

Here's the link. By all means make up your own minds.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Early Reviews on Space:1889 And Beyond

We are starting to get reviews on the initial Space: 1889 and Beyond stories -- and very nice reviews they are at that. Here are three reviews in ezines and steampunk blogs. I also noticed a review for each book up at Amazon: four out of five stars in one review and five for five in the other. Not too shabby.

The on-line reviews are at:

Sci-Fi Bulletin

The Traveler's Steampunk Blog

Pulp Den

In related news, the contracts are going out to some of the authors of Season Two of the series, which is a bit expanded from season one. Instead of six stories total -- one novel and five novellas -- it looks as if there will be seven stories and three of them will be full-length novels with four novellas. As I mentioned before, Andy Frankham-Allen, the series editor, and I will be co-authoring the kick-off novel, which we have re-titled "Conspiracy of Silence."

 I'm in the middle of reading the final draft of the third book in Season One, "Ghosts of Mercury," by Mark Michalowski, and I really like it. (I know I say that a lot, but it's true!) So I'm very glad to see that he is on board for Season Two as well, although I don't know which story Andy has him writing. Mark, by the way, also did the video trailer for the series, a convergence of talents which borders on the creepy, as far as I'm concerned.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Space 1889 and Beyond Video Trailer

Mark Michalowski has done a really great Space 1889 and Beyond video trailer for the first season of eBook releases. I am impressed. Love the music, too. Check it out. Here's the link.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hill Martians from Highlander Studios!

Rod at Highlaander Studios sent this pictures of the new sculpts of Hill Martians. The photos are a little burry, but they still look good to me.

Energetic Hill Martians with halberds (known there as "coddling-choppers"). Notice the coin for scale. It's always hard for me to remeber that these are 15mm figures.

Hill Martian women with coddling-choppers. When a nomad encampment is attacked, everyone picks up a weapon and lends a hand.

A close-up of another Hill Martian pose.

Judging by his gear and his weaponry, I'd say we have a Hill martian war chief here.

Here is a painted grouping of the British Wilderness Adventurers.

And, of course, the American Wilderness Adventurers.

As always, very nice stuff, Rod.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Lots of EBook News!

A lot has happened in the last week in the EPublishing field for us, so in no particular order of importance, here goes:

Vandals on Venus by K. G. McAbee, Book 2 in the Space: 1889 and Beyond EBook series from Untreed Reads, is live as of Tuesday, 5 October. Huzzah! Huzzah! Those of you with a series pass should already have it. If not, go immediately to the Untreed Reads store and buy it. Here's the link.

When Nathanial Stone gets an emergency message from an old friend on Venus begging for his help, his duty is clear: he must go at once.

His ward, Miss Annabelle Somerset, instead of agreeing to stay safely on Earth as he begs, insists on accompanying him to the dangerous tropical planet, home of huge reptiles.

Soon, Nathanial and Annabelle find themselves in the middle of a plot concerning a nefarious German officer, a brilliant English inventor, an Irish guide no better than he should be, a heavily-armed lizard-man and a clever American newspaperman.

Can even they prevail against such odds?

Here is an exerpt from the book to whet your appetites:

“Might you be Mister Stone, sir?” he called when Nathanial was still some yards away. “A message came in for you, sir, from Venus.”

“Venus, did you say?” Nathanial took the flimsy paper, gummed in half for privacy. Who on Earth—he shook his head and smiled—who on Venus, rather, could the message be from?

He tossed the messenger a shilling. The boy touched one finger to his round blue cap, turned and dashed away towards a three-wheeled steam velocipede. The boy settled himself in the harness between the two huge front wheels and, assisted by the bubbling engine, sped away at quite seven miles an hour, Stone calculated.

Nathanial walked slowly back towards his host, the bit of paper still unfolded in his hand. The address on the front told him little. Fort Collingwood, Her Majesty’s Royal Colony, Venus.

“Something urgent, my dear Stone?” asked White when Nathanial had settled back in his chair.

“I am not quite sure. If you will forgive me, I suppose I should read it.”

White waved his hand. “Naturally. Duty waits for no man.”

Mrs White rose. “I think I’ll just walk down and see if Miss Annabelle and her admirers have worked up a thirst. Do touch the bell for more hot water, William.” She drifted politely away, her long white skirts trailing behind her.

“Well, go on, Professor!” White sat up straight in his chair, all signs of sleepiness gone. “Let us see what is important enough to send a message all the way across the void from Venus!” He sighed. “I have always wanted to visit the colonies there. Imagine the place. Steamy jungles full of huge carnivorous reptiles, while the colonists huddle inside their palisades as the beasts roar for their blood.”

“You have been reading penny dreadfuls, my dear William!” Nathanial laughed.

“I confess it, Professor.” White had the grace to look abashed. “Do not tell my wife, I pray. I already have to hide them in my desk drawers. Oh, not that she disapproves! I have to hide them to keep her from spiriting them away before I have done with them.”

Nathanial threw his head back and laughed at his friend and, at last, ripped open the bit of flimsy and began to read:

21 April 1889, Fort Collingwood, Her Majesty’s colony on Venus

My Dear Stone,

I am sure you have not forgotten our glorious school days together. I excelling in cricket and squash, whilst you swotted away at your books. What is it, ten years since we met? No, longer than that, surely. I shall forego the usual adage re flying time and simply say how immensely proud I am of your great accomplishments in the years since I’ve seen you. Co-inventor of the aether propeller governor! Even on Venus, we have heard of its wonders! Yes, Venus, my dear chap. I passed—we shall not discuss precise rankings, if you please!—my civil service examinations and have been assigned to this damply dangerous—dangerously damp?—planet. At first, one must admit, I simply pushed a pen, but now I’ve managed to get my hands on a rather plush position, a sort of attaché without portfolio, if you will.

I am first assistant—well, let me be quite honest, my dear chap; I am the only assistant—to Geoffrey Forbes-Hamilton, esquire, if you please. I know you recognise the name; all you brilliant engineering johnnies belong to the same clubs and speak the same lingo. I confess, my talents, such as they are, are not the reason I received this particular assignment. It is more along the lines of no one else can stand the bounder. Not one of nature’s gentlemen, shall we say? In fact, I have heard it rumoured that his grandpapa was in trade! But be that as it may: the man is brilliant and H.M.’s government wants him coddled, which is, for my sins, my current job.

You are no doubt wondering, in that perspicacious way which is yours alone, precisely why I am rambling on this way—not to mention, why I’ve dared get in touch with you after all these years. I realise we did not part as the best of chums. Water under London Bridge and all that is how I feel about our little contretemps, and I can only pray you feel the same.

For I need your kind assistance, and in the worst possible way. Allow me to explain in more detail. Forbes-Hamilton has a passion for airships, don’t you see, which is the reason he’s on Venus in the first place. He says he’s untrammeled by inquisitive interlopers here. He is determined to build a new kind of airship which will surpass in every way those the dear old Kaiser’s people have designed. Naturally, our own chaps wish to see that happen as fiercely as does F-H Esquire.

And therein lies the rub, and the reason for this endless scrawl of mine—one of the benefits of working for H.M.’s service, don’t you know: I have no need to be stingy with my words when I can drop a missive into the governor-general’s official pouch!

Forbes-Hamilton has built—and lost—one prototype airship already; he called it the Aeronaut I. “Lost” as in “went down in flames,” don’t you know. Really, it was a most impressive sight, I do assure you! Aeronaut II ended up floating in a local lake and, though we both escaped from the wreckage with no more than scratches, by the time we managed to drag the remnants of the airship onto shore, the local aquatic fauna had chewed it about rather badly. It ended up resembling nothing so much as a badly mangled dog’s toy.

Now Aeronaut III is under construction upon the very bones of II. Dear old F-H refuses to discuss the “inadequacies” of I and II; he simply keeps repeating “she’ll be much better this time.” So much eye wash, in my opinion.

Well, to my point. (“At last!” I hear you exclaim across the aether.) If you could possibly see your way clear to barge off to Fort Collingwood here on Venus and offer your vast expertise to dear old F-H, you would not only be helping out a fellow brilliant engineer, but you would also be offering inestimable services to the government of that regal lady we are both so proud to serve—not to mention, saving the bacon of an old school chum. For, and I tell you this strictly sub rosa, my position as aide-cum-nanny for surly old F-H may will be my best—and last—shot at a decentish career.

Do say you’ll come, old chap. Quite honestly, I suspect some serious problems re III. Life or death, in fact. Do come!

Best regards, Giles Percival Jericho

Nathanial looked up to find White’s eyes locked onto him.

“Well, Professor? You look a bit surprised. Something wrong?”

“Are you familiar, William, with,” Nathanial glanced back at the flimsy bit of paper, “a fellow called Geoffrey Forbes-Hamilton?”

White tented his fingers together; Nathanial could almost see the wheels turning in his friend’s brilliant mind.

“Ah, yes, now I remember the fellow.” White sat forward in his chair, his eyes bright, looking like an eager boy—though Nathanial was sadly aware of the lines of care and the many new white hairs visible in his beard. “Some rather striking new ideas in airship design. Went off to Venus to experiment ‘without a lot of official botherment,’ I believe he told someone. Thinks he can beat Herr Zeppelin at his own game, and bypass the use of liftwood at the same time. More power to him, I must say. Is that the chap you mean?”

Nathanial nodded and tossed him the letter. As White read it, Nathanial watched Mrs White coming towards them across the lawn, Annabelle beside her and the young men following respectfully behind, looking in their uniforms like a cadre of blue jays protecting two swans.

(Aeronaut III, as rendered by artist David Burson.)

White rose and handed the message back to Nathanial. “I see. This is an opportunity not to be missed, Professor. If you can indeed assist Forbes-Hamilton, and his ideas are bearing fruit, it would be a definite coup for Her Majesty’s Navy. We shall have to see what we can do to get you passage to Fort Collingwood at once.

Untreed Reads just announced that Andy Frankham-Allan's Journey to the Heart of Luna was the number two bestselling title for Untreed Reads in September. Congratulations, Andy! That's nothing to sneeze at. Untreed Reads has broader distribution than any other pure EBook publisher in the business, and it's about to get bigger. Of course Untreed Read products have been available for the iPhone and iPad through Apple's US iBookstore. Now they will be available through 32 additional foreign countries through the dedicated iBookstores in those lands. The title Untreed Reads picked to launch the new venture?

K.G. McAbee's Vandals on Venus. So we must be doing something right.

We must indeed be doing something right. Untreed Reads just gave the formal green light for a second series of Space: 1889 and Beyond EBooks to be released in 2012. Andy Frankham-Allen and I will be co-authoring the lead-off novel in the new series. Andy remains series editor as well and while several of the books have already been assigned, he is accepting proposals/treatments for the rest. Any writers out there interested in taking the plunge, contact Andy through the Space 1889 and Beyond Facebook page. (It is in the links for this blog.)

Not to get too far ahead of myself, I am just finishing up the re-writes on A Prince of Mars and will have that off to Andy by week's end. Then it's to serious work on Earth Fall, the first book in next year's series. Nathanial and Annabelle remain the focus of the story, and this second season of books will answer some questions about the Space: 1889 universe people have speculated about since the original book was released back in 1988. Big questions.

Oh? Like what?

Well, let me tell you a story. In 1756, shortly before the outbreak of the Seven Years War, Frederick the Great, king of Prussia, was travelling across Germany to Berlin. He was about to mobilize the Prussian Army and throw it against the Austrian Empire, but while speculation along those lines ran hot, no one yet knew for certain what his intentions were.

He stopped for dinner at the manor house of a minor German noble and over dinner the noble asked if he actually intended to attack the Austrians. Frederick leaned over and in a soft voice asked, "Can you keep a secret?"

"Oh, yes sire!" the noble assured him.

"Good," Frederick said. "So can I."