• The Expanse -Watch this #epic series!

    Engaging Fanboy Mode:

    People, go and watch The Expanse!

    It has been two weeks since I opened an account with Netflix and I am already despairing! I binge-watched The Expanse, but to my dismay, it is only two seasons long so far, with another season due in 2018.

    But what seasons they are!

    The Expanse offers a relatively hard sci-fy look into what the solar system could look like in about 200 years. It features:

    • A united Earth and Moon
    • An independent Mars
    • An independent coalition of various factions in the asteroid belt beween Mars and Jupiter and settlers on the Jovian Moons
    • realistic high-tech space flight
    • realistic problems of space travel and colonies
    • realistic battles and weapons technology (all based on our best understanding of science)
    • political intrigue
    • a strange alien artifact which may be a weapon, or something else entirely
    • great characters and character development

    The Expanse is hands down the best science-fiction series I have ever seen. It is gut-wrenchingly realistic in its portrayal of the struggles one faces when confronted with the fact that outside is nothing but hard vacuum. All the characters are real, have real motivations (even if it just greed) and the really good guys and knights in shinig armor types are few and far between, but all are human and even the bad guys are not beyond redemption.

    And the space battles are simply one step beyond everything I have seen so far!

    Try it out yourselves, watch it!

    I hope The Expanse will be for science fiction what Game of Thrones is for fantasy.

    And now, enjoy the Season 3 ComiCon Trailer!

     

     

    Header image © Syfy, fair use

  • Review: She Walks in Shadows

    The Cthulhu Mythos, the original tales by H.P. Lovecraft and for a long time the vast majority of the stories written by his friends and successors are lacking one thing (both the stories and the successors):

    Women.

    Both the stories and the the league of authors are almost devoid of women and I was only aware of Sonia Greene, as far as female authors are concerned. So I was delighted when a friend pointed me towards She Walks in Shadows, an anthology written entirely by female devotees of the Mythos and featuring female protagonists.

    I was also a little weary since I have had mixed experiences with anthologies in the past andShe Walks in Shadows is all about my favourite fictional universe, I knew I would react a bit touchy if the anthology was a disappointment.

    I need not have worried, She Walks in Shadow is a jewel, a jewel more akin to a Shining Trapezohedron, but a jewel none the less.

    While I did not enjoy every story, the ones I did enjoy far outweight the ones I did not.

     

    “Cthulhu of the Dead Sea” by Inkeri Kontro and “Bring the Moon to Me” by Amelia Gorman share the #1 spot in my personal list, both blending science and the Cthulhu Mythos in delightfully creative ways and being bone-chilling at the same time.

     

    Another great one is “Notes Found in a Decommissioned Asylum, December 1961″ by Sharon Mock. The style of the story really drags you into the brutal reality of an insane asylum and then there is some Cthulhu Mythos sprinkled on top.

     

    “The Thing in The Cheerleading Squad” by Molly Tanzer is really delightfully different and not slapsticky at all, although you might think it is, judging from the title.

     

    But the review would not be complete without mentioning the final story of the anthology:

    “Queen of a New America” by Wendy N. Wagner, a tale featuring everybody’s favourite evil lady pharao: Nitocris,truly a lady with a plan.

     

    She Walks in Shadows is a great and delightfully different Cthulhu Mythos anthology that opens new perspectives on old tales and spins new ones, adding more facettes to the cosmic horror that is the Cthulhu Mythos.

    The Anthology contains 25 original short stories, there is a lot more to discover than the stories I mentioned in this review. Get a copy, you will not regret it…

     

    8 out of 10 screaming Haunting Horrors

     


  • Being a Dungeon Master helps in being a Teacher

    1988 was a significant year in my then rather young life:

    • For one, I would go on a student exchange with the USA (Hill-Murray School, to be precise) later that year
    • Some of my longest-lasting friendships began that year
    • I started fantasy role-playing, Dungeons & Dragons and the Lone Wolf single-player books, amongst others in 1988.

    And role-playing games have had an almost bizarre influence on my life ever since. If I had not become a role-player, I would not have gone to Nottingham to work for Games Workshop and I would not have gotten into contact again with my oldest friend, who had also become a role-player. He introduced me to who is now my wife, she is also a role-player.

    At first, I was one of the dungeon crawlers but when our dungeon master was unavailable for a time, we all took turns running shorter adventures and after a while, I took over as dungeon master more or less full time (except when we played Shadowrun and Earthdawn, but that was already a few years later).

    As fellow dungeon masters and role-players will agree, dungeon mastering teaches you a number of very important skills:

     

    • Patience (because a gaggle of role-players can be unruly)
    • Being a fair disciplinarian (because a gaggle of role-players can be unruly, but you do not want to spoil the fun for anybody)
    • Improvisation (because someone will inevitably come up with something you did NOT expect or role three natural twenties in a row)
    • Being an information-sponge (because you wnat to use the contents of the latest source book as soon as possible)
    • Creativity (needs no explanation)
    • A civilized outlet for a sadistic streak (for when patience does not cut it anymore)
    • The list goes on…

     

    I have been a teacher for the past six months now, enjoying it immensely, and I have found that a lot of the skills I gained and honed as a dungeon master now turn out to be tremendously helpful in teaching.

    Creativity makes for interesting and unusual lessons, patience and being a fair disciplinarian are quite obviously essential and information-sponging is necessary because I had a break in being a full-time teacher that lasted ten years so obviously, I have to learn a lot of new things myself.

    Improvisation is also key, especially when the children come up with unusual answers (and by Oghma, do they come up with unusual answers) or when you missplanned the lesson or the pupils are quicker than usual and there is still time left before the bell rings.

    And concerning the sadistic streak, you all went to school, you know what I am talking about….

    So basically, being a dungeon master is one great way to prepare for being a teacher, I have also managed to interest one of my pupils to take a look into old school pen & paper role-playing games, instead of only playing online. Maybe more will follow, let’s see.

    And there are also (metaphorical) dragons to be slain around here, the fun and tension never ends…

     

    Header image is of course the © the magnificent Jeff Easley, fair use.

  • Today we will be feasting with our Neighbours – Eid Mubarak!

    Make Dinner, not War, everybody!

    Nothing is better for fostering good relations between people than pursuing pastimes together and eating together. In what sequence you do that is up to you.

    In any case, today we (as complete pagans and heathens) will celebrate Eid al-Adha together with a Syrian-Iraqi family and we will be completely stuffed in three hours.


  • The Life Expectancy of Steampunk as a Subculture – Some Results

    The controversial post regarding the life expectancy of Steampunk versus the life expectancy of Cyberpunk keeps receiving feedback and a certain picture is forming which is encouraging for some parts of the world but rather disheartening for others.

     

    The Good:

    The scene is doing well in North America, the UK, and in the Netherlands. This is the sum of the feedback I have gotten from the Netherlands, Canada , Britain and the United States. And there will hoepfully be a podcast on the UK scene in late September or October, Cthulhu willing.

    The grievances I voiced (i.e. mainly older people in the scene, younger folks few and far between or missing) also do not apply there. In The Netherlands and the UK especially, teenagers and youth in their early 20s form a visible chunk of the scene.

    The scene in Portugal and Spain is also still active, but has shrunk somewhat compared to previous years.

     

    The Concerning:

    The rest of Europe seems to be in trouble. Not only did my friend Anja Bagus (to my knowledge Germany’s most successful Steampunk author) confirm my observations regarding events in Germany but my friend Dan Aetherman, the most prominent Steampunk in Switzerland, has written a blog post in response to my article (in German), in which he agrees with me and states the very same problems I mention are present in the Swiss scene.
    One possible explanation for this, as he writes, is, that the Swiss scene is maybe just a southern extension of the German scene and thus shares the problems. If this is so, then all the Swiss scene needs, is its own identity and I hope they will find it, because the German scene is more in trouble than I thought.

    Obviously, I got the most feedback from German Steampunks, since most of my contacts are in Germany and some of that feedback is cause for alarm.

    From what I learned, the scene in Germany is not only very fragmented and cliquey, there also seem to exist a noticable number of people who consider themselves the guardians or even lords and ladies of the scene and who actively keep newcomers out, if they do nt have the ressources (time, skill, money) to meet their arbitrarily declared standards of what a true Steampunk should do or wear.

    Also, I have not heard anything directly from France or Italy but have been informed that both scenes have first fragmented more than the German scene and then basically imploded.

    If anyone from France or Italy is reading this, please let me know if you have any first-hand knowledge.

     

    In Conclusion:

    It looks like the Steampunk scene is likely to continue for some time but simply not everywhere, which is rather sad, since it made such a good and strong start all across the world a few years back.

     


  • Will Steampunk actually outlive Cyberpunk? We discussed it on the Ætherweb

    My recent post where I argued Cyberpunk would in outlive Steampunk proved to be rather controversial. I have not had that many responses (via æthermail, Facebook and comments) to something I published on the blog in a while, like, years…
    Additionally, my friend Bonsart of Radio Retrofuture published a video on his Youtube channel in which he addressed my arguments and took the stance that Steampunk has the longer life expectancy, and made some very good poinst, which made me happy.

     

    In addition, he invited some notables of the Steampunk community, among them none other than the Airship Ambassador himself, and myself, to discuss the topic on air.

    If you missed it, it is now available on demand so to speak on Youtube as well:

    Seems like the stagnation and overaging is a German phenomenon but the scene is still going strong elsewhere in the world! Hurray!

     


  • Happy Birthday, Mr. Lovecraft

    It is an honoured tradition on this blog to commemorate the birthday of the Master of the Macabre, H. P. Lovecraft, on this day every year.

    Today in 1890, Howard Philips Lovecraft was born in in Providence, Rhode Island, where he spent most of his life.

    To celebrate, I present a reading of one of my favourite tales, The Shadow Over Innsmouth:

     


  • I think Cyberpunk will literally outlive Steampunk

    Cyberpunk and Steampunk as literature genres are of literally (no pun intended) roughly the same age. In fact, K. W. Jeter coined the term Steampunk as a counter to Cyberpunk. This has been pointed out and explained on numerous occasions in the past, so I will not go into detail here.

    Cyberpunk has existed as a subgenere of science fiction in varoius media for a while now, but has always been somehwere on the edge, underground, out of sight, you get the idea. It is a subgenre and likely always will be.

    All in all, the various incarnations of Cyberpunk-themed works in media is quite extensive, as this (incomplete) list shows.

    But you do not find big Cyberpunk conventions nor dedicated Cyberpunk cosplayers in the same way you find Steampunk conventions and steampunked versions of various cosplays. Cyberpunk simply never became something the public or pop-culture focused on in the same way they focused on Steampunk.

    It may simply be because we live in Cyberpunk times. Many of the things that were written about in the Cyberpunk novels, novellas and short stories of the 1980’s and 1990’s have already come to pass and when you look at what high-tech computers were supposed to be capable of as described in the first edition rules of Shadowrun and what they can do now (although we are at the time of writing 33 years away from 2050), we have partially outpaced fiction already.

    Cyberpunk times in deed. And there is Cyberpunk fashion, by the way (sSteampunk does not have a monopoly there).

    And this is one of the reason (although it pains me a little to say it) why I think Cyberpunk is going to outlast and quite literally outlive Steampunk.

    Cyberpunk is the genre of now. Writers will for a long time coming take cues from the present, look into emerging technologies and weave their tales from the mix. The Expanse is a good example (which also picks up on some transhumanist ideas) of that.

    Steampunk on the other hand is by design stuck in a relatively small bracket as far as techology is concerned with little room to maneuver (unless you turn Steampunk into Steamfantasy and add some magic to the tech).

    And although there are tons of events going at the moment (the list is also incomplete), there are a few things that are hard to miss (as far as I can tell and it may well be different elsewhere):

    • There are very few Steampunks who consider Steampunk their primary subculture and who cannot be found elsewhere.
      Most Steampunks are also „general“ cosplayers, goths, LARPERs etc.
    • At least regarding my immediate contacts in the scene and the events I attend another thing stands out:
      The youth is missing. The most active steampunks I know are well into their 30s or even older and the few younger Steampunks who were active when the scene first made a big splash have mostly moved on into cosplay and other stuff
    • There are not many new faces when I visit dedicated Steampunk events (at least around here)

    The other thing with Cyberpunk outliving Steampunk is literally outliving. Because as far as I can see, the base age of Steampunks is old when compared to other subcultures and there seems to be very little new blood coming in, the scene might be in danger of quite literally dying out eventually.

    I hope it will still be some time until this happens but for some reason, Steampunk does not seem to attract a lot of today’s youth. At least not in Europe and especially not in Germany (where I attend most conventions for geographic reasons).

    Also: For the Steampunk scene the main focus appear to be the conventions and the literature is, while not a mere sideshow, not the primary playground of the subculture. It is very much a scene that likes to dress up and be seen. Once a convention dies, the incentive to be a Steampunk also goes away.

    Steampunk literature may stand the test of time (I hope so) and it might not be as dependent on events as other aspects of the subculture are.

    Cyberpunk has been going strong without very visible cosplay, conventions and other subculture events while Steampunk lives by and through these things but the people participating in these events do not appear to grow anymore, i.e. no new faces and hardly any youth.

    Steampunk may well be gone in 10 or 15 years if the trend continues, while all that Cyberpunk has to do is being at the edge of technology and tell tales about it for as long as there is an edge of technology.

    I hope I missjudge this. After all, Steampunk is hwat started this blog and if anyone of you has made different observations at events, please let me know!

     


  • Delving the Realms of Fanfiction

    In the last few weeks before the summer holidays it came to my attention that some of my pupils are active fanfiction writers and are active on several sites dedicated to fanfiction.

    I am rather delighted by that, especially since the writers are not interested in Vampire romance drivel, but rather congregate around Harry Potter. I have since checked out some of sites mentioned in the conversations with my pupils. I have also avoided reading the stories authored by them, since I consider it a breach of their privacy, given the fact I know them personally and am ina special relationship with them.

    But Iäh my Cthulhu! What have I found…

    I guess there should be something called Rule 34b or Rule 35 or something… (If you are unaware what Rule 34 is, just google it) and it should be:

    If you come up with some weird scenario in a canonical fictional universe and/or a weird crossover involving two or more canonical fictional universes, there already exists fanfction for it.

    This is what I have come across (and skimmed over some stories):

    Star Wars / Doctor Who crossover

    Doctor Who / Harry Potter crossover

    Harry Potter / Star Wars crossover

    There are others, a seizable number containing paranormal entities who would get their behinds extremely prodded by Count von Count, but those I chose not to read.

    Alas, there is also some Cthulhu / Harry Potter crossover fiction but this I also have not read, I fear the power of the Great Old Ones may be mocked and as a devoted cultist, I may be forced to devolve into an online troll, which I refuse to do as a gentleman.

    But I guess eventually, I will not be able to resist the lure of those unholy writings anymore and read it anyway…

    In any case, the universe of fanfiction is a very diverse place and I have hardly scratched its surface. I can only guess at the horrors and wonders that wait there.

    And while I am typing these lines, another thought occurs to me and I saunter over to Google to check for something else…

    Yes, there is in deed crossover fanfiction for Harry Potter and Fallout. Iäh my Cthulhu! Iäh my Cthulhu in deed!

     


  • Innsmouth Ranger Recon Report: Time Vortex, FEV Lab and Zeppelin Rentals

    The weather was tolerable recently, so I decided to don my ranger helmet and armor and scout the area I am now living in in depth.

    Just behind the house, in the steeply rising hills, there trickle hidden brooks through weed chocked marshland infested with an astounding number of dragonflies.

    It felt weird. Something was off. The brooks trickled too ominously, the dragonflies buzzed too abundantly… Had I stumbled into a time vortex, and stepped into a landscape of earth’s distant past, the Carboniferous?
    There was also this rustling in the undergrowth… Was there a Arthropleura hiding, lurking for prey?

    Arthropleura
    Arthropleura, image ©  Nobu Tamura

    Not wanting to disturb this august creature, much less having its mandibles sink into my leg, I pressed on until I reached the top of the hill and looked around, there, the next surprise awaited me: A sign saying „Bethesda Krankenhaus“ (i.e. Bethesda Hospital) pointing towards a street winding downhill towards the southeast. I mean, I am the only one who is thinking FEV Lab here?

    And just so you know I am not making this up, here is the sign at the entrance of the hospital, because I went there to check it out:

    The question remains, do we have a reality-overlap here? What is being bread in the lowest level of this hospital?

    The weirdness did not end there, either. Somewhere around here, there is a place where you can rent Zeppelins (although I have not seen any flying, yet):

    So what is going om here? There seems to be a massive overlap of various realities plus some temporal anomalies in this town or maybe being caused by something in the hills. Do the hills have eyes or is this a comletely unrelated question? Only time will tell and I will have more opportunity to get to the bottom of this.

    In the end, everything will have a perfectly reasonable explanation… Or at least that is what they want you to believe anyway…