Steampunk: The Devil Wears Goggles
By Cherie Priest
Pick a genre book—any genre, any book—and the cover will probably provide a satisfactory shorthand for where it ought to be shelved. Wizards, elves, and knights? You’ve got yourself a fantasy novel. Fangs and a matte black background? Horror. And so forth.
But a couple of years ago when I began working on Boneshaker, I couldn’t name many meaningful signifiers that screamed out “steampunk.” Oh there were goggles, sure—but no one seemed to have a good explanation for what the goggles were for apart from leaving a sweaty crease above your eyebrows. The delightful preponderance of Victorian garb was striking and fun, but the gas masks left me scratching my head. Gears made sense, even on top hats, I supposed. Watch chains were shiny, so, you know. Cool.
However, the odd goggle-wearing, retro-dressing, hat-decorating pocket-watch toter might be mistaken for goth at a glance. In fact, my friend Jess Nevins once repeated that he’d heard steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown. While this assessment oversimplifies the matter, it’d be silly to pretend that there isn’t a great deal of overlap between the two scenes.
So. As an aging quasi-goth with a deep-seated interest in steampunk, I wanted to take an honest stab at the genre—giving it legs, or at least giving its stranger elements a literary excuse to complement the fashion imperative.
Boneshaker began this way, as an idle exercise—a noodling experiment. But like so many projects, I had no idea when I began exactly how far it would take me…or how weird it would get.
I started out with only a few concrete demands: I wanted this story to be American, and not London gas-lamp; I wanted to write about people, not about a world-setting; but I needed for the people to be symptomatic of that world-setting.
Also, I wanted zombies.
The world came first. Nineteenth-century America was strange enough without any interference from yours truly, but I imagined it as if the Civil War had lingered—and the west was not incorporated, or organized. I thought of Texas, and how it might have remained a republic. I wondered how the Confederacy could’ve held on, and how the Union would’ve restructured, and what the war would’ve looked like decades down the line—when most of the men who’d started fighting it were dead, and their sons were fighting over grievances they were too young to remember firsthand.
Piece by piece the Clockwork Century came together, and on that foundation I found people with stories to tell. I found former slaves and air pirates, criminal overlords and Native American princesses. I found a deranged scientist or two. And eventually I found Briar Wilkes—the widow of a madman, mother of a runaway, and daughter of a dead folk hero.
Boneshaker is her story. And like steampunk itself, Boneshaker is about rummaging through the wreckage of the past and finding something worth salvaging, and maybe even worth celebrating. So if you take a chance on my new book, I do hope you enjoy it. If it’s half as much fun to read as it was to write, I’ll consider the whole noodling experiment a grand success.
Boneshaker (978-0-7653-1841-1; $15.99) by Cherie Priest became available from Tor on September 29, 2009. For more information visit theclockworkcentury.com. You can also catch interviews with Cherie on Mad Hatter's Bookshelf & Book Review and Ingram Library Services: Further Developments.
Six Degrees of Richard Matheson
By Greg Cox, Consulting Editor
The upcoming release of The Box, the latest major motion picture based on the work of bestselling author Richard Matheson, serves as a timely reminder of just how much Matheson has influenced the course of popular entertainment over the last half-century and beyond.
I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man, What Dreams May Come, Somewhere in Time, Stir of Echoes, The Legend of Hell House, The Omega Man, Duel…the list of movies inspired by Matheson’s books and stories goes on and on. And that’s not counting the works by other authors that he has personally adapted for the screen: The Night Stalker, The Martian Chronicles, Dracula (with Jack Palance), The Pit and The Pendulum, The Raven, The House of Usher, Master of the World, etc.
Matheson has created lasting memories on television as well. Who can forget the gremlin on the wing of the plane in his classic Twilight Zone episode, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”? Or the time Captain Kirk was split into his good and evil halves on the original Star Trek television series? Or the fearsome Zuni doll that menaced Karen Black in 1975’s Trilogy of Terror? Over the years Matheson has also written for such legendary tv shows as Amazing Stories, Night Gallery, The Outer Limits, Masters of Horror, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and Have Gun-Will Travel. No wonder the New York Times wrote, “Perhaps no other author living is as responsible for chilling a generation with tantalizing nightmare visions.”
Forget Kevin Bacon (star of, ahem, Stir of Echoes). Everywhere you look you can find Matheson inspiring new generations of authors and film-makers:
Stephanie Meyer, the phenomenally successful creator of the Twilight series, has cited the movie version of Somewhere In Time as one of her favorite films. “That had to be an influence on me.”
Anne Rice, bestselling author of The Vampire Chronicles, recently named Matheson’s “Dress of White Silk” as one of her favorite vampire stories. “It had quite an influence on me.”
Guillermo del Toro, acclaimed director of Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy, whose new vampire novel The Strain just hit the bestseller lists, also cites Matheson as a seminal figure: “Stoker begat Matheson, Matheson begat King and so on.”
Stephen King agrees. “The author who influenced me the most of as a writer was Richard Matheson.”
Even Tor’s own Brian Lumley claims Matheson as an influence. “A long time ago I read I Am Legend, and I started writing horror about the same time. Been at it ever since…Matheson inspires, it’s as simple as that….”
Now we have The Box, based on Matheson’s unsettling story, “Button, Button,” which was previously adapted as an episode of Twilight Zone. According to Richard Kelly, the director of the new film, “It’s basically a story with which I’ve been obsessed since I saw it, when I was probably 11 years old or something.”
With yet more adaptations of Matheson’s work in development, and the original books and short stories still in print, it’s safe to guess that Richard Matheson will continue to cast his spell for generations to come…and keep on showing up where you least expect him.
Like a gremlin on the wing of an airliner.
The Box (978-0-7653-6143-1; $7.99) by Richard Matheson, released from Tor Books in September 2009. The movie hits theaters November 6.
Interview with Hideyuki Kikuchi
By Jason DeAngelis
There’s a reason why they call it wicked.
Of course, while Hideyuki Kikuchi’s ultraviolent and super-sexy Wicked City may call to mind groping tentacles and over the top sex scenes, it’s also a unique urban fantasy series about rival political organizations, one mortal, the other demonic, and the secret police force that struggles to prevent all-out war from breaking out between them.
Here’s an interview with the author, who resides in Tokyo, conducted earlier this summer:
Q: What inspired you to write Wicked City?
My biggest inspiration was probably characters like 007, Napoleon Solo, or spy and action series like The Wild Wild West.
One man’s struggle against a large evil organization was just too clichéd, so I decided to make this storyline about one organization versus another organization.
This opened up the world of the story and made it bigger, allowing me to spin a grand yarn with lots of colorful characters, their abilities and powers, and their gadgets and weapons. Also I thought it made things more interesting if everything they did was for the sake of the “mission.”
Q: How do you feel about your original novel finally being exposed to an English-speaking audience?
It’s my pleasure that US audiences would find a writer, such as me, from Japan.
Q: What themes or ideas did you want to explore by telling this particular story?
That it is not only humans who are in this world.
Q: Taki’s narration almost sounds like the beginning of a detective novel. Was the book influenced by film noir, or other mediums?
Yes, definitely. Among my influences is film noir from the US, England and France, such as The Samurai with Alain Delon, Angels with Dirty Face with James Cagney, High Sierra with Humphrey Bogart, etc. I’ve also drawn inspiration from TV series like The Untouchables, Tightrope, 77 Sunset Strip, Mike Hammer. There are so many that I cannot possibly list them all.
Q: What do you hope your new audience takes away from their experience reading Wicked City?
I hope that I scare and inspire people with my curious world in which common sense is no longer common. It’s such a scary and imaginative place that one could really lose sleep over it.
Tor/ Seven Seas, the imprint that brought you Afro Samurai, presents the translated editions of the Wicked City novels for the first time ever in North America, with stunning new covers by artist Christian McGrath (Dresden Files.) The first novel in the series, Wicked City: Black Guard (978-1-933164-95-3, $9.99), by Hideyuki Kikuchi, was released on September 29.
Looking Back at the Original V
By Jim Frenkel, Editor
I’m sure the title “V” will be familiar to many readers. About twenty-five years ago the original miniseries written, produced and directed by Kenneth Johnson, rocked the world and the novelization was a bestseller. Everybody who was working at Tor back then, including me, remembers it vividly. The miniseries was enormously effective—scary, creepy, suspenseful. And so was the novelization, which was based on Johnson’s screenplay and written by A. C. Crispin. When Johnson wrote the sequel, we were thrilled to have a chance to reissue that original novelization, this time with Johnson’s original ending, which had never been published before.
When we bought the rights to reprint V, we didn’t know that there was a new TV series in the works—and it looks to be truly wonderful, judging from the trailers I’ve seen. The art of special effects has progressed enormously since the mid-1980s, and the series, written by Scott Peters of The 4400 fame, explores new themes. The world has changed since the 1980s, but human nature hasn’t, and the heart of both the original miniseries and the new one is how people respond in a crisis.
The inspiration for the original miniseries was the Nazi occupation of Europe during WWII. Even the visual image of the letter “V” was inspired by that, a defiant challenge painted on Nazi propaganda posters by the underground opposition to the Nazis, when the invaders tried to convince the subjugated peoples that they were their friends, there to help them…with rigid, totalitarian control, brutal oppression, and the tactics for which the Nazis were infamous.
That new series is scheduled to start airing on ABC November 3rd. In the meantime, we’re tickled to be able to present this new mass-market edition of the original novelization. The themes—of people fighting oppression and the government using misinformation to try to trick the public into believing that wrong is right, slavery is freedom, and those who would oppress or exploit us are our friends—all still resonate strongly in the new millennium. This is exciting stuff. It’s not every day we get to republish something that has roots in the 1980s but is still fresh today and will intrigue a new generation.
V: The Original Miniseries, by Kenneth Johnson and A.C. Crispin, ISBN 978-0-7653-6132-5, is now available in bookstores in mass-market paperback format ($7.99/$9.99 Canada).