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Imagine the gritty world of Blade Runner, with all of its fantasy and science and punk vision of society. Now change the setting from a future Los Angeles to Victorian-era England.  Now take the replicants and hovercars and weaponry and imagine if they were all powered by pressurized steam instead of electrons.

That’s the way I’ve been able to understand the subgenre of steampunk.

I’ve been curious for some time about the allure of this science-fiction/fantasy subgenre, from buzzing on the internet to the plethora of costumes at events like Dragon*Con. When authors and podcasting giants Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris released their new novel, Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences: Phoenix Rising, I decided to take the plunge into the world of cogs, corsets, and airships.

 


The story itself is rather simple and linear, but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s quite refreshing for what is essentially a spy novel, complete with action, suspense, and a hearty degree of intellect. Modern espionage tales try to layer double-crosses and intrigue to the point that all those plot twists shroud the very essence of the plot. I never felt that Phoenix Rising was trying to mislead me or confuse me at any point.

The tale focuses on our two heroes, Wellington Books and Eliza Braun, both secret agents in a clandestine branch of the Monarchy that investigates the peculiar, be it the occult or the supernatural. I thought of it as Indiana Jones and the Torchwood Institute combined with Her Majesty’s Secret Service from the James Bond series.

Agent Books is the embodiment of Q, a master of gadgets and gizmos, working as a librarian—pardon me, Archivist—in the bowels of the Ministry. Agent Books doesn’t seek action or adventure because he finds it in the case files he meticulously organizes like clockwork, nine to five, Monday through Friday. He’s prim and proper head-to-toe, armed with a dry wit, and sips a lot of tea. On the surface, Wellington Books is a rather boring guy.

Books is balanced with the spirited Agent Braun from New Zealand, who is the James Bond of the story. Quite honestly, she starts the story as more of a Daniel Craig than a Sean Connery. She goes into action like she’s a one woman wrecking crew, armed to the teeth while wearing a bulletproof corset, and takes no prisoners. She loves her drinks and loves her job, but she’s scarred by the loss of her former partner and her methods get her in trouble with her boss.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Crown’s fate rests in the hands of a renegade and a librarian.

The story revolves around a secret society that threatens the sanctity of the Empire. Eliza has firsthand knowledge of the case because it was what drove her former partner—with whom she was incredibly close—to become a permanent resident in the local asylum. After her scolding for the events of the first chapter, she’s relegated to the less action-packed Archives to learn about the other side of the Ministry from Agent Books. While there, she discovers that the case that claimed her partner is still unsolved and that both she and Books are linked to the happenings. The plot elegantly progresses from there.

The story shifts into high gear from the very beginning and stays there for 400 pages. Tee and Pip swap chapters, bouncing points-of-view from Books to Braun while including very deep character development and growth. The story is also presented in more of the proper British English format, keeping the U in “flavour” and really immersing readers in the Victorian setting. It also keeps the reader in the same mindset as the protagonists, discovering each clue as they do. The only breaks from that formula are the short chapters that expand on the antagonists and their shadowy machinations. These interludes also lay down hints and threads for potential sequels, which are rumored to be in production now.

For my first foray into steampunk, I’m very impressed. I’ll definitely be picking up the sequels as they arrive.


 

 

 


Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences: Phoenix Rising is available in bookstores everywhere in both physical and digital formats. This review is based on a personally-purchased copy.




womprat99: (Default)
In the sinusoidal motion of existence, life turns into a cycle of feast or famine.  Recently, I've seen famine.  Not in the food sense, though I could probably survive for a while... that is until these trips to gym start paying off again.

No, life's been relatively calm of late.  Hence, no updates.

I am working on my Dragon*Con report which will be posted here.  I've also been playing around with the idea of getting back into short story fiction, including submissions to an anthology and an e-zine.

So, yeah... calm with chance of continued work.
womprat99: (Default)


If you didn’t know, there is a community page set up on LiveJournal for Dragon*Con, which is appropriately entitled [livejournal.com profile] dragoncon.  One of the threads on the page centers around the lines for pre-registration, which we all know are the nemesis of Dragon*Con.  For those not in the know, D*C has people who registered months before the event standing in line at (and around) the Sheraton for hours waiting to pick up their badges.  Once you get to the head of the line, the queue splits into individual lines for each letter of the alphabet.  The end goal is a volunteer with a binder of names on stickers, which eventually end up on your badge after they verify that you are indeed you.

After significant griping, there is hope.  On [livejournal.com profile] dragoncon, Troy Bradley ([livejournal.com profile] dcprereg) has made the following statement:

First off, let me put the big bullseye right in the center of my forehead now.
I am the Director of On Site Preregistration for Dragon Con.
Let me first apologize for the waits in the line this year. We were trying a new system and it obviously did not work as intended. We were also limited on how many people we were allowed to have in the building at once by the fire marshal and hotel security. This only served to add to the delay as they would not allow more people to enter until so many lanes of the cue were emptied.
We are developing a bar code system for 2011's show. This of course means you MUST remember your post cards and if they are emailed to you, the print out with this individual bar code. If not, you will be in the main line only to be moved to the solutions line to be looked up and printed out. As it stands the plan is to have printers and scanners at each kiosk and NO MORE ALPHABET LINES. You will be in the main line and when you get to the front, you will move to the next available open kiosk to be scanned and handed your badge. This should greatly speed things up for everyone.

[…]
I hope this clears up any misconceptions about the Preregistration process as well as shows we are working to streamline and change this so it is a faster process.
Troy Bradley
Director
Dragon Con On Site Preregistration

Well, that is good news.  I’m not too peeved in particular about waiting in line in Atlanta heat, but there are some folks who understandably get very upset about it.  It looks like Dragon*Con is listening, and I appreciate it.

One other thing:  Troy Bradley ([livejournal.com profile] dcprereg) also said one thing that royally pissed me off.

Please remember that the staff of Dragon Con are volunteers. They are fans like you who give their time to the convention. They are cursed at, abused, called names, and have had things thrown at them. While many waited 2 or more hours, remember also that Thursday this year alone, we were there at 9am or earlier and we did not leave until 1:30am on Friday morning and were still back again at 7:30am on Friday to work until 10:30pm on Friday evening.

In my opinion, this is unacceptable.  I’ve never volunteered at Dragon*Con for anything more than guesting on panels, but no one should ever be abused for doing their job.  I personally believe that anyone who abuses a volunteer should have their badge pulled and be asked to leave the event.  Repeat offenders should be banned.  Such people give the rest of us a bad name and do not belong at the con. 

In the same vein, there are volunteers who sign up to work, get the free badge, and then never contribute an hour to the con.  They should be banned from volunteering for a year.  If they repeat the onerous performance after that, they should be banned from the con. 

These may be the thoughts that keep me out of the really good schools, but good manners should be universal, as should the concept of promises and volunteering one’s time.
 


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Here's where I'll be during Dragon*Con this year.


Friday
Military in Sci-Fi: 4:00p, Marriott A704
I’ll be a panelist for this discussion about the use of military in science fiction and if it is a crutch or good planning.

Saturday
The 2010 Parsec Awards: 4:00p, Hilton Regency V
The Scapecast is up for their third Parsec against some pretty stiff competition.  I’m also there to support my fellow podcasters.  The ceremony runs 2.5 hours.

“Browncoats: Redemption”: 7:00p, Peachtree Ballroom Westin
The world premiere of a highly anticipated fan film set three months after the events of Serenity. (2.5 hours)

Mighty Fine Shindig!: 10:00p, Peachtree Ballroom Westin
I had a lot of fun last year at this party for Browncoats.

Sunday
Scapecast Live Show: 11:30a, Hilton 204
I’ll be on the panel with my friends from the show, Kevin Bachelder, Lindy Rae, and Wendy Hembrock.

“Farscape: Uncharted Territory?” 4:00p, Hilton Regency Ballroom
Fellow Scaper Angela Dean has the opportunity to interview Ben Browder, Raelee Hill, and Virginia Hey.

Geek Radio Daily Live: 7:00p, Hilton 204
I’ve recently become a fan of GRD, and I look forward to meeting this lively bunch.  Rumor has it that Corin Nemec (Parker Lewis Can't Lose, Stargate SG-1) will be a special guest.

Imagine Greater: 8:30p, Marriott A704
I’ll be on a panel with fellow sci-fi fans discussing the merits of Syfy’s Saturday night B-movies.

 

Aside from that list, I'll be attending various other panels, hanging out with family and friends, and wandering about having a grand geeking time.  For those of you who can't be there, I'll miss you and hope to see you next year.

If you will be there, come on by and say hello.  I'm always willing to meet new friends.


womprat99: (Brigade)

Live Journal, huh?  Nifty.

I'm shifting over here from the old site at Blogger.  They've got some great functionality there, but it's almost a little too complicated.  While I'm not giving up the dream of owning my own domain, I'm going to simplify a bit and hang out here.

Things are picking back up again with The Scapecast, but I still have yet to get back in the writing spirit for my other projects.  I'll use this space to keep tabs on progress there as well.

Aside from all that, I'm just getting ready for Dragon*Con.

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