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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.




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The debate over the Star Wars Expanded Universe is a tale of us versus them that’s been raging for some time, but only recently has it exploded within fandom. The Expanded Universe (EU) matters greatly to me for reasons I’ve previously discussed, but in particular because the novels were my major gateway into Star Wars fandom. Unfortunately, that segment of my fandom has fallen under attack from people I trusted.

The ForceCast has become the podcast where there is no fan left behind unless they disagree with your particular version of fandom, in which case they will publicly mock and shame you on their program.

That’s why I have no choice but to stop listening.

 

 

Continue reading by clicking here. )
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Hide your kids and hide your wife! Here comes this year’s series of Lucasfilm rumors.

 

Star Wars: Episodes VII-IX (and beyond?)

Last Saturday brought us news from usually reliable IESB.net – though that link might still be broken – that Lucasfilm was working on a new Star Wars trilogy.

From IESB.net via Bryan at Big Shiny Robot:

What do we know? First of all, these new film will have nothing to do with the live action television series currently in development. That show already has over 50 scripts ready to go and plenty of pre-production time and money has been spent on artwork and storyboards. Once that show goes into production, Lucasfilm hopes to be able to produce at least 100 episodes since that is the threshold for syndication in the United States.

Too early for story details but one thing that our source is certain about, they will not be prequels but instead sequels. It’s not for certain if they will be the long awaited Episodes 7, 8 and 9 but could instead be Episodes 10, 11 and 12 or possibly even further out in the Star Wars timeline. And by giving space in the timeline, possibly even as far as 100 years or 1,000 years in the Star Wars universe future, Lucas avoids having to make these stories “fit in” with what the previous stories have told.

Okay, look, IESB usually has a certain degree of reliability in these circles, but I doubt it. This pops up every year and each time is immediately debunked by Lucasfilm. In fact, Bryan contacted LFL, and predictably they said:

“This is, of course, completely false. George Lucas has lots of projects keeping him busy right now – including plenty of Star Wars projects – but there are no new Star Wars feature films planned.”

George Lucas has gone on record himself that there would be no more feature films. That would be the end of it, except IESB is playing the conspiracy card by claiming that LFL will debunk it, but they “will stand 100% behind our source.” You do that, guys.

 

Indiana Jones in 3-D

Here comes the next series, this time with the Indiana Jones quadrilogy going 3-D just like Star Wars. Once again, from Lucasfilm via Bryan at Big Shiny Robot:

This is completely false. Right now, we are totally focused on bringing Star Wars to 3D, and we have no plans to do an Indiana Jones conversion.

Just as I thought. I would have put more faith in this story since LFL is already in the 3-D process with Star Wars, but Bryan has a good point on that.

[...] I don’t think Indiana Jones lends itself as well to 3D. Star Wars is an effects extravaganza, Indiana Jones, for all its adventure, is pretty straight drama. It would be a lot easier to convert, I suppose, because there isn’t as much to convert.

But with as many hands in the Indy pie (Paramount, Spielberg, Ford, Lucas, etc.) I wouldn’t expect that LFL would be able to unilaterally decide to do this. In addition to the official Lucasfilm comment, it’s common sense that this wouldn’t be happening.

That should be the end of that. Until next year, anyway...


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