My Steampunk Melody T-Shirts!

Nicole Campos, from We Love Fine, a really neat online t-shirt seller, approached me with a very awesome and very cute design: a steampunk My Melody.  The lovely rabbit from Sanrio ditches her usual pink hood and replaces it with a super-funky aviator cap, complete with goggles and utility belt.  An awesome finishing touch features a hot-air balloon in the background, perhaps used by the bella bunny to travel the world with.

The t-shirt is designed by Liz Acosta, and is available in three different colours for mens, two colours in juniors.  They can be found here!

I’ve been told there may be more in the series.  I’ll keep you posted if anything else comes up.  Thanks, Nicole!

Steampanku Re-Opens its Doors!

After emerging victorious over the dreaded 50,000-word nemesis known as NaNoWriMo, I have returned from the depths of the underworld and giving life to this blog, which I believe has plenty of potential to build from.

Before this tiny little thing whittled away and died for a certain amount of time, there was something that crept through my mind, growing a seed of doubt with regards to the general breadth of content that I wanted to write about in this blog.

At first, I wanted to write about the nuances of merging Steampunk with Japanese culture, history, and aesthetic.  This notion turned out to be very limited, and I had absolutely nothing to ride on for a sustained period of time.

Next, I figured I could just write about steampunk and Japanese things separately as an option, which allowed me to branch out into other issues and concepts that I found interesting, but was restricted from writing about due to the nature of the original scope that I was aiming for.  As a result, I ended up talking about anime, which had a wide scope, but was a little too far away from the general concept of fiction writing and Japanese History.

However, amongst all of that, I dismissed a notion that provided the most opportunity for me as a writer, to use Steampanku as my personal outlet to present myself as a writer in the genre of Japanese/Eastern Steampunk, and build up a platform to become “that guy” who writes Japanese Steampunk.

In fact, by using this blog as the focal point of my aspirations for writing, I can talk about fiction in general, writing, as well as other miscellaneous things that would be relevant to my development as a storyteller, and a writer of all things fiction and nonfiction.

So, consider this post an announcement of my (hopeful) resurrection, as well as my gesture of driving my steak into the ground and going forward with further establishing myself with this Internet personna as the Steampanku guy, as well as my apology for depriving those who stumbled upon this website through googling “Japanese Steampunk” and seeing an inactive site as one of the top hits.

Really, I do apologize.  Here, have a passage from Silver Tiger, my second NaNoWriMo novel (not to be confused with the Silver Tiger that I wrote some time ago).  It’s super-rushed, but I feel it’s something that I feel encapsulated the general spirit that I wanted to convey from mixing Wild West with Exotic East.

Sakura-2 lept forward at the unsuspecting opponent with ridiculous speed for its size.  The mechanical guardian snagged the warrior with its hand and pinned it against the roof of the train with its grip, leaving a massive dent in its impact.

“Tell me who the hell do you think you are!” Sakura’s driver demanded, yelling from inside the riding pit in its torso.

“My name is Satoshi, and-“

Sakura-2 swung around its torso again, and threw Satoshi off the train.  He flew a wide arc to the side, and landed in a cloud on the groud to the train’s right.  The cloud disappeared in the distance before it dissipated.

Fashion Show: Steampunk Powers Hetalia

At Anime North 2010 this weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Steampunk Fashion Show.  The theme this year was “Steampunk Powers Hetalia,” a creative take on the widely popular anime and manga series Axis Powers Hetalia.  I had pretty good seats at the event, so I decided to make a video for everyone to enjoy!

A snippet from the program:

“Axis Powers Hetalia focuses on events surrounding World Wars I and II. But this is steampunk, dear reader, and there has not been one great world war that we are aware of, never mind a second. In the world of steampunk, history progressed very differently, beginning with the age of steam power. The worldwide political struggle of the Victorian Era was known as “The Scramble For Africa,” a period between 1870 and 1912 that carved the European continent up into colonies of various European countries, leaving only Liberia and Ethiopia as independent African states.

“The characters of Steampunk Powers Hetalia are taken from the ruling countries of the various empires who had financial, political, or territorial interests in Africa. Because this is steampunk, things are… a little different.”

Anime and Steampunk

There is no greater contributor to my interest in Japanese Alternate History than my love for Anime.  Today is an excellent time to post this, since it helps explain my absence from the blog.  Guardian is going through some bumps in the editing process, and as such, I put it on the backburner for a different project; getting ready for an anime convention that starts tomorrow!  This weekend, I will be at Anime North, one of Canada’s largest anime conventions.

Oh, and it was my birthday this month, so I treated myself to some time off.

Anyway, I mentioned this because this month, I had become so keen on anime, manga, and light novels, that I had seriously re-thunk the approach that I took to my novel.  In all honesty, the plot, characterization, and writing style is comparable to Samurai Champloo, a widely popular, anachronistic anime about samurai in Edo Japan.  During NaNoWriMo, I had essentially marathoned this series as a means of inspiration for my writing, and should you get your hands on my manuscript, you would probably see the similarities.

Other than the historical element in Japanese media (period dramas being widely popular in 1960’s Japan), there are excellent series from anime and manga that have strong steampunk elements as well.  To name a few, Laputa: Castle in the Sky, Last Exile, and Steamboy are my candidates for representatives of their genre in the medium.  However, while the aesthetic is there, the attitude and ethos is widely European in content.  Steamboy, in particular, takes place in Victorian England itself.  There is hardly any anime out there that pertains to an alternate history of Japan affected by technology.  The closest would probably be Samurai Seven, which is an adaptation of the period movie of the same name, but containing more futuristic Mecha, instead of more archaic mechanical walkers or steam-powered suits.

Thus, I’ve come to think harder about what I could possibly bring to this anime community that I wish to also bring to the steampunk community as well.  The anime and manga crowd have recently reveled in a developing literary trend towards Japanese light novels, a serialized form of novella that contains manga-style illlustrations.  Considering that I may find it difficult to expand the wordcount of Guardian, it could very well end up being a novella series with mangaka illustrations.  It would definitely be something to look into.  A Leviathan of sorts, except with spikey-haired protagonists and moe damsels in distress.

After all, if I modeled one of Guardian’s main characters (Hanako) after the Genki Girl archetype, it would seem natural for the project to evolve as such.  It seems more niche than this steampanku genre already is, but I can see the appeal in it for those who would be interested.  Oh well.  Something to think about while I put my finishing touches on my cosplay for this weekend.  Have a good one!

What is Steampanku? – Part III

In the Part 1, I pitched the idea of an industrial revolution occurring in Japan, a country known for its imperialism and isolationism, resulting in the proliferation of steam technology, and a universe that is wholly steampunk, independent of the cultures and couture of Victorian society.  In part 2, I pitched the notions of the -punk ethos that can be explored in the universe of a steampunked Japan, and how several relevant themes can be explored through the dissection of a traditional society affected by groundbreaking technology.

In Part 3, I put all my ideas together, and form the universe that is Steampanku, a manifesto of the alternate history of Japan, leading to the proliferation of an industrially revolutionized Edo, and the world in which my fiction is set.

The Steampanku Manifesto

At the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, shogun lord Tokugawa Ieyasu defeated the last remnants of Japan’s feudal lords.  He was the first shogun to truly unify the daimyo (lords of the land) with an iron fist.  Through the influence of his power, his bloodline established stability in japan by controlling national authority, and leaving regional authority to the daimyo.

Before his death in 1616, he oversaw the formation of the port town of Hirado, Nagasaki Perfecture, and opening of trade with the Dutch East India Company.  In a small presentation in his fortified castle in Edo, Ieyasu witnessed a display of magnificent potential; a miniature steam train.  Ideas unbound, Tokugawa foresaw the future of a technologically superior Japan, one with life-sized steam trains, boats, and even the possibility of travels by air.

His legacy was passed on to Tokugawa Iemitsu, who further solidified relations with the Dutch by having his brightest Japanese minds study with the Dutch in Hirado.  The Dutch knowledge of rapidly emerging western ideas, combined with Japanese ingenuity, accelerated the industrial revolution occurring by more than 100 years.

By 1637, the Shimabara Rebellion was mounted by coal miners upon the castle town of Shimabara.  With the help of the Dutch, Iemitsu easily quelled the uprising, suspecting that Portuguese catholics had been involved with the rebellion itself.  The leader of the rebellion, 16-year old Amakusa Shiro was beheaded, and his head was prominently displayed in Hirado as a cautionary tale to Kirishitans to give up their faith, or be expunged from Japan by death or deportation.

Some say that during the Rebellion, Amakusa Shiro had a lover, and had a child with her before the uprising.  No one knows what happened to them since Shiro’s execution.  Regardless, the remains of the Christian movement in Japan were either forced underground to worship God in secret, or die as martyrs.

Due to the troublesome rebellion of Portuguese missionaries and Japanese converted, Tokugawa Iemitsu mandated the seclusion of Japan from the rest of the world in 1639, closing down all trade with all external partners other than the Dutch East India Company.  In their honor, Iemitsu built a large man-made island off the coast of Nagasaki called Dejima.  Dejima became the official center of Dutch-Japanese research and technology.

From 1640 onwards, the Edo period experienced the full effect of the industrial revolution.  Due to the fascination of steam technology by the Tokugawa household, the nation’s chief engineers invented the steam engine.  The Silver Tiger, or Gintaro, was the first steam train to ever be constructed.  In the first bafaku shogunate’s honor, the Ieyasu line was constructed to connect all the major regions in Japan, from Hokkaido to the North, all the way to Nagasaki in the South.  Gintaro was primarily used by the Emperor and Shogunate to travel back and forth between old capital of Kyoto and the new capital of Edo, but as the Ieyasu line was completed, more trains were constructed to transport goods as well as armies.

The first steamships were also made by the end of the 17th century, mostly centralized around Nagasaki.  In celebration of such a feat, the Steamship festival was first introduced as a way for local culture to celebrate the evolution of seafaring in Japan.

The rapid pace of industrialization in Japan changed society as well.  Samurai, who no longer had control over their own lands, were forced to give up their swords and remain as peasants, or move to the cities and become retainers of the daimyo.  The majority of Samurai were left without their duties, and many found work with the up and coming japanese mafia, the Yakuza.

The Yakuza quickly took advantage of the growing capitalism in Japan, often grabbing power and money for their own personal gain.  With the help of corrupted daimyo, the different clans proliferated across Japan with their own corruptive use of steam technology.  Difference engines were used for gambling.  Automata were developed for the purposes of prostitution, and most important of all, the guardian was invented.
The guardian was the first tool of land-based warfare constructed for the Japanese army.  These proto-mecha ran on steam, and stood multiple times as high as the pilots that would control them.  Under the guise of military development, the Yakuza secretly funded its development for their own agenda, for use of sport and recreation.  Thus, the guardian games were born.  Bright minds from across the country competed regionally in guardian sumo, where civilian-class machines were piloted to engage in sumo.

Guardian Sumo proliferated as the spectator sport of choice for Japanese citizens, replacing regular sumo.  And with that proliferation, illegal gambling circles organized by the now rivalling Yakuza clans were organized to maximize profit from the vice of its citizens.

In Nagasaki, a young bright mind named Hanako works as an adopted apprentice to a brilliant inventor.  Her skills with machinery, quick reflexes, and dutch complexion has given her a reputation in Dejima as the tensai-onna, or genius girl of Nagasaki.  With her guardian and her secret belief in Christianity, she seeks to find herself through her inventions, and hopes to one day use her skills as a guardian pilot to explore the rest of Japan, and to discover her Dutch-Japanese roots.

This is the point in history where my novel, Guardian, takes place.  I hope you enjoyed the alternate Japanese history of the steampanku universe from which I write.

Learning From the Pros: Leviathan

Scott Westerfeld makes his Steampunk entry with the YA heavyweight, Leviathan.  Bestselling author of the Uglies novels, Scott creates a gripping alternate history based in Europe, shortly before the start of World War I.

The most notable history alternating that takes place in the novel is easily the differentiating the Central and Entente powers by way of their speculative technology.  The Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary are termed ‘Clankers,’ users of your typical steampunk war machines, such as mechanical walkers, spider-shaped tanks, and Zeppelins.  On the other side of the conflict, the ‘Darwinists’ represent the Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia.  The Darwinists are the result of Darwin’s biological research resulting in the discovery of not only evolution, but DNA as well.  The Biopunk ramifications of such a discovery leads to the bio-engineering of micro-organisms for wartime uses, particularly the titular Leviathan airship itself.

Plot-wise, alternate history is also evoked by setting the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand at night, allowing the initial inciting event to take place the same night, allowing the setting increase the effect of tension.  Likewise, the existence of Archduke’s son, Aleksander, is completely fabricated, but by being an only child allows for the importance of royal inheritance to drive the conflict between Alek and the Clanker forces that pursue him.

The pacing is tense and frantic, but somehow manages to conjure a reasonably sizable word-count for a Young Adult novel.  How he manages to do this is through managing a multitude of scenes of intense pace, but spacing them in such a way that the main characters get only a brief time to react and deal with each tight situation before they are thrust into another.  Secondly, he employs a two-pronged plot, each revolving around the two main characters, runaway prince Alek and the Darwinist GI Jane-type protagonist, Deryn Sharp.

Their stories intertwine with each other, up to the point where their paths cross, and the story truly takes off from there.

Leviathan is a great example of a well-written novel from which I can draw certain methods and techniques for my own novel.  After a nice re-read of my own manuscript, I can already see a few glaring differences between my story and Westerfeld’s.  The first glaring comparison I made was in my word count and pacing.  As I’ve already mentioned, the author manages to squeeze out a reasonable length from a relatively fast-paced read by incorporating multiple plot threads, but fleshes each one out with the proper detail and pacing so that each side feels like an independent novella on their own.

Guardian has a whopping three plotlines, centered around the three protagonists.  However, the characters themselves overlap with each other and interact with each other more often that I seem to like.  Perhaps it’s due to the quick pacing that I gave to each plotline that they seemed to meet each other at every turn.  I think I will keep them more separated from each other, not only to assist with the development of the characters themselves, but also to build the tension that grows between each character whenever they meet and separate.

This will probably require the incorporation of more secondary characters, fleshing out their respective secondary antagonists further (they are all set up against a common enemy, but there are other obstacles that they should overcome first), and treating each line as its own story, weaving through each other with great importance, to the penultimate point where they are all united at once to make their stand against the common enemy, making for an increased climactic effect.

If I follow these guidelines, I’m sure to increase my anemic word count to something more  marketable to literary enthusiasts of the steampunk genre.

Weekend Steampanku – It Begins!

It all starts at page 1.  And it will end, hopefully at a page number larger than the 241 that I have now.  It’s bare-bones, it has a lot of detail that could be fleshed out, but most importantly, it’s a work-in-progress.

I started out with a NaNoWriMo project that miraculously shaped itself into a 54,445-word beast, and it’s up to me to shape it into a beauty.  With a little help from my writing books, I have a literary framework in mind to help me continue throughout the writing process.

Having read the first chapter alone in The Weekend Novelist, I’ve come to a realization that books that teach you how to edit are pretty much the same as books that teach you how to write.  If you’re already sold on a storytelling format or system that you’ve read about prior, there’s no helping you from trying to get advice from other sources without abandoning the original beliefs that you once had.

Thus, out with TWN, back in with Truby’s The Anatomy of Story.

And forget about weekend editing – I’m unemployed, I should be doing this sort of thing whenever I humanly can, if I want to become successful (productive, even) as a writer.  It’s not going to be fun, but it’s one of those things that you can’t really help.  You either have it, or you don’t.

I’ve gone so far now, there’s really no point in turning back.  Once again, wish me luck!

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