Hi, folks! Mike Allen here. When I last came through, I bloggedaboutmonsters. I want to thankBlack Gateoverlord John O’Neill for granting me leave to return to this space and shill my new project.
Among the many things I do, I’m the editor of a series of fantasy anthologies called Clockwork Phoenix. At least, the first three books were marketed as fantasy by my previous publisher, even though I included some strange science fiction in their pages as well. (Though I’m someone who sees science fiction as a subset of fantasy rather than a whole separate thing, one of the reasons I’ll use them if they’re odd enough.)
And I’m going to be editing and publishing a fourth volume in the series, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign that’s still underway. As of this writing I’m closing in on an $8,000 goal that will let me for the first time pay five cents a word for fiction – we’re going pro. If we keep going past that, I hope to launch a webzine that will be a companion to Clockwork Phoenix and the poetry journal I also edit and publish, Mythic Delirium, creating even more space for the kind of writing I love to thrive.But we’ll blow up that bridge when we come to it, eh?
John suggested I talk to you folks about how Clockwork Phoenix functions as a fantasy market, and I think that’s a fair question, given what Black Gate is all about.
Put bluntly, Clockwork Phoenix is a market for those who want to push the boundaries of what fantasy can be. I encourage stylistic experiments but insist the stories should also be compelling.
I want to point out that this gives me also sorts of freedom to include material that can’t be easily classified, I wouldn’t call it a break with long standing tradition in our field, at least as I’ve experienced said traditions.
I want to tell you how I was first introduced to short fiction that carries the fantasy label. I’m pretty sure then you’ll see what I mean.
Dreadnought (Amazon, B&N)
Tor (400 pp., $14.99, 2010)
Reviewed by Andrew Zimmerman Jones
Cherie Priest returns to her “Clockwork Century” in full force in this third novel. In some ways, I would recommend that readers begin with Dreadought, even though it’s the third book in the series. Basically, the plot twist at the end of Dreadnought is the entire premise of Boneshaker, as I’ll explain later in the review. (Spoiler-ish alert!)
The book focuses on Mercy Lynch, a Confederate nurse whose husband has just died fighting for the Union. (Gotta love those border state romances!) She receives word from her father – who left her as a child – that he is dying, and he would like her to visit him in the Washington territory. That father is Jeremiah Swankhammer, who readers of Boneshaker will recognize as one of the key characters in that story.
With nothing really to keep her in Virginia, she sets off on a cross-country journey by airship and train to reach Tacoma and, ultimately, Seattle. Unfortunately, the only train that can get her from St. Louis to Tacoma is the Union steam engine Dreadnought, and the train is carrying some bizarre cargo … cargo which makes the train trip into a harrowing ride that brings Mercy and the other passengers into conflict with bushwackers, a mad scientist, and even zombies!
Cherie Priest has become one of the biggest names in the steampunk sub-genre, starting mostly with her groundbreaking 2009 book Boneshaker that introduced most readers to “The Clockwork Century,” the alternate history 1880’s storyline that she created. There are three main features of “The Clockwork Century”:
The Civil War has been going on for over 20 years.
There are airships (and other steampunk accoutrements, such as goggles).
There are zombies (or close enough approximations)
Boneshaker focused on features 2 and 3, with the Civil War really just a background note that has little direct bearing on the story. After all, it’s set in Seattle, which is far outside the territory where the Civil War is being fought.
Clementine, on the other hand, leaves the zombies behind to focus on the Civil War (and the airships) in far greater detail.
One of the most popular steampunk books of the last few years, Boneshaker(Amazon, B&N) melded some of the most popular genre elements of steampunk and the zombie apocalypse wave of fiction. In this review from Black Gate #15, I commented that the book was a little action-heavy, full of zombie chases that didn’t always translate well on the printed page. I compared it to a George Romero film … and it turns out that someone took that to heart, because it’s being made into a film. I don’t normally go to zombie movies, but I’ll definitely make an exception for this one, which may well be the most visually-stunning zombie film ever.
Tor (416 pp, $15.99, 2009)
Reviewed by Andrew Zimmerman Jones
Steampunk is traditionally set in a Victorian urban environment, with a veneer of gentility that covers a darker underbelly. And steampunk almost always includes airships (or at least flying bicycles)… often with air pirates in tow.
The weird west mythos, on the other hand, represents the frontier. While technology is usually central to steampunk, the weird west is often defined by some sort of monster (frequently zombies), but these elements can cross genres. The 1999 Will Smith film Wild Wild West featured a flying bicycle and a giant robotic spider, firmly placing it in the camp of steampunk by most accounts, but containing many weird west elements.
Boneshaker takes many of these staples, puts them in a blender, and sets to mix. It is set in a modified 1880’s Seattle, which has been walled off because a gas drifting out of the ground turns people into zombies.