Chatting · Reading Recs

Book Review: The Steampunk User’s Manual

Synopsis: Steampunk, the retro-futuristic cultural movement, has become a substantial and permanent genre in the worlds of fantasy and science fiction. A large part of its appeal is that, at its core, Steampunk is about doing it yourself: building on the past while also innovating and creating something original. VanderMeer’s latest book offers practical and inspirational guidance for readers to find their individual path into this realm. Including sections on art, fashion, architecture, crafts, music, performance, and storytelling, The Steampunk User’s Manual provides a conceptual how-to guide that motivates and awes both the armchair enthusiast and the committed creator. Examples range from the utterly doable to the completely over-the-top, encouraging participation and imagination at all levels.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars – Not what’s advertised, but still a good read.

I picked up this book at a Renaissance fair, in preparation for running a Treasure Planet inspired DnD Planescape campaign. I was hoping for a history of the steampunk genre and a primer on the main tropes, cliches, and foundational works of the movement. As an engineer who works at a maker space. I was also hoping it would live up to its self-proclaimed title as a “how-to guide” full of projects. Shame on me for not reading it more thoroughly in the shop, but I flipped through the pages full of bright, glossy photographs, and marched to the front counter without a second thought.

Don’t get me wrong – this book partially covers those topics, and I quite enjoyed those parts. But this book, in truth, is a collection of interviews with artists, musicians, authors, performers, and costumers talking about their craft and their relationship to the concept of “steampunk.” You can learn a lot from reading about their process and if a certain piece of work catches your eye, you can check out their work to learn more. It’s a convenient multimedia collection, best suited for a coffee table, not a textbook.

That being said, this is a delightful picture book full of oddities and curiosities of all kinds and I had a really fun time reading through it all the same. The most interesting aspect of the “steampunk” genre, at least to me, is the broad spectrum of opinions regarding “practicality.” On one hand, it’s an aesthetic, with form prioritized over function, and the look attracts many people to the subculture. It’s supposed to be fun and undermine convention, and if it’s impractical, then that’s all the better, right? But it’s also inspired by real steam-powered technology, and vintage sci-fi dreams of submarines and airships. Aren’t the glued-on gears a cliche, completely defeating the purpose of moving, ticking, living clockwork? Or is the stationary adhesive saying something profound about societal systems? It’s an interesting question I hadn’t really considered before, and while my intro can probably tell you which side of the isle I fall on (as I slowly push the “science is art and art is science and both are magic” soapbox away), I still appreciated the opportunity to read the alternative perspectives.

The book is separated into chapters based loosely on artistic medium: Art and Making; Fashion, Architecture, and Interiors; Storytelling; and Music and Performance. Each chapter has sections on finding inspiration with tips from creators of that type, various interviews, advice on developing your skills, a DIY project or two, and some essays on the philosophy of Steampunk. You do not need to read these in order or in their completeness to enjoy the book, but as a whole, it gives a comprehensive summary of the current genre as it existed in 2014 when the book was published. I would be curious to see a 2nd edition, talking about how the genre has developed in almost a decade. When I was 13, my parents still used flip phones, and I was strictly forbidden from touching social media, except educational YouTube videos. I can only imagine how much the boom of the internet has changed the community, with creators being able to make a living for themselves from Instagram, self-publishing breaking down the gatekeepers in the literary world, and the pandemic fundamentally shaking up how live performances were done. I am also curious to see how the themes of steampunk have reacted to current and developing issues of digital privacy and the pervasive role that technology plays in our world today, especially in the Zoomer generation.

All in all, I’m glad I read this, and it informed me about a genre I’ve been interested in exploring for quite a while. If nothing elese, it’s a fantastic well of inspiration for interesting tangents and trains of thought.


Thanks for reading! Are you involved in the Steampunk Community? What are your thoughts? I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!

Chatting · Reading Recs

Unseelie Book Review

Twin sisters, both on the run, but different as day and night. One, a professional rogue, searches for a fabled treasure; the other, a changeling, searches for the truth behind her origins, trying to find a place to fit in with the realm of fae who made her and the humans who shun her. 

Iselia “Seelie” Graygrove looks just like her twin, Isolde… but as an autistic changeling trying to navigate her unpredictable magic, Seelie finds it more difficult to fit in with the humans around her. When Seelie and Isolde are caught up in a heist gone wrong and make some unexpected allies, they find themselves unraveling a larger mystery that has its roots in the history of humans and fae alike.

 Both sisters soon discover that the secrets of the faeries may be more valuable than any pile of gold and jewels. But can Seelie harness her magic in time to protect her sister, and herself?

5/5 Stars: I would like to adopt Seelie and give her a hug right now please and thank you

I’ve been looking forward to this book for months and it did not disappoint. The world is so rich and believable. It’s an enticing blend of whimsical and terrifying, grounded in a very familiar reality but full of fantastical elements that weave naturally with the mundane. I also really enjoyed the portrayal of the Seelie and Unseelie courts. I’ve been a fairytale and folklore nerd since I was a kid, and it’s always fascinating to see how other authors handle the established customs and lore while creating their own unique story, and Ivelisse Housman does it very well, especially juxtaposing the perception of each realm against the protagonist, Seelie, herself.

The characters are what make this story so memorable and lovely. Seelie is an autistic changeling with overwhelming magic – but in a story where the word “autistic” doesn’t exist – Housman has to show just what that means through her 1st person perspective. Throughout the book, people treat Seelie’s awkwardness, struggles, and general weirdness as nothing more than a part of her being a changeling. They expect her to be odd. People assume all changelings are odd. But that’s not necessarily true – she’s autistic, AND a changeling, and those two traits are a big part of her personality and identity that interact, but they aren’t the same thing, and that’s important.

Not to get too personal, since I’m not officially diagnosed as autistic idk how much of a right I have to claim this representation for myself, but I don’t know if I’ve ever read something so relatable, except for maybe Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time. I was homeschooled through 8th grade, and when I went to public high school, everyone, including myself, attributed my awkwardness to that upbringing. Society expects homeschoolers to have odd mannerisms, even though I had I had plenty of opportunities to socialize with other kids through clubs and field trips. But even with four years of “real school” and college, I still have odd mannerisms, and weird hobbies, and social awkwardness in spades. It’s only through reading about the community of late-diagnosed autistic people, and especially women, that I’ve learned the vocabular to describe my experience. Reading Seelie’s perspective felt so fundamentally familiar to my experience in so many ways: being the odd one out and not knowing why, not having the language to explain sensory overwhelm, or meltdowns, or special interests, or stimming.

She makes mistakes, she’s sometimes obnoxious and immature and stubborn, like any overwhelmed teenager, but she’s also brave, and clever, and the hero of her own story. She’s an inspiration, and I cannot wait to see how she continues to develop in the next book. I also think I’ve found my next cosplay. When I unpackaged the book, my mother did a double-take and asked, “Is that you?” and she’s… not wrong. I could do Isolde easily with my hair’s current length, and I plan to grow it out again to match Seelie’s.

I also can’t talk about Seelie without mentioning her twin Isolde. I am desperate to know what’s going on inside her head, she is such an interesting character in her own right, and we only see her from Seelie’s perspective. I would love a short story or companion novel or something in her POV in the future. I love the bond the two of them have together, and the sweet domestic scenes with Birch in the Destiny were some of my favorite ones in the novel. Likewise, their arguments were the most heart wrenching ones.

The supporting cast is also excellent. Raze manages to be insufferable and likeable, which is high praise. Usually if a character is too annoying I’ll simply skim any parts with them, but I stayed invested whenever he was on the page, and grew to like him alongside Seelie. I loved his banter and friendship with Olani, and the way the duo serves as foils to the sisters. The friendship between Olani and Isolde reminds me of the phrase “as Iron sharpens Iron” – two strong women making each other better fighters, and better people in turn. Leira is an intimidating villain, and I’m both fascinated and terrified by what Gossamer is scheming and what it means for the world at large.


Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for an interview with the author, Ivelisse Housman, about the writing process for this book! In the meantime, I want this blog to be more than me shouting into the void. If I can use this platform to help boost other creators, I’d love to see your work too. If you want to have your recommendations and/or your own writing featured in a Resource Rec post, or if you want to collaborate with me, you can leave a comment below for both, or contact me on either tumblr or IG! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing by leaving me a tip or buying stickers on my Kofi. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!

Chatting · Reading Recs

Making of a Mistcloak, part 1: Why Vin?

I owe a lot to Brandon Sanderson. In the summer of 2020, I was three years deep into the worst reading-slump of my life, struggling with anxiety and depression thanks to a combination of university stress, the pandemic, a full-time laboratory job, and living away from home in a strange dead city. My writing was struggling due to lack of time and input to fill up my creative well. I don’t remember a lot of that spring, except that it felt like my head was constantly full of mist.

I had no idea how much my life would change when I picked up an audiobook of The Way of Kings to help pass the hours doing tedious sample prep. The story of my writing community starts here, two years ago, since it was the same summer I started this website. I owe my eternal thanks to Quinn Siarven for both the excellent book recommendation and moral support for the past several years ❤ Kaladin’s ideals got me through that year, and the next, and the next, as I fell deeper into the Cosmere:

I picked up the audiobook of The Final Empire this past summer, at another lab job, doing boring sample prep again, and immediately grew attached to Vin’s character. I wish I had picked up this book in high school, because I relate to this awkward, intense teen altogether too much. Reading about her struggles was like reading about my slightly younger self, and I want to scoop her up in a hug. It also shocked me just how many of my OCs are incredibly similar to Vin, carrying paranoia, too much trauma, great skill, and grander callings on their young shoulders.

Beyond that, The Final Empire is also just so much fun?? As much as post-apocalyptic hell-scapes can be fun, that is. Kelsier brings such an entertaining energy to the page, and his beacon of hope resonated with those deeper themes that have always been the source of my love for these series. The “learning to fly” scenes are always my favorite, since I’ve been a little kid I’ve always dreamed of taking off into the wild blue yonder and leaving my problems behind, and there’s no small part of wish fulfillment in this costume bringing me a little closer to launching myself into the sky. The dynamics with the rest of the crew are so wholesome, and Sazed was my favorite by far.

You can’t talk about a Sanderson book without touching on the magic systems and worldbuilding. The planet of Scadriel works on three sets of rules: Allomancy, Feurochemy, and Hemalurgy, all of which play crucial roles in the plot and weave together with the characters to tie them into a prophecy much bigger than themselves. It’s an intricately crafted world full of history as multifaceted as our own world. I loved how many religions are described, because that’s a part of worldbuilding that I often see glossed over, but personally find very interesting, and the discussions of faith and hope are intrinsically woven into the character’s arcs in a way that feels fundamentally natural to how we as humans constantly wonder about why we’re here.

“The right belief is like a good cloak, I think. If it fits you well, it keeps you warm and safe. The wrong fit however, can suffocate.”

“But you can’t kill me, Lord Tyrant. I represent that one thing you’ve never been able to kill, no matter how hard you try. I am hope.”

“Our belief is often strongest when it should be weakest. That is the nature of hope.”

It goes without saying that I wholeheartedly recommend these books, and I was thrilled to take on a cosplay for Vin. In the future, I’d love to cover other characters from Sanderson’s worlds – perhaps Veil or Vivenna will be up on the list! What’s your favorite Cosmere book? As much as I love the Mistborn trilogy, I have a soft spot for Words of Radiance and how the relationships between Kaladin, the Kholinars, and Shallan all grow and evolve. Maybe I’ll actually get caught up on Sanderson’s books by the time Stormlight 5 comes out, and I’m looking forward to the secret novels next year!

Next week I’ll be sharing the full process of creating the cloak and how the community I’ve found at school helped me finish such a large project, so check back for that! As always, I am open to suggestion if you have a topic you’d like to see covered! If you feel so generously inclined, you can support my writing (and other creative endeavors) by leaving me a tip on my Kofi or donating using the secure box below. Until next time, thanks for reading and happy writing!

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Chatting · Reading Recs

Horror for Halloween: House of Hollow

Happy Halloween! This month I wanted to share a horror-fantasy reading-rec, and this is a book I’ve wanted to cover since I read it last year in one sitting the night before an exam. House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland is a thrilling combination of fantastical and terrifying and I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a creepy autumn read, or looking to improve the mood and ambience of their prose!

Warnings ahead for suicide, manipulation, body horror, and general discussions of death and horrific topics, so if that bothers you, reader discretion is advised. This book is written for a YA audience.

Continue reading “Horror for Halloween: House of Hollow”
Chatting · Reading Recs

Book Review: The Stray Spirit by R.K. Ashwick

There are very few things in this world as satisfying as reading a book – A REAL ACTUAL PUBLISHED BOOK – by one of my writer friends. I am unbelievably proud of our very own, one and only, R.K. Ashwick for reaching this amazing milestone! I’ve been following its development through the taglist on tumblr for… I don’t know, maybe over a year now? It’s been truly gratifying to watch the characters and story grow (hah), and I am absolutely overjoyed that come August, I’ll be able to hold it in my hands. The following review is my honest opinion, which I promised to share after receiving an advanced reader copy of the book. I’m going to keep this mostly spoiler free because it hasn’t come out yet, though in the future I may write a spoilers-filled review as well, so I can freely dig into all the interesting bits of this book. So without further ado…

Overall Impression: 5/5, Next Book Now Please?

Continue reading “Book Review: The Stray Spirit by R.K. Ashwick”
Chatting · Reading Recs

Reading Rec: Survival Kit for Writers Who Don’t Write Right

Overall Impression

5/5 – Even though I’m absolutely not the target audience of this book, I still learned a lot.

Summary

Continue reading “Reading Rec: Survival Kit for Writers Who Don’t Write Right”
Chatting · Reading Recs

Book Review: 8 Steps to a Side Character

Overall Impression

5/5 craft book with an easily accessible style that gave my poor frazzled engineering brain a much needed break from academic drivel, extremely useful summaries that made writing his article about 1,000,000x easier, and rock solid advice I will immedietly be adapting into my ever-expanding Storge excel outline.

Continue reading “Book Review: 8 Steps to a Side Character”
Chatting · Reading Recs

Wonder and Wisdom: The Time Quintent

For a book that is included on every elementary recommended reading list and has been adapted into several feature-length films, I believe that A Wrinkle in Time is a criminally underrated book, and the rest of the series even more so. It’s difficult to explain my attachment to this series, but the unparalleled Madeline L’Engle created characters and a world in her works so interesting that I regularly reread and take inspiration from them to this day. So today, I want to write a tribute to my favorite children’s author. For readers, please take this as a wholehearted recommendation. For writers, this is my attempt to break down what makes L’Engle’s writing so impactful, so we can learn from her style and craft similarly beautiful works ourselves.

Continue reading “Wonder and Wisdom: The Time Quintent”
Chatting · Reading Recs

Symbolism in Addie La Rue

I first encountered The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab on bookstagram where it seemed like everyone was discussing the story. This novel hit the NY Times Bestseller List for 37 weeks straight through July this year, and not without good reason. In my opinion, the story more than lives up to the hype, and it is so effectively compelling because of the symbolism Schwab weaves through the narrative. Today I want to discuss three of the most important motifs that make Addie’s story so memorable and how aspiring authors can learn from Schwab’s writing to create meaningful symbols of their own. This will contain some spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book yet, beware of that before reading.

Synopsis:

Adeline LaRue is a young woman living in the small town of Villon, France in 1741, who desperately wants to see more of the world. She feels trapped in an engagement she doesn’t want, and fears the headlong rushing of time, saying, “I don’t want to live and die in the same ten meter plot.” Her faith is torn between the Christian God of her parent’s and the old gods of her elder friend, Estele. On the night of her wedding, she flees into the woods and pleas for some higher power to save her from her fate, and the night answers. Despite Estele’s warnings to never pray to the gods who answer after dark, Adeline strikes a deal with him. At first, she offers a wooden ring, carved for her as a child by her father, but the god doesn’t deal in “trinkets.” They bargain, and draw their terms: immortality in exchange for her soul when she doesn’t want it anymore.

When she returns to the town, she finds that everyone she knew has forgotten her. She cannot remind them of her name, because every time she tries to speak the words, they get stuck in her throat. She cannot write or leave any permanent mark. Any interactions “reset” the curse. As soon as the other person walks away, they forget her again. However, she can steal. She takes some bare essentials and a wooden bird from her father’s workshop before fleeing the town. The story follows Addie – no longer Adeline – between her past through the centuries, and modern day NYC, as she navigates her curse and meets Henry Strauss, the first person in over 300 years who remembers her.

Continue reading “Symbolism in Addie La Rue”
Chatting · Reading Recs

In the Dark – Dracula

Hello my friends, it has been a hot minute since I last shared a reading rec, but what better month to get back into it than October! Today I want to share my personal favorite classic horror novel, and break down what makes it work so well. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the characters of Dracula from pop-culture, but they’re often so far removed from the original context that the concepts lose their teeth (heh). To understand why Dracula became such a ubiquitous icon of the vampire horror genre, we need to revisit why people feared him in the first place. For this article, I’ll be referring to the book with italics, and the character in normal text, to avoid confusion. This will also include spoilers, since I stand by a copyright-spoiler expiration policy. If you want to read the book for free, a copy is available from Project Gutenberg (which is what I used to find my excerpts.)

I’d also like to preface this with a disclaimer that if you’ve read the SparkNotes summary, this article will have a much different analysis. In my opinion, the SparkNotes takes a bad-faith assumption that treats the male characters as sex-motivated repressed Victorians who ignore religion for scientific advancement and fear Strong Women ™. I disagree, but I encourage you to read the book and both analyses to form your own opinion. If you’ve read the book already, leave a comment to start a discussion!

Continue reading “In the Dark – Dracula”