My Very Own Date at the Modern Moulin Rouge, Minus the Absinthe but Featuring A Very Charming Fox Trot with Boba Fett, As Told In Three Parts
I – Wherein I Explain the Title, Or Die Trying
Welcome, Ministry fans! Thanks for visiting! I have a pair of lovely little giveaways for you, but before I share those details, let me tell you a little story about what I love about steampunk.
I didn’t intend to become a writer of steampunk stories. I really didn’t. I knew the term, sure, but it was just another literary sub-genre to me … until a gentleman named Mister Lapin wandered along and changed everything. One morning I was driving to work, listening to the Dr. Horrible soundtrack, and as the mad, bombastic closing credits music played I was suddenly struck by an idea: What if I wrote a story about a man who turns himself into a half-man, half-rabbit? And what if he used alchemy to solve mysteries? It was so crazy I just had to do it, and when I sat down later that evening, I found the voice naturally became an excitable British man straight out of the Victorian era. The Impossible Mister Lapin, my novel of weird science and occult investigations in a Britain that never was, had begun. It quickly took on a life of its own, growing from a short story to a serial novella to my first ever full-fledged novel, adding gadgets and alchemy and evil spirits as it went, often with me feeling as though I was trailing slightly behind, trying frantically to keep up.
What was even more amazing, though, was the scene that surrounded this new world I’d chanced into. My wife, the costumer, had started attending Dorian’s Parlor, a lovely steampunk gathering in Philadelphia, and as the story of Mister Lapin took on life she brought me along with her. I was stunned and enchanted by the creativity and vibrancy of the community – there were people faithfully recreating exquisite Victorian and Edwardian dress down to the smallest detail, while others blasted off into the far realms of steam-powered fantasy as airship pirates and eccentric inventors, and everything inbetween. There was music, art, fashion, gadgetry, literature (always a relief for a writer looking to sell a tale), academic discussion … there was a community. And even though some of them liked to quarrel about what did or didn’t suit the scene, or even how to define the term “steampunk” itself, in the end the movement always seemed to celebrate a diversity of inspiration that was positively breathtaking.
In many ways, meeting the steampunk community – at Dorian’s, at New York Comic Con, at Steampunk World’s Faire and many other places besides – reminded me of Christian’s first experience with the Moulin Rouge in the film of the same name – a whirl of sounds and sights, faces and delights. And that’s without any absinthe to help the experience along!
Now that steampunk has crossed well into the mainstream, of course there are any number of naysayers who claim it’s over, it’s done, it’s been co-opted will never be the same. But with respect, I rather think those folks are missing the point. Movements rise and fall in popularity, naturally, but the very diversity of the community and the experiences and inspirations it draws on makes it far hardier than one might expect. Because it’s not purely history, and it’s not purely fiction, it’s a lovely expanse of middle ground between the two. Besides, there are other factors that also play a role, which might be even more unexpected than airship captains, safari enthusiasts with rayguns and the inimitable Steampunk Boba Fett. (As if such a thing were possible, I know.)
But here’s what comes to mind whenever someone tells me that steampunk’s already on its way out. When I was in college, the neo-swing revival was in full, well, swing, and an interviewer asked Royal Crown Revue lead singer Eddie Nichols if he thought the music would be a fad, or if it had staying power. He replied, “Will it be huge like it is now? Nah. ‘Course not. It’ll level off soon enough. But you see those cats out there on the dance floor? They paid a lotta money on those dance lessons, not to mention the outfits. This music didn’t really die before, and it’s not going to now either. Besides, it doesn’t age like the punk rock or metal bands wil. You can grow old with this, you know? It’s classy. You won’t be moshing at your daughter’s wedding, but you will definitely fox trot.”
I look around at all the passion and energy and innovation being poured into the fashion and music and writing and crafting, the humor and style and class that inform and support this scene, and I don’t hear metal.
I hear swing.
II – Rally Behind the Ministry!
While many of you probably reached this post as part of the blog hop, I suppose it’s possible that some of you haven’t heard of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, and are wondering exactly where that lovely graphic came from and what exactly is going on. Well, wonder no further! Allow the creators themselves to explain:
“Galileo Games and Imagine That! Studios have teamed up to bring you an ambitious steampunk project! The Ministry Initiative is a two-part creative endeavor that will not only premiere new fiction from the steampunk world of the Ministry but also present a brand new role playing game from the makers of Bulldogs! and the ENnie Award winning game Shelter in Place. Thrill to the tales in Ministry Protocol anthology, or join in as an Agent in The Ministry Initiative RPG.
“Find out more about this endeavor by checking out my giveaway contest at the end of this entry, then hopping to all the blogs listed below – many of them sponsoring wonderful contests and giveaways of their own, I might add, for all you lovers of free things! – and of course supporting the Kickstarter here: http://bit.ly/ministry-initiative
III – Last But Not Least: How to Win Free Stuff!
As part of the Ministry Initiative Kickstarter, I’m proud to announce my own giveaway for those dogged Ministry agents willing to put in a little legwork. Here’s the skinny:
THE “FIENDISH MENAGERIE FILES” CONTEST!
I want you to create the most devious, most devilish steampunk villain you can imagine, and tell me about it!
1) Craft A Villain!
Here’s what I need from you:
Name: Your villain’s name. It can be as simple or elaborate as you like. Don’t forget titles – they didn’t spend all those years in Evil Medical School to be called mister, after all!
Signature Villainy: What is your villain’s “signature” knavery? Killer gorillas? Freeze rays? Radioactive dinosaurs? Fell sorcery? Knives in the dark? A poisoned kiss? Unexpected cats?
Most Infamous Crime: Give the title or description of their most notorious bit of malfeasance: “The Terrible Affair of the Lemon”, “The Archduke’s Sinister Disappearance”. “The Time That Gravity was Most Unceremoniously Stolen”, you name it. You don’t need to elaborate too much – in fact, it’s usually better if you leave it to our imaginations a bit.
Here’s a sample contest entry – yours can be more elaborate, but this should give you the idea:
Name: The Ghost Emperor!
Signature Villainy: Poisonous alchemical fog!
Most Infamous Crime: “The Usurpation of the Imperial Throne, By Means Most Underhanded and Occult”
2) Post Your Villain!
* Post your entry here at this blog, as a response to this very post.
* You may enter more than once, but please, no more than once per day.
* The contest is open from the time this post goes live on May 22nd to 6 PM EST on May 29th.
3) Check Back for Prizes!
At the end of the contest, a winner will be decided by an esteemed panel of judges (read: as many Ministry writers as I can collect). This winner will receive a free electronic copy of my story from the Ministry Initiative anthology, currently titled “New London Calling.” Information will be collected and arrangements will be made to deliver this story in electronic format as soon as the Ministry’s esteemed editorial staff deem it ready for public release, which is likely to be a little ahead of its release to the general public. Tease your friends with knowledge of the exploits that only you are privy to as they gnash their teeth in envy!
In addition, the winner and one runner-up will also receive electronic copies of Runner, my post-zombie-apocalypse, action-adventure novel. Because after some dashing steampunk exploits, nothing cleanses the palate for another course like a serving of gritty survival horror. And, having just referred to zombies as the literary equivalent of sorbet, I’m going to stop talking now.
“WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?”
OK, so I’m no quite finished. I’d encourage you to check back as the contest goes forward, because you never know what other wrinkles and new developments might pop up. Don’t forget to head on over to the Kickstarter to donate to this very awesome game/anthology combo, but while you’re here, steampunk fans should really take a moment to drop in and make the acquaintance of one Mister Lapin. If that amuses you, I also like to write about LARP, writing theory. geek culture, and most anything else that comes to mind, really. It’s been a pleasure having you here – thanks for stopping by, and I hope to see some of your villains soon!
It’s a strange world out there, agents.
Let’s keep it that way!
A Crow’s Murder
A brief tale of the Impossible Mister Lapin.
“But who’s the victim?” I asked yet again, struggling to keep up as we crossed the neatly trimmed lawn. Early morning fog accumulated on my glasses, rendering me nearly blind, and I could feel my trousers getting soaked from the dew kicked up by our brisk pace. In the muted half-light of the earning morning, I could make out the indistinct shapes of men ahead, arranged in a circle. There seemed to be something on the ground, but when I attempted to clean my glasses my escort gave me such a pointed look that I abandoned the thought and simply hurried along after him. “Really, I appreciate your esteem for my abilities, but I am no pathologist.”
“You were sent for, sir.” It was a refrain I’d heard several times on the carriage ride over. It seemed sufficient answer for him, though I was growing impatient. However, one does not doubt the word of a Yeoman Warder, especially when he arrives before dawn bearing a dour expression. So I held my tongue and instead spent the ride contemplating the only other detail he’d provided: “There’s been a murder.” I had scoured the lists of my memory, trying to figure out whose untimely death would merit such a visit, but lacking any other clues and with my companion unwillingly to provide them, ultimately I settled for restlessly peering into the gray ambiguity of the fog.
“Here we are,” my escort said, quite unnecessarily, as I had already supposed whatever warranted a protective ring of Beefeaters was likely the source of my mysterious summons. They parted as we approached, none of them quite meeting my eye.
“Good lord,” I whispered. I could finally see what it was they were guarding so closely: a white sheet was draped over a tiny form, a single, ominous reddish stain immediately apparent. I felt my heart leap into my throat. “Is that a child?”
Around me, I was acutely aware of the Yeoman Warders exchanging inscrutable glances. “Take a closer look, sir.” My escort gestured in the direction of the tiny shape, though made no move to join me at its side. “If you would be so kind.”
I don’t think I’ve ever handled a piece of cloth with such hesitation. I took a deep breath, then pulled it back in one quick snap. Underneath was the crumpled body of a crow, a poor battered thing with one wing obviously broken, its ribcage gruesomely ripped open. I blinked, shook my head, and looked again. Still a crow. “It’s a crow,” I said simply, the measure of sympathy I felt for the poor creature’s sorry state overshadowed by my own relief at the fact that it was not a child.
“Oh, he’s a clever one.” A high, harsh voice sounded from somewhere above me. I cast my gaze in that direction and saw a half dozen ravens perched on a stone overhang about ten feet overhead. When I glanced in their direction, they cocked their heads simultaneously, the incongruity of the timing sending a shiver down my spine.I have stared down some very unusual sets of eyes in my lifetime, including my own reflection, and yet the air of bemused contempt that came across in their manner was both unmistakable and deeply disconcerting.
Then the leftmost raven opened its beak, and the same grating voice issued forth. “Now that we’ve established the bloody obvious, Mister Lapin, would you care to open that pretty bag of yours, do whatever it is you do, and tell us if poor Brother Morgan was a victim of the darker side of your precious Art?”
To be continued…