Book Review: The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter

TheBulletCatchersDaughter-144dpiBefore I begin the actual review of this book, I think I should begin with a short, unofficial history lesson on the origins of the term “steampunk.” I am brand spanking new as a reader of this genre, so this is what I’ve recently learned from conversations with others more well-versed in it than I am.From what I gather, the definition of “steampunk” within the publishing genre is still somewhat in flux, but here’s what Wikipedia (don’t flog me, my academic friends!) has to say about it:

Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that typically features steam-powered machinery, especially in a setting inspired by industrialized Western civilization during the 19th century. Steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century’s British Victorian era or American “Wild West”, in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream use, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. Steampunk perhaps most recognisably features anachronistictechnologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era’s perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art. Such technology may include fictional machines like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or the modern authors Philip Pullman, Scott Westerfeld, Stephen Hunt and China Miéville.

Wikipedia also goes on to mention that Tor author K.W. Jeter coined the term in the late 1980s as a variant on the term “cyberpunk,” which is defined by Wikipedia thusly:

Cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction in a near-future setting. Noted for its focus on “high tech and low life,” it features advanced science, such as information technology and cybernetics, coupled with a degree of breakdown or radical change in the social order.

I think the most quintessential example of cyberpunk is the movie Blade Runner. So, my interest in the definition of “steampunk” came about as a result of a conversation I had with my friend Michael Underwood, author of the recently published novel, Shield and Crocus, wherein he suggests that “steampunk” must stay true to its roots and incorporate the “punk” aspect of cyberpunk. Mike says,

“To be ‘punk,’ there has to be an awareness of class, some degree of anti-authoritarianism, or anti-establishment sentiment, either in the heroes, or a critique of the system in the work itself. Most Steampunk is Victorian, and ‘punk,’ can delve into the industrial revolution, wage slavery, child labor, colonialism, etc. That’s where the punk comes from – the rejection of the tidy narrative about Victoriana that erases people at the margins and the thousands+ that slaved and died to create the majesty of the age.”

So, long story short, if we are including Mike’s definition of “punk” here (and we are because it just makes sense!), then I believe that Rod Duncan’s novel, The Bullet-Catcher’s Daughter (Angry Robot Books, August 2014), is a very good example of that definition. While the focus on steam technology is pretty light, the punk is definitely well-represented in the protagonist’s struggles with sexism and as well as in the extreme differences in freedom and expected adherence to the law that each social class experiences. These are just a few of the issues that plagued the protagonist as she tried to make a living and solve a mystery.

In this novel, Elizabeth Barnabus is a woman on her own in a world that resembles Victorian England, which is a part of The Gas-Lit Empire. As you can imagine, it’s practically impossible for Elizabeth to conduct any business, own any property, or hold a well-paying job as a single woman, so she solves this problem by masquerading as her own twin brother, a trick she learned from her father as a part of her act in a traveling circus. As a man, Elizabeth works at night as a private investigator of sorts. She’s hired to find the missing brother of an aristocratic woman, along the way, Elizabeth encounters some interesting steampunk technology as well as a legendary traveling circus run by a mysterious and possibly nefarious old man. The story moves along at a quick pace, and I found that I couldn’t put the book down for very long. This is my official introduction to the steampunk genre, and I really enjoyed it. I can’t wait to get my hands on more fiction like this, and I’m eagerly anticipating the sequel!

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Publishing Talk – Tania Grossinger

I think we can all agree that I stink at blogging regularly. I’d promise to do better, but I don’t want to lie.

Click the cover to pre-order Jackie and Me

Anyways, I want to talk about a moment I had at work (I work for a small independent publisher located in the garment district of Manhattan) that really touched me. No, it’s not about science fiction or fantasy, but it is about dreams.

It’s not every day that you get to hang out with a published author for a couple of hours, and not many people can say that they get paid to do it. Today I think I experienced one of the highlights of my internship in publicity at a book publisher, and that was when I got to meet and have a conversation with Tania Grossinger. She was in the office signing copies of her forthcoming children’s book, Jackie and Me: A Very Special Friendship, and I was tasked with helping her label the envelopes for each book that was signed. Ms. Grossinger is a true gem. I had already read Jackie and Me because advance copies of it have been in the office for a while, and part of my job is to make sure these advance copies go out to book reviewers. The book is beautifully illustrated, and the story is a classic tale of being an outsider that I am pretty sure we can all related to on some level. While I was labeling envelopes, I got to ask Ms. Grossinger some questions about being an author and about her life in general. She’s a fascinating lady and a delight to talk to.

Pre-order Memoir of an Independent Woman

The first thing I learned about Jackie and Me was that the book idea was brought to her by our publisher when she was trying to sell an idea for a different book. Tania is proud of the fact that she is “one of two million of us Americans who are childless by choice,” so writing a children’s book had never crossed her mind. The idea came about because of her childhood friendship with baseball legend, Jackie Robinson, and the children’s book was born. Fortunately, she was able to strike a two book deal, and her other book, Memoir of an Independent Woman: An Unconventional Life Well Lived will be out in June. Her previous biography, Growing Up At Grossinger’s, gives insight into what is was like to grow up at a resort in the Catskills frequented by celebrities and historical figures while Memoir will be about Tania’s personal life and her reflections back on the choices she’s made. Ms. Grossinger hinted to me that there might be some controversial topics covered in her memoir, and as the former Director of Broadcast Promotion for PLAYBOY magazine, a travel writer, a book reviewer, and a consultant, I’m sure she has some very interesting stories to tell.

So, after many years working in media as a publicist and PR consultant, Tania Grossinger has finally realized her dream to publish her memoir. She described the project as near and dear to her heart, and she kept expressing how she couldn’t believe that it was really happening. Her delight over reviewing the final jacket copy for Memoir showed, and she just glowed as she personalized each autographed copy of Jackie and Me. She seemed in awe of being able to finally realize her dreams, and I felt so inspired to just sit and chat with her about publishing, publicity, and life in general. This is why I’m in publishing, and this is why I want to work in publicity. It’s all about the author, and it’s all about getting the word out about amazing stories and amazing people.

Is Historical Fiction Also Fantasy? The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye

Imagine a Manhattan with low slung wooden buildings, little to no police force, and a rural farming community and a wild forrest north of 23rd street…. Is this an alternate universe? No, it’s New York circa 1845. I believe my love of historical fiction is a direct result of my love of fantasy/sci-fi because it is just another genre that transports you to another world in another time, and your imagination is required to recreate scenes that don’t exist in our current waking world. Sometimes, the only difference between a historical novel and a fantasy novel is that the setting in the historical novel was real once (although I think some would argue that fantasy settings are just as real to the reader, they just exist in the mind’s eye).

I had the pleasure of meeting author Lyndsay Faye at a publishing event at NYU about a month ago. She is witty, charming, cute, sincere, and endearingly humble about her literary success. Her publisher, Amy Einhorn, of Amy Einhorn Books, an imprint of Putnam at Penguin Book Group (USA), accompanied her to this event as they bantered back and forth about Lyndsay’s latest book, The Gods of Gotham. I think what piqued my interest in this book the most was the interesting incorporation of period street slang, called Flash, that eventually helped shape some of the modern slang we used today. Anyone interested in the history of the English language would find this both delightful and informative. Furthermore, this story is about the beginning of the NYPD, the copper stars, as they were known (which is where we get the word “cop”, fyi) and what I feel is also the story of the first real NYPD detective, Timothy Wilde.

The story begins at a very interesting confluence of events that will change the political, economic, and physical landscape of New York City forever. First, there’s a fire that burns down a large section of lower Manhattan. Second, Irish immigrants are starting to the flood the city because of the Irish potato famine. Third, an official police force is formed to govern the streets of Manhattan, which stirs up political animosity among those who are staunchly anti-government. Timothy Wilde is a reluctant former bartender whose fate is now reluctantly and irrevocably caught up amidst these events. His problem, though, is that he has become too good at being a copper star, a job he loathes yet must do thanks to circumstance.

The action begins on page one of this book, and we are immediately deeply interested in the fates of the characters as we meet them in the first chapter. The story is being told from Timothy’s point of view, and we meet his very charismatic and political older brother, Valentine, the love interest, Mercy Underhill, and the ten year old “kinchin“, Bird Daly, who we love despite her need to lie about everything. Not only is this novel full of the atmosphere of the time period, but there’s a serial killer on the loose, and it’s up to Timothy Wilde to find him and catch him before more young Irish blood is spilt.

I haven’t finished this novel yet, but I am engrossed. It takes every effort for me to not just spend the entire day languishing in bed reading this book until I know everyone is safe and the murderer is caught. There is definitely an immediacy to how this story unfolds. I feel like I am really there, strolling down the dirty streets of 1845 Manhattan alongside my favorite copper star. I have truly been transported to another world.

Book Review – The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.”

Thus begins the magical and haunting tale of a mysterious circus and its enchanting inhabitants. Celia and Marco are our main protagonists, and the reader follows them through a convoluted game played by their respective guardians using the two of them as unwilling pawns. The fates of Celia and Marco become intertwined with both the fate of the circus and of the performers within along with innocent bystanders who become enraptured with the circus itself, dreamers who will follow the circus anywhere it goes.

When I first began this novel, I felt that the start was a little slow, but before you know it, you are entranced along with those dreamers. The magic comes not just from the magicians but also from the lush and inviting prose. It’s not difficult to imagine yourself meandering through the circus tents, slowly discovering the wonders within for yourself. It’s a world in black and white, but beautiful, enchanting, mysterious, and magical. By the end, I felt my heart sing, and I craved more. If this were a movie, I can only hope it’s a better version of Moulin Rouge performed by Cirque de Soleil with effects done by Industrial Light and Magic.

I highly recommend buying a physical copy of this book. The timeline jumps around a bit, and you’ll want to be able to easily flip back and forth between chapters to keep track of the dates. Also, this is a book I guarantee you are going to want to read again and again. I plan to buy more copies so I can be sure my friends get to read this wonderful book as well. Click on the book cover above to purchase from Amazon.

Check out the book trailer here to get a feel for what the book is like. Also check out Erin Morgenstern’s website for more about this wonderful author and her first novel.

Me and The Girls of The Guild @ Dragon*Con 2011

Ardi, Felicia Day, Amy Okuda, & Robin Thorsen at Dragon*Con 2011

Ardi, Felicia Day, Amy Okuda, & Robin Thorsen at Dragon*Con 2011

I learned my lesson about only having my iPhone on me at Dragon*Con. Not everyone knows how to take a good picture with it! I’ve gotten a lot of feedback that I look a lot like Felicia Day, but as you can see here, that’s not really the case. I’m flattered though! If you haven’t yet, you should watch The Guild.

Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Recently, I introduced myself to someone I met at a publishing event and mentioned that I am developing a blog about science fiction and fantasy culture. The first question this young man asked me is if it’s unusual for there to be women in the science fiction and fantasy world. He admitted he’s not familiar with the genre, but he says he always things of pasty, geeky dudes when he thinks of science fiction and fantasy.

As a female who has been deeply involved in this topic since before I can even remember, this came as a surprise to me. Maybe it’s because many of my female friends are also interested in the fantasy and science fiction genre. Also, think about all of the wonderful female authors, actresses, and crafts people who contribute significantly to this field! I plan to profile many of them in the posts to come, and I really hope to see some female participation within the pages of this blog as well.

So, dear readers, are women still a minority in the fan base for science fiction and fantasy? How do you view the contributions that women have made to this genre? Why do you think people not familiar with the genre think this topic is exclusively (or mainly) for men? Please comment and let me know what you think!