POSTED Fri. Oct 11, 2013
NOLA Steampunkers release anthology, invade Metairie

Grab your top hats and flight goggles, folks, there’s a steampunk party in…Metairie? At East Bank Regional Library this coming Tuesday (Oct 15) is the launch party for New Orleans by Gaslight, an anthology of local steampunk fiction and poetry, edited by area native Brandon Black. If you’re monocle and corset-inclined, stop by 4747 West Napoleon Ave from 7-8:30pmto pick up a copy and meet the contributors.

Steampunk as a term originated in the 1980’s but has been retroactively applied to novels written far earlier. It is essentially a hybrid sub-genre of science fiction and alternative history that envisions Victorian-era settings in which contemporary technology has been discovered using the engineering capabilities of the period (e.g. steam power and clockwork). Literary steampunk themes became more prevalent in the nineties but steampunk really exploded as a prominent subculture in the aughts with the increasing popularity of the convention/cosplay scene.

Downtown New Orleans works peculiarly well as a steampunk setting. The architecture is historic, sure, but there is also the sketchy mythos, the eldritch vibes of the city on a hot summer night that make fantastic possibilities seem possible. As “Gaslight” editor Black says in his intro, New Orleans “is a beautiful city, an exalted city, filled with wonders and terrors, sorrows and triumphs both to Her own denizens and to the less fortunate peoples of the rest of the world, She constantly says one thing: that you could do a lot worse.”

The book opens with a very short, open-ended piece by Philip Karash called “Welcome to N’awlins” that frames the anthology by bringing readers across the threshold from the actual into the realm of the possible. Next, in “Arms R.A.C.E.”, David Ducorbier plunges us into action as a Zulu prince seeks to turn the tide of a war of his people versus the British. Similarly open-ended as the preceding entry, it feels like an opening chapter in a larger work, a snapshot of an epic. “Arms” establishes forward momentum and cleverly compels the reader to venture further into the anthology.

The subsequent works, “Farewell and Adieu” and “Twain, Tesla, and the Ghost of the Old Opera House”, read more as stand-alone entries than as fragments of larger works. “Farewell”, by Gary Bourgeois, is a New Orleansy take on a Frankenstein tale. Rober Cerio’s “Old Opera House” pairs the quippy Sam Clemens with brilliant Nikola Tesla as a ghost hunting duo in the French Quarter.

What follows is a poetic interlude featuring three very different pieces. The least overtly steampunky is “Cartoon Whirlwind” by Dionne Cherie, which portrays hurricane Gustav as a sort of portal to a Lewis Carroll dimension where wonderland bleeds into New Orleans reality.

After the poems is anthology editor Brandon Black’s “Songs of the Divine Pulsation”, a well-written piece of eastern mysticism-laden fantasy erotica that is very awkward to read on an elliptical trainer at the gym.

The final five works are short stories and are the strongest offerings in the text. “Crescent City” by Jackson Kuhl is a metaphorical story about engineers changing the geography under and around New Orleans to make it more commercially viable; it’s safe to say Katrina-esque lessons are learned. Jay Wilburn’s “Super Dome” is also about the failings of government during natural disasters. The storm of racial oppression is weathered in “You Gotta Give Good” by C.M. Beckett, a slavery parable about strength in the face of adversity.

The final two stories are the longest in the collection and the most epic in scope. Editor Brandon Black’s “The Gift” is about an airship love story that goes awry, ending in a mid air thriller. The longest and final story, “Kilkarney’s Map” by Bourgeois is also an airship story, culminating in a romantic swashbuckling treasure hunt.

If you’re a fan of the genre, “Gaslight” is worth your time as a recreational read. I personally am glad to know that there’s a burgeoning steampunk fantasy lit scene here, and I feel like some of these stories could be precursors to longer works by these authors. The next China Mieville might be right under our noses.

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    Our Local Publisher Partners

    • The Arts Council of New Orleans
    • WWNO
    • WWOZ
    • PRC
    • NOMA
    • The Historic New Orleans Collection
    • Southern Food
    • Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities
    The Arts Council of New Orleans

    The Arts Council of New Orleans is a private, non-profit organization designated as the City’s official arts agency. The Arts Council serves as one of eight regional distributing agencies for state arts funds and administers available municipal arts grants and the Percent For Art program for the City of New Orleans. The Arts Council works in partnership with the City of New Orleans, community groups, local, state, and national governmental agencies, and other nonprofit arts organizations to meet the arts and cultural needs of the New Orleans community through a diversity of initiatives and services.

    WWNO

    WWNO, the NPR member station for New Orleans, serves southeast Louisiana and parts of southwest Mississippi by broadcasting balanced news, thought provoking analysis, classical music, jazz and other musical styles, intelligent entertainment, and unique local content. We broadcast on 89.9 FM, and KTLN 90.5 FM in the Houma-Thibodaux area as a public service of the University of New Orleans. All of WWNO’s programs, including its growing local news coverage, are available online at WWNO.org.

    WWOZ

    WWOZ 90.7 FM is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Station offering listener-supported, volunteer-programmed community radio. WWOZ covers many events live in and around the city and across the United States, and broadcasts live from the famed New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival annually. WWOZ’s mission is to be the worldwide voice, archive, and flag-bearer of New Orleans culture and musical heritage.

    PRC

    Preservation Resource Center (PRC) has been preserving, restoring, and revitalizing New Orleans’ historic architecture and neighborhoods since 1974. Throughout its history, PRC has acted as an advocacy agent on a local, regional, and national scale, spreading the word about the city’s rich architectural heritage and the economic importance of preserving this heritage. PRC also takes a hands-on approach to preservation, with a history of successfully restoring over 1,400 properties. The center strengthens and revitalizes New Orleans in a way that is forward-looking and sustainable, yet sensitive to the city’s past and its heritage.

    NOMA

    As a nexus for the arts in New Orleans, NOMA is committed to preserving, interpreting, and enriching its collections and renowned sculpture garden; offering innovative experiences for learning and interpretation; and uniting, inspiring, and engaging diverse communities and cultures.

    The Historic New Orleans Collection

    The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to preserving the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South. Its holdings comprise more than one million items from more than three centuries, documenting moments both major and minor. Its four exhibition spaces–the Williams Gallery, the Louisiana History Galleries, the Boyd Cruise Gallery, and the Laura Simon Nelson Galleries for Louisiana Art–faithfully depict the multicultural stories of the region, from permanent displays exploring the evolution of Louisiana to rotating exhibitions showcasing history and fine art.

    Southern Food

    The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is a nonprofit living history organization dedicated to the discovery, understanding and celebration of the food, drink and the related culture of the South. While based in New Orleans, the Museum examines and celebrates all the cultures that have come together through the centuries to create the South’s unique culinary heritage. The Museum is also home to the collections of the Museum of the American Cocktail, the Galerie d’Absinthe, and a demonstration kitchen.

    Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities

    The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing educational opportunities to all Louisianans.

    The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities’ mission is to provide all Louisianans with access to and an appreciation of their own rich, shared and diverse historical, literary and cultural heritage through grant-supported outreach programs, family literacy and adult reading initiatives, teacher professional development institutes, publications, film and radio documentaries, museum exhibitions, cultural tourism, public lectures, library projects, and other public humanities programming.

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