Archive for October, 2016

The Yokai Hunters

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dream-school

This story is a prequel to the the events in the “Sword, Mirror, Jewel” urban fantasy trilogy. It was first published as “Staring at the Haiku” in TOMO: FRIENDSHIP THROUGH FICTION – AN ANTHOLOGY OF JAPAN TEEN STORIES, from Stone Bridge Press, a book dedicated to raising funds and awareness  to help communities damaged by the 3/11 Tohoku disaster. 

The story goes like this:

The young trainee teacher was patrolling the long, empty high school corridors, making sure all students have gone home. His footsteps echoed down the halls, and beyond the windows it was already dark; the hot, steamy twilight of a Japanese July. He was feeling nervous; summer is the time for ghost stories in Japan, and all kinds of tales were going through his head.

Then he heard the crying.

It was coming from the end of the corridor. He walked through pools of shadow to the classroom, opened the door, stepped inside. He flicked the switch; the lights weren’t working. Strange. But in the dark he could make out a girl, in school uniform, sitting at one of the desks. She sat turned away from him, her head hanging down, long black hair over her face, and sobbing like her heart was broken.

“Every student should have gone home,” he said, trying to keep his voice firm.

The girl didn’t turn around. She kept on sobbing, her hair masking her face, and the teacher was feeling really creeped out by now.

“Are you all right? What are you doing here on your own?”

He walked slowly into the classroom. He reached out a hand and gently tapped the girl on the shoulder.

As quick as a striking snake, the girl turned toward him, her hands snatching at the teacher’s arm with razor-sharp nails. She flicked back her long hair, and her face –

Her face was –

Her face, was like –

 

Well, what do you think it was like? Welcome to –

 

www.yokaihunters.com

 

– which is the most amazing blog ever on Japanese ghosts, written by yours truly Tomoe Kanzaki! In English! I’m seventeen years old, and a student in the Global Studies class for returnees, here at Chiyoda High. Now I’ll let the other ghostbusting ghostbloggers in the Club introduce themselves – scroll down for the introductions!

Hi, I’m Shunsuke Wakita. My birthday’s January 27th and my blood type is B. I like PE, and I’m in the baseball club at school. My family lived in Ohio for three years and Frankfurt for two years. My ambition is to get into a good University – or become an F1 racer. Yoroshiku Onegai Shimasu.

         Hi, I’m Xin Yao Liu! I’m an exchange student in Japan for a year, and I’m from Chongqing in southwest China. My strong point is I’m a quick reader – I can finish a novel in less than a day. My ambition? I’m interested in science, so I’d like to be a pharmacist.

         I’m Hideaki Sakamoto. I like all sports, but I’m in the Kendo Club. I like animals, pasta, Japanese curry-rice, going for karaoke parties, and hanging out in Shibuya. In the future I’d like to travel around the world and then get into male modeling. Or maybe the other way around.

         I’m Reiko Bergman. I’m half-Japanese, or a Ha-fu, as they say here. My father’s American and my mother’s Japanese, and we lived in New York for eight years. My other nickname is Rekijo, which means ‘History Girl’ – but I’m not a geek! I just like stories from long ago, and I’ve got a good memory.

 

And like I said, I’m Tomoe, and this is my blog. I could tell you more about myself, but I won’t, because we’ve got ghost stories to deal with!!

 

Assignment 1:

The Calligraphy Lesson

 

 

The last two weeks of February. The time of year for the final exams, the graduation ceremony, and then the Spring Break, when every teenager within a hundred kilometers of the capital tries to get into Tokyo Disneyland at the same time. It’s also the season for Girl’s Day, on March 3rd, when families put up a special display of Japanese style dolls in their houses, and have hamaguri clam soup with sweet sake to celebrate. For some reason Boy’s Day on May 5th is a national holiday but on Girl’s Day we still have to go to school. Boys get all the lucky breaks, huh?

So there we were, with the finals done and grades given out, looking forward to a break with no lessons or homework, when – bang! The craziest thing happened! The junior high school girls started talking about a miracle in the Calligraphy Room!

It was an urban legend – and you know what urban legends are like once they get started. Here in Japan, there are some that everyone knows; the girl crying alone in the dark (see above), the masked woman who hangs around the school gates, Little Hanako the haunter of the toilet – but the one in our school was something totally new. This spread around all the classes and soon everybody was totally OMG. Except the teachers, of course. The teachers were more concerned with the Principal’s toy – a set of antique dolls that he’d put on display in the third floor lobby for Girl’s Day. Go figure.

So what kind of urban legend was it? The juniors said that if you put a blank sheet of calligraphy paper on the wall before you went home, the next morning you’d find the first Kanji character of your future boyfriend’s name written on it! So if you saw a character pronounced ‘MA’ – like, maybe

                    摩

 

– then your boyfriend could be Masahiro, or Masatoshi, or Masataka! And you know what juniors are like – they all believed it!

This is what we discussed at the very first Yokai Hunters Club meeting held in the Chiyoda Station Starbuck’s, after school. I was the chairman, and also the note-taker, and I explained in great detail the nature of Assignment # 1.

“You are the freakiest person I ever met,” Reiko said, after I’d finished.

“Thank you!”

“It wasn’t a compliment,” she added, shaking her head.

That’s just how she is.

“Urban legends are like mega-creepy,” said Xin Yao. “And I don’t need to find out my boyfriend’s name like this!”

“Because you’ve already got a boyfriend?” Hideaki muttered.

“Come on, guys,” I said, in my Madam Chairman voice. “Something amazing is going on, right? This is like those stranger-than-fiction TV specials, like those stories of statues that weep blood and drink milk.”

“Or statues that drink blood and weep milk,” said Hideaki, digging Shunsuke in the ribs.

“Shut up!” Xin Yao yelled, and I thanked her and quickly brought her into the discussion, as our resident calligraphy expert. I asked her if there was anything special about the paper used in the calligraphy room. I gave her a few sheets I’d secretly ‘borrowed’ today and she held them up to the light.

“It looks like ordinary paper and ink to me,” she said. “Smells like it, too.”

“Oh, come on,” said Hideaki, leaning back in his chair. “It’s all a joke, right? Someone steals the key, gets into the Calligraphy Room after school, puts something on the wall and laughs at the juniors the next day.”

“That would be the obvious answer,” I said, “and this is my proposal for ruling it out. Hideaki, your mom and dad gave you a little Minoru robot with a stereo webcam inside it, right?”

“Yeah. It was a free sample from one of my dad’s clients.”

“How about,” I said, trying not to grin too much, “if we put it in the calligraphy room to monitor what happens, and we do an all-night vigil from our bedrooms?”

“Keep it online all night?” Shunsuke cried. “How much is that going to cost?”

“Got a flat monthly rate from J-Com,” Hideaki said with a shrug.

“There is no way I’m staying awake all night for this,” said Reiko hotly. “I’m up until twelve every night doing homework already!”

“Doesn’t have to be all night,” I kept on. “We keep a guard rota. We take one hour each, and when the hour’s up, we call the next person.”

“Spying on the school?” Hideaki nodded slowly. “Yeah, okay! Why not.”

“You’d better put the webcam somewhere the teacher won’t find it,” I said.

“I’ll make up some errand and go in early in the morning and take the camera out.” Said Shunsuke.

“I’ll come in with you and distract the teacher so she doesn’t notice,” said Xin Yao.

“I’ll stand in the background and whistle the Mission: Impossible theme,” said Hideaki.

The Yokai Hunter’s first investigation had begun!!!

 

The next morning, after a disturbed sleep broken by an hour of staring at a darkened computer monitor, I met the other bloggers in the homeroom, when all the other kids were at the lockers or eating early morning snacks.

“You didn’t see anything?

“It was too dark,” whined Xin Yao. “I could see the paper’s faint outline, but nothing else.”

There were slow nods all round.

“Was there anything written on it when you came in?” I asked Shunsuke.

“Yeah, the juniors were all over it. But it wasn’t kanji. It was the Hiragana character for mo.”

“So somebody’s going to have a boyfriend called … Motoki?” Hideaki asked.

In math, we learned that two negatives make a positive – or something like that; and as I listened to my classmates gripe over the sleep they lost, I suddenly realized – with a big shock of happiness – the negatives they brought to the table added up, in fact, to one big positive. Which is not mathematically sound, but it was lucky for us.

“Guys! Nobody came into the Calligraphy Room, right? So however this is happening – it’s not a junior or senior sneaking in to write something as a joke! We’ve got a genuine case of paranormal activity on our hands!”

Blank looks turned into shifty sidelong glances as everyone tried not to look scared.

“So what do we do now?” asked Shunsuke.

“We find out what happens when there’s no paper on the wall,” I said.

So that night, after the latest crowd of giggling juniors had put up a blank sheet of paper in the ‘special’ place on the wall, Xin Yao and I went in and took it down again.

 

The next morning the homeroom teacher told us of a special announcement from the principal, broadcast over the PA to every classroom. Uh oh, we thought, he’s found out about the urban legend and he’s going to warn us about impressionable young minds and not believing gossip or whatever.

Nope. Instead of that, he spent the whole ten minutes of homeroom time telling us not to touch the antique dolls. Apparently someone had moved them or been playing with them after school yesterday.

Men and dolls. Brrrrr…

 

“Tomoe, Tomoe, you’ve gotta see this!” Xin Yao said from the door to the Calligraphy Room. She had the keys, so the five of us locked ourselves in, keeping the juniors out.

There was a new kanji character. Written on the wall in the place where the paper would have been.

                    読

 

We got up close and peered at it. It was the verb ‘to read’. It looked kind of gross; it hadn’t been drawn with a brush, it was made of dark spots and stains that were almost … organic.

“What is that stuff?”

“Not ink,” said Xin Yao. She leaned forward, and recoiled with a face like a lemon. “It smells like … mold.”

“We’ve gotta clean this off,” said Shunsuke.

“But this is evidence!” I said.

“Evidence for who?” said Hideaki. “We’ve seen it, that’s enough. I’ll take a picture with my smartphone. If the teacher sees it, she’ll go crazy.”

         We had no idea how crazy things were going to get!

 

I went through the rest of the day in a trance, unable to concentrate on lessons, until Xin Yao came up to me after school and said breathlessly, “I think I’ve got something.”

“What?”

“The kanji. Sen-Botsu-Tai-Shou-Ni and the rest. We thought the characters meant boy’s names, like Tsuyoshi or Taishi or Shoutaro – but they don’t. If you put them together, the whole thing spells a haiku!”

She handed me the paper. From top to bottom, and right to left, she’d brushed hasty but elegant kanji characters. In English, the poem said:

Of our captain lost

         Banners speak of fate; Omens read

         In death we meet again.

“And this means?”

“It’s a poem from the late Sengoku civil war period,” she said, “composed by one of the Shogun Tokugawa’s samurai generals. The kanji on the wall this morning was yo, right? That means the next one tomorrow should be shin, beginning the poem’s final line.”

“The Kanji for death.” My head was spinning, and I felt my skin break out in goosebumps. “Xin Yao – you’re a genius! Now, if we could only figure out how and why this is turning up on our wall …”

800px-japaneseroom

Every answer we got was throwing up more questions. To tell the truth, after school that day I felt like leaving it alone, before things got any weirder – but like my dad always says, “Don’t give up.”

He also said, “Tomoe, do what you’re best at.” And as it turns out, that means investigating funky paranormal stuff. Who knew?

Speaking of the Old Guys, that night I got home and Mom was yakking on the phone to her club cronies. Ballroom dancing – she’s off every Sunday with her friends in tacky costumes, but she says that’s how she keeps her figure. While we waited for Dad to get home for dinner I went up to my room, put the headphones on and started blasting out Spacecandle so I could concentrate.

Spacecandle. Only the best Japanese rock band ever. They helped me get through revising for all my exams so far, so they’d help me with this. I lay on the bed, headphones on, staring at the haiku.

Hmmmm. If I ever form a rock band, which is my ambition, I’m going to call the first album Staring at the Haiku.

Just before Dad called “Tadaima!” as he slipped his shoes off in the parlor, the answer hit me.

“We’ve been looking at it the wrong way,” I told them the next day, when we all gathered in the calligraphy room. “It’s not the kanji themselves.”

“So what is it?”

“It’s the wall.”

Shunsuke made a face. “There’s something special about the wall of the calligraphy room?”

“Yeah, there is,” I told him with pride. “It faces the Kimon. You know what the Kimon is?”

“Yeah, sure.” Shunsuke threw a sidelong glance at Hideaki. “Not really.”

I pointed to the big window running along the wall of the room. “The Kimon – the Demon Gate. The old superstition that says spirits enter and exit the world of the living from the northeast; that’s why there are so many temples and shrines in northeast Tokyo.”

“A line of defense,” muttered Reiko, nodding.

“The haiku is a message,” said Xin Yao. “It’s trying to tell us something.”

“A message from who?”

We all moved to the window. Central Tokyo stretched away from us, towers of steel and glass shining in the sharp winter light, and not far away, the tranquil green of the Imperial Palace gardens.

“The flow of spirit energy,” I said, “is entering the building from this direction, so it’s passing that way.” I turned around, and pointed to the door.

“Over there?” Hideaki said. “There’s only the staircase.”

“And the windows.”

“And a janitor’s storeroom on the landing. You think the janitor’s doing it?”

Reiko opened the door.

“And the dolls,” we all said at the same time.

 

Dolls. And not just any dolls.

Usually, the Girl’s Day dolls were little figures wearing traditional Japanese costumes. A medium-size display had one Emperor, one Empress, three ladies in waiting, three male attendants and five court musicians. But ours were different. There were eleven male retainers wearing samurai armor from the Sengoku Civil War Period, and one female doll dressed in kimono as the General’s wife – but the General’s doll was conspicuously missing. According to the plaque on the wall, the dolls had been in school storage for many years, but were brought out especially for this year, the 400th anniversary of the Siege of the Kodaira Garrison in western Japan.

“I might have guessed it was dolls,” Xin Yao said when we were in Starbucks again. “Dolls are so freaky.”

Hideaki looked up from his café latte. “Why are you so scared of them?”

“There was a doll once. It freaked me out.” She glared angrily back at him. “End of story, okay?”

“I’m getting really confused now,” said Shunsuke. “This started off as an urban legend, but we’re now investigating a bunch of spooky dolls?”

I turned to Reiko. Or more correctly, I held up my smartphone. This was her night for exam prep at cram school, but she was sending text messages every ten minutes.

“The Kodaira garrison was about to be overrun by the forces of the invading Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi,” I said, reading from Reiko’s text. “General Hasegawa and his eleven men chose to stay behind and engage the enemy, giving their lord, Tokugawa Ieyasu, time to regroup. The night before their last battle, Hasegawa composed his suicide poem. The next day, every last man was cut down in combat as the garrison burned around them.”

We all sat quietly around the table for a while, just taking it all in.

“But there are only eleven dolls,” said Shunsuke eventually. “Where’s the leader? Where’s the General Hasegawa doll?”

I held up the phone again. “This is the clincher, guys. There was a doll in the likeness of General Hasegawa, but it was badly damaged in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and laid to rest in Kosenji Shrine near Roppongi. There’s a special part of the grounds where broken toys and dolls are laid to rest.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” said Hideaki.

“The Shinto religion says everything has a soul,” Xin Yao mused. “Even dolls.”

“So these dolls have been in storage for decades, until the Principal puts them on display for the anniversary, ” said Hideaki.

“Somehow, it awakens their spirits, and they become … aware,” said Xin Yao.

“They sense the final thoughts of their dying General, from across Tokyo,” said Shunsuke.

“And across the centuries,” I added. “Thoughts that take form on the wall of our school where the dolls are displayed.”

“And they’re going to do what?” said Hideaki, almost as if he was angry. “Follow their General into the great Doll Afterlife?”

“Whatever they’re going to do,” said Xin Yao, “they’ll probably do it three nights from now. That’s when the haiku ends. And…” she looked at me. “Oh, no. No, Tomoe! We’re not going to!”

But of course, we were.

 

If you want to secretly stay behind in school after the premises have been locked up, it’s not impossible. All you have to do is find a nice dark place and be absolutely quiet. Which is maybe impossible for Hideaki, but you know what I mean. The security guards are retired salarymen who spend most of the night in their cabin with their TV and boxed dinners, and there are security cameras at the school entrances, but not inside the corridors. In Chiyoda High, students have individual keys to their lockers, but there’s no lock itself on the door to the Locker Room on the second floor. So that’s where we hid.

We stayed there until six. It gets dark really early in Japan, so when we opened the door and crept out, the corridors were in darkness, with white security lights shining out onto the tennis ground and the trees. Hideaki and Shunsuke took up the lead, with the wooden bokken swords borrowed from the Kendo Club. I was behind, and Reiko and Xin Yao took up the rear (holding hands – hah!) We tiptoed down the corridor and got to the stairwell leading to the calligraphy room, and then – that’s where we saw them.

They weren’t dolls.

Not anymore.

Eleven tall shadows stood above us, the dim light reflecting from iron and leather masks, battered chest plates, leather gloves covered in nameless stains. The two horns of a crescent moon insignia gleamed upon their helmets, and their swords hung at their sides.

Someone gave a muffled scream; it could have been Reiko or Xin Yao. Or maybe me. Shunsuke and Hideaki huddled together, their wooden swords held up in front of them. Even in semi-darkness, I could tell their faces had gone white.

With shaking hands, I lifted my smartphone, switched on the video camera, and held it up in front of my face like a talisman.

The eleven figures moved down the stairs like smoke. Their outlines were misted, almost transparent. The corridor filled with a whispering, like echoes in a cave, and the overpowering smell of forest earth and decaying leaves.

We followed them, because we couldn’t stop ourselves. They melted into the glass of the windows and reappeared on the other side, in the courtyard. They marched silently into the trees. We ran to the window and pressed our faces up to the glass, and I saw the last man in the line turn back. He lifted up his head, his great dark mask with hideously blank eyeholes in the battle-scarred metal – and he bowed to us, arms straight by his side, in formal Japanese style.

Then he melted into the Tokyo night like he’d never been there at all.

 

The next day the school was pretty quiet.

There wasn’t much to show the police were there; one patrol car parked discreetly at the back entrance. The Principal was trying to keep the lid on the fact that his entire display of dolls had disappeared – but there were no signs of a break-in.

Our post-mission debriefing at Starbucks. I looked around the café; tables of junior girls giggling about boys and zit cream and pop idols, student types with their books and their headphones screwed into their ears to shut themselves away, the young salarymen with their laptops and schedules taking a break between sales appointments … none of them knew. None of them knew what we knew.

That there was another world beyond this one.

And my team, my club, my nakama – I looked around the table at them, as they looked soberly back at me.

“I’m sorry,” I said eventually.

Shunsuke did a double-take. “Why?”

I shrugged. “Well, for one thing, the cell phone video didn’t come out. We can’t put that on the blog because it’s too dark to see anything. And I feel kind of bad for getting you into this.”

“We voted on staying,” said Xin Yao.

“Yeah, but they were all …” I made a mask gesture with my hands over my face.

“I think They Were All Dead is what she’s trying to say,” put in Hideaki.

“Thanks.” I took a deep breath. “Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe we should just forget ghosts and concentrate on the living.”

“I don’t think so,” said Reiko.

We all looked at her.

“Now, we know some legends are not just legends, right? There are things that people never talk about but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I think we should find out how many of these old stories are based on some kind of truth. I think we should do it; it’s a responsibility.”

“A responsibility to a world that can’t be seen,” said Xin Yao, with a funny look in her eyes.

I raised my frappuccino in salute. “That was really well put, Reiko. We’ve got a mission!”

Clink!

That would have been the noise our toast made if we had glasses instead of paper cups. But there it was, our new brotherhood and our first mission, sealed with coffee and juice.

“What the heck,” snorted Hideaki. “This is more fun than the Kendo club.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE TOMO ANTHOLOGY AND TOHOKU’S RECOVERY OVER THE YEARS, GO HERE:

tomoanthology.blogspot.com  

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE “SWORD, MIRROR, JEWEL TRILOGY” … GO HERE:

Sword, Mirror, Jewel 

 

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What Is ‘Steampunk’?

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Welcome to the first of an occasional series, exploring Science Fiction’s various ‘Punk’ sub-genres!

NOTE: Many readers object to pigeonholing literature, and reject such labels as ‘Steampunk’ and ‘Dieselpunk’ as pointless and ridiculous. I have no problem with applying labels to fiction, as long as those labels are not taken too seriously.

In 1984, Neuromancer by William Gibson was published, and this inspired the literary genre that came to be known as ‘Cyberpunk’, the precursor to ‘Steampunk’. In many ways, Gibson’s fictional creation predicted the society we live in today, particularly the rise of the Internet, and he was responsible for coining the term ‘Cyberspace’. One of his later novels, The Difference Engine (co-written with Bruce Sterling), was a literary experiment that helped to popularize Steampunk, and led to the Sargasso of sub-genres that floats across today’s ocean of literature, a tangled mesh of concepts such as Dieselpunk, Cowpunk, Seapunk, Biopunk, Clockpunk and many others.

How was Cyberpunk  connected to the creation of Steampunk? Cyberpunk is a Dystopian genre of literature that combines SF with film noir. It blends high technology with grinding poverty and a chaotic view of human nature, where most of the population is zonked out on the new techno-drug of Virtual Reality. Most of the Cyberpunk look has been attributed to the Ridley Scott film Blade Runner – which actually came out two years before Neuromancer, but has become firmly associated with Cyberpunk in the cultural consciousness. In this genre, governments are useless and mainly ignored, and the world is run by giant multinational corporations that are generally depicted as evil. In the Cyberpunk world, these vast conglomerates are trying to monopolize or suppress new technology; the protagonists are aggressive, lonely anti-heroes surviving on the outer fringes of society, trying to bring down the evil Big Business while on the run from its legions of amoral hired bounty killers.

Interestingly enough, Gibson modeled his fictional corporations on the giant zaibatsu groups of post-war Japan. This was the age of the Japanese bubble economy, when sharp-suited, inscrutable salarymen were buying up huge chunks of California and the Gold Coast. This was the age of Ridley Scott’s Black Rain and Philip Kaufman’s Rising Sun. Now, after twenty years of recession has left Japan as the Sick Man of Asia, that looks pretty ironic. Also, Gibson set the first part of Neuromancer in the ‘high-tech wilderness’ of Chiba, which most Japanese people (and anyone who’s been to Japan) find extremely odd. Chiba is a seedy, dull, terminally un-cool prefecture on the west side of the capital, which most Tokyo residents refer to as ‘the boondocks’. It’s like opening your techno-thriller in Wisconsin, or having James Bond hunt super-villains in Milton Keynes.

But still …      

 Neuromancer has gone on to inspire a whole culture. The Matrix. Johnny Mnemonic. Freejack. The Lawnmower Man. K. W. Jeter. Richard Kadrey. Jack Womack. Max Headroom. Akira. The Ghost in the Shell. Pat Cadigan. Richard K. Morgan. Most people, even if they don’t know these names, have heard of the term ‘Cyberpunk’, and as for Cyberspace and the Internet – I rest my case.

The term “Steampunk” was coined by author K. W. Jeter to describe the speculative fiction stories in a Victorian setting that he, Tim Powers, and James Blaylock were writing in the early 1980s in contrast to the cyberpunk stories like Neuromancer that were saturating media. The Difference Engine came about when Gibson and Sterling collaborated on the short story “The Angel of Goliad” in 1990, which they soon expanded into the novel-length alternate history novel.

TDE posits a Victorian Britain ca. 1855 in which a great wave of technological and social change has occurred after entrepreneurial inventor Charles Babbage succeeded in his ambition to build a mechanical computer (actually his Analytical Engine rather than the titular Difference Engine). Among the many various changes that arise as a result of this innovation are an even more powerful British Empire, a Divided States of America, an early Communist Revolution in Manhattan led by Karl Marx himself, steam-powered gurneys (this timeline’s equivalent of cars), and the premature invention of “camphorated cellulose” (aka celluloid – the first thermoplastic).

The story follows Sybil Gerard, a political courtesan and daughter of an executed Luddite leader (she is borrowed from Benjamin Disraeli‘s novel Sybil); Edward “Leviathan” Mallory, a paleontologist and explorer who comes into a lot of money thanks to a good bet on an advanced steam gurney model; and Laurence Oliphant, a historical figure with a real career, as portrayed in the book, as a travel writer whose work was a cover for espionage activities “undertaken in the service of Her Majesty”. Linking all their stories is the trail of a mysterious set of reportedly very powerful camphorated cellulose computer punch cards and the individuals fighting to obtain them; as is the case with special objects in several novels by Gibson, the punch cards are to some extent a MacGuffin.

I’ve posted a review of the book on Amazon and Goodreads, and just to repeat some of my observations … Visually, the story is remarkable, and really conveys a tangible sense of the alternative London of 1855. The sense that this is London in 1855 is very strong visually. Gibson and Sterling’s respect for their readers shines through at nearly every moment, and the characters show us what’s happening through their actions, not by telling us. Gibson and Sterling understand that Victorians dealt with internal emotions in a different way to our generation aso they find more interesting ways to show characters expressing flashes of grief that have an emotional impact without being emotionally exhausting or overwrought or off-putting.

As well as the main protagonists, alternative-history versions of Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace, Benjamin Disraeli, and the poets Keats and Shelley make appearances. The novel certainly doesn’t drag, because of the fascinating details that leap out from every page. The Great Stink and the Swing Riots were real historical events, although they are considerably altered here. The plot is most certainly coherent, and reliant on plot twists, so … no spoilers. A number of Amazon reviewers have complained about the meaning of the punch cards; well, traditionally the purpose of a MacGuffin is to move the plot, and Gibson has always included at least one in his novels, so there’s no grounds for complaint there.

The Difference Engine does have a couple of weaknesses that offset its major strengths, but the general impression I got from TDE is that with the benefit of hindsight, this was a turning-point in Science Fiction literature. It’s an interesting thought that Gibson and Sterling didn’t return to the Steampunk genre after this; maybe they felt that they had made their point.

Further examinations of Steampunk … coming soon!

 

 

 

 

Zero Sum Game Competition Results!

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Excalibur Books would like to give a very big thank you to everyone who participated in last weekend’s launch party competition! We’re really excited about all the interest in our new addition to the list of Excalibur releases, and today we announce the winners of the launch competition!
Third Prize – the ebook of “Zero Sum Game” goes to Norman Monroe, Tokyo, Japan.
Second Prize – a signed copy of “Zero Sum Game” goes to Kiyoko Matsumoto, Kanagawa, Japan.
 First Prize – a signed copy of “Zero Sum Game” and a signed copy of Cody L. Martin’s first novel, “Adventure Hunters: Similitude” goes to John Hartley, Rawtenstall, UK.
Stay tuned for news of further releases in the last three months of 2016!
Excelsior!

 

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