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Steampunk Digest - Dec. 21, 2018

Our weekly roundup of news and other happenings in the steampunk world

Friday, December 21, 2018

Steampunk Digest brings you news and other info from around the web. Sign up to get it by email before it's posted on the website. The email version also includes summaries of recent stories posted on The Steampunk Explorer.

Mortal Engines

Photo: Universal Pictures and MRC

Critical response to the film adaptation of Mortal Engines has been mixed at best, and now the movie appears to be a box office flop as well. Variety, one of the top trade publications in the entertainment industry, reported that the film will likely lose $100 million or more. The article cites several factors that made the film a “marketing challenge” for distributor Universal Pictures, including a lack of major movie stars and “a plot that’s difficult to convey in a television spot or a poster.” The negative reviews certainly didn’t help.

The poor box office performance makes it unlikely that Peter Jackson will be producing any sequels. Worse, it could add to the perception that steampunk-inspired films are losing propositions. In fact, it already has: “Why is Mortal Engines a $100 million flop? Blame steampunk,” blares a headline in The Telegraph of London. The full story by Ed Power is available only to subscribers, but this snippet makes his point clear: “From Wild Wild West to Mortal Engines, why can’t Hollywood just steer clear of steampunk?”

We think he’s mistaken. First, Mortal Engines isn’t a steampunk movie. It’s based on Philip Reeve’s post-apocalyptic steampunk novel, but the producers chose to de-emphasize the steampunk aspects. “We knew we didn’t want steampunk, because this needed to be in our future,” director Christian Rivers told SyFy Wire in a recent Q&A. “Steampunk is very fun, very craft-based, but it’s an alternative reality. It’s a future as if the Victorian technology took another route. It just didn’t feel truthful to a future from where we are now.”

Another point: The film has been criticized mainly for its writing and storytelling. The visuals, which did include some steampunk elements, were almost universally praised. The steampunk aesthetic clearly has lots of appeal: Just look at the Ravagers ship in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and all the video games that draw on the genre.

The problem with Wild Wild West and Mortal Engines isn’t that they’re steampunk films. They just happen to be flawed movies. In some alternate universe, a gifted filmmaker has created a cinematic blockbuster that is undeniably steampunk and is well executed. It just hasn’t happened in ours — at least not yet.

Related coverage: Guest reviewer Wheeler Stone offers his take on Mortal Engines.

Head Case Curios

Last week, we told you about the one-year anniversary of Head Case Curios, a retail shop in Portsmouth, UK that caters to steampunks and other customers with an interest in “the unique and unusual.” Co-owners Tony and Zoe Duke had planned for a small celebration, and were happily overwhelmed when about 50 members of the Gosport Steampunk Society showed up. The festivities included a re-enactment of the cover photo from The Beatles’ Abbey Road (see below).

We learned about the event from a report in the local newspaper, and later heard from Tony, who kindly granted us permission to run a couple photos. You can see more on the shop’s Facebook page and blog.

Steampunk Abbey Road

Alpha Dominche, maker of the Steampunk coffee machine, has ceased operations. Before you get upset, understand that the machine was “steampunk” in name only. It had a modern industrial design with lots of stainless steel and glass. It was also decidedly high-tech, controlled by a touchpad panel and requiring connection to a company server to operate. Inventor Khristian Bombeck dubbed it the Steampunk because it was powered by steam, according to a 2013 story in The Verge.

With a price tag of $15,000USD, the Steampunk was sold to coffee shops, which are now apparently screwed. Soon the machines “will all stop working,” writes Garrett Oden in The Spoon, an online publication that covers food technology. “Steampunk-wielding cafes around the world are about to have a useless hunk of metal when the official servers go down.”

We learned about the Steampunk when conducting research for our City Guides. We searched TripAdvisor for mentions of “steampunk,” and encountered reviews of cafés that referred to their “steampunk coffee.” It turned out that these places were serving coffee made with the machine.

We’re happy to report that you can still get real steampunk coffee at these places: Steampunk Coffee Roasters in Natchez, Mississippi; Steampunk Café and Grill in Tehachapi, California; and Steampunk Coffebar and Kitchen in Los Angeles.

Automechanika, a giant automotive industry trade show in Frankfurt, Germany, has released a limited-edition calendar featuring steampunk- and dieselpunk-inspired images of cars and other vehicles. The images were created for the trade show by German artist Rafael Neff.

“The process involved photographing and digitizing hundreds of parts to build the future rides and worlds, while clouds, sand, and water were made using paint, polishing cloths, and oil absorbent,” writes Ed Tahaney in Automobile. He cautions that copies of the calendar will be “hard to come by,” but his story includes a gallery of the images. You’ll definitely want to check them out.

Author Laura Strickland is out with Tough Prospect, Book 6 in her Buffalo Steampunk Adventures series. From the description: “Mitch Carter’s a hard man. He’s clawed his way up from Buffalo’s gutter through a combination of ruthlessness and stark loyalty to become the King of Prospect Avenue. But when he sees lovely Tessa Verdun, a crack appears in his tough veneer. He wants her for his wife even if making it happen requires coercion, dirty dealing, and a touch of blackmail.”

The series is set in the late 19th century in Buffalo, New York. She’s described it as “the perfect place for steampunk” because “it’s a dark, gritty city.” It’s available in paperback and e-book formats from Amazon and other booksellers. See the author’s website and the Goodreads page for more info.

Red Dead Redemption 2

Rockstar Games needs to “Go Steampunk” in Red Dead Online, the developer’s new Western-themed action-adventure game for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. That’s the opinion of Forbes contributor Dave Their. Red Dead Online is the multiplayer version of Red Dead Redemption 2, which was released in October.

“I think that in the long run, Rockstar is going to need to think of this game less as a Western and more like a multigenre title set in the late 19th century,” Their writes. Steampunk is a logical extension because it “breaks the bonds of reality without really violating the general aesthetic of the game: We could get all manner of weird repeating weapons, tricked-out trains, carriages stacked with mechanical weaponry, even submarines.” Other possible genres, he suggests, include Victorian horror and alien invasion.

The game allows players to earn or purchase gold bars to redeem for in-game cosmetic items, but its “economy is way out of whack,” he writes, noting that the prices for items such as a Mauser pistol are too high compared with their benefits. “I already look like about the baddest cowboy I could imagine, and so the company is going to need to let me look like a clockwork wizard in order to motivate me to shell out for gold bars.”

See the developer’s website for more info on the game.

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