fbpx Steampunk Digest - October 25, 2019: Our weekly roundup of news and other happenings in the steampunk world | The Steampunk Explorer

Steampunk Digest - October 25, 2019

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

Friday, October 25, 2019
The Current War
Photo: Dean Rogers

Gaming Rotten Tomatoes? The Current War finally hits North American movie screens this weekend with a new subtitle, “The Director’s Cut,” and that modest change apparently had the magical effect of boosting the film’s score on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. A film panned by UK critics as “Rotten” is now rated as “Fresh.”

As we’ve noted previously, The Current War tells the story of the battle between Thomas Edison (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George Westinghouse (Michael Shannon) over electric power transmission in America. Nicholas Hoult stars as Nikola Tesla, who allied himself with Westinghouse.

An early version of the film received mixed reviews after it was screened at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. Then it got caught up in the Harvey Weinstein scandal and was pulled prior to a scheduled theatrical release in Nov. 2017. Since then, director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon added five scenes and cut its running time by 10 minutes.

The edited version opened in the UK on July 26, but critics were still not impressed. As The Current War, the film had a Tomatometer score of 31%, based on 15 reviews from the 2017 Toronto screening and 34 from the 2019 UK release. Despite the changes, “it’s still a dirge,” wrote Kevin Maher of the Times. “It’s flat and repetitive.”

But as The Current War: Director’s Cut, the film gets a new Rotten Tomatoes page and a Tomatometer reset. So far, U.S. critics seem to be more favorably inclined: As of Oct. 24, it had a 62% score based on 42 reviews, just enough for a “Fresh” rating. These are not necessarily raves: In one of the positive takes, Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune wrote that the film “remains a bit of a mess but a pretty interesting one.”

What hasn’t changed are the electric headlines:

The Current War is packed with historical detail, but the film lacks electricity.” (The Washington Post)

“Electricity saga is historically illuminating, but low on dramatic juice.” (Newsday)

“Watt a turn off! Could have been a light-bulb moment, but this biopic fails to spark.” (Daily Mail)

“Benedict Cumberbatch Lights Up the Screen as Thomas Edison In Smart Historical Drama.” (Deadline)

“Even electric Benedict Cumberbatch can’t bring this corpse to life.” (London Evening Standard)

Also opening this weekend: The Lighthouse, a black-and-white horror film directed by Robert Eggers and starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe as lighthouse keepers in the 1890s. That film premiered in May at the Cannes Film Festival and has garnered critical acclaim.

Castle in the Sky
Image ©1986 Studio Ghibli

Castle in the Sky and other animation films from Japan’s Studio Ghibli will finally be available for streaming, at least in the U.S. WarnerMedia announced a deal with GKIDS, Studio Ghibli’s North American distributor, to offer the full 21-film library as part of HBO Max, a streaming service set to launch next spring.

Castle in the Sky (1986) was the acclaimed steampunk fantasy film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, who was featured in last week’s Steampunk Digest. It’s one of many in the deal that will be available when the service launches.

Miyazaki was a co-founder of the studio. The deal also includes his films Porco Rosso, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Howl’s Moving Castle, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Spirited Away, and Ponyo, as well as films by Isao Takahata, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, and other directors. This is the studio’s first-ever licensing deal with a streaming platform.

WarnerMedia announced in July that HBO Max will launch with 10,000 hours of programming, including the entire HBO catalog, original programs, and content from WarnerMedia properties DC Entertainment, TNT, TBS, The CW, Turner Classic Movies, Adult Swim, and Crunchyroll. Programs will include Joss Whedon’s The Nevers, a sci-fi series set in the Victorian era; Lovecraft Country, a horror series executive produced by Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams; The Gilded Age, a period drama from Julian Fellowes set in 1885 New York; and Dune: The Sisterhood, a series from Denis Villeneuve based on a book by Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson. The service will also have exclusive streaming rights to all 279 episodes of The Big Bang Theory.

Tales of Wrong

Chap hop artist Professor Elemental is in the Halloween spirit with a new book of horror stories and a holiday theme for his website. Professor Elemental’s Tales of Wrong offers nine stories set in his world of “murderous grandmothers, dark deeds and delicious swan dinners.” He promises that the tales will “tickle your ribs… and then shred your nerves.” Illustrated by Kim Parkhurst, it’s available for £10 (US $12.90) exclusively from that very same website.

Unwoman is also in a Halloween mood with her Untitled Scary EP featuring seven songs. They include her covers of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch,” Concrete Blonde’s “Bloodletting,” Berlin’s “Masquerade,” and Ministry’s “Everyday Is Halloween,” plus a reworking of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” The latter, retitled “The Eldritch One, Jolene,” is a collaboration with Dan Abbott that includes scary lyrics not in the original. These are new mixes of previously released tracks.

The EP is available on Bandcamp for $1 or more. This is a limited time offer: After Nov. 2, it passes on to the spirit world. Her Patreon subscribers get it for free.

Meanwhile, folks in South Korea can now hear her music in a new TV ad that will help pay for her new recording studio.

The Cog Is Dead has released Songs of the People, its long-awaited fourth studio album. It has 17 songs, each featuring the name or character name of a fan who has supported the band in the past. Each has also been released as a single. It’s available on major streaming and download services, including Spotify, Amazon, and Apple. It’s also available as a CD on Amazon.

Author Jeri Westerson is out with The Daemon Device, Book One in a three-part steampunk series dubbed the Enchanter Chronicles. The enchanter of the title is a magician named Leopold Kazsmer in an alternate 1891 London. With help from a tarot-reading automaton and a Jewish daemon, he sets out to discover the truth behind a series of murders. It’s available in Kindle and paperback editions on Amazon.

The author also released The Darkest Gateway, Book 4 in her Booke of the Hidden paranormal romance series. It, too, is on Amazon. See her website for more info.

Dark Horse plans a May 2020 release for Steam, an all-ages graphic novel about a young boy named Arlo “who escapes his abusive guardians on Earth, through an intergalactic portal to the steam-powered planet of Pother,” the publisher says. “There he discovers his long-lost father inadvertently helped a powerful corporation from Earth in their efforts to deplete the planet’s resources.” It’s written by Drew Ford with art by Duane Leslie and coloring by Eva de la Cruz.

The 144-page book is now available for pre-order through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and local comic shops. See the Dark Horse website for more info.

Last week, we told you about season 2 of Nikola Tesla and the End of the World, a web series in which the inventor has been transported to 21st century Brooklyn — or actually multiple Brooklyns. At the time, only the first three episodes were available on Amazon Prime due to technical issues involving closed captioning. We’re happy to report that the final three episodes are now online, so Amazon Prime subscribers in the USA and UK can now watch the entire series. It also streams on CBC Gem, which is available only in Canada. Total viewing time for the season is about an hour. See the series website for more info.

Chamber of Darkness

Vita Collage in Marin County, California will be showing several works by Bay Area artist Eric Kelly through Nov. 17. He describes the venue in Point Reyes Station as “part boutique, part art gallery, part home decor store, part art book store, part cabinet of curiosities. It’s well worth a browse, as is the tiny but densely packed town,” which is in the western part of the county. You can learn more about the shop on its Facebook page.

We previously highlighted Kelly’s art in our coverage of the Edwardian Ball in January and last year’s “Curiously Grim” exhibition in San Rafael, California. His pieces combine Victorian-era photographic prints with digital images to create what he describes as “a reimagined history.”

One of his favorite works, “Santos (The Chamber of Darkness),” will be part of “Nocturne,” a juried group show at San Francisco’s ARC Gallery. It opens Nov. 9 and runs through Dec. 7. The piece is shown above.

You can learn more about his work on his website and Instagram page.


Tom Hutchison is on Kickstarter with a new 40-page special edition of Legend of Oz: The Wicked West. Entitled Sundown, it’s a new story in a series that reimagines L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories as a western/steampunk comic book adventure. In this world, Toto is Dorothy Gale’s horse, and the ruby slippers have been replaced with ruby pistols and spurs. The series began in 2012.

The campaign launched Oct. 19 and soon passed its initial US $9000 fundraising goal. It concludes Nov. 20. See the Kickstarter page for more info.

Quick Hits

“How to Thrift for Victorian & Steampunk Outfits” (Gail Carriger)

The Men That Will Not Be Blamed Nothing announce Part II of Tenth Anniversary Tour.

“Northern Kentucky’s Bircus Brewing Company to Host a Haunted Steampunk Ball” (CityBeat)

The New York Times reviews new Thomas Edison biography.

The Washington Post podcast: “Mark Twain’s complicated relationship with the typewriter” (Also on Stitcher)

“Steampunk rock bar The Metal Monocle opening in Leicester” (Leicester Mercury)

“Steampunk mixed with New Orleans at Jackson (Michigan) tattoo shop” (MLive.com)

“Photos from days one and two of the Steampunk and Victoriana Fair” (Goulburn Post)

“Tesla’s 5 Most Inspiring Inventions” (OilPrice.com)

“Why giant squid, the once mythical kraken of the deep, are still mystifying scientists.” (Business Insider India)

Mad Science!

A real-world Invisible Man? Hyperstealth Biotechnology Corp. in Vancouver, British Columbia has applied for patents related to a material it describes as an Invisibility Cloak. It works by bending light, so that the background is visible but a person standing behind the material cannot be seen. “This material can be as thin as paper and requires no power source,” says the cloak’s inventor, CEO Guy Cramer.

The material uses lenticular lenses, which are arrays of tiny magnifying lenses. They’re also used in lenticular printing, in which an image changes when viewed from different angles.

As you can see in this YouTube video, the cloak itself is visible, but Cramer seems to disappear when he walks behind it. For now, he envisions applications largely for the military. You can learn more on the company’s website.

Event News

We recently posted previews of three events happening this weekend:

Jewelry City Steampunk Festival, Oct. 26, is a free event taking place at multiple venues in downtown Attleboro, Massachusetts. The program includes live music, panels, vendors, teapot racing, a children’s area, and demonstrations at the Attleboro Area Industrial Museum. Victor and the Bully from the UK will headline a ticketed After Hours Bash at the Ezekiel Bates Masonic Lodge. See this story for more info.

Oxnard Steampunk Fest, Oct. 26-27, takes place at the Southern California town’s historic Heritage Square. This year’s event has a Halloween theme and will feature a “Heritage Scare” ghost tour pre-event on Friday night. See the story.

Fall in Steampunk: The Haunted Hedley, Oct. 25, is a new Halloween-themed event from the organizers of the Enchanted City Steampunk Festival in Troy, New York, near Albany. It will be held at the River Street Market, a new food hall with six eateries. The program includes a costume promenade, ghost tours, and a “Frightening Foods” Chef Challenge. It runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

In previous years, the festival was a large outdoor street fair, but lead organizer Susan Dunckel was unable to negotiate a deal to run it in 2019. The Halloween gathering will be the first in a series of events, which could include a street festival at some point. See the story for more info.

The Surrey Steampunk Convivial, Oct 26-27, will offer another “full weekend of quirky British steampunk eccentricity,” including cosplay, art exhibitions, tea dueling, teapot racing, live music, and unique sporting events such as umbrella fencing, corset limbo, and rubbish football. It happens at the Station pub in Stoneleigh.

And next weekend:

The Steam *Punk* Festival!, Nov. 1, 7 p.m.- midnight. This is a new event from the NJ Steampunk Society. Entertainment includes John S. Hall, A Halo Called Fred, A Piano and a Cocktail Murderess, and Karnevil. It takes place at Roxy & Dukes Roadhouse, 745 Bound Brook Rd, Dunellen, NJ 08812.

The Totally Steampunk Event, Nov. 2, 6 p.m.-11 p.m. This fundraiser for the Mauch Chunk Museum and Cultural Center is part of the Victorian Heritage Festival in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. The program includes a steampunk-themed buffet dinner, tea dueling with Dolly & Birdie, and music by The Eternal Frontier. Tickets cost $75. The museum is at 41 W Broadway, 2nd floor, Jim Thorpe, PA 18229. Jim Thorpe, about 80 miles north of Philadelphia, was known as Mauch Chunk until 1954.

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Sanborn San Francisco

Sanborn insurance maps from the 19th and early 20th centuries have had a big influence on neo-Victorian and steampunk design. It’s not the maps themselves that have inspired designers, but the title pages with their ornate lettering and flourishes. This story includes a brief discussion of the Sanborn Map Co. plus an image gallery and some high-resolution title pages that you can download. It’s available here for our Patreon supporters.

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