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Friday Night Interviews: Virginia Carraway Stark

This Friday Night Inteview features a woman of many talents: Virginia Carraway Stark! Getting an early start on writing, Virginia has had a gift for communication, oration and storytelling from an early age. Over the years she has developed this into a wide range of products from screenplays to novels to articles to blogging to travel journalism. She has been an honorable mention at Cannes Film Festival for her screenplay, “Blind Eye” and was nominated for an Aurora Award.

Virginia took some time out of her busy schedule to chat with us about punk literature, Starklight Press, what inspires her creativity.

 

Virginia Carraway Stark

 

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

My friends call me ‘Adventure Girl’. I am extremely adventure prone and have been learned to accept that the curse of an interesting life is upon me. I graduated from high school and emancipated myself from my family when I was 16. I dropped out of some of the best universities in Canada to travel the world. While traveling I continued to write. I made some money with writing travel blogs and articles but mostly I just wrote.

I have been run over by a speeding taxi and walked away. The year before that I nearly died from blood loss and had emergency surgery. I had a really tough childhood which if you’re interested in you can find at www.ihavememory.wordpress.com  I am an outgoing, extroverted person and I love to take on new projects (and finish them), I love working with people and I really like not getting run over by taxis.

If you’re familiar with the ’16 personality types’ I’m a strong ENFJ (If you don’t know about it Google it, it’s so accurate it’s freaky). ENFJ’s are the protagonists and this is a good way to sum me up. I am loyal and strong willed and I stand up for myself and my friends. I believe in finding the good in everything and try to learn from the curve balls that the Universe seems to enjoy throwing in my direction.

What road did you walk to become a writer?

I was an imaginative child with a lot of imaginary friends and I saw the world through eyes that saw magic and wonder everywhere. I have never grown past that. I still find wonder in everything and I still have imaginary friends. I tell people stories, especially my friends who love to hear about the things I come up with. Sometimes when a friend of mine has been sad they have curled up on my lap and said, ‘Could you tell me a story?’. Of course I comply!

One of my friends told one of her friends about my stories and he happened to be a movie producer. He asked me to write some of my stories into screenplays. I refused on the basis that I had no clue how to write a screenplay but he persisted and offered to help me out with the things I didn’t understand. I agreed and spent the afternoon curled up at the library with a pad of paper and a book on ‘how to write screenplays’. The first screenplay I wrote for him he pitched to someone who loved the aspects of Asian mysticism I had put into it and he offered up gobs of cash to the producer. After that Rowdy Roddy Piper and Nick Mancuso and helicopters and extra explosions were added. The movie was called, ‘Blind Eye‘ and it went on to the Cannes film festival where it made a good impression. A new investor asked me to write ‘The Mystical Adventures of Billy Owens‘ which starred Rowdy Roddy Piper again, this time as a magician.

I decided I really preferred plain old writing to screenplays and switched to writing. I was nominated for an Aurora Award (The Toadstools of Rire, a short story in another person’s universe was involved in that).

My husband and I had witnessed some unfortunate writers lose their worlds and their rights to their characters. My husband wanted to protect my writing as well as his own and the writing of others and so he decided to start Starklight Press as a way to share worlds, writing and to generally promote while keeping writing safe for the authors who wrote it.

This lead to a huge blossoming of writing and publishing, not just with Starklight but with many other presses as well. I also wrote a lot of scientific articles that took medical papers and broke it down so lay people could understand it as well as about scientific breakthroughs and other factual articles. I worked for the National Paranormal Society for several years and started a Journal of the Paranormal called Outermost that has received far more publicity then I intended from my humble ideas for a start to it.

I have a lot of publications and books out and am working on many more projects at this time. I try to keep a cohesive listing of these on my ‘about me‘ part of my website www.virginiastark.wordpress.com because there are a lot of them!

chicksoup for the soul with author

Have you always been interested in punk fiction or is this a recent development in your life?

Writing punk fiction is pretty new to me. My first actual Steampunk was written for a Christmas Starklight Anthology featuring Steampunk and my second one was my “King Pest” from Writerpunk Press. I love it! I am currently working on ‘Anne of Black Fables’, an urban punk version of the classic, ‘Anne of Green Gables’ and a cyberpunk version of Othello for next year’s Shakespeare anthology from Writerpunk Press.

How did you end up getting involved with the Writerpunk group and Writerpunk Press?

Apparently I caught someone’s eye at Writerpunk Press. I received a private message from Lia Rees who said she had read one of my interviews and thought I would be great to work on the Punked Poe Project. I jumped in with both feet and had a blast and now it keeps going!

What anthology are you helping with or hoping to help with?

Poe, Classics and hopefully the next Shakespeare anthology. Othello is a cyborg in my version and Iago is one of those hacker types who hangs out on 4chan and other underworld creep places. I feel this clarifies his motives in subverting Othello. Most of the criticism of the play circulated on Iago’s apparent lack of morals in corrupting Othello but I felt putting Iago into the context of a hacker would make him explicable to most people because there are so many hackers who just enjoy mayhem for mayhem’s sake.

What inspired you to work on this specific project?

King Pest inspired me to write in the Diesel Punk genre because it fit the post war component of Diesel Punk and the Spanish Flu that decimated the world compared well to the world of plague depicted in King Pest.

Star Trek Cosplay
Star Trek Cosplay

What it is about the punk genre that inspires you as a creative?

I like mind puzzles and moving things into worlds that are reminiscent of here but in a dimension slightly off is a fun way to let my brain play.
For example, in Anne of Black Fables I had to think: Why would people in an urban setting be upset about Anne for being a girl and being different. I had a good think about things and decided that in the modern era and decided that a modern Anne would probably be diagnosed with Asberger’s or Autism (they’ve been combined into one now in the new DSM-5).

It’s things like that and finding a translation for things that really excites my creativity. What if Othello had been a Cyborg? Let’s find out…

Of all the various *punk genres and subgenres, which one would you like to live?

This is a really hard question to answer. I think Urban Punk but the thing about the punk worlds is that they aren’t by and large very nice places. Part of the punk aspect is that life isn’t optimum and people are set apart from the mainstream. A lot of punk is about chaos and anarchy. Punk is a genre I work with that I wouldn’t necessarily like to live there but it’s cool from a safe distance.

Can you tell us a bit about some of the people that influence you the most?

My husband is a HUGE influence on me. Whenever I have a problem that I’m trying to figure out I always go to him first to try to talk the problem out. We’ve also done a lot of collaborating on worlds and writing and he makes my mind blossom.

I love other writers to bounce ideas off of and the right internet writing groups can bring out the best of my creativity while other groups are really suppressive.

I’ve always been a reader. I grew up reading Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, Lewis Carroll and by the time I was about to move into elementary school I was into Stephen King and later a dash of Clive Barker. Piers Anthony, Mercedes Lackey, Andre Norton, Tanith Lee…

God, so many good authors out there and I learned so much from all of them!

better tales from space pic with author

Do you have a set routine when you work?

Nope. I prefer to sit in my favorite chair with my laptop and a nice drink and a view outside of the birds who come to visit the bird feeder. BUT that isn’t my set routine by any stretch. I’ve written whole scenes that have suddenly come to me on my iPhone notepad function. I write on napkins and notepads, ANYTHING that will hold up to pen or pencil can fall victim to my writing.

I worked at Starbucks for awhile and between making lattes I used receipt paper to write on. I was so good that I could make a latte with one hand while still jotting notes with my other. I’ve used my hand or arm in a few rare cases but yeah, anything will do when it strikes.

What is your favorite genre to read/write?

I like the supernatural/paranormal/alternate dimensions or worlds, pretty much anything out of the ordinary. I have a tendency to include a bit of horror and writing in a strictly mundane world as part of a collaborative was one of the hardest challenges I had ever written. I also like science fiction. I generally put it all under the umbrella of ‘Speculative Fiction’ and let people wonder what that means, or rather speculate on what that means bwahahaha!

You are the editor in chief and “wearer of many hats” at StarkLight Press. Could you tell us a bit about StarkLight and your role(s) there?

I guess I’m a bit of a talent scout. If I see someone I like the look of I will often approach them to get involved in a short story event or something else. I read the stories and make sure they make sense. That’s my main editorial job. We have a separate line editor, Sharon Flood who is our wonder woman. I have a good eye for finding holes in plots and asking why something was or wasn’t included.

I often handle the co-ordination of projects and arrange them, plot them out and pick a crew to work on them. I also do a lot of public relations and promotions. I have a passion for writing and at Starklight that translates into ‘doing all the stuff that needs to be done’. Sometimes that’s communicating with personalities, writing letters to ask well known authors to write forewords for our books or whatever pops into my mind as a good idea at the time. I have a lot of energy.

Cover of Hearts Asunder, a StarkLight publication
Cover of Hearts Asunder, a StarkLight publication

 

Does StarkLight have any new projects on the horizon?

So many new projects! Starklight Volume 4 is set to come out this month and then we will be accepting submissions for Starklight 5. We have six different collaborative works coming out, new novels, new anthologies (the next one is Shamrocks, Saints and Standing Stones which was an invitation only anthology for writers we’ve worked with and had fun with in the past).

There is always something new in the works and endless possibilities for fun if you are an author who works well with others and doesn’t take yourself too seriously. Pretentious writers aren’t really up our alley. We like people who are real in their writing and reject people who are unfriendly, unwilling to take constructive criticism or open their minds to new ideas.

What you have taken away from working with Writerpunk Press and the Writerpunk Facebook group?

This is one of the groups that I love. The people in it are fun and supportive of each other. I’ve learned a lot about the various genres of punk but I still have a lot more to learn. The premise of re-doing the classics like Shakespeare, Poe, etc was a really cool one and I love the concept–got my brain wheels turning!

Do you have anything else you want to tell our adoring public or add to this interview in any way?

Just, be real. Actually do the writing, don’t just talk about writing endlessly. Don’t be boring. There are 7 billion people on this planet. In theory each one has a story to tell so you’ve got to be exceptional to get my attention. You do this by not being a sheep. Be strong. Stand up for yourself and your writing and don’t let people bully you into being ‘normal’. Don’t be awful but and stand up for yourself in a reasonable way but don’t ever let people criticize you for your passion and don’t let them curb your energy because you aren’t fitting the mold.

Stories that fit the mold are the worst and writers who aspire to that frankly make me gag. Be yourself and believe that you’re one in seven billion who is worth sharing your voice and speak loud, strong and clear.

Virginia definitely speaks loud, strong, and clear! Virginia works with other writers, artists and poets to hone her talents and to offer encouragement and insight to others.  You can catch up with her on Facebook or  Twitter. Be sure to grab a copy of Merely This and Nothing More: Poe Goes Punk on May 31st to read her dieselpunk story “King Pest”. </shameless plug>

 

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Reviewers Go Punk: The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld

Science fiction and fantasy author Voss Foster is here to tell us about a young adult series filled with interesting creatures, a wonderful cast, and plenty of bio- and dieselpunk stuff.  Read on to hear his thoughts on The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld.

Leviathan Trilogy
The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld
Reviewed by Voss Foster

I have a confession to make: I read books for kids. I know, shocker. Not just the super popular stuff like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games you need to stay culturally relevant, either. We won’t go into my full reading history, but I want to talk about one series. One that really grabbed me, and one that’s just dripping with punk-ish goodness: The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld.

The Good: It’s hard to pinpoint just one good thing about this series. I know, I know, that’s not terribly helpful. I just wanted to mention it. It’s not often I run across a series that I love as wholeheartedly as I did with these books, and this time without the benefit of any nostalgia from my childhood. For starters, with these books, you get two punks for the price of one! Dieselpunk and Biopunk are both strong influences, representing the two sides of World War I. The Clankers use technology for fighting and easing the difficulties of life, whereas the Darwinists utilize fabricated creatures designed for one purpose or another.

That includes the series namesake, the Leviathan itself. A massive air-whale that can match speed with the fastest Zeppelins in the sky. It’s where we spend most of our time during the series, and we see the other fabricated critters that live there. Hydrogen-sniffers to find leaks, flechette bats that… umm… drop the metal spikes they’ve eaten on the enemy, huge hawks to combat the Clanker ships, and the incredible messenger lizards that can precisely mimic human speech.

The characters are just as wonderful as the worldbuilding, too. Our two protagonists are about as different as it gets. Aleksander, the son of Archduke Ferdinand, and Deryn, a Scottish girl who disguises herself as a young man to get into the Air Service. While she proves herself and ends up on the prestigious Leviathan as a midshipman, Aleksander is just trying to survive and keep moving so he doesn’t get attacked the same way his parents did. The travails of the royal life, I guess. Surprise surprise, her secret doesn’t get kept forever. But it does make it through most of the trilogy intact, whichis a nice change of pace.

There are a slew of side-characters as well, including Nikola Tesla himself, but by far my favorite is Dr. Nora Barlow. The head keeper of the London Zoo (which has a lot more significance in this world, trust me), a renowned creature-fabricator, and Charles Darwin’s granddaughter. She’s your classic mysterious character, far too perceptive for the good of the other characters, and more powerful than her position with the Zoological Society would suggest. She’s the first to be suspicious of Deryn, and the first to figure out who Aleksander actually is.

There’s an awful lot more good, so much I can’t properly cover it, but I’m going to move on to the less than wonderful parts. Just trust me that this is a series worth reading.

The Bad: As tends to happen with books for younger audiences, things are a little different than they would be in fiction for adults. Given the situation they’re in—running for their lives, international spying, etc—the language is a little pleasant at times. But that’s not the biggest stumbling block for me. It’s the punches pulled. Specifically, the romantic punch. There’s a young, budding love between Deryn and Aleksander. And it drags on and on and on. Far longer than it realistically should have. The reader knows they’re bound to get together about halfway through the trilogy, but the characters don’t even get close to it until near the end. It’s aggravating, to say the least.

And while we’re talking endings

The Ugly: Oh, the ending. Now, it’s not bad. If it was, I would have used it in the “Bad” section up above. But it is ugly. It’s blocky and lacks the level of satisfaction I want for a three book commitment. Everything wraps up just a little too nicely, and a little too quickly. One second, the whole things is falling apart, and what seems like the very next second, everything’s taken care of. A huge looming problem is just brushed away instead of handled and, just like with the romance, it’s aggravating. But it certainly doesn’t ruin the books. Not in any sense of the word. It would take a lot more than a bit of an unfortunate ending to do that. I give these books a glowing recommendation, especially if you’re a fan of dieselpunk and/or biopunk. Not the most common punk-genres, so seeing them so well-represented is wonderful.

Voss Foster lives in the middle of the Eastern Washington desert, where he writes science fiction and fantasy from inside a single-wide trailer. He is the author of the Evenstad Media Presents series, The King Jester Trilogy, The Mountains of Good Fortune, and the Immortal Whispers Series. When he can be pried away from his keyboard, he can be found singing, practicing photography, cooking, and belly dancing, though rarely all at the same time.

Somehow, between his writing, singing, photography, cooking, and dancing, Voss still has time to connect with fans and he’d love to hear from you.  You can catch up with him on his website, Facebook, or Twitter. Be sure to swing by Amazon and check out his work.

Reviewers Go Punk: Setting Sail with The Fog Diver

Welcome back to Reviewers Go Punk!

This week WriterPunk Facebook group member Jenny Blenk returns with a review of a Middle Grade post-apocalyptic book with steampunk elements. Without further ado, let’s dive right in!

The Fog Diver

The Fog Diver by Joel Ross
Reviewed by Jenny Blenk

Joel Ross, already the author of two adult WWII thriller novels, premiers his middle-grade writing career with this exciting, endearing tale set centuries in the future. Chess, an orphan, was found and raised by Mrs. E. He wasn’t the only one, and he and his four adoptive siblings make one of the best salvage crews in the Junkyard, a series of floating docks tethered to a high mountain peak. They sail their rickety airship out over the Fog, a deadly layer that encompasses the world and infects any human who stays in it for long, earning their living by bringing up salvage from beneath the murky vapor. But Mrs. E has finally succumbed to fogsickness, and in order to save her, Chess and his created family will need more than the good luck of one prosperous salvage; they’ll have to escape the Junkyard altogether and seek out Port Oro, a city forbidden to anyone living in the Junkyard, under control of the power-hungry Lord Kodoc.

But plans are accelerated when Chess finds something miraculous on a dive: a diamond. It’ll be enough to buy their small family passage on a smuggling vessel, if they can keep it safe until then. Other forces are conspiring against their ragged but talented group, though; Kodoc is looking for a boy with strange powers like those Chess displays in the fog, a boy with the same fog-clouded eye that Chess hides behind his hair. If Chess should fall into Kodoc’s hands, illegal possession of a diamond will be the least of his worries. So as the net closes around them, Chess and his crew race to find a way off of the mountain, to safety, and for the medical technology necessary to save Mrs. E.

Ross’s vision of a future world is both creative and insightful: he blends elements of sci-fi and steampunk to form a unique back story about the rise of the fog, what it is, what it means and how it might be controlled. Even designing the fog and its makeup to specifically target humans, leaving the plants and animals to thrive within it, was a stroke of creative genius. It’s a cautionary tale as well as a story of human audacity and survival, living off the bare minimum and hoping for a better future.

Especially humorous to me were the references to what life was like before the fog. Looking through newspaper clippings and other remnants left behind for Chess in his father’s scrapbook, the crew learns about pop icons like Elvis Parsley, can identify the constellation Oprah, and knows about now-extinct species like spelling bees and hello kitties. Adventures were even had by the spaceship the X-Wing Enterprise (It’s good to know that in the future, apparently the disagreements between hardcore Star Wars and Star Trek fans were set aside.) These hilarious mistaken references had me chuckling throughout the book, and both young readers and adults are sure to find them amusing.

The other focal point of this book that I especially liked was the emphasis on the validity of a created family. Chess and his crewmates Hazel, Swedish, and Bea were all found and adopted by Mrs. E. Thanks to her they had a roof over their heads, food in their stomachs, and people on whom they could rely. Each plays an important role in the family as well as on the salvage raft, a fact that is discussed by their group at one point as well. Swedish, the pilot, is the anchor of the group; Hazel, the captain, is their dreams; Bea, a gifted engineer, is their heart; and Chess is their hope. They all come from different backgrounds, but each brings something essential to the others and all are united by their love of Mrs. E and their commitment to each other. This story and the characters in it strike a perfect balance between the tale of adventure and the message of family ties.

If you’re looking for a high-flying adventure full of nanotechnology, derring-do, sky pirates and a delightfully horrible villain, then be sure to pick up a copy of “The Fog Diver” by Joel Ross. It’s a treat to read and a good reminder that your true family – blood-related or otherwise – are the ones who will always be there to watch your back and embrace your quirks and follies.

Jenny-Blenk

Jenny is a bibliophile who enthusiastically recommends her new favorite books to anyone who will listen.  This review first appeared on Jenny’s blog and is used with her permission. Stop by and see what else she’d recommend.

Reviewers Go Punk: Logging on with Neuromancer

Welcome to Reviewers Go Punk! This week we have WriterPunk Facebook group member Jonathan Leavitt and his thoughts on a cyberpunk classic.  Jon is relatively new to the whole literary punk scene, so I asked him if was interested in reading Neuromancer by William Gibson, one of the foundation books for the cyberpunk genre. He has some interesting insights that tie in to our current digital culture.  This is well worth the read.

There are a few spoilers to the book in this review. You have been warned.  

Neuromancer_(Book)

Neuromancer by William Gibson
Reviewed by Jonathan Leavitt

I downloaded Neuromancer by William Gibson to the Kindle app for around $8. Honestly, a few chapters in I found it hard to read. Here is where I’ll say the classic “It’s not you, it’s me” line. I have brain damage from 2 strokes which comes with concentration issues so I didn’t want to just give up on this book. I had experienced this before with Hemmingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls that had a style I found very difficult to read but much easier to listen to, so I downloaded Neuromancer to Audible for 1 credit.

Cyberpunk merges technology and anti-establishment, anti-corporatism ideals in a gritty future noir world. Neuromancer, written by William Gibson is the first book I’ve read from the genre. I struggled with the style of this book much the same way I struggled with early punk or new wave music, both challenged styles that I was comfortable with but was vital in expanding the landscapes of rock and roll and science fiction. After switching to the Audible version, I did become more comfortable and came to appreciate that this book is all about imagination at the expense of almost everything else.

Neuromancer was published in 1984 and was cutting edge in its concepts and vocabulary, much of which is now commonplace. Gibson in 1984 defined Cyberspace as: “A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation… A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system.” Whoa, in the early eighties I was more than happy playing Jupiter Lander on my Commodore 64 with no thoughts beyond avoiding a crash and beating my brother’s score. Now I am one of the legitimate users addicted to this mass hallucination. Given that most people in cyberspace present themselves as they wish to be seen and not as they really are, I’m fine with the word hallucination.

Gibson borders on Prophet Status at times when describing concepts and ideas some of which have already come into being and others that we can see clearly on the horizon. The description of a fully immersive sensory experience called “simstim” is somewhat recognizable as Oculus Rift which happens to be owned by a large corporation servicing Cyberspace. While Oculus Rift doesn’t allow (yet) for connecting into someone else’s consciousness, the need for such advanced technology really is moot because with access to a person’s widely-captured data, it is possible to discover everything that makes them unique. While Facebook focuses on marketing to users who, for the most part, understand Facebook’s motives, governmental abuses of privacy have an unknown and therefore sinister quality to them. One thing that Gibson didn’t foresee was any advancement in personal communications such as cell phones, which seems like a big miss. Who knows? Maybe in the future we will revolt against technology and go back to pay phones…it could happen.

All these technological advancements are impressive individually but when Artificial Intelligence is added to the mix they take on a whole new dimension. AI is an example of an idea that is just now being brought into reality. Neuromancer, the books namesake, is one half of an Artificial Intelligence who is separated by law from its other half, Wintermute, by elaborately layered security systems. Think about Left and Right Hemispheres of our brains. One is logical and the other creative. Now imagine that they are never allowed to become one fully functional intelligence because their creators fear of the resulting super intelligence. Even the name Neuromancer hints at this. If we look at the etymology we have Neuro which means neuron meaning nerves and hinting at a nervous system and Mancer which could be a conjurer hinting and not just intelligence but a new life form. We are now just beginning to discuss ideas dealing with the Technological Singularity and discussing the need for certain laws to help manage it. Opinions vary on the plausibility of the technological singularity but it is difficult to argue that technology hasn’t evolved faster than man’s ability to adjust to it and use it in constructive ways. We are struggling to adjust economically to a workforce that is competing with technology for jobs.

After reading Neuromancer and thinking back about the time it was published, it occurs to me that many of the movies I’ve seen from this genre are derivative, many relying on ideas from this book. This book demands the reader’s attention because there is a lot going on, so this isn’t a book you can skim through. There is an irony in that, for me at least, because modern Cyberspace has changed me from a reader into more of a skimmer.

I like the fact that the author didn’t tie a weight around his neck in the form of dates. Leaving the dates open, allows us to continue to see the technology of the story evolve. Science fiction influences real science so young readers who go on to become scientists can use the ideas in stories like Neuromancer to shape their own future which might not be so bleak. Although personally, I am rooting for the technological singularity that will bring self-awareness to machines and lead them to the conclusion that humans have to go. I recommend this book to everyone who enjoys Cyberpunk and science fiction in general.

Reviewers Go Punk: A Trip to the Mad Science Institute is in order

Welcome back to Reviewers Go Punk! This week we have Jeffrey Cook detailing his trip to Sechin Tower’s Mad Science Institute.    File it under Tesla Punk and enjoy!

msi-sechin-tower

Mad Science Institute by Sechin Tower
Review by Jeffrey Cook

This was a fantastic story. It opened on a great hook, and the pacing and characters were consistent and well written throughout.
It took me a little while to get a feel for a number of the characters. At first, it seems like the main protagonist, “Soap” (and some of her fellow students) are almost overly flawed – socially awkward to an extremely high degree, accident prone, does poorly in school despite genius-level gifts, non-athletic, and a germaphobe, to start with… and eventually it all makes sense. Tower has his academy populated not just with gifted teens, that’s been done – but well-rounded mad scientists. Once you get a feel for that, it makes some of the questionable decision-making that makes some of the plot function actually really make perfect sense. The characters are brilliant, but flawed – and consistently so.
No one in this YA needs to be the chosen one – they can get themselves into plenty of trouble all on their own… and if anything really places them at the center of the adventure, it’s the setting itself. The premise of the Academy itself is especially fantastic.

Despite being 300+ pages, the book is a rapid read. I devoured it in a morning. There’s not a lot of big surprises, and a lot of the story is fairly black and white – the bad guys are the bad guys, the heroes are… stumbling over each other as often as not, while still managing to be well intentioned, and ultimately all bring something to the table. Ultimately, and most importantly, the story is fun.

It’s also well edited, clean, and an easy read.

Reviewers Go Punk: Putting on a pair of Mirrorshades

This week on Reviewers Go Punk, we have Warren C. Bennett with his review of the classic anthology Mirrorshades.  Warren’s story, A Town Called Hero, appeared in Sound and Fury: Shakespeare Goes Punk anthology.  It is his take on Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

(A little disclaimer before going on: Warren is the brother to Brian Bennett who reviewed Snow Crash last week.  Warren is also the one that keeps the site updated and runs the WriterPunk Twitter feed. He is also the one writing these words right now.)

Mirrorshades, Paladin 1989
Mirrorshades, Paladin 1989

 

Mirroshades Review
By Warren C. Bennett

Ask a ‘punk’ genre fan what it means to be punk and you’ll inevitably get as many answers as there are people. Some will mention the style while others will mention the attitude. One group will cling to their steam powered, Victorian era trappings with a mechanical hand while others want only to deal with hacking and pocket sized super computers. To say that the genre known as punk has grown and diversified since the beginning is an understatement. “Whatever” Punk is no longer just an offshoot of science fiction (or speculative fiction, if you prefer) but an entire ecosystems unto themselves.

Sometimes this boggles the mind of someone like me that grew up in the 80’s and was exposed to early cyberpunk masters. I went from five years old to fifteen during those years and read everything I could that was labeled ‘sci-fi.’ Without realizing it, I had mentally ingested many books that are now considered classic punk. Thinking back to my early days as a reader, I can’t help but wonder if the current genre has strayed a bit from those early tales. Although I was a part of this early movements as a reader, mainly through such authors as Greg Bear, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling and the like, I can’t say that I understood every nuance of the pieces I read. That is just an artifact of growing up as a reader. The stories and books often contain more information than a mind is ready to absorb. So I decided to explore the past a bit and read the much lauded and often talked about short story anthology called, in a very 80’s fashion, Mirrorshades.

This is a book for anyone wanting to understand what one fork of the cyberpunk movement was like in its formative years. Bruce Sterling edited this anthology and pulled stories that he thought were the cream of the crop, showing the world his idea of what it meant to be a “cyberpunk.” I’m not sure I always agree with his selections, but this anthology is, at least, an interesting time capsule. For the record, I do recommend anyone that is interested in the history of literary punk to read this anthology. It really shows how far we’ve come and how different early cyberpunk is from what is commonly produced in this modern era.

The beating heart of this anthology can be found in the opening preface. Bruce Sterling does his best to lay out the (at the time) short history of cyberpunk as he knew it. He writes about how cyberpunk is an especially 80’s form of science fiction. He explains about how the digital monstrosities that had become everyday items, such as portable music players and cable TV, mixed with the chaotic nature of modern society helped mold the minds of younger writers. He differentiates the cyberpunk movements from the different sci-fi movements that have come before, such as the new wave and the golden age. I came away from reading this preface with two different thoughts. I wondered if Sterling liked any of the older sci-fi stories and wanted to rebel just for rebellion’s sake. I also wondered what Sterling of the 80’s would think of our current modern era. Some of the worst predictions of those long ago punk writers seem to have come true.

The rest of the anthology is filled with a mix of stories. Some of the writers I’ve heard of and read, like the aforementioned William Gibson and Greg Bear, but some of them I didn’t know or only have vague memories of reading. I found the stories in this volume refreshing, if for the simple reason these cyberpunks didn’t seem to care about modern ideas like political correctness or the politics surrounding such ideas. These stories often reminded me of the punk culture from which the idea of cyberpunk is derived. The stories are often raw and emotional, full of the loud and obnoxious screaming at a society the writers find both fascinating and repulsive. There is an edge to stories like the 400 boys and Solstice, ones that scream into the darkness and expose the true foundations of cyberpunk.

Yet, I wouldn’t consider all the stories in this anthology to really be cyberpunk. The opening salvo, written by one William Gibson and titled The Gernsback Continuum, isn’t really what I’d consider cyberpunk. I believe this is because there is a longing for the thirties and forties that never was in this piece. It seems to be that this is more of a foundational story for what would become known as dieselpunk than cyber. This story centers on the protagonist and how he sees the perfect future as projected by the art deco stylings of yore. The second story of the anthology, titled Snake-Eyes and written by Tom Maddox, also seems less like cyberpunk and more like a traditional sci-fi yarn to me. When I read Snake-Eyes, I immediately thought of Scanners Live in Vain by Cordwainer Smith. Both stories have the same type of context and both have a person that is losing his humanity because of what is plugged inside of him.

The rest of the stories in this collection seem to vary between being traditionally cyberpunk and not-quite-punkish. Or, I should really say, what we of this modern era consider cyberpunk. This anthology makes me think that our ideas of what is cyberpunk and what isn’t may be a bit too narrow now. It seems there are so many punk genres, with term “punk” being added to a wide variety of thoughts and ideas, that what really made cyberpunk great is now watered down a bit. Mirrorshades, despite its mixture of very cyberpunk stories to no-quite-punk, reminds me that there was a time when cyberpunk wasn’t just about style over substance. This anthology left me wondering if we need more of that in the modern cyber/diesel/steam/etc punk era.

Reviewers Go Punk: Snow Crash

Welcome to Reviewers Go Punk, the weekly column in which something gets reviewed by a punk. The weekly punk reviewer is drawn from part of the community that can be found at our Writerpunk group on Facebook.  This is the group where Writerpunk Press was formed and helps push our project forward.  This column won’t just focus on books but on any form of media that has helped influence the steam/diesel/cyber/etc punk culture as we know it.

To kick things off my brother,  Brian Bennett, writes a bit about the influential cyberpunk classic Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson.  I’ve never read the book but it seems I’m missing out on a wild ride…  This man isn’t just my brother, but he is working on a story for our upcoming anthology based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Take it away, Brian! (Caution: This review could contain spoilers for the book. You have been warned.)

Brian-Bennett

Snow Crash Review
By Brian Bennett

I read this book several years ago and I was enamored with its style and complexity. The second time through this book I began actually soaking up a lot of the ideas and different plot line twists I had missed the first time. The book itself is very complex, despite some lack of character development that I think is inherent to the tongue in cheek style used in the creation of the book. For those who love dystopian punk-style books, this should be a reader’s dream novel.

The hero protagonist is named Hiro Protagonist. The world has come apart before the novel commences, and has reformed as a corporate led conglomeration of city-states dominated by commercialized versions of organized crime syndicates. The US government still survives in its own enclave where red tape and odd rules are the norm. The mafia runs pizza delivery with a family flair and a hard edge. In this version of the future people have reverted to their baser beliefs and society accepts rampant racism as part of life. Hiro is a pizza delivery driver for the Mafia. Y.T. is a member of a delivery service that uses skater punks to deliver packages in a timely manner. Virtual Reality is a place called “The Street” that our pizza delivering Hiro helped design in his other life as a hacker and computer coder. Snow Crash is a “virtual drug” that begins to affect life in both the virtual reality of the street and in reality, creating armies of zombie-like people who speak in “tongues” and care for nothing but the “word” brought by the inimitable R. Bob Rife. Hiro and Y.T. meet in the course of their work and form a partnership of sorts that drops them both into a world of Sumerian nam-shub mental viruses and murderous Aleutian nuclear powers. In the virtual world and paralleled in reality the end is near and it takes both Hiro and Y.T. along with all their associates to stop it.

Snowcrash

The technology in this story stretches the imagination. Remembering that this book was written back in 1990 will help suspend disbelief if some of the “technology” seems too far fetched. From nuclear powered dogs to all terrain “smart” wheels to a mobile wheelchair the size of a semi the imagery keeps you reading. The author uses elements of history to concoct an ancient Sumerian virus that can take over the brain of hackers.

My take on this one is that it’s a lighthearted dystopian tale that uses elements of cyberpunk, biopunk, and the survival of everyone after the fall of society as we know it. I enjoyed the read immensely, laughed at the “Feds” who couldn’t write a simple rule change without reams of paper and a half hour read time. Felt for the cybernetic animal who remembered his good girl. Rooted for Hiro as he blindly fumbled his way into saving the world. Y.T. as a character felt wooden to me, and there was no appreciable character development in most characters with the exception of Raven, who started as a monster, but by the end you understood why he had become the nuke toting killer for hire. All in all I recommend this novel to anyone who loves punk tales and can suspend disbelief for 470 pages.

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Thanks for the write-up, Brian!  Can’t wait to see what you think of other books in the punk grenes.  We’ll have to get you in for an interview one day.  Look for more Reviewers to go Punk every Monday here on Punkwriters.com.