Friday, March 27, 2015

Steampunk Cats! (And a Little Dog, Too.)

Sara N.

Lucy Reynolds Art via Pinterest 

Steampunk week is coming to an end here at Stellar Four.

We've recommended things to read.

We've covered steampunk styles for ladies and gents.

And now we're here to talk to you about steampunking your cat.

OK, maybe don't actually put a little top hat on your cat's head. You'll probably get scratched (and you'd probably deserve it). Plus, kitty doesn't don't want to be covered in cogs, although to be fair, who would?

Nevertheless, here are a few things you can try or buy, all in the feline/steam-powered genre:



If you really love your cats, you'll build them this steampunk cat transit system based on the tutorial posted at Houzz. The materials are primarily available at a well-stocked hardware store, and the website includes templates that woodworkers can use to shape plywood into brackets and cogs. Don't your kittehs deserve this cunning run?







I adore with this necklace and the cat it showcases. He's one cool customer. Available at AliExpress.



Steampunk cat duvet cover? Sure! Why not! Available from Society6.




I'm not certain why he needs a monocle and googles, but he's cute either way. Tank for sale at Plasticland.com.



This one's got a pipe, too. Drinking glasses from CafePress.





Clockwork cat is awesome. Necklace also from CafePress.





These cabochons feature steampunk kitty heads for your jewelry-making and scrapbooking needs. By Etsy seller BellesBeadSupplies.




And oh, OK, I suppose some of you enjoy dogs, too. I'll never get tired of the way their owners casually humiliate them with costumes. Who's a good boy? He's a good boy!

Via Etsy seller Hundchen.

If you're now in the steampunk mood, click here for more adorable pets in costumes, plus suggestions for how to make and where to buy! And if you want to feast your eyes on more steamed-up cats, DeviantArt won't let you down.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

A "Peculiar" Interview with Philippa Ballantine

Earlier this week, Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris helped us celebrate Steampunk Week with some spectacular fashion. They are currently on a blog tour in anticipation of the release of their latest Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences adventure, THE DIAMOND CONSPIRACY. Today, Philippa joins us to answer some questions about writing as an author team, what's up next for both authors, and where steampunk might be going.

KF: People talk about "hybrid authors" - authors who are both self & traditionally published. You've taken this to another level with your books, short stories, podcasts, book trailers (that are magnificent little movies). What else do you have planned? How do you keep all of the balls in the air, juggle all of the different media?
PB: Both Tee Morris and I are working on our own separate projects. We have novels in urban fantasy, epic fantasy and historical fantasy in the works.

As far as the Ministry goes, we are working on book five, and we plan six books in all to tell Wellington and Eliza's stories. After that we are thinking about other novels set in the Ministry world, maybe for Sophia del Morte, and the team of Bruce and Brandon Hill. Those are just ideas pinging around our heads right now.

We are about to launch Season Four of the podcast anthology Tales from the Archives, and we're really excited about this seasons stories. Tee has been working hard on editing the Diamond Conspiracy book trailer, and that should be live right now!


We have learned through trial and tribulation how best to co-ordinate our traditional publishing requirements and our independent works. We've painted one whole wall in our office to make it a whiteboard, and we keep our whole year goals and plans there. It really makes a big difference to have it all laid out like that, and to help stop any arguments. Plus, wiping things off the board is very satisfying.

We share an online calendar, as well as writing things on our whiteboard. I confess sometimes we try and cram too much into a year, but we're trying to keep everything ticking along, while not saying no too often.

KF: I grew up on Wild Wild West and the Avengers, and this series has always has a nostalgic tug for me back to those roots. What were some of your influences?

PB: Tee has massive love for the Wild Wild West (the TV show) and the Avengers. The funny thing is I hadn't seen either! I guess New Zealand wasn't quite as up to date- though once he showed me them I really enjoyed the series.

I know that 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is one of Tee's other big influences. I understand they have a theme park in Japan with a full scale Nautilus, and I know he'd run off there given half the chance.
My personal influences are historical. I am mad for the Victorian time period, since it was such a time of change in both industry and society. It also gives me a good reason to spend a lot of time staring at old photographs, which as a former librarian I did quite a bit of.

KF: As an author duo, how do you work together on the books? You're also accomplished solo authors. How does it compare?

PB: There is a real joy in working with another person. Tee and I after four books have got over most of the hurdles that we had when we first started off. Back then, I would write Eliza, Tee would write Wellington, and we would take turns writing the interludes. Then we would turn around and edit each others work. After awhile however, we ended up writing scenes more organically, and not so restricted to male/female roles. I guess that came with a certain level of comfort, trust and knowledge of each other and the books.

There are many great thing about working with another person. If you get stuck, you have a person to turn to. Writing dialogue is a breeze if you essentially just act it out and write it down. However best of all I have found is the brainstorming sessions. There is a great whizz-bang of ideas bouncing between you and your co-writer. The only down-side is really if you disagree with something they want to do. We've only had a handful of situations like that in the course of four books, and the person that wins is the one that comes up with the best justification for what they want. Tee and I are probably running about half and half as far as winning goes!

Writing solo projects you miss all that, but there is a certain freedom of being totally in control of a project yourself.

Personally, I want to keep doing both to get the best of each.

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The Immortal Empire

by Megan S.

Please don't judge the series by it's poor fashion choice on the covers.
Kate Locke's Immortal Empire is not your typical Steampunk adventure. It's so much better. It begins in 2012.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

End of a Steampunk Era

It’s the end of an era for one of my favorite steampunk book series. The steampunk world in Bec McMaster’s London Steampunk series has become one of my absolute favorites. It’s lush, dark and richly realized. The characters were all incredible and the series took us through every walk of life, from the most elegant of lords to the most downtrodden of orphans. I’m also a total sucker for vampires (ahaha, see what I did there?) and the London Steampunk series had some of the best ones I’ve read in years.

Alas, it is time to say goodbye.

The final book in the London Steampunk series, Silk & Steam, came out earlier this month and I was both delighted and gutted to dive into it. I am so overwhelmingly thankful to Bec McMaster because the final volume completely exceeded my expectations and gave me a certain peace over the end. Characters had resolutions, plot lines were tied up, and we finally learned answers to some interesting questions the series teased along.

McMaster says this is her last London Steampunk volume with her publisher, Sourcebooks Casablanca, but she has more stories she wants to tell in the world and may revisit it in a self published way. If she does, I will be over the moon. If she doesn’t, I think I will still be okay. She gave us a great resolution to the series and everything I wanted happened. It was an excellent way to end things. This series ended with a bang!

Silk & Steam finally gives us the story of Leo Barrons, one of my favorite side characters. We also learn the story of one of the most enigmatic characters, Lady Aramina. A woman turned into a Blue Blood (vampire) is nearly unheard of in this world and Mina had a will of steel to keep the power she has earned. Letting Leo Barrons into her life was a risk and it paid off in spades for the reader.

The Blue Blood prince consort is going insane and is beginning to remove people on his council who stand in his way of basically enslaving the human population for blood. Working with the Queen, Mina does everything she can to stop him. Leo is also working to overthrow the prince consort with the help of Blade and the other people in the Shade. The Nighthawks are on their side as well and everyone knows all out war is coming sooner rather than later.

Leo and Mina were electric together. After suffering great personal loss, Mina begins to lose her exterior of ice and help Leo realize he can rebuild a life for himself. They argue and snark and wind around each other like ill tempered cats. Their romance builds as the stakes for the future of their city build too.

It was good to revisit some favorite characters. Blade and Honoria feature prominently and we see a grown up Charlie. If McMaster was going to do a 6th book or a Kindle novella (oh please oh please) I think it would involve Charlie and his lady friend Lark. It’s clear she is setting them up together and after this book I think it would be interesting to explore where that would go. (Edit: McMaster said she's writing another volume! YAY!)

Silk & Steam is the culmination of five books worth of groundwork. Plots started in book one come to fruition and we finally see how everything shakes out. There are some casualties but far less than I feared (seriously, during battle scenes I basically could not breathe. I was terrified Blade would die!). In short, this was a perfect end to the series and I mentally cheered with delight when the mad prince consort finally got what was coming to him. 

This was a fitting end to a favorite series and I honestly could not ask for more. Five full length novels and two novellas is a fine body of work for a series. These are characters I will keep with me always and I know I will revisit these books often. 

Thank you for the London Steampunk series, Bec McMaster. It was incredible.
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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Guest Post: Steampunk Fashion for Ladies and Gents

Today authors Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris are here discussing steampunk fashion. They write the very fun and action packed Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series. Diabolical villains, gadgets, mysterious organizations, gadgets, secret agents, fans of steampunk (or any) adventure should find out more. The latest book in the series, THE DIAMOND CONSPIRACY, is out March 31.

Take it away, Philippa!

Steampunk has an easy to spot look, and if you go to any genre convention, not even a specific steampunk one, you are bound to see it. In fact, you might spot us!

I write the steampunk series the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences with my husband, Tee Morris, and both of us enjoy dressing up for conventions and appearances.

In fact I may spend more money buying shiny and beautiful costume pieces in the dealer room than we make in books at the event. I like to think of it as being a steampunk fashion patron.

For women, steampunk can be any number of things. Some prefer something closer to the historically accurate Victorian look, complete with bustles, petticoats and beautiful fabric. While some people might have the idea that sepia and plain tones were favored by the Victorians, they actually loved color! So you are likely to see crimsons, vivid purples, and all sorts of patterns on display at conventions. Costumer Aleta Pardalis shows this in her steampunk take on Rowena Ravenclaw.


Other ladies of steampunk like to lean more heavily on the punk. You will see hitched up skirts, trousers, and even exposed corsets in this set. The characters they like to embody could be sky pirates, mechanics, mad scientists, or maybe the odd secret agent. Christine Payton cosplays as our character Eliza D Braun, in all of her many guises


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Monday, March 23, 2015

Welcome to Steampunk Week

By William Tung from USA (SDCC13 - Steampunk DC  Uploaded by daisydeee) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Stellar Four is back after a much needed Spring Break and we have fun times ahead. Today we kick off Steampunk Week! We will have a guest post on steampunk fashion, book reviews, an author interview and more.

Like goggles, tinkering, trains, dirigibles, madcap fun, alt-history, gadgets, parasols, and pausing in the midst of the action for a strong cuppa tea? Grab your top hat and strap yourself in for steampunk shenanigans here at Stellar Four!
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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Broken Hearted: RIP Terry Pratchett


It didn't take long once I finally hit the internet today to find news of Terry Pratchett's passing. I am heartbroken. I didn't just enjoy the Discworld novels (although I did find them hilarious and engrossing). I didn't just do a little happy dance every time Death, Vimes or Susan entered the scene (although these instances filled me with boundless joy). Pratchett's work always hit me right in the feels and gave words that best expressed my own personal philosophy of the world. The scene between Death and Susan in HOGFATHER where he talks about the "little lies" we humans need. It is one that I find myself re-reading more often than any other. Funny, poignant, irreverent, true, I will keep Pratchett's books in my heart and library for the rest of my life.

If you've never experienced Terry Pratchett, I hope that you give his books a try. If you have a need, like me, to create your own Terry Pratchett collection, I can think of no better way to remember an author than to buy their books.

Amazon | B&N | BAM | Kobo | Powell's | Indiebound

I'm going to share some of my favorite Pratchett quotes. Please add yours in the comments, or talk about your favorite book.

“Time is a drug. Too much of it kills you.” 
― Terry PratchettSmall Gods

“And what would humans be without love?"
RARE, said Death.” 
― Terry PratchettSourcery

“A good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read.” 
― Terry PratchettGuards! Guards!

And finally,

“All right," said Susan. "I'm not stupid. You're saying humans need... fantasies to make life bearable."

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

"Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—"

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THELITTLE LIES.

"So we can believe the big ones?"

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

"They're not the same at all!"

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THENSHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME...SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

"Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what's the point—"

MY POINT EXACTLY.” 
― Terry PratchettHogfather

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

More Holmes on the Horizon


My first Sherlock.

I think I've always loved Sherlock Holmes.

I started with Jeremy Brett's brilliant portrayal and eagerly watched PBS Mystery to devour every episode.

I even mostly liked Young Sherlock Holmes. (I was young, it was the 80s, late 80s by the time I saw this, and I freaking love Sherlock Holmes, okay?)


Of course, Benedict Cumberbatch's take had me Sher-locked from the first second.

Today I saw a trailer for Mr. Holmes, a movie starring Sir Ian McKellan as our favorite detective. We don't get a lot of detail in the trailer, but I don't care. An actor I hold in high esteem playing one of my favorite characters? Yes, please!


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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The First Update: The 52 Book Challenge!

Fellow book lovers, it's time to tell us where you are in the 52 book challenge!

This is the 10th week of the year and spring is in sight! Well, almost, tell that to the snowstorm banging on my door. That means you should be 10 or more books into the challenge!

I just finished book 10 so I'm on pace, but I will need to pick up speed if I want to surpass 52. My nightly re-read hasn't gone well and I've missed a bunch of days. The weather is really getting me down.

So tell me where you are in your quest to read 52 books this year!
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Monday, March 2, 2015

There's Something Fantastic About Wales

by Megan S.


Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus! (That's Welsh for Happy St. David's Day.)*  It's still March 1 as I write this and I'm stuffed with griddle cakes and Welsh Rabbit,** eaten while celebrating the day with my Welsh-American mother.  My mom's family hails from the small country of rolling green hills and dramatic rocky shores that have inspired countless fantastical legends over millennia.

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