Steampunk Emporium eBook Review

Steampunk Emporium

In honor of National Craft Month, I thought I’d review one of my beading e-books, Steampunk Emporium. Now, for bead books I prefer a PDF downloadable format. I don’t feel that beading instructions can be correctly relayed with text only in an ePub file. The file does come with chapter bookmarks, but isn’t broken down further than that and the page numbers aren’t clickable. For ease-of-use, it’s best to read the Table of Contents then go to the appropriate chapter. A more hierarchical breakdown would be ideal for me.

Steampunk Emporium is a book that offers five main themes for jewelry-making: Atlantis Expedition, Zeppelin Pirate Attack!, Absinthe Fairy Interlude, Jurassic Valley Exploration, and Clockwork Tea Party. Within each of these categories, there are four or five projects ranging from mixed media designs to wirework. The skills required to make each piece also vary. For example, the Azure Cog Earrings employ simpler wireworking skills than the Adventurer’s Fob Watch, which definitely necessitates a familiarity with polymer clay.

So who do I feel would best benefit from this book? I think anyone who is involved in steampunk costuming would really like the variety of designs. For the average beader, the materials required are a little more involved. The components required for these pieces are not inexpensive, but the plus side to this is that each piece is unique and every step is outlined with a photo. Even if your polymer smiley faces, so to speak, wind up like Dali-esque melty faces, the photos will help, so I don’t think you’d be buying materials for the sake of having them.

The author, Jema Emilly Ladybird Hewitt, thought of everything. There is flash fiction at the beginning of each chapter, an explanation describing what steampunk is, additional resources to explore with clickable links to websites, a glossary, and a guide to working with vintage items that includes taking watches apart. It is themed very specifically to steampunk.

If you’re into steampunk — especially costuming — I do think this 130 page eBook worth a buy for the ideas that aren’t run-of-the-mill. Just keep in mind that the digital functionality of the PDF isn’t optimal.

Steampunk Emporium is available at DriveThruFiction.com.

Keanu’s The Man from Tai Chi

Big Giant Sword Fighting Avatar

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I popped in The Man from Tai Chi this past weekend. I really love watching martial arts movies — the good, the bad, and the ugly. ‘Course, it should be said I watch a lot of these for fun. I’m so clueless I can’t recognize what’s kung fu and what’s not; it’s a touch embarrassing as I’ve always admired the art. But, as a writer myself, I do like a good story and a tightly shot one at that. Having seen so many of these films, I have certain expectations when I watch these movies–especially if they’re being shot by an American director.

The Man From Tai Chi surprised me in a lot of ways because I felt it was a solid movie that played with (and expanded) certain tropes in a great blend of East-meets-West. To me, Keanu Reeves seemed more confident acting on screen than he had been in years. The casting was great, the costuming was flawless, and many of the screen shots were extremely subtle. There was a marked balance of opposites throughout the film to further the point of the story. Rich versus poor. Passion versus stillness. Power versus control. And, of course, the main character was aptly named Tiger.

Other than the movie’s title, I liked this conspiratorial film. It’s a very tightly woven narrative and I feel the story/theme was respectful of what’s preceded it in the genre. I also really appreciate seeing female characters in roles that aren’t marginalized and overly romanticized as well.

Overall, I think this was a solid directorial debut and I’m curious to see if Reeves is going to take the plunge again. Dare I say… I’d love to see him direct a version of Blood that’s more in line with the original? Or The Last Airbender? It’s nice to see an American director “get” the genre and translate it appropriately.

Official Trailer below.

    Mood: Obsessing about words
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: A few.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: 30. What. Again?!?!
    In My Ears: Nuts and honey.
    Game Last Played: Sonic All Star Racing Transformed
    Book Last Read: Lovecraft’s Monsters anthology
    Movie Last Viewed: Game of Thrones Season 3
    Latest Artistic Project: *Still* *still* *still* need to take pictures… It’s on the list!
    Latest Fiction/Comic Release: Last Man Zombie Standing
    Latest Game Release: Freedom Flyer
    What I’m Working On: Primarily tie-in games work and novels.


The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey Review

The Hobbit Gandalf Avatar

I promised you a review of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, so here it is! If you followed my blog last week, you know I spent a few days training for the midnight showing at our local Sundance theater. I bought the tickets COMPLETELY by accident; my brain misplaced the p.m. with a.m. So, there was a fair bit of juggling (and caffeination) involved to ensure that I’d be awake to drive at 3:30 a.m.

The theatre was packed. The lines jammed. There were three or four showings and all were mostly full. I, along with my fellow moviegoers, were caffeinated and totally psyched for this film. Other than a few cues of inappropriate laughter during the previews, all of which were shushed by the more somber folks around them, we were set. And then? It starts. A familiar song. A comfortable character — the version of Bilbo we’ve seen in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. A familiar face. It’s Frodo as we remember him in the beginning.

Pay attention. This scene is important, for this reveals Jackson’s intent. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is a true movie prequel. The film (with all its 48 fps glory) comes first, before the book. The Hobbit is reference material, but this is NOT a tried and true mirror of what happened there. The reason why this is a trilogy, is because the story will deepen and darken as time goes on.

But it doesn’t begin that way. And for some, this is why it feels anti-climactic. The events take place 60 years before Fellowship. Sauron has not regained his power — he’s not even close yet. The Nazgul? Don’t exist in the same form. This movie is where it all begins — but it can’t start with the epic journey we know is coming. It has to start somewhere. The One Ring wasn’t found intentionally. It was a freak accident.

I feel that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey emphasizes what Middle Earth was like before the shadows crept in and took over a corner of the world. This is more high fantasy, more adventure, more day-to-day/hack-and-slash, goblins and orcs and convoluted threats shaped around loss. The real story here isn’t about the One Ring, though that will likely emerge as the films continue, this is about the dwarves, led by Thorin Oakenshield.

I loved the story as it was presented here and feel that we’ll see more “reveals” in true prequel fashion as the trilogy progresses. This is still Middle Earth, and still the same setting responsible for the birth of other fantasy stories, games, etc. Tried and true? No, this is not a direct translation. But I’m okay with that. After all, what movie is? This is still Tolkien; and while it may be accurate (e.g. pulling material from other sources) it’s simply not precise.

I’m not sure I’ll do the midnight showing for the second film, but I’d prefer to see it on the larger screen. It’s a satisfying adventure on its own; I’m curious to see how Jackson will progress the One Ring story arc through the next two films on top of that.

    Mood: Orc Smash!
    Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: At the moment? None.
    Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: SNOWPOCALYPSE SHOVELING
    In My Ears: Buffy. Yep, she’s singing.
    Game Last Played: Dragon Age: Awakenings
    Movie Last Viewed: The Hobbit
    Latest Artistic Project: Holiday gifts
    Latest Release: “The Button” We Are Dust anthology

Social Media, Online Personas and Criss Angel’s BeLIEve

Last night, a friend and I went to see Criss Angel‘s BeLIEve, which was under the umbrella of Cirque du Soleil. (Side note: his site opens with pop-ups and auto-play. Erg. You’ve been warned.) Since I had received a press release through horror webzine FlamesRising.com, I thought I could review it for the site, but I can’t.

Until the show started, everything related to Criss Angel’s BeLIEve came across as dark, moody and Victorian. Steampunk rabbits adorned the stage. Strange smoke filled the air. The program book has costumes of crows, dolls and odd bunny rabbits. Criss, who normally has more of a casual persona, is dressed up more as a goth than a Californian in the press kits and on the website. So, I was expecting to attend a surreal performance that took my breath away. Instead, we were regaled with slapstick comedy and an extension of Criss’s online and television presence through video clips, audience interaction, personal stories and memorabilia. There was no mystery, other than the illusions, which forced me to focus on the beats of the show. I could “see” how the show was constructed and I felt as if I was staring backstage. Something that–as many of my fellow authors, musicians, artists and actors know–can be a death knell for any stage performance if not handled carefully.

Reviews online reflected the audience’s disappointment as well. (Note to self: always read reviews.) Words like “self-indulgent” were used and other various unpleasantries. I walked out of the theatre feeling bad for Criss, because on the surface it seemed as if his original show was too dark and too edgy. “Quite possibly,” I thought, “the stage audience might not understand something that unusual. With the economy being the way it is, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the show had to be “dumbed down” for public consumption.”

Afterward, I found myself thinking about how this show is an excellent example of what happens when an artist is constrained by his persona. Criss is very active with all the right tools; YouTube!, Facebook, etc. He’s has MINDFREAK, which is his own (for lack of a better description) syndicated magic reality TV show. All of these things add up to create a contemporary (magic) success story–especially online where it’s easy to “ooo” and “aaah” at someone walking on water or transferring scorpions into someone else’s mouth.

Take those same elements and allow people to seem them offline, and they don’t translate the same way. Those same anecdotes and videos come across as arrogant or selfish, regardless of how many platitudes we’re given. Why? Because the dynamic is different. The television and the internet are such unique, individual experiences that it’s difficult to recreate that extremely personalized touch in a room filled with hundreds of people.

Anyone who has performed on stage for an audience, speaking/singing/playing or otherwise, understands that the dynamic in a theater is no longer about the “I.” It’s about the “we.” The crowd mentality. It’s about fostering the crowd’s emotions in a natural way than holding back performances unless we cheer. It’s about drawing the audience into an experience rather than sharing the experiences of the performer.

What I just said is counter-intuitive to what many of us are taught about our online personas and writing platforms. We share online to get viewers and readers. We get personal by offering anecdotes to be able to relate to people. This doesn’t always work offline, which is why I wanted to talk about this particular show. Criss is obviously very talented and popular online, but right now I’m not sure he’ll be around for the long haul. I felt that BeLIEve was a chance for Criss to prove his versatility and recreate that Victorian-era feel with the help of Cirque du Soleil. The online thing Criss couldn’t escape, was his online persona.

The next time you’re thinking about your online persona or your writer’s platform, I hope that you consider how your online presence translates to your offline (analog) persona as well. At the end of the day, it’s a lot like dating. Give everything away, and you’ll have nothing left to give.

Reading a Novel on the iPad

Last weekend we headed down to Chicago for a road trip and I had the chance to sit back and read a full-length novel on the iPad. The experience was pretty interesting, because this was a case where I was simply reading for pleasure.

What I Liked

I enjoyed being able to make the font larger and smaller and change the typeface. For whatever reason, I felt that the larger the text was, the easier the book was to read. I also liked that the book automatically re-calculated the number of pages depending upon whether I held it landscape or portrait, too. I could easily see where I was in the book and how far I had to go. When I needed to pause because I was doing something else, the book automatically opened to where I left off.

The battery life was great, though. I had the iPad on for about 3 hours and I never had an interruption in the actual reading experience.

What I didn’t Like

Just like most vampires, direct sunlight really killed the experience for me. Also, the iPad screen had a nice consistent page-turning smudge from where I was flipping through pages. Yes, I could have “double-tapped” to turn the page, but I preferred actual page turning to that. The screen really made an impact, because it smudged so easily any time the light hit it the wrong way I started to feel like I need to keep cleaning the screen.

The Verdict?

I would use the iPad to view digital comics, because I feel that they actually render better on the device than in print. (You can download free comics and check them out for yourself through DriveThruComics.com.) For trade paperbacks and other books, I would probably use the iPad in a pinch or plan on using it on a trip if I needed to bring several books with me.

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