Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Dieselpunk Book Review: Bloodlist by P.N. Elrod

In my last blog post I wrote about the Vampire Files Vol. 1 by P.N. Elrod. In this post I review the first book in the collection: Bloodlist.

Set in the Windy City during the Great Depression, Bloodlist follows ex-newspaper reporter now private detective and newly turned vampire Jack Fleming. The novel begins shortly after his death and resurrection. We then follow Jack as he tries to adjust to being one of the undead while at the same time solving his own murder without dying permanently in the process.


Without a doubt, Elrod has the pulp noir genre down perfectly. Written in the first-person it has the feel of a Dashiell Hammett novel. The banter is perfect and the characters are well-written. Bloodlist has all of the usual suspects. Along with the detective it has the loyal sidekick, the vicious gangsters, and the gorgeous dame.

Of course, the heart of the story is the protagonist Jack Fleming, a hard-boiled detective who honed his skills as a reporter on the streets of New York before moving to Chicago. Even though he’s now a vampire he hasn’t lost his humanity, which leads to internal conflicts and doubts. Is he still a man or is he now a monster?

Elrod take on the vampire myths is quite interesting. Her vampire is an interesting mix of elements retained from the classic while subtracting some and adding new. This mixture results in a creature with some intriguing powers yet also some serious weakness.

P.N. Elrod, author
While I admit that I’m a fast reader I will say that I finished Bloodlist in record time. Looking back, I would say that the main reason I got through it so quickly was largely because it was so well written. The story was fast paced and fun. Plus, Elrod’s writing flows naturally and smoothly.

Bloodlist is a great Dieselpunk novel. Even if one isn’t a fan of vampire novels anyone who enjoys a good pulp noir will enjoy Bloodlist. I look forward to reading more of the Vampire Files series by P.N. Elrod.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Vampire Files by P.N. Elrod

I love it when I come across fresh Dieselpunk. However, it’s frustrating when I learn of that what I thought was fresh had actually been around for decades and I just wasn't aware of it. This applies to a series of novels I've just discovered.

Imagine Sam Spade as a vampire in 1930s Chicago. That’s the premise of the Dieselpunk fiction series The Vampire Files by P.N. Elrod. The first book of the series was Bloodlist, which was published in 1990:

I, VAMPIRE

I've always had a weak spot for strange ladies. One very beautiful girl had even warned me that she was--get this--a vampire. But did I listen?

No.

Well, before you know it, I'm being chased by an ugly thug with a gun, and a bullet blasts its way through my back, and--believe it or not nothing happened. I survived!

How?

You guessed it. I, Jack Fleming, ace reporter, have been transformed into ... a vampire! Which has its advantages. You never die, you never grow old, you sleep all day, and best of all ...

You can hunt down your own murderer.

The Vampire Files Volume. 1 is a collection of the first three books in the Vampire Files series: Bloodlist, Lifeblood, and Bloodcircle. I’ve just started the Vol 1 and I will say that I’m enjoying it greatly. Elrod has the pulp noir style down, the mystery is intriguing, and his take on the vampire myth is very creative.

I plan to write a full review of Bloodlist once I’ve finished.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

New Dieselpunk Games

Dieselpunk started life as games (Children of the Sun, Lemuria) This tradition of dieselpunk gaming continues today. Here are two new dieselpunk games on the market that my readers might enjoy. One is a Decopunk game named AIRHEART and the other a Gothic Deco game named Bitter Tides.

AIRHEART
The headline at Gamasutra reads, “Captivating diesel-punk adventure AIRHEART set to soar onto PC and PS4 later this month with additional consoles to follow”. The site describes the game as follows,
AIRHEART is a stunning diesel-punk action game in which players become Amelia, a young pilot living in the cloud city of Granaria who wishes to one day reach the world’s edge. In order to survive and thrive in the floating city, Amelia must take to the air in her customizable plane to go sky fishing, avoiding pirates and many other dangers along the way.


Learn more about the game at http://airheartgame.com/

Bitter Tides
The headline at the website One Angry Gamer reads, “BITTER TIDES, DIESELPUNK-HORROR STEALTH GAME TARGETS OCTOBER 2019 RELEASE.” The site describes the game as follows,
Imagine the upgrade system from BioShock, the stealth mechanics of Amnesia, and the horrors from the deep taken right out of Lovecraftian lore and slathered over a richly rendered 3D world steeped in a dieselpunk motif. What you end up with is Bottom Feeders’ highly anticipated indie-horror game, Bitter Tides.


Learn more about the game at https://www.bittertides.com/

Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Chairman of the Board Speaks

On November 9th, 1945, RKO Pictures released a short film featuring Frank Sinatra titled The House I Live In. The film received an Honorary Academy Award and a special Golden Globe Award in 1946. Most recently, in 2007, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".



In The House I Live In, Frank Sinatra, apparently playing himself, takes a break from a recording session and steps outside to smoke a cigarette. In the alley behind the recording studio he sees a gang of young boys chasing another and intervenes, first with dialogue, then with a short speech followed by a song.

Upon viewing one will see that this short film is as important and timely today as it was in 1945.

Therefore, I now turn control of my blog over to the Chairman of the Board for a very important message…

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Wiremux on YouTube

Previously, I’ve written about a subgenre of Dieselpunk music called ‘Dark Cabaret’. Wikipedia defines it as, “a particular musical genre which draws on the aesthetics of the decadent, risqué German Weimar-era cabarets, burlesque and vaudeville shows with the stylings of post-1970s goth and punk music.”

For being such a small indie genre there are a surprising number of bands to listen to. Wikipedia lists approximately 60 different Dark Cabaret bands. This, of course, means there are many more out there.

Where does one begin to listen to Dark Cabaret? Good luck on finding a local radio station with it. And who wants to just blindly dump money into downloads or CDs without knowing what you're getting? The Wiremux channel on YouTube is the solution.



Wiremux has several choices for Dark Cabaret as well as Noir. Each set runs from forty-five minutes to over an hour of music. One will find a wide range of songs by a large variety of artists.


Not in the mood for Dark Cabaret? Wiremux also has other Dieselpunk subgenres such as Swing and Electro Swing.

Just who is this mysterious Wiremux that gives us such great selections of hard to find tunes? According to the Wiremux YouTube homepage,

I create music playlists as a hobby and upload them so that people who share my musical taste can listen to them online. I do not monetize my music playlists and I have never earned money with this YouTube account. I do not have any copyright claims on my playlists, nor do I own anything that's in them. All songs I upload belong to the artists who perform/write them.

I highly recommend the Wiremux channel and blog.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Gothic Dieselpunk Movies

Back in January, I wrote about a new Dieselpunk flavor or subgenre that I called Gothic Dieselpunk. In it, I defined Gothic Dieselpunk as “A subclass of Dark Dieselpunk that emphasizes the gothic or the macabre.”

Recently I came across a YouTube video titled, “10 Old Movies Too Disturbing For Mainstream Audiences.” This video just screamed Gothic Dieselpunk to me.

A little shy of 15 minutes running time this video is a well-made review of 10 classic movies most of which pre-date 1950. And just as the title says, most of them are dark, bizarre and disturbing.

Needless to say, this video is NSFW. Plus, it has images and subjects that some might find disturbing.



I'd like to highlight three of the movies in this video.

Freaks (1932)
According to the Atlanta-based indie filmmaker, Bret Wood for TCM.com,
In writing about film, one tries to avoid labeling any film as "unique." However, there has never been, there will likely never be, a film quite like Tod Browning's Freaks (1932). Set in a European freak show, cast with authentic human oddities from throughout North America, Freaks presents a side of circus life seldom witnessed on film. But what is more fascinating, these diminutive, misshapen and misunderstood carny denizens play out a diabolical fable of lust, murder and an unspeakably shocking revenge. Although many cities and viewers responded to the "freaks" with sheer disgust and moral outrage, Browning is completely sympathetic to them, and allows them to share the same emotions (love, lust, jealousy) and perform the same deeds (sexual banter, murder, marriage) as their glamorous counterparts.

I highly recommend the Dangerous Minds web site "Gorgeous cast portraits from Tod Browning’s ‘Freaks’ (1932)"

Freaks was an inspiration for HBO's Dieselpunk series Carnivale. In 1994 Freaks was selected for the National Film Registry archives, and now enjoys both cult and canon status.


The Man Who Laughs (1928)
Back in 2004, the Roger Ebert wrote,
Movie villains smile so compulsively because it creates a creepy disconnect between their mouth and their eyes. Imagine, however, a good man, condemned to smile widely for an entire lifetime. Such a creature would be bullied as a child and shunned as an adult. "The Man Who Laughs" (1928), one of the final treasures of German silent Expressionism, is about such a man. His name is Gwynplaine. His father was a nobleman. Orphaned as a child, he is captured by outlaws who use a knife to carve his face into a hideous grin. Disfigured, alone, he rescues a baby girl, and together they are raised by a fatherly vaudeville producer. As adults, they star in the producer's sideshow and fall in love. Because she is blind, she does not know about his grin.

Fans of the comic book character Batman would recognize Conrad Veidt’s character Gwynplaine for he was the inspiration for the villain The Joker. Bob Kane, the creator of Batman, explained in a 1994 interview:

Bill Finger and I created the Joker. Bill was the writer. Jerry Robinson came to me with a playing card of the Joker. That’s the way I sum it up. But he looks like Conrad Veidt – you know, the actor in The Man Who Laughs… So Bill Finger had a book with a photograph of Conrad Veidt and showed it to me and said, “Here’s the Joker.”



Haxen (1922)
According to Jeff Stafford for TCM.com,
Presented in seven parts, Haxan opens with the chapter "Sources," which presents the human conditions that allowed witchcraft hysteria to grow and run wild during the Middle Ages, and moves on to Chapter 2, "1488," which explores and dramatizes numerous rituals and myths about witches with the aid of some striking special effects. Chapter 3, "The Trials," and Chapter 4, "The Torture," have a disturbing intensity due to Christensen's unsparing depiction of how a villager's family is systemically destroyed by false accusations of witchcraft. While many of the persecuted were elderly women whose greatest misfortune was being infirm, mentally ill or physically repulsive, the young were no less suspect and just as likely to be tortured or burned at the stake as we learn in Chapter 5, "Sinful Thoughts." One also shudders at the insidious devices on display and put into action in the name of drawing confessions from so-called witches in the section entitled "Techniques." In the final chapter, Christensen draws parallels between this dark time when ignorance and superstition reigned and his own, supposedly more enlightened era. Viewers will also be interested to know that the director himself appears as His Satanic Majesty in the movie.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Coming to America

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” - Franklin D. Roosevelt

Immigration is a major political issue today in America. However, this is far from the first time Americans have debated this issue. For the first half of the existence of the US, there were no immigration laws. Walk off the boat and the moment your feet hit the shore you could be an American. No papers needed and no questions asked.

The first Federal bill governing immigration was passed in the late 1800s. The Page Law of 1875 was decidedly racist in that it was meant to reduce immigration of women from Asia. The second law was the equally racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was just as the name implied. Also in 1882 was the Immigration Act, which prohibited the entry of “any convict, lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge.”

As horrible as these three bills were they didn’t impact the majority of people coming to America. For most, all they had to do was to get to the US. Things began to change during the Diesel Era and again race played a major role. It was during the 1920s we first have the existence of 'legal' immigration.

Nativist Political Cartoon - 1921

The Immigration Act of 1917 was one of the first major immigration laws with wide reaching implications. This law included a literacy test, which required reading short passages in any language, and if a man was literate and his wife and children weren’t, they all still earned access to the country. It was thought that the law would reduce the number of new arrivals (mainly from eastern and southern Europe) by more than 40 percent. In reality, only 1,450 people of 800,000 immigrants between 1920 and 1921 were excluded on the basis of literacy.

The legislation with the biggest impact was the National Origins Act of 1924. The law was primarily aimed at further decreasing immigration of Southern Europeans, countries with Roman Catholic majorities, Eastern Europeans, Arabs, and Jews. Virtually all Asians were forbidden from immigrating to America under the Act.
A group of Chinese and Japanese women and children wait to be processed as they are held in a wire mesh enclosure at the Angel Island Internment barracks in the late 1920s. AP

The Immigration Act made permanent the basic limitations on immigration into the United States established in 1921 and modified the National Origins Formula established then. In conjunction with the Immigration Act of 1917, it governed American immigration policy until the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which revised it completely.

For the next four years, until June 30, 1927, the 1924 Act set the annual quota of any nationality at 2% of the number of foreign-born persons of such nationality resident in the United States in 1890. That revised formula reduced total immigration from 357,803 in 1923–24 to 164,667 in 1924–25. The law's impact varied widely by country. Immigration from Great Britain and Ireland fell 19%, while immigration from Italy fell more than 90%.

Newspaper headline from 1921

The Act established preferences under the quota system for certain relatives of U.S. residents, including their unmarried children under 21, their parents, and spouses aged 21 and over. It also preferred immigrants aged 21 and over who were skilled in agriculture, as well as their wives and dependent children under age 16. Non-quota status was accorded to wives and unmarried children under 18 of U.S. citizens; natives of Western Hemisphere countries, with their families; non-immigrants; and certain others. Subsequent amendments eliminated certain elements of this law's inherent discrimination against women.

The 1924 Act also established the "consular control system" of immigration, which divided responsibility for immigration between the State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. It mandated that no alien should be allowed to enter the United States without a valid immigration visa issued by an American consular officer abroad.

Health inspection of immigrants at Ellis Island in 1921

It provided that no alien ineligible to become a citizen could be admitted to the United States as an immigrant. This was aimed primarily at Japanese and Chinese aliens. It imposed fines on transportation companies who landed aliens in violation of U.S. immigration laws. It defined the term "immigrant" and designated all other alien entries into the United States as "non-immigrant", that is, temporary visitors. It established classes of admission for such non-immigrants.

As a divided America struggles today with the issue of immigration we need to remember that the ideas of 'legal' and 'illegal' immigration date back only to the 1920s and like so much of American history are tied to race.

Sources: Immigration to United States.org, Smithsonian Magazine, LA Times