ADAPTING STORIES INTO SCREENPLAYS
The State of Black Science Fiction Film Festival – in partnership with the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African-American Culture – is a creative platform of education, entertainment and empowerment through discussions related to film and television, and the production of both.
Our focus is to celebrate independent Black cinema; to promote Atlanta, Georgia as the Mecca of Speculative Fiction in film and literature by writers, film directors and film producers of African descent; and to showcase films and provide networking opportunities that will develop the next generation of Black filmmakers in the genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror.
One of my passions is educating Black people – especially our youth – on why we should read and write speculative fiction. You can read more on this passion of mine at http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/04/10/why-black-children-need-to-read-write-science-fiction/, http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/04/28/when-i-was-a-child-speculative-fiction-taught-me-what-writing-is/ and http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/04/17/what-we-can-learn-from-the-chinese/.
Another passion of mine is, of course, writing – fiction, blogging and screenwriting. While I enjoy all three equally, I believe the most influential – with people of African descent in particular – is screenwriting and, even more influential…film.
While many Black people do not read speculative fiction, most enjoy speculative fiction movies. Most people of African descent I know have seen the Matrix and Inception; love Blade I and II; and have enjoyed Conan the Barbarian, Blacula and the Dark Knight.
Film is, indeed, a powerful medium.
Hell, in Burma the people were reported to have “gone crazy” over bootleg copies of the film, Rambo. In fact, a line from the film – “Live for nothing; Die for something” – was used as a rallying cry by dissidents.
And the FBI and CIA worked ceaselessly – and, ultimately, futilely – to halt the production of The Spook Who Sat by the Door – a movie based on Sam Greenlee’s novel of the same name – for fear the movie would incite a revolution and infiltration by revolutionaries into government law enforcement agencies.
A shortcoming of the Civil Rights Movement is the fact that the right to represent ourselves on screen through films that we have produced, distributed, and exhibited was neglected as an essential component of the civil rights struggle.
And while I am on the subject, let me say that in the world of cinema the words ‘film’ and ‘movies’ are not synonymous.
A movie usually refers to a motion picture designed for the masses, whereas a film is something with more artistic and / or educational appeal.
The primary purpose of a movie (or feature film) is entertainment and – for the studios that make them, profit.
The purpose of a film (typically documentaries) is to build awareness. However, the two are not mutually exclusive.
A film should also provide entertainment. Social awareness, consciousness, commentary and change are all by-products that a film may invoke.
At present, I am directing, co-producing and doing the fight / stunt choreography for the movie Rite of Passage: Initiation – the world’s first Steamfunk movie…or is it a film? Hmm…
Rite of Passage: Initiation is my adaptation of a short story written by the inimitable author, Milton Davis. It – along with another film that I wrote, produced, directed and fight / stunt choreographed, A Single Link – will world premiere at the State of Black Science Fiction Film Festival.
Many of you may be curious about how you can go about adapting your story or novel – or someone else’s – into a screenplay. Well, I would like to share what I have learned over the years and how I adapt short stories and novels into short films and features:
Some of the best films started as short stories. The list includes 2001: A Space Odyssey which was based on The Sentinel by Arthur C Clarke. High Noon was based on The Tin Star by John Cunningham and Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window was adapted to the screen from a Philip Dick story called We Can Remember it for You Wholesale.
- Read the short story you are going to adapt and answer these questions: What is the setting? What happens? Who – and what – are the characters? What is the protagonists’ agenda?
- Make the story yours. Claim it. Own it. Make any necessary changes that will enhance how the story translates onto the big – or small – screen.
- Decrease the story to a series of events, and then arrange those events in an order that suits the needs of your screenplay.
- Edit out events in the short story that cannot be visualized in the screenplay.
- Never forget that, in film – unlike in a short story – there is sound. Make sure that you pay attention to the rhythm of the dialogue and make adjustments as needed. Also, be cognizant of background sounds described in the story or that you feel will enhance the story’s mood.
Adapting a novel into a screenplay is a different animal altogether; one that requires an understanding of – and skill in writing – both forms.
The Difference Between A Screenplay and A Novel
Before you can successfully adapt a novel into a screenplay, you must understand the differences between the two, which are as follows:
The screenplay is a visual and an auditory medium. Unlike novels, a screenplay cannot convey a character’s thoughts, except when there is a narrative in the form of a voice-over, as in the movies Bladerunner, Sin City, Goodfellas and Devil in a Blue Dress. Such a tactic, however, must be used with caution, as it can be often be overused and – in film, at least – lead to lazy storytelling.
Just remember that audiences pay the price of admission to watch a motion (things moving about) picture (things you can see). If they wanted to hear a story they would have visited their talkative, old Aunt Fredonia, who loves chatting for hours about her exploits as the inventor of the Chee-uh Pet – not to be confused with the inferior Chia-Pet, of course.
If you absolutely must convey essential plot information that – in the novel – is only presented in a character’s thoughts or in his or her internal world, there are a couple of solutions:
- Give the character a sounding board – another character, to which his or her thoughts can be voiced aloud – by adapting an existing character from the novel or by creating a new one. Avoid overly obvious exposition, however, by cloaking such dialogue in conflict, or through some other technique.
- Figure out a way to express the character’s dilemma or internal world through action in the external world.
There is no literary prose in a screenplay. You only have 90 – 120 minutes to tell your story; there is little room for you to describe the hero’s back story and biographical details, unless you are adapting a biography.
A novel’s length ranges between approximately 65,000 to 500,000 words, which translate to roughly 260 – 2000 pages. One page of a screenplay equals approximately one minute of screen time, thus it is quite obvious you must edit quite a bit, lest you end up with a thirty-hour long film, which had better be really interesting…as in the most interesting thing ever.
On average, a screenplay is between 85 and 125 pages long.
Because of the differences between novels and screenplays, most of the novel you adapt will be cut out. Read the novel just before you write the screenplay, taking note of:
- The pivotal scenes
- The most important characters
- The dialogue that fuels the plot.
Guide to Screenwriting
Dispense with descriptions, minor characters and lengthy build ups.
Capture the essence and spirit of the story. Determine the through-line and major sub-plot of the story and cut everything else.
FYI, the “through-line” is WHO (protagonist) wants WHAT (goal), and WHO (antagonist) or WHAT (some other force) opposes him or her. Pose the through-line as a question for clearer understanding of it:
“Will Dorothy pass her initiation and become a conductor on the Underground Railroad, or will Harriet Tubman leave her a cripple or a corpse?”
The same is done for the major sub-plot.
“Will Harriet defeat the lich that has taken control of the Suttler Plantation?”
Everything off the through-line or not essential to the major sub-plot should probably be cut.
Strip the novel to its bare bones, which will give you a clear picture of how to best adapt the story.
Plotting the Screenplay
With the bare essentials of the story, the writer can plot out the main scenes of the screenplay and decide which will form the opening of the film, the main conflicts, the climax and the resolution.
The Structure of a Screenplay
The ideal screenplay should consist of short sentences, succint paragraphs of action, and essential dialogue.
If you seek to sell your screenplay to Hollywood or acquire an agent, then the first ten pages are the most important part of it, as those ten pages are what a potential agents and / or producer will view.
The beginning of the novel need not form the opening of the screenplay. To find the opening that will allow you to write a well-crafted and exciting first ten pages that keeps the reader on the edge of his or her seat and inspires that agent or producer to pick up the phone and call you, you can:
- Look for the most dramatic scene in the novel and begin there.
- Combine scenes in the novel to create a new one in the screenplay
- Invent a new scene if one does not present itself within the novel.
Is adapting a story – short or long – a lot of work? Of course, it is. It is also a lot of fun, so pick up that book…dust off that old manuscript…and get to work on the next summer blockbuster!
I hope you found some of this blog helpful. If so, send me a comment and let me know. I would really appreciate that.
And please, if you are in the Atlanta-area on August 4, 2012, or if you have the ability and passion to travel to Atlanta on the aforementioned date, please join us for the State of Black Science Fiction Film Festival. It is going to be absolutely Blacknificent!
Here is the current schedule. I will post regular updates:
12:00pm – 12:15pm: Welcome
12:15pm – 1:00pm: First film screening and Q & A
1:00pm – 1:45pm: Second film screening and Q & A
1:45pm – 3:15pm: Panel Discussion – Art At War: Countering Negative Images of Blacks in the Media
3:15pm – 3:45pm: Screening of Rite of Passage: Initiation and Q & A
3:45pm – 5:15pm: Screening of A Single Link and Q & A
5:15pm – 6:15pm: Meet & Greet / Book, Poster and DVD Signing
PUNK 101: Steampunk, Dieselpunk and a Three Year Old Genius!
“A guy walks up to me and asks ‘What’s Punk?’. So I kick over a garbage can and say ‘That’s Punk!’ So he kicks over a garbage can and says ‘That’s Punk?’, and I say ‘No that’s trendy!”
- Billie Joe Armstrong
Now that’s Steampunk!
On Sunday, my youngest daughter, ‘Yemi, who is three years old, was watching an episode of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. with me and whenever Lord Bowler – one of the main characters on the show, played by the late Julius Carry (“Sho’ ‘Nuff, of The Last Dragon fame) – would do something exciting, she would shout: “Now that’s Steampunk right there!”
Curious, I asked her “What’s Steampunk, baby?”
She waited until Lord Bowler punched a guy and then she pointed at the screen and said “That!”
I put The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. on pause and then showed her the fight scene between Count Dooku and Yoda from Star Wars, Episode II. I asked her was it Steampunk and she said “No; Steampunk people don’t look like that.”
Even more curious, I showed her a scene from the Sherlock Holmes movie (the one starring Robert Downey, Jr., not Basil Rathbone – which I actually like the most) and said “This isn’t Steampunk, is it?”
‘Yemi stared at me in disbelief, placed her tiny fists on her hips and said “Now Daddy, you know that’s Steampunk”
Somehow, she gets it. Through listening to my conversations with my wife and students about Steampunk and through observing me as I research hundreds of photographs and newspaper clippings in doing research for my novel, Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, she has internalized the aesthetics of Steampunk and has come up with actions that – to her, at least – are representative of the genre.
I have thus decided to formalize her study of Steampunk, Steamfunk and all the other “offspring” of that rather fertile mother / father – Cyberpunk. I now share with you her syllabus. Perhaps you too will gain something from it or can add to it, as I am sure many of you have much more knowledge than I.
What is Cyberpunk?
The name was originally coined by Bruce Bethke as the title of his short story Cyberpunk, published in 1983.
Cyberpunk fiction is a meeting of advanced science – information technology, Artificial Intelligence and cybernetics – with a breakdown of – or radical change in – society.
Cyberpunk plots often center on a conflict amongst hackers, artificial intelligences, and mega-corporations, and tend to be set in a near-future, post-industrial dystopian Earth.
Classic Cyberpunk characters are marginalized, alienated loners who lived on the edge of a society in which daily life is powerfully – and often negatively – impacted by rapid technological change and invasive modification of the human body.
Noted authors in the Cyberpunk genre include William Gibson, Neal Stephenson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, Rudy Rucker, and John Shirley.
Blade Runner and The Matrix are quintessential examples of Cyberpunk.
The style and theme are also featured prominently in the anime films Akira and Ghost in the Shell.
Cyberpunk has “given birth” to several “babies” that have become recognized as distinct subgenres in speculative fiction.
Some of these subgenres have grown into movements, with distinct characteristics and have birthed some children of their own – yes, Punk is a fertile lot.
These children, though they do not share the computer-focused setting of their mother / father, may display qualities drawn from – or analogous to – Cyberpunk, such as a world built on one particular technology that is extrapolated to a highly sophisticated level; a gritty, urban style; or a particular approach to social themes.
Many of Cyberpunk’s children gravitated toward Retrofuturism, a style based either on the futuristic visions of past eras, or extrapolations of the actual technology of those eras.
Steampunk has grown into adulthood and seems to have outshined its mother / father.
Steampunk is a literary genre – a marriage of science fiction and fantasy – that features the technological and social aspects of an Age of Steam. In the world of Steampunk, steam is the “nuclear power” of an industrial era – whether that era takes place during the Victorian Period of the 1800s, in ancient Egypt, or in a future in which steam takes the place of fusion power.
Steampunk is also a philosophy that embraces a fantastical past while incorporating a spirit of progress, exploration and do-it-yourself ingenuity.
The word “Steampunk” was coined by Cyberpunk author K.W. Jeter, who wrote the following letter to Locus in 1987:
Enclosed is a copy of my 1979 novel Morlock Night; I’d appreciate your being so good as to route it to Faren Miller, as it’s a prime piece of evidence in the great debate as to who in ‘the Powers/Blaylock/Jeter fantasy triumvirate’ was writing in the ‘gonzo-historical manner’ first. Though of course, I did find her review in the March Locus to be quite flattering.
Personally, I think Victorian fantasies are going to be the next big thing, as long as we can come up with a fitting collective term for Powers, Blaylock and myself. Something based on the appropriate technology of the era; like ‘steampunks,’ perhaps…
Examples of Steampunk in film and television include The Three Musketeers (2011), Hugo, The Golden Compass, Van Helsing, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Time Machine, Steamboy, The Last Exile and Dark Portals: The Chronicles of Vidocq.
“Western Steampunk” places the story in the same time periods, but set in America’s Old West. These stories have also been referred to as “Weird West” and “Cattlepunk.” They may also be called “Desertpunk” when referring to a post-apocalyptic Western Steampunk, where water is mostly absent from the world. Examples of Western Steampunk are The Wild, Wild West television series, the Wild, Wild, West movie and The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. television series.
The term ‘Dieselpunk’ was coined in 2001 by game designer Lewis Pollak, who used the term to market his role-playing game, Children of the Sun. The term has since grown to represent a distinct style and philosophy of visual art, music, motion pictures, fiction, and technology.
Dieselpunk is based on the aesthetics of the period between the end of the World War I and the Korean Conflict and combines the artistic and genre influences of that period (pulp magazines, serial films, film noir, art deco, and wartime pin-ups) with retrofuturistic technology.
Examples in film include The Rocketeer, Crimson Skies, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Dark City, Hellboy, Greed Corp, The Book of Eli, the cable series Carnivale, the Indiana Jones films, Pan’s Labyrinth, Tim Burton’s Batman and Sucker Punch.
Literature in this genre includes The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick and Fatherland by Robert Harris.
Teslapunk, named after scientist and inventor, Nikola Tesla, refers to literature, philosophy and aesthetics inspired by Tesla and other pioneers of electricity and electrical devices. This subgenre imagines an alternate history wherein an Age of Electricity replaces Steampunk’s Age of Steam.
The Prestige is a Teslapunk movie. In fact, Nikola Tesla plays a prominent role in the film.
Atomicpunk / Atompunk
Atomicpunk, also called Atompunk, relates to the period beginning at the end of World War II and ending in the mid-60s. It is an Atomic Age civilization, where perhaps the Great Depression never occurred, the Nazi’s continued to exist after World War II ended, or World War II remained a prolonged cold war. Atomicpunk includes mid-century Modernism, the Atomic Age, Space Age, Communism and the Sputnik program.
Atomicpunk films employ the ‘fantastical’ element of entering into the Nuclear Age and more pessimistic views of an imperfect war-torn future in a postmodern world. Examples include the films, The Iron Giant; The War of the Worlds (the original); and George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.
Clockpunk is a subgenre of speculative fiction which is similar to steampunk, in that it portrays advanced technology based on pre-modern designs, but the technology used is based on springs, clockwork and advances inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci. Clockpunk is usually set during the Renaissance, in the vein of Jay Lake’s novel, Mainspring, and Whitechapel Gods by S M Peters, as well as Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and Pasquale’s Angel by Paul J. McAuley. A wonderful puppet-play – Avanti, Da Vinci! Or The Secret Adventures of Leonardo da Vinci, created by Jon Ludwig and Jason Hines and played in 2004 at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, GA – is a great example of Clockpunk (yep, my city is awesome!). The term “Clockpunk” was coined by the GURPS role playing system.
Gaslamp fantasy, also known as Gaslight Fantasy or Gaslight Romance, is not to be confused with Steampunk, which usually has more of a science fiction edge and a less romantic tone.
Author and artist Kaja Foglio originally coined the term to distinguish her and husband Phil Foglio’s comic series, Girl Genius, from Steampunk.
Later on, however, Gaslamp Fantasy came to denote Holmesian Fantasy (fantasy set in the world of Sherlock Holmes) and Victorian-based Gothic tales. Gaslamp Fantasy does, however, include some pre-Victorian works, such as Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. More examples can be found in publications such as the Gaslight Grimoire anthologies and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comics.
Steamgoth is a darker version of Steampunk. It encompasses a dark vision not found in Steampunk and embraces the magical and the paranormal as well.
Where Steampunk is science fiction / science fantasy, Steamgoth is its “evil twin” – a dark fantasy / horror version.
Steamgoth is about vampires, zombies, werewolves and malevolent gods from beyond space and time. The works of Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft fall under the banner of Steamgoth, as would the movie, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
“When I think about steam i think about the lightest and most adaptable form of water, usually associated with heat. When I think about funk I think about syncopated rhythms or rhythms and music that is structured but not predictable. Steamfunk is a rhythmic form of art that is unpredictable and transcends time.” – Kevin Wake – music producer and composer for the upcoming Steamfunk short film, Rite of Passage: Initiation.
Steamfunk is narrowly defined as “a person, style of dress or subgenre of fiction that seeks to bring together elements of blaxploitation films and merge it with that of Steampunk fiction”. A broader definition is “a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction”.
Steamfunk was born when several authors of African descent who took a liking to – or, in the cases of a few, even loved – the literary and aesthetic aspects of Steampunk, noticed that there was a deficit of stories by and about Black heroes and she-roes in the movement and – as individuals – they decided they would write Steampunk stories from a Black perspective. Some were also dissatisfied that most Steampunk ignored the “darker” aspects of the Victorian Era, such as colonialism, sexism, classism, racism – and chattel slavery and wanted to write about those aspects in their expressions of Steampunk. Some of those authors include Maurice Broaddus (Pimp My Airship), Milton Davis (The Delivery), Valjeanne Jeffers (The Switch), and Balogun Ojetade (Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman).
On the website, www.blacksciencefictionsociety.com, a discussion of Steampunk came up and the aforementioned authors agreed that we should put together an anthology. Author and publisher Milton Davis, who had published the definitive Sword & Soul anthology, Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology, decided to bring thought into action and put out the call for submissions to the Steamfunk Anthology. Author and Steampunk, Balogun Ojetade (yours truly) was brought in to work with Milton Davis as co-editor and the campaign of raising the awareness of the Black expression of Steampunk, which we call Steamfunk, began.
In June, 2012 the first Steamfunk film – Rite of Passage: Initiation – will go into production and will release in late July. This short film will serve as a promotion to raise funds to shoot Rite of Passage, the feature film. Produced by MVmedia and Roaring Lions Production and written by Milton J. Davis and Balogun Ojetade – who also serves as director and fight choreographer – Rite of Passage is the exciting tale of Dorothy – Teacher, Freedom Fighter and pupil of the iron-fisted Harriet Tubman – who meets a man with extraordinary abilities and her life is forever transformed.
For more on Steamfunk and the Steamfunk movement, check out http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/05/13/the-steamfunk-movement/ and http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/the-league-of-extraordinary-black-people-african-african-american-steampunk/.
Many of Cyberpunk’s children are not as recognized by name as their elder siblings, but they do have strong followings of their own.
Biopunk emerged during the 1990s and focuses on the near-future, unintended consequences of the biotechnology revolution following the discovery of recombinant DNA.
Biopunk fiction typically describes the struggles of individuals or groups – often the product of human experimentation – against totalitarian governments or mega-corporations that use biotechnology as a means of social control and / or profiteering.
Unlike cyberpunk, which builds on information technology, Biopunk’s chief concern is synthetic biology. Individuals are modified and enhanced through genetic manipulation, not through the cyberware found in Cyberpunk.
Stonepunk refers to a world existing roughly during the Stone Age in which the characters utilize an “advanced” technology constructed from materials more or less consistent with the time period, such as rock, fire, clay, rope, wood and water, yet possessing anachronistic complexity and function.
The Flintstones and their various spin offs, including the films The Flintstones and The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas would fall under this category, as would Roland Emmerich’s 10,000 BC and The People That Time Forgot. Literary examples include Boroughs’ Back to the Stone Age and Jean Marie Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear.
Elfpunk was proposed as a subgenre of urban fantasy in which faeries and elves are transplanted from rural folklore into modern urban settings. Elfpunk differs from Urban Fantasy in that the story does not have Werewolves and Vampires in it. Dragons and Orcs might make cameos, though.
Although Elfpunk only uses Faerie creatures, those creatures do not have to be of the Celtic persuasion; they can be Japanese Youseitachi, Yoruba Iwin, or any from any other culture.
Author Catherynne M. Valente uses the term “Mythpunk” to define a subgenre of speculative fiction that is a mashup of folklore and myth with urban fantasy.
Writers whose works would fall under the mythpunk label are Catherynne M. Valente, Ekaterina Sedia, Theodora Goss, and Sonya Taaffe.
A term coined by David J. Schow in the mid-1980s that refers to a subgenre of horror fiction distinguished by its graphic, gory depiction of violence.
Though it gained some prominence in the 1980s and 1990s, and attracted a cult following, the term “splatterpunk” is currently used less often than other synonymous terms for the genre.
Notable authors in this genre include Clive Barker, Robert McCammon, and Craig Spector.
Spacepunk, features an ancient civilization with advanced, Space Age technology. The Star Wars films, books and video games are the quintessential examples of this genre (“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away”, remember?).
If ‘Yemi excels in Punk 101 perhaps she will continue her studies, moving on to Steamfunk-ology, or maybe even Advanced Placement Punk. Maybe I will teach my nieces and nephews, my granddaughter and ‘Yemi’s friends. Perhaps my seven other children – all knowledgeable of Steampunk at varying levels – will want to delve deeper into their studies and I’ll open up the first Punk Academy, which will become the University of Punk.
Perhaps one day, ‘Yemi will sit in her rocking chair on her porch somewhere in Africa and – while observing her great grandchildren at play around the sixty-foot tall brass statue erected in my honor – point and say… “Now that’s Steampunk!”
BLOW OFF SOME STEAM: Stress Relief for Today’s Steamfunkateer!
On August 31, 2012, I suffered seven cerebellar ischemic strokes. The fact that I survived one such stroke, let alone seven, and never lost cognizance, nor suffered any paralysis, left doctors scratching their heads and left me intrigued by the cause, as I am in good physical shape, teach martial arts and avoid iodized salt, pork, a lot of red meat and greasy foods. I am also only in my mid-forties, so, while I was happy to be alive and – for the most part – unaffected by the strokes, I was also concerned about what caused them in the first place.
The major contributing factor is stress. Negative stress, that is. Negative stress is highly destructive and can lead to permanent disability or death. Sadly, we do not understand stress and have thus trivialized it and placed the blame for our stress on others. How many times have you told someone (or they told you) “You’re stressing me out”, as if they have power of you? We control how we deal with stress and how we deal with it is linked to our personality types.
I am revisiting this article I wrote on stress, as a much needed reminder to myself and, hopefully, you get something out of it as well. Many people skipped over this one when I first posted it. Please, don’t this time. It could help save your – or a loved one’s – life.
I recently saw a photo of an item for sale on www.etsy.com called the Steampunk Stress Reduction Machine. This prompted me to do more research on Steampunk’s and Steamfunk’s relationship to stress relief. My research led me to discover this brief article in the American Libraries archives:
Part-time staffers at Mount Vernon (WA.) City Library (from left) Charlene Patten, Alisa Kester, Bonnie Hood, Mike Bonacci, and Sara Bangs celebrate “Steampunk Friday” by wearing attire based on the science fiction genre April 23. According to library Director Brian Soneda, the dress-up day was designed to help staff members cope with the stress of a rough economy.
I became highly intrigued and started thinking about how I deal with stress; how I teach my children and students to deal with it; and how tens of thousands of people use Steampunk daily, in various ways, to deal with stress.
What is Stress?
Stress is the non-specific response of the body to any demand placed on it. In layman’s terms, stress is anything that causes a change in your body. These changes are triggered by different feelings such as sadness, fear, anger and happiness. Every time your feelings change your body changes and this results in stress.
Stress can create feelings of conflict and/or anxiety within you. It can stem from demands you place on yourself or from external stimuli. If stress is not identified and resolved, it can progressively deteriorate your ability to function physically, mentally and emotionally.
All stress is not bad, nor does all stress have a negative effect on us. Some stress we experience is good and has a positive and motivating effect.
We have problems when we experience too much, or too little, stress in our lives.
Too much stress causes us to feel tense and pressured; this creates conflict. Too little stress makes us feel bored, unmotivated and lethargic, which also creates conflict within us and sometimes with others.
Therefore, it is important to maintain a proper level of stress in your life.
Signs of Stress
The body gives you signals to let you know that you are experiencing stress.
Some signs of stress are headaches, dizziness, fast heartbeat, abnormal eating habits, troubled breathing, inability to slow down or relax, depression, ulcers, high-blood pressure, phobias, and disturbed sleep patterns.
Stress can be caused by a number of things happening in your life at any point and time. For example it could be not having enough money; poor self- concept; death; divorce; winning the lottery; or graduating from high school, college or Grad School, but the most frequent cause of stress is change, such as loss of a loved one; job loss or advancement; illness or injury and lifestyle changes.
Some stress is positive – eustress – and creates good opportunities and outlets in life. Positive stress can keep you motivated and inspire your creativity.
Negative stress – or distress – results in debilitating anxiety that affects your overall mental, emotional and physical health. From here onward, when we refer to stress, we are referring to negative stress, unless otherwise stated.
- Take a deep breath. Deep breathing helps calm the body.
- Watch your thoughts. Negative or fearful thoughts create more anxiety and stress. Thinking positive about a situation helps reduce stress.
- Practice visualization. Visualize what you want to happen in your life and affairs.
- Exercise Regularly. Physical activities often relieve the body of unnecessary tensions and allow the body to function more effectively. Exercise also provides needed diversions from life’s pressures.
- Learn to relax. Just a few minutes of peace and quiet each day to give one the ability to properly assess a challenging situation and to respond in an appropriate manner. Relaxation is a skill. Read something inspirational and listen to your favorite music.
- Talk about stress. Opening up about your problems or tensions with close friends, a therapist, co-workers or a clergy member will allow a sharing of feelings and an opportunity to keep potential stressors in proper perspective.
- Structure planning of daily activities. By properly planning and using one’s time wisely, daily demands can be handled before they create unhealthy stress. Daily planning provides for a varied schedule, which can include work, leisure, social and family activities, as well as personal time.
- Set realistic goals. People who expect too much of themselves are most frequently troubled by stress. Goals must be realistic to be motivational.
- Do some fun things. Treat yourself regularly by doing something that you enjoy.
- Get regular physical checkups. Often physicians can discover physical manifestations of stress that enable one to deal effectively with the tensions of stress.
- Seek more information about wholistic – non-organ specific healing methods that concentrate on the whole body – ways to handle stress and holistic – healing methods that concentrate on the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of life – ways to handle stress.
How do you deal with stress? Each Personality Type has different stressors and copes in different ways. Better understanding of your own stressors and coping mechanisms can help you reduce the tension and anxiety stress often creates.
Your Personality and Stress
Below is a brief overview of the Four Temperaments and their corresponding Personality Types:
The Four Temperaments
As Concrete Cooperators, Guardians speak mostly of their duties and responsibilities; of what they can keep an eye on and take good care of; and they’re careful to obey the laws, follow the rules, and respect the rights of others. The following Personality Types are Guardians:
As Abstract Cooperators, Idealists speak mostly of what they hope for and imagine might be possible for people, and they want to act in good conscience, always trying to reach their goals without compromising their personal code of ethics. The following Personality Types are Idealists:
As Concrete Utilitarians, Artisans speak mostly about what they see right in front of them, about what they can get their hands on, and they will do whatever works, whatever gives them a quick, effective payoff, even if they have to bend the rules. The following Personality Types are Artisans:
As Abstract Utilitarians, Rationals speak mostly of what new problems intrigue them and what new solutions they envision, and always pragmatic, they act as efficiently as possible to achieve their objectives, ignoring arbitrary rules and conventions if need be. The following Personality Types are Rationals:
Dealing with Stress: Idealists
When Idealists experience great stress, they can have muscle or sensory problems.
The Teacher is likely to become stressed if they experience an absence of trust and too much pressure to conform. They also dislike interpersonal conflict. If this happens, they may become excessively critical, which is antithetical to their normal positive self. One of the signs that the Teacher is in high stress is muscle tics or cramps. To recover, this normally social type must be left alone. Solitude and journal writing can help them get back to normal. Also getting out of the current arena of conflict and taking on a new project can restore their sense of self.
The Counselor can become stressed when they are required to deal with too many unexpected events or required to be too extraverted for too long a time. They can get overwhelmed if they are required to continually do very detailed work. If this happens, their muscles tighten up and they begin to see the external world through suspicious lenses. To return to normal, they need time alone to recharge and a lightening of their usual schedule. It will not help if others give them advice. Stretching exercises and calm, solitary walks will help.
The Champion is usually a bundle of energy, but they can become exhausted if they are overloaded with work. They also will experience stress if their values and principles are violated and they see others in their circle being hurt by policies that kill the human spirit. They will then become hypersensitive to what is going on around them. Facts become exaggerated. They have feelings of paranoia and may withdraw. To regain their equilibrium, meditation will help. Kindness and support by others, but not patronization, will help them get back to normal.
The Healer is the most sensitive of all the Idealists to a negative environment. They notice problems in a group before anyone else. Divisions within a group can cause fear of impending loss. Also violation of their values can trigger stress. When stressed, they are likely to act out of character and take on behaviors that are not normally associated with them. They can seem to others as if they are splintered. Sometimes they will blame themselves, other times they will lash out at others. They may act precipitously or not act at all. To get back to normal, they need a lot of space and need to have their feelings validated. It doesn’t help to tell them that they are imagining things. It is important that the negative environment be dealt with by others or that the Healer is allowed to move to a more positive environment.
Dealing with Stress: Guardians
The Supervisor, more than any other Guardian, tends to take on the largest amount of external authority, responsibility, and pressure. When they have overdone it, their only recourse to relieving these pressures is to become sick. No, they do not choose to become sick; it is simply their body’s response to the overload. They want to be recognized for their accomplishments and contributions. They want respect more than they wish to be liked. They will work harder and harder to earn this respect. They are drained by overly emotional responses to their directives. If disrespect continues for a long period, they may become hypersensitive to their feelings and that of others. To return to equilibrium, they need silent support from others, to cut back on responsibilities, and to practice healthy living by exercising and eating better.
The Inspector is the most likely to complain of being tired. They have a greater need for private time than the Supervisor. They, too, will assume a great deal of responsibility. Their need to be exacting coupled with too many drains on their time can lead to their becoming stressed. They can become obsessed with details and criticize their friends, family, underlings or co-workers for imperfection. They can become fearful of anything that is not well-proven, tried-and-true. If they become impulsive or talk excessively about potential catastrophes, they are showing high stress. To return to equilibrium, their concerns need to be taken seriously by others and efforts need made to reduce their workload and give them more private time.
The Provider is the most likely to first become angry, then sad and complain to anyone who will lend them an ear. This is quite different from their normal style of spreading happiness and making everyone around them comfortable. What triggers the stress is when others do not trust them or when they experience too much pressure to conform to a standard with which they do not agree. Interpersonal conflict with a family member, friend, boss, co-worker, or underling also takes a toll on the Provider’s equilibrium. When stressed, they may become excessively logical and critical in their dealings with others. To return to normal, they will need less pressure from others and more solitude. Sometimes writing in a journal will help them with their sadness. They may need coaching in how to deal with adversity and decrease their need for harmonious relationships. Changing the people they interface with may help.
The Protector is the most likely to become excessively worried. Their highest skills come from preventing problems, and to do that one must think about what might go wrong and prevent it. But too great an overload can trigger excessive worry. Being forced to face too many new experiences can be daunting to the Protector and cause them to talk about potential catastrophes. They may experience a loss of control and even become impulsive while trying to fix all that they see going wrong. When others see them in this state, it is important to give them help and to lower their expectations about always being able to prevent every problem. Until they release some of their need for control, they will experience high stress. Rest, good nutrition, and treating themselves to peace and quiet will go a long way towards healing their stress.
Dealing with Stress: Artisans
The Promoter can become stressed if their options get closed off and they are forced to live or work in a very structured environment. Since their highest skill is being tactical in the here-and-now, excessive focus on the future will also stress them. Losing flexibility triggers internal confusion and thoughts of dire consequences. This can cause them to lash out at others and even take actions of revenge. To get back to normal they need to develop contingency plans and get help from others in setting priorities.
The Crafter is the most freedom-loving of all of the Artisans. They can’t stand being fenced in or faced with high emotion. They generally are seen as the strong, silent type. If they don’t have the freedom to be alone and independent, they can become hypersensitive to relationships and can lash out in mean and sneaky ways. To get back to normal, they need physical and emotional space. It is especially important that others do not ask how they FEEL.
The Performer loves fun and pleasure. Their love of life is attractive to others and at times they become the center of attention. If things around them become too constricted or too sour, it takes a toll on the Performer. They can become suspicious of others and even of themselves. Their unhappiness can seem overwhelming to them and in an effort to become happy, even temporarily, they can binge on food, alcohol, gambling or shopping. To recover they need to seek other avenues for happiness and need help from others in setting priorities. Phony reassurances will not work. Physical activity is needed to get them back in balance and away from the gloom and doom.
The Composer is the most sensitive of all the Artisans to negativity and excessive criticism. Values conflicts are especially painful for them. Also threats of layoffs are harder on them than any of the other Artisans, provided that they like their job and the company. Instead of attacking outwardly, they turn the attacks on themselves and can act in such a way as to injure them. If others stop trying to reason with them, but simply validate their feelings, then leave them alone, the self-destroying thoughts will usually stop on their own.
Dealing with Stress: Rationals
Since Rationals search for knowledge, competence, and eternal truths, when these needs are blocked, they become stressed. When Rationals experience great stress, they experience thoughts that tell them either that they must act or think in a particular way or that they must not act or think in a particular way. The outside observer sees the Rational as driven by compulsions or prohibitions.
The Fieldmarshal is driven to lead. They want things to be logical, to be recognized for their accomplishments and to be respected for their visionary ideas. Sometimes they are forced to be harsh with others to accomplish their goals. If their harshness triggers high emotionalism and rumblings of disrespect from others, they can become hypersensitive to their own feelings and have outbursts of emotion. When high stress is triggered, they can become ritualistic in their behavior in an effort to control both the outside world and their inner emotions. It can help to talk to a trusted person whose counsel can help bring back balance. Also silent support from others along with the resolution of the crisis will restore equilibrium.
The Mastermind sees situations from their own unique perspective and they enjoy finding new solutions to complex problems. They are driven to implement their ideas whether or not others can see their vision for improvement. If they are given no support, they dig in their heels and work all the harder to achieve their vision. Stress comes when they are forced to deal with too many unexpected events or if they are forced to be too extraverted for too long. The stress manifests itself by obsessive thoughts on external data and feelings of the world being against them. They can recover if they are given time to be alone, get their tasks rebalanced and have time to pursue their visionary solutions. It’s best if others do not try to give them advice or suggestions.
The Inventor is always imagining something new and bounces their ideas off willing listeners. They are usually very positive and often laugh off anything negative. But if excessive negativity comes their way and/or they become physically exhausted, their fluid imagination works overtime and they obsess about problems. They can withdraw and sleep a lot while their mind deals with the issues. In the worst cases, they can become phobic and lose their friendly social abilities. It is best if they can walk away from their problems for awhile and let their brain rest. Meditation often helps. Quiet support from others for their physical needs also helps.
The Architect prides themselves on their objectivity and ability to impartially analyze and organize thoughts. They enjoy tough critiques that help them to hone the exactitude of their thoughts. What they don’t like is strong emotional expression directed at them and being denied the alone time that they need. If this goes on too long, they become highly stressed and may emphasize their logical thinking to the extreme. They become overly sensitive to relationships with others and can lash out emotionally. To achieve their normal state again, they need to be left alone and not asked about their feelings. They also need reduced responsibilities until they recover.
In today’s fast-paced world, we are faced with more stressors than ever before. We must cope with divorce, negative environmental conditions, substance abuse, a global recession and war.
Stress is inevitable, so we must acquire the resources and skills necessary to cope effectively with it.
Steamy Stress Relief
The dressing up…the escapism…the criticism of dysconcious racism in the Steampunk movement…these are all forms of “blowing off steam”. They are all forms of stress relief. My suggestion is that we all discover the best ways to relieve our stress and how those ways can be expressed through Steampunk.
Perhaps playing or game-mastering Steampunk role-playing games works for you. Maybe building a mechanical arm or making top-hats gives you relief from stress. Perhaps writing a blog, short story or novel is your form of meditation; or taking a workshop on indigenous African martial arts or Bartitsu.
Find what works best for you and do it!
Or, just get yourself a Steampunk Stress Reduction Machine.
You will probably have to build it yourself though. The original one sold back in 2008.
My First Nomination Ever!
I have been nominated for the Kreativ Blogger Award! Many thanks to novels from the ground up for the nomination. Novels From the Ground Up is a wonderful blog about novel writing from the perspective of a ‘rank amateur’. Please go check out his work; you will enjoy it.
As per the Kreativ Blogger Award rules I must:
- Thank my nominator and provide a link to their blog.
- List seven things that readers might find interesting about me.
- Nominate seven other bloggers.
Seven things about me that readers might find interesting
- I train and coach professional Mixed Martial Arts Fighters
- Although I have written hundreds of short stories, screenplays and poems, it took me twenty-five years to finally commit to writing a novel and finish it because the idea of writing a novel scared the hell out of me.
- I have eight children – seven daughters and one son – in the age range of 25 – 3.
- I am a master of indigenous Afrikan martial arts.
- I usually spell Afrika and Afrikan with a “k” because the letter “c” is non-existent in traditional Afrikan language phonetics.
- I am an initiated High Priest (“Babalawo”) and Priest of Obatala (“Olorisa”, or “Awo Obatala”) – the Spirit of intelligence, humor, peace and light – in the Yoruba tradition of Ifa.
- Although I am a martial artist, unlike most of my peers, I am not a fan of Bruce Lee, nor a fan of martial arts movies in general.
And finally here are seven blogs I subscribe to and I am nominating for the Kreativ Blogger Award:
Phenderson Djèlí Clark – A terrific blog by the Afro-Caribbean-American author of speculative fiction.
PANTERIAN TALES – The blog of the brilliant and talented L.M. Davis, author of the Blacktastic novels Interlopers and Posers.
Towrestlewithdarkness – The blog of Alan D. Jones, author of the dynamic and exciting science fiction novel To Wrestle With Darkness.
Beyond Victoriana – Ay-leen The Peacemaker’s blog about multicultural steampunk and retro-futurism – that is, steampunk outside of a Western-dominant, Eurocentric framework.
Aker: Futuristically Ancient – This powerful blog explores African diasporic cultures and re-examines “popular diasporic cultures” through the afrofuturist and afrosurrealist perspectives.
STEAMED! – A great resource for all things Steampunk!
COLLISION OF WORLDS – The blog of Valjeanne Jeffers, author of the steamy horror / fantasy Immortal series of novels and the Blacknificent Steampunk novel, The Switch.
Please check out these awesome sites. I regularly read many more blogs than these, however, I could only choose seven. I believe you will find my choices to your liking.
THE STEAMFUNK MOVEMENT
Defining what, exactly, a movement is can be problematic. It is not a political party or interest group, which are stable political entities that have regular access to political power and political elites; nor is it a mass fad or trend, which are unorganized, fleeting and without goals. Instead a movement is somewhere in between. Movements, then, can be thought of as organized, yet informal, social entities that are oriented towards a goal. These goals can be either aimed at a specific and narrow policy or be more broadly aimed at cultural change.
Four Stages of Movements
One of the earliest scholars to study movement processes was Herbert Blumer, who identified four stages of movements’ lifecycles. The four stages he described were: social ferment, popular excitement, formalization, and institutionalization. Since his early work, scholars have refined and renamed these stages but the underlying themes have remained relatively constant. Today, the four movement stages are known as:
Stage 1: Emergence
The first stage of the movement life cycle is known as the emergence, or, as described by Blumer, the social ferment. Within this stage, movements are very preliminary and there is little to no organization. This stage can be thought of as widespread discontent. Potential movement participants may be unhappy with some policy or some condition, but they have not taken any action in order to redress their grievances; or if they have, it is most likely individual action rather than collective action.
You might tell friends and family that you are dissatisfied with certain conditions or you may write a blog about it, but these actions are not necessarily strategic and certainly not collective.
Further, there may be an increase in media coverage of negative conditions or unpopular policies which contributes to the general sense of discontent.
Within the emergence stage, an organization and its members serve as agitators. Agitators raise consciousness around issues and help to develop the sense of discontent among the general population. An example of this stage would be the early 1950’s for the Civil Rights Movement.
There was, of course, among the Black population in the South, a general and long standing sense of discontent. Further, there were organizations, such as the NAACP, that provided agitation, but were not yet organizing the mass and continued actions that came to later characterize the Civil Rights Movement. It was not until after the Brown v. the Board of Education Supreme court decision (1954), which outlawed segregation in Public schools, and the arrest of Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to comply with segregation laws on city buses by giving up her bus seat to a white man, that the American Civil Rights Movement would proceed to the next stage – coalescence.
Stage 2: Coalescence
At this next stage in the life cycle, movements have overcome some obstacles which many never overcome. Often, social unrest or discontent passes without any organizing or widespread mobilization. Stage two, known as coalescence, or the popular stage, is characterized by a more clearly defined sense of discontent. It is no longer just a general sense of unease, but now a sense of what the unease is about and who or what is responsible.
At this stage, unrest is no longer covert, endemic, and esoteric; it is overt, epidemic, and exoteric. Discontent is no longer uncoordinated and individual; it becomes focalized and collective. This is the stage when individuals participating in the mass behavior of the preceding stage become aware of each other. At this point leadership emerges and strategies for success are worked out.
Also, at this stage mass demonstrations may occur in order to display the movement’s power and to make clear demands. Most importantly this is the stage at which the movement becomes more than just random upset individuals; at this point you are now organized and strategic in your outlook.
The American Civil Rights Movement again provides a good example. After the initial emergence, the movement began a series of high profile campaigns, which sought to highlight the plight of Blacks in the segregated South.
These campaigns included the Montgomery Bus Boycott and lunch counter sit-ins in which black students would sit down at segregated counters and wait to either be served or be dragged out by the police. These events galvanized support for the movement and brought to light the brutality to which white segregationists would resort in order to protect the status quo.
At this point too, prominent leaders of the movement begin to emerge, such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After many years of successful, but hard fought campaigns and strong leadership, the movement became a more prominent political force.
Stage 3: Bureaucratization
The third stage is known as bureaucratization. This stage, defined by Blumer as formalization, is characterized by higher levels of organization and coalition-based strategies. Movements in this stage can no longer just rely on mass rallies or inspirational leaders to progress towards their goals and build constituencies; they must rely on trained staff to carry out the functions of organizations.
Many movements fail to bureaucratize in this way and end up fizzling out because it is difficult for members to sustain the emotional excitement necessary and because continued mobilization becomes too demanding for participants.
Stage 4: Decline
Finally, the last stage in the social movement life cycle is decline, or institutionalization. Although “decline” may sound negative, it should not necessarily be understood in negative terms. Movements may decline for several reasons. These are:
Repression occurs when authorities, or agents acting on behalf of the authorities, use measures (sometimes violent) to control or destroy a social movement. Governments will often pass laws outlawing specific movement activities or organizations, or justify attacks on movements by declaring them somehow dangerous to public order. This type of repression makes it exceedingly difficult for movements to carry out their activities and recruit new members.
Co-optation occurs when movement leaders come to associate with authorities or the movement’s targets more than with the movement’s constituents. For example, author Bro. B. is asked by the Super Secret Sword & Soul Society to work for the Sword and Sorcery Writers of America with the idea of Bro. B. being able to change things from the inside. Instead, Bro. B. becomes integrated into the organization and takes on its values, rather than maintaining the values of the Super Secret Sword & Soul Society. This is a case of the mask becoming the face.
Some movements actually decline because they are successful. The women’s suffrage movement was a national organization that achieved its goals and thus declined.
If the Read A Damned Book, Fool Foundation has the goal of increasing Black literacy in the United States to 100%, once every person of African descent in America is able to read, the Read A Damned Book, Fool Foundation will decline due to its success. More than likely, it will then reorganize into the Read A Damned Speculative Fiction Book, Fool as organizations that decline due to success usually find some other goal to achieve.
Failure of movements due to organizational or strategic failings is common for many organizations. When failure occurs at the organizational level, it is usually for two reasons: factionalism and encapsulation.
Movements with an open structure, in which everyone is encouraged to take part in the decision making process, the organization risks control by different factions that operate within the organization for the benefit of outside organizations. Then, as factionalism grows worse and repression continues, groups become increasingly insular, leading to encapsulation – the process in which a group of activists become isolated from the broader movement because they come to share many of the same habits and culture and their ideology becomes more similar to one another’s and at the same time more rigid. They become so dedicated to the movement that they fail to sympathize with those who do not make the movement the dominant aspect of their life.
Establishment with Mainstream
The fifth reason for decline is that an organization becomes established with the mainstream. That is, their goals or ideologies are adopted by the mainstream and there is no longer any need for a movement. This is a fear of many in the Steampunk movement. For my take on this, please read http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/the-fear-of-mainstreaming-steampunk-put-on-your-fighting-trousers/.
Movements may not develop through the stages as described, or they may skip stages altogether. Generally, most movements do reach the stage of coalescence, since it is at that point that we begin to see behavior that we define as a social movement. Yet the movement may never grow beyond this second stage, and members may never develop into formal organizations. Some social movements consciously choose to reject bureaucratization for ideological reasons.
Steampunk is generally accepted as a subculture and a subculture – at its root – is a form of refusal. A subculture is a reaction to – and usually a rejection of – the present.
By creating a new culture that diverges from the dominant culture – through signs, signals, practices and expressions – a group, and the individuals therein, form a reaction to – and rejection of – that dominant culture. Thus all subcultures are movements.
Usually, the rejection of the present manifests as a nostalgia for the past – Victorian and Edwardian Eras, the American 1950′s, Medieval times or the Renaissance – or a forward thinking utopia or dystopia – futurism and cyberpunk, respectively.
Retrofutrism – a joining of the nostalgic and the futuristic – however, makes Steampunk a unique movement.
Steampunk’s elevation of creativity, imagination, elegance and innovation combined with its inclusivity creates a new model for building a movement.
One of the most defining aspects of Steampunk as a movement – and a revolutionary one, at that – is its rejection of conspicuous consumption and the countering of such consumption through a do-it-yourself attitude and the encouragement of discovery and invention.
The ways in which steampunk is defined by what it consumes rather than what it creates is meaningful, proactive and subversive in a consumer driven culture.
Steampunk – to many of those who are part of the movement – is a reconciliation of the past and present; utopian and dystopian; art and science; self and society.
Steampunks’ accepting of seemingly conflicting ideas is an indication that culturally, we are more capable of accepting contradictions, moving past them, and then imagining and implementing solutions to our issues.
Fear, anxiety and simplistic thinking hinder the development of complex and nuanced ideas necessary for moving forward and resolving contemporary difficulties. In short, Steampunk meets our need for a more comprehensive, holistic way of forming culture. Where other movements are rigid, Steampunk is fluid.
Unlike other movements, the practitioners of Steampunk often belong to multiple communities and movements simultaneously without any conflict or tension. It is this pluralistic tendency that keeps Steampunk from stagnating and ensures its continued growth and development. Your participation in multiple groups and the possession of multiple skill sets is seen as an asset, not a lack of commitment to the group.
The social and intellectual model of Steampunk transcends and rejects the idea that one must be “true”, “pure” or faithful to a subculture in order to be a part of it. Thus, Steampunk is highly unlikely to fall into the Decline Stage that most movements fall victim to, as Steampunk’s pluralism effectively counters repression, co-optation, factionalism and encapsulation. The only factors left in the Decline Stage, then are success and establishment with the mainstream. Since Steampunk has no set, finite goals, success will not represent the decline of the movement either.
For why establishment with the mainstream will not bring about Steampunk’s decline, please check out http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/the-fear-of-mainstreaming-steampunk-put-on-your-fighting-trousers/.
Steamfunk is narrowly defined as “a person, style of dress or subgenre of fiction that seeks to bring together elements of blaxploitation films and merge it with that of Steampunk fiction”. A broader definition is “a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction”.
For an example of writing in the narrow definition, please read the short story Nandi: http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/nandi-a-steamfunk-tale/. For an example of writing in the broader definition, please read Black Caesar: The Stone Ship Rises: http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/02/28/black-caesar-the-stone-ship-rises/, or The Hand of Sa-Seti: http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/the-hand-of-sa-seti-a-short-story-of-steampunk-and-sword-soul-by-balogun/.
Let us examine Steamfunk and how a movement within a movement was born.
Emergence: Steamfunk was born when several authors of African descent who took a liking to – or, in the cases of a few, even loved – the literary and aesthetic aspects of Steampunk, noticed that there was a deficit of stories by and about Black heroes and she-roes in the movement and – as individuals – they decided they would write Steampunk stories from a Black perspective. Some were also dissatisfied that most Steampunk ignored the “darker” aspects of the Victorian Era, such as colonialism, sexism, classism, racism – and chattel slavery and wanted to write about those aspects in their expressions of Steampunk. Some of those authors include Maurice Broaddus (Pimp My Airship), Milton Davis (The Delivery), Valjeanne Jeffers (The Switch), and Balogun Ojetade (Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman).
Coalescence: On the website, www.blacksciencefictionsociety.com, a discussion of Steampunk came up and the aforementioned authors agreed that we should put together an anthology. Author and publisher Milton Davis, who had published the definitive Sword & Soul anthology, Griots: A Sword & Soul Anthology, decided to bring thought into action and put out the call for submissions to the Steamfunk Anthology. Author and Steampunk, Balogun Ojetade (yours truly) was brought in to work with Milton Davis as co-editor and the campaign of raising the awareness of the Black expression of Steampunk, which we call Steamfunk, began.
Bureaucratization: The formal organization of the Steamfunk Movement began when – inspired by Milton Davis, organizer of the Atlanta-based Black Speculative Fiction Café – Balogun Ojetade put together a panel on Black Speculative Fiction, with the idea of it leading to an organization that educated people on the richness of work in Black fantasy and science fiction and provided access to said works. For more on this panel discussion, please read: http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/02/12/state-of-black-sci-fi-2012-my-favorite-black-sci-fi-event-is-happily-natural-days-black-speculative-fiction-panel/ and to view the video recording of the panel discussion in its entirety, please visit: http://chroniclesofharriet.wordpress.com/2012/01/19/black-speculative-fiction/.
One of the panelists, Alicia McCalla – librarian and author of the incredible teen dystopian novel, Breaking Free – reached out to other authors and artists of Black speculative work to participate in the State of Black Science Fiction 2012 blog tour. This blog tour led to the formation of a formal organization – State of Black Science Fiction – based in Atlanta, GA, the hub of Black speculative fiction. Steamfunk, Sword and Soul, teen dystopian and young adult fantasy have grown to be the major foci of the group, which educates youth and adults on the history, need for – and benefits of – Black writers and readers in these genres.
Decline: Ain’t gonna happen. Why not? Because it is Steampunk, after all.
“Time for a little riding music.”
Nandi slipped a small, brown wax cylinder into the phonograph that lay mounted between the handlebars. Two brass horns protruded from the phonograph, out of which a smooth, baritone voice slid – butter-slick – up Nandi’s spine to her eagerly awaiting ears.
She sighed and then began to sing along – “I’d rather be with you-hoo, yeah.”
Nandi flexed her right wrist backward, revving the monowheel’s engine. She released the clutch, which was built into the left handlebar and shifted the monowheel into fourth gear with her left foot.
The engine hissed; the stack that protruded from it belched a cloud of steam and then the monowheel jetted forward.
Cold wind smacked Nandi’s body, pinning her soft, white cotton jumpsuit to her tall, sinewy frame. The large, triangular lapels of the jumpsuit fluttered against Nandi’s smooth, hazelnut-toned face.
Nandi reached up with her delicate fingers and patted her big afro back to its perfectly round shape.
Nandi cranked up the volume on the phonograph.
“I’d rather be with you until I’m through,
Oh, yes, I do.
I’d rather be with you until that day
I fly away.”
Nandi zipped through her bustling neighborhood in the heart of the Songhai District.
She pounded her chest in reverence as she rode past the bronze statue of Chief Sidi Khanga, founder of their great nation, Ki-Khanga – ‘The Land of Khanga’.
Every time she laid eyes upon the statue, she thought of her grandfather, Dr. Bomani Abike, who – like Chief Khanga – was a pioneer.
In 1933, Dr. Abike created the steam engine and began what he called the ‘Industrial Revolution’. In 1958, the genius inventor journeyed to Africa to bring Steam Technology to their homeland. And in 1963, he – and a contingent of Chinese Ki-Khangans from Kun-Lun District – travelled to Beijing and Shanghai to give them the gift of Steam Technology as well.
Now, eleven years later, the whole world has benefitted from her grandfather’s creation and Ki-Khanga has become the wealthiest colony on Earth.
Unfortunately, just as Chief Khanga did one hundred years before him, Dr. Abike went missing while exploring the Green Lands beyond The Great Wall of Ki-Khanga.
The First Nation inhabitants of Ki-Khanga warned him that the creatures in the Green Lands – monstrous offspring of the indigenous spirits and the dark spirits summoned by the Anglo-Witches who once lived beyond The Wall – were too dangerous…even for his Steam Tech weapons, First Nation divine magic and the newly developed Chinese Aether-Tech combined. Dr. Abike did not heed the warning and had not been seen since 1966.
Nandi quickly closed upon a towering, brass skeleton clock that loomed in the distance.
The aether torch at the apex of the clock – affectionately called ‘Shiny Bones’ by the inhabitants of the province of Center Gate – glowed with an intense, white light.
Shiny Bones also served as the lighthouse for the airships that patrolled the skies over Middle District.
Nandi darted into the Center Gate Constabulary’s parking lot, speeding past the fleet of steam-powered, horseless carriages into the section marked ‘Gatekeepers’.
Nandi slid into her parking space – lot number 010 – and then leapt from her seat.
Her platform shoes struck the pavement with a dull thud.
“Hey, Gatekeeper…what it is, what it was and what it will be?”
Nandi turned toward the source of the rich tenor voice. “Constable Kojoe! Nothing shakin’, sugar. How are you?”
Constable Kojoe’s lips curled upward into a broad grin. His brilliant, white teeth were in stark contrast to his nearly black skin. “I’m better, now that I’m laying eyes upon you.”
Nandi rolled her eyes and shook her head. “You better keep those peepers on Liu Fong, there, dig?”
The handcuffed giant standing at Constable Kojoe’s left flank leered at Nandi. “No worries, Gatekeeper; I’m a kinder…gentler man, now that I’m married and all.”
“You just broke your father-in-law’s jaw, four ribs and his right femur,” Constable Kojoe said, yanking on Liu Fong’s handcuffs.
“I didn’t kill him,” Liu Fong replied. “But I will kill you, if you yank on those cuffs again.”
“I am so afraid,” Constable Kojoe snickered, yanking the cuffs a bit harder.
Liu Fong snarled and clinched his fists. His massive forearms flexed, expanding his thick wrists. The handcuffs snapped open and fell to the ground.
The giant hammered his elbow into the back of the constable’s head.
Constable Kojoe collapsed to the ground.
Liu Fong turned and darted across the parking lot.
Nandi gave chase; her long, wiry legs propelling her toward the giant – a lone lioness running down a rhinoceros.
She exploded upward, pouncing onto Liu Fong’s massive back.
The giant tried to shake her loose, but Nandi already had her arms wrapped around his neck and her legs clamped about his waist, holding him in a boa constrictor-like grip.
Nandi squeezed hard with her arms, compressing Liu Fong’s neck to half its girth.
The giant’s scowling face went slack and then he collapsed to his knees.
Nandi released his neck and the giant fell, face down, onto the pavement.
“Sleep tight, Sugar,” Nandi said, patting Liu Fong on the top of his bald head.
She then sprinted over to Constable Kojoe, who was pulling himself to his knees as he gently massaged the lump on the back of his head.
“Did you get him?” Constable Kojoe asked.
“He’s out like a baby after breastfeedin’, dig?” Nandi replied.
“Solid!” Kojoe exclaimed.
Nandi helped the constable to his feet. “Go get him before he wakes up, Sugar.”
Constable Kojoe sprinted toward the unconscious giant. He paused for a second and called out to Nandi. “Let me repay you for this…how about dinner…tomorrow?”
Nandi blushed. “I usually eat dinner around seven.”
“I’ll pick you up at six,” the constable replied.
“Solid!” Nandi said, stepping through the Constabulary Station’s brass double doors.
Nandi sauntered toward the elevator. She reached into the breast pocket of her jumpsuit and withdrew a copper key. Nandi slipped the key into a hole in the elevator door and turned it counter clockwise.
The door slid open. Nandi hopped into the elevator. The door slid shut behind her. She slipped the key into the hole on the interior side of the door and turned the key clockwise. A hissing sound followed and the elevator began to rise.
The elevator came to a halt. The door slid open and Nandi stepped off and into a long corridor. Facing her was a door marked ‘Chief Constable’. Nandi pushed the door open and stepped inside of the capacious office.
Sitting before her was Chief Constable Magaska Hota. Sweat rolled down the furrows in his forehead and his reddish-brown skin had gone a bit pale.
Nandi raised her right fingertips to the corner of her brow in salute. The Chief Constable returned the salute and then pointed toward a chair that sat in front of his desk. “Take a seat, Nandi.”
Nandi lowered herself into the chair. “I got your message, Chief Constable. Is there a breach of The Wall?”
“We don’t know,” the Chief Constable sighed. “But Shi Yan Bo was found dead this morning.”
Nandi sat bolt upright, as if someone had struck her. “What? Since you called me in on this, it must be murder and the Council of Elders must think it’s related to the Green Lands.”
“He was most definitely murdered,” Chief Constable Magaska Hota replied. “And the Council wants to cover all the bases. I mean, damn…a monk…the father of Aether Tech…murdered? Wakantanka, help us all…Kun-Lun District is going to be up in arms.”
“When do you want me to go to Kun-Lun?”
“Yesterday,” the Chief replied.
Nandi rose from her seat. “I’m on it, Chief!”
She pushed the door open and prepared to leave. “Gotta pick up a few things from my locker first.”
“And, Nandi,” The Chief Constable called.
“Yeah, Chief?” Nandi said, peering over her shoulder.
“Try not to kill too many people or blow up too much stuff on this one.”
“You’re asking a lot, Chief,” Nandi replied. “But, I’ll try.”
She flashed the Chief a brilliant smile, waved and stepped into the lobby. Nandi turned to her left; just past the Chief Constable’s office was another door. She withdrew a small, silver key from her breast pocket and used it to unlock the door. She opened it and stepped into a room illuminated by aether light.
The walls of the room were lined with large, bronze lockers, each six feet in height and four feet wide. On the face of each locker was a brass plate with six tiny, bronze levers protruding from it. Using the tip of her well-manicured index finger, Nandi pushed the first lever to her left down; she pushed the second one up; the third up; and so on, until she had completed the combination.
A whirring noise came from inside the locker and then the door opened a crack.
Nandi pushed the door open and stepped inside the locker. The door shut behind her and she found herself in a pristine white room that seemed to run on forever. Before her were endless rows of weapons, armor and strange looking devices.
“Corset…shotgun…engram iconoscope,” she shouted.
A few minutes later, something in the distance sped toward her. As the speeding object drew close, a shiny, silver table came into view. Atop the table was a silver cage and inside the cage were a few items.
The table came to a smooth stop a yard from Nandi. Nandi approached the table and inspected the items in the cage. Satisfied, she removed them and the table sped off, disappearing into the alabaster distance.
Nandi wrapped the crimson, leather corset around her torso. The corset tightened around her body and then molded itself to fit her frame. Nandi loved it. Not because of how it enhanced her sensuality – which it most certainly did – but because it had protected her from many a bullet, claw and stinger.
She picked up the shotgun and admired it. The weapon – customized to her specifications half a decade ago – was as beautiful as it was deadly…like Nandi, which is why she named it “Junior”. The steam-powered, semi-automatic weapon was a masterwork of iron, bronze and brass. Nandi slipped a bronze ammunition drum into the weapon and then slapped it to lock it into place.
Nandi then picked up a copper box by its handle and walked toward the exit. The door flung open. She stepped out of the locker and the door slammed shut behind her.
Nandi exited the locker room and walked back to the elevator. After entering it, she slipped her key into the door and turned it clockwise.
The elevator rose higher. When the elevator stopped, Nandi removed her key and the door slid open. Nandi stepped out of the elevator onto the roof, where two dirigibles sat. One, with ‘Center Gate Constabulary’ – in brass plating – embossed on the mahogany frame of its carriage; the other, smaller dirigible, with ‘Gatekeeper One’ engraved into its bronze-framed carriage.
Sitting in a booth near the airships were a woman and two men. Their crisp, indigo uniforms and the trio of gold stripes on their sleeve cuffs informed their positions as airship pilots.
One of the men approached Nandi, raising his hand in salute. “Good afternoon, Gatekeeper Abike.”
“Good afternoon, sugar,” Nandi replied. I need to take the Ghetto Bird up…heading to Kun-Lun.
“I can take you, but I don’t speak Mandarin and Constable Yip is off today.” The pilot said.
“I speak enough Mandarin for the both of us, sugar,” Nandi replied. “Now, let’s roll.”
“I’m Constable Haokah,” the pilot said as he unlocked the door to the airship’s carriage.
“Wiyuskingyang wangchingyangke le,” Nandi said – “Pleased to meet you!”
“Your Lakota is excellent!” Constable Haokah said.
“Lila pilamalaye,” Nandi replied – “Thank you, very much.”
Nandi hopped up into the airship. Constable Haokah followed her, locking the door behind him.
“Have a seat and we’ll be on our way,” the pilot said.
Nandi placed her weapon and the engram iconoscope on the second bench and then took a seat in the first bench. The oxblood leather felt cool, soft and relaxing. She leaned back, resting her head on the plush cushion and slipped into sleep as the airship took to the skies.
Nandi stretched and then moved to the bench behind her to retrieve her belongings.
“I will be landing atop the Kun-Lun District constabulary station,” the constable said. “From there, a rickshaw will take you to the crime scene. It will also bring you back when you’re done.”
“Solid, sugar,” Nandi replied.
She peeked out of the portcullis and admired the view. Kun-Lun was a marvel of grand architecture. Residential towers, pagodas and watchtowers of crimson brick and black tiled roofs dotted the district. The imposing Elder House – the complex in which the two Elders from Kun-Lun, and their families, resided – sported roofs constructed of yellow tiles.
Kun-Lun was a place of great beauty and many secrets.
While the residents of Kun-Lun, of which ninety-nine percent of them were Chinese, were loyal to Ki-Khanga – after all, the unified African contingent that bought the African slaves out of bondage in America had also purchased the freedom of the Chinese from indentured servitude – they were still very close-knit and tight-lipped about the goings on in Kun-Lun.
Constable Haokah landed the dirigible upon the roof of the constabulary station. He then walked to the door and slid it open. “See you soon,” he said, giving Nandi a crisp salute.
Nandi returned the salute. “See you in a couple of hours, sugar.”
She exited the airship and ran toward the elevator.
Nandi took the elevator down to street level and then exited the constabulary station into its parking lot, where a rickshaw awaited her.
“Afternoon, Gatekeeper,” the rickshaw driver said, tilting his top-hat. His long, black hair fell over his youthful face.
“Wuan, sugar,” Nandi replied, stepping up into the single passenger, cycle rickshaw. “Ni hao ma?” – “Good afternoon, sugar. How are you?”
“Wo hen hao, ni ne?” – “I am fine, and you?” – The teenager replied.
“Wo hen hao, xie xie,” Nandi said – “I am fine, thank you.”
The rickshaw driver’s powerful legs moved like pistons on the pedals of the rickshaws front wheel and the rickshaw went sailing through traffic, passing other rickshaws, bicycles – and the occasional horse-drawn carriage – on the road.
A half hour later, the rickshaw passed through the red, wooden gates of the Lan Su Garden.
Nandi had visited this beautiful garden many times, but never on such terrible terms.
She had even shared tea at the Penjing exhibit with Shi Yan Bo once, when her grandfather took her along on one of his many meetings with the monk. The encounter was peaceful…serene. And now, very surreal, for Shi Yan Bo was now dead in nearly the same spot where they shared Long Jing tea.
The rickshaw driver stopped at the Penjing exhibit. “The world landscape in miniature”, Shi Yan Bo called it. And so it was – rocks, moss, plants, small figurines made of mud, boats, tiny rivers and miniscule buildings, or a tiny forest – all in one clay pot.
Lying face down amongst the tiny trees was Shi Yan Bo. His yellow, cotton robe was torn on the right side. Nandi inspected the area closer and found a large, black bruise on the monk’s right side. She pressed her fingers on the spot and the bruise sank in about an inch.
“Broken ribs,” someone said from behind her. “Four of them.”
Nandi peered over her shoulder. Standing behind her was a tall woman, dressed in a silk, royal blue tunic and matching trousers. Her skin was smooth and well-tanned and her straight, black hair was pulled back and braided in a single ponytail that fell to the middle of her back.
A light breeze blew the woman’s clothes against her body, revealing a well-toned body.
“You’re a Gatekeeper,” Nandi said.
“Yes,” the woman replied. “My name is Pei-Pei Ming.”
“You’re new,” Nandi said. “I’m Nandi Abike.”
“I know,” Pei said. “Your exploits are quite…celebrated.”
“Welcome aboard, Gatekeeper,” Nandi said, standing and giving Pei a warm hug. “Hell of a first case you got, sugar.”
“Indeed,” Pei said nodding.
“Four,” Pei answered. “I took the liberty of escorting them all to the teahouse.”
“Good work,” Nandi said, slipping her shotgun into the sheath on her back with one hand, while grabbing the engram iconoscope with the other. “Lead the way!”
Nandi followed Pei a short distance along a road that led to a stone bridge, which arched over a large pond filled with coy.
The two Gatekeepers crossed the bridge.
The spicy-sweet aroma of tea licked at Nandi’s nostrils.
The teahouse – an edifice constructed of black brick, with a roof of red tile – stood just before them.
Nandi sauntered into the teahouse. Inside sat five people, who sipped tea and chatted quietly.
Upon spotting Nandi, the teahouse fell silent.
“Ni hao,” Nandi said, in greeting, to the quintet of teahouse patrons.
They returned the greeting – “Ni hao.” – “Hello.”
“I am Gatekeeper Nandi Abike,” Nandi said, continuing to speak to them in Mandarin Chinese. “I knew Master Bo; my grandfather – Dr. Bomani Abike – and Master Bo were friends. We have all suffered a great loss today and I will do my best to find the person who did this and bring them to justice.”
“We already know who did it,” an elderly man spat. “One of your ‘blood brothers’.
“You’re saying the perpetrator was an African?”
“Of course,” the man replied. “Who, but an African would dress so…ridiculously gaudy?”
The other witnesses nodded in agreement.
Nandi closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. She concentrated on the beating of her heart – as the old masters taught her years ago – and slowed it down, calming herself. “I know you are all upset right now, but please, let us not turn this into a racial issue. We have worked together for over one hundred years and Ki-Khanga is now the wealthiest and most technologically advanced country in the world because of our unity.”
The faces of the witnesses shifted from scowls to masks of frustration and sorrow.
Nandi sat the engram iconoscope on a table and then pressed a small button in its handle. The device opened to reveal what looked like a large crystal ball with five silver nodes dotting its surface. On one side of this “ball”, a crystal rod protruded from it. At the end of the rod were four needles. Nandi removed four small plastic baggies – each containing another set of needles – and handed them to Pei.
“This is an engram iconoscope,” Nandi explained to the witnesses. “It records memories. Most people do not consciously recall all that they see, but the engram iconoscope will. All you have to do is think about the event; concentrate on it; the iconoscope will do the rest.”
Nandi pointed toward the needles at the tip of the rod. “I am going to insert these needles into acupuncture points at the base of your neck and it will record exactly what you saw. Most of you are familiar with acupuncture, so you know this procedure will be painless. Do you have any questions?”
“Can she do it?” A woman asked, nodding toward Gatekeeper Pei-Pei Ming.
“I can,” Pei replied. “However, Gatekeeper Abike has much more experience with such things. Respect her, please.”
“No, it’s fine,” Nandi said, handing the engram iconoscope to Pei. “I want you all to be comfortable.”
Pei nodded and then handed the packs of needles to Nandi. She then stepped behind the woman who requested that she do the procedure and slowly inserted the needles into the base of her neck.
Images swirled within the engram iconoscope’s ball, bonding to the aether within it. Slowly, the images steadied and grew clear. Shi Yan Bo knelt before a miniature tree, pruning it. From the angle, it was obvious the woman stood on the bridge watching the monk.
A moment later, a person seemed to fall from the sky, landing a yard or so from Master Bo. The person appeared to be a male approximately six feet tall and weighing between one hundred-eighty and two hundred pounds. He was dressed in a candy apple red, corduroy jumpsuit, red gloves and red platform boots. A huge, red fedora – with a peacock feather protruding from it – concealed his face.
Startled, the monk leapt to his feet.
The man in the red “pimp suit” exploded forward, whipping his rear leg in a wide arc toward the monk’s torso.
The man’s shin slammed into Shi Yan Bo’s ribcage. The monk’s robes shredded from the sheer power of the blow and he was sent tumbling sideways across the road.
The old monk struggled to his feet as the man-in-the-red-pimp-suit sauntered toward him.
Shi Yan Bo limped toward the bridge.
His assailant leapt toward him, reaching out toward the monk with outstretched fingers.
The man-in-the-red-pimp-suit thrust the fingers of one hand into Shi Yan Bo’s neck as his other hand grabbed a fistful of the monk’s long, white hair.
The man shoved Shi Yan Bo’s head forward as he pulled the fingers buried in the monk’s neck toward the old man’s spine.
A torrent of blood erupted from the four deep gashes in Shi Yan Bo’s neck.
The monk stumbled forward a few feet and then collapsed onto his face. He shuddered once and then lay still.
The man-in-the-red-pimp-suit turned away from Shi Yan Bo’s lifeless body and calmly walked off, eventually disappearing among the fir trees.
Each witness’ memory showed the same scene, but from different angles. However, none of them could see the killer’s face, so his identity – and ethnicity – remained a mystery.
“Thank you all,” Nandi said, packing up the engram iconoscope. “Gatekeeper Ming will stay here with you until the constabulary arrive.
“Actually, I am going with you,” Pei Ming said. “Orders from both of our Chief Constables; I received them while you were en route here.
“Two Gatekeepers working a homicide?” Nandi said, shaking her head.”The Council of Elders obviously want this case closed quicker than a hot chocolate stand in the Mojave Desert, ya dig?”
“I…dig,” Pei replied.
“Once this gets out to the public, things between Kun-Lun and Songhai could get tense,” Nandi said. “Let’s go!”
Nandi and Pei exited the teahouse. Nandi placed her hand on Pei Ming’s shoulder. “Wait; we have to call you some transport; I’m rolling in a single passenger rickshaw.”
“No problem,” Pei Ming said. “Upon initiation, the Masters gifted me with a subdermal temporal-spatial displacement engine.”
“Moving sideways through time, huh?”Nandi said. “That was just a theory when I went through my initiation.”
“Things have changed a lot since way back then,” Pei said. “Nowadays, we have spoons and everything!”
“Funny,” Nandi said, rolling her eyes. “Meet me on the roof of the constabulary station in forty-five minutes.”
A luminous, purple gash in the air appeared before Gatekeeper Ming. She thrust her right leg into the tear in the world. “I’ll be there in twenty.”
Pei stepped sideways into the gash, disappearing from view as it closed.
“Damn…I gotta get me one of those displacement engines!” Nandi said, shaking her head.
She sprinted to the rickshaw.
“Let’s roll,” Nandi said, leaping into her seat. “Get me to the station in less than twenty minutes and I’ll give you a thirty-shell tip!”
“What?!” The rickshaw driver gasped. “Thirty shells? Let’s go!”
The rickshaw driver pedaled harder than he had ever done before. The rickshaw sped out of the garden and hit the street. “Solid, sugar! Keep up this pace and I just might double that tip!”
“Yes and this one is a child,” Chief Constable Magaska Hota replied.
“What?” Nandi gasped. “Where?”
“This is where it gets really bad,” the Chief Constable replied. “Her body was found in the stacks at the Sundiata Keita University Library. Witnesses say the murderer was Chinese.”
“We need to get there before the students start protesting and the press gets wind of this,” Pei-Pei Ming said.
“Too late,” Chief Constable Magaska Hota said. “The students started protesting about an hour ago. Several Chinese students have been attacked, as has a Dr. Doc-Fai Hung – a professor in the Chinese studies department. We have a squad of constables there keeping the situation under control, but I need you to take care of this…and fast!”
Nandi and Pei Ming saluted the Chief Constable and headed out the door of his office.
“We’re on it, Chief Constable,” Nandi said as she dashed out of the room. Pei-Pei Ming followed closely behind her.
“It’s rush hour, so we’ll take the airship again,” Nandi said. “Unless you wanna poof us over there with your displacement engine.”
“I can only transport myself,” Pei Ming said. “Myself, plus up to fifty pounds.”
“The airship it is then,” Nandi said. Let’s go, Gatekeeper.”
Nandi leapt out of the dirigible. Pei-Pei Ming followed her.
A ring of constables pushed back a seething mass of students who shouted demands of justice.
Nandi and Pei pushed their way through the crowd. Recognizing Nandi, the constables parted for a moment to let them into the cordoned area outside of the library, where the girl’s body lay.
Inside the library, at the top level of the stacks, Constable Kojoe stood beside the corpse. He smiled upon seeing Nandi. “What’s happenin’, Gatekeeper Abike?”
“Nothing’s shakin’, sugar,” Nandi replied. “Constable Kojoe, this is my partner, Pee-pee Ming…Pee-pee, this is Constable Kojoe.”
“Pee-pee?” Constable Kojoe whispered.
“It’s Pei-Pei – pay…pay – not Pee-pee,” Pei Ming said, shaking her head. “Touché, partner.”
Nandi flashed Pei-Pei a sly smile as she knelt down beside the corpse, which – like Shi Yan Bo – lay face down.
“Who is she?” Nandi asked, as she inspected the girl’s mahogany face.
“Amut Sut Hotep,” Constable Kojoe said. “Sixteen years old; second year, pre-med major; straight A-student and Secretary of the Student Union.”
Amut Sut Hotep’s silk, turquoise blouse had been nearly completely torn from her body. Deep cuts were on her right forearm and her right baby finger was severed at the second joint. Carved deep into the girl’s back were three Chinese characters.
“War,” Pei-Pei Ming said, reading the blood-encrusted wounds.
“How many witnesses?” Nandi asked.
“Three,” Constable Kojoe replied. “They’re in a meeting room downstairs.”
“Let’s get this over with, then,” Nandi sighed.
Like the witnesses to the murder of Shi Yan Bo, the witnesses to Amut Sut Hotep’s tragic death were interfaced with the engram iconoscope. In the witnesses’ memories of the murder, Amut was reading Indaba, My Children – a favored classic throughout Ki-Khanga – when a man in a red, traditional silk Chinese tunic and silk trousers ascended the ladder that led up to the stacks. The man’s face was concealed by a crimson mask depicting a demon with bulging, yellow eyes, ears the size of bird wings and wicked-looking fangs in a snarling, twisted maw.
Spotting the man in the mask, Amut sprang to her feet and attempted to kick the man off the ladder, but he was too quick for her and leapt to the platform of the stack, landing beside her.
Amut tried to backpedal away from the man, but he closed on her and slashed at her neck with what appeared to be a jade-handled straight razor. The student threw up her arm to shield against the deadly strikes. She winced as – several times – her skin opened to reveal the flesh underneath. Blood sprayed with each wound, leaving a red mist in the air.
The man in the mask slammed his shoulder into Amut’s solar plexus and she collapsed to her knees as the air rushed from her lungs.
The man wrapped his fingers around Amut’s neck and then slammed her face into the floor. Blood trickled from her mouth as a bicuspid rolled from between her lips and bounced along the floor of the stack.
The man in the mask then mounted Amut’s back, straddling her waist with his knees and cut away her blouse with his weapon. He then proceeded to carve into her back with the razor.
Amut screamed as he mercilessly ripped at her young flesh with the razor. After a minute of agony, the girl fell still.
The man in the mask rose to his feet, looked around at the witnesses, waved to them and then descended the ladder. He sauntered toward the rear exit and a moment later he was gone.
With the information gathered from the witnesses, Nandi and Pei-Pei left the library as Constable Kojoe gathered written statements.
“Thoughts?” Nandi asked.
“I think we have definite Green activity,” Pei-Pei replied. “Possibly a Skin-Walker; maybe even a Wendigo.”
“A Skin-Walker? Maybe,” Nandi said. “A Wendigo? No…a Wendigo would have eaten them before their hearts stopped beating…they can’t help themselves. It might not be a Green at all, though. Center Gate hasn’t had a breach in the Wall in seven years and I put that one down with the quickness, dig?”
“One thing I do know is that whoever – or whatever – is committing these murders wants to set off a war between the Chinese and African communities,” Nandi said.
“Who stands to gain from such a war?” Pei asked.
“Two groups,” Nandi answered. “The Greens…and the First Nation community”
“The First Nation? You must mean Wabli Ska?” Pei Ming said. “You think he is behind this?”
“He’s the most vocal – and the most popular – separatist in Ki-Khanga,” Nandi said. “He believes the First Nation would have overcome the Europeans eventually, but when our forefathers built Ki-Khanga, they pushed the Europeans to retaliate by awakening the Old Ones from their thousand year slumber, which forced the First Nations to flee to Ki-Khanga in order to escape the Greens that invaded their lands.”
“He was once a constable was he not?” Pei asked.
“Yes,” Nandi replied. “And a close friend. That was a long time ago, though.”
“So, when do we bring him in for questioning?”
“We don’t,” Nandi answered. “Wabli Ska is the Chief Constable’s son…we don’t want to cause the Chief Constable unnecessary grief on a hunch. We’re going to Tipi Wowahwa District and interrogating him there.”
More students had gathered on the yard.
“Better use that displacement engine,” Nandi said. “Those students aren’t taking too kindly to Chinese faces right now.”
“Alright,” Pei-Pei Ming said, stepping into the tear in the world that had already formed. “I’ll see you onboard the airship.”
Nandi pushed her way past the students and jogged to the airship. She prayed that the perpetrator was, indeed, a Green. She would rather face a thousand Greens than be forced to execute someone she cared for.
Before entering the dirigible, she turned her gaze skyward. The clouds were a bright pink. The sun was going down. Darkness was falling upon Ki-Khanga.
The dirigible landed just outside of a small village of tipi, which were constructed of buffalo skin dyed red and indigo.
“Wabli Ska and his followers live here, but so do several elders and children,” Nandi said, firing up her monowheel, which was parked at the door of the airship. “Hopefully, things won’t get violent, but if they do, try hard to keep collateral damage to a minimum.”
Pei-Pei Ming peered out of the porthole next to the door. “Oh, things getting violent is highly likely.”
Nandi slid open the door. About fifty yards away – sitting atop white warhorses – were several men and women. Front and center – sitting atop a jet-black horse – was Wabli Ska. “I count thirty, in addition to Wabli Ska. We should be able to take them, but expect a few bumps and bruises.”
“A few bumps and bruises?” Pei Ming echoed, raising an eyebrow. “Umm…”
“Do you need me to come?” Constable Haokah shouted from the pilot’s seat.
“No,” Nandi replied. “A First Nation brother working for ‘The Man’ will just set these warriors off, sugar. Just keep this Ghetto Bird fired up!”
Nandi revved the engine of the monowheel and exploded out of the door.
Pei vanished, reappearing ten yards – her limit with each displacement – from the airship. She vanished again, reappearing after another ten yards. Pei repeated this process until she appeared beside Nandi who now stood beside her monowheel about five yards from Wabli Ska.
The warhorses were decorated in war-paint. Scarlet circles were painted around the animals’ eyes and nostrils; and green hand prints were drawn upon each horse’s hip. Each horse had a small leather medicine bag weaved into its bridle and black-tipped eagle feathers braided into its forelock and tail.
The warriors wore deerskin shirts and trousers. Their cheeks bore a red and crimson stripe and all but Wabli Ska wore two eagle feathers sewn into their hair.
Wabli wore a bonnet made of black eagle feathers with a white tip.
“What it is, what it was and what it will be, Wabli?” Nandi asked, raising her hand in greeting.
“Nothin’ shakin’,” Wabli answered. “Why are you here, Nandi?”
“We have two murders on our hands,” Nandi replied. “One is a Chinese monk; the other one is an African girl. The Chinese symbols for war were carved into the girl’s back.”
“What has any of that got to do with me?” Wabli said. “Or you, for that matter? Since when does a monster-hunter work homicide?”
“It could be a Green committing these crimes, but before we head out to the Green Lands, we need to weigh all of our options,” Nandi replied.
“And I’m n option? Wabli spat. “Get your ass out of here, Nandi, before you get yourself hurt!”
“We just want to talk, Wabli,” Nandi said. “You know me, sugar; you don’t want your people to die and I don’t want to hurt anyone, but if you make a move, I’ll kill you all.”
“I always wanted to see if a Gatekeeper was as bad-ass as they say,” a young warrior shouted. “Let me handle this, Chief!”
“Boy, shut up when grown folks is talkin’!” Wabli commanded. “I watched this woman kill two Wendigo with nothing but that damned shotgun on her back. You are not gonna fight her…”
Wabli drew his tomahawk with his right hand and raised it above his head. “We are!”
Wabli threw the tomahawk at Nandi’s head.
Nandi dropped to one knee, avoiding the weapon, as she drew her shotgun.
Pei-Pei Ming vanished. A moment later, she appeared, sitting behind the young warrior who wanted to fight Nandi. Pei grabbed his chin with one hand and the crest of his head with the other and then twisted forcefully. The young man fell from his horse and landed on his chest. His head – now turned backward – stared up at Pei with dead eyes.
Nandi fired a volley from her shotgun, blowing three warriors off their horses before they could string an arrow on their bows. She then leapt toward Wabli and struck him in the chest with the butt of the shotgun.
Wabli tumbled off the horse and landed, with a thud, onto his back. He recovered quickly, however, rolling to his feet and running toward the airship.
“He’s going for the airship,” Nandi shouted. “Stop him, Pei, but don’t kill him. We need to question him. I’ll clean up here.”
Pei nodded as she crushed a warrior’s windpipe with a swift chop. She vanished, leaving Nandi to deal with the warriors.
Nandi leapt high into the air as she fired the shotgun. A warrior’s head disappeared in a cloud of red mist.
She landed – rolling to avoid a volley of arrows – and then popped to her feet, squeezing the shotgun’s trigger in rapid succession.
Five more warrior’s fell.
The remaining warriors turned their horses around and retreated toward the village.
Nandi hopped on her monowheel and headed back to the airship. She arrived to find Wabli face down on the ground in handcuffs.
“Wabli, did you kill the monk and the girl?” Nandi asked.
“Yes,” Wabli confessed.
Nandi was stunned. “I’ll ask again…”
“No need,” Wabli said, interrupting her. “I did it.”
“Wabli, your father…”
“Don’t mention my father!” Wabli hissed. “Just…don’t…please.”
“Okay, Wabli,” Nandi said, pulling him to his feet. Let’s go.”
“Yes, it saddens me,” the Chief Constable said. “But I am also happy the murderer has been brought to justice.”
Pei-Pei Ming handed Chief Constable Magaska Hota a form and a pen. “We just need you to sign the Writ of Execution and we will carry out the sentence.”
The Chief Constable took the pen in his left hand and signed the form. “Please, make it quick. I don’t want my son to suffer.”
“You misunderstand, Chief,” Nandi said. “Please read the name on the Writ of Execution carefully.”
The Chief Constable perused the form. “Is this a joke?”
“No joke, sir,” Nandi replied.
“Why is my name on this Writ?” The Chief Constable inquired.
“Because you are the murderer,” Nandi replied. “Shi Yan Bo suffered rib fractures to his right side, indicating a powerful left-legged strike. The damage on the left side of his neck came as the result of an attack from behind, with the assailant’s left hand.”
Nandi stood up. “The girl suffered defensive wounds on her right forearm, caused by a razor attack with the assailant’s left hand…and just now, you signed the Writ with your left hand, but when Wabli attacked me, he threw the tomahawk with his right hand.”
“You have a good son, former Chief Constable,” Pei-Pei Ming said. “He would rather die than see it happen to his father.”
“Oh, please,” Magaska Hota hissed, staring down at his desk. “He just wants to be a martyr. The fool thinks it will further his cause.”
Nandi drew her shotgun. “If you move your head one inch, you’ll lose it.”
Magaska Hota laughed gleefully and clapped his hand. “Oh, you are a smart one, aren’t you? You know what I am. Very good.”
“Yeah, sugar,” Nandi said. “You’re a Two-Face.
Nandi did not take her eyes – or her weapon – off of the monster as she addressed Pei Ming. “Pei-Pei, the gaze of a Two-Face paralyzes so it can drain its victims’ blood without them putting up a fight. They also like to cause war and strife…easier for them to hunt during the chaos.”
“Bingo!” Magaska Hota chuckled.
“What I don’t know is how you took possession of the Chief without breaching the Wall.”
“I have been with Magaska Hota since his family brought him here when he was twelve,” the creature replied. “I – of course – had to lay dormant in my host for quite a while before I could take over. During that time, the boy got married and conceived a son. Wabli and Magaska Hota were very close by the time I took over and Wabli noticed the change. I guess he hoped that his death would shock Magaska Hota into waking up and casting me out, but it’s too late. Magaska Hota’s soul is dead.”
Nandi pulled the trigger. “That’s all I needed to know.”
The Two-Face’s head was blown from its shoulders. A greenish-black ichor spewed from the creature’s neck. Its headless body shuddered and then collapsed onto the floor.
“He is going to cry,” Pei Ming sighed.
“Wabli Ska?” Nandi asked.
Pei shook her head. “No…the janitor when he sees this mess he has to clean up.”
Constable Kojoe smiled. “I told you, this is the best African restaurant in all of Ki-Khanga.
“You might just be right, but there is this place in North Gate that’ll make you…”
“Excuse the interruption.”
Nandi looked over her shoulder. “Pei-Pei! Have you come to join us?”
“I wish that were the case,” Pei answered. “But a Stone Coat has breached the Wall.”
“A Stone-Coat? I haven’t fought one of those in years!” Nandi said, rising from her chair. “This should be fun; the last one took out forty constables and a Gatekeeper before I could put it down.”
“Count me in!” Constable Conger said, wiping the corners of his mouth with a handkerchief.
“Then let’s roll, sugar,” Nandi said, heading for the restaurant’s exit. “We got monsters to kill!”