Why Steampunk?

Well…lots of reasons.


I was inspired to write this post after watching a Lindsey Sterling video. If you haven’t heard of her, she’s this spunky kid who does some very contemporary and creative things while plying the violin. Her latest video (that I’m aware of) is called Roundtable Rival and can be found at, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jvipPYFebWc

As the video opens, we see its obviously taking place in a wild west setting, but soon we notice the goggles and, bam! its steampunk. Frankly, there’s no reason for the video to be steampunk, per se. The music could be set to many eras, and if you have all these wild west sets; why not just set your story in the historical wild west?

Easy answer; although we love cowboys, we don’t like the historical wild west.

First off, I need to be clear on who is “we.” We are the Americans of pop culture circa 2010. We were raised on cowboy movies and television shows as a part of our cultural education and we found that learning was indeed fun. We also have enjoyed Sherlock Holmes novels, Lovecraftian horror, and bold tales of great white hunters searching the jungles of Africa for lost cities of gold…and we have felt incredibly weird enjoying all this stuff.

Ever read the original Dr. Fu Manchu novels by Sax Rhomer? Racist as hell, aren’t they?

Today we are repulsed by the racism, sexism and rampant homophobia that saturated the Victorian age. Between 60% and 75% of us cheered when gay marriage became legal nationwide (and many others grudgingly admit gays have rights, they just wanted it to be done by the states or whatever). How can people of such a socially enlightened age enjoy a good Victorian tale where the white male hetero characters do all the cool stuff and everybody else is just a servant, a native guide, the girl to be rescued, or the villain? Heck, we see white cop on black citizen injustices on our television screens and we want to scream. How can we read that in our fiction and not be legitimately repulsed?

And yet, the Victorian era was so cool in so many other ways. It was an age of invention, exploration and expansion into the unknown. The costumes, the music, the architecture and even the weapons offer an extremely rich pallet for fiction. Remembering a time when people didn’t need spaceships to go exploring, two good boots were all that was needed to find the source of the Nile, is very appealing. Yet as frontiers were expanded native peoples were exterminated; a legacy we are dealing with still.

So, we find our salvation in the works of Jules Verne and HG Wells. True, they were men of their times but they were certainly more benign than the monsters of that day. We take their leave to re-imagine the Victorian era as something less ignorant and mean than it actually was. Put some googles on and the woman becomes the hero, the black character the aviator, the inventor a homosexual, and the story flows from there. And if the steampunk author includes the ugly side of that time he or she can show it to us as the injustice it was and not white wash it and pretend it doesn’t matter.

Let me be clear, I am not opposed to steampunk and may even write a story of that ilk someday. However, I do request of my contemporary Americans that we remember the past for what it was as well as for what it could have been. That way we can take today’s world for what it is, and work to make it what it should be.


Neil deGrasse Tyson- Science Hero.

One cannot write science fiction without the inspiration of real space adventure. I aplaud Dr. Tyson for his efforts to move us forward as a nation and as a species.  Cut and paste this address to learn more.



Science Fiction Writer, Game Designer & Renaissance Man

Of course, there is only one guy I could be talking about; H.G. Wells.


Born in 1866, just a year after the American Civil War ended, he was doing his thing until he passed away in 1946, just after World War II ended. Many consider him the father of science fiction, and in many ways they are right. Of course, Mary Shelley wrote what is considered the first science fiction novel, Frankenstein. But unfortunately Ms. Shelley only had the one bestseller  in her. After that, Jules Verne and old H.G took a good look at her science fiction football and ran farther and faster with it than anyone had before.

H.G. wrote the first book about interplanetary war, about time travel, about air warfare, about genetic manipulation and about the power of invisibility. And get this, he also wrote the first miniatures wargame.

While playing with his children and their toy soldiers he devised a set of rules for “floor games.” He called them that because that’s where the games were played, on the floor.

The set ups were huge by our gaming standards. Using 3” tall figures, the game consisted of infantry moving one foot per turn and cavalry two feet. In his game, casualties were determined by shooting wood pegs out of spring-loaded cannons or simply by rolling a ball into your opponent’s troops.

The game was quite popular at the time. In fact, if you watch the old movie Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang by Walt Disney, you can see the game being played. After all, the movie takes place in H.G. Well’s era, and at the end you see the character Grandfather playing it on the floor with one of his old army buddies.

The rules became refined over time and wargaming societies and clubs sprung up the world over. In America a young enthusiast of miniatures wargaming started reading J.R.R Token’s books. This American kid was of course named Gary Gygax, and he used miniatures rules as the starting point for what eventually became Dungeons and Dragons.

With steam punk fiction currently in ascendance, I think it proper to remember the man who gave geekdom so much. As long as nerds gather over gaming tables, we will never forget you Mr. Wells.

By Clayton J. Callahan

Amazon’s New Offering

Cover Screaming Eagle

GREAT NEWS!!! My first book, Tales of The Screaming Eagle is now available on Amazon as a paperback for $16.99. Previously it was only available as a paperback through Lulu.com and the Amazon offering is about four bucks cheaper. This took a mountain of effort as Amazon couldn’t figure out that my publisher had the rights to do this until I sent them a copy of my contract. Enjoy the book, everybody.

Free Writing Tips, and It’s All About Star Wars


Star Wars is the perfect three-act play.

So, what is this three-act play stuff? Easy, it’s a formula that writers of all types use to guide their plots so a story doesn’t just ramble on. Face it, we’ve all read fiction that lacked direction, the characters, and the reader just wander in the woods until the author runs out of ink in his pen…boring.

The three-act play gives your story a concrete beginning, middle and end. What’s more, this format is so widely used in western fiction that most readers expect to see it, even if they couldn’t describe it (I know, people are weird).

Is the three act play a law authors must obey? No! But beginning writers would do well to know what the mold looks like before they try to break it. So, here goes; free writing advice from me (struggling, yet published author) to you.

Now, do you remember the first Star Wars movie?

Good, most folks have seen the original Star Wars, whether they consider themselves fans or not. But, most people who’ve seen it don’t know how perfectly, how EXACTLY, it uses the three act play boilerplate. Don’t believe me? Well, let’s take a look…

ACT ONE: In this act, the author opens with a threat to hook the audience’s attention, and then introduces all the principal characters.

Forget the boring text crawl. What people remember most about the beginning of this movie is the gigantic space battle it opens with. A big, threatening ship swallows a teeny-tiny ship, and soon storm-troopers are bursting through an exploding door, shooting it out with rebel crewmen. Bang! The audience is hooked.

We meet Darth Vader, Princess Leia, and the droids before we’ve finished our popcorn. Soon, the action draws us down to Tatooine where we meet Luke (our protagonist on a hero’s journey), Obi-wan, Han and Chewie. Now that the characters have all been introduced we send them on a quest to deliver the plans to Alderaan. Once that little chore is done, the characters think everything will be okay…but the audience hopes it won’t be so easy.

Face it, nobody sitting in the theater wants the show to end now. Escaping from Moss Isley Spaceport in the Millennium Falcon is only the end of act one, not of the movie.

ACT TWO: The middle of the play begins with the “first catastrophe”  and ends with the “second catastrophe.” In between those two events we see the characters come together as a team and the hero moving forward on his journey.

The first catastrophe is the destruction of planet Alderaan. So much for our nice, simple quest to deliver the plans. Now our heroes must deactivate the tractor beam, rescue the princess and escape the frigging garbage monster.  During this time of struggle, we see Luke taking initiative, leading the assault on the detention center, and becoming less farm boy and more Jedi (as his journey progresses).

The second act ends when they face the second catastrophe. True, they escaped the Death Star. Unfortunately, the darn thing is following them back to the rebel base and will soon destroy the only resistance to the evil empire’s control of the entire galaxy. Thanks Obama!

ACT THREE: Climax and resolution for the hero and his friends.

Act three begins on the fourth moon of Yavin, where Luke receives his briefing with the other fighter pilots. The climax is, of course, the biggest space battle yet. The dogfight over the Death Star is so intense that we almost completely forget about the space battle that opened the movie. The audience is treated to several near misses as rebel, after rebel, fails to hit the target. Final victory is achieved when Luke uses the force for the first time, thus giving him kinship with Obi-wan as a force wielding warrior (if not a Jedi yet).

The resolution comes with medals for everybody (except Chewie and the droids…what’s up with that?). Our plot is concluded, and the audience feels satisfied that they’ve had a full meal with all the meat and potatoes proceeding the desert. And there you have it; the three act play.

Watch any movie, read any book and I’m willing to bet you’ll see 80% of them follow this formula. Why? Because it works, and it’s what readers have come to expect. Yes, you can monkey with it. Yes, you can scrap it all together. But if you do, you will need to give your audience something else in return to satisfy their hunger. In other words, don’t try jumping your motorcycle over the house until you learn to ride the darn thing around the block.

Thus endeth the lesson.

New Video For Crazy Liddy


Check out my latest video feturing that crazy starpilot; Liddy!