A Bit O’ Steampunk Fiction

My friend sent out a quick drabble challenge to write about snow using a fandom you’ve never written about.  So here is the result.  My current fandom zeitgeist that I can’t believe I’ve never written about: Steampunk.

Steam Through Snow

By Christie Hudon

“What do you mean we can’t get through?” the shrill voice of a fur-wrapped lady sounded through the train car.

The passengers of engine 105 were becoming restless, their agitated state adding thin clouds of fog to the glass windowpanes.

Jett sighed and tapped her wrench against her skirt.  She watched from the back of the car as the conductor puffed up like a peacock.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it appears that there is a snowdrift blocking our path and at our present capacity, the train cannot attain a speed fast enough to simply plow through it without damage.  Our engineers are working to clear the drift as soon as possible.  In the meantime, the refreshment trolly will provide you all with some refreshing drinks to pass the time.”

The man didn’t stick around for questions or to hear the chorus of exasperated sighs and grunts.  Jett smirked-she didn’t blame him-and pulled her watch from her coat pocket.  Okay, things were getting serious.  If she didn’t make it into Lampton by 3:00, she would miss her chance.

Jett grabbed her rough carpet bag that served as purse, suitcase and home (for now) and stepped behind her seat to the lavatory.  Shimmying her skirt over her stockinged legs, she slipped on a pair of coarse wool breeches and tucked them into her laced black boots.  Jett pulled a pair of goggles over her eyes and slipped a cap over her hair.

Stepping back into the cabin aisle, Jett stowed the carpet bag under her seat and strode past listless passengers to the front of the car.  She pushed open the door slowly and crept out the slim crack, lest the whiny passengers complain of cold.  The crisp air stung Jett’s nostrils in a pleasing way, waking her up to the task at hand: get this train to the station soon because the ones running it sure weren’t doing anything to help.

Cautiously, Jett set her foot against the outer walkrail of the engine car.  She grabbed the iron bar above it and swung herself over the connectors.  Before she remembered not to look down, Jett gasped.  The engine car was parked at the start of a bridge, long struts holding it above the steel-colored water of a freezing river.  No wonder those engine boys weren’t plowing anything.

Jett breathed deeply, letting the cold sharpen the world around her as she gripped the rail.  Hand over hand, she slowly made her way along the side of the engine.  Every few moments, warm puffs of steam belched out from the stalled train, making her face thaw and chill as they fell down over her.  As she neared the open engine compartment, Jett heard exasperated yells from the crew.  Wrenches clanked and the door of the steam engine’s burning belly creaked as they fed it logs.

“What in blue blazes,” one of the crew members spotted Jett and dragged her into the engine car.  Heat swelled over her and Jett sighed.  She pulled her wrench out of her back pocket and pointed it at the gages that controlled the steam engine.

“I’m here to help you get this train going.” Jett tried to sound more confident than she felt.

“And just who are you,” a larger crew member pushed toward her, his denim overalls dusted with black soot that matched his face.

“You need to tweak the thermal pressure gage to do a blowout.  If you expel enough steam you should melt enough of the drift to get through,” Jett replied, gesturing to the front of the train.

The engineer who helped her aboard smiled.  “Why didn’t you think of that Adamson.  That’s brilliant.” He pulled his cap down and winked at Jett.    He held out a gloved hand dark with cinders.  “Matt Rook.  Care to help?”

“Juliet Smith, but my friends call me Jett.” She took his hand firmly and smiled.

“What are you, a new hire come up from the luggage car?” Adamson sneered.

“No, just a concerned passenger.”

Jett shrugged and stepped up to help Matt adjust the steam intake.

“Cripes, are you crazy?” Adamson said.

“Come now Mr. Adamson, would you really miss out on your only shot at getting into the engineers academy?  My test is at 3:30.  Now, bring me some wood.”

Takarazuka

Ever noticed how most musicals have an inordinate imbalance of male to female roles favoring the males by about 89%!!!? For some reason, writers of musicals always overlook the glut of female talent banging at the golden gates of musical theater for a chance at even a bit part. But no, they keep churning out shows with 6 male parts for every female role. Think of all the popular musicals you can think of and my reasoning comes true at least 80% of the time. There are most likely two main female roles and 4-5 main male roles along with a handful of male characters that though they are not leads have sufficient dialog and singing opportunities to make the role notable (I’m calling them middle roles).

Japan has the answer to this. If you’ve never heard of Takarzuka it’s time you should. It’s an idea that turns Elizabethan theater on its head. That’s right, girls play the guy roles, and very well I should add. Now Japan does have a bit more enthusiasm for the gender-bending idol phenomenon but let’s look at the sheer feasibility of it. There are ten times more females vying for careers as performers than men, it is harder to find males to cast in many musical theater situations, there are tons more guy parts (am I making my frustrations clear enough with the verbal repetition sledgehammer?).

Takarazuka is one of the leading performance troops in Japan with a long history. Technically known as Takarazuka review, this all-female group performs Western-style shows in full Broadway glitz and glamor. Look up videos on youtube and you’ll see the pinnacle of lavish costumes, sets, singers and spectacle. Founded in 1913, the troop was set up by a railway company to attract visitors to a popular hot spring destination of the same name. To date, all girls performing in the Takarazuka review are technically employees of the Hankyu Railway.

Girls are carefully selected from thousands of hopefuls to begin two years of rigorous training at the Takarazuka music school. The first year, all inductees train together in acting, signing and dancing. In their second year, the faculty and current members decide which candidates should take on the masculine roles, then all candidates are funneled into one of 5 performance groups.

Though it began as a ploy to attract visitors and is ambiguous in it’s feminist ideas, I like what Takarazuka is today-a rich platform for a large number of female performers to shine on the global stage. With a modern venue in Tokyo, millions of visitors to the city can view this theater style. I was ready to buy tickets before I had to cancel my post-earthquake visit. I couldn’t wait to sit in a theater and see the pagentry of talented women who turned Kabuki theater tropes into a phenomenon.

No, I don’t dream of crossdressing, just having a chance at a decent role in a community theater world outfitted with 20 sopranos for every one male who can carry a tune in a bath tub.

Check out the opening of the Takarazuka show “Phantom.”    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qE75-74kc3Y&feature=related

Movie Review-War Horse

War Horse
A review by Christie H

The idea of showing a war through the eyes of a human interest story is not new. Countless films that pack an engrossing saga in the guise of an intimate narrative have captured the attention of moviegoers since the days of Gone with the Wind. Though the plot vehicle is not unique, War Horse, Steven Spielberg’s latest epic tale, is refreshing and riveting; a not so typical pull on the heartstrings yarn with a cute animal. Instead, we are treated to a gritty yet hopeful journey through the trenches of WWI on the heels of a spirited equine hero.

 
War Horse begins at a trot with a few too many scenes of the leading man looking wistfully off into the horse pasture but picks up the pace once the conflict is introduced-an Irish family struggling to keep their farm. When Ted Narracott (Peter Mullan) acquires a horse for his family, it falls to his son Albert (Jeremy Irvine) to train the finely bred animal to plow a rocky field. What follows is more interesting than it would sound to describe. The intricate camera work by Spielberg’s go to Janusz Kaminsky makes plow vision intriguing, and superb acting by Emily Watson as Albert’s mother carries the scene to its climax.

 
Quick as the storm that thwarts the Narracott’s fortunes, the story catapults into war mode—where it will stay for the rest of the film. This is where the film takes a quick turn from lighthearted to gut-wrenching, even graphic at times. The family friendliness of the movie is touted but not accurate. This is not a movie for children below middle school age because of the brutal reality of war. No detail is spared because this is a feel-good horse film. In fact, the horse itself isn’t spared from the atrocities of trench warfare.

 
War Horse is dazzling cinematically and in its storytelling power. This is not your average war or animal movie but a strangely fascinating blend of the two. Expect a cathartic journey through WWI Europe with the horse as a visual narrator and not some touchy-feely equine triumph and you’ll enjoy the ride.