Another busy week, though I’m hoping it will calm down a little. What have I been up to? Uni work, mostly. Read on for Psychology in bulk. Catch up with Quick Takes at This Ain’t the Lyceum.
If you’re interested in Psychology, I did a seminar presentation today for my Science of Emotion module, entitled Are Faces and the Emotions They Convey Innate? My conclusion, for simplicity and time-saving, was that we might have a critical period in the development of emotion processing neurology, in which the neural pathways develop—which can be influenced to be ‘abnormal’ by external factors like more frequent exposure to certain facial expression stimuli in the environment.
However, this topic is actually one in constant debate. Since, if you’d consider it, Darwin’s lesser-well-known (compared to On the Origin of Species) The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, psychologists have been interested in whether facial expressions of emotion are innate or learned. Or indeed a combination of the two.
A snippet of my notes to illustrate how difficult it is in science to give a straight conclusion. After all, there are so many possible confounding variables and human differences that one cannot possibly generalise.
Reeb-Sutherland et al’s paper came to the conclusion that facial expressions of emotions are not innate, as their results showed differences in preference for seeing fearful faces in a continuum of Anger—Fear (where preference is seeing a fearful face sooner than the average) between Behaviourally-Inhibited adolescents with a history of anxiety. This means, more or less, that something about their past exposure and tendency for anxiety has ‘rewired’ their brain to be more aware of threat.
On the other hand, studies like that of Gendron et al looked at how ‘basic’ emotions (a la Paul Ekman, 1984*) are prevalent across cultures, even in Patagonian tribes, who will not have had as much exposure to media and the stress Western culture can evoke (and therefore they may be less prone to anxiety and worry emotions). One might argue from results like these that facial expressions of emotion, at their simplest, are innately ‘tailored’ in the human mind already.
*The article I’ve linked is only a preliminary in discussion of Darwinian tradition of facial processing. It does, however, include reference to some important recent articles and papers in the research. If you’re interested in facial expression of emotion, I’d recommend Google scholar-ing Paul Ekman’s original work and its updates.
Of course, there are many other ways to express one’s emotion, especially for humans. Next week, for instance, we’ll be looking at expressing emotion through the body. However, you can see how much material and hypotheses there are to go on from just one three-hour seminar…
Yup, I have three-hour seminars this year. They don’t call Reading University research-intensive for nothing!
Amongst all this Psychology, as much as I love it, I hurry about and do have those stressful moments. I know I talk about the felt intangibility of God a lot, but it’s something that keeps me going; sometimes, when I’m close to giving up on a piece of work, I close my eyes and give consideration to what He might be saying by putting me in this particular place and position. Trust is a difficult thing, and it takes practise like that to carry on. Living in the Chapter House community group has especially helped this.
This issue is that I’ve still got loads to catch up on – including several reblogging that I was unable to do during the working week – and do before/for this evening, so I’ll leave it at that for today.
How has your week been? Been up to anything unusual? Tell me, what do you think of the question of expression innateness?
1908. A gruesome death on board the Sky Liner RMS Macedonia exposes the clash of class, secrets and sexuality in upper class Edwardian society. On her journey home Maliha Anderson, Anglo-Indian daughter of a Scottish engineer and a Brahmin scholar, hopes to make peace with her past, her future and what she sees in the mirror every day – until the nurse of wheelchair-bound General Makepeace-Flynn is murdered. The General declares his innocence and Maliha is the only one to believe his story. With landfall in India only hours away Maliha must find the real murderer before the culprit can escape, even though doing so puts her own life at risk.
A 92-page novella by Steve Turnbull
I bought MURDER OUT OF THE BLUE at the Steampunk convention, Steampunks in Space, last year (and it is also listed under ‘Steampunk’ on Amazon), but I’d have to admit that there was less Steampunk involved than I expected. Perhaps this comes from the assumption that all Steampunk contains gadgets and gears and top hats perched at a less-than-discreet angle.
Which – as one knows – is all rather jolly poppycock.
Anyway, the vibe I got from reading was, for the most part, more Dieselpunk. At least, had I not known the era, I would have said late 1920s, early ‘30s. One character, Temperance, even appears in my mind in an early flapper-style dress, complete with long cigarette holder. Nevertheless, I’d say the setting felt realistic and absorbing.
Just not my vision of Steampunk. And I’m totally allowed to say that.
I’d also say that the blurb makes out that there is more plot than there actually is, but I suppose that’s what one can expect from a novella. For those of you who know Steampunk writing, it’s a far cry from the heavy, action-packed writing of Cherie Priest or the teasing, poking-fun-at-society of Gail Carriger.
This was an interesting read with an Agatha-Christie-esque feel to the writing with the idea of limited suspects in an enclosed space without police. Murder could happen at any point, and indeed it does, followed swiftly by a suicide, which only heightens the drama and the resolve of the protagonist.
I managed to guess the murderer, though not the motive, and I suspect this may have come from my Agatha-Christie-reading suspect-everyone mentality! Nevertheless, I liked the touch of every suspect having a secret or something to keep from others. The characterisation, too, was strong, though a touch on the archetype side – the General in the wheelchair, his acidic wife, the ‘modern’ woman and the happily-married couple. In a novella, there is little time for extensive character development, but I saw glimmers of it where necessary.
Maliha was a sympathetic protagonist. Although I couldn’t empathise with her being biracial, I liked that it played in an aspect of her investigations and one of the reasons she was able to be more intellectual than the average Edwardian 19-year-old. She’s been through enough already that she’s developed a hard-enough skin to snoop.
“What are you doing?” said Temperance from the door.
“I am told gentlemen are not attracted to women who think.”
Indeed, it is snippets like that one that bring the characters to life. It’s cliché (one would find it in most a Christie novel), but nice to have something that one takes for granted in the 21st Century said out in the open.
I enjoyed the voice of the piece, even if there were times I felt it could be stronger. The novella is written in third-person (and has a couple of POV swaps that I felt could have been omitted) and this takes us away from really knowing Maliha’s sense of person. We weren’t close to her. In addition, some sentences I found were overwritten and sounded a little pretentious for the prose, and I spotted a fair number of run-on sentences, which made me stop and pull a face.
Overall, though, it was an enjoyable short read, and I would recommend it for those of you who are fans of Agatha Christie books and the pacing of the TV episodes, rather than for the Steampunk side, which doesn’t play much into the plot, as the author intended (which is a good thing in terms of the story, but I would’ve preferred more gadgets and sparking science).
I’d say 3 ½ stars out of five.
I’m not sure yet if I’ll pick up the other novellas in the Maliha Anderson series. The epilogue hinted at more to come, a cadence yet to close, and I liked how quick to read this novella was, even though the pacing wasn’t rushed. I’m just not desperate to read on yet.
*bounces off walls* Hullo, readers. D’you remember that Steampunk Spotlight I created, like, a couple of months ago? Well, I have another steampunk author on the wings here – the lovely AG Carpenter. Follow her blog and Twitter for all her updates. What I love best about this interview is actually its length and the depth AG goes into when thinking about steampunk. I particular like her thoughts on the individual versus society and how that is brought into steampunk fiction.
What inspired you to start writing Steampunk novels and novellas?
Comic books. I was reading a lot of graphic novels at the time and really enjoyed Mike Mignola’s HellBoy series, and the dark and disturbing League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore. I didn’t even know what kind of subgenre to put them in, but I was very much in love with the alternate history meets speculative technology aspects of those works and I thought “I could write something like this.” But I hadn’t even heard Steampunk, so I spent five years or so tossing around an “alternative history” idea before one of my beta-readers said “This is probably Steampunk.” Which gave me a specificity in abiding by or breaking all the tropes that have developed within that sub-genre. I love tropes and digging in deep on one or two and then turning them on their heads.
Does your writing process differ between writing Steampunk stories and other speculative stories?
Not really. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been writing speculative fiction, but the “what if?” elements invariably are there to help me highlight some part of the story and the characters. So, when I choose a setting it’s based off ‘what will best highlight this story?’ Sometimes it’s space opera, sometimes it’s straight fantasy, sometimes it’s steampunk.
I have a fondness for Steampunk on a visual level because it has an aesthetic that appeals to me, but not every story works with corsets and cogs.
Alt-history fantasy has expanded into a whole umbrella of genres, including Dieselpunk and Atompunk. What, in your opinion, is a vital attribute of a Steampunk setting or story?
The advent of steam power changed labor in our world in a permanent way. We’ve since moved on to other types of engines and power, but the groundwork was laid in steam. It made agrarian work easier, and enabled a system where things could be mass-produced. Cloth, for example. And carpets. Typewriters, sewing machines, light bulbs. All of these things that needed mass-production in order to survive as household necessities. Steam made available and affordable – a different class of living even for the poverty class.
It also meant a decline in specialty and artisan trades and the training that went along with it. The industrial working class was more utilitarian because anyone could be trained to run a machine. Even a child. So, we gained better living conditions, but lost some of the individuality we’d had previously.
That’s something that Steampunk draws on pretty heavily, I think. The clash of individual against society, the march of progress that is also regressive, the loss of the old ways in the face of a new conformity. These are ideas that Dieselpunk, Cyberpunk, etc build on, but the changes are, in some ways, never going to be as drastic as the advent of steam. (Computers, of course, have drastically changed the way we can interact as individuals. But I’m not entirely certain the changes have improved society to the same extent as we see with the Industrial Age. The improvements are less striking. To me, anyway. I still use a pen and paper to draft parts of my work, so I’m old fashioned in that sense.)
How did you go about building your Steampunk world? Were any aspects stronger/more well formed than others when you started writing?
I started with the basic idea that I was looking at a particular time period (1888. And, yes, for exactly the reason you’re thinking.) And the knowledge that magic had been predominant, but the development of Steam as an energy source was bringing Science back to the foreground.
Then I wrote a story. A really bad draft that was exhilarating at the time, but makes me cringe to look at now. But I knew I had the bones of a story I liked so I started working on it to make it better.
As I went, I started solidifying more about the world. Ireland was never conquered by the English because it was a stronghold of the magic folk and they beat back Crom and his attempts to appropriate Ireland. Crom was afraid of magic and science and had plunged Britain into a sort of dark ages because of it, but traces of that prejudice have remained ingrained on the British folk. And most of the technology used to be driven by springs and magic, but is now being transformed into less refined steam-driven technology.
Each of those little revelations occurred as the story came together, so it wasn’t an immediate vision of the world I was working in. More of a connect-the-dots affair. Which is always fun, because it kept me interested even when I was working on what seemed like the zillionth draft.
Do you participate in other parts of the Steampunk genre/lifestyle or only the writing side of Steampunk?
At this point it’s only the writing side. Because money and I’m not especially crafty. I drool over all the nifty things – laptops and desks and clothes – but it’s not a practical addition to my life at this point.
I can certainly concur with that point! Any advice to readers and/or writers just getting into the Steampunk genre?
When I was first working on the Steampunk Novel I put some of the chapters up for feedback on a particular writing forum. I was feeling my way through writing a novel and refining my storytelling skills and needed some solid critique to help me find the weaknesses in my craft. Which can be a bit of a brutal way to learn how to write fiction, but the publication world is not for the thin-skinned. Some of the comments I got told me that I shouldn’t have magic in a Steampunk story. Or that I needed more of certain tropes. Or that the voice of the story didn’t fit the genre. They wanted more like Peake and Dickens and I’m less wordy and less conversational than either of those, despite loving their work.
I was pretty discouraged for a while and actually put that first novel aside because I thought maybe I couldn’t write in the genre. But I poked around a little more and looked at more examples – and back at the things that had originally inspired me – and eventually I realized that just because Steampunk is a sub-genre and has particular tropes, it doesn’t mean there’s not room for new work. I couldn’t let what someone else expected from me control what I wanted to write.
It’s that whole “To thine own self be true” adage and it’s scary. I’ve come to realize that I will probably always write about magic and really bad things will always happen to my characters and there will always be some doubt about whether or not my characters will make it to the end of the book alive, let alone live happily ever after. But they will be my stories and that is more important than just writing what someone else wants me to write.
So, that’s my advice. If you want to write a specific thing (Steampunk or Contemporary Thriller or whatever) then find out what it’s made of, then write the story you want to write. Even if it doesn’t seem like it hits all the same notes as what has already been written, there is always room for new work. Always.
Magic is awesome, though. 🙂 Tell us a little about your journey to getting an agent.
I started my Agent Quest in December of 2012. Over the next ten months I sent out a lot of queries. A lot. And I got a satisfactory number of partial and full requests, but no offers, just a steady stream of “Not quite right for me.”
In July of 2013 I received an invitation to Revise and Resubmit. I was excited. I got a long email from the agent with notes on things they wanted changed. Some of them I agreed with and some I didn’t, but that’s part of the editorial process. I spent four weeks revising and sent the new MS back.
Then came the rejection. It was not just a rejection, it was detailed and criticized things that had not been brought up previously. Things that had to do with writing style, the voice of the book, and my writing craft in general. I was… gutted. And angry.
I went back through my list of possible agents and found one that I had been hesitant to query because there was this rumor that he didn’t rep fantasy. And there were no guidelines on the single webpage for his agency. But my gut said “This guy.” So I sent just the query and told myself I’d give it another couple of months and then maybe it would be time to move on.
Four minutes later I got a response. Please send me the full manuscript. After I stopped doing my victory-dance-in-my-desk-chair, I sent the MS and settled in for a wait.
About two weeks later I got a phone call in the middle of the afternoon from a number I didn’t recognize. When I answered a cheerful fellow on the other end identified himself as Bob Mecoy and said he’d read my manuscript and loved it. He wanted to know if I could tell him more about the “potential sequels” I’d mentioned in my query. We exchanged a few more emails, had a long phone call about another round of revisions to the novel and suddenly I had an agent.
I know you didn’t ask for advice here, but I will say that if anyone is thinking about finding an agent you really shouldn’t give up. I see stories about folks who turn to self-publishing or the small press route after receiving only a handful of rejections from agents. And those are both valid options for many folks, but if you really think having an agent represent your work is the best option for you, don’t give up on it. You put time and effort into writing your novel, do the same for finding an agent.
SO true. Tell us something interesting about your Novel.
The magic in the Steampunk Novel is essentially energy that is manipulated by sound. But it’s not merely spoken or even sung. It’s an enharmonic manipulation where there is a base tone and a melody tone sung at the same time. (YouTube has some pretty fantastic videos of “throat” or “overtone” singing.)
The fantastic detail of the magic is the use of words in multitone singing, of which I’ve not found any examples in real overtone singing. But the singing itself is absolutely real. (And amazing. Seriously. Check out YouTube.)
Okay. For your pleasure, readers:
Thanks for giving such an insight into your writing processes and steampunk-ness, AG!
A.G. Carpenter writes fiction of (and for) all sorts. Her work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Abyss & Apex, Stupefying Stories and Beast Within 4: Gears & Growls. She prefers Die Hard to When Harry Met Sally and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly over Animal House. Her favorite color is black. Repped by Bob Mecoy.
I don’t really review TV programs and the such, but sometimes I like to discuss these things. I’m going to be briefly looking at last Saturday’s episode of Doctor Who, Into the Dalek, which does include some plot and arc spoilers, so come back once you’ve watched the episode.
Partly inspired by the Twitter conversations I’ve been having with my friend Emma at time of watching. I’ve included Into the Dalek‘s one as point of reference. I’d also like to give NevilleGirl credit for being a lot more prompt at devising these kinds of things. She rocks!
The concept –
In Dalek, The Doctor and Clara, along with three humanoid soldiers in the midst of a battle against a fleet of Daleks, are shrunk to the size of thumbs so they can investigate what has caused an injured Dalek – whom The Doctor instantly takes to calling Rusty – to claim to want the Daleks stopped.
Firstly, it was nice to have an episode with a Dalek in that we get to see the other side – literally! – of these metallic-cased beings. In some of the final scenes, thumb!Doctor got to be face-to-eye with Rusty’s carbon self, which I also liked. For the casual observer/watcher, it is easy to forget that Daleks are not simply robots. They are conscious and have a flesh-formed brain.
However, as is clear to me a few days after watching the episode is that, as great as the actress was, her character, Journey, was no more memorable than her name. Those soldier characters were purely for the sake of set-up, though it was nice to have a bit of sacrifice from… Uh… That one who ended up in the heaven-garden with Missy.
Speaking of which–
Not that I have a problem with the idea of a Steampunk Heaven… 😉
The science –
After all, this is sci-fi.
Don’t be lasagne, guys. It’ll be my new phrase when you’re resisting scientific change.
Nanoshrinking. I love it for fiction premise, as you probably could tell from the section above, Theoretically, this is viable science. Nanotechnology is already helping out in medical science, just think of Nanocameras and the generation (I refuse to use either creation or growth) of cells and organs at a nano level, as well as the beginnings of Nanobots to operate minuscule repairs inside the human body. Think The Doctor Dances, but without the mutating mishaps. Now that was an awesome episode(s).
By the way, since when do the Daleks yell “resistance is futile”?
Let’s also touch on that bit where The Doctor tries to convince Rusty to think of that certain memory of the star being born that first made him question his programming. It was a pretty nifty trick– Actually, it was one of The Doctor’s Pretty Nifty Tricks, but I’ll let that slide for the moment. It was more the dialogue between the two of them that did well to trigger my memory centre. The Doctor was inviting the Dalek to share his mind, after all…
Mind meldddd… That’s two Star Trek references in one episode. Dude, you can’t get past Trekkies in Doctor Who. We’re practically the same fandom!
I’m – gasp – warming to her. Well, and some might hate me for this, I think she has more chemistry with Twelve than Eleven. I don’t know… *exasperated sigh* Eleven was just too puppy-like, but Twelve has more mystery and magnetism.
In this episode, Clara was a lot more like the typical companion: standing up for morality and the lives of the beings, rather than limply providing a pretty face.
For the time-being (or rather: for the sake of a mini review), I’m going to ignore the present-day Earth scenes and the presence of Danny Pink. I will say that he is an interesting character, but I haven’t seen enough of him to have a consistent opinion of him yet.
Well, Emma and I were not so impressed. I’ll make allowances, in that it is a sci-fi program and predictability is one inescapable trait of the genre.
I’ll agree – it was pretty obvious that Rusty was going to turn bad once fixed. I’m not sure I entirely followed The Doctor’s plan for – to use Emma’s words – breaking Rusty again, but the plot made for some good sets and cinematography. I can imagine, green-screen or not, it was great fun to film. I also liked the inclusion of Dalek antibodies, that they had the flexible quality of human/carbon antibodies, but also had the metal, laser version of the Dalek’s outer weaponry. It was like being vaporised from the inside! Urg.
Plus, this added the all-important time constraint that authors and readers so value in fiction, particular of non-contemporary stuff. One thing – how exactly did The Doctor and co get out of Rusty? Just a minor, pedantic point – did they call the external team to beam them up, or did they auto-grow back after a certain time? That would’ve added to the time problems too. No pun intended.
And, whilst the ending wasn’t particularly spectacular, it hit a few visual and moral notes, didn’t it?
Indeed! This is a lovely bit of subtle character development towards Twelve. And I’ll add it, along with the “programmed to function” bit from Deep Breath, to my list of morally ambiguous actions for the new Doctor. (And use of linguistic ambiguity in ‘good’.) It also mirrors the treatment of Rusty Dalek – he is considered an enemy when he is ‘correct’; but when he is ‘good’, The Doctor argues that he is malfunctioning. As a Psychology and Philosophy student, of course I am fascinated by the implied subjectivity behind this episode. For action and plot, the episode was weak, but for questioning the norm, the episode is one of the better of late:
In the end, does The Doctor free Rusty into clarity of understanding that he is beyond the usual conditioning programmed into him at Dalek-birth? Or does Rusty simply act the way he has done because Clara has sent him malfunctioning again? After all, he has to exterminate something in the end. Technically, she rewires him, even though she helps him access the more human[oid] elements of his consciousness.
A strange bit of classic sci-fi Doctor Who Dalek fest. No-nonsense and no fuss.
I liked it, but it was a bit shooty-shooty for my liking. If it had been a book, I wouldn’t have made it past the Amazon sample pages. 3/5
For your Thursday (and my laziness), I have decided to quote a piece from the Victorian Steampunk Society’s website about what Steampunk is. As I have said before, there is no absolute definition of Steampunk, in my own opinion. Part of the great advantage of the Steampunk genre is its variety, in that one can take it however one pleases, be that as straight NeoVictorian or as a stronger science fiction drive of mechanisms and flying ships. The great thing is that Steampunk is creative science, and a definite compliment to us who are bipartite and ‘duo-minded’.
Steampunks try to take some of the very best parts of the past and make them part of a bright future. Steampunks value good manners and polite conduct and try to encourage this by setting an example for others. They think things should be made to a high quality and to last thus helping the environment. They value and encourage creativity and indeed have been asked to collaborate in educational and arts projects across the globe.
Whilst things are set in a pseudo historical world which harks back to our Victorian heritage steampunks do not promote any of the inequalities of that past. Indeed theirs is deliberately an all inclusive community. You will find steampunks of all ages, genders and ethnic backgrounds and abilities. They also come from all walks of life from students to academics and from comedians to solicitors.
Can you still call it steam-PUNK? Punk in the seventies was a rebellion against contemporary society. It is plain that steampunks are rebelling but theirs is a stand against: throwaway society, poor manners and antisocial behaviour, homogenisation and commercialism.
Steampunks are generally polite, friendly, care about the environment , the past and the future and creativity and individuality.
Splendid, eh chaps? I do suppose this harks onto the main virtue I attempt to uphold as part of my Steamsona: politeness and equality. Simple enough, perhaps, but the world in its 21st Century self has quite forgotten those values in favour of the ‘selfie’ and fame/popularity. No wonder Steampunk is becoming so much more popular as time goes on. Those of us concerned with raising the world back to the realms of Victorian manners must group ourselves together.
The Wellcome Collection blog looks at X-Men and mutation. As a big X-Men fan, and with Peter (and Octavia)’s psychic ability being a recessive genetic element of my trilogy, things about ‘real’ mutations fascinate me.
X-Men: Days of Future Past is now in cinemas, billed as the most action packed and ambitious film in the X-Men saga. What better time to use the classic, long-running comic series as inspiration for a post about mutations whilst taking a look at some of the other aspects that make these superheroes more than just men in tights.
Before we go any further: what exactly is mutation and how does it happen? Joel Carlin explains:
“Mutation is a change in the sequence of an organism’s DNA. Mutations can be caused by high-energy sources such as radiation or by chemicals in the environment. They can also appear spontaneously during the replication of DNA.” (Carlin, 2011)
It is this latter method that the writers of the X-Men comics employ as an explanation for their superhuman characters’ astonishing abilities. In real life, as in the comics, mutations can be expressed in a…
As you may know, I’m restless to the point of not even being able to settle on one subject to study at university. On the other hand, I am a proud joint honours student. As such, I believe that my interests in each of my disciplines – from my three A Levels: Philosophy and Ethics, Psychology, and Latin – are as serious as each other, regardless of one being a essay-and-thought-based humanity, the other a science (and don’t beat me over the head with that “it’s not a science” rubbish when I have to learn neuroscience), and the last an ancient language in which I almost became fluent.
But some people don’t think that. Some people think that the creative and analytic disciplines are incompatible or conflicting. Again, I suppose that is rut.
My word alone, however, would say nought for life.
Do you feel that you use both hemispheres of your brain equally – do you love disciplines like an art or a music as well as physics or maths? Do you find yourself straying between this imagined line of the sciences and the humanities, pointing a laughing finger at those who suggest that we are either creative or analytic?
Well, then, I may need your help in a blog project I’m creating. For the sheer sake of it.
The below vlog explains my idea and reasonings in more detail. And you just know you love my English accent. 😉
Also, it’s an excuse to show of my new Reading Rocs Quidditch kit!
Effectively, I’m looking for bloggers who wouldn’t mind either writing a # page and taking a photo of them with it, or writing a blog post of their thoughts, or shooting a short, editable vlog scene explaining what makes them a ‘corpus callosum’ person. That’s code for the bundle of neurons between left and right hemisphere that facilitates interhemispheric communication. Basically, we are trying to get past that age-old split-brain theory.