Book Review: Ice Planet Goth

Ice Planet Goth (Originally Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth, which I must mention as I personally loved the original title) by Andrez Bergen is optimistically due for release early in 2014.

The year is 1986. The place is Nede (say it ‘needy’) Australia. Mina Rapace is sixteen. She’s dealing with familiar woes that come with her age–challenges at school, fitting in with her friends, dealing with boys, obsessing over comics and music, clashes with family. We’ve all been there.

That’s the outer layer of the onion that is Mina’s life–just the thin, papery brown top layer. Let’s peel that off and take a second look. Mina’s music is goth, her comics are vintage and she knows them frighteningly well. Her friendships are toxic, and that includes a rather startling imaginary one. Her mother is dead and her brother is a horrid beast. As for the boys… impossible and abusive relationships are all she knows.

That plump onion still has more layers to scrape through, bringing fresh tears to your eyes as each is revealed. By the time you reach the center of that pungent orb, you’ll discover it’s been rotting from the inside all along.

But, to continue my analogy, onions are a traditional source of strength and healing. Even as Mina copes with her increasingly rotting life, she exhibits a surprising strength in the face of circumstances that would defeat most.

Those of a certain age will enjoy the nostalgic details of the ‘80’s, reminisce with every song reference, and smile at the fashion choices of the day. But you’ll do so while hanging on tight by your fingernails. I had faith in Mina, even when it seemed absurd to hold out hope. She didn’t fail me. In the end, somewhere in the jumble of mixed emotions I was wrestling with, I felt compelled to applaud.

Ice Planet Goth may be a difficult read for delicate sorts, but it’s well worth the journey. I knew by page three that I was in it to the end. I could never resist an onion, truth be told.

As a bonus, fans of Andrez Bergen’s previous novels may recognize some familiar references. One made me grin, and another made me cheer out loud.

Cover art will be provided by the talented, manga-influenced artist, Kmye Chan.

Other reviews of Andrez Bergen novels at A License to Quill:

Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?

 100 Years of Vicissitude

Your Next Ministry Assignment: Follow the Protocol!

Ministry Protocol
Cover Art by Alex White

This week I’ve been having a happy wallow in new stories of adventure and mystery, as I follow our intrepid agents from the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences while they conduct their investigations.  But this time around, our favored agents Eliza Braun and Wellington Books step out of the spotlight (no doubt an aid in their own furtive pursuit of whatever needs pursuit at the moment) so that we may meet a wider variety of the Crown’s elite agents. Their stories are told by a host of authors who’ve been invited to play in the wondrous world created by Philippa (Pip) Ballantine and Tee Morris.

I’ve been an avid fan of agents Braun and Books since the get-go, and will admit I cracked into Ministry Protocol with just a bit of hesitation. My hesitation turned to glee as I settled into the first adventure in this anthology series.  By the end of the tale, I was hooked. The opening story was absolutely spot-on to the Peculiar universe, kept me guessing, and charmed me with it’s style.

I’ve now read a half dozen of the adventures – and have traveled the world. While London has been the main setting for our adventures previous to Ministry Protocol, we now roam the world, with various agents who cover the globe, protecting (or attempting to) all of humanity from the forces of evil.  Some stories I liked better than others, but that’s all right. The variety is spicy, and I’m happy for that.

Tonight I shall play with the cat, have my supper and then kick the real world aside so that I might re-join the action. I wonder where the next tale will take me?  What sort of agent will be saving the day? My curiosity and wonder are getting a full workout.

Every story takes place in a different location, with till-now unknown agents. And, since each story is written by a different author, each with their own unique style, you just never can know what will happen next – or who your new agency heroes will be. Pack your passport, grab a carpetbag and stuff your hat on your head.  It’s time we were off!

If you have not yet become acquainted with the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, I will politely stifle a gasp of surprise and equally politely direct you to the website devoted to the cause.  Enjoy your visit, learn about the Ministry, and of course, purchase the books. We can all use more adventure in our lives.

Ministry Protocol will be available for public enjoyment on Friday, September 27, 2013.  Huzzah! 

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Please also enjoy this rather official press release, which arrived via pneumatic tube a while back. I found this alarming as I’d never installed a pneumatic tube, but I’m sure there’s a fine explanation for that… somewhere.

The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels are a multi-award winning steampunk series, which tells the story of the government agency committed to keeping citizens safe from the strange, the unusual, and the bizarre.

In a very successful Kickstarter in July, the Ministry Initiative was funded, allowing the creation of both a roleplaying game and a brand new anthology.

Ministry Protocol: Thrilling Tales from the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences is a collection of short stories that will take readers across the Empire and all over the world, revealing new facets of familiar characters and introducing new agents, allies, and enemies from the Ministry’s colourful history.

The authors of this globe-spanning anthology include Delilah S. DawsonLeanna Renee HieberAlex WhiteJared Axelrod,Tiffany TrentPeter WoodworthJack ManganJR BlackwellDan RabartsLauren Harris, Karina Cooper, and Glenn Freund from The League of S.T.E.A.M.

And one of the Ministry’s creators, Tee Morris, presents the origin story of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences itself.

Ministry Protocol: Thrilling Tales from the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences

Early this year I made the acquaintance of two delightful new friends.  Let me tell you about them.

Eliza D. Braun is a bit of a renegade (a bit?) and knows how to live life to the fullest. She’s full of fight, loves her dynamite, and corsets her waist in tight (that’s a bulletproof corset, thank you very much).

Wellington Books appeals to my love of solitude, order and sanity.  Plus, he’s adorable.

Together, they fight crime!  (Sorry, I had to.)

Books and Braun held me as their happy captive through the novels Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair.  It’s very hard for me to suppress the need to squee loudly as I am delighted to tell you about what’s coming next in the world of our favorite Ministry operatives.  Read on! The rest of this post is the official word from the Ministry’s creators!  And you’ll get your first glimpse of exciting new cover art!

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The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels are a multi-award winning steampunk series, which tells the story of the government agency committed to keeping citizens safe from the strange, the unusual, and the bizarre.

In a very successful Kickstarter in July, the Ministry Initiative was funded, allowing the creation of both a roleplaying game and a brand new anthology.

Ministry Protocol: Thrilling Tales from the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences is a collection of short stories that will take readers across the Empire and all over the world, revealing new facets of familiar characters and introducing new agents, allies, and enemies from the Ministry’s colourful history.

The authors of this globe-spanning anthology include Delilah S. Dawson, Leanna Renee Hieber, Alex White, Jared Axelrod, Tiffany Trent, Peter Woodworth, Jack Mangan, JR Blackwell, Dan Rabarts, Lauren Harris, Karina Cooper, and Glenn Freund from The League of S.T.E.A.M.

And one of the Ministry’s creators, Tee Morris, presents the origin story of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences itself.

Look for the ebook coming in August, with signed print editions to follow.

Feast your eyes on the cover art from the Ministry renaissance man, Alex White, and spread the word about the anthology by entering the giveaway.  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Ministry Protocol

Day of the Dragons: Ballroom Blitz

Announcing the release of the Clockhaven Chronicles 2nd Edition/2nd Episode! Congratulations are in order for Mr. P.S. Chambers for the publication and release of his second episode in the 4-part serialization, “Day of the Dragons”, from the Clockhaven Chronicles!

Day of the Dragons - Ballroom Blitz
Day of the Dragons – Ballroom Blitz

The Clockhaven Chronicles (2nd Edition/2nd Episode) – “Day of the Dragons: Ballroom Blitz”, written by P.S. Chambers and illustrated by Ashley Walters is available TODAY at (and very soon at and Barnes&

Stanislaus Pulaski’s carefree days on sunny Curacao have vanished in a puff of smoke. Threats lurk in the shadows while more loom just beyond the horizon. If that were not enough, he can count on meddlesome friends beside him, beautiful women to beguile him, and situations that will try him. Yet Stan strives to persevere; still determined to build an airship, still searching for answers, still tinkering with his craft, still-mostly-clueless.

Penny Gaff novels are available in PDF, Nook and Kindle formats – and true to their name, your cost is very reasonable – no book over $1.99!  Have you read them all?

The Clockhaven Chronicles

Captive Sky, Truant Heart
A Singular Story: by P.S. Chambers

Day of the Dragons
Episode One: The Girl in the Corner
by P.S. Chambers

A Drop of the Venom
Episode One: Leviathan’s Bane
by Andrew McCurdy

Day of the Dragons

Episode Two: Ballroom Blitz
(PDF is ready; other formats coming very soon)


Fiction Review: An Airship Named Desire

Publisher: Hazardous Press
Reviewed by Lori Holuta

AirshipCoverSmallWhat’s a steampunk story without an airship? Well, it’s certainly not mandatory, of course, but an adventure that’s centered around an airship provides the perfect opportunity to showcase many readers’ favorite elements in the Steampunk genre.

An Airship Named Desire carries a weighty cargo. Besides the Desire’s intrepid Captain Morris and his loyal crew, she brings along many of the staples of the ‘great Steampunk adventure’: danger; romance; the curse of the inevitable betrayal; strange and exotic locales; swashbuckling men and strong, independent women; daring rescues; dark and stormy nights; corsets and goggles and anachronisms, oh my!

Our story centers around a mysterious locked box the crew’s been hired to obtain. The box is won in a daring mission, but that’s not the end of the story–in fact, the locked box draws the interest of all sorts of shady and dangerous characters. It’s the catalyst that propels the reader on a wild ride that won’t end till the last page is read. This is a rousingly good tale, thick with action, occasionally lightened by witty dialogue, and with enough smart scheming, twists and turns, and surprises along the way to keep the reader riveted.

We experience the entire adventure through the eyes of Bea, as the author has chosen to write the tale entirely in first-person. It’s a tricky point of view to manage, with distinct benefits and drawbacks. On the benefit side, we are able to form a close emotional connection with Bea, who is the main character in our adventure. Nearly all of the action is ‘funneled’ down to us through Bea’s perception. Her emotions and rationale for all her decisions and actions are made clear to us in great detail.

On the drawback side, we are wearing blinders in regards to the rest of Desire’s crew, as well as her enemies and various folk we meet along the way. We know very little about how events are impacting their lives. If they haven’t allowed Bea to understand their thoughts and actions, we’re left clueless as well. I found the entire cast of characters to be an intriguing variety of personalities, and I would like to have had the opportunity to crawl around inside their heads in more depth. Given the constraints of the chosen viewpoint, though, I enjoyed the large and diverse group of people that contributed in their own unique ways towards the completion of Desire’s mission.

Author Katherine McIntyre has written poetry and prose for various publications, but An Airship Named Desire is her first published novel. I suspect that subsequent novels will benefit from experience gained while writing Desire, and perhaps she will choose to step away from first-person storytelling. I hope so, as she has proven her skill at telling a rich, well crafted tale from beginning to end.

In addition, I’d love to see her trim back her dependence on overly descriptive, drawn-out action sequences, and I’d definitely hope to see less use of frequent–and often downright bizarre–similes. (For example, “Their shadow stretched along the crevasse between the warehouses like a mutated black alligator stomping in an aluminum river.”) McIntyre has the chops to write a strong storyline. Now it remains to be seen if she will allow her future work to depend less on novelty styling and simply stand on its own merit. Count me in for the next book.

Review originally published at Steampunk Magazine

Fiction Review: Venus on Mars

Publisher: Falernian Press
Reviewed by Lori Holuta

VoMfrontcoverI’ve always loved road trips. There is a freedom of mind and body that can only be found when you’re far from home and the only physical object that ties you to your identity is your car. Some of my favorite books and movies have involved the Classic American Road Trip.

Of course I was immediately interested when I began reading Venus on Mars and realized I’d be riding shotgun along with Venus Dawson, who’s just left New Orleans, Louisiana and is on the road to Pasadena, California. Venus has just attended to her mother’s burial in New Orleans, and is on her way home, where a job she loathes awaits her return.

Before she leaves the funeral proceedings, an uncle she’s never met gives her a package, explaining that he promised her mother it would be passed down to the next generation. He tells Venus she is ‘supposed to have this’. She cracks into the package during her first diner stop, finds her great aunt Wrexie Louise “Lulu” Leonard’s private journal, and begins to read it.

Venus is drawn into Lulu’s life, and we, the readers, are taken along for the ride. But there’s room on the road trip for yet one more notable woman. The author cleverly slips in details of the life of Letha Broussard Dawson, the almost-blind mother of Venus who’s just been buried, and is still in her ‘discovery’ stages of Crossing Over.

As Venus meanders her way across the country, she becomes more and more engrossed in Lulu’s journal. She starts to connect with her great aunt and finds a bond of both kinship and sympathy for the life of a Victorian woman who struggled with her astronomy career and the man she worked alongside. Venus has her share of both those challenges, too.

Eventually, the impact this little journal has on Venus goes well beyond words on paper. She veers off the main road, both in reality and also metaphysically, until all paths of her life are changed forever. There’s no clear way to describe this transition, it really needs to be experienced first-hand by the reader.

I’m aware that other reviews of Venus on Mars focus heavily on the planet Mars. Indeed, much of this story revolves around the red planet, which forms the pivot point of this story. Mars is wonderfully revealed (and revered) by each of our characters as they try to solve its mysteries.

But for me, what I will remember most are the lives of Lulu, Letha and Venus. Separated by time, bonded by blood, and joined by circumstances, when all is said and done, each has an amazing story to share. Inspired by their stories, you may find a chapter of your own life, just waiting to be written.

The author maintains an eye-opening website ( that’s well worth exploring. Here, she explains the ‘augmented moments’ that you’ll come across now and then in Venus on Mars. If you have access to a QR Reader for your mobile device, you can take advantage of these bonus features, but the novel plays out perfectly well on it’s own.

This review was originally written for and published by Steampunk Magazine. Visit Steampunk Magazine to read many other reviews and articles, as well as discover new and exciting artwork.

Fiction Review: 100 Years of Vicissitude

Publisher: Perfect Edge Books

Reviewed by Lori Holuta

Cover of the novel 100 Years of Vicissitude, with two Japanese women in Geisha makeup and shadows of cranes in the background.Mr. Wolram E. Deaps mentions early in 100 Years of Vicissitude that “there is no neat beginning with which to start things.”Since Wolram is the central character and narrator of the story, I wondered what was to come. As this mysterious, thoughtful, and occasionally horrific story unfolded, I realized that while a neat beginning was never promised, the sum of a life can be tidily bundled into packets of time, which provide a workable method to scrutinize one’s existence.

We meet Wolram after his death. He’s understandably confused and having trouble putting everything into context. What he doesn’t yet know is that he’s about to start a journey through time and memory, pausing long enough at each scene to ponder what transpired and the effects that point in time had on the future.

Wolram is joined by a companion in what he assumes is his afterlife, named Kohana. She’s an intelligent, willful, beautiful, sassy, stubborn enigma of a woman who, we will learn, has lived an incredible life as she survived pivotal points in the history of Japan.

It is her life that Wolram explores, soundtracked by a breathtakingly detailed narrative provided by Kohana. Throughout the journey, changes of memory-locale arrive crisply and frequently, drawing protest, fear, anger, and a growing sense of curiosity from Wolram towards his companion. It’s not quite Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley, but one can’t help but recall that classic tale. Although, with old Scrooge and Marley, it was always clear who was calling the shots–not so with our deceased duo. While one definitely knows what is going on, we are left with just enough vagueness to question the ultimate goal of the Grand Tour. Was this a mutual benefit for two souls leaving this world? Was this an endurance test or an exercise in acceptance?

While the book delivers a satisfying ending, it leaves the reader wide open to questioning much about their own existence and place in history. I defy you to read this book and not think about your own past–as well as your present actions, which stack up like cordwood, defining your future. Will this book alter your future?  I believe it may have already altered my own –why should I wait till the end of my lifespan to ponder the worth of my actions and choices? Why not truly live in my moments? And perhaps, one day, when I revisit my life on my final journey, I can take satisfaction from and comfort in the choices I’ve made.

This review was originally written for and published by Steampunk Magazine. Visit Steampunk Magazine to read many other reviews and articles, as well as discover new and exciting artwork.

Music Review: Under the Rose

Self produced by Machina Shogunate
Reviewed by Lori Holuta

Under the RoseMachina Shogunate has existed since 2007 and are carving their niche through a balance of music and visual performance. Their first EP feels both long overdue and at the same time the work of a band still finding their way. Under the Rose takes us on a journey, one that no doubt speaks of their own experiences while resonating with those of their audiences.

The EP leads off with “Jagged Shadow”. To start on a positive note, I love the chorus, during which V-zhon’s sweet voice delivers disturbing lyrics in a perfect pace, not only to my ears but to my spine, in the form of a chill. However. Beyond the chorus lies the verse. I itch to snip away a word or two far too often. The belaboring of as many haunting words as can be welded together gives the effect of a hurried need to sing fast enough to keep up. I should be feeling the desperation of the pursuit, not thinking about running to catch a bus.

But it is only the beginning of our journey.

“To Kill A Demon” is a confrontation. It begins with a moment of upbeat, slick instrumental, then quickly moves to the message. The ultimatum is delivered firmly, the music and lyrics taking full control of the message. The band has not only caught up with the bus now, it’s going to torch it. We hear a sharper focus of concept now, with dreamlike sounds alternating against the heavier instrumentals. I am pleased at the progression of vocal emotion from “Jagged Shadow”–now V-zhon’s living the words, not just reciting lyrics.

And now we delve into “Sub Rosa”. The vocals are stronger, but in balance, not competing against the music but working with it. The lyrics are a wordsmith’s dream, braiding lush and sometimes beautiful imagery with clarity and an awakening realization of the horrors of reality.

Our journey reaches its peak in “Beauty and Broken.” All components come together effortlessly, and I can’t help but feel we’ve traveled miles from the struggling “Jagged Shadow.” The repeated message of the song is solid under our feet. “Existence is fleeting. Nothing is guaranteed. We live for the moment. Embracing opportunity.”

Machina Shogunate embraces opportunity and isn’t afraid of hard work. They not only write and perform their music, but also do their own producing, promoting and managing. This speaks of a firm belief in their style and message. I will be listening to see where their self-paved road leads.

This review was originally written for and published by Steampunk Magazine. Visit Steampunk Magazine to read many other reviews and articles, as well as discover new and exciting artwork.

Andrew McCurdy’s “A Drop of the Venom” Harkens Back to the Days of Serial Adventure Novels

Episode #1: “Leviathan’s Bane”

A chance rescue on the high seas brings together an unlikely pairing: an aging submarine captain on a lifelong quest and a wayward confidence man down on his luck. As their vessel succumbs to a mysterious force, it becomes apparent the aging submariner is not at all what he seems. In the course of a single night, a tale will unfold…a tale of obsession, invention, and vengeance.  Delve into deeper mysteries, where treasured answers may be found – if one were willing to sample…A Drop of the Venom.

Stephen Apolloni, founder of Penny Gaff Publishing, is pleased that Andrew has joined the ranks of authors published by the company. “Andrew was a natural selection for working on the Clockhaven Chronicles, given his period appropriate writing style, his knowledge of the genre, and the ease with which his stories fit into serialized fiction.  He is a genuine talent and breathes new life into the gentleman adventurer tales of old.”

Andrew McCurdy, Author: A lifelong bibliophile, Andrew opened his first library of steampunk fiction before he’d ever heard the word ‘steampunk’. Located high in a tree house in his back yard, it featured the works of Wells, Verne and Burroughs. He was sorely vexed when his cousins appropriated the library as a strategic neighborhood fortification, defending against the troublesome forays perpetrated by the horde from the next block over. Sadly, he came to realize that the arts suffer in times of war. Contemplating this new political understanding, he spent hours watching the clockwork in his father’s antique music box, imagining ways of refashioning it into the ultimate weapon of deterrence.

Ashley Walters, Illustrator: Ashley Walters has had a passion for art ever since she could pick up a crayon. She drew constantly in her spare time and began drawing portraits for clients at the ripe old age of 12. Since then she has graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Integrated Studio Art from BYU-Idaho in 2008. She has worked as a graphic designer/web designer for BYU-Idaho and Clarus Marketing and continues to work as a freelance artist and designer. Her work has been featured on book covers and she has been published in Exotique 7, and Imagine FX magazine.

Penny Gaff Publishing, LLC specializes in speculative fiction (specifically clockpunk, steampunk, and dieselpunk) ePublications. PDF format books can be purchased online at They are also available as ePubs at Barnes and Noble, and .mobi at iBook formats are coming soon. Look for Penny Gaff Publishing at deviantART and Facebook as well!