Movie Review: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

sky-captain-and-the-world-of-tomorrow

 

This past weekend I watched a dieselpunk cult classic: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I loved it! The 1930s and 40s feel of the cinematography, the cheesy ‘tween war movie dialogue, the Art Deco and Streamline Moderne designs, the fabulous inventions, hero versus evil genius, the terrifying mechanical monsters, and let’s not forget that fabulous spaceship! Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow has it all.

The movie is part noir mystery and part comic book superhero adventure. The film is a blend of the 30s and 40s acting style combined with exquisite modern special effects.

The acting and plot are typical of the old B grade movie. The stuff I grew up with in the 50s and early 60s. And perhaps that’s why I like the movie. It’s all action and adventure. No complicated plot. Simply an evil genius bent on destroying the world and our superhero who has to stop him. There are no complex characters. No one is pouring angst all over the screen. Just action with a romance subplot to keep the personal level interesting. In fact the movie isn’t all that much different from Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. It is pure entertainment. Nothing thought provoking here. Just stuff to get your adrenaline pumping.

If you have no idea what a B grade movie is, then you may think Sky Captain is ridiculous. Clearly some of the reviews I read on Rotten Tomatoes indicated to me the reviewer had no idea what the director was trying to achieve. The movie is a tribute to the movie fare that entertained millions every Saturday afternoon at the theater.

The B grade movie was not much different than the dime novel or the pulp magazine. It was cheap entertainment and movie studios cranked them out by the score.

One very popular theme of the old B movie was that of the knight-errant story from the Middle Ages. It is the story of a knight who embarks on a mission of great importance. The traditional Western is classic knight-errant stuff. A gang of bad guys takes over a town. The lone sheriff comes to the town and cleans it up. Usually by killing the bad guys. The classic movie The Magnificent Seven is the knight-errant trope. And so is Sky Captain. Only he can save the world from impending destruction.

In my opinion, Kerry Conran did an admirable job in recreating the old B movie. All the tropes are there to relive your youth — provided, of course, you’re old enough.

Otherwise, sit back and simply enjoy a Time Machine that takes you back to another world, an older and maybe better world, when a movie ticket cost 50¢ and a bag of popcorn was a quarter.

Two features of the movie I especially loved were the fabulous art deco and streamline moderne designs of the space ship’s exterior and interior and the mechanical monsters. The space ship takes you back to Buck Rogers and the monsters are straight out of the comic books I used to read. Truly fabulous stuff there.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow is highly recommended. Definitely five stars.

As always comments are welcome and, until next time, happy reading!

Hindenburg III docking at the Empire State Building
Hindenburg III docking at the Empire State Building
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Day 4 of the Give In To The Feeling Blog Tour

Give in to the feeling - Blog Tour

Today is Day 4 of the Give in the Feeling Blog Tour and I’m pleased to have with us today, Sarah Zama, who is the author of Give in to the Feeling.

You can check out the entire schedule on Sarah’s website The Old Shelter.

I first met Sarah, I believe, on either Goodreads or 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.org. In either case, I’ve gotten to know her and her wonderful world of Roaring Twenties Chicago. So without further ado, let’s talk with Sarah!

CW: Your story is set in 1926 Chicago. Why pick that year and city?

SZ: Blood’s and Michael’s stories were originally thought to happen in the 1930s, during the Great Depression, but as I researched the time period, I increasingly became fascinated with the 1920s. It was a time of great change in the life of people, but also in their hears and minds. And since the story of my trilogy deals with change and coping with it, I finally decided for a shift in the time period.

As for the city, although every place has an interesting story to tell, as I researched the Prohibition I quickly realized Chicago and New York City were the cities that offered the most in terms of setting. So many things where happening and the two cities (the two biggest in the US) were in the forefront in the changing habits of America.

I finally decided for Chicago because I was fascinated with the ‘city of neighbourhoods’.

CW: You note on your blog you try to make your story as historically accurate as possible but it is also fantasy. What is your definition of fantasy?

SZ:  I said ‘fantasy’, but I could have more accurately said ‘speculation’. Fantasy, for me, is anything that isn’t, but could be. Speculative stories go a bit further than mimic stories may go. They go that extra step that subverts reality in some way or another.

All stories exist to expand on our experience, to let us experience things we are unlikely to ever experience in our life. That’s the whole point of every story. Speculative stories come down harder on us. They subvert reality in a way that exposes what is normally hidden or taken for granted, and with the use of symbols lay meanings in front of us in a way that is more challenging.

Not all readers are comfortable with this kind of manipulation, though. Readers may not understand the symbols, or the subversion, and see only the surface, see a story that has no connection with reality.

In the end, it’s all up to the individual sensibility.

CW: How much of your story is history and how much fantasy?

SZ: With regard to my 1920s stories, most of them are history. Setting, historical events, and societies, I tried to present as close to history as possible. But in these stories, the spirit world exists and mixes with the world we know freely.

CW: As writers of alternative history, we are asking “What if such-and-such did or didn’t happen?” And then we try to answer that question. As readers of alternative history, each of us has a threshold beyond which we can no longer suspend disbelief. Are there any elements in your story where you are pushing the boundaries of fantasy in a historical setting?

Well, my stories can’t be considered alternative history. As I said, I tried to be as faithful to history as possible. But as a reader of alternative history there are lines I have a very hard time crossing.

I think that history always makes sense. We might not like what happened, we might not accept what happened, we might condemned what happened, but there is always a reason why certain things happened. I ask alternative history writers to keep in line with this. Their alternative history has to make sense. There has to be a reason why something, at a certain point, didn’t happen the way it did. And the consequences, the way the alternate history evolves, also have to make sense.

The moment I start questioning the alternate history, I’m out of the story.

CW: What is it about speculative fiction and Dieselpunk in particular that attracts you over say romance or mysteries?

SZ: As I said above, I think this is largely a question of personal liking and affinity. I actually love mysteries… though I would never be able to write them. Romances? Not so much. And there isn’t an intellectual reason for that, I don’t think one genre is better than another, inherently. I do think some genres are better than others for me, because some genres resonate with me while others don’t.

The reason why I love speculative stories is that I think their subversive elements can be used in a very powerful way to question reality as we know it, and so it has huge potentialities for philosophical thinking. Fantasy, SF, Horror stories push elements of our reality to such huge extremes that they naturally cause questioning… if the reader isn’t scared away.

I mean, think of a story like Animal Farm. On the surface, you could say there is nothing realistic about it. But that story was actually depicting a very specific historical moment and contains a universal message of freedom and equality that still speaks to us more than half a century later.

I’ve been a fan of fantasy since I can remember. I’ve been into mythology and legends since I was very little. And I’ve always loved history since I studied it at school. When I was very little, I would watched 1930s and 1940s mystery films on TV with my granny. I suppose all of this fell together when I finally met Dieselpunk. It happen by chance, I just stumbled upon the concept, and I was instantly fascinated. Serendipity, I suppose.

CW: Give in to the Feeling deals with the spirit world. What is it about ghosts that interests you?

SZ: I’m not sure I can answer this. I’ve always been fascinated with the fact that the world we see and touch isn’t all there is. That if we can – and are willing – to go that extra step, we can touch and see a different world.

Maybe this is just a way of symbolizing our connection with our deepest self. I don’t know. What I know is that in my stories, when the spirit world and the real world come together, good things normally happen… although not always in an easy way.

CW: Is your book a “classic” ghost story? Or are ghosts just lurking on the fringe?

SZ: Give in to the Feeling isn’t a ghost story at all. There are spirits in it, but no ghost.

Ghost Trilogy is of course a ghost story. There is only one ghost, but it’s a very important character, central to the story. It is also the catalyst of all the changes, especially inside the characters. Dealing with this ghost forces nearly all characters to look inside themselves and deal with what they find there.

CW: Why did you choose the cover you did for your book? As I recall, you had an Art Deco look as a possibility.

SZ: I commissioned a graphic artist to do the cover. We talked about what I was looking for and what she could actually do for me. The result is a compromise between the two.

CW: What makes the main characters in Give it to the Feeling tick?

SZ: I think it’s the aspiration for something more and better. They are all willing to go that extra step, because they know it will bring good things to them. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always cooperate.

CW: Blood is a rather unusual name for a character. How did he get it?

SZ: A lot of people seem to like Blood’s name, it is very popular among those who have read parts of the story.

It is part of his Lakota name, which is Wewacipi, meaning Blood Dance. There is a story of how Blood received his name, but since this is part of Ghost Trilogy, I’d prefer not to reveal it now.

CW: What is your next writing project?

SZ: I’m still working at Ghost Trilogy. It is completely drafted and the first novel is nearly ready to go. I’ve actually already submitted to agents, which is why I know it is not ready yet… Books Two and Three are still at the second draft stage.

I’m also playing with the idea of a series of stories again set in the 1920s but in Europe. The main character is Ombretta Vivaldi, an Italian folklorist. I created her for a challenge and I became fascinated with her, but her story is still an embryo. So much to plan still.

CW: I remember Ombretta from several snippets you shared on 8 Sentence Sunday. She impressed me as a fascinating character. I hope we get to see her soon. 

What does the future hold for you?

SZ: Success for my stories, of course!

CW: And here’s wishing you lots and lots of success!

You may connect with Sarah at the following:

Contact Info and Links

Email: oldshelter@yahoo.com

Blog: www.theoldshelter.com

Website: https://sarahzama.wordpress.com/

Social Media:

Twitter: www.twitter.com/JazzFeathers

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/jazzfeathers
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jazzfeathers/
Google+: https://plus.google.com/+Theoldshelterdieselpunk
Pinterest: https://it.pinterest.com/jazzfeathers/

Biographical Note

A bookseller in Verona (Italy), Sarah Zama has always lived surrounded by books. Always a fantasy reader and writer, she’s recently found her home in the dieselpunk community. Her first book, Give in to the Feeling, comes out in 2016.

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The Wonderful Machine Age – The Autogyro

Technology has been one of the hallmarks setting humans apart from other life forms on this planet. From the primitive flint hand axe to the satellites we don’t even think about that make modern worldwide communication possible, humans have used technology to make up for our physical limitations and to improve where we live and how we live.

Ever since we saw a bird fly, we’ve wanted to do likewise. We dreamed of flight and put it in our myths. We flew in stories long before any human achieved liftoff. Kites and balloons were our baby steps. Then the airship ruled our imaginations. On the eve of World War II fixed-wing, heavier-than-air passenger aircraft crossed the Atlantic. Even if the Hindenburg had not burned, the airship had been rendered obsolete by the Boeing 314 Clipper flying boat in 1939.

The Second World War saw the perfection of the helicopter, the building of the long-range heavy bomber, and the invention of the jet, as well as the invention of the long-range ballistic missile. Suddenly, in 1945, such things as balloons, blimps, and rigid airships seemed nothing more than relics of the past.

The balloon has been relegated to hot-air sightseeing excursions, for the most part. The blimp has been reduced to a novel sightseeing experience or eye-catching advertising. There continues to be talk of lighter-than-air heavy lifters for long-distance cargo hauling, but they continue to remain the stuff of dreams.

However, one of the dinosaurs is making a true comeback. Namely, the autogyro. An autogyro? What’s that? At the risk of oversimplifying, it’s an airplane that uses an unpowered rotor instead of wings to achieve lift.

Juan de la Cierva wanted an airplane that could fly safely at low speed. To accomplish his desire, he invented the autogyro. The first successful flight was on 9 January 1923 in Madrid. Below is a picture of the first Cierva autogyro.

Ciervas_1st_autogiro

Cierva got his wish. Sustained, lazy low speed flight is what the autogyro excels at. It can’t hover like a helicopter because the rotor is not powered. The rotor relies on the forward movement of the plane to make it spin and provide lift. Despite its inability to hover, the autogyro has a distinct advantage over the helicopter: cost. They are cheaper to buy and cheaper to operate. They also have a big advantage over airplanes in that they need very little runway to take off and virtually none to land. An autogyro can be in the air using no more than 30 to 200 feet of runway. An autogyro can’t stall, like a plane, and doesn’t end up in a tailspin. Cierva was certainly on to something.

Below is a later Cierva autogyro:

cierva.gif

So why didn’t the autogyro take off? A couple reasons. Cierva was the main proponent of the autogyro. After all it was his baby. His death in a plane crash in 1936 was a major blow to those promoting the autogyro. The second reason was the helicopter. The principle of the helicopter (which the autogyro also uses) goes back to 400 BC and the Chinese toys that probably most of us played with as kids.

440px-Taketombo

The first successful helicopter, the Bréguet-Dorand Gyroplane Laboratoire, built in 1933, took its first successful flight in 1935. In 1936 and 1937, the Focke-Wulf Fw61 was setting world record after world record and the world forgot Cierva and his autogyro.

Below are pictures of early British autogyros, which were soon eclipsed by the helicopter.

Pitcairn_Autogyro Kay British Autogyro

A good idea tends to stick around and the autogyro is a very good idea. The late ‘70s and early ‘80s saw the birth of the ultralight aviation movement. People wanted more than just hang-gliding. They wanted to fly and they wanted their desire to be affordable. Enter the autogyro, or the gyrocopter as it is often called today. Aside from personal use, many cash-strapped law enforcement departments are turning to the autogyro because it is a cheaper alternative than the helicopter. The autogyro’s ability to stay in the air at very low speed makes it a viable alternative to the helicopter for crowd control, traffic control, and city surveillance. And because today’s autogyro is small, it can easily go where planes and helicopters can’t. Versatility is always a plus.

Here are some modern autogyros. Aren’t they beautiful?

Calidus Gyrocopter AutoGyro_Cavalon Kalithea Gyrocopter Modern Autogyro

Once again an old idea, which some thought obsolete and dead, has made a comeback — thanks to modern technology, brought about by the wonderful machine age.

These autogyros are so cool, I think I’m going to get me one. They have to be better than bucking traffic on a clogged freeway. And weren’t we supposed to have flying cars by now anyway?

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Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch – Chapter Two!

Rand Hart began life in the late 20th century as a real estate agent turned professional gambler who wins an Atlantic-class yacht in a poker game and takes to traveling the world on his new acquisition. Rand’s predecessor also did the occasional “odd job” for extra cash when Lady Luck didn’t seem to be by his side and his considerable skill couldn’t make up for her abandonment.

However, that character sits in a drawer. The novel is half completed. Someday, since my other great love (aside from airships) is the sailing ship, I may pull out that uncompleted manuscript and give Rand’s predecessor life. After all who doesn’t like a good sea yarn? Just think of Moby Dick without all those ghastly chapters on whales. I love whales, but really — all that biology in a novel?

My wonderful sea yarn is around 30 years old. Well, the half of it I actually wrote. One day, I was thinking of that unfinished manuscript and said to myself, Why not set the whole thing in the ‘30s with airships and make it dieselpunk? Why not, indeed? And thus Rand Hart was born.

Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch is now available for pre-order purchase at Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and through the Tolino (Germany’s answer to the Kindle) network.

Let’s take another look at that wonderful cover and let’s sample chapter two. Aye, there be flamingoes here!

Rand Hart 1 web version

Chapter 2: Milly

Friday, 6 May 1938
Coconut Grove
Miami, Florida

When Hart checked at the ticket counter in Miami, he discovered the Pan Am flight he wanted didn’t take off until eight the next morning. He bought a ticket for one of the five remaining seats and then left the terminal to find a cab. Two were waiting. The drivers standing on the curb by their vehicles. A big, white General sedan and a brand new, elegant, if old-fashioned, Checker. Hart picked the Checker.

“Where to, Pal?”

“The hotel closest to the Pan Am seaplane terminal.”

“Can do.”

The cabbie took Hart’s suitcase and put it in the trunk, while Hart got in the back seat. The fellow then got behind the wheel and the cab was rolling.

Within minutes, Hart found himself, suitcase in hand, standing before the entrance to The Mango House Hotel. The place was a three story stucco building painted a hideous shade of pink. Hart thought a moment and decided he’d never seen a mango that color and wondered why the owners hadn’t called the place the Flamingo Palace. Oh, well. As long as the bed was comfortable and the water hot, it probably didn’t matter what the name or the color was.

He walked in and requested a room. The clerk told him they had one and, after Hart signed for it, gave him the key. Room 305.

“Any place close by I can get a meal and something to drink?” Hart asked.

“The Highball, three doors down is a decent bar and at the corner,” the clerk pointed in the opposite direction, “Jimmy’s is a good place to get a meal.”

“Thanks,” Hart replied and took the stairs to his room. He wasn’t overly fond of elevators.

The stairwell opened onto a hall with eight rooms, four rooms on either side, and a bathroom at the end of the hall.

“Ten dollars a night and no private bath,” he muttered while walking down the hall looking for his room. He found it two doors from the bathroom on his right. After unlocking and opening the door, he set his suitcase inside, walked down to the bathroom and took a look around. “Clean enough,” he said. Then returned to his room, which was more or less your standard hotel room. A double bed, chest of drawers, pitcher and wash basin, wardrobe, chair, and lamp. Nothing fancy. Ten bucks. He shook his head.

A look at his watch told him the lunch crowd would probably be at the diner in another hour. He felt tired. Two nights of little sleep were explanation enough.  And even though the Curtiss had sleeper berths, Hart had mostly tossed and turned on his flight to Miami, via Atlanta. He wanted nothing more than to take a long nap, but he had too much money on him and needed to go to the bank. He also needed to pick up Brazilian currency.

He left his room, locked the door, and went back downstairs to the lobby. He asked the clerk to telephone for a cab and then took a seat and waited. The chair was comfy and he began to doze off, when the clerk woke him.

“Your taxi has arrived, sir.”

“Thanks.”

Hart made his way out to the curb, told the cabbie what he wanted, and got in when the fellow told him he could take him to any bank he wanted.

An hour later, Hart was back in his room. He untied his shoes and took them off. He slipped out of his suit and lay on the bed. A nap and a bath afterwards, then he’d get a bite of supper.

He woke with a start. The room was dark. What time was it? He groped for the lamp, found the switch, and turned it on. He looked at his watch. Half-past seven. He sat on the edge of the bed. Yeah, he thought, a bath, something to eat, and a drink. Come back here, get some sleep, and then the flight. He reached for his suit coat. From one of the pockets, he took out the Briggs mixture and a pack of cigarette papers. He rolled four cigarettes. Three he put on the dresser, the fourth in his mouth and lit it.

Hart opened his suitcase, found a fresh shirt, and taking his clothes and shaving kit with him, padded down to the bathroom. The little box was still in the inside suit coat pocket and he wanted it to stay there. He didn’t like the thought of someone coming to collect his thirty thousand deutsche marks should he not make the delivery. Then again, they’d have to find him. But if von Osler had truly been watching him, they’d probably find him.

His cigarette smoked out, he flipped the butt into the toilet, and turned on the faucets for the tub. The water was nice and hot. Might make the place worth ten bucks after all, he thought.

When the tub was half full, he got in, took a minute to enjoy the water, and then washed. When done, he rinsed and toweled off. After shaving, he dressed, and returned to his room. He put the three cigarettes into his suit coat pocket, looked out the window at a row of palm trees, illuminated by a matching row of lights, and left his room, locking the door behind him.

Down the stairs, across the lobby, and out the front door. On the sidewalk, he looked up and down the street and set off for Jimmy’s. He patted the suit coat, felt the box, and relaxed.

The diner occupied the corner, making it L-shaped, and had large glass windows. Hart supposed the idea was so passersby could see inside and decide to satisfy the rumblings in their stomachs there instead of somewhere else. The place didn’t look busy and it didn’t look any different than a hundred others up and down the east coast. He entered. There were plenty of seats at the counter and he took one.

A tired looking waitress came over to him.

“Long day?” he asked.

“Yeah. What would ya like?”

“What’s good?”

She looked at him. Her eyes taking in everything visible above the counter. “The chili ain’t bad and the hamburger’s decent.”

“Okay. A bowl of chili and a hamburger.”

“Want cheese on the burger?”

Hart thought a moment. “Sure. Cost extra?”

“Yeah, a nickel.”

“Sure. What the hell? Only live once.”

She smiled. A pretty smile. And when she walked away she put a little swing in her porch.

Not bad looking, he thought. Probably thirty-something, he guessed. She wore her chestnut hair in a Lupe Velez cut: a short curly mop, bangs covering one side of her face. Hart thought she looked attractive with her hair like that. Add some lipstick and she’d look pretty good on a guy’s arm.

In a moment, she returned with a glass of water. “Want coffee, Mister?”

“Maybe later. Have any pie?”

“The peach is okay. Owner’s wife cans the peaches herself.”

He nodded. “Maybe later.”

“Sure.” She walked away. The porch was still swinging.

Hart looked around. Down at the one end of the counter were two older men. Three booths were occupied. One by a woman, two by couples. Otherwise, the place was empty.

The waitress was back with his chili. “Your cheeseburger will be ready in a few minutes.”

“Thanks.”

She lingered. Hart took a spoonful of chili and conveyed it to his mouth.

“What d’ya think?”

He nodded. “Good.”

“Thought ya’d like it. Ya from around here?”

“No.”

“Kinda thought so. Never seen ya before.”

“Never been here before.”

“Miami?”

“No. Here. This place.”

“I’m Milly and I’m glad you came in tonight.”

He smiled and she smiled back.

“Someone wants some more coffee. I’ll be back…” She waited.

“Rand.”

“I’ll be back, Rand.”

Her voice was pleasant. Mellow with a touch of cane syrup.

He spooned chili and in a bit she was back with the burger.

“I gave ya an extra pickle. On me.”

“Thanks, Milly.”

Hart took a bite of the cheeseburger and nodded.

“They’re pretty good,” Milly said. “So what are ya doing in town, Rand?”

“Catching a flight to Rio.”

“Oh, gosh. That’s exciting. I’ve never been anywhere. What’s in Rio?”

“A job.”

“A job. In Rio.” Milly sighed.

Hart shrugged. “Sounds exciting. Doesn’t mean it is.”

“Maybe. At this point, I think Cleveland sounds exciting.”

Hart laughed. “Maybe it is. Never been there.”

One of Milly’s fingers touched his hand. “Maybe we could go there and see. Ya know. When ya get back from Rio.”

Hart looked at her and their eyes met. “Yeah,” he said. “Maybe. When I get back from Rio.”

“Say, I get off at ten. Wanna go somewhere?”

“Sure, Milly. I’d like that.” Hart looked at his watch. “Just might be done with my pie and coffee by then.”

She smiled. Yep, Hart thought, that was one hell of a pretty smile.

***

At ten, Milly and Hart left the diner, arm in arm, and walked down the street to the Highball. They got a table far enough away from the swing band so they could hear each other talk and yet enjoy the music. Hart went to the bar and ordered a gin rickey for himself and a Bee’s Knees for Milly. He brought the drinks back to the table.

“Bee’s Knees. That’s an old Prohibition drink to cover the taste of bad booze,” Hart said.

“That so? Taste’s pretty good, if ya ask me. Here.”

Hart took the glass, turned it, and drank from where Milly had taken a sip. She smiled at the gesture.

“Not bad,” Hart said. “Not bad at all.”

“Told ya. So, Rand, what d’ya do for a livin’?”

“Gamble.”

“Are ya serious?”

Hart nodded and took a sip of his drink.

“I never met a gambler before.”

“Sure you have. You look at one every time you look in the mirror.”

“What d’ya mean? I’m a waitress.”

“Life’s a gamble. It’s one great big crapshoot. Makes everyone of us who eats and breathes a gambler.”

“Oh. Ya go to college or somethin’?”

“Something.”

“So tell me, Mr Gambler, who went to somethin’, what’s it like in Rio?”

Hart spent the next hour telling her about Rio, the Riviera, Italy, Germany, France, and Britain. Then he asked her to tell him about her life.

“I’ve done nothin’ and been nowhere,” Milly replied.

“Tell me about waitressing. I’ve never waited tables. What’s it like?”

“Well, if ya really wanna know…”

Hart nodded.

Milly told him. Whereas Hart had told her of the world at large, she told him about her customers, her neighbors, her best friend, Mary, the grocery store owner, and her mother. Hart learned of the everyday world that wasn’t much different than the neighborhood world he grew up in. A world where having five pennies to spend on candy was a very big deal. Her stories made him homesick.

At last she asked him, “Where ya stayin’, Rand?”

He looked at her. She was not beautiful. She was, though, easy on the eyes. “I can’t stay.”

“I know.” Her eyes told him she, too, was lonely.

“The Mango House.”

“I don’t have to go home just yet.”

“Okay.” He stood, put a ten on the table, and held out his hand. Milly took it and, holding hands, they left the bar.

Once on the street, she let go of his hand, and slipped her arm around his waist. He put his arm around her and pulled her close to him. He leaned down and she lifted her face to receive his kiss.

They entered the hotel. The night clerk only gave them the briefest of glances. They crossed the lobby and, making an exception, Hart guided Milly to the elevator. When the doors closed, he kissed her and she kissed him back.

Hart thought of spending some time in Miami once he got back from Rio. Maybe go to Cleveland with Milly. The elevator doors opened. Their arms around each other, they slowly walked down the hall, kissing the entire way. When they reached Rand’s room, they stopped kissing and let go of each other so he could get his key and unlock the door. He turned the knob, pushed the door open, and turned on the light. His room looked as though a bomb had gone off in it.

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Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch – Cover and Sample Chapter!

Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch is now available for pre-order purchase at Amazon, Apple, Kobo, and through the Tolino (Germany’s answer to the Kindle) network.

I’ve already revealed the cover, but I think it so neat I’m going to post it here and following the cover is chapter one. Just to wet your appetite. Enjoy!

Rand Hart 1 web version

Chapter 1: The Job

Thursday, 5 May 1938
On the Hindenburg
Over the Atlantic

Rand Hart looked at four jacks. He couldn’t imagine what the German’s hand was. Certainly the possibility existed the fellow had something better, although the odds were slim. Very slim.

The last round of betting saw the other American fold, some joe from Philadelphia’s high society. Now only Helmut von Osler, the well-known German industrialist, and he remained at the table. The chips in the center represented over five thousand dollars. Hart ran through the probability tables in his mind. He looked at the German. His black suit, blond crewcut, the gold ring on his finger, and the stack of chips in front of him. Hart looked at his own chips.

“I think it’s time, Mr von Osler, we see who’s bluffing.” Hart pushed all of his chips into the pile in the middle of the table. “That’s nine thousand dollars. And I call.”

The German counted his chips. “It seems, Herr Hart, I’m short two thousand. Perhaps I might write a check?”

“That gold ring on your finger. I’ll settle for that.”

The German touched the ring. Was that a pained expression which flitted across his face? He looked at Hart, looked at the cards in his hand, shrugged, pushed his chips into the center of the table, and took the ring off his finger. He held it for a moment, turned it in the light and seemed to be reading what was perhaps an inscription, then placed it amongst the chips.

Von Osler flipped his cards over. “Four eights, mein Herr.”

Hart turned his cards over and said, “Four jacks.”

“Mein Gott im Himmel. You are a very lucky man, Herr Hart.”

“Sometimes, Mr von Osler. Sometimes.”

The German shook his head. “I am done. I have lost enough for one night. Treasure the ring, Herr Hart. It was a gift from the Führer.” The German got up from the table and left.

A steward came and collected the chips. “I’ll take these to the purser, sir.”

“I’d like the money in American dollars.”

“Yes, sir.” The steward left.

Hart looked at the ring. There was a bit of fancy scrollwork and a couple small gems. No inscription. He tried it on several fingers before he found it fit the middle finger of his right hand. He walked to the promenade and looked out the window of the Hindenburg. In a couple hours, the sun would be up. Down below, on the Atlantic, Hart saw the lights of a ship. Otherwise, there were only the stars.

Yes, Hart thought, sometimes he was lucky. This past winter, for example. His time on the Riviera had been profitable. He’d been lucky more often than not. And a good amount of that luck he himself had made. It wasn’t all in the hand one was dealt or the roll of the dice. One also had to know what to do with it. Chemin de fer and backgammon. Those had been his main sources of income. They required thoughtful play. He never visited the roulette table. Luck wasn’t a lady often enough for Hart’s liking. And luck was all there was. Now he was looking forward to going home.

He chuckled at the thought of home. The sound, though, lacked mirth. He had no home. There was just the United States. That was home. And after the years away it would be good to spend a little time among his fellow Americans. Maybe he’d rent a room in a small town and do nothing more than have a beer in the local bar and chat about the weather or the crops. Maybe sit in the village park and feed the birds. He had enough money he could do nothing for a long time. A very long time.

But he knew himself better than that. No sense spending all his money. Maybe enjoy the summer in Ohio. Get a beach house on Lake Erie. Catawba Island or Put-In-Bay. Then, if Archie would have him, spend the winter in California. Come spring, take the train to Miami and pickup where he’d left off. The Brazilian Clipper to Rio, the Graf Zeppelin to Europe, and the Hindenburg back to America. The same as he’d done for the past few years.

The best gambling was in Europe. He could also get in a decent game or two on the Hindenburg or Graf. Like the one he’d just won. Always helps when several wealthy industrialists want to lose a little money. Little to them, that is. Of course, one wonders when they cheat. Hart shrugged. People are people and even wealthy industrialists are, at the end of the day, people. You just have to get a little more creative than they are.

He walked over to the stairs and went down to B deck. His cabin was on the lower deck, but he decided to stop in at the bar and smoking lounge instead. He went through the pressurized airlock. Four other passengers were in the lounge having a smoke. Hart took a seat by himself and set on the table a cigarette paper and a package of Briggs Pipe Mixture. He put tobacco in the paper and rolled a cigarette. When finished, he put it between his lips and lit it.

Yes, he thought, it would be good to get home. Be good to enjoy his winnings. Enjoy some time doing nothing. Nothing in particular.

***

Hart was roused from sleep by someone knocking on his cabin door. He got out of bed, went to the door, and called out, “Yes? What is it?”

“A message for you, sir.”

Hart slipped on a robe over his pajamas and opened the door. The steward handed him an envelope.

“Just a minute.” Hart rummaged through a drawer and gave the man a dollar.

“Thank you, sir.”

“You’re welcome.” Hart closed the door, sat on his bed, and opened the envelope. The note inside, written in a large hand with a double-broad nib, read:

Dear Herr Hart,

Please do me the honor of meeting with me at your earliest convenience in the dining area promenade.

Respectfully yours,

von Osler

Hart tossed the note and envelope into the wastebasket. “Wonder what the hell he wants?” he said to the mirror and then gazed at the ring on his right hand.

With a perturbed look on his face, Hart gathered his clothes and shaving kit and went to the shower. A man was just coming out. Hart nodded his head in greeting. The man did likewise. Hart entered what amounted to a little closet. He turned on the water. The temperature was good. The pressure, abysmal. He lathered up and rinsed off, singing “Amor ti vieta” from the opera Fedora by Giordano.

When done, Hart toweled himself dry, shaved, and dressed. The only downside to flying on the Hindenburg was the low water pressure of the shower. Then again, it did have a shower.

Dressed in a navy suit, white shirt, repp tie, Hart made his way to the promenade by the dining area. Breakfast was over and the dining tables themselves were empty. A few people were sitting on the seats by the windows. Most were probably over on the starboard promenade and in the lounge. Or the bar and smoking room.

He spied the German sitting in the far corner on one of the window seats and walked towards him. Von Osler stood and smiled. The smile seemed genuine enough. Perhaps the guy just wanted company. Upon reaching the industrialist, Hart shook hands with him, and the German indicated they should take a table in the dining area. They walked the short distance to the entrance through the low wall. Von Osler, in the lead, headed towards a table in the far corner. Hart frowned. He had the feeling this was not going to be a casual talk and he hadn’t even had a cigarette yet this morning. Standing at the table, von Osler indicated Hart should sit and he did so. The German took the seat opposite.

“I am pleased, Herr Hart, you decided to meet with me.”

“What’s on your mind, Mr von Osler?”

“I have a small job for you.”

Hart’s eyes narrowed. “What kind of job?”

“I want you to deliver a package.”

“What kind of package?”

The German took a small box out of his suit coat pocket, put it on the table, and said, “This.” It was about the size of a deck of cards, brown, wrapped with a brown ribbon, and appeared to be made of cardboard.

Hart reached for the box and was stopped by von Osler, who put his hand over it.

“I need this box in the hands of a certain person in Rio de Janeiro by noon on the eleventh of May. I will give you twenty-five thousand deutsche marks now and the person to whom you give this box — unopened — will give you another twenty-five thousand.”

Hart thought a moment. “That’s around twenty thousand dollars. Twenty Gs just to deliver a box?”

“Yes.”

“What’s in it?”

“It is best if you not know, Herr Hart.”

“Okay, then why me?”

“Because I like your luck.”

“Sometimes I’m lucky.”

The German paused, as if searching for the words to say, then spoke, “You are a very creative poker player. I like and reward creativity.”

Hart looked him in the eyes. “You’re not so bad in the creativity department yourself.”

Von Osler smiled. “You see, Herr Hart, we already have the start for a good working relationship. We understand creativity.”

“And why would I need to be creative?”

“You might not have the need. Then again…” Von Osler shrugged. “Luck. She is not always the lady. No?”

“True enough. So you’re telling me I might need to get a little creative in getting this box to the ‘certain person’.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. I would say the odds are in your favor this delivery will be quite routine.”

“Only if Luck decides to be a lady.”

“As you say, Herr Hart.”

“Deliver the box and get a total of fifty thousand deutsche marks.”

“Yes.”

“That’s a lot of money. Even for you, I bet. Why?”

“Because I don’t want you to turn down my offer.”

Hart looked out the window. The Hindenburg was a couple hours away from Lakehurst. The ocean was giving way to the New Jersey shoreline. These occasional odd jobs were nothing new. They helped for those times when even skill and creativity could not overcome one of Fortuna’s frowning spells. Most were very routine and this one sounded easy enough. There was a ship steaming west. Probably heading for the harbor in New York and maybe home.

“Must be something pretty big in that little box,” Hart said.

Von Osler picked it up and turned it over in his hand. A smile touched his lips. “Let us say history is inside.”

Hart looked at von Osler. “History, huh? I suppose I have to pay my own airfare.”

“You will agree to deliver my package?”

“Why don’t you just deliver it yourself? Or have some errand boy from your company drop it off?”

“It is best if my company is not involved in the transaction. Nor do we want the German government implicated in any direct involvement.”

Hart’s eyes bored into the German. “So this isn’t as innocuous as you make it sound.”

It was von Osler’s turn to look out the window. “Herr Hart, you are a simple man. Even, let us say, an invisible man. Yes?”

“I have no notoriety, if that is what you mean.”

Von Osler looked at Hart. “Precisely. That is what I mean. And you are skilled, creative, and lucky. You are exactly the person I was looking for. In point of fact, we’ve been watching you for some time. If this delivery goes well, we may have more work for you in the future.”

“Really? You’re turning me into one damn expensive delivery boy.”

Von Osler shrugged. “That is my business. So, Herr Hart, if the airfare is going to be an issue, I will add another three thousand deutsche marks to cover tickets and expenses. Will you accept my little delivery job?”

“If I don’t?”

“I have a person who will make the delivery. But…” Von Osler shrugged. “He is not as skilled, creative, or lucky as you are. With you…? Let us say it is like having four jacks instead of four eights.”

Hart turned his gaze towards the window and the ocean beyond. He’d been hoping to spend some time at home enjoying his money. And after last night, plus his winnings in Europe, he had quite a bit to enjoy. Now, however, fifty-three thousand deutsche marks were staring him in the face. And just to deliver a little box. By noon on the eleventh. He wouldn’t have much time. Probably have to catch a red eye out of La Guardia or Floyd Bennett tonight for Miami and then a three day flight on a Pan Am clipper. He pursed his lips. If he was lucky, he might be able to get in some poker or backgammon on the Miami to Rio flight and sweeten the job even more. There were usually at least a few high rollers making the trip. It wasn’t every day he got the chance to make this much money from a simple delivery. Once he got back to the States, there’d be plenty of time to enjoy his great big pile of cash.

Hart turned his attention back to the German. “Five thousand for tickets and expenses.”

Von Osler considered for a moment and then agreed. “Fifty-five thousand to ‘run my errand’ I believe you Americans say.”

“We say that.”

Hart looked out the window of the giant airship. The sky was blue with a big old cumulus cloud drifting along. The ocean was calm, placid even.

“Okay, Mr von Osler. I’ll do it.”

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #39

Last Sunday we began Chapter 2 of Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch. Having received a few comments with suggested improvements, I rewrote the section posted last week and include it today for comparison. Today’s 8 sentences start after “Flamingo Palace”.

I intend to publish the novella October 16th. Here is last week’s revised snippet and today’s:

When Hart checked at the ticket counter in Miami, he discovered the Pan Am flight he wanted didn’t take off until eight the next morning. He bought a ticket for one of the five remaining seats and then left the terminal to find a cab. Two were waiting. The drivers standing on the curb by their vehicles. A big, white General sedan and a brand new, elegant, if old-fashioned, Checker. Hart picked the Checker.

“Where to, Pal?”

“The hotel closest to the Pan Am seaplane terminal.”

“Can do.”

The cabbie took Hart’s suitcase and put it in the trunk, while Hart got in the back seat. The cabbie got behind the wheel and the cab was rolling.

Within minutes, Hart found himself, suitcase in hand, standing before the entrance to The Mango House Hotel. The place was a three story stucco building painted a hideous shade of pink. Hart thought a moment and decided he’d never seen a mango that color and wondered why the owners hadn’t called the place the Flamingo Palace. Oh, well. As long as the bed was comfortable and the water hot, it probably didn’t matter what the name or the color was.

He walked in and requested a room. The clerk told him they had one and, after Hart signed for it, gave him the key. Room 305.

“Any place close by I can get a meal and something to drink?” Hart asked.

“The Highball, three doors down is a decent bar and at the corner,” the clerk pointed in the opposite direction, “Jimmy’s is a good place to get a meal.”

“Thanks,” Hart replied and took the stairs to his room. He wasn’t overly fond of elevators.

To be continued!

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #36

Von Osler wants Hart very badly to be his deliveryman, as we saw last week:

“I have a person who will make the delivery. But…” Von Osler shrugged. “He is not as skilled, creative, or lucky as you are. With you…? Let us say it is like having four jacks instead of four eights.”

Are 53,000 deutsche marks going to change his mind from spending some time at home? Hart turns the offer over in his mind:

Hart turned his gaze towards the window and the ocean beyond. He’d been hoping to spend some time at home. Enjoying his money. Now, however, fifty-three thousand deutsche marks were staring him in the face. And just to deliver a little box. By noon on the eleventh. He wouldn’t have much time. Probably have to catch a red eye out of La Guardia or Floyd Bennett tonight for Miami and then a three day flight on a Pan Am clipper.

To be continued!

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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The Wonderful Machine Age: Mass Marketing/Consumerism

Then I saw in my dream, that when they were got out of the wilderness, they presently saw a town before them, and the name of that town is Vanity; and at the town there is a fair kept, called Vanity Fair. It is kept all the year long. It beareth the name of Vanity Fair … because all that is there sold, or that cometh thither, is vanity… One chanced … to say unto them, ‘What will ye buy?’

John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress was published in 1678. His description of Vanity Fair predates the Industrial Revolution by eight decades and the Machine Age by two centuries. And yet nothing characterizes the Machine Age and the Modern Era so much as the question, “What will ye buy?”

Mass marketing and the accompanying Consumerism began in The Machine Age. And as it began, so did the hue and cry arise for us to return to a simpler life and eschew the call to “Buy! Buy! Buy!” Writers such as John Burroughs, David Greyson, Edward Bok, Ralph Borsodi, and Theodore Roosevelt wrote books and articles and gave speeches extolling the virtues of a life without “stuff”. And all the while the Ad Men appealed to our sense of need.

I know for myself there is life before iPad and life with iPad. I confess, I prefer life with iPad. Although I could live without the iPad, it would be much more difficult to dispense with the world wide web altogether. I’ve become used to having volumes of information at my fingertips that would have been difficult for even my local research librarian to glean a mere 40 years ago.

The Stoic philosopher Seneca, very much a voice for our age, counseled his friend that wealth was not in and of itself bad. What was bad was thinking we can’t live without it or that we should have it.

With stuff comes anxiety and the modern age is filled with anxiety. Thoreau’s image of the man pulling a massive barn-sized wagon down the road with all of his worldly possessions piled high in it comes to mind. There is something a whole lot simpler about a backpack.

How then did Mass Marketing and Consumerism arise? They arose out of the scale of production and the means to produce tens of thousands of an item, whereas previously only a hundred or two had been produced. They arose out of the dreams of our Victorian ancestors of what constituted progress and plenty.

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, goods were generally produced at home or in small shops. What today we call cottage industries. Local artisans and craftsmen produced goods to order in addition to what they produced for themselves. The extra money helped to supplement what was produced on the farm.

For example, in the American Revolution muskets and rifles were produced by hand. The British government contracted with gunsmiths to produce a certain number of weapons in a given period of time. An agent then went to the gunsmith’s place of business, collected the weapons, and paid the smith. The same was done for uniforms before the big textile mills were built.

The process was slow and costly. Production of goods was often secondary to the main livelihood of the producer, which was usually farming. With the advent of steam power and the invention of machines to manufacture goods, the scale of production went up. Instead of maybe ten or twenty pairs of socks a cottage industry could produce by hand, the mills could produce ten or twenty thousand in the same period of time or less.

This, however, caused a problem for the manufacturer. He simply had too many items on his hands. The cost to him to produce a thousand was often greater per item than to produce ten thousand. The economics of scale gives us a lower cost per item the more we produce because it is cheaper to buy in bulk than singly. So what was a manufacturer to do with the extra goods? Enter the Ad Man and the Salesman and the call, “What will ye buy?”

An interesting article is “The Commercial Christmas”, which gives a quick look at how the Victorians commercialized the holiday. And by 1890 editorials were appearing in The Ladies Home Journal complaining of Christmas being too commercial.

Today we have, through the world wide web, everything at our fingertips and ad agencies convince us we just can’t live without _________ (you fill in the blank). The amount of consumer debt is frightening. In the US, as of 31 March 2015, household debt was $11.85 trillion. Of that credit card debt was $684 billion. And as of the end of 2013 28% of Americans had more credit card debt than savings and only 51% had more emergency savings than credit card debt. And this doesn’t include other debt, such as school loans, car loans, and mortgages.

Consumerism is alive and well. Every government in the Western World worries when consumers stop spending and every developing country’s government  tries to figure out how to get its people to buy. The modern world is built on consumerism.

So why don’t we see more of this in our retro-future novels? Clearly the Steampunk and Dieselpunk real life worlds saw the beginning of mass marketing and consumerism and were in large part formed by them.

Is it a case, perhaps as with television, they are so much with us we see no fictional value in them?

I think of the short-lived, late ‘80s sci-fi TV show Max Headroom. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show, it was a satirical and cyberpunk look at ourselves “20 minutes into the future”. The first episode, entitled “Blipverts”, explored mass marketing. [Spoiler alert here.] People were mysteriously exploding. It was discovered that Network 23 was using high-intensity commercials which had the ability to overload people’s nervous systems, causing them to explode.

Of interest is that the atmosphere of Max Headroom was about as depressingly noir as one can get. I think it was cyberpunk at its finest.

Surely there is something in this the steampunk or dieselpunk writer can use. After all both steampunk and dieselpunk are children of cyberpunk. I see both subgenres ignoring major expanses of territory which need to be explored. Where is the inventiveness of Jules Verne and H G Wells? Or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Fritz Lang (the movie Metropolis from 1927).

Both subgenres are science fiction and from my observation (of my own work too), both have degenerated into using highly selective tropes to produce works which are simply mysteries or romances or adventure yarns set in an alternative historical universe. There is nothing wrong with this. I just think there is so much more. Something like “Blipverts”.

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8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks #33

While the offer is tempting, Rand Hart is still unsure about the situation. In last week’s portion of the conversation, we had:

“Must be something pretty big in that little box,” Hart said.

Von Osler picked up the small brown package and turned it in his hand. A smile touched his lips. “Let us say history is in this little box.”

Hart looked at von Osler. “History, huh? I suppose I have to pay my own airfare.”

“You will agree to deliver my tiny package?”

“Why don’t you just deliver it yourself? Or have some errand boy from your company drop it off?”

That is the question: why doesn’t von Osler simply have someone from his company deliver the darn box. Why go through all this folderol? Today, Hart gets the answer to that question. Here is today’s snippet:

“It is best if my company is not involved in the transaction. Nor do we want the German government implicated in any direct involvement.”

Hart’s eyes bored into the German. “So this isn’t as innocuous as you make it sound.”

It was von Osler’s turn to look out the window. “Herr Hart, you are a simple man. Even, let us say, an invisible man. Yes?”

“I have no notoriety, if that is what you mean.”

To be continued!

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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8 Sentence Sunday On Dieselpunks #31

In today’s snippet from Rand Hart, we pick up where we left off last week in Hart’s conversation with von Osler. Last week we ended with Industrialist Herr von Osler saying, “Maybe. Maybe not. I would say the odds are in your favor this delivery will be quite routine.” We begin today’s snippet with Hart speaking.

“Only if Luck decides to be a lady.”

“As you say, Herr Hart.”

“Deliver the box and get a total of fifty thousand deutsche marks.”

“Yes.”

Hart looked out the window. The Hindenburg was a couple hours away from Lakehurst. The ocean was giving way to the New Jersey shoreline. This was nothing new. He did the occasional odd job. Helped for those times when Lady Luck failed him. This one sounded easy enough.

To be continued!

If you write or read Dieselpunk, join in the fun: 8 Sentence Sunday on Dieselpunks.

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