The Machine Queen – second half

Here’s the second four parts of The Machine Queen. I finished the first draft of them a few weeks ago, and have just gone through fixing errors and so on.

I’d planned to make the images link to the pdfs, but that’s not possible in WordPress as the images aren’t embedded, they’re just links, so clicking on them just takes you to the image. I’ve added the links to the pdfs directly under the cover images.

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The Machine Queen

The novel is finished. It’s come in at around 100,000 words. The format has added to the complexity of writing it a bit. I’m publishing it through and their formats are A4, A5 or A6 and multiples of 4 pages (of course) to a maximum of 48. That’s meant bringing in each section to a very precise length.

What’s resulted is a reformatting of what’s been published here so far, and continuing with A6 48-page pdfs, ending up with eight in total. The first two are also available as hard copies, which I’ll try and find a way to distribute.

I’m in the process of editing them now, just for style and consistency across the eight sections. The first four parts are completed and you can access them below. The second half should be done soon.

I’d planned to make the images link to the pdfs, but that’s not possible in WordPress as the images aren’t embedded, they’re linked to the files, so clicking on them just takes you to the image. I’ve added the links to the pdfs directly under the cover images.

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If you’ve heard of Lichtenstein but not Kirby you’ve a lot to learn about art

A favourite saying of mine is de gustibus non disputandem est, or something like that. Which means in matter of taste there is no room for discussion. And for most things in art I’d apply that. Damien Hirst not your cup of tea? Fine. Think Constable should have stuck to chocolate box lids? Fair enough.

One artist I will take exception to you liking though is Roy Lichtenstein.

I’ve just finished reading Kamandi by Jack Kirby, which is what’s prompted this post. Kamandi is a comic-book that ran from 73 to about 76. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic USA, where animals are super-evolved and humans are devolved. It’s based on Jack Kirby’s word of mouth knowledge of Planet of the Apes, though also drawing on elements from his own story from the 50s. The writing is typical of Kirby, random, off-the-wall, picaresque and mad as a box of frogs. The art though is so signature Kirby. Dramatic, dynamic, mannerist. Every frame is a work of art.

All art is collaborative. Mike Royer’s inks form a part of it. Pierre Bouelle and Rod Serling’s ideas form part of the narrative. Everything is built on what’s gone before. So that’s OK. We all create something that’s in the middle of plagiarism, homage, theft, and reference. But that’s justified by acknowledging the sources as much as possible, and contributing something new.

But then we come to Roy Lichtenstein.

Here is probably one of the most famous of the pieces he is credited as the artist of.


However, he’s not really the artist. Because it was based on this

Whamm_Irv Novick.gif

Which is by Irv Novick. Lichtenstein has changed the elements slightly, but not in any importantly creative way. He’s also produced it on a lot larger scale, and got an art gallery to buy it and hang it. That’s it for creative input.

Here are another pair. First of all the Lichtentstein copy and then the original art, by Tony Arbruzzo.



People critiquing Lichtenstein have commended its impassive style, its eroticism, the way it evokes Hokusai’s the Wave, its melodrama. Maybe. But if it does then Arbruzzo also did  all that because there is nothing in the Lichtentstein copy that is not in the original.

OK two more, and with some reluctance because I haven’t been able to track down the original artist.

Oh and actually I needn’t because in trying again to track down the source I’ve come across two other blog posts that have done this rant before


So what’s going on? Why has this been seen to be OK for so long?

The problem is that the art community (and if you’ve heard of Roy Lichtenstein but not Jack Kirby I’m going to include you in this) have divided the world of art into a hierarchy. There is “high” art and there is “low” art. For example, this pillock

He seems remarkably sanguine about the act and stands by it. His argument is along the lines of: “Well yes, because the statement to destroy something of economic value to create something worthless is a worthwhile artistic statement.” I’d buy that in essence. When the K Foundation burnt a million pounds that was an artistic statement that had some merit. What’s different is that here it’s not just economic value you’ve destroyed, it’s artistic value. You’ve destroyed a valuable work of art to make a crappy one. Avengers #1 was drawn by Kirby. But of course, this arrogant twat has probably never heard of Kirby and in this guy’s culture they weren’t art, they were just product.

The “high” art community who praise Lichtenstein discuss how the images taken out of context are transformed, devoid of the narrative before and after they become more stylised, are abstracted, and transformed. Fair enough. But anyone can do that by taking any comic frame and just really looking at it. Here’s one from Kamandi at random. Random numbers courtesy of

p.13 frame 2.


Kamandi volume one has 500 pages, and there are between 0.5 and 6 frames per page, so you have an idea of the randomness of the image. You want to analyse that? Knock yourself out. If you were a Lichtenstein apologist you could come up with a lot of stuff I guess. The phallic protrusion of the pistol pointing out of the frame, the weird placement of the right shoulder (it’s not one of his best drawings actually, damn you I bet some artist has drawn hair like that, or grass, for you to liken it to. But do it big with Ben-Day dots and you too can be a Lichtenstein.

My point is, what just did then is as artistic as anything Lichtenstein did during his Pop Art phase. If everything that is in the final art pieces is in the original then you’re not creating art in the process. Simply removing it from its context it doesn’t add anything that some algorithm can’t do. The fact that Kirby creates this art over 100 times in any one issue of a comic, rather than just once, or that there is an actual narrative before and after the frame, or that it appears in a comic at a newsstand rather than in a gallery, makes it no less art and an artist that just moves from one location to another does not transform it any more than I’ve just done.

So the high art, low art distinction just begs the question. When there is objectively no distinction in the actual art, how can the division still be made. Why do Lichtenstein fans like his stuff, when they wouldn’t be seen dead buying a comic? Or an artist feel it’s ok to use this stuff to make papier mache out of? Or actually OK to appropriate the image and not credit the original artist?

It’s not a class thing. Most art galleries are free. Working class people like art. Working class people become artists.

It’s not really an education thing. If you want to do either well you need to go to college. But maybe it’s there the distinction starts. There are fine arts degrees and there are design degrees and they never really cross-over. The one definitely has more status than the other in mainstream culture. That’s still begging the question though; where does this difference in status come from?

Could it be a chronological thing? Here are the arts in numerical order.
– the first art : architecture
– the second art : sculpture
– the third art : painting
– the fourth art : dance
– the fifth art : music
– the sixth art : poetry
– the seventh art : cinema
– the eighth art : television
– the ninth art : comic strips

And (still conjectural though) the tenth art: video games. The older arts do have more credibility still, it’s true. And prose seems to have got missed out. Which is a bit annoying as that’s the only one I do.

But obviously it’s not quite chronological, as comics have been around before cinema. So why did it take longer for them to become accepted as art? Back to the same question again.

Above all I think it’s a tribal thing. The art community, and the art brokers, and the people who make documentaries and who give out art grants (and go to art galleries and make art because they think it affords them a particular status) belong to one tribe and the people who read comics (and who also go to art galleries and make art but just because it’s something they like to do) belong to another. They are different cultures, and the one looks down on the other and refuses to engage, because comic books are something they can dismiss as beneath them (because dismissing things beneath them makes them feel better about themselves). And when someone appropriates something from that other culture and introduces it to theirs, that’s OK because it didn’t really have value before, because it was someone from the other tribe who created it.

So that’s why I’d call Lichtenstein (well he’s dead now, so the Lichtenstein apologists), and Vickers, and the people who given a choice between Lichtenstein and Kirby would choose Lichtenstein are arrogant/conceited whatever, because they believe their culture is better than mine. And it really isn’t.

I realise I’ve just said that there are two types of people in the world, those who divide people into two types of people, and those who don’t. But have you got a better answer for why this happens?

Steampunk novella parts one and two

Here is the second part of the novella, with the first part slightly revised, so re-presented. This time they’re formatted into what was intended to resemble a bit the “penny bloods” of the era. I’m not too sure I have the layout right, it’s difficult to find actual examples on which to base them, so if anyone has any suggestions as to layout, please add them to the comments.

As I mentioned last time, these are mainly meant as a contribution to the steampunk community, as I’m a bit crap at making stuff, so can’t hold my own in the costume-making arena. This is me attempting to do the equivalent in the writing department. Hope you enjoy them. There are four parts altogether. Three is plotted, more or less, four isn’t, so no guarantees as to how long the rest will take, but they’re largely self-contained.



Cover images by Triff. Used under licence from

Commentary on revised part one.

There’s an updated version of part one. If you read that then no need to re-read it to make sense of part two, but in case anyone is interested the changes are:

The stuff on which Empires are on the rise or fall has been switched. This is because it’s a useful plot point in Part Three if the German Empire is on the decline.

The exposition about the alternative history of The Machine Queen has been trimmed. It all sounded a bit forced.

A sentence added trying to clarify how Caldmore’s name is pronounced, it’s after the place, so sounds like “calmer” or “karma”. Not that it really matters what’s in your head when you read it. It will matter if you ever go there, though.

Commentary on part two.

The Jubilee plot, the collusion between the Irish Republican Brotherhood and MI5, really took place, insane as it sounds, though took place during Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee year. You can look it up here.

The idea of consciousness being influenced by quantum processes isn’t mine, it’s from Roger Penrose, read The Emperor’s New Mind for more on that, (though more importantly for a great historical recap of science).

Ion drives actually use Tesla coils. I found this out after writing that bit. Also he did really speak Latin. Again I only found this out after deciding he needed to be able to for that bit of plotting to work. Also the Habsburg Empire was pretty much the successor to the Roman Empire, so there’s really that link as well.

The geography of the alternative North America that exists in The Machine Queen is a mash-up of various land divisions that either really existed at one point or were mooted. The map I used for this section of the story is at

Notes on the Horse Nation. Because of the geography of the route Caldmore and Tesla take, and because for the protagonists to have access to some alternative technology is going to be useful for book two, they travel through some areas of north America designated as “reserved for Indians by proclamation of 1763” on the Shepherd map. I toyed with the idea of drawing on the clan culture from the Cherokee, but felt this was wildly inappropriate as really all I know about that is completely superficial and gleaned from one visit to Cherokee and reading this . So instead the protagonists encounter a group of whites in that land who also superficially appropriate the Native American culture. Anything wrong in what they do is therefore  deliberately wrong, to parody people like me. Why the Horse Nation would also have a big chunk of their language pulled from a British 80s’ goth rock band is not explained, but you know, quantum entanglement.

All the stuff about roads in the Roman Empire and its contemporaries is from The History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor (Part Nine: The Rise of World Faiths [200 – 600 AD]).

Steampunk novella pt one.

Attending a few steampunk events, I’m always blown away by how amazing all of the costumes are. I’m running around like I’m on something going “oh my god, look at the wooden controls on that wheelchair” or “she’s wearing a jet pack, made out of a kettle” or some such. And feel sort of left out because I’m rubbish at that sort of thing. So … I started to work on a short novel (I’m estimating about 60k words altogether). Which might become a trilogy. I pretty much started with trying to figure out what historically had to happen for a steampunk world to exist, then had to come up with a story to justify that.

The idea is I will self-publish it once it’s finished and give it away at steampunk dos in a shallow attempt to make everyone believe that I’m creative too.

Here’s the first part. Some bits aren’t made up. The story about village girls being taken away and exploited in the city, and a vicar tracking them down is from an episode of Who Do You Think You Are (I forget which celebrity). The stuff about the Rose Cottage and child trafficking is from this webpage I was looking for just a little bit of historical colour and ended up with a lot darker shade than I was anticipating.

I’d like feedback on what people think. Is it any good, or more specifically, does anyone care about part two? Anyway, the link to the pdf is below. It’s called The Machine Queen.

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Oh and Caldmore is pronounced Calmer, or Karma.


Last Outpost

Skipped the next two because I remember the Naked Now as being totally naff, and the next one didn’t look much better. But the next one  has the Ferengi. I’d forgotten this episode was the first time the UFP had met them, and only 20 something years later they’re joining the Khitomer accords.

Geordi is acting really weird in this one – he seems high. Is that the point?

“I’d never heard the word T’Kon before” .. hah we’ll see them again. Oh no, getting them mixed up with Iconians – not the first to do that apparently.

Cool character design on the Ferengi, though the latex is peeling off. And excellent spaceship design for the Ferengi. This yankee trader thing is tiresome though.

Glad the Ferengi calmed down a bit – they seem a bit feral here, but glad they kept the hoo-man pronunciation.  .. is that Armin Shimerman – also had forgotten he was in at the start with Ferengi. But the slapstick fighting is funny.

Random gender based bickering between Picard and Crusher  – it’s stuff like that that really dates it, though i think it seemed a bit cheesy even then.

Oh more big glowy heads. Warf having a bad hair day. And I think I’ve seen the Portal on Terrahawks.

A bit of quoting of sun tzu saves the day. Will have to dig that out and give it a read again just in case.

Touching bit between Crusher and Picard, followed by some dodgy “coming round” acting.

Lots of wild gesticulation from the Ferengi – all a bit distracting.

Aggh the chinese finger traps, data’s inappropriate finger traps. Why?

Hhmm that was painful. I’m sure it picks up.

Encounter at Farpoint

Just started watching TNG – inspired by the Star Trek noob posts I thought I might offer some thoughts on each of them seen through the lens of the past 27 years (in real time – I think – I’m going to try not to do any fact checking here because down that line lies madness but as far as I remember TNG started in 1987 so 27 years ago). Though in continuity it’s only 21 (ST has got up to 2385 and Encounter at Farpoint was set in 2364). I’m not sure how relevant the original timeline Star Trek is any more to most people, indicated by my phone insisting that when I typed in Cardassians I really meant Kardashians, but it’s still the real one to me.

Firstly, opening scenes, it’s a sense of how much has changed. Different Enterprise –  crew members now dead (Yar and Data) others now married (Crusher and Picard, Troi and Riker) – it is really a shock to the system how young they all look. And yet, the opening shots of the Enterprise in the credits, still recalls how exciting it was that for the first time in (15?) years I think TAS ended in 1972 – resists temptation to check) Star Trek was back on TV. And weird to think that the gap between the old and the new then, is only about half the gap between the new then and now. This is where it all started again 🙂

Lots of great stuff in here I’d forgotten were here – Miles O’Brien in a supporting role – almost dramatic irony when you realise what a key member he was going to be. The Ferengi get a mention, but then they had a recurring role in this season. There’s some cheesy stuff – Tasha Yar seeming to get all emotional with very little reason, Worf pulling his phaser on a hologram – these people seem very undisciplined and ill-trained. A tense bit between Riker and Picard for no reason. And there’s loads of stern faces as they separate the saucer and reunite it, a manoeuvre that has the dramatic tension of watching someone park. (Well slightly less if you were watching me park). It’s as if – knowing there wasn’t really much happening they randomly ramp up the acting to try and con us into thinking it’s exciting. But totally forgot also how great the music was. There’s an orchestral / film level of sophistication to it that doesn;t happen in stuff today. Shit isn’t Wil Wheaton young? I’d forgotten the short skirts and shorts, (and I’d forgotten Marina Sirtis’s legs, how did I do that?) Also does a great job of laying down a lot of the basic story backgrounds – Riker and Troi’s history, Picard a Crusher’s, Geordi’s visor, Wesley’s dad. And of course, Patrick Stewart’s acting is superb. All in all, some shaky bits, but enough in there to suggest the greatness ahead.