Saturday, June 19, 2010


Leviathan, by Scott Westerfield
For quite a long time, I've loved steampunk. The artistry, the aura, everything about a past that might have (though likely ought not!) have been as a concept I much enjoy. I find it simply satisfying, fascinating, intriguing... My love for steampunk goes far back.
Not too long ago I came across the novel Leviathan, by Westerfield. It's what I would consider a (as you likely guessed) top-notch steampunk novel, and though it was written for a youn ger spectrum of readers/steampunk fanatics, itis nonetheless quite engaging despite (or, possibly on account of) its simplicity.
Set in an alternate WWI, it follows Deryn Sharp of Englad, a girl who couldn't be held to earth (in more ways than one) and Alek Ferdinand, son the famous Archduke, who finds himself to be an invaluable pawn in a complex, hazard ridden game of political chess. As one might guess, the two eventually meet (but in the interests of not spoiling the story I shall not explain exactly how), though initially, their relationship can't exactly be describebd as healthy.
In the world once seen by Westerfield, WWI has a much scarier spin; Charles Darwin of many years prior was not only an explorer, but a genetic egineer, the first person to study and modify DNA.
Years later the British are using his techniques to not only modify the traits of organisms, but also to customize them to their whims (slaughter!) and even create ecosystems, though I'd hate to give awway too much about theme. They refer to their beasts as "Fabs" short for fabricated.
They are know as the Darwinists, and their beasts strike fear into the hearts of their new enemies, the Clankers.
The Clankers are Germany, Austria-Hungary, etc., and are named on account of their gigantic machines. Bypassing treads (how boring and historically accurate!), the war machines of the Clankers are gigant things known as "Walkers" (although I think of them as 'mechs' instead) and as their name would imply, these are legged machines, that plod hill and dale belching banks of thick, black smoke. Outfitted for war with guns and cannons, they would truly be a terrifying sight to behold!
In all, Westerfield brilliantly wrote this book. Though I do believe it needed to be somewhat less predictable (and I'll be brutally honest- while Deryn didn't seem at all a terrible character- I rather liked her- she seemed a little cliched, the 'tough girl being a guy' stereotype), I enjoy how he keeps the book third person while sort of swapping viewpoints and personality. In the book are several excellent illustrations by Keith Thompson, who astoundingly illustrated a world crafted by Westerfield, truly bringing it to life in the most magnificent fashion possible.
In all, it's a rather good read that I can recommend, particularly if you enjoy steampunk, alternate histories, sci-fi, or adventure novels.
I rather enjoy all four.

Well, I've been tagged by a certain Zella, and now, I must tell six insane truths and a crazy lie, or or six extreme lies a single, mind-blowing truth.
I'll have them soon!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Sammich Machine

My local library held a mystery contest. Below is my entry. Enjoy!

Sammich Machine
by Jourdan Cameron

It was a strange morning, to say the least. I remember getting out of bed with the knowledge that something odd was bound to happen. I suppose that's normal for me, taking into consideration who I'd be meeting later on.
My name is Jack Charlotte; my best friend is Marcella Cervant. We were drawn to each other by our mutual interest in aviation, but don't let that fool you. We are radically different people. I wouldn't know how to begin a comparison. Starting at the level of fruit, perhaps, to consider ourselves as, I suppose I'd choose the pear while Marcela takes the 4-door sedan. I suppose that there really isn't anyone similar to Marcella at all. She's one of the few crazy, yet sane, tame, reserved, bold, daring people you may ever have the pleasure to meet, and seems to have this strange fondness for information; any and every topic you can think about she's likely read a book on. From atomic weapons to neuroplasticity to Zoroastrianism, she likely has some interesting, fascinating tidbit. That morning, she showed up to my door about as unusually as she usually does. "Greetings" she said. What she was wearing, that morning was, well... Not worth the effort to explain, really.
"Morning, Mar" I replied groggily. I was still a little out of it. We were sitting in the dining room.
"Hey, good morning Mar!" My dad came in, with about the usual level of enthusiasm. Was I the only non-morning person?
"Hello Mr. Charlotte" Mar replied.
"Care for some fried eggs?" he asked.
"Thank you, but I'm afraid I'll have to decline. I voraciously consumed three blanched." My dad looked a little puzzled.
"She had three boiled eggs, Dad." "Oh, right, of course. Well it's great to see you." "Likewise."
There's also the matter of her unusual dialect, but I'm not going there.
"Bye, Dad" I said. "We're heading for the library." "Alright, see you later."
If there was one thing I absolutely loved about my home, it was being walking distance from just about everything. Library, general store (I can't believe my town still has one, either) florist, all no more than ten minutes away.
"So" Mar started "Can you wait to  meet him?" She asked beaming.
"I sure can't, Mar." I replied. She was very enthusiastic this morning. One of her favorite authors (whose name evades me) was at the library to talk about his latest book on gladiatorial combat.
"So what do you think he'll start on?" she thought aloud as we approached the library.
"He'll probably start with..." The words in my mouth dissolved  as the library came into focus.
"Mar, I-" She'd already run into the middle of things.
The building wasn't quite as we had left it a week before. No, there were definite changes to the exterior, namely the headless flowers, shattered windows, and most noticeable, a brand new coat of green paint applied to the front of the building.
Written in blocky, drooling black letters was "Sammich Machine".
She was conversing with a police officer about what might have happened.
"Way I see it" said the officer "was some kid, looking for trouble. If I find 'im, I'll make sure he has it! Now you kids keep your eyes open!" I assured him we'd inform him of anything suspicious. "Remember, see something-"
"-Say something!" Mar finished.
After the commotion had cleared, we came inside the library. Ms. Stoate, one of the librarians, was chatting with a reporter from The Prism, our local newspaper.
"Looks like some gladiators already came through here" I said to Ms. Stoate.
A bearded man with black hair walks into the library. A woman follows closely behind. Both are wearing sharp formal clothes. Ms. Stoat walked up to them.
"Mr. and Mrs. Knoll, how lovely to meet you!" "The pleasure is all mine" said the bearded man. Marcella introduced herself to the couple, and I followed suit.
The woman stretched. "I was in such a rush this morning, and now look what happened! Maybe it's a sign." The man giggled a little. "Yeah, but we had no hot water this morning! Now that was a kicker!" the man laughed. I was glad to see somebody was still able. "Such a pity about what happened to the library" said the woman.
"Do you mean to cancel?" Marcella asked. Her voice faltered a bit.
"Goodness, no!" Mr. Knoll belted. "Although" started his wife "maybe rescheduling is in order?"
Mr. Knoll laughed a little. "Let's not something stupid as little graffiti get us down!"
"Whooaah, Dad!" A teenager appeared, almost out of nowhere behind Mr. Knoll.
"Everybody, I'd like you to meet my son" said Mrs. Knoll. "Dorian".
Dorian was about fourteen, with straight black hair that covered both eyes. He was wearing beaten looking faded jeans, a grey hoodie, and white sneakers splattered with black.
"Honey" said Mr. Knoll "Could you fetch the sword from the car? Thanks." Mrs. Knoll dashed off for the weapon. "Well I suppose we should get started." said Mrs. Stoate. "I'll move some of the things from the foyer, and Mar? Could you take care of..." My mind drifted away, outside the library. Why did somebody, why would somebody give this poor building such a beating? Perhaps there was some meaning to the graffiti. Sammich Machine. What's a Sammich Machine? I walked outside for some air (even though it was already streaming in through shattered windows) and found Mrs. Knoll struggling with a long box. I dashed over and asked if she'd like some help, which she promptly accepted. The thing was immensely heavy, and I really do wonder how she managed it into the car in the first place. We put it down to take a breather right outside the library door.
"You know" she started, gasping "I'm not sure why he wants this one." "Isn't this what the gladiators used?" I asked. "No. This is a Scottish broadsword." "Well that is pretty odd!" We leaned on the wall a couple minutes more. "So you met my son, Dorian?" "Oh yes, he seems like a very nice boy." "Thanks" she sighed. "I just wish..." her voice faded off. She was just gazing into the distance. "Wish what?" I asked, bringing her back. "Wished that Dorian had more time with his father" she choked out. "They're barely ever together, and I'm worried about him. I don't want him going down... The wrong path." "I understand" I replied. Lately I've seen lots of kids raising themselves. The results are seldom pretty.
"Well" she said "I suppose we should get this thing in" she yawned.
Upon re-entering the library, something felt different. The atmosphere was thick with tension. Mr. Knoll was being introduced by Dorian to a teen about three years his senior. Mr. Knoll's "Pleasure to meet you" felt strained and irate.
This teen was taller than Dorian by about a head, and had dark brown hair covering one of his eyes. "Nice to meet you too" he said. His voice was low, almost gravelly. He dressed similarly to Dorian. On his sneakers were the same black marks.
"Dorian" he said "I'm checking out a copy of Gladiator." Behind his hair, Dorian's eyes flicked to life. "I'm coming with you!" The teen smiled a smug smile and the two headed towards the DVD section of the library. The threads of tension strangulating conversation slowly vanished as the two left the room, though now Mr. Knoll seemed somewhat scared. He sat down and put his forehead in his hand. That seemed to communicate everything he was thinking. Mar went over to comfort him. "Mr. Knoll-" she began when he said, with a sniffle "Don't, please. Thank you but I know just where he's going. He'll find his path, at least... I hope." Mr. Knoll let out a big sigh and continued. "But" he said firmly "I mustn't interfere." The man was now looking off into the distance (as far as he could, anyhow) as if he were being photographed for some sort of film poster. He erred, however, in that by failing to keep his eyes on a steadily reddening Marcella. I hate seeing her so furious, but it's really a sight to behold. "Knoll" she growled. I decided to head over to the DVD section, seeing as things were about to get ugly. On my way out of the back room I saw Mrs. Knoll asleep on a chair. I had the feeling she was in for a particularly rude awakening.
"So will you do it?" was the first thing I overheard. I behind the shelves standing opposite Dorian and his friend. "I'm not sure" Dorian replied. "I have some doubts and... Fears." "C'mon." the older kid came back with. "What's the worst scenario, honestly? You pull it off, and poof" he signed. "You're free." 'When you put it that way, than I suppose there's really a point." He grabbed the other kids hand. and hugged hum. "Thanks, man." "Good choice, dude" he said in his gravelly voice. The front door opened and in came the same police officer from earlier.
"Hello again, sir" I said. "Hey there" he replied. "So have there been any big discoveries in the case?" "Not at all, young man, nothing at all." He sighed. "I just wish I could get this over with. Would you happen to have any sort of information?" I thought for a second, and looked down at my shoes, as I usually would. "Sir?" I said. "Please follow me, quietly." I led him to the shelves near the DVDs. "Look" I half whispered "At their shoes." He dashed around the corner to face them. "Hey, you two!" he barked. "Have you seen the outside of the library? Do you think vandalism is funny? Do you?" The two boys wore odd looks, unsure of if they ought laugh or appear frightened. "Well I don't!" The officer was extending some of his words for emphasis that only made him seem all the more comical, but somehow frightening nonetheless. "You're coming with me!" he said, and with one swift move he had turned around and handcuffed the older boy. Dorian appeared shocked. "What did we do?" he asked. The officer snorted. "Look at your shoes" he said pompously. "You think we vandalized the library?" the older boy asked. "What's going on here?!" came a stern voice from behind. Mr. Knoll was behind the officer. "These punks tried to destroy our library!" "Hey!" Mr. Knoll snapped "That's my son you're talking about! He'd never do anything like that!" "Well explain his shoes." "He's, em..." Mr. Knoll began fumbling over words. "He's very artistic!" "Of course! It all makes total sense!' the officer replied sardonically. "Well now he can express himself and clean up the mess, thank you for your input sir!" The police officer was really starting to get on Mr. Knoll's nerves. "Well" said the officer in a less mocking tone "Perhaps we don't have to take this so far, hmm? Courts are so tough on kids." He almost sounded sympathetic. "Perhaps simple repayment for the damages is in order." Mr. Knoll seemed to relax. "Perhaps you're right, officer. But-" Mr. Knoll came back around, realizing what the officer was trying. He clenched his teeth as a vein in his head became so visible, one could see it twitching. My son" he roared "is innocent, unless you can prove him otherwise!" "Well he's under arrest" came back the officer "until you have better alibis."
Knoll's yelling evidently reached the ends of the library, as now all eyes were on that small group. I looked up at the faces staring. I looked back down as I saw which one was approaching.
"What's going on?" Marcella asked. "These punks" said the officer "vandalized our library. And this fellow" said the officer, pointing towards a panting Mr. Knoll "disagrees."
"We're innocent!" the older boy burst out. I looked up at Marcella. I could tell what she was thinking. I was about to pull her aside to say 'Marcella, don't get involved, you know what happens when', but, as fate would have it, my nerves failed to respond in time.
"He's telling the truth" she said. "What? replied the officer. "How could you possibly tell?" She looked up at the handcuffed boys (the officer didn't waste his time just talking, evidently, and made sure Dorian was bound as well) and back to the officer. "They didn't do it." The officer harrumphed. "Than who would?" "Somebody else, but not them." The officer was about to drag the two off when it seemed that some Marcella told him just clicked. "You know what? I'll give them a chance to a fair trial." he said. "But they have half an hour to prove themselves innocent. If they fail to do that, they're coming with me. Downtown". he removed the handcuffs and said he couldn't wait to 'see them later'. Dorian shuddered a little at that. "Where's my wife?" asked Knoll after the officer left. "I think she's asleep in the-" "Still sleeping? Ugh, why isn't she doing something?" He muttered off to the back room to himself.
Marcella asked how the officer came to arresting the two of them. I explained the whole thing with the sneakers. She sighed, as if tired of my antics. When would I learn? "Mar" I took her aside "We have a problem. How will we prove those two innocent? I even" I paused "think they did it" I said in whisper. Marcella inhaled to sigh, then simply told me to follow her. We wound up going back to the back room of the library where Mr. Knoll was. Mrs. Knoll was still asleep in the chair. "There's your perp" said Mar quietly. "That's insane!" I whispered harshly. How could it be Mrs. Knoll?
"Well" said Mar "wouldn't that sabotage the presentation?" Mar could tell by my reaction that I wasn't getting anything out of this. "Look" she said "When I talked to her husband, he totally came down. Like an elephant standing on a house of cards. He explained that his wife kept nagging him about his kid, as if she didn't want to deal with him." I still couldn't see where she was taking this. "She said she was in a rush this morning. Perhaps it's because she went to bed late- very late, maybe?" "Mar, this is lunacy!" She gave me a look and I shut up. Regular logic was not at work here. "It's also obvious" she said "that she's sick of him, or at least his behaviour. He's made her a lackey, can't you see? Grab this, get me that, she hates it! That's all she is to him!" I realized that there was a good- insane, but good- chance that she was right. "Alright" I said. "Where do we take this?" Mar smiled. "We take it home."
We approached Dorian and asked him if he could take us to his house. He gladly co-operated and began taking us out of the library when we were interrupted. "Where do you punks think you're headed?" The officer from earlier was leaning against the library wall. "To get our evidence!" snapped Mar.
"Well" replied the officer in mock shock "just excuse me! Enjoy your twenty minutes." Dorian led us to his house. It was five minutes away from my own. "Hang on" he said, shoving a hand into his pocket. "I don't have my key!" "Well this is potentially troublesome." "Wait" he said with a flick of hope as we got nearer the door "there's a spare under the rug!" Without thinking I dashed to the welcome mat and felt the key. As I pulled it out, I also felt something crawling on my hand. It was a large, irritated centipede. As I recoiled in terror, the key flew from my hand into an unfortunately neglected, overgrown lawn. and I fell over backwards onto a potted plant. "Well this is just brilliant!" yelled Dorian, stomping. He was really quite infuriated now, and ran up to his house, and kicked the door frame so hard the shutters shuddered. I looked at Mar as if to say 'I told you so', but she was looking at something else, transfixed on some item that lay beside me in the grass. "Jack" she said, as if I'd uncovered a lost empire. "Jack, you did it!" Before I could ask what i did, Mar had grabbed the item and was dashing for the library. I pursued her with Dorian following close behind. I caught up to her at the intersection. She always seemed to halt whenever she came to them. 'what" I asked, gasping "have I done?" "You've solved the case, Jack!" "I did? Care to show me how?" "Alright" she said, before dashing off again. I had to chase her, again, all the way back to the library. Dorian was on the verge of collapse. We found the officer where we left him.
"Right on time" he said. "Care to explain how this kid's innocent, or should I pull my handcuffs out?" "Pull them out" said Mar. "I know the real perp, and it's not this kid, or the other." Mar had the officer follow her into the library, and told him to wait, listening, at the back room.
"Mrs. Knoll!" She awoke the woman and explained the situation. The old situation. "So my son vandalized the library? Ohh..." She put her hand to her forehead in the most melodramatic way possible, and exclaimed loudly "If only he had more attention!" "Well ma'am, if only" said Mar coldly. "But he's going to have fix this. And you're going to have to pay hefty fines on his behalf." Mar seemed like an authority in this area. She also seemed quite statuesque and imposing, despite Mrs. Knoll having a good head and a half on her. "He may even spend some time in a detention center." The woman shifted uncomfortably, and bit her lip. Mar stood up and headed for the door.
"Wait" said the woman. Mar smiled slyly for a fraction of a second and whirled to face Mrs. Knoll.
"Yes?" "I have a confession to make. My son isn't responsible for the vandalism. It was-" "I'm aware of who it was, Mrs. Knoll." "You know I did it?" "Yes. Now would you care to inform the police?" With that, the officer stepped into the room.
"Thank you, young lady" he said "But there's a problem. How do we know she isn't covering up for her son?" At that, I stepped into the room with the bag Marcella had me hold earlier. It was a transparent plastic bag, and inside were clearly sweat-clothes. Stained with black. "I think this is evidence enough."
"Circumstantial, young lady," said the officer. "Anybody can put black paint on sweat-clothes. Where did you get those?" "Directly outside the door of the accused, sir." "In that case, I think we have... A case!" The officer laughed to himself. "Just one question for you, Mrs. Knoll." She looked up at him. "Why did I write 'Sammich Machine, right?" He nodded. "It's because that's how I feel, and I-" "You wanted to express yourself" the officer mocked. "Well you have. Now you'll be cleaning machine. Please come with me, to my care. You're coming-" "Down-Town, I know." the woman mocked back, rolling her eyes.
Mr. Knoll decided to reschedule the event that day. On my way out, I saw him holding Dorian's shoulder. I couldn't help smiling. Maybe they'd be brought closer together thanks to this trial. Whatever the case, though, something inside me suddenly churned. As I came out, mulling the possibility of mistrial, I heard a gravelly "Hey you". I turned and saw the older kid. He walked up to me and shook my hand, thanking me for the help. He turned and then spoke to Dorian. "So are you ready?" he asked. I suddenly remembered why I was suspicious in the first place. My nerves reacted too slowly, however, as Mr. Knoll was the first to ask 'for what?'. "For Linux" said the older kid. "Is that some sort of drug?" asked Mr. Knoll, aghast. The older kid looked into his eyes very, very intently, and severely, before he burst out laughing.
"No, sir.It's an operating system." "A what?" "Dad!" piped Dorian "For our computer! This is an upgrade, Dad." "Oh" replied Mr. Knoll. "Carry on, then."
I found Mar at my home. She left the library roughly two minutes before I did, yet how she managed to be settled on my couch explaining just what occurred that day to my parents is far beyond my understanding. She had me sit down and left me to fill in a couple blanks she had missed out on.
In all, I'm grateful she dragged me into this. That night, as I went to bed, I tried thinking of what Mar had in store for me tomorrow. I found myself too exhausted, however, to attempt.

 Here are the winners of that contest:

A big congratulations to all who won!