Tag Archives: Girl Genius

Top 5 Imaginary Worlds

Girl Genius Color Omnibus Vol. 1

The cover of one of the Girl Genius books. The thumbnail doesn’t do it justice — click through to see it bigger.

Following on last Friday’s post about your favourite place on Earth, here’s a related question for you all:

If you could live in any made-up story world, from books or movies or TV, which would you choose?

Here are my top 5…

(On a writerly note, you’ll notice all of these are series. Of course, this gives an author the room to really explore a new world and make it rich with details and layers – it’s hard to do the same in a standalone book or movie. But it didn’t take more than one book, and often much less, for me to fall in love…)

5. The world of Girl Genius

This series by Kaja and Phil Foglio is a webcomic and a graphic novel series (aimed at both adults and teens), so it’s not surprising that their world is chock-full of visual delights – enormous airships, quirky circuses, mad scientists, and lots and lots of clockwork machinery. Every place our heroine goes is more fantastic than the last. If I had my own airship, I’d be happily occupied for years.

4. Middle Earth

I admit to being influenced by the art that’s been made about Tolkien’s world, from paintings to the Peter Jackson films (famously shot in New Zealand). They all make the landscape look so gorgeous, and I’m a sucker for the beauty of nature. Plus there are elves and dwarves and hobbits. As long as I stay away from Mordor, it’s all good. (If Middle Earth isn’t available, Terry Pratchett’s satirical version, Discworld, would also do.)

3. Hogwarts

A school full of magic-users appeals to my fantasy-loving side and my old-fashioned-English-literature-loving side, not to mention the part of me that felt pretty lonely at school in my early teens. Sure, Voldemort is lurking around and there’s something wrong with the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, but still, getting to learn spells, wield a magic wand, and fly, all while living in the niftiest boarding school ever? Yes, please!

2. Pern

Aside from the danger of Thread, Anne McCaffrey’s Pern is a pretty sweet world – cozy stone halls, tall ships, and dragons – and for a (sort-of) pre-industrial planet, the larger centres are pretty modern-thinking. The only tough part would be deciding whether to Impress a dragon or go into training at Harper Hall (and maybe adopt some fire lizards).

1. The universe of Star Trek

I discovered Star Trek when I was 12, fell in love, and never really fell out of love. It offered a hopeful and essentially optimistic vision of the future, one that was missing from dystopian stories (yep, the ’80s had a round of dystopian novels too). Sure, there are wars and dissension, but the Federation is a pretty good entity overall. The chance to live on a spaceship, work with aliens, explore new planets with every mission, do science, and fly among the stars? Well, let’s just say that if I were given that choice, even today, I’d be gone faster than Jean-Luc Picard can say “Engage”. (Barring that, the TARDIS or the Firefly ‘verse would do in a pinch…)

Honourable Mention: Earth’s own history, at least as filtered through historical fiction. When I was growing up, some of my favourite books were historicals. I devoured any and every time period, from Ancient Egypt to the pioneer days to WWII. My favourite time periods were the medieval era, with its castles and romance, and the Victorian era, with its quaint manners and beautiful dresses. Of course, there are plenty of reasons I’m glad I don’t live in the past (women’s rights and modern medicine being just two!), but a girl can dream.

Your turn! Which fictional world or story-verse would you choose to live in if you could?

Defining Steampunk: Books

This week, we’re returning to the topic of steampunk. (See my post Defining Steampunk. For more, see the transcript of this week’s #steampunkchat on Twitter, available here.) I wanted to delve a little deeper into the part I know best — steampunk as a literary genre — and talk about where it begins and ends.

Girl Genius Color Omnibus Vol. 1

The cover of one of the Girl Genius books.

I’ll start with a rough, working definition: speculative fiction based roughly on the nineteenth century but written much later, often with the purpose of re-examining the assumptions and imbalances of the time — hence the “punk” part of the name. In practice, this often includes such visual tropes as steam or clockwork technology, airships/dirigibles/blimps, goggles, and corsets (in a Europe- or Western-based world). To see what this looks like, I highly recommend Girl Genius, a graphic novel series by Phil and Kaja Foglio (more about this below).

Some of the earliest steampunk writers are K. W. Jeter — who is credited with coining the term — and Michael Moorcock, writing in the ’70s and ’80s. One of the early defining works of the genre is The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. They posit an alternate timeline in which punch-card computers and steam-powered carriages have been adopted into general use, with political and social changes to match. Because Gibson and Sterling are/were cyberpunk writers, the scientific underpinnings are strong enough that I would call their book science fiction.

Other steampunk novels based on a somewhat recognizable Earth, both science fiction and fantasy-leaning, include:

  • Gail Carriger‘s Parasol Protectorate, where Victorian England includes werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and mad science
  • S. M. Peters‘s Whitechapel Gods, where a chunk of London has been cut off and evolved into its own miniature steam-powered society controlled by all-powerful beings
  • Philip Pullman‘s The Golden Compass (or Northern Lights, if you’re not in North America) where scientists at Oxford study things that don’t exist in our version of the world
  • Scott Westerfeld‘s Leviathan series, where World War I is re-imagined as a battle between those who use mechanical weapons and those who use biology-based weapons

On the flip side are novels set on other worlds that resemble nineteenth-century Earth in some ways, but whose geography is unrecognizable. I would call these fantasy rather than science fiction. For example:

  • Phil and Kaja Foglio‘s Girl Genius (link above), where England exists, but isn’t the focus, which enables the authors to include everything from giant robots to ice maidens to constructed “people” to lots and lots of airships
  • China Miéville‘s Perdido Street Station, which involves a fantasy city that is chock-full of fantastical races, but also has rudimentary computers, airships, and cable cars

You can probably see by now that there are no clear lines around steampunk literature as it bleeds into other subgenres. (In other words, it’s a fuzzy set.) The Golden Compass and Perdido Street Station are solidly in the fantasy corner, and arguably not steampunk at all. Gail Carriger’s series is also paranormal romance. Whitechapel Gods and Perdido Street Station involve powerful, unknowable beings that could pass for Lovecraftian Elder Gods.

Further from the epicentre (if steampunk has such a thing), you might find alternate-history novels such as:

  • Ian R. MacLeod‘s The Light Ages, which is set in an alternate version of Britain’s Industrial Age in which everything is driven by a substance called “aether”
  • Naomi Novik‘s Temeraire series, which features the Napoleonic Wars with the addition of dragons
  • Patricia Wrede‘s Mairelon the Magician and Magician’s Ward, which feature a Regency-era London where magic is real

What do you think? If you’re not familiar with steampunk, which part sounds like it might tickle your fancy? If you are familiar, what corners of it am I missing? (For starters, I haven’t mentioned anything based in other parts of the world.) Where do you see steampunk ending and other subgenres beginning?