Tag Archives: steampunk

Writing a Short Story for Seasons Eternal

Seasons EternalToday I’m talking a little bit more about Seasons Eternal, the second SF&F anthology from Turtleduck Press. (The first one is here.) I’m the editor there, and I also publish short stories through them. When we put together an anthology, I get to do both at the same time.

For this year’s anthology, we chose a shared premise — what might happen to a world where the seasons stopped changing? Each side of the planet is frozen in a different season. A century later, various societies have evolved to cope, but they’re still struggling under the pressures of the change.

But you can’t write a story about a society. Stories are about people.

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Friday Link: Free Short Story

Happy Friday! This week, I’m pointing you to Turtleduck Press because I have a new short story out, and you can read it for free online. It’s a Halloween-ish, steampunk-y, Gothic sort of tale called “The Dangers of Creation; or, A Machine to Rival Man”.

Here’s a teaser….

It is a sad and peculiar tale that I set to paper today, in this year of Our Lord 18–. In this modern age of science and industry, such events as I am about to relate could not have occurred. But pray cast your mind back to an earlier time, when Her Majesty was just beginning her reign and all the realms of possibility seemed open to us.

I was a young man then, a student of music at an ancient and esteemed university that you would know if I said its name, eager for knowledge and mastery of my art, and I chose as my companions those who had a similar thirst. One of them was a Mr. L—, a peculiar gentleman who was fixated on the philosophy of music with a fervour that even I could barely match. Still, he was a pleasant enough conversationalist, and when he invited me to take dinner at his home, I accepted readily with thoughts of passing the evening in stimulating discourse.

The directions he gave led me out of the university town proper and into the countryside, a charming walk. When I reached the gates he had described and passed into a dark tangled wood, I felt some hesitation. However, he had mentioned wanting to show me a most curious instrument he kept at home, and this prospect drew me onward.

Read the rest at Turtleduck Press.

That’s it for this week. Have a lovely weekend, and I’ll see you back here on Monday!

Convention Report: Fan Expo 2012

Usually Mondays on this blog are devoted to books, sometimes movies. But in my head, the theme is “Media Mondays”, so today I’m going to write about something media-related that hasn’t been featured on this blog before.

You Must Be Over 18

Photo by Louise K. (link at bottom of post)

I’m talking about a con — a science fiction/fantasy convention.

First, a brief primer on cons. There are two main types. The first is literature-oriented, focusing on books and book-related discussions. Guests tend to be authors and editors. The second is all about visual media — movies, TV, comics, anime/manga, gaming. Guests tend to be TV stars and comic book artists. This is the kind of con where people dress up in costume (cosplay). It’s much larger than the first kind.

I’ve been to both kinds over the years. The con I’m writing about today is of the second type — Fan Expo, an annual convention held in Toronto.

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Friday Link: Queen Victoria’s Diary

Today’s nifty historical discovery: Queen Victoria’s diary is now online. Sounds like an invaluable resource for historical writers, steampunks, history buffs, Anglophiles, and anybody whose curiosity leans that way.

From the Toronto Star:

The ruler who reigned over the British Empire for more than 60 years gushed to her diary about meeting her future husband and how “delightful” it was to go swimming.

For the first time, the public can access those passages and others from Queen Victoria’s diaries with a few clicks of the mouse. A website featuring the personal journals of Britain’s longest-serving monarch, who wrote exhaustively during her 63 years on the throne, was launched on Thursday, the 193rd anniversary of her birth.

Previously, the journals were only accessible by appointment at the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle, meaning it was mostly academics who read them.

“It’s quite unusual for the entire journal of a leader who reigned over the country for over 60 years to be made available,” said Suzanne de la Rosa, head of communications at the Bodleian Libraries at Oxford University.

Read the rest of the article, including some choice quotations, here.

One line that caught my eye: “Only 13 of the journal volumes are in the Queen’s handwriting. After her death, her youngest daughter Princess Beatrice spent more than 30 years transcribing and redacting her mother’s diaries.” Which makes me wonder how much Beatrice changed…

Happy long weekend to my American readers! It’s just a regular weekend here in Canada, so I’ll be blogging on Monday as usual. So long for now.

Friday Video: Automata in the Modern Age

For your Friday viewing pleasure, I’ve found a short BBC slideshow/video about antique automata. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to embed it, but if you like steampunk, vintage toys, or old things in general, do have a look. (Don’t click if you have a fear of mannequins or clockwork toys.) It’s quite wonderful.

Automata in the Modern Age

Have a wonderful weekend, and I’ll see you back here on Monday!

New Book: Steampunk Shakespeare

Steampunk Shakespeare coverThis week we’re highlighting a new steampunk anthology. The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter is a multi-author anthology that re-imagines Shakespeare in a steampunk setting. Can I have this now, please?

The editors are Jaymee Goh of the postcolonial blog Silver Goggles and Matt Delman of Doctor Fantastique. Along with writer Lia Keyes, they are also the founders of #steampunkchat, a weekly Twitter chat that ranges across many aspects of steampunk culture, literature, and music, from author chats to explaining steampunk to brainstorming a steampunk circus. It’s an excellent chat, and new people are always welcome.

If steampunk Shakespeare sounds like your thing, you can preorder the print version of the anthology through Doctor Fantastique (release on May 11), and an ebook version will be available soon — check steampunkshakespeare.com for the latest updates.

Do you have any anthology recommendations, steampunk or otherwise? Please share!

Author Spotlight: China Mieville

Railsea by China Mieville

Mieville's next book is out May 15, 2012.

In this Author Spotlight series, I’m talking about other writers you might not be familiar with, or you may have heard of but not read. The aim is to give you enough information to decide whether you might enjoy their work.

Today’s featured author is China Miéville. He’s a British speculative fiction writer whose novel Embassytown is up for a Hugo Award this year. That’s nothing new for him — almost all his novels have been nominated for, and often won, multiple genre awards. My thoughts below the cut…

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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?

Defining Steampunk

Welcome to Media Monday! So far we’ve had one movie post and two book posts. This one will be…well, a little of everything, because we’re talking about steampunk.

What is steampunk?

See, there’s the problem. Where to start?

Jake Von Slatt steampunk computer

Photo by Jake Von Slatt, found via floorvan's flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/f7oor/564663403/

Steampunk is a science-fictional re-imagining of the 19th century. As you might imagine from the “punk” part of the name, it’s meant to be subversive. It asks the question, “What if the Age of Steam had unfolded differently?” The trick is that there are as many variations on that question, and as many answers, as there are people.

Some steampunks (i.e., people who “do” steampunk) focus on technology — What if the inventors and engineers back then had taken the steam engine and used it to create more than they did in real life? What would that look like? How would it work?

Others focus on society — What if the nineteenth century had offered more opportunities and power for women, people of colour (more), and other marginalized groups? What if the political or social maps were redrawn? What would that look like? What would they do? What would they wear? How would the events of the century unfold?

Of course, all of these questions — and the answers put forth by various people — feed into each other. They don’t exist in a vacuum; they exist in a dialogue.

The tricky thing about steampunk is that it’s not based on a single fictional world (TV show, or movie, or author, or what have you), the way most fandoms are, even though steampunk can be viewed as science fiction. In some ways it has more in common with a subculture based around music and fashion, like goth or punk — except that these lack the shared-world aspect that’s so integral to steampunk. (Giant disclaimer: I don’t pretend to know anything about this kind of subculture. I come from the science fiction and fantasy side.)

So what is steampunk?

For some people, it’s a subgenre of science fiction — Gail Carriger‘s Parasol Protectorate series and Scott Westerfeld‘s Leviathan series are probably two of the best-known examples of books, and there are movies and TV series that could fall under steampunk as well. Here’s a contribution by me — “Engine Dreamer”, a short story in which the British Empire has expanded to outer space. (Available free from Turtleduck Press.)

For some people, it’s a lifestyle and an aesthetic — they decorate their homes and dress up at every opportunity. Along with this comes the opportunity to (1) invent a persona that fits into an alternate 19th century of your own devising, a role that can be played at steampunk meetups and conventions and online hangouts (and another for Canadians), and (2) make items of both beauty and function, everything from retrofitted computers to elaborate outfits to many kinds of art.

For some people, it’s a musical genre born out of these personas and outfits. There are bands and hip-hop artists devoted to steampunk. I don’t know enough about the musical side to say whether there’s an identifiable musical aesthetic — if you do, please enlighten me in the comments!

One of the best, and most fascinating, things about steampunk is that it can be so many things to so many people. There’s a lot of room to play, which is glorious. It’s sort of a fuzzy set — or in plain language, “you know it when you see it”. But that also leads to frustration when you’re staring at the face of a person who has only just heard the term for the first time, and you don’t know where to start explaining.

If you’re familiar with steampunk, how do you define and explain it to others? What part of your understanding did I leave out? If you’re not familiar, did my explanation make sense…or at least make you want to know more?

You might also be interested in my follow-up post about steampunk books.