STEAMPUNK IS MY GET OUT OF JAIL FREE CARD – Guest post by author and editor Paul Genesse
Meet special guest writer and editor Paul Genesse! I’m honoured to have him visit my humble blog. The man knows his steampunk! I bought a copy of the Steampunk’d anthology below and remember the story he talks about below. It made an impression on me then, and I still love it.
There are two ways to win: Commenters on this post will win a prize pack from me and a $10 Starbucks card PLUS EVERY comment made on one of my guests’ blogs in December will be entered for a $50 Amazon gift certificate! So, start saying hello!
Reading and writing steampunk is my get out of jail free card. Don’t get me wrong, I love more traditional high fantasy with dragons, but I feel like steampunk is a subgenre that is incredibly wide open. Authors (and readers) are free to experiment and go in almost any direction. There are certain ideas that are debatably important to the genre: Victorian era sensibilities, rebellion of some kind against societal norms, advanced technologies that occur sooner than expected—let’s say for example a nuclear powered submarine in the 1800’s like in Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea—and dare I mention the item that almost always seems to be present in the clothing movement, goggles.
There’s nothing that is required to be in steampunk literature, especially goggles, though the Victorian era idea seems to be the most important to me personally.
However, the aspect that gets my mojo really flowing is the idea of an alternate Earth history. I love imagining steampunk worlds that mirror our own, except a critical historical occurrence has been changed, which has altered the whole course of human events. This frees me so much from the cage of history and allows nearly anything to be possible.
The first steampunk story I wrote was in 2009 and I absolutely loved making big changes to the timeline we’re all at least somewhat familiar with. In “The Nubian Queen” in the Steampunk’d anthology from DAW Books I imagined that Mark Antony and Cleopatra had defeated Octavian’s army in 31 BC at the Battle of Actium. I decided that Cleopatra and Anthony subsequently crushed the Roman Empire. Alexandria, Egypt became the center of the world and the library there never burned, preserving all that priceless knowledge. I then imagined that the Little Ice of the Middle-Ages became the Big Ice Age and devastated mainland Europe obliterating the
people there. Dark skinned Africans with some Greek blood dominated the world and the white people were mostly slaves.
Fast forward to the 1800’s and the world is entirely different, and is centered in North Africa where the Coptic Church is a major power instead of the Vatican. After all sorts of mental gymnastics and supposition I had my setting to tell a tale about a descendent of Cleopatra the Great, Queen Sahdi, my Nubian Queen, who was being forced into a marriage with an older man.
It was so fun playing with famous characters in history and also changing the events that shaped our world. I was always fascinated with Cleopatra, and wondered what would have happened if she had been victorious. The historical ideas were just back story, but they added a lot to the world, and I didn’t have to spell it all out. Most readers are familiar with the broad strokes of history and they bring that knowledge to the story, so I don’t have to tell them everything. Setting stories in our world, even a changed one, feels so much easier and liberating to me personally than creating an entirely new setting.
Writing about the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes as Jane Emma Holloway has in her extremely well received Baskerville Affair novels just sounds like great fun. I perused the opening of the series and knew right away that her books had the qualities I look for in steampunk: a strong character in a fascinating world.
That’s a tough standard to live up to. I’m currently writing a steampunk story, “The Lightning Men,” to be submitted to the Clockwork Universe: Steampunk vs. Aliens anthology edited by Joshua Palmatier. Setting the story in an Australia where aliens have taken over and the main character is an aboriginal native trained to be a soldier by the British has been great fun, but quite challenging. I’m afraid it might be a novella, and too long for the anthology, but time will tell if I can make the cuts to the tale, and then make the cut for the antho as well.
I’m tying “The Lightning Men” into the story I wrote with Patrick M. Tracy in the Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters anthology from Ragnarok Publications. Patrick and I managed to write a steampunk kaiju story (kaiju are giant monsters like Godzilla). Our tale is set in 1800’s Japan and we found a way for the Japanese to keep their old ways and protect their country by summoning the ancient dragons to destroy the steamships, airships, and mechanical juggernauts of the British and Dutch who want to open the Japanese ports to European trade. It’s a character story about an old woman asked to unleash the kaiju, but the backdrop was so much fun to explore.
Steampunk is such a great genre as it gives readers and writers the freedom to break out of the traditions of fantasy and science fiction. It’s the new cool thing, though it’s been around for a long time. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) is the first novel recognized to actually be steampunk.
The fashion movement is much bigger than the literary movement, but I think steampunk is one hugely successful Hollywood movie, or TV show, away from bursting into the mainstream. NBC’s Dracula starring Jonathan Rhys Myers is totally steampunk. Dracula is an inventor trying to bring wireless electrical power to the world and destroy the men who want to make oil the main commodity. He’s also trying to get revenge on them.
Dracula on NBC has so many steampunk elements. They promote it as a legend reborn. I love it.
Steampunk is history, or established literary works, being turned upside down. It’s a surprising genre that takes established stories and makes you look at them like you never have before. You just don’t know where you’re going to end up, and your imagination is set free.
Thanks, Emma, for the invite to write a guest post on your blog, and best wishes with your Baskerville Affair series. I love your style.
Paul Genesse is the author of the Iron Dragon series, editor of The Crimson Pact anthology series featuring several steampunk stories; author of “The Nubian Queen” in Steampunk’d; “Of the Earth, of the Sky, of the Sea” in Kaiju Rising: The Age of Monsters with co-author Patrick M. Tracy, about a dozen other short stories, including the FREE story “The Cost of a Tasmanian Tiger” on Paul’s blog, which has several steampunk elements, and two iconic characters from literary history. Visit him online at paulgenesse.com.