Here we come to the end of the October celebration of steampunk. I still have more researching and work to do to get deeper into the genre, both as a writer and a fan, but it’s a work of my own that inspired this month’s entries. In the spring of 2011, I began work on what I thought would be a one-off short story entitled “The Curiosity Killers.” I hadn’t intended for it to be steampunk, I hadn’t intended for it to turn into a series or a novel, and I didn’t even really have plans beyond submitting it to a contest. Nineteen months later, I’ve created an entire futuristic, neo-Victorian society with time travel capabilities. This landscape is not precisely post-apocalyptic: the action is set in an America that is now two distinct nations, both of which have re-steeped themselves in technology, fashion, and manner of speech more akin to 1900 than 2100. In Avon, Vermont, a small town in the New British Empire, a young man named Ben Jonson opens a travel agency. What the public doesn’t know is that his clients don’t travel in space but in time.
If you like history, typewriters, the Wright Brothers, Ripperology, descriptions of sumptuous buildings with grand fireplaces, comedy, romance, and unsolved mysteries, you might enjoy this series. Thus far, it consists of two completed stories (“The Curiosity Killers” and “Xenos”) which are included in my upcoming short story collection Grinning Cracks. A third story, “The Wright Machine,” is in the works, and ultimately I hope to turn this into a composite novel (a novel comprised of linked but mostly freestanding short stories). Fans of things like Alias, Fringe, and Doctor Who might find my worldbuilding interesting, but ultimately it’s the characters that I hope make this a work worth caring about.
For me, science fiction needs as healthy a dose of the fiction part as the science part in order to be compelling, and good fiction is static and bland if it doesn’t include engaging characters. Furthermore, time travel with a steampunk aesthetic is perhaps the most fascinating variant of this new genre, and by setting The Curiosity Killers predominantly in the near future, the baggage of accurate Victorian-era research is eliminated. This is a reimagined landscape where clockwork automatons sit alongside the remains of iPads, where mad scientists inhabit velvet-draped townhouses and political machinations have become complex and unfamiliar. And yet what permeates this world is the title quality: curiosity. Without it, humanity is doomed to fail to move forward in scientific inquiry, thereby rendering life without purpose.
For a taste of the first story, you can find it in the spring 2012 issue of the Wordriver Literary Review (http://wordriverreview.unlv.edu/). Look for Grinning Cracks coming later this fall from Dioscuri Books.