Category Archives: steampunk

Steampunk October: The Curiosity Killers

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.

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Steampunk October: Neo-Victoriana and Politics

In the Wikipedia page on Neo-Victorianism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo-Victorian) there’s a passing mention of social conservatives being drawn to Victorian aesthetics, as discussed in Linda Lichter’s The Benevolence of Manners: Recapturing the Lost Art of Gracious Victorian Living. However, as the article points out, that is specifically calling for a return to Victorian morality. If we’re discussing simply the fashion, the manners, the art, literature, and theatrical traditions of Victorian society, there’s no need—in my estimation—to draw favorable comparisons to social conservatism. One societal trend from the turn of the twentieth century that I frequently discuss when wearing my teacher hat rather than my writer hat is the shift from Victorian to Edwardian society, and how it ushered in huge changes in mores and attitudes about inter-socioeconomic socializing. (I usually discuss this as part of a unit on E.M. Forster, who is the human embodiment of Victorian-to-Edwardian cultural changes; and as a closeted gay man, he wasn’t too crazy about Victorian morality.) Furthermore, when you apply Victoriana to steampunk, steampunk is all about enlightenment, science, exploration, and optimism. Not that you can’t be politically conservative and be interested in steampunk, but when you have a patina of science enthusiasm on something, it doesn’t always fly with today’s variant of the right wing.

Perhaps, ultimately, Neo-Victorianism is the one place where both liberals and conservatives can create some compelling art. By deconstructing a socially conservative time, can you cause your reinterpretation of it to unpack some of the oppressive baggage caused by that time period originally? And if you do indeed enjoy the fact that the actual Victorian period was so much more literally “buttoned up,” can you hold that period in high esteem without also praising its failings too much? Ultimately I think there’s room for lots of divergent voices in the genre.

If you’re open-minded enough to wear bustles in public and imagine a sky full of airships, I think you’re open-minded enough to accept each other’s differences of political opinion.

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Steampunk October: Is Doctor Who Steampunk?

Doctor Who is not entirely a steampunk show, nor has it ever been. Still, the element of time travel is one that steampunk often employs, and what television program is more time travel oriented than Doctor Who? To that end, Doctor Who winds up having steampunk elements in it as the aesthetic of time travel media and fiction have changed and grown more steampunk-oriented. There are artists devoted to creating steampunk-esque Who costumes and props. The TARDIS itself in its Eighth and Eleventh Doctor years has sported more of a gears-and-machinery look and a more Victoriana-influenced look (sandwiching a rather living-organic spaceship style used by the Ninth and Tenth Doctors that was more Farscape than steampunk). In the era of “new” Who (2005 and beyond), there have been clockwork robots, steamships, and absinthe-soaked romps through 1890s Europe. The Eighth Doctor looked quite like Lord Byron and even had his own Frankenstein’s monster-style regeneration (though it’s a bit early in the Victorian era, there is definitely an affinity amongst some steampunk afficianados for the Byron/Shelley literary group). And even in its older eras, Doctor Who has employed an aesthetic full of clocks and levers, hourglasses and flowing frock coats. If we one day found out that the TARDIS itself somehow ran on water vapor, I doubt any fans would be terribly surprised.

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Steampunk October: Book Series Rec

One response I got to my last blog post celebrating steampunk was a recommendation for the The Parasol Protectorate book series by Gail Carriger (http://gailcarriger.com/), and I did mention this was interesting yesterday due to her position as one of a handful of female writers in the genre.  While I haven’t read her series yet myself, it does come highly regarded and well-reviewed. I find her background in archeology particular interesting, as that’s one element of steampunk cosplay to which I’m inexplicably drawn; if I ever were to go full bore with dressing up at a con, I’ve often thought I would go with a kind of “lady Indiana Jones” sort of thing, complete with pith helmet and jodhpurs.

The first book in the Parasol series, Soulless (2009, Orbit) was nominated for a Locus Poll Award. Reviews of her work frequently cite her use of witty wordplay, another favorite device of mine. Too much steampunk, I fear, is deadly serious, or can be if it tends to emphasize the science more than the characterization, and I think that’s something Carriger is managing to avoid. I’m excited to check out her work.

If you have more book recs, please send them my way in the comments or send me a reply on Twitter (@kwtaylorwriter).

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Steampunk October: What the Heck is Steampunk Anyway?

Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction involving a reimagining of the late Victorian era as a time of innovation powered by extant technology, such as steam, clockworks, repurposed mechanical items, and is at times also infused with either time travel or “scientific romance” in the style of H.G. Wells or Mary Shelley or even the trajectory of romantic horror moving from Poe to Lovecraft into the early twentieth century pulp fiction auteurs. There are also variations on these ideas that set the action in either other dimensions, universes, or the future, though there is usually still a strong Victorian aesthetic at work. Steampunk visual style has much in common with the gothic subculture of the 1970s-1990s, though there is a sense of optimism and whimsy that was often lacking at the height of popular culture goth ideology (and I say this as a recovered goth). Cosplay, music, and art are huge components of the steampunk movement, though the heart and soul of steampunk remains the literature, television, and film.

Authors with multiple works on lists of “best of steampunk” include K.W. Jeter, Michael Moorcock, James Blaylock, China Miéville, Toby Frost, Chris Wooding, and Gail Carriger. Carriger is notable for being one of the only women on such lists, because despite the aesthetic of the movement being very popular with female fans, there is a distinct lack of female voices on the literary side of things. This is a shame, because many female-centric media properties with strong steampunk influences exist outside of the hard-SF realm (Alias, Firefly, and Doctor Who come to mind, all of which feature incredibly strong female characters and had many women on the writing staffs) but don’t seem to have fully proliferated the literature.

Later this month, I’ll give some more steampunk literature recommendations and discuss my steampunk series The Curiosity Killers.

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Steampunk October: Preface (and news updates)

Last weekend, I went to Pandoracon, a new multi-fandom convention with a steampunk bent to it. I’ve been to probably four different “brands” of science fiction/gaming/fandom conventions at this point, but I’m only just now getting kind of into the steampunk scene, as it were. As a recovered goth, I must say I find the neo-Victorian elements the most appealing part of the cosplay and literature, and I do enjoy the optimism and dedication to research that steampunk engenders in its fans. I would also hasten to say that my multi-part story series The Curiosity Killers (which I hope to turn into a composite novel) is something I’d definitely call “steampunk inspired.” Over the next month, I’ll be shining a spotlight on both steampunk in general and how my story both differs and adheres to various steampunk elements. For now, I’d love to hear about people’s favorite steampunk-inspired television, film, literature, music, and artworks. What do dedicated steampunks think are seminal works that one should become acquainted with in order to fully appreciate the genre?

In other news, if you’re local to the Dayton, Ohio area, please come to Ghostlight Coffee this Sunday, October 7th at 7:30 pm for the next installment of GHOSTLIGHT LIT. Ten authors will be reading horror stories in anticipation of the Halloween season getting into full swing. I’ll be serving as M.C. once more and debuting a little flash piece that hasn’t even been published yet. We’ve got a great line-up of poets and fiction authors, so grab a warm latté and settle in for some scares!

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