The Way It Should Have Been…


Just as we ogle The Mysterious Lady Law in her intriguing cover art, she points her magnifying glass at us, the readers, perhaps asking why we are drawn to this oddball genre no one seems capable of describing in a single sentence. A quick browse through Carina’s catalogue will tell you—from the eight different steampunk authors, there are eight different definitions of steampunk.

From westerns to pirates to magicians to automatons, we’re stretching the genre every which way. The commonalities—Victorian era mis-en-scene, hyper-advanced steam technology, a fun reimagining of history—are the main draws as always, but the genre’s such a Rorschach for authors (and readers) right now, it’s a case of pretty much anything goes.

And that’s fabulous. I hope steampunk doesn’t settle into mainly romance or mainly mystery or paranormal or anything else. I hope writers can continue projecting their own geek passions onto the page.

My biggest inspirations are the Victorian/Edwardian sci-fi and adventure writers: Wells, Verne, Haggard, ER Burroughs. Before I was published, I’d already read pretty much everything by those authors and become frustrated by the lack of similar novels in modern literature. Sure, there’s no shortage of adventure and sci-fi, but something about that period, those manners, their mellifluous prose that flows through the mind and off the tongue—to me, that’s when the art of writing peaked and when the age of adventure enjoyed its last hurrah. Told you I got my geek on.

Oh, and it might be non-steampunk, but Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited (the novel and the classic TV series) is my number one go-to story for soaking up the eloquence of bygone England. Jeremy Irons’s narration is the best I’ve ever heard for anything—someone please hire him to read for my next audiobook. :fights off a hundred screaming Carina authors:

So why steampunk?

I think steampunk is our attempt to recapture, redesign and elaborate upon elements of that lost world, and to make them as entertaining as we possibly can for today’s readers. In Lady Law, I peppered the story with literary references such as Horace Holly (from Haggard’s She), a giant burrowing machine (Burroughs’s Pellucidar series), and even Allan Quatermain—I just love that retro-speculative vibe done so well in stories like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Then there’s a steam-powered penny-farthing, a tower for scientists that pierces the clouds, and of course, a fleet of positively spiffing airships. And none of that includes the Conan-Doyle-esque mystery at the heart of the story.

One of the reasons I write steampunk is because it presents the best of both worlds: historical research blended with my personal fantastical (read: bollocks science) conjecturing. It’s a whole heap of fun to cherry pick from history and retro-science and then fashion a parallel world where everything’s a bit out of whack. Playtime for an author who suffers from genre promiscuity. And I’m loving the unique concoctions served up by Carina authors so far.

My next steampunk at Carina—Prehistoric Clock—is an all-out adventure on a much bigger scale (guess which Conan Doyle novel inspired it!), and I’ve already hatched outlines for sequels. Someone better stop me before the world really does revert to steam power! And top hats! And…politeness, damn it!

What steampunk trend, if any, would you like to see make a comeback in 2011 society?

Btw, congratulations, Kate and William!

7 thoughts on “The Way It Should Have Been…”

  1. I love the cover art, Robert! Stunning!

  2. P. Kirby says:

    “Playtime for an author who suffers from genre promiscuity”

    I like that.

    I’d like to see stuff like China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, only with a romantic subplot. Not romance per say, but something with a healthy injection of the lurve.

  3. Robert Appleton says:

    Hi Nerine! Yes, that cover’s a bit special–better than I could have imagined. I hope the story lives up to it.

    Nice to hear from you, my friend. It’s been a while.

  4. Robert Appleton says:

    P. Kirby, I’ve got my eye on Perdido Street Station as one to read. That’s the umpteenth recommendation it’s had this week–it’s time I gave in.

    The last steampunk romance I read was The Iron Duke, and it was very well done. Excellent even.

  5. It is a great cover, Robert! I’ve got Lady Law on my iPad and can’t wait to dive in.

    I attended a steampunk conference this weekend and I have to tell you, creativity is alive and well in the wider world! And no, please don’t fence steampunk in!

    big time congrats!

  6. Clare London says:

    Great cover, and many congratulations on the release :). Your explanation is full of passion and enthusiasm for the genre, and sums up the attraction quite wonderfully for me. I may never be able to write it, but I certainly appreciate it as a reader.

    And I’m a fellow fan of “She” as well :).

  7. Robert Appleton says:

    Pauline — I’m gonna have to check out one of those steampunk events, as soon as one pops up nearby. Some of the fashions/gadgets they come up with are AMAZING. And cheers to not fencing steampunk in–it’s wide open and thriving right now. Hope you enjoy LL.

    Clare — Thanks for saying that. I’m glad my enthusiasm came across–steampunk really is my favourite genre to write at the moment. Now if only I could write like Haggard did in “She”…

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