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!