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Tag: steampunk

A Con over the Weekend

I went to SpoCon over the weekend and primarily went to all the panels that talked about writing fiction. There were also gamers, steampunk, anime fans, comics, movie buffs, and all sorts of other geeky stuff, but I didn’t have time to go see much of it.

An interesting thing I learned: A lot of authors do what they call “rolling edits.” In other words, they start editing previous chapters even as they write future chapters. The conventional wisdom concerning revisions is to finish your first draft, stick it in a drawer, forget about it for six months, and then come back and do revisions. Caveat: Rolling edits probably developed as a revision technique because writers under contract have deadlines and do not have the luxury of waiting six months.

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A little old lady was toting some sort of steampunk gadget around:

SpoCon 2011 Guest of Honor, Patricia Briggs (right), and a model for the covers of Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series (left):

The coolest looking car in the parking lot:

Steam in the Pigeon House

In The Hard Edge of Empire, Charles Stross laments the current glut of steampunk which is all about aesthetic, adventure, and nostalgia rather than the social realities and consequences of anachronistic technology in the 19th century.  In other words, what’s selling is the “steam” rather than the “punk” and the genre purists are getting into a snit about it.

I think what Stross and his commenters are forgetting is that marketing and literary intelligentsia are two completely different things.  If they happen to overlap, then it’s a happy coincidence.  But most of the time, they don’t.  This happens in every genre.  Steampunk is not an exception.  Marketing departments are going to slap the label “steampunk” on anything with a airship.  They don’t care about the fine distinctions.  It’s like lumping a pair of flip-flops with a genetically engineered rabbit that glows in the dark because both of them are green.  As long as you know how that part of the publishing industry works, then you shouldn’t be surprised that a novel labeled “steampunk” is drastically different than what you imagine a steampunk novel should be.

If you pride yourself on being a so-called well-informed reader, then do your homework before you buy the book.  And if you just pick up a book randomly based on cover, well, you know that old adage.  Books aren’t immune to fads and I think the best way to counteract them, if you really don’t like them, is to not buy the fad books.  (And, you know, if enough people don’t buy fad books, they’ll go away because they’re not making the publisher any money.)

That said, I really like steampunk.  I’m not so much into the sociological aspects of it (or the aesthetics, come to think of it–sometimes it can get downright annoying), but I do find the addition of anachronistic science fascinating.  The fascination probably began even before I knew what steampunk was.  When I was in my first year of high school, it was the reason why I picked a hefty biography of Thomas Edison for the book report of my choice.  My fascination continued to be fueled by an awesome history of science class I took when I was an undergrad where half of the semester was taken up talking just about steam-powered engines and similar machines.  But even with my science-centric view of things, I don’t think steampunk is just about nuts and bolts.  I’ve tried my hand at writing steampunk and I’ve included gaslight fantasy to more traditionally sci-fi oriented stories.

Should it matter how steampunk is defined?  Should only stories containing the tropes on a purist’s list be considered steampunk?  Or can anything ranging from squishy to hard be included under the umbrella?  It depends on your point of view.  The answer to “what is steampunk?” is an opinion, neither right nor wrong.  For me, as a reader, the very notion of steampunk–or any genre for that matter–is irrelevant.  The individual elements of a story that indicate genre is like the facade of a house.  It’s not going to change the underlying foundation or the story itself.  And the story is the key, not the genre trappings.  What I really want is a well told story, whether it’s a social commentary featuring underfed workers revolting against the mechanical loom overlords or a swashbuckling tale of zeppelins and zombies.

I suppose one could argue that I’m completely missing the point by emphasizing the story over the genre.  But even if you do add all the hardcore steampunk elements to your writing, you have to ask yourself, why are you really writing in the first place anyway?  And why are your readers reading your writing?  And most importantly–especially if you want anyone to read your stuff in the first place–do your goals for writing align with the reader’s expectation?  It’s not going to do anyone any good if all you want to write about is steampunk philosophy while most of the readers come into it expecting to be entertained, difference engine or no.

In Preparation for Three Days of Madness

So, I wrote up an outline last night for the 3 Day Novel Contest.  Whether or not I actually follow the outline will probably be determined by how I feel tomorrow morning.  Because unlike a lot of the people who have been planning for this, I can’t just shove aside everything and write.  I also have experiments in lab to do so inevitably, part of my weekend will be working on that.

While the 3 Day Novel Contest does not specify word or page counts, my goal is to write 30,000 words in three days.  Even though I’ve done 10,000 word days before, this is still kind of frightening.  I’m not particularly scared of writing a novel in a month because it’s a whole month.  That’s plenty of time.  Three days, not so much.  I still have other work to do, errands to run, and time to eat and sleep.  (Well, I suppose I could do without sleep, but I’m a little too fond of it to give it all up.)

Nonetheless, I’m going to try this again.  I’m a little more leery this year than last simply because of the fact that I’ve been doing this high octane writing for two months already.  Burn out is extremely likely.  The only thing that’s keeping me going is that after next Monday, this is going to be over.

A little about this weekend’s project (which still does not have a title):

It’s set on an alternate Earth where science has progressed a lot more rapidly by the late 19th century compared to our history.  In a way, I suppose, one could call it steampunk but there isn’t much steam–just a lot of advanced technology.  A bit of the story is taking place in a microbiology institute that’s really just a thinly veiled version of the Pasteur Institute.  The main characters are a pair of brothers who jointly run a microbiology lab and their transcriptionist/technician who secretly moonlights as a cancan dancer.

The problem begins when sensationalist tabloids report of rat hordes coming out of the sewers to wreak havoc in a synchronized fashion and people’s pet cats suddenly dropping dead of what appears to be a feline form of hemorrhagic fever.  Soon after, the head of the institute comes down with a mysterious illness that looks like a horrible tropical disease, but there are some strange symptoms that do not make sense.  The main characters, of course, have to figure out what’s happening before there’s an outbreak.

So what’s this mysterious disease?  Well, it’s going to be very similar to this along with some outrageous nanotechnology.

Can I pull this off?  Who knows.  Maybe I’ll have an update tomorrow.

Steampunk, Scientists, and the Soulless

In Gail Carriger‘s fantasy horror novel Soulless, Alexia Tarabotti–a soulless spinster–is rudely attacked by a vampire which is against the rules of etiquette in this alternate Victorian England.  She accidentally kills the vampire which prompts an investigation from Lord Maccon, werewolf and the head of the Bureau of Unnatural Registry.  But as Alexia and Maccon delve into the origin of the misbehaving vampire, they discover that strange vampires are appearing while known vampires are disappearing. Something more sinister is at work than just a couple of forgotten manners.

I enjoyed reading Soulless.  It’s an engaging cross-genre romp featuring supernatural creatures operating under Victorian strictures.  And it featured an original conceit for the existence of werewolves, vampires, ghosts, and other types of undead: that some people have an excess of soul so that under certain circumstances, they just won’t die.  This notion, it seems, eludes the antagonists who seek a more scientific explanation.

However, one thing that really bothered me about this book, and most other stories with scientist characters, is that the author failed to deviate from the stereotype when depicting scientists.  Like the virgin/whore dichotomy that feminists lament, there is also a scientist dichotomy in genre fiction, too.  Fictional scientists are either evil, mad, and amoral or brainy wimps with absolutely no common sense.

While it may be difficult to visualize people resembling Britney Spears, the elderly organist at the local church, or a champion skier as scientists, one should note that scientists are human, not cardboard cutouts.  Some scientists are brilliant, others not so much.  Some are photogenic while others need their teeth straightened.  Personalities can range from the grumpy and megalomaniacal to the sweet and quirky to the downright “normal” (whatever that is).  I am tired of authors taking the lazy way out or getting all their information from cartoons and fantasy notions of an ivory tower hermit who hasn’t changed his wardrobe since 1962.

Am I asking for too much? I hope not.