The Steampunk Novel Checklist post was one of the first posts I wrote when I started this blog. The post was not intended to be all that serious, but as a way to look back at what I was writing and show that I was, indeed, displaying all the common indicators of a steampunk novel.
Having both read the recent VanderMeer collection, and received a most thoughtful comment on the aforementioned post by Tim, I think it’s important to talk about steampunk writing and steampunk novels as social commentary. Because as fantastical as it may seem, and as tongue-in-cheek lots of steampunk can be (even rather campy, eh old chap?) there are some important things to consider.
See, steampunk isn’t solely about the clothing, the culture, and the music. It’s about something bigger. As with any genre of writing, steampunk has a responsibility to engage the mind of the reader, to ask the tough questions, and to–ultimately–say something important. And I tend to think that steampunk as a genre, as a setting, as a mood and a time and place, offers unending possibilities when it comes to making social commentary.
Sure, my book doesn’t take place in this world. But it’s like our world. Its residents have similar prejudices, concerns, and social restrictions. One of the first important thing I realized about The Aldersgate was that, first and foremost, it told a story about people, regardless of sexuality, gender, or religion. It asks the question “What makes us human?” I’ve always been fascinated by human rights, by the Otherness assigned to groups of people that the majority doesn’t understand. As an American, it’s baffling to think that just 150 years ago, slaves walked around my state, and many people thought there was nothing particularly odd about it. Once you transform someone into an Other (and no, this isn’t from Lost: it’s from Edward Said) it’s almost impossible to go back.
I didn’t want to shy away from questions of religion, politic, and gender, because that’s what makes the story actually important. Sure, there’s a love story, a mad tinkerer, and a few power-hungry villains. But you know, when the hammer meets the anvil, if the end product doesn’t stand up, it doesn’t matter how much work went into it–it won’t stand in the end.
Although I’m not gong to divulge the exact details of the plot, I promise that anyone who is following around won’t be disappointed. Of course, you might not agree with my conclusions in the end–but that’s okay. I’m passionate about making a point with the stories I tell, and I would be honored if you’d stay with me on the journey.
A short excerpt, though, to give a little teaser.
From Chapter Fifteen: Fiddles in the Dark
The crowd, once again, began moving and speaking all at once. The sea of faces blurred in Emry’s vision, and he felt all the blood rush to his head. Sleep, he thought. Damn it to the hells, but I haven’t had sleep in days.
“Hush, Children of the Rood!”
Whatever this meant, its impact was surprisingly swift. Every mouth closed, every set of eyes turned to the speaker: Nesme.
“I vote we conduct him to safety, with the others, provided… when the time comes, that he composes a song for us. It has been a great many years since we have been blessed with the company of the Bard. And as such, you would be beholden to us—would you not, Emry Roy?”
Emry was struck dumb. Nesme wanted a commission? “I—I would,” Emry said. “By the Barding code, once asked to work… for a commission, I am beholden until the piece is final.”
“What if you break your Oath?” asked a voice, sharp and sure—it was Ezz’s voice, Emry was certain, but he couldn’t locate the Sib.
“If… if the Academy at Dunlee were to find out, I would be killed,” Emry said flatly.
“Then let us have a vote!” cried Nesme. “Those wishing to conduct Emry through the Nithings safely, and to commission him for a song in exchange—and, I may say, as collateral—raise your fingers.”
What looked to Emry like two thirds of the crowd raised their arms high, extending their forefingers. But it was hard to tell if it was a majority.
There was a moment’s hesitation, and then hands were raised. But they were clearly less—not drastically so, but enough to dispel the utter dread that had been mounting in the center of his chest. His arms were trembling now, and he could no longer keep his tears at bay.
“Good. Now, Riz, Kaze, and Xen—take our Bard to the Inn, and see to it that he’s refreshed, fed, and kept after, will you?”
Emry couldn’t hear the rest of the instructions for he had, quite unceremoniously, fainted.