steampunk


Just wanted to drop a line to my long-waiting readers over here. It’s been a long while since I’ve updated, but I’ve been busy! My debut novel just released, and while it’s not 100% steampunk, it’s got steampunk elements. I wrote it in 2008, and mentioned it quite a few times during the process, some might remember — it’s called Pilgrim of the Sky and the gorgeous artwork is done by none other than the immensely talented (and lovely, if I may say so myself) Brigid Ashwood.

You can purchase the novel at the Candlemark & Gleam Website, at Amazon, and at Barnes & Noble.

From Library Journal:
Maddie Angler’s lover, the brilliant and eccentric graduate student Alvin Roth, has disappeared and is presumed dead. Instead of moving on with her life, Maddie travels to Boston with Alvin’s socially challenged younger brother, Randy, to deliver a box of research papers to Alvin’s adviser, Dr. Keats. This simple action propels her into a parallel universe where she discovers through encounters with a more gregarious Randy that Alvin is not only alive but that he has discovered the secret of multidimensional travel and grown dangerously powerful.

VERDICT
Steampunk meets goddess worship in this unusual and highly original story of loves that cross the borders of time and space. Exploring the concept of multiple universes and the social, artistic, scientific, and religious differences among them, Barron’s debut is an sf adventure that mixes high action with exquisitely detailed depictions of everyday existence in these alternate worlds.

From The Steampunk Chronicle: (full review)
“Natania Barron’s first book, “Pilgrim of the Sky” from Candlemark & Gleam publishing is magical romp between worlds mundane, affluent, spectacular, primitive, and then back again.  This is a work of romantic Steampunk fiction where faces and bodies can be switched almost as quickly as fortunes and loyalties.  Behind those faces and – as she learns – behind Maddie’s own face, lie enormous power that brings the various worlds into great peril if she cannot solve the mystery of her beloved Alvin’s machinations and decide which allies she will draw close and which enemies she must draw closer.”

From Stories of My Life: (full review)
“Maddie is one of the best heroines I’ve read about. Or perhaps I should say she’s one of the best written: Natania Barron manages to take us to the deep pits of anodine life and near-depression at the beginning, when she thinks her old boyfriend is dead. She manages to confuse us with her feelings regarding the “special” brother of said boyfriend, with whom she’s forged a bond that, at times, feels uncomfortably close to love.

“Then, she blends it perfectly into the misgivings of a whole new reality, a place where she doesn’t know who to trust and where faces, familiar and alien alike, haunt her from a past that only at times belongs to her. In this world, Maddie makes mistakes and amends, and her change towards heroine begins.”

From So Many Books, So Little Time: (full review)
“Pilgrim of the Sky is a trip through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole for a new audience of readers. It is a ethereal mirage of splintered gods, improbable magic, and the threads of humanity that weave us all together. Above all it is a story about love, in each of its aspects and all of its possibilities.”

You can also check out the Goodreads page for the book, where apparently the trend is to ask for a sequel. 🙂

My short story, “Dead’s End to Middleton” is available at Crossed Genres–as of yesterday, in their Steampunk themed issue. It’s got steampunk, and guns, and aliens, and explosions. Should be entertaining, anyway! With the moving and whatnot, I’m a little delayed, I’m afraid! Ah, well. There’s some great stories in the group, and Crossed Genres is well worth taking a look. Exciting to finally see this story go live, that’s for sure.

(cross posted from Writing Across Worlds)

Over the last two years, I’ve been podcasting my novel, The Aldersgate here. I’ve also had a short story available, which takes place in the same world, entitled “Castledeck and the Arabella”.  In spite of the fact that people have asked to give me money for the work I’ve done (which is truly sweet and thoughtful) I’ve never actually put up a donation button or anything. I haven’t felt it necessary.

But things have changed.

In light of recent events in Haiti, I’m asking you a favor. My friends Bart Leib and Kay Holt at Crossed Genres have proposed that we offer free fiction in exchange for donations to Haiti relief: a brilliant, brilliant idea.

If you’ve listened to Alderpod— if you’ve read the short story, if you’ve enjoyed Arri Gaffer’s recording of it–consider giving what you can to people who really need it, those people struggling through tragedy the likes of which we cannot comprehend, in Haiti. My mother spent almost a month in Haiti about four years ago, and returned with the most haunting, desperate, moving stories about that island and its beautiful people; that they have been made to endure yet another catastrophic event like this is beyond heartbreaking.

If every single one of you who have read the story before, or have listened to the podcast, donated just a dollar, we’d have close to $2,000! That kind of money could do so much to help.

No amount is too small. Join with us in responding to this tragedy to the best of our abilities by sending relief to Haiti.

“The value of a man resides in what he gives and not in what he is capable of receiving.” — Albert Einstein

To donate, visit the Crossed Genres website.

Castledeck and the Arabella can be found here as .html, .pdf, and as an .mp3

The site has been in dire need of a little tidying up, and thanks to some art by the brilliant Brigid Ashwood (of whom I cannot say enough when it comes to her artistic talent) I’ve done a bit of a renovation! See: new background, new banner! And the best part? I did it myself, with CSS. And the site did not implode, the world did not end, and I’m actually happy with the results. For reasons I can’t quite comprehend, I’m far better at designing things on Pages than I am with Photoshop…

I also have a new tagline: Steampunk. Fantasy. Western. I mean, that really does sum up the whole thing, doesn’t it?

At any rate, watch this space! More meandering steampunk chatter, and some thoughts about writing weird west to come soon!

“I’m no more a knight than I am an ass, though I suppose at times there has been sufficient argument to support the latter claim.” – Emry Roy, from Chapter Five of The Ward of the Rose

Well, since finishing Alderpod a few months ago, it’s been a little quiet around these parts! I’ve been very much in writing mode and, until about a month ago, I’d been working on a variety of projects that had little or nothing to do with steampunk (or, else, they do, but my reasoning for thinking of them in such ways is as long and convoluted as possible, not the sort of thing to lend itself particularly well to the blog).

But now, back into the fray. First and foremost, I’m working on The Ward of the Rose, the sequel to The Aldersgate, as we speak. But I should point out that I’m working slowly and steadily. It’s been absolutely thrilling to return back to the setting of the story, and I promise to post some snippets of the story as it progresses. I recently scrapped about 30K of the original sequel, finding that I started much too late in the book and was skirting some rather important issues. That’s been resolved.

Also, I’ve noticed a recent uptick in Alderpod subscriptions. Thanks to those out there listening to the story, again or for the first time. I think all the technical issues are finally resolved! Also thanks to the reviewers, too. I don’t know what the future of the book is, but I promise I’ll keep you posted. The support and encouragement from readers of the last two years has been absolutely remarkable. I certainly never anticipated that my little podcast would do much, but I’m so glad it’s introduced me to some of you.

I’ve also been writing quite a bit of weird west stuff lately, in short story form, and I’ll let you know if and when you can find them. While not always steampunk, they’re all definitely Neo-Victorian, since they take place in a fictional alternate Arizona of the 1880s. You can get a glimpse of that world in “The Brass Pedestal” which was in Steampunk Tales #4 (which isn’t in Arizona itself, but what’s now Missouri… but it’s not called that since… well, I won’t get into that just yet!).

At any rate, expect more in this space in the weeks to come. I’ve got lots of ruminations on steampunk to share, and am definitely looking forward to the year, and the words, ahead.

From Chapter One of The Ward of the Rose

“It is your decision to make,” Cee said with a sigh, matching that of her grand-niece’s almost tone for tone. She folded her hands and leaned on the railing, gazing across the slope into the fog. “Let no one make it for you, dear Coralie. Gem will be with you always, and Professor too, I think. For as difficult as your journey here has been, you are standing at a crossroads of fortune.”

“Fortune?” asked Cora, almost laughing.

“As you said. There is war, there is discussion, there are decisions to be made. And you are not alone in this. While Maelys is concentrating on the Ardesian threat, and the growing Soderon force, the fact that one Alderclass girl has escaped her grasp will likely pale in comparison to what she must do. For now you are safer than you were before. Though I fear Renmen and Gawen do not agree on the course of the Order of the Asp… they will likely both try to win you to their sides.”

“Because of what I can do,” Cora said, staring down at her hands. She flexed her fingers, then curled them against her palms.

“You are a boon no retinue would want to let go—a key to health and restoration,” Cee said, dropping her voice. “But listen well to their arguments, and make your own choice, whatever it will be.”

“I wish you could come with me,” Cora said, turning to Cee. Tears came, and she tried to hide them, but Cee saw and put her arm about her shoulders.

Cee squeezed Cora against her. “I’m an old woman, Cora. My adventures are at an end. For now, I will pick up the pieces of my ranch here, help those servants and workers I have left put the fragments of their lives back together again. My place is here.”

“It must be good, in a way, to have such a place,” Cora said.

“You may yet someday, Coralie. You may yet.”

If you love steampunk, you’ve got to read this. If you love steampunk literature, you really, really have to read this. I was excited to learn that the incredibly talented Cherie Priest was starting a steampunk series, but this piece makes me a little giddy. You should check out the whole site, as well, The Clockwork Century.

I particularly like her conclusion:

I’ve seen people come at steampunk with sophisticated visions of retro-futuristic China, New England, Africa, the American frontier, gaslamp London, Japan, and India … and everywhere else, which is exactly how it ought to be. Because wherever you came from, whoever you are, and whatever your people were doing a hundred and fifty years ago … it is worth talking about. It is worth examining, and exploring. It is worth playing with, every bit as much as it is worth taking seriously.

And I believe this, if nothing else, puts the “punk” in steampunk. It’s the tongue sticking out at history books; it’s a poke in the eye to a condescending footnote. It’s a pointy boot up the ass of stuffy literalists and stitch-counters. Steampunk refuses to let what was written years ago become the last word or the bottom line, and that’s one very big reason I love it so much.

steampunk_lordnevermore

Lord Nevermore by Brigid Ashwood

It’s been a few years since I first stumbled upon the term, drooled over the aesthetic, and learned about the culture. From a writer’s perspective, it’s been an interesting ride. I didn’t start out with a steampunk novel in mind, and I hope I’ve never given that impression. However, since discovering that the world of the Aldersgate Cycle was a fantastic take on steampunk, I’ve done my own delving into the culture.

I came to steampunk, as I’ve written before, by way of the American West, and through a love of fantasy and alternate worlds. While I spent some time in the early 2000s hanging around lots of punk rockers in the Baltimore area, I’ve never considered myself very counter-culture. I mean, sure. I’m weird. I’m a geek. I’ve always been a maker of words. It’s not to say that I don’t have plenty of political views that might be considered unusual, but I try not to let that leak into my blog or (too much) into my writing.

What’s been interesting to watch, however, is the greater absorption of steampunk culture into the mainstream. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a progression like that before, save perhaps the goth progression in the late 80s and early 90s (though I was listening to the Beatles at that point, I certainly watched from the wings). Search trends for steampunk continue to rise, and everything from fashion to home decor shows signs of cross-pollination.

But I wonder, is the definition of steampunk changing? As it becomes a known part of our culture at large, does it diminish? Or does it grow? Here’s a few scenarios I think we might see in the coming months.

Gaining literary steam. I’m not the only writer out there with a love for steampunk. In fact, I see more and more writers trying their hand at incorporating alternate history/fantasy steampunk facets into their writing; we’ve seen Steampunk Tales for the iPhone, for example, and of course the VanderMeer short story collection (which, I believe, is in talks for a followup). From a novel approach you’ve got people like Ekaterina Sedia, Tobias Buckell, and Cherie Priest (among others) either publishing or actively working on steampunk-esque books. Why? While “steampunk” literature has been around a long time (well, they didn’t call it that when they were writing it in the late 19th century) it’s seen a rebirth. With appeal for fantasy, science-fiction, horror, and thriller writers, it’s not surprising to see growing trends in steampunk writing. It’s wonderfully fertile ground, and can be written in a multitude of ways. From a fantasy perspective, it’s a nice break from the standard medieval approach.

The -punk phenomenon. We may start hearing about lots of other “new” punks. You’ve probably already heard of cyberpunk and dieselpunk, etc.. I know plenty of writers who hate these terms (even the term steampunk itself) but it is what it is. In a way steampunk has become an umbrella term, incorporating bits and pieces from the 17th century onward to the Edwardian, and sometimes beyond. There are definitely divided camps, here, some who believe steampunk is only Victorian, and others who want to broaden the definition. Of course, there are positive aspects of each, but I certainly see–especially in the realm of fashion–the second camp winning out. It tends to give historical nitpickers hives, unfortunately… Is “steampunk” the right term? I dunno. It is what it is at this point.

Movin’ down the dusty trail. As with any subculture, there are always folks who are transients. That is, people who “find” a movement, become active, and move on. Now that you can buy steampunk inspired clothing at JC Penney, it’s not as hard as it once was to fit in at an event or a club. But, given time, and other new subcultures bound to crop up, people will move on to other things because, by nature, they always need to be different. Hell, there are already folks disenchanted with steampunk, or frustrated with the growing commercialization of steampunk. Or just bored. Because for some people, being different is all that matters. What lies beneath is inconsequential. (Although, if you join a movement to look like a bunch of other people, “different” is very relative, I suppose.)

Makin’ a steampunk buck. I’m sure you’ve seen it. The superfluous gear. The short story that tries too hard. That friend of yours who has become a born-again steampunk and is now making bookmarks, postcards and t-shirts all proclaiming love of the culture. Yeah, it’s tough territory here. You want to be welcoming to everyone, but at the same time, so much of what I’ve been seeing lately just comes across as people trying to make a quick buck. And I hate that.

Asking the hard questions. Steampunk isn’t perfect. The Victorians, for all they gave us, were highly flawed people. They were often racist, sexist and classist. And while some writers, in particular, have explored these issues, it hasn’t really seeped into the culture. I love corsets, from an aesthetic perspective, for example. But, some of the extremes women went through–or were made to go through–in attempt to “look right” is downright uncomfortable. That we can choose to wear corsets or not in this day is rather amazing. Know what I mean? It’s amusing to find that one of the instruments feminists rallied against has become a symbol of feminine power and sexuality… Anyway. I digress.

Not your parents’ steampunk. Steampunk will change. People will push the envelope. It’ll move beyond gears, cogs, and goggles, and become something else. It will be reinterpreted, re-envisioned, re-appropriated. It will move to Asia, to Africa, to the Middle-East, and bring new flavors, sounds, sights, and influences. And it will be better for it. I, for one, can’t wait!

What about movies? I think they’ll continue to be few and far between, and of middling quality. So far, most attempts, including most recently City of Ember, have not done terribly well. There’s something steampunkish, certainly, about 9, as well as a few others (not to mention new RPGs). I mean, in the past, the outcome just hasn’t been that great. Not even I could sit through Wild Wild West again. My hope is that something comes to television, soon. I think there, steampunk might find its home. With shows like Warehouse 13, which certainly cater to the aesthetic, I’m optimistic!

So, what do you forsee for the future of steampunk?

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