Pat Rice here:I have just joined the author's co-op at Book View Cafe and was fascinated to read their new steampunk anthology, THE SHADOW CONSPIRACY. I had not realized how carefully researched and what historical detail is involved in producing one of these tales.
So I'm ceding today's space to Phyllis Irene Radford aka Ramblinphyl:
Last summer the Book View Cafe (http://bookviewcafe.com ), a consortium of authors on the web, decided to put together an anthology of original fiction. Steampunk seemed like a hot topic so we explored the possibilities. I jumped at the chance of adding the title of Editor to my resume. It couldn't be that hard. I'm an historian with 5 massive historical fantasies under my belt. I'm reasonably knowledgeable about Victoriana, and I've run critique groups before.
Wow was I in for a surprise. In the first place, editing is different from critiques. This is almost as much my work as the author’s. Therefore, it is much more intense, and the depth of revision requests startled me. I have to hold the entire book in my head and work for a blended whole. When I question a word choice or sentence structure, I'm doing it for the whole book, not just one story. It is more than a suggestion and less than a demand. Phrasing that has to be tooled to the unique author sensibility.
Then I got into the research. Steampunk starts with Victorian fashion, locations, and technology and spreads out from there. No two people in the Steampunk community will define the sub genre the same. I think the starting point is imagining what if science and technology grew up in the mid 1800s and people developed fabulous machines powered by steam.
I can work with that. I watched the original “Wild Wild West” on TV and read some Jules Verne. Victorian sensibilities demand that these machines must be as beautiful as they are useful. That makes inventing things even more fun.
The fashions speak for themselves. The Steampunk community spends a great deal of time and detail on their costumes. All their adventures require proper fashion. Modern feminist sensibilities allow the ladies to dress in more practical garments than their Victorian counterparts so they can accompany the men on the adventures. Victorian ladies probably did too, but no one admitted it. Modern thought also allows women to openly take on roles traditional assigned to men, dirigible pilots, boiler mechanics, and weapons experts.
Along my journey into Steampunk I re-discovered the romance of the movement. That's Romance in the classic literary sense, not a couple in a clinch on the cover. There's the romance of the grand adventure in exotic locations, the romance of lost empires and fabulous treasures, the romance of seeking the answers to universal questions of what makes ocean currents flow, how a volcano works, and why rivers change their courses. The edges of continents have been explored and largely settled. The 1800’s saw the first expeditions into the unknown interiors. This is the era of seeking.
We start our stories with a detail, an odd factoid about an historical personage, or a lately discovered document that changes the perspective of long held opinions. Then we allow the story to follow a new course of events. The marvelous what if factor that blends the best of historical and speculative fiction. We at Book View Cafe started with the documented mathematical genius of Lady Ada, Countess of Lovelace, the only legitimate child of Lord Byron. She and her partner Charles Babbage designed a difference engine, the first practical computer. In our world they honed the technology to build it, and it worked, We added in some quirks of Lord Byron and Mary Shelley, a different take on the truth behind “Frankenstein”, and took them on a fantastic journey of the imagination.
I had so much fun delving deeply into Steampunk that I couldn't stop with one anthology. We're planning a second. And apparently few of my authors want to leave the world we have created. Nearly all of them (myself included) turned in novellas instead of short stories.
So, I’m here to announce the launch of SHADOW CONSPIRACY, Tales from the Age of Steam, edited by Phyllis Irene Radford and Laura Anne Gilman on Tuesday December 15, 2009 in a variety of e-book formats, available at http://www.bookviewcafe.com and on Amazon for the Kindle.
Ramblin' Phyl is dealing with a family health situation today, but if she can't check in, other members of the Book View Cafe should be by to help answer questions. I always related "steampunk" to purple spiky hair and resisted reading until recently, but the history in some of these stories is incredible, and the stories are lovely "what if" fantasies populated by fascinating historical figures. Have any of you read steampunk? Comments?