Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Steampunk: Really Gaining Steam

by Ann Leveille, editor

The steampunk panel was one I’d really wanted to check out since I saw it listed on the RomantiCon© schedule. I wanted to know what EC authors and readers had to say about the steampunk phenomenon and how it related to Romantica© in particular. The Steampunk’d panel was presented by authors Christine d’Abo and Delphine Dryden.
They opened with a quote I’d heard before, "Steampunk is what happens when Goths discover brown", and presented a few generalities for those who didn’t know a lot about the genre, starting with the fact that, for a real steampunk story, the world building and backstory are just as important as the actual steampunky stuff.

Themes of steampunk were covered: navigation, time and mortality, clockwork, natural history and transportation. The presenting authors commented that a lot of steampunk themes grow from a combination of Victorian fascinations (death, nature and the mechanization of nature, armchair traveling) and the boundary-pushing tendencies of modern geeks and nerds, especially in the technological and mechanical aspects. The summary of it was that steampunk – well, historical steampunk – is “helping to solve the important issues of the day [ie., issues of the Victorian era in which is story is set], geek-style”. They also shared that a lot of class/cultural tension is played out in steampunk and mentioned the concept of “living symbols”, with examples such as needle-fingered seamstresses and jackhammer-legged construction workers. (This brings up questions of what is humanity, how far people will go to get ahead or even just to survive, etc.)

I loved the comment/question: Some great technology has been left by the wayside – what if it hadn’t been?

Delphine Dryden put a lot of importance on the fact that the author really can’t just make stuff up. Authors of steampunk have to have a firm grasp on politics, history and technology. (The presenting authors advised that aspiring steampunk authors find themselves a nerd/geek to help them with groundwork.)

Christine d’Abo, however, was quick to caution authors not to be scared, steampunk can be faked. (The idea of “aether” is apparently very useful when you run into issues with power sources.) She'll write a first draft and then tweak it until it works for her.

Then they got to the sexy stuff…

Steampunk, as we all know, is really neat when you throw sex into the mix. Our panel authors stripped the ideas down and showed attendees why, though – why the sex and steampunk work on visceral levels, and why it works as thought-provoking fiction and, of course, as just plain entertainment.

It was clear that real steampunk cannot just feature a decorative clockwork motif or just mention the occasional sexy gadget or toy. You have to actually use steampunk organically, make it an inherent and inseparable part of your story. The authors used some fabulous examples of how steampunk can enhance the relationships and sexuality in romantic erotica, like how “glasses slipping” can be used to show how one character sees a partner differently, or how bio-mech elements can make people view people (interaction and relationships with them, and sex with them) differently.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with fetishizing the steampunk elements either, and some of those gadgets can really get a character’s (and a reader’s!) blood moving!

There was a lot of great information, and I, for one, hope that the presentation got some authors thinking about some great, new, thoroughly sexy storylines that we’ll see heading our way soon! As a question for the blog readers, what do you like to see in your steampunk? And I would like to know, do you like your steampunk to be romance with sexy gadgets and a neat world, or do you really like sexy stories that have those complex worlds to complement the characters and the situations they get themselves into (and sexy gadgets)?


Angelia Sparrow said...

Based on what I see at SF conventions, steampunk has peaked. People are starting to roll their eyes at the mention of it. But nothing new has come up to take its place. The trend has a couple more years in it, then it will go to perennial status, like Trek and Firefly.

Me, I love steampunk and have been writing it since 2006. It's great fun on many levels. And I enjoy dressing Old West Steampunk.

There are lots of ways to write it, some very detailed, some entirely alternate history. My "Cherry Tart" in the Cavemen anthology is closer to the latter. It's hardly steampunk, since there is very little punk (save for a passing mention of prisoners condemned to the energy mines). I consider it gaslight romance. If it was a movie, it'd be a big splashy 1940s technicolor affair with Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHavilland.

Scooter Carlyle said...

I came late to steam punk, and I enjoy it. What I understand is that once a trend is noticed, it's probably already peaked, which is in line with what Angelina has noted.

One genre that's new to me is fantastika. A publisher has asked me to review a book in that genre, and I'm not sure what to expect. I guess I'll see how it goes.

Samantha said...

Regular steampunk may have peaked, but I don't think erotic romance steampunk has! I haven't seen very much of it at all out there, but I'd love to.