Photo Friday: Talking Steampunk

Last weekend I had the pleasure of doing another talk for the local Aus Sci Fi and Fantasy club. Last time I showcased steampunk fashion; this time I spoke about the origins and culture of steampunk. After wrangling the dreaded technology we were off!

       Attendees donned their steampunk finery with Veronica winning best costume (an eBook copy of With a Twist of the Nib).

    Anthony brought along his awesome gadgets, made from opshop and garage finds.

   

Thanks to the Aus Sci Fi committee for asking me back to talk steampunk (and for the lamingtons and tea.)

You can find a video of my talk on my youTube channel.

Photos ©2017 Karen Carlisle, Anthony Fagan, Christopher Lennon

Difficult Decisions

I like to have my event schedule sorted out early in the year. This allows for me to schedule my writing around conventions and festivals so I can set a book launch date with plenty of time to allow to finish, edit, format and printing.

This is what this year looked like:

  • March/Apr- Oz Comic Con Adelaide
  • August 5-6 - steampunk panel and write your own Discworld story workshop at Nullus Anxietas
  • August 19-20 - Salisbury Writing Festival
  • August 27th - ACG Ball
  • September (mid) - Steampunk Festival
  • September (late) - Steampunk Pirate Ball
  • November - Supanova

Though I had lost a couple of months due to ill health, I was still on target for a September launch date, when I hope to launch it at the Steampunk Festival (who were kind enough to host the book launches of both Doctor Jack and Eye of the Beholder) .

I recently got my email for the Steampunk Festival and tendered my application and  started preparing for Salisbury Writing Festival registration...

But, wait...

I grabbed for printouts for Steampunk Festival and flipped through them. Dang! The Steampunk festival has changed dates.  The original Steampunk Festival was held in May, then twice in September, which is why I tentatively scheduled it in for the same time this year.  Big mistake!  It is now scheduled for 19-20 August - the same weekend as the Salisbury Writers Festival.

Decision time!

I enjoy Salisbury Writers' Festival. I've got a lot out of it in the past six years. I meet fellow writers, hear from publishers and agents in panels, on the  state of writing and publishing in Australia. Members of my writing group enter the short story competition. This year I may have convinced some of my fellow writing group to attend the actual festival.

But will I?

The Steampunk Festival is one of my favourite event - costume-wise, meeting readers and fellow steampunks. It is a photographic smorgasbord. This is my tribe.  They understand me.

Sales-wise it is my biggest event of the year. I have launched both my books at the Steampunk Festival and hope to again this year. This means I have lost a month of writing time and now have to finish my book earlier to get it out in time for August.

<insert expletives here>

But I've made my decision. It wasn't hard in the end; I go where my readers are. I'll just have to pull up my socks and write faster. I've got a closer deadline now. No time for napping.

Photos ©2016 Karen Carlisle. All rights reserved.

Steampunk: Science Fiction or Fantasy?

Recently I've participated in some interesting conversations about the classification of steampunk, as a writing genre. Many writing/steampunk blogs consider it be part of the fantasy branch of speculative fiction. Friends seem divided. Book shops (and Amazon) often place steampunk books in the science fiction shelves. So let's have a closer look and you can decide.

First, let's discuss some definitions. What is science fiction and what is fantasy? I could easily allocate an entire blog post just on the definitions but I won't.

Isaac Asimov said it best: "Science fiction, given its grounding in science, is possible; fantasy, which has no grounding in reality, is not."

So, science fiction deals with things that might possibly happen, or have happened. Fantasy deals with things that will never happen, have happened or ever will happen, the impossible. Easy, right?

Well, lets define steampunk (not an easy task in itself). Steampunk is the name given to a genre of fantasy or alternative historical stories – usually set in the 19th century or an alternative future reminiscent of the 19th century – with the science fiction element  containing modern technology powered by steam. The amount of steam and gadgetry is variable. Sometimes supernatural themes may be incorporated. Think of it as retro-futurism with a Victorian science fiction twist. (from my steampunk page)

Hmm? I'm hedging my bets and used both fantasy and science fiction in my definition.

Let's try again, with a few more defintions:

  • Google defines it as "a genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology."
  • The Urban Dictionary defines it as: "Steampunk is a subgenre of speculative fiction, usually set in an anachronistic Victorian or quasi-Victorian alternate history setting. It could be described by the slogan "What the past would look like if the future had happened sooner." It includes fiction with science fiction, fantasy or horror themes."
  • And the Steampunk Bible defines it as "a grafting of Victorian aesthetic and punk rock attitude onto various forms of science-fiction culture." It even gives us a formula: Steampunk = Mad Scientist Inventor [invention (steam x airship or metal man/baroque stylings) x (pseudo) Victorian setting] + progressive or reactionary politics x adventure plot.

Maybe the origins of steampunk hold a clue?

KW Jeter first coined the name, 'steampunk', in 1987 (not 1887). Some consider works by HG Wells or Jules Verne as steampunk but these were science fiction (or 'science romances' written in the 19th century). The writers extrapolated possible futures (there's that word again), based on plausible advances in science - as they knew it (or thought they did) ie. the science of their time. But we now know things like phlogiston do not exist. Modern speculative stories using such forms of energy would now be consider fantasy (impossible) and not  science fiction. Steampunk, having been born in my generation, is a completely different animal.

Confused yet? Let's investigate further: Steampunk = steam + punk.

Traditional steampunk's aesthetic is dripping with technology. You can find airships, steam-machines, automatons (robots) and gadgets galore - usually steam-driven; all things plausible within Victorian beliefs of the time. While usually set in the past, it can embrace apocalyptic futures.  Travel in space and time are common tropes. Sounds like science fiction, eh?

The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, tells of an alternative history revolving around the consequences of Charles Babbage's analytical engine (A working difference machine based on Babbage's engine has been built.)

Then there's the punk part: Social commentary, contemplating technologies effect on people (albeit steam), the role of women, the battle of the classes, racism, slavery or colonialism, can all be found in many steampunk stories. All are reminiscent of the long tradition of social commentary found in science fiction.

But...

Then some steampunk stories incorporate mythical or supernatural creatures and magic. Gail Carriger's Soulless has vampires and werewolves.  Boneshaker (Cherie Priest) has zombies. Other stories incorporate magical machines or fantastical energy sources. Airships sail through the vacuum of space. Improbable you say?  Yes (but fun). So is steampunk fantasy after all?

In a true spirit of fun and thumbing its nose at the literary establishment, steampunk blurs the line between science fiction and fantasy, providing an entertaining alternative for readers. It's a hybrid genre still in its adolescence, with too much punk to be defined only as fantasy and too many fantastical elements to be considered solely science fiction. Perhaps that's why I love it?

So, science fiction or fantasy? What do you think?