Why Indies? Guest Post by Jack Tyler

Jack Tyler allowed me to share his thoughts on reasons to read Independent authors.  Jack is a member of Scribblers Den (steampunk writers group), an author of steampunk (Beyond the Rails series) and other punk-genres. You can find him at Blimprider at writing.com or Jack's Hideout. Take it away, Jack...

WHY INDIES?

A simple question. Why should you, an experienced reader, carry a selection of independent authors on your reading list? For a very good reason. Originality.

What was the last original movie you saw? Can't think of one? That's because no one is making them anymore. That's why we're inundated with remakes of old movies, reenvisionings of old TV shows, old, popular books "brought to life" by the "magic of Hollywood," episode CCXLVII of the big Space Saga. No one will take a chance anymore that something, God forbid, might not rake in a billion dollars a day.

Books have gone down the same path. Publishers, unwilling to take a risk, compete with one another to shovel out copies of copies of copies of The Last Big Thing. Where is the grand fantasy tale that doesn't follow Lord of the Rings to the letter? How many versions of Twilight can you read before you can recite the plot points before you come to them? You may be surprised to hear that those cutting-edge stories and novels are out there waiting to be read, and I'm going to tell you where to find them.

In the files of independent authors. While traditional publishers cling to the center of Writingtown, searching the carefully tended lawns for the next retelling of a tired old tale, independent authors, just as independent filmmakers and musicians, are out on the fringe, past the edge of the map, chronicling the tales that no one has yet heard, that have yet to be told. These are the stories you want to read, the stories that are worth finding, the jewels that you'll remember long after the last elf/dwarf/human/orc slashfest is in the landfill and long forgotten. These are the heirs to the tradition of storytelling.

Authors decide to self-publish for any number of reasons. Some because we have been rejected by traditional publishers, often for being too original to suit their no-risk publishing model. Some have gone indie because we didn't want to get involved with the "you do the work, and we'll keep the money" policy of the big publishers. Some of us are well-known traditionally published authors who have been screwed out of our due one time too many, but we all have one thing in common: We answer to our creative muse, and no one else.

We have all had an experience, maybe more than one, with an independent author who had no business writing a grocery list, let alone a book, and some of us may have said, "Enough of this! I'm sticking to the Big Five from now on." That's your choice, but you do yourself a grave disservice by that reasoning.

We all try new products every day. Whether it's a new makeup, pain reliever, pipe wrench, or ball-point pen, we have all gotten our hands on one that doesn't do what the advertisement said it would. But do we then say, "I'm never wearing makeup again!" Of course we don't. We learn to be more careful consumers. There are many ways to carefully consume books, one of them being to never stray from the big names. Again, that's your choice, but there are ways to find the quality indies as well, and if you want to read the books that are telling the new stories, you must include indies on your reading list. How do you find quality indies? Amazon.com is a huge help. Most of us publish there because they make it so easy, and they provide useful tools. Look for an indie who has high ratings, even if there aren't too many of them. A low rating isn't a deal-breaker either, unless that's all there are, but ratings can help. Then once you find a book that looks interesting, use the "Look Inside" feature. Yes, it only shows you a few pages, but if the author can't write, you won't need more than a paragraph to determine that. Then, of course, there's the tried and true method, word of mouth. If someone you know and trust is recommending an indie, by all means, take a look. You may discover worlds beyond imagining that lie at the tips of your fingers. So, come on out to the fringe; we're waiting to welcome you.

You can find Jack at: Blimprider at writing.com. His books are available on Amazon:

Beyond the Rails

Beyond the Rails II

Beyond the Rails III

Next Tea & Tidings flying out on 18th May

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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?