Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Special Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes Anthology Announcement

All right, so you may or may not recall that a few months ago I announced the The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and the Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter: A Steampunk's Shakespeare Anthology, which I'm co-editing with Lia Keyes and Jaymee Goh.

I mention it again now because we've been getting some questions lately about when we're going to announce which stories have been accepted and which ones have been rejected. We've discussed this question, naturally, and we decided that we're going to wait until after the submission deadline has passed before we start announcing the line-up of stories that will be included in the anthology.

As you'll recall, said submission deadline is 12 a.m. U.S. Eastern Time on 30 May 2011. That means everyone who's submitted thus far has roughly another month until we start announcing who we've chosen to include in the anthology.

I know this is a long time to wait, especially for those who submitted something to us earlier in the year. However, the consensus is that this is the best for everyone involved, because we want to give all the writers who expressed interest in submitting a fair chance to send their story in.

Mind you -- we're reading all submissions as they come in, so the announcement of the list may come pretty darn quickly after the submission deadline passes. So watch this space, and the one over at to see the final story list sometime in June or July.

Friday, April 15, 2011

GUEST POST: The Dangers of Steampunk – Don’t Forget the Punk

Sophie Playle is living the impoverished aspiring writer’s dream. She is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing and works as a freelance editor to pay her library fines. Her writings can be found at This article originally appeared on Sophie's website.

Steampunk celebrates the aesthetic goodness of the Victorian era – and herein lies the problem. When steampunk becomes all about the way things look (a pretty parasol here, a cog-powered machine there), and the theory of advanced technology is applied to the creation of a superpower/empire, the genre is in danger of losing the most important part of its namesake: punk.

Paul Jessup addresses this danger in his article ‘The Future of Steampunk‘ which can be found on his excellent blog, Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf & Book Review:
Novels not only give us a bit of escapism, but are also inspirations and blueprints to our thought process and our moral centers. [...] Steampunk as escapism that tells us Empire is grand! [...] We need to see more books with an anti-Empire bent, about anarchists trying to overthrow the evils of Colonialism and the wrongs of a Monarchy. Or even more books taking place in worlds that don’t have Empires.
Steampunk has been criticised for ignoring the bad elements of the Victorian society, such as child labour, slavery, extreme poverty, imperialism, racism… etc, simply because of the want to romanticise the era.

C Scott Morris adds to the discussion:
I don’t think Steampunks romanticize imperialism. One of the key features to the genre/subculture is ‘punk’. Rebellion.
Steampunk does not ignore the negative side of the period, nor does it embrace it. With Steampunk, and it’s sister Cyberpunk, there is a feeling of dystopia, of tyranny and repression, and Steampunk rebels against it. Steampunk is away of saying that all those negative things from the past are still going on now, and we don’t like it.
So where is this impression coming from? Could it be that by revelling in the aesthetic elements of Victorian times, people are essentially romanticising the era? Can such a leap be made, from the appreciation of artistry to the acceptance of out-dated values? Perhaps Jessup has a point: despite the innocence of escapism, are steampunks inadvertently attaching themselves to these values?

But wait. As Morris says, we mustn’t forget the ‘punk’ in all of this. There is a difference between Victoriana and steampunk.

Steampunk is not there to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at the prettiness of the 19th century. The whole point of setting the genre in the past is to highlight the same terrible issues that are still relevant today. Just as dystopian fiction is usually set in a parallel future society to hold a mirror up to our own, steampunk is set in a parallel historical society to say ‘learn from the mistakes of the past – look what could have happened. Look what is happening now.’ If the steampunk book you’re reading doesn’t have this element to it, perhaps it isn’t steampunk.

(image from ectoplasmosis)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Dark Days in Bright City at Nevermet Press

I was surfing Twitter a few weeks ago, as I'm apparently doing every day now, when I happened across an account for Nevermet Press. Now, this was interesting to me because Nevermet Press had put out an open call for a collection they call Stories in the Ether, which is going to be a series of short pieces posted on their website and then collected into a multi-format eBook in 2012.

I asked Nevermet Press editor Jonathan Jacobs if they accepted reprints, and upon his confirmation that they did, I sent him along "Dark Days in Bright City." If you've been hanging around this blog for some time, then y'all already know that "Dark Days" is the story I sold to FISSURE Magazine back in November and also serialized on the blog a few months after that.

However! I got the word two weeks ago that Nevermet Press planned to include "Dark Days in Bright City" as part of the Stories in the Ether series, and guess what? It's live on the Nevermet Press website today! Go over there and read it, everyone -- there's also going to be ART with it.

I'm very, very excited about this because the folks at Nevermet Press are amazing to work with. They've also got their finger on the pulse of RPG gaming, which is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Look out, because I might write some stuff for that part of their site in the future. I'll let you all know!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Dru Pagliassotti is a professor in the communications department at California Lutheran University, whose research interests include the Western reception of boys love fiction from Japan; however her interests are currently in a shift toward studying the rise of the male/male romance as a niche genre among women writers. However, Dr. Pagliassotti is better known for writing the Fantasy Steampunk tale Clockwork Heart. You can visit her website at and follow her on Twitter (@drupagliassotti).

Matt's Note: This is cross-posted from STEAMED with the gracious permission of Suzanne Lazear.

by Dru Pagliassotti

Steampunk fiction consists of two elements-the steam, or gaslamp aesthetic, iconography specific to the genre — and the punk, a critical ideology orpolitical stance that satirizes, challenges, or subverts societal trends.

Each element is a necessary but not sufficient condition for labeling a story steampunk: steampunk needs both the aesthetic and the critique. Much fiction is labeled steampunk that is all steam and no punk; these works are more accurately called steampulp. So, how do you write steampunk?


The steam refers to technology that runs on steam power, of course, since classic steampunk is based or draws upon 19th century culture. Steampunk has been extended in both historical directions, however, and as often as not it mixes several historical periods in a single work, such as a 19th-century England that includes both practicing alchemists and rigid airships. Writers have the freedom to choose which technologies and settings they want to use, although the farther the historical setting is from a 19th century equivalent, the more fantastic and complicated the technologies will have to become to capture the spirit of the genre.

Steampunk’s gaslamp aesthetic reclaims the future that 19th century writers dreamed we would be living today but that never came about — a bright, shiny, elegant future of fine craftsmanship and exquisite sensibility powered by awe-inspiring, world-improving technologies. (Never mind the fact that, in the 19th century, this world wouldn’t have been meant for everybody; we’ll get to that in the punk part of this essay.)

Thus the classic 19th century gaslamp aesthetic, from A to Z, might look something like this: Airships, brass goggles, canes-corsets-cravats-chronometers, difference engines, electromagnetism, factories, gaslights, hired help, iron men, juggernauts, keypunch machines, lords and ladies, military service, newspapers, orientalism, poverty, queens, railroads, society affairs, tea, urbanization, velocipedes, workhouses, xenophobia, young anarchists, and zeppelins.

Writers can find a longer list of iconic elements at Writing.Com. Victorian technologies are overviewed in an occasional but useful series at Free the Princess and here at The Age of Steam. Descriptions of character archetypes can also be found at those two websites, Free the Princess offering lengthy discussions of each and The Age of Steam offering a more succinct list.

The challenge is that a number of these elements have become clichés — the airship pirate sporting brass goggles and long leather coat, for example; the mad scientist sporting a nifty prosthetic or two who is about to commit an act of technological or chemical mayhem; upper-class items such as watches and umbrellas that mechanically morph into lifesaving or lifetaking gadgets; the use of real people as supporting cast, such as H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Charles Babbage, and Queen Victoria; and England, especially London, used as a setting. I have also seen enough vampires, werewolves, and faery in steampunk settings to dub them clichés, as well.

So while I’m sure it would be pathetically easy to sell a story in which H. G. Wells has been turned into a vampire and travels around the world in an airship as a spy for Queen Victoria … please, don’t.

One way to avoid clichés is to start by thinking about what the punk in the story will be, and then work backward to decide which steam elements best frame that punk.


The ’70s punk rock movement embraced individualism, anarchy, and rebellion. Disaffected youth defied the ‘truths’ drilled into them by society, distressed and repurposed material objects as a form of anti-consumerism, and created satirical, angry, and subversive works of art ranging from poetry to music to film.

This spirit became attached to the -punk suffix and applied to genres such as cyberpunk and splatterpunk. It is the same spirit that should lie at the core of the superficially more genteel and polished steampunk genre. Steampunk fiction embodies this spirit by presenting the sort of sharp, politically astute contrasts one finds between the worlds of the Eloi and Morlocks in H.G. Wells’ protosteampunk work The Time Traveller. It acts like a beautiful mahogany-and-brass screen that reflects, in its high gloss, the social failings and human weaknesses it was intended to hide.

Steampunk presents the aesthetic of a bright, shiny, elegant future of fine craftsmanship and exquisite sensibility powered by awe-inspiring, world-improving technologies … and then subverts it with the cynicism of the 20th and 21st centuries, pointing out the cracks and flaws in the Victorian dream that parallel the cracks and flaws in society today. Steampunk identifies racism, sexism, and other prejudices embedded in much scientific discourse; it describes the devastation caused by technological development carried out without a sensitivity to the environment or the indigenous culture; it highlights the problem of progress that is really a form of cultural imperialism. Even that most optimistic of steampunk genres, the steampunk romance, often presents sexual, racial, class, or religious prejudices as the obstacle the couple must overcome to achieve a happily ever after.

Steampunk writers should consider what rebellion or defiance lies at the core of their plot. In general, two types of problems are found in most steampunk fiction: (1) A material, external environmental problem caused by or solved by a technology, or (2) an ideological, internal social problem that is being strengthened by or that can be circumvented by technology. The involvement of technology is key (steam), although it can play a central or peripheral role, depending on the type of story being told.

Typical steampunk plots include the following, each of which offers an opportunity for social critique:
invention, in which Our Hero/ine is involved in creating or trying to prevent the creation of some new technology; exploration, in which OH is using technology such as an airship or other mechanical, vehicle to explore new countries, lands, or worlds; international warfare, usually involving an attempt to stop the infernal machines that threaten to wreak havoc on OH’s country; anarchy or revolution, in which case OH is either pitted against the terrorists or working with the freedom fighters and uses or opposes technology to do so; and social rebellion, in which OH is enabled by a technology to throw off cultural or social restrictions related to race, class, religion, gender, disability, sexual propriety, and the like.

Many steampunk writers situate their stories in the same places much Victorian fiction was situated — versions of London, primarily, or New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. That makes writing a little easier, because the shelves are full of writers’ guides to those cities. However, it also makes the fiction a little more predictable.

In recent years, the U.S. frontier and Australian colonies have received some attention, as have various colonial outposts in India and China. Note, however, that most of these stories are still told from the colonizers’ point of view — relatively little steampunk has been written from viewpoint of the colonized or enslaved. Yet technology did not just affect upper-class white Europeans and Americans in the 19th century. What stories haven’t been told yet? How might technologies have advantaged or disadvantaged those other groups, had history gone a little differently? If steampunk is largely set in 19th century England, what crumbling at the edges of the British Empire might reflect crumbling at the edges of today’s great economic empires? Writers seeking to extend the genre’s social critique might want to start looking at differentcountries, cultures, and ideologies for inspiration.


What if you don’t want to offer social criticism with your fiction? No problem – steampulp combines the gaslamp aesthetic with pulp fictionÕs over-the-top, fast-paced adventure and excitement. It may offer occasional cultural critique, but its emphasis is on entertainment, and as often as not itÕs categorized with steampunk, anyway.

In the end, the important thing is to tell the story you want to tell. Leave it to the critics, reviewers, and academics sort out the genre’s details — your job is to write!

~Dru Pagliassotti

Worldbuilding Considerations Part One -- Setting

Cross-posted from The Secret Archives of the Alliterati.

I've been thinking about the world a lot lately.

Wait, you thought I meant our world? Oh no no no -- see I've been thinking about the fictional world that I helped birth as part of the Steampunk Round Robin story that I posted about the other day. Thinking about the culture of that world, and their history, and their technology, and their language. See, one of the things that always thrills me about writing speculative fiction is the fact that I can craft entire worlds out of my mind's eye and populate them with unusual people and animals.

I'm loathe of course to say that one way of building a fictional world is any better than another, so this won't be a huge pedantic lecture where I tell you "This is the right way and this is the wrong way." (I'm such a huge believer in guidelines over rules anyway that it would be supremely hypocritical of me to do so.) That said, this series will deal with a few things that I consider when building a fictional world. The first thing of course is:


Where is your story set? In a city? In the countryside? Some other place?

This consideration is important because the setting of your story will determine how much worldbuilding you may or may not do. It'll also determine how much detail you go into. Consider my as-yet-unfinished novel CALLARION AT NIGHT. That story is set in and around the city of Callarion. Because of this setting, limited to one specific city, I went into a whole lot of detail about the streets, buildings, districts, etc -- about to the level that you'd expect from a heavily detailed map of the Upper West Side of New York City.

On the other hand, if I only spend a chapter in Callarion and then moved to a different city or country entirely, I wouldn't need to spend the same amount of time on the city.

In the other story I reference all the time, SON OF MAGIC, the characters visit essentially every part of their world at some point or another. So, because they go all over an entire planet, I needed to determine how many continents there were, what geographies they had, land forms, oceans and other bodies of water, so on and so forth. It may seem to involve more detail, but this is surface stuff rather than hardcore mapping.

Building a full-on world also involves delineating the boundaries of nations, city-states, and placing mountain ranges and lakes depending on your chosen geography. If, however, your story takes place inside a city then you might not have to center on the physical geography of the natural landscape unless your setting has a park of a significant size.

So you can sort of see here that the smaller, or larger, your setting gets the less or more detail you comparatively have to deal with. Set your story inside a house and you only have to build the house. Set it as a world- or galaxy-spanning tale and you have to build a whole heck of a lot more.

What other worldbuilding considerations do you think your setting requires?