Archive for July, 2011

House of Books

So occasionally I travel to Michigan with my husband and his family to spend the 4th of July at my mother-in-law’s brother’s beach cottage.  (The true relation is a bit more complicated but unimportant in this case.)  This is generally a wonderful time for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the fact that I generally get at least five days off with no responsibilities aside from occasionally feeding people.

The cottage itself is 1920s era, with wood paneling and exposed ceiling beams.  Very rustic.  It’s two stories tall with a large covered porch on the front.   There are five bedrooms but only one bathroom with a shower.  Poor planning on that one but we make do.

A wide range of activities are available, from hanging out on the beach to walking past and discussing the other cottages (L. Frank Baum had a cottage up here many years ago) to hiking the dunes to watching ships coming in and out of the channel, but my favorite is that the house is stuffed with books.  They are everywhere, some ancient and yellowing, some new that a different branch of the family brought up and forgot to take with them.

I’m sitting on the porch at the moment.  From here I can see a bookcase full of older volumes and stacks of books beneath the coffee table.  Each bedroom has books wherever they’ll go, usually piled on the exposed beams.  One of my favorite things to do is troll through the stacks to see what there is, because invariably, though I never see the books come or go, the majority of the books are different each year.  If I didn’t know better, I’d suspect the brother of having a stash of random books at home and periodically switching them out.

I’ve always lived in places where books are readily available.  Both of my parents’ houses have copious amounts of overfilled bookcases that I have been able to explore since I could read.  (Both my parents adore Dick Francis.  It is one of the few things they have in common, but my mother never let me read them when I was little.  I snuck a peek when I was eight, but I’ve never quite figured out what the fuss was about.)  But there is something very magical about being literally surrounded by books, to know that they are all at your fingertips if you so desire.

Sometimes I think I could stay here forever, but alas, real life beckons.

Happy 4th!

I hope all my fellow Americans are having a happy Fourth of July, full of fun, family, and fireworks.

My own has been rather fantastic, though I may have sunburned my entire body, but you guys know how the sun and I get along.  (Hint: not well.)  I blame my Viking ancestors.

Real content returns on Wednesday, and please let me know if there’s any specific subgenres you’d like me to talk about.

Subgenre Study: Steampunk

Steampunk, like Alternative History (that we talked about last week), is a subgenre that spans science fiction and fantasy but does not truly belong to either.  It can often be found mixed with Alternative History as, to quote Wikipedia, “Specifically, steampunk involves an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century and often Victorian era Britain—that incorporates prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy.”  As such, historical events can be imagined with alternative technologies (ala The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld).  Alternatively, writers can take a look at technologies that did not take off and envision what the world would be like if they had prevailed, or simply create a fantasy world based on an earlier time period/earlier technology of our world with their own rules.

Steampunk eludes me a bit.  I can tell when something is steampunk (I recommend The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist if you’ve not read it) and I can tell you some things that steampunk tends to embody (Victorian Era, steam-powered devices – often beyond the level of technology appropriate for that time period, sometimes tends to emulate the styles/literary devices of Jules Verne and/or HG Wells, etc.) but on some level I find it difficult to quantify.

I almost feel like it lends itself better to visual mediums than literature, such as comics (like the Hugo Award-winning Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio), costuming, or artwork.  There’s just something about gears and goggles that, on some level, thrills me.

It’s fairly fluid, much like all speculative genres/subgenres.  In general, it takes place in the Victorian Era, but it doesn’t have to.  It can take place in the future.  It can take place in the Old West (though some will argue that this corresponds to the Victorian Era, but the two are different enough that I wouldn’t make that statement).  It can take place on another planet.  In general, it involves steam technology, but I’ve also seen it done with robots, chemistry, and genetic sequencing.  It can be in this world or a made-up world or on the moon.  There’s a feel to it where, even if the specifics don’t match the “official” definition, you can tell.

Steampunk’s big right now, and I’ll tell you why I think that is.  The trend has been to tell the future, but technology changes on a daily basis.  Many things that science fiction of the past century predicted are here, from Jules Verne’s submarines to mobile communication devices and cars that drive themselves.  (Sadly, not HG Wells’ time machine or Star Trek’s transporters.)  It’s near impossible to predict what science is going to come up with next.  Steampunk allows authors a chance to play with technology in a more controlled setting and appeals to people who like to know whats happening, but perhaps feel like it’s impossible to keep up.

What are your favorite Steampunk novels, Squiders?  Why do you think it’s been the breakout subgenre of the 21st century?

(Also, I apologize for this being late.  I got most of the way through and then learned I’d sold my first short story, and that was distracting for a good two hours.)