Posts Tagged ‘steampunk’

The Differences Between Urban and Contemporary Fantasy

As we touched on just barely during the Subgenre Study, while many people consider urban and contemporary fantasy to be synonymous, they’re not actually.


  • Story 1 takes place in modern times in a major city. The story is both urban and contemporary fantasy.
  • Story 2 takes place in London in the 1800s. The story is urban but not contemporary fantasy.
  • Story 3 takes place on an isolated farm in modern times. The story is contemporary but not urban fantasy. (My story, To the Waters and the Wild, featured in The Best of Turtleduck Press, Vol I, is this.)

The reason the two are synonymous to most people is because, in most cases, stories fall into category 1 above. And you can argue that most modern settings–even small towns–can be interpreted as “urban” because the growing omnipresence of technology, even in more remote areas, changes the feel of the location.

I’ve read a lot of category 1 and a few things in category 3, but I may be reading my first category 2 now. It’s Libby Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty.

It’s not that I haven’t read fantasy before that takes place in a historical setting and a city. But, as we talked about a lot throughout the Subgenre Studies, intent has a lot to do with perceived subgenre. For example, something like the Temeraire series could technically be considered urban fantasy in places, but it reads more like historical fantasy. And books like The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters could probably be considered urban fantasy as well, but it reads more steampunk. (Which, if one wants to get really into it, probably could be a subgenre of the urban fantasy subgenre. But then you get a little too “Yo I heard you like subgenres so I put subgenres in your subgenres” for me.)

This feels exactly like any YA urban fantasy you’d pick up anywhere. It’s first person present tense. It follows all the main urban fantasy tropes. The only difference is that it takes place in the late 1800s and there are occasional mentions of bodices. So, yes, it may be the first true case of an urban, but not contemporary, fantasy I’ve ever read.

What do you think, Squiders? Do you have examples of urban, but not contemporary, stories that you’ve read?

General Update and Thoughts on Adaptations

First of all, I want to apologize for missing Thursday’s update. I spent all of Thursday convinced it was Wednesday, and it wasn’t until my to-do app yelled at me about not blogging at about 8 PM that I realized my mistake. And then Friday was busy and I didn’t touch a computer all day, and Saturday went much the same, so at that point I figured we were closer to Tuesday than Thursday anyway and gave up.

As for Nano, I am sad to report that it’s not going well. It’s admittedly rather difficult to get anything done around our new addition, and I find that it doesn’t seem to be terribly high on my priority list for the year. I’m not throwing in the towel quite yet, but I’m going to have to do a lot of 3K days to catch up.

Enough of that.

I recently finished reading Ironskin by Tina Connelly. It’s a steampunk-esque novel that came out last month, and purports to be a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, at least from the cover quotes. But it’s not, not really, unless you count some allusions to the fairytale. What it is is a retelling of Jane Eyre, and quite obviously so from the very first chapter.

That got me thinking about whether or not Jane Eyre could be considered a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, and how many retellings in you could get on something. It seems like you could get pretty deep if you wanted to, like when a modern retelling of something alludes to another retelling of the same something, or when an adaptation gains as much fame or more than the original.

(That being said, I’m pretty sure Jane Eyre is not a Beauty and the Beast retelling. I don’t think the timing lines up right, though both stories do involve overcoming secrets to love someone. What do you think?)

(Also, I found Ironskin to be an interesting read. If you like Jane Eyre, steampunk, or interesting fantasy worlds, you might consider picking it up.)


As an author, you often hear that you should pick a genre and stick with it.

Does anyone else find this as impossible as I do?

I love speculative fiction. ALL speculative fiction. And, going back to Thursday’s post, it’s so hard to separate the genres out completely anyway.

Fantasy, for example, is such a ginormous genre. You could pick a subgenre to stay in – epic fantasy, for example – but that’s got to get boring after a while. But say you pick fantasy. You can write anything as long as it’s fantasy.

But then you find yourself venturing into Steampunk. Hmmm, well, technically Steampunk can go either fantasy or scifi, so you might be okay, but it’s a slippery slope from there and before you know it, you’ve got a deep space exploration series going and you’re three books in.

You could argue that “speculative fiction” counts as sticking to a genre, but again, very large range of stuff. If you write both romantic fantasy and hard science fiction, I can pretty much guarantee that not all your readers are going to read all your stuff. And that is, of course, the point of sticking to a genre – reader loyalty. If you always write cozy mysteries, then your readers KNOW your new book is a cozy mystery, and they will pick it up without a second thought.

If you write both thrillers and romance, your readers are going to have to do research on each new book to see if fits their tastes. It cuts down on automatic sales, and it cuts down on sales overall, because people are lazy and they may never get around to doing that research.

So, that’s the argument for genre stability.

That being said, I can’t seem to manage it.

I actively write paranormal, science fiction, horror, and several subgenres of fantasy. My shorts tend to be more purely speculative – near-future SF and bordering on magical realism horror/paranormal. My longer stuff tends to branch out into epic and urban fantasy, though there’s no real rhyme or reason to any of it.

If a story comes into my head and I want to write it, I do.

Am I screwing myself over by not committing? I have no idea. But the idea of stuffing myself into a box, and staying in there – not fun.

(And judging by the fact that scifi/fantasy authors often branch out into related and new subgenres – everyone else seems to be in agreement.)

What do you think, Squiders?

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.)

Subgenre Study: Alternative History

My mother recently read Leviathan and Behemoth (books 1 and 2 of the Leviathan Trilogy) by Scott Westerfeld.  For those who haven’t read them (and you should) they are kind of an odd mix of steampunk and alternative history.  But she liked them and asked for recommendations of other books similar to them.

“The steampunk part or the alternative history part?” I asked.

“I don’t understand why people change history,” my mother replied.

I recommended His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik to her.

As I attempted to explain to my mother, alternative history is a way to answer the question “What if…?”  What if Germany had won the second world war?  What if the Napoleonic Wars were fought with dragons?  What if some deity decided the fate of the battle before it started – would it still be worth fighting?

Alt. History is an odd subgenre, one of the ones that spans both science fiction and fantasy but technically belongs to neither.  A book like His Majesty’s Dragon technically is fantasy, because of said dragons, but what about a story like the one mentioned above, where Germany won WWII?  It probably falls closer to science fiction, since it’s working on speculative events, even if said events take place in today’s past.

“I just don’t understand why people mess with history,” my mother said.

The short answer is that writers mess with everything so something as large as the History of the Human Race is certainly not exempt.  It provides a huge amount of fodder, even if you just change or exaggerate events a little.  It provides an almost irresistible pull to twist one fragment of time and watch the ripples move through everything that came after it.  What if Columbus had never discovered the New World?  What if Napoleon had been able to invade and subdue Russia?  What if the Cold War hadn’t been so cold?  Some things in history happened out of sheer, dumb luck – but what if that luck hadn’t held?  What new and differing technology would have to be available for some things to happen, or to not happen?  Really, the possibilities are endless.

Alternative history allows us to see the world as it might have been, for better or worse, and that’s a lot of power.

So, Squiders, what are your favorite alternative history books/stories?

Friday Round-up

Private Company to put Robot on Moon (For some reason, this sounds like a terrible idea to me.  Sounds like a good way to leave trash everywhere and mess up scientific missions.)
Last Rollout of Space Shuttle Discovery (video)
Recycling the Space Program
Trying to Prove the Multiverse (The quantum physics at the bottom kind of hurts my head.)
All 1200 Possible Exoplanets Found by Kepler Visualized
NASA’s New Technique to Find Alien Life
Pictures of Space Shuttle Discovery’s Building

The Furniture of Steampunk
Winners of the 2010 British Fantasy Awards
Chance to win a signed copy of Maria V. Snyder’s Inside Out
The Unreal and Why We Love It Part 6: Recognition
Star Wars Characters – Who Got Better?  Worse?
New #Torchat on Twitter
What Star Wars Job are you suited for?  (I’m a Jedi! \o/)

Misc Books
10 Greatest Child Geniuses in Literature

Stop Thrashing

Odds and Ends
Who to blame for the snow?
Science Valentines
If Social Media was High School
Headless Monk Forces Move of Amusement Park Ride
IKEA Instructions for the Large Hadron Collider

Also, this is awesome: Zombie Choose Your Own Adventure, all across the interwebs.

Friday Round-up

Nabokov’s Butterfly Theory Proved Correct
NASA spots 54 Potential Life-Friendly Planets

io9’s February Scifi/Fantasy Calendar
12 Revolutionary Uprisings in Scifi
10 Greatest Starships of All Time
Utopianism in Steampunk
February Fantasy Book Releases
Free Read: Chenoire by Suzanne Johnson
Recommended SFF reads from 2010

Misc Books
List of Best Selling Authors (Never even heard of some of these people…)

Query Paralysis

Whatever, Bro
Snow Godzilla (with fire!)

Friday Round-Up

I’m moving the round-up to Friday this month as I’m trying out a new posting schedule.  Let me know if you prefer Thursday or Friday.  I work on the round-ups all week long, so it doesn’t much matter to me what day they go up on.

Zambia’s Forgotten Space Program
Last week’s solar eclipse from space
Creation of Hanny’s Voorwerp
Problem with Discovery’s External Tank Determined

There’s a Delta Heavy rocket launch scheduled for next Wednesday from SLC-6 (pronounced Slick-6 by those of us in the industry) at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California.  SLC-6 is interesting because it was intended for West Coast space shuttle launches but was never used for such, though the link above has pictures of the only time a shuttle ever stood on the pad.  (Interesting to note is that the shuttle is the Enterprise, which was purely a mock-up and was never intended for actual spaceflight.)

I am a space neeeerd.

Science Fiction Novels to look forward to in 2011
Be a character in John Scalzi’s new book

Misc Books
Most Literate US Cities

Lyrical Press is looking for editors (I thought about it, but I don’t have the time)
Suturing Readers into your Characters
5 Situations Where it’s Better to Tell Than Show
Are you using “there” as a crutch?
Naked Writers
Query Letters – Hooks
Steampunk Writing Contest – Fairy Tales

Happy New Thursday Round-up!

Greetings, friends!  Here’s what exciting in the new year thus far:

Round-up of Space Science Performed in 2010
Titan May Be Capable of Creating DNA
Awesome Solar Eclipse Picture (with bonus ISS)
Mars Rovers Celebrate 7 Years on the Red Planet

Odd fact about why the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters are the size they are
Solar System Missions for 2011

NASA Rates the Best/Worst Science Fiction Films (by SCIENCE)
11 Scifi/Fantasy Books To Look Forward to in 2011
11 Scifi/Fantasy TV Shows To Look Forward to in 2011
Contest to win a copy of Gena Showalter’s Intertwined

Misc Books
New York Times’ Bestsellers from week of your birth (#1 for me? Space by James Michener)

Writing vs. Storytelling
Writing in the Age of Distraction

Whatever Else I Thought Was Neat
Detroit in Ruins
Map of US Dialects
Steampunk Pen
Lovely Steampunk-y Art

And for those who are interested, Hidden Worlds (fantasy adventure novella extraordinaire) is now available for Barnes and Noble’s Nook.

Thursday Round-up

NASA Creates Material Ten Times Darker Than Black
Secret Space Plane Pictures
NASA Ejects Nanosatellite from a Microsatellite (With bonus spacesail)
Dark Matter Galaxies Orbit the Milky Way
Total Lunar Eclipse on the Winter Solstice  (Mmm, the writer in me likes this a lot.)
First Carbon-Rich Planet Found (Trekkie!Me wonders what class of planet this would be.)
Pictures of the Falcon 9 Launch
360 Degree View of the Night Sky (This is truly amazing!)

Science Fiction/Fantasy
Blake Charlton wants input naming the third book of the Spellwright Trilogy
Tor/Forge is giving away a mystery box! wants nominations for the Steampunk Book of the Year
BBC making an adaptation of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Misc Books
Smashwords Author Primed to Make $25K This Year

Getting Google’s Attention for their New eBookstore
Out of the Slushpile: Getting Your Self-Pubbed Novel Noticed
How to Tell if You Should Cut That Scene
Three Signs Your Characters are Too Perfect