The Week in Review

Welcome to the week in review! Every Friday, we comb through the links and images we found and shared this week, and pull the very best for this post. Consider it concentrated genre goodness from all around the web.

Words of Radiance

  • And, of course, there’s another excerpt from Words of Radiance. This time, read chapters six, eight, and nine. (No, chapter seven is not available. It’ll be available when the book is published.)
  • Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades is an amazing book. And also a fairly long one. Imagine how great – and how heavy! – it would have been with an extra 100,000 words. That, and other highlights from Staveley’s reddit AMA.

 
And, just to make Friday that much sweeter, here’s a list of sweepstakes and sales we have going on!

Throwback Thursdays: The Devil Wears Goggles

Welcome to Throwback Thursdays on the Tor/Forge blog! Every other week, we’re delving into our newsletter archives and sharing some of our favorite posts.

Fiddlehead, the fifth book in Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century series, is here! To celebrate the publication of Cherie’s latest steampunk adventure, we’ve reached back in our archives to October 2009, when she shared the origins of Boneshaker, the first book in her rollicking alternative history steampunk series. Enjoy this blast from the past, and be sure to check back every other Thursday for more!

Steampunk: The Devil Wears Goggles

Written by Cherie Priest

Pick a genre book—any genre, any book—and the cover will probably provide a satisfactory shorthand for where it ought to be shelved. Wizards, elves, and knights? You’ve got yourself a fantasy novel. Fangs and a matte black background? Horror. And so forth.

But a couple of years ago when I began working on Boneshaker, I couldn’t name many meaningful signifiers that screamed out “steampunk.” Oh there were goggles, sure—but no one seemed to have a good explanation for what the goggles were for apart from leaving a sweaty crease above your eyebrows. The delightful preponderance of Victorian garb was striking and fun, but the gas masks left me scratching my head. Gears made sense, even on top hats, I supposed. Watch chains were shiny, so, you know. Cool.

However, the odd goggle-wearing, retro-dressing, hat-decorating pocket-watch toter might be mistaken for goth at a glance. In fact, my friend Jess Nevins once repeated that he’d heard steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown. While this assessment oversimplifies the matter, it’d be silly to pretend that there isn’t a great deal of overlap between the two scenes.

So. As an aging quasi-goth with a deep-seated interest in steampunk, I wanted to take an honest stab at the genre—giving it legs, or at least giving its stranger elements a literary excuse to complement the fashion imperative.

Boneshaker began this way, as an idle exercise—a noodling experiment. But like so many projects, I had no idea when I began exactly how far it would take me… or how weird it would get.

I started out with only a few concrete demands: I wanted this story to be American, and not London gas-lamp; I wanted to write about people, not about a world-setting; but I needed for the people to be symptomatic of that world-setting.

Also, I wanted zombies.

The world came first. Nineteenth-century America was strange enough without any interference from yours truly, but I imagined it as if the Civil War had lingered—and the west was not incorporated, or organized. I thought of Texas, and how it might have remained a republic. I wondered how the Confederacy could’ve held on, and how the Union would’ve restructured, and what the war would’ve looked like decades down the line—when most of the men who’d started fighting it were dead, and their sons were fighting over grievances they were too young to remember firsthand.

Piece by piece the Clockwork Century came together, and on that foundation I found people with stories to tell. I found former slaves and air pirates, criminal overlords and Native American princesses. I found a deranged scientist or two. And eventually I found Briar Wilkes—the widow of a madman, mother of a runaway, and daughter of a dead folk hero.

Boneshaker is her story. And like steampunk itself, Boneshaker is about rummaging through the wreckage of the past and finding something worth salvaging, and maybe even worth celebrating. So if you take a chance on my new book, I do hope you enjoy it. If it’s half as much fun to read as it was to write, I’ll consider the whole noodling experiment a grand success.

This article is originally from the October 2009 Tor/Forge newsletter. Sign up for the Tor/Forge newsletter now, and get similar content in your inbox twice a month!

Everyone’s Invited to the Steampunk Party

Fiendish Schemes by K. W. Jeter

Written by K. W. Jeter

By the time you read this, or shortly thereafter, there’s good chance I’ll be preparing to head to Brighton, along with a lot of other folks attending the World Fantasy Convention. I’ve looked forward to this for quite a while, as it’ll be the first time in – ouch – a couple of decades for my wife and I to see our old friends in England. I fear I’ve reached the age where time doesn’t just fly, it rockets past on jet boosters.

The downside is that in making my travel plans this year, I had to choose between WFC and WorldCon in San Antonio. I have a lot of friends in Texas as well, whom I would’ve dearly loved to see again, if for no other reason than the Texans have a well-deserved reputation for knowing how to throw a party. Which certainly seems to have been the case once again, from the reports I’ve gotten from other folks who managed to get to WorldCon this year. As was expected, everybody I heard from had a good time.

And yet . . .

There was another, smaller but significant stream of post-con commentary. Which was to the effect of how old so much of everything seemed at WorldCon. (To paraphrase one on-line commentator, “If I’d wanted to hang out with a bunch of people in their seventies, bitching about how the whole world changed without their permission, I’d have gone to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving.”) The age thing was to be expected, I suppose; a lot of the science fiction community, both writers and readers, is getting greyer. But they’re still hanging in there and turning out for events, which is undoubtedly a good thing, even if the clack of chrome walkers on convention hall floors threatens to drown out some of the conversations.

But here’s the deal. I also hear reports from folks returning from steampunk events – and nobody complains about how old everything and everyone is at those. I’ve guested at a couple, and that’s been my impression as well: at least for the time being, the grey factor in the steampunk community is a lot less than in science fiction.

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t plenty of considerably younger people – writers, readers, fans, whatever – involved in science fiction, or that there’s even a hard, sharp division between the sf and steampunk communities; the overlap is pretty wide. And of course, there’s plenty of great and interesting and exciting stories and books coming out from both camps, from the old vets and those just starting out. No reason for everybody not to get along.

Once in a while, though, I catch a whiff of just a little animosity, coming from those closer than not to – ahem – my age bracket. A couple of years ago, at the World Fantasy Con in San Diego, I bumped into one of the science fiction field’s grandmasters, an undoubted Name Everybody Knows. He spotted a badge on my lapel: “What’s that?” When I answered that it was from SteamCon, the big steampunk event in Seattle, he snarled with evident disgust, “Isn’t it about time for that stuff to be over?”

That took me aback. I made some inconsequential reply, but it wasn’t until later – as it always is – that I figured what I should’ve said was, “Look, grandpa, just because you weren’t invited to the party, that’s no reason to get all sclerotic about it.” If I’ve got a new steampunk book coming out and you don’t, whose fault is that? These are invitations you issue to yourself, with no-one’s official imprimatur required.

And of course, a lot of steampunk is propelled by goggles-’n’-corsets High Silliness, but then a big part of science fiction gets moved along by the big media franchises equivalent – which frankly is starting to see some a little past its sell-by date. If some old fogey peering through his smudged bifocals can’t discern the cool and important stuff going on, such as the tsunami of anarchic multiculturalists using the steampunk scalpel to dissect the past and reassemble it like a two-dollar watch, that’s his loss; the readers are picking up on it. If the steampunk party is livelier and the music’s better than over at what used to be the completely happening genre hang-out, they’re still pretty much on the same block downtown, with nothing stopping people from going back and forth from one bar to the other, wherever the action might be.

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From the Tor/Forge October 7th newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.

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The Week in Review

Welcome to the week in review! Every Friday, we comb through the links and images we found and shared this week, and pull the very best for this post. Consider it concentrated genre goodness from all around the web.

  • MIT and Harvard have made a real life lightsaber. I want one. Immediately. I promise not to point it at my eyes first thing.
  • Want to see a bit more of the Formics from Ender’s Game? Check out the new TV spot! Not long until November 1st now…
  • Over at Tor.com, The Cure author Douglas E. Richards has taken a two part look at science fiction’s greatest movie villains, asking whether or not they’re psychopaths. It’s a great, fun read. Check out Part One and Part Two.
  • And finally, the full video of Flight From Shadow, a fan-made short film set in the world of The Wheel of Time, has arrived!

 
The Tor/Forge newsletter went out this week! Check out these fascinating articles from our authors:

 
And, just to make Friday that much sweeter, here’s a list of sweepstakes and sales we have going on!

Book Trailer: Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett

Nineteenth century London is the center of a vast British Empire. Airships ply the skies and Queen Victoria presides over three-quarters of the known world—including the East Coast of America, following the failed revolution of 1775.

London might as well be a world away from Sandsend, a tiny village on the Yorkshire coast. Gideon Smith dreams of the adventure promised him by the lurid tales of Captain Lucian Trigger, the Hero of the Empire, told in Gideon’s favorite “penny dreadful.” When Gideon’s father is lost at sea in highly mysterious circumstances Gideon is convinced that supernatural forces are at work. Deciding only Captain Lucian Trigger himself can aid him, Gideon sets off for London. On the way he rescues the mysterious mechanical girl Maria from a tumbledown house of shadows and iniquities. Together they make for London, where Gideon finally meets Captain Trigger.

But Trigger is little more than an aging fraud, providing cover for the covert activities of his lover, Dr. John Reed, a privateer and sometime agent of the British Crown. Looking for heroes but finding only frauds and crooks, it falls to Gideon to step up to the plate and attempt to save the day…but can a humble fisherman really become the true Hero of the Empire?
David Barnett’s Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl is a fantastical steampunk fable set against an alternate historical backdrop: the ultimate Victoriana/steampunk mash-up!

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl, by David Barnett, released September 10th!

Goodreads Sweepstakes: Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett

About Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl: Nineteenth century London is the center of a vast British Empire. Airships ply the skies and Queen Victoria presides over three-quarters of the known world—including the East Coast of America, following the failed revolution of 1775.

London might as well be a world away from Sandsend, a tiny village on the Yorkshire coast. Gideon Smith dreams of the adventure promised him by the lurid tales of Captain Lucian Trigger, the Hero of the Empire, told in Gideon’s favorite “penny dreadful.” When Gideon’s father is lost at sea in highly mysterious circumstances Gideon is convinced that supernatural forces are at work. Deciding only Captain Lucian Trigger himself can aid him, Gideon sets off for London. On the way he rescues the mysterious mechanical girl Maria from a tumbledown house of shadows and iniquities. Together they make for London, where Gideon finally meets Captain Trigger.

But Trigger is little more than an aging fraud, providing cover for the covert activities of his lover, Dr. John Reed, a privateer and sometime agent of the British Crown. Looking for heroes but finding only frauds and crooks, it falls to Gideon to step up to the plate and attempt to save the day…but can a humble fisherman really become the true Hero of the Empire?
David Barnett’s Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl is a fantastical steampunk fable set against an alternate historical backdrop: the ultimate Victoriana/steampunk mash-up!

Enter for a chance to win here!

(Ends October 25)

Also, don’t forget to check out our other sweepstakes!

Playing Fast and Loose with History

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett

Written by David Barnett

With Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl, I didn’t really set out to write a steampunk novel. Nor did I really plan to write an alternate-history novel. I just wanted to write a novel, one that was exciting and thrilling and a good yarn.

I suppose, though, when I wrote the following opening to the book, its fate was sealed in terms of genre, sub-genre and pigeonholes:

Annie Crook never read newspapers. If she had, she might have known what was coming.

But she never read newspapers. She passed soot- grimed boys on the streets, shrill voices jostling to present the wares of the Argus, London News, Gazette, and a dozen others. France and Spain at each others’ throats. Skirmishes along the Mason-Dixon Wall. A dirigible crash in Birmingham. All a fog of hollered headlines to her. Annie Crook never read newspapers, because she was in love.

I wanted the setting to be late Victorian, but I wanted to do it on my own terms. Hence a few differences, here and there, which as the book progressed became more and more marked differences. I wanted airships because I wanted to have my characters rapidly engage in international travel without having them lounging about on steam ships for long periods, not because I just wanted steampunk tropes. I didn’t think I was writing a steampunk book, remember. I thought the alternate-history trappings would be merely flavouring, a bit of salt in the story, until my editor at Tor, Claire Eddy, who I cannot praise enough, said:

Why is there a Mason-Dixon Wall? What’s that all about?

I didn’t really know. I hadn’t planned to take my characters to America in that book at all (though the second volume, Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon is set almost entirely in the New World) so hadn’t thought about it. Claire gently suggested I might want to think about it.

So I did. And a picture emerged of an America still ruled on the East Coast by Britain, with the Spanish still holding Mexico (New Spain, in the book) south of the border, and on the West Coast… the Californian Meiji, a breakaway Japanese faction. And with every answer about Gideon’s world, more questions were asked. I began to grind history – especially American history – under my boot heel in a bid to come up with a workable world. And I am incredibly indebted to Grant Balfour for the exhaustive (and exhausting) lessons in American history he gave me, and reasons why what I wanted to do either would or wouldn’t work.

What emerged was a document shared between Claire Eddy and me entitled The Secret History of the World 1775-1890. 1775 as the starting point because that was the year James Watt perfected his steam engine and also – according to my Secret History – the year when “British troops march into Lexington and Concord, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, and the ringleaders of a nascent rebellion against British control – including Samuel Adams and John Hancock – are arrested and summarily executed.”

The Secret History of the World 1775-1890 (the later year is the year in which the action in the book takes place) will probably never be shown to anyone else, being of little interest other than my research “bible” for the Gideon Smith series. It’s the place where the questions Claire asked are sort-of answered.

So why was there a Mason-Dixon Wall? According to the bible:

1834
Southern American states under British stewardship secede from British rule because of the Slavery Abolition Act and form the United States Confederacy. London is unwilling to send more troops to fight a formal war between British America and the Confederacy, insisting that existing resources are used to bring the breakaway states under control.

1837
Victoria succeeds to the throne of Great Britain

1838
Queen Victoria decrees that if British America cannot reclaim the southern states, then they should be cut off from “civilised lands”. She orders a wall to be built clear across America, along the line of the survey carried out by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon to establish Britain’s borders with the Confederacy.

But, Claire quite reasonably asked, what about all the cotton? Would Britain give up all the cotton from down south? Ah, I said, but we have air travel, remember? Vast dirigibles criss-crossing the world. They’ll bring cotton from India to the Empire!

Then I thought, why have I got dirigibles in the first place? Is it just lazy steampunk tropes being thrown into the book? No. I wasn’t having that. A quick look at the bible reveals this thought process:

1782
Eager to win back approval from the ever-expanding British Empire [After backing the wrong horse in the failed American rebellion], France tries to court London and many artists, musicians and scientists flock to the Empire. Among them is Jean-Pierre Blanchard, who astounds London by fitting a hand-powered propeller to a balloon, and crosses the English Channel in a balloon equipped with flapping wings for propulsion, and a bird-like tail for steerage.

1784
The astonishment at Blanchard’s flight has, over the next two years, turned into a race to transform his invention into a workable, mass-produced flying machine. Industrial giants in Britain, Germany, France and Spain work on their own versions of the airship. The race for mastery of the air is underway.

1800
The British Aerostat Company is formed from a conglomeration of several smaller companies and makes the first trans-Atlantic crossing to New York in a small balloon with an engine powered by hand-cranked clockwork.

And so on, and so on. There will doubtless be people who read Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl and its sequels who think I might have played a bit fast and loose with history. I have. But it’s a hell of a lot of fun doing so.

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From the Tor/Forge September 9th newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.

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Starred Review: Fiendish Schemes by K. W. Jeter

“Jeter’s vision of a Victorian world transformed by steam power is fascinating and funny, populated by ambulatory lighthouses, grain-disdaining meatpunks, anarchist coalpunks, and depraved ‘fex’ addicts obsessed with ‘valve girls.’ He thoroughly entertains readers with brilliant speculation and a charmingly reluctant hero.”

K. W. Jeter’s Fiendish Schemes got a starred review in Publishers Weekly!

Here’s the full review, from the July 8th issue:

 Hapless hero George Dower is swept up in plots and schemes beyond his ken in this rollicking sequel to the steampunk classic Infernal Devices. Broke and living in an isolated rural village, George has done his best to avoid the world that has been transformed by his father’s incredible inventions. Unfortunately, the world hasn’t forgotten about him. Hamuel Stonebrake, senior vicar in a church dedicated to spreading Christianity to whales, wants George to help him find the Vox Universalis, a legendary universal translator machine built by George’s dad. Soon George is caught between Prime Minister Agatha “Iron Lady” Fletcher, who is “more steam engine than woman,” and a ruthless cabal of wealthy London steam barons, “ferric sex” entrepreneurs, and stock speculators. Jeter’s vision of a Victorian world transformed by steam power is fascinating and funny, populated by ambulatory lighthouses, grain-disdaining meatpunks, anarchist coalpunks, and depraved “fex” addicts obsessed with “valve girls.” He thoroughly entertains readers with brilliant speculation and a charmingly reluctant hero. (Oct.)

Fiendish Schemes will be published on October 15th.

Starred Review: Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl by David Barnett

“Barnett gleefully blends Victorian-era characters with steam and clockwork technology in a ‘steampulp’ romance of supernatural adventure… With sky pirates, gibbering frog-faced hordes, and nods to historical figures both real and imaginary, Barnett doesn’t miss a trope, and even readers who don’t usually love steampunk will gobble it up.”

David Barnett’s Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl got a starred review in Publishers Weekly!

Here’s the full review, from the July 15th issue:

 Barnett gleefully blends Victorian-era characters with steam and clockwork technology in a “steampulp” romance of supernatural adventure. In quiet Sandsend, young Gideon Smith dreams of adventures like those of pulp hero Capt. Lucian Trigger, as faithfully transcribed by Trigger’s friend, Dr. John Reed. When Gideon’s fisherman dad disappears at sea amid a string of bizarre events, visiting Irish author Bram Stoker blames vampires, but wandering mummies appear instead. Gideon sensibly heads to London to consult Trigger. Along the way, he teams up with Maria, a beautiful clockwork woman whose human brain is powered by a mysterious artifact from an ancient Viking longship, and tenacious reporter Aloysius Bent. Although Trigger isn’t exactly the “robust adventurer” of storydom, he’s got enough gumption to whisk Gideon and the others off to Egypt to find the missing Reed and stop a vast evil conspiracy. With sky pirates, gibbering frog-faced hordes, and nods to historical figures both real and imaginary, Barnett doesn’t miss a trope, and even readers who don’t usually love steampunk will gobble it up. Agent: John Jarrold. (Sept.)

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl will be published on September 10th.

A Letter from Harry Ransom

The Rise of Ransom City by Felix Gilman

Written by Felix Gilman

[We are pleased to announce that the writings of the famous Harry Ransom – some might say notorious – have now been collected and published as The Rise of Ransom City. This letter was found too late to be included. Besides, the fellow who says he found it was asking too much money for it, and for all we know it is a forgery. The handwriting is atrocious. – The Editors.]

Dear May,
or Jess,
or Elmer,
or whoever comes across this,

That’s that then. A stack of papers. Some of the pages got wet when we crossed this river or that on our way out west – who can remember all the rivers. Sometimes the typewriter broke or leaked ink. It was a good typewriter for all its faults and it is a miracle it got me this far, especially after the bullet it took. They made things to last back in Jasper City. Anyhow the thing is done. This stack of papers is the life of your humble correspondent, Harry Ransom; the story of my birth, the incident of the electric-cure, the tragedy of the Damaris, and the showdown with the murderer Mr. Knoll; and the days at the Ormolu Theater, and Mr. Carver, and Mr. Baxter, and Adela. My rise and fall and how come I am out here heading west . . .

I am having a devil of a time letting it go. I have been writing for so long now that if I fall silent I am half-scared of what will happen. Maybe all the words that used to come pouring out of the typewriter will build up in my head until it explodes. Something similar has happened with the Ransom Lightbringing Apparatus once or twice – in Kenauk, in White Rock, and in Jasper. But if you have read my letters then you know about those incidents, and you know that they were mostly not my fault.

Maybe you have by now and maybe you haven’t. Who knows if any of this will make it back east to you. I have been typing in triplicate and sending parts back as we go. Whenever anyone deserts (and we have had a few deserters) I say, no hard feelings, utopia isn’t for everyone, but will you please take back a letter? Only once have I been refused. Mr. Cantor hit me in the face and said I was a fraud and a lunatic. But his wife was sick with a fever and I do not blame him for losing hope. Mr. Belbo took back a hundred pages or so, and Miss Luria took fifty. . . But there are a lot of dangers on the road, between here and a post-office, in these terrible times.

The typewriter is finally broken for good, and I am writing this by hand, as you can see. Fortunately it so happened that one of the Beck brothers brought a pen with him when we set off for the uncharted west. It is very fine indeed, but the initials engraved on it are not his. I guess it is too late to worry about that sort of thing now. When we get to where we’re going and build our city we will start with a clean slate. Perhaps we’ll abolish property altogether – I haven’t decided.

I write on a rock by the shore of a lake, sunlit and silvery, whispering, nameless and unmapped, at least so far as I know. It bars our way west. We are considering the construction of boats. Thomas and Carlo and Lillian are turning back. So be it. Everyone is free to come or go to Ransom City as they please, otherwise how would we be better than anywhere else? They’ll take the last of my letters (but this one I’ll keep back, just in case). Thomas is checking his rifle, again and again. We are out on the wild edge of things and we have seen the tracks and heard the roar of big cats at night – I think they are cats. Good luck, Thomas, and shoot straight!

As for those of us who are going on – well, I have generally had bad luck with boats. I will fold this letter, and leave it under the typewriter. If in some distant future anyone should chance by this place, and observe the rusted hulk of my typewriter on a rock, and be curious enough to investigate, they will know–if nothing else, if none of my other writings survive — that at least I tried to set the story straight. I did.

Yours,
Harry Ransom

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From the Tor/Forge December newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.

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