Reading romance is all about getting a glimpse into exciting times and new worlds and there is nothing more adventurous than the re-imagined Victorian-era tales of Steampunk fiction. To keep up with the new sub-genre, RT's Morgan interviewed Mari Fee, Sahara Kelly and Tilda Booth, authors who have Steampunk e-novellas from Samahin Publishing's Silk, Steel and Steam series.
Morgan Doremus: Steampunk is still a relatively new sub-genre in the paranormal/fantasy category. Can each of you define what you see Steampunk as and how your story fits into the genre?
Mari Fee: I think the Steampunk Scholar answered this question best: Steampunk is an aesthetic, or a look or style. Often it’s a technofantasy set in a pseudo-Victorian era within other genres such as romance, paranormal, fantasy, etc. Sometimes *gasp!* there are no goggles and airships at all. Steampunk trappings in "Bluebeard’s Machine" includes a basement laboratory for cloning, a fully autonomous underwater observatory, a personal submarine, and an electromagnetic salvage vessel. I also made a conscious effort to include gas masks and goggles, which, although not necessary in literary steampunk works, add that je ne c’est quoi to a Steampunk world.
Sahara Kelly: For me, Steampunk is a blend of the traditional with the fanciful - a mid-to-late Victorian setting, enhanced by wonderful inventions and machines that are also elegant and graceful works of art, doing amazing (and sometimes frightening) things. "Flavia’s Flying Corset" is set in that time period, and features a few devices that are way ahead of their time - plus her airborne garment, of course. <g>
Tilda Booth: For me, Steampunk at its heart is an exploration of an alternate history that diverges from our own just before the turn of the 20th century. It encompasses the aesthetic of that time – the props, the clothes, that sense of restrained civility and Victorian sensibilities – and adds elements of fantasy or science fiction. It’s like looking into a distorted mirror where something in the past has set off a chain of events that make that era blossom into something different from what we know and what will come. My story concentrates on the alternate history aspect, specifically setting up the type of societal forces and changes that might have resulted in a society like the one Aldous Huxley imagined in Brave New World.
Morgan Doremus: Mari, please describe your story "Bluebeard’s Machine" in 25 words or less.
Mari Fee: "Bluebeard’s Machine" is a steampunk adventure all about clones, lost loves and second chances.
Morgan Doremus: How many times did you read Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein in order to plot your own mad-scientist-creates-life story?
Mari Fee: I’ve honestly only read it two or three times but it’s a story that sticks with you. I didn’t want to re-tell Frankenstein exactly, but many of the themes and ideas crept in – Frankenstein’s creature’s self-awareness, the idea of “north” as safety and solitude, and the misunderstanding based conflict between creator and creation.
Morgan Doremus: In Victorian England, cloning was virtually unknown. What made you choose this as the premise for “Bluebeard’s Machine”?
Mari Fee: There were huge advances in medicine and anatomy in the 19th Century, including the release of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and Gregor Mendel’s work on peas and inheritance in 1865 – the beginnings of genetics. Steampunk is a “one-step further” reimagining of science and medicine in the Victorian age, and genetics and cloning (and the ethical questions they raise) best fit the needs of the story I wanted to tell.
Morgan Doremus: Mari, I read in your bio that you are a former archaeologist – does your previous profession play into the way you write? Can you give an example from "Bluebeard’s Machine" where you used your knowledge of archaeology?
Mari Fee: Archaeology didn’t play into the story much, although I’ve got tentative plans for a Steampunk/archaeology story sometime in the future! In "Bluebeard’s Machine", though, my background came in handy when I was describing anatomy and writing Dr. Parker’s journal. I also have hands-on experience with human skulls, and this line pretty well sums up how I feel about them: “Perfect domes of yellow-white that had once contained a person, and were now empty husks.” Brrr.
Morgan Doremus: Sahara, please describe your story "Flavia’s Flying Corset" in 25 words or less.
Sahara Kelly: Put one beautiful chemist and one brilliant scientist together in an isolated mansion. Add danger and intrigue…the result is mayhem - and passion!
Morgan Doremus: Your characters share a past, but they have not had contact in years. What changes did the hero and heroine go through during their time apart? Do you think it would have been possible for these two to get together years ago, or did they need that extra time to truly become right for each other?
Sahara Kelly: Giving the hero and heroine a “history” is a literary convenience, I suppose - some might call it a bit of a cheat - but for a shorter story it works. It does give the reader chance to see how far they’ve come, and here both Flavia and Harland have lived full lives, matured, and learned much about their professions and themselves. Flavia has learned what love is not, and Harland has learned that a special woman is never forgotten. I’m sure they would have ended up together earlier, had circumstances been different. But now they’re both richer for their life experiences and they bring that depth to this relationship.
Morgan Doremus: Your story is super steamy (pardon the pun) with corsets providing the material for some light bondage. When did you realize that you wanted the common steampunk accessory to make its way into the bedroom?
Sahara Kelly: LOL. Pun forgiven. Most of my books tend toward the erotic - I’ve enjoyed the ability to add intensity to my characters by way of their close personal interactions. Sometimes more can be said by a line describing a single touch, than a page of detailed exposition. Here, with two adults rekindling something special, it was a natural progression from the science to the passion. And they’re both intelligent, aware and - on Flavia’s part - curious about the real potential of desire. Corsets can be very sexy, so it wasn’t a great leap of the imagination to go from one type of corset to another…
Morgan Doremus: Sahara, I asked Mari about her past, and now I must ask you - how does your early life in England play into you writing about this setting in your stories?
Sahara Kelly: It’s very important indeed, both here…and in all my English-set historicals. Having grown up near Jane Austen’s home in Southern England, writing Regencies came naturally, since some of those country lanes I walked as a girl are still essentially unchanged from Miss Austen’s time. (Although now noisier thanks to nearby motorways. LOL) I like knowing the sounds and the scents, and how the landscape looks, rather than having to guess at it. I hope it adds a touch of authenticity to my writing.
Morgan Doremus: Tilda, please describe "Stealing Utopia" in 25 words or less.
Tilda Booth: A Victorian-era secret agent meets her match in HG Wells as they each fight for their vision of the future and fall in love.
Morgan Doremus: In "Stealing Utopia", some of the characters believe that by cracking a human’s neurochemical code, scientists could measure the true capacity of the human brain and therefore found a perfect world. However, Jane believes that “no good has ever come from tinkering with the human condition in such a way.” Which side do you fall on in this debate?
Tilda Booth: I suppose I fall somewhere in the middle here. Like the HG Wells character in my book, I’m extremely grateful for the scientific advances that we’ve benefited from, especially in the medical sciences, and I’m excited for the possibilities of things like gene therapy in the future. But I do think that we as a society are often carried away by the desire to “fix” people, and like my character Jane, I worry that natural quirks and differences may be considered flaws that need to be corrected, or that people with those differences are somehow lesser. I wonder where the line is between fixing a life-altering physical defect in vitro and figuring out how to engineer the perfect baby, for instance. Right now they might seem like worlds apart, but as the technology becomes more sophisticated I think they inevitably get closer together.
Morgan Doremus: Your story includes some pretty amazing historical figures including HG Wells, Jules Verne and Nikola Tesla. Any qualms about using such famous people in your writing?
Tilda Booth: Oh absolutely. I’m sure I’ll have some apologizing to do if I ever meet them in the afterlife! And I know that some readers will have strong disagreements about how I’ve portrayed them, especially Tesla and Wells. At the same time it was so much fun creating fictional characters based on such great men and then taking the characters in wildly different directions from their inspirations; I was really happy with the results. And since my original inspiration was Aldous Huxley, I couldn’t resist making his father, Leonard, Prime Minister of Britain.
Morgan Doremus: "Stealing Utopia"’s reviewer wrote that she was impressed by the story’s role reversal. The hero is the one in need of protection, while the heroine acts as a bodyguard. Is this the first time you have done this or are all of your female characters strong in this way?
Tilda Booth: I prefer to write strong female characters, although not all of them introduce themselves from behind the barrel of a pistol. Most of my women are take-charge kind of characters, although I’ll admit to relishing the occasional damsel-in-distress story as well. I like my heroes to be smart, and as long as they come across that way, I don’t mind if they need rescuing now and then by my heroines.
Morgan Doremus: Each of the Silk, Steel and Steam stories include some kind of scientific experiment. Some are innocuous and others world-altering. Likewise, your scientists run the gamut from intelligent thinkers to fanatical villains. Are there any messages that you want to send about what you see happening in today scientific community, or are these stories just that – stories?
Tilda Booth: One of the distinctions of the Victorian Era (and to be fair from the start of the 1800's) was a tremendous excitement about science. Science wasn't something only a small group of people with multiple degrees worked on; it was an enthusiasm shared across different classes and backgrounds. New discoveries were something you'd read about on the front page. So it makes sense to me that you'd find all kinds of experiments and all kinds of scientists, whether noble or evil. By and large, my story is just that, a story. But I would love to see that kind of excitement and accessibility around science again, where everyone is a thinker or discoverer, tinkerer or dabbler.
Mari Fee: I’ll admit to a message – while I love progress and technology, I also wonder if we’re wondering “should we do this?” enough. I’ve published two short stories under my other name on this idea – one about genetic patents on food crops and the other about genetic patents on human genes (and human hearts for transplant grown on tomato plants). Although the guy who wants to clone a mammoth within the next five years had better hurry up and do it already!
Sahara Kelly: Today’s scientific community is so huge that it would be difficult, I believe, to send them a message. There isn’t one in my story…it’s just a simple tale of love and inventive machinery. Science is an invaluable part of our civilization and, like many other facets of our culture, has both good and bad features along with exemplary and contemptible practitioners. I’m naïve enough to think that overall, science has resulted in more positive developments for our everyday lives than the reverse. Although when my cell phone won’t shut up, I do wonder if that was perhaps an erroneous assumption…. LOL
Morgan Doremus: Finally, steampunk is about re-imagining the past. If each of you could choose one thing to change in history to create an alternate world, what would it be?
Sahara Kelly: Oh wow. Tough question. So many things could have been changed by just a tiny little choice - yes or no. This way or that…right or left. Although it would be amazing to go back and see what the world would have been like if, for example, Napoleon had died in infancy…I’m thinking an alternate world timeline would have been taking place right now if Lee Harvey Oswald’s gun had misfired…
Tilda Booth: I know this is a cop-out answer, but I honestly don’t think there’s anything I would change, because I couldn’t predict what the ramifications would be. I prefer to think about things that can be done now to change the future for the better from this point forward.
Mari Fee: I’m convinced that if the washing machine had been invented much, much earlier, women would currently rule the world.
You can read the *Web Exclusive Review* for Mari Fee's "Bluebeard's Machine", Sahara Kelly's "Flavia's Flying Corset" and Tilda Booth's "Stealing Utopia", which are all on sale now. And if you are craving more Steampunk action, be sure to check out Samhain Publishing's Silk, Steal and Steam series.