Michael Butcher is also being published in the Fantasist this month. He says he writes fantasy stories somewhere in the blasted wastelands of Western Australia and that he’s bee successfully avoiding roaming packs of raiders, but I think we all know better. He’s leading those damned packs which is why I’m afraid to Americanize his spelling.
According to Mike:
Although I don’t consider myself a steampunk writer, I enjoy the potential for storytelling the genre provides. It’s a genre that revels in the idea of exploring new frontiers of the physical world and of science, and perhaps magic. For readers, it may be a sort of interest in history, of alternate timelines or simply the aesthetic. It’s a genre that can perfectly blend fantasy and science fiction with a strong spirit of adventure. I can see why it is so popular.
Steampunk is an aspect of the retro-futurism art movement, a movement that basically imagines how certain eras of the past might imagine their own future. In steampunk’s case, typically the future with a distinctly Victorian or Edwardian flavour. The genre is ripe for criticising the class distinctions of the era along with unethical scientific endeavors and the hubris of inventors, entrepreneurs, “captains of industry” etc. Frankenstein could be considered a precursor to Steampunk because of the way Mary Shelley worked fantastical science fiction elements into a cautionary tale of arrogance in a world where advances in science seemingly make everything possible. Also there’s lots of gas powered lamps and steam powered everythings.
One of steampunk’s primary real-life influences was the industrial revolution, a period of growth and possibility but also of wealth inequality and labour exploitation. I can’t help but imagine that underneath a glittering, marvelous, steam-powered metropolis, there wouldn’t be a vastly exploited working class. I think that tension is one of the more appealing aspects of steampunk, or retro-futurism as a whole concept. For me, there’s a cautionary aspect to it, a just-cos’-you-could warning about pushing the limits of science into the unknown and what horrible things that might reveal to us.
A steampunk city is a city built on the idea of limitless potential, the underlying feeling that it could collapse into a dystopic nightmare at just the right push is one of my favourite things about it, and it is what I will enjoy writing about the most as I continue to tell more tales in this world I’m building with this work!
The Thief’s Darling is a novella I started writing late in 2017. I didn’t actually set out to write a steampunk story.
[L.J. exclaims on first read: What! But it has gas lamps? It’s totally steampunk.]
Originally, it was going to be much more of a classical fantasy setting, with the weird science aspects replaced with more traditional, occult magic shtick, but I was doing quite a lot of research into the practices of alchemists in preparation for the writing process and was really interested in alchemy, in the early modern period, as a precursor to modern day chemistry and the effects it had on science as a whole. Also, I do like the aesthetic of gas lamps.
It is the story of five sisters who are master alchemists living in the run-down town of Wadlock, a once vibrant place that has fallen on hard times. The sisters, led by Enith, are attempting to create the perfect man by distilling the essence of romance novels down and transmuting them into a man who is sort of the amalgamation of a whole range of pulp romance novel “hunks”. His name is Troy.
[L.J.: As someone who writes these romance novels, I am all about this premise. But if we get this technology IRL, I think we have to name him “Chris” because of the inordinate amount of sexy Chrises.]
Most of the sisters are partaking in the project for a laugh and to spend time together, but it certainly seems to mean something entirely different for Enith.
They have hired a thief, a young woman named Cady “Nine-Lives”, a scrappy sort of sixteen-year-old who is trying to pull together enough money to skip town. One night, during a raid on the local library, she runs afoul of the librarian, an old man with an affinity for classic romance novels who also hides a bloody and tragic past. Cady accidentally burns down the library which puts her life and the life of Troy into jeopardy.
My intention was to create a story that subverts the reader’s expectations. There seems to be a sort of culture of disdain surrounding women who read romance novels (or just anything women enjoy en masse).
[L.J.: you said it, brother!]
Most of the story is told through the eyes of Cady, a teenager who carries that same disdain, and so she tends to view the sisters as “gross” or “wrong” for their reading habits, but as we explore the character of the sisters more, it is suggested that not only do some find a sense of comfort in reading and appreciating romantic fiction, but also find good-natured community and sisterly bonding.
You can find Michael’s story here.
The Fantasist is a quarterly online magazine that publishes three original Fantasy novellas on the third Thursday of every third month.
And this month, while they celebrate Steampunk, one of them is mine!