Transcript: Rayguns! Steampunk Fiction

Panel: Edward Morris, Sara Harvey
8PM Eastern, May 17, 2010

[Deena] 8:02 pm: It’s time to start Rayguns! Steampunk Fiction… not that cutesy romance stuff. We’re talkin’ manly. Or at least not mushy, with Sara Harvey and Edward Morris.

[Deena] 8:03 pm: Sara, Edward, probably most everyone remembers you, but could you introduce yourself again?

[Saraphina.Marie] 8:04 pm: I’m Sara M. Harvey, I write fiction and non-fiction (costume history). My current series is set in a fictional Steampunk version of earth: THE CONVENT OF THE PURE and the
forthcoming THE LABYRINTH OF THE DEAD. The costume history comes in handy with the Steampunk which I have loved since I was about 10 years old.

[Edward Morris] 8:05 pm: A lot of Steampunks are big into costuming, for obvious reasons. Huge crossover with the Society For Creative Anachronism/ Cacophony Society/ RenFaires etc. Layers to this sort of fandom. Steampunk fandom wove a lot of cultures together. It’s not just “what happens when Goths discover brown”, lol

[Edward Morris] 8:07 pm: Ok I’m Edward Morris. I write extremely experimental steampunk, most recently the worlds-spanning time travel war series THERE WAS A CROOKED MAN.Ā I have been a big fan since I was a kid and read Jules Verne. I get started talking about this form, and I do not shut up. Bring it.

[Edward Morris] 8:08 pm: SM, I thought we could start by explaining what Steampunk is, to those who are less familiar. Then talk about how to write it.

[Saraphina.Marie] 8:09 pm: sounds good

[Saraphina.Marie] 8:10 pm: we should talk about some of the other authors in this varied genre, too. There is so much good stuff going on out there in Steampunk right now!

[Edward] 7:10 pm: First example I can think of was a short story by Anthony Trollope, can’t remember the name, that featured a mechanical chess player, in the 1850’s. Everyone knows about Jules Verne, but not a lot of folks known that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote SF too. Back then, a lot of SF was steampunk, not all. Anything with clockworks and lo-tech that did big things.

[Sara] 7:11 pm: Very true, contemporary steampunk would have just been plain ol’ spec-fic to them

[Sara] 7:11 pm: and what we’re doing now is an attempt to re-create that time period

[Edward] 7:11 pm: Steampunk pretty much started with steam era “gaslight” fantasy fiction that started to stray into not neccessarily Luddite tech, but kinda sideways tech, trying to think around the Industrial Revolution instead of just diss it all.

[Sara] 7:12 pm: so it’s adding another layer onto the usual already fantastical spec-fic

[Sara] 7:12 pm: Well I also think it came out of people wanting to put a better shine onto the 19th century

[Sara] 7:12 pm: there was such optimisim but also such opression

[Sara] 7:13 pm: Steampunk also runs into alternate history and a bit of ret-con. ;)

[Edward] 7:13 pm: Steampunk now longs for the future they imagined back then, just as much as they longed for it back then. With a lot of gilded age tech and home-sustainable practices that are kind of their own form of activism. By DIY, you thumb your nose at this future, and the oppressive parts of modernity

[Edward] 7:13 pm: Steampunk alt hist is so fun. Howard Waldrop’s take on Charles Dickens was a work of genius

[Sara] 7:14 pm: This I toally agree with EM, very DIY and very claiming a brighter future

[Sara] 7:14 pm: Steampunk is essentially the step-sibling of Cyberpunk where everything is dark and corporate and individuality is oppressed. Steampunk is just the opposite

[Edward] 7:15 pm: The Waldrop story was called “Household Words, or The Powers That Be.” It is considered a Steampunk classic

[Sara] 7:15 pm: it is all about individuality and light

[Sara] 7:15 pm: So what about some current stuff, some neo-classics

[Sara] 7:16 pm: I loves me some Cherie Priest.

[Edward] 7:16 pm: Yes. And in crossing over with cyberpunk, a lot of CP authors have shone in that field. Dru Pagliassotti. Jeff VanderMeer. John Shirley, a time or 2… Ray Vukcevich…

[Edward] 7:17 pm: Haven’t read Cherie Priest yet, waiting for the hype to die.

[Sara] 7:18 pm: I don’t know if it’s going to, re: Cherie. She’s been nominated for everything under the sun. And deservedly so. She’s worked hard to get here and she’s crafted a phenomenal world in her Clockwork Century.

[Edward] 7:18 pm: Hmm more neo classics: A collection called EXTRAORDINARY ENGINES, edited by Nick Gevers. Gibson & Sterling’s well-intentioned THE DIFFERENCE ENGINE, another cyberpunk crossover

[Sara] 7:19 pm: I think Lavie Tidhar’s very out-of-the-box THE BOOKAMN has some potential

[Sara] 7:19 pm: Lavie’s crazy in the most awesome way!

[Edward] 7:20 pm: I hear good things about Cherie Priest. I just mean I am waiting until all my friends quit bugging me about Boneshaker. Lavie Tidhar is a great writer,we’ve shared several issues of several web/magazines

[Edward] 7:20 pm: Jeff VanderMeer’s Ambergris books, esp. FINCH

[Sara] 7:21 pm: I need to read more of VanderMeer’s stuff, looking forward to the new anthology coming out

[Edward] 7:21 pm: The list goes on. Who am I forgetting? Basic Steampunkclassics to start folks off that is. Yes, Jeff and I have corresponded for years. He has really helped me out as a writer. I would take a bullet for him.

[Sara] 7:23 pm: So what elements need to be there for a quintessential steampunk work?

[Sara] 7:23 pm: Goggles optional!

[Edward] 7:23 pm: Yes. There are some tropes, but can’t overdo the tropes

[Edward] 7:23 pm: Goggles, zeppelins, clockwork people,

[Sara] 7:23 pm: My main char. does put them on, for a single scene for a specific reason, a little bit of wink-wink to those who just put goggles on anything and call it Steampunk

[Sara] 7:24 pm: Like YankeeDoodle Dandy thinking a single feather made him a fashion plate.

[Edward] 7:24 pm: I have a debased Amishman who wears goggles, he’s the only character of mine who does

[Sara] 7:24 pm: But I think that the tech is very important to the genre

[Edward] 7:25 pm: lo tech. sideways tech

[Edward] 7:26 pm: sideways/lateral progression of technology so that we have autogyros developed better than planes, or whatever the case is.

[Sara] 7:26 pm: There was an interesting discussion somewhere that FIREFLY is an extension of Steampunk in a future/space travel scenario

[Sara] 7:27 pm: definitely sideways tech

[Edward] 7:27 pm: Firefly is more like lo-tech Dan O’Bannon-style humanized space travel. Would have been steam punk if it was written as alternate future;that is, if their past was different than ours in the story

[Sara] 7:28 pm: well we really don’t know how different/same their past is to ours, that was never really discussed in the show

[Edward] 7:28 pm: excellent point. they need to bring it back and discuss it :)

[Sara] 7:28 pm: but things like BRISCO COUNTY, JR. and the old WILD,WILD WEST

[Sara] 7:28 pm: And the one…about the novelist

[Sara] 7:29 pm: someone brought it up last week or so and I realized it was a show I adored but now I am drawing a blank about what show it was…but it was awesome

[Sara] 7:29 pm: very 1980s

[] 7:29 pm: but super awesome silly Steampunk with wacky tech and very Weird West

[Edward] 7:29 pm: blanking

[Edward] 7:29 pm: but i’ll take your word for it

[Sara] 7:30 pm: I’m sure someone out there knows

[Sara] 7:30 pm: I am a big sucker for Weird West

[Sara] 7:30 pm: Steampunk Cowboys!

[Edward] 7:31 pm: Lou Antonelli is a #$%^&* good steampunk/weird west writer. Most of his stories are set in TX. Also Joe R. Lansdale’s ZEPPELINS WEST, another classic of the form

[Sara] 7:31 pm: Yes, on Lansdale

[Sara] 7:31 pm: he’s such fun!

[Sara] 7:31 pm: takes such awesome chances!

[Edward] 7:32 pm: great guy, great writer. friend of several friends, don’t know him. yet.

[Edward] 7:33 pm: his “on the far side of the cadillac desert with dead folks” was a steam-ish alt-future-ish take on the Night of the Living Dead mythos.

[Edward] 7:33 pm: also, he riffs on Conan Doyle’s “Lost World” at the end of THE DRIVE-IN. gave me chills. “the road didn’t lead home no more.”

[Sara] 7:34 pm: I also like the Batman setting of the cartoons, the shiner than DieselPunk, more like DecoPunk.

[Edward] 7:34 pm: Heh. Good call.

[Sara] 7:36 pm: I like that the genre has expanded and morphed into other things

[Sara] 7:36 pm: a lot of people don’t, but I think it’s fun

[Edward] 7:37 pm: it has. because it had to. it already was a whole bunch of other things. it is an umbrella

[Edward] 7:37 pm: that’s what let me know it wasn’t just a flash in the pan.

[Sara] 7:38 pm: well I have been int it for 20 years- just because it’s mainstream now and the Next Big Thing doesn’t mean it’s going anywhere when the furor dies down

[Edward] 7:38 pm: it was a chance for several kinds of fandom and writing to cluster up and empower. they are. it is morphing a lot, and also solidifying.

[Edward] 7:39 pm: i was a skeptic about the most recent iteration until i started going to Rose City Steampunks meetups. these people really get their hands dirty w/ what they do. very committed.

[Sara] 7:39 pm: A lot of detractors have fobbed it off on just a new form of cosplay.

[Edward] 7:40 pm: then where the expletive’s my giant battle axe and fox tail?

[Sara] 7:40 pm: I have a fox tail (or two or nine…I acquired them all in very entertaining manners at Faire)

[Edward] 7:41 pm: it’s not like cosplay at all. real steampunks actually build some of the stuff they natter on about. i understand why people would think that, but chances are, if you see goggles, the person has a trevithick steam-driven lawnmower at home and knows how to repair it.

[Sara] 7:42 pm: But I agree that the real heart and soul of steampunk is getting one’s hands dirty- it isn’t about copying anything but forging one’s own identity

[Edward] 7:42 pm: yes. my grandfather was the son of a Mollie McGuire, worshipped Nikola Tesla and knew how to repair everything. literally. Buddy was the biggest Steampunk I ever knew.

[Sara] 7:43 pm: not that making meticulous copies of established costumes isn’t really awesome in its own right, it just isn’t steampunk

[Edward] 7:44 pm: sure. it’s just general fannishness. not that fandom is a bad thing either, but call it what it is.

[Sara] 7:44 pm: So what about writing the genre

[Sara] 7:44 pm: (as I look at the time!)

[Sara] 7:46 pm: I am not big on the tech stuff, beyond the basics, so when I write Steampunk I go for the COSTUMES!

[Edward] 7:46 pm: To know Steampunk one must know how to breathe life into the waxworks that are History. Then change it. Same as alt-hist: Study the originals until they are cominng out your ears. Then study the people who tried to make changes. Go for the underdogs, the Cornelius Drebels, the Waterman Aerobile flying cars. Clip them. Insert them. But the most important part is building the world/time period so it stands up and doesn’t fall apart around your gadgets.

[Sara] 7:47 pm: I think that’s an excellent start

[Sara] 7:47 pm: I am a historian at heart

[Edward] 7:47 pm: It’s okay to not be big on the tech stuff. If you know you’re not, then don’t try to be. Paul Di Filippo, who wrote that awesome Steampunk Trilogy, also an old friend, instructs that vast amounts of research are not necessary for the simpler bits. Just be in control of the world you’ve built.

[Sara] 7:47 pm: so I like to pick my time period and then nose around in the footnotes

[Edward] 7:48 pm: sure, me too.

[Sara] 7:48 pm: Aha! That show was LEGEND with Richard Dean Anderson

[Sara] 7:48 pm: I knew there was a MacGuyver connections!

[Edward] 7:49 pm: \\m//McGyver. Another wannabe steampunk

[FrancesP] 7:51 pm: Im curious about dieselpunk, and since you mentioned decopunk as well (I’d never heard that one) can you tell us a little about those two? definitions or primary traits to give us a feel for the difference?

[Jazzyartwriter2] 7:51 pm: I’m new to steampunk and got interested in it after joining YARWA, so I’ve got questions. First, some terms. I saw the words: tropes, foxtail and battle axe and wonder what they have to do with steampunk. Also, you don’t have to know anything about mechanics to write it, I hope. Also, I’d like the names of some YA authors so I can read up on it before starting my novel.

[Edward] 7:51 pm: Tropes: cliches. Overused devices.

[Edward] 7:52 pm: Foxtail/battleaxe: Cosplay con fixtures, no relevancy to steampunk, joking w/the Cosplay kids in the audience

[Sara] 7:52 pm: And axe and the foxtail are overused costume bits, often inappropriately used

[Sara] 7:52 pm: For YA steampunk, look up Nick Valentino

[Sara] 7:52 pm: his new book Sir Thomas Riley is having quite a impact!

[Edward] 7:53 pm: Your statement “You don’t have to know anything about mechanics to write it” is an opinion. You don’t have to know MUCH, but being that one of the key words in the genre is ‘Steam’ it kind of does help to have a little scientific literacy.

[Edward] 7:54 pm: Dieselpunk/Decopunk: Handing that off to SM?

[Sara] 7:55 pm: DieselPunk is a gritty version of Steampunk set in the 1920s-1950s

[Sara] 7:55 pm: The big war eras, specifically

[Sara] 7:55 pm: DecoPunk is the sleek, shiny very Art Deco version

[Sara] 7:55 pm: same time period, but everything is chrome!

[Sara] 7:55 pm: watch the old Batman cartoons from the late 1990s

[Edward] 7:56 pm: Basically just variations of Steampunk in the Diesel/Art Deco eras, as I understood it, yeah. A lot of fans around here lump all 3 in with Steampunk, so I got rusty on a hard definition.

[Sara] 7:56 pm: it is obviously the 1930s/40s but they have like GPS and the internet

[GuyAnthonyDeMarco] 7:56 pm: It seems Terry Gilliam is a steampunk fan, looking at movies like 12 Monkeys and Brazil. Also, Cherie M. Priest says hello (she’s on Facebook right now)

[Edward] 7:56 pm: Sure. Earlier versions. Hey, I just sold one of those, to a new antho called THE WORLDS OF PHILIP JOSE FARMER. Didn’t know what to call it.

[Edward] 7:57 pm: @Guy: Yes, Gilliam is a huge fan. Always was. You can tell. The Pythons were all way into Jules Verne and HG Wells and that sort of thing…

[MeredithHolmes] 7:58 pm: SM, anything to add? I don’t want to cut you off skipping to the next person!

[Sara] 7:58 pm: There are a lot of people who secretly (and not so secretly) love the genre

[widdershins] 7:58 pm: Couple of definitions please … @Edward – “Rose City Steampunks meetups”? … @SM “cosplay”? … and tropes – superfluous archetypes?

[widdershins] 7:58 pm: oops … tropes’s been done!

[Sara] 7:59 pm: cosplay=costume-play. Dressing up to pretend to be a specific character.

[Edward] 7:59 pm: Rose City Steampunks= local Steampunk group/chapter. They meet up once a month

[Sara] 7:59 pm: Here in Nashville it’s the HIVE

[Sara] 8:00 pm: I am sure there is a Steampunk group near you!

[Malkarris] 8:00 pm: Just an aside, The Secret Adventures of Jules Vern is a pretty good series for steampunk. And question: You said that tech is important but how much is too much? Its a problem of mine that I can never really recognize. Do you have any tips?

[Edward] 8:00 pm: you’ll know when it’s too much because it will feel out of control/research will have taken over the fun

[Sara] 8:01 pm: Exactly, when you are reading over it and thinking shut up about the transdynamic turbo accelerator, you might want to ix-nay that tech

[Sara] 8:02 pm: the tech should NEVER detract from the story, only ADD to it

[AngeliaSparrow] 8:03 pm: How much tech is not enough? I tend to focus on one or two devices per story, preferring to deal in the ‘punk of gender/class/race relations in the romance rather than the steam part. Is there a minimum to qualify?

[Edward] 8:03 pm: No. No minimum, but we do have to see how the Industrial Revolution has gone sideways in whatever sense.

[Sara] 8:04 pm: I don’t think there’s a minimum to qualify. I know you’ve read CONVENT which is way low on tech, but still had a definite Steampunk feel. It had to do more with the world itself than the actual tech, the nuts and bolts (ha ha pun intended!) is not that important

[Jaleta] 8:06 pm: Jim Christensen the artist did steam punk Just had to share!

[Sara] 8:06 pm: Oh how fun!

[Edward] 8:07 pm: Aside: I wanted an MRI in the 1780’s. Only way to do it was Franz Mesmer, a big magnet, and Mesmer’s unknown telekinetic/psychometric abilities… Any more tech would have ruined the story. Still working on that one, “Rod Of Correction.” @Jaleta: Neat stuff, thank you for the link.

[Jazzyartwriter2] 8:07 pm: Is it okay to make up some new steam technology as long as it doesn’t disagree with the basics of steam tech, i.e., something new that doesn’t really exist? Would it have to be something that would really work if someone actually made it?

[Edward] 8:08 pm: Jazzy, it is so ok I want you to go out and do it right now. you nailed it.

[Sara] 8:08 pm: Oh heck yeah

[] 8:08 pm: I mean the title of the panel- RAYGUNS!

[Sara] 8:08 pm: we don’t really have those

[Sara] 8:08 pm: (ok nowadays sorta)

[Sara] 8:08 pm: but I LOVE made-up tech

[vigorio] 8:09 pm: Is it possible to have mixed-genre stories? Mine has elements of steampunk with vehicles and clothing but is also horror and fantasy.

[Sara] 8:09 pm: Hey, me too! :)

[vigorio] 8:09 pm: Where does it get shelved?

[Sara] 8:09 pm: So, yes, Steampunk is very conducive to cafeteria-style world-building.

[Sara] 8:09 pm: Um, wherever the manager decides.

[Sara] 8:10 pm: mine gets put under fantasy

[Edward] 8:10 pm: We call that cross-genre, slipstream… Not only is it possible, I do it every day. Have a blast.

[vigorio] 8:10 pm: In a pitch, how did you describe its genre?

[Sara] 8:10 pm: because Jacqueline Carey wrote the blurb

[Sara] 8:10 pm: my publisher calls mine “paranormal Steampunk”

[Sara] 8:10 pm: which pretty much says: there’s Steampunk but magic and monsters, too

[Edward] 8:10 pm: cross-genre.

[vigorio] 8:11 pm: exactly. Thanks.

[Jazzyartwriter2] 8:11 pm: You didn’t answer my question about whether it would really have to work, like if I made it in real life. (That’s a stretch. I don’t have a tech bone in my body).

[Sara] 8:11 pm: yes but cross- genre can mean anything, give it a bit more context of which genres.

[Sara] 8:11 pm: You don’t have to make it in real life, it just have to be plausible

[Edward] 8:12 pm: no it doesnt have to work in real life. just suspend disbelief

[Edward] 8:13 pm: it only has to work to the reader while they’re reading

[Jazzyartwriter2] 8:13 pm: Thanks. If and when I come up with something, I’ll have to call on my mechanical friends, correction – mechanical minded friends – to make sure I’ve got it.

[Sara] 8:13 pm: just don’t break the basic laws of physics. ;) I keep my tech pretty basic so I stay out of trouble

[Edward] 8:14 pm: also a good plan, both strategies :)

[Jazzyartwriter2] 8:15 pm: Anybody know of a steampunk group in the Twin Cities in Minnesota?

[Edward] 8:15 pm: google em up

[Sara] 8:15 pm: yeah check out LiveJournal, Facebook, Google, etc. These groups tend to advertise

[Edward] 8:16 pm: yes. because they need more spare parts. desperately. please help. :D

[Jazzyartwriter2] 8:16 pm: LOL

[MeredithHolmes] 8:16 pm: lol, edward! Last last, folks! Any more questions or comments? If not, we’ll wrap up…

[MeredithHolmes] 8:16 pm: Angelia, go for it

[Michele Lee] 8:17 pm: Sorry I missed this one. I thought for somereason it started at 9pm

[AngeliaSparrow] 8:17 pm: I gave this last time. Look at the actual patents of the period. Victorian inventions are weirder than you think

[Sara] 8:17 pm: Oh heavens yes, hilarious, crazy, and actualy patented!

[Sara] 8:17 pm: Proof that the invention doesn’t have to work to patent!

[widdershins] 8:17 pm: Even Leonardo DaVinci had some great steampunk stuff

[AngeliaSparrow] 8:18 pm: Also, Victorian People and Ideas is a great starter book for your research

[Edward] 8:18 pm: O yeah. More fun than bubble-wrap to read some of that stuff. Google “Chuck Shepard”, I think he still has Tons there

[MeredithHolmes] 8:18 pm: My SO just pointed out, if I can interject, looking at ones from the 50’s are a trip, too, and good inspiration. (full disclosure, Malkarris is my SO lol).

[MeredithHolmes] 8:18 pm: Authors, anything else you’d like to add before we wrap up? Blog addresses, etc?

[MeredithHolmes] 8:19 pm: Oh! Aswiebe! go for it.

[asweibe] 8:19 pm: @JazzyArtWriter2 Twin cities has the Steam Century folk:

[Edward] 8:20 pm: DaVinci WAS steampunk. Okay, will close out by thanking moderators, panelists and participants most kindly (doffs opera hat) This was a lot of fun. Cheers to all.

[Sara] 8:20 pm: I blog over on LiveJournal at website is My second book comes out next month from Apex Book Company with a two-fer special if you haven’t read the first one!

[jaleta] 8:20 pm: Thanks, everyone. It’s been fun!

[Sara] 8:21 pm: This was great fun! Thanks everyone!!

[Malkarris] 8:21 pm: Thanks for the answers

[GuyAnthonyDeMarco] 8:21 pm: Thank you for the panel, I enjoyed it.

[AngeliaSparrow] 8:21 pm: Thanks for a good one. Sorry i was late

[Jazzyartwriter2] 8:21 pm: Thanks. This was great.

[widdershins] 8:21 pm: This was a hoot… thanks all

[vigorio] 8:21 pm: I finally understand what Steampunk is and how to use it. Thanks for the discussion. Can’t wait to read some of the suggested books.

[MeredithHolmes] 8:21 pm: Thanks, everyone! This was a great panel. Lots of good questions and answers!

[Edward] 8:22 pm: PS: These panels have been both tougher and more rewarding than any live panel I’ve ever done. Deena, this needs to be yearly \\m//

[Rae ] 8:22 pm: Great panel! I missed some of it but I will be searching for the transcripts.:-)

[vigorio] 8:22 pm: Here. Here!!

[MeredithHolmes] 8:25 pm: Thanks again, authors, for giving your time and expertise!

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