Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Steampunk and Mechanized Masterpieces

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 26, 2015

SteampunkLookUpI was both a little early and late to the whole Steampunk concept. I was a fan of “Cyberpunk” back in the late 80s and early 90s (yes, I’m that old), and so I really enjoyed books by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson. When I found out they were collaborating on a non-cyberpunk (or, as some phrased it, an “alternate-history cyberpunk”) book, I was intrigued. So I bought it and read it as soon as it was out on paperback, and found the concept very fascinating, if the execution not quite up to the best by either author.

And – that was kind of it. I told people about the cool idea from the book: the brilliance of imagining that the computer revolution happened a hundred years earlier than it did (a plausible past, actually, as  demonstrated by the London Science Museum actually building Babbage’s Difference Engine #2 using period methods and tolerances).

CastleInTheSkyIn the meantime, “steampunk” gained popularity. I’d also seen several movies and anime shows with a steampunk-ish style (Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky remains one of my all-time favorites). As far as other “steampunk” books, however, I’d been kind of ignorant. I’d read the His Dark Materials series – of which The Golden Compass was by far the best. I liked the steampunk fashion (who wouldn’t?), and the impressive gadgetry. It was just… fun.

Amusingly, the whole steampunk “movement” – fashion, conventions, imagery, etc. – are driven not by any particular shows or books, but kind of gained a life of their own. This is unlike the average science fiction / comic book / anime convention, where the media leads and the fans are fans of particular books / manga / shows. In Steampunk, the fans lead, and the media follows.

For me, however – blame it on programming at an early age – I still look to the media, especially books, for a foundation. So when I was dragged by my family – mainly my daughters – to a steampunk festival, and I found myself truly enjoying the experience, I sought out books to broaden my understanding of the genre. I mean, sure, if you really want to know more about it, you just hang out at these gatherings, but they are rare. Books can sit on the dresser for a fun read at any time.

So I attended panels on steampunk literature (which universally included The Difference Engine as one of the early works), and visited the dealers for some good reading material. One of the first books I read was a collection of short stories based on classic literature. It was called Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk Anthology. And, as it turned out, one of the authors were locals – and a couple more were visiting the Steampunk festival the year I picked it up.

Mechanized Masterpieces was part of my introduction to “modern” steampunk stories. Maybe it was a better introduction than I realized, because it was pretty wild seeing authors having fun and re-envisioning classic stories with a steampunk twist. There were a couple of stories based on Dicken’s A Christmas Carol – one a direct “what really happened” invention, and another about peripheral characters. There was a lovely prequel to Jayne Eyre involving airships and voodoo and Mr. Rochester. A wild story of cyborgs and privateers in “Sense and Cyborgs” based on the youngest sister Margaret from Sense and Sensibility. A mysterious secret about Victor Frankenstein’s wife in “Lavenza, or the Modern Galatea.” The tales ran the gamut from wild adventure to mystery, even tragedy.

I half-jokingly called it a book of steampunk fan-fic for classic literature. But I think that left a little bit of an impression on me. While steampunk can be dark, even tragic, it’s also very free and fun. You should have fun with it. It is what you make of it, taking place in an alternate history that’s recent enough for it to feel familiar, but far enough behind us (and with enough weird, fantastic elements) that it’s not clearly remembered.

And so, as I began writing steampunk, I was pretty happy to be accepted in an anthology by the same publisher – Terra Mechanica: A Steampunk Anthology. I loved writing in the genre. It had some elements of science fiction, elements of fantasy, yet was also kind of fresh and new. It was a great experience.

MMII imageBut in a lot of ways, it felt like even more of an accomplishment to have been accepted in the sequel to my modern introduction to the genre – Mechanized Masterpieces 2: An American Anthology. It is an anthology of steampunk stories inspired by classic American literature. Since that first book inspired me and helped me get so enthusiastic about the genre, it’s an honor to be included in the second.

As before, the stories run the gamut of style and sources of inspiration. I hope that it will prove to be as good an introduction to steampunk to others as the first one was for me. My own story is based on Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I took what I thought was a different approach to the story than is usual, even discounting the steampunk elements.

Another story that surprised me was A Princess of Jassom. I read A Princess of Mars only a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. I was super-excited to find that one of the stories in the anthology was inspired by this series. It’s another wild adventure story in a similar vein, and in that same universe (and same family), but the action is decidedly more terrestrial.

There’s plenty more there. It all goes on sale on Saturday on Amazon and other sites, and is currently available for pre-order. Also, we’ve got a big Facebook-based release party going on that evening – you can get the details here, if you are so inclined. There will be prizes!!!

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