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Write By the Rails Blog Spot- Tee Morris!

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Opening the Brass Nutshell: A Definition of Steampunk

Kristy, in her e-mail correspondence to me during the Endless Possibilities Tour 2014, told me she had never read steampunk, so for my appearance here I thought it wouldn’t be a good thing to introduce everyone to steampunk.

Before we go any further, I think it’s good to let you know that you may know more about steampunk than you realize. It’s been around since the Victorian Age (hence its setting in the 19th century), or more to the point 19th century authors like H.G. Wells and Jules Verne have been grandfathered—great-great-grandfathered, if you want to be precise—into the genre.

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But seriously, what is steampunk?

The term originated in 1987 with a letter to Locus Magazine from author K. W. Jeter. Jeter, author of Morlock Night, a sequel to the H.G. Wells classic The Time Machine. He had been asked to describe the kind of science fiction he, author Tim Powers of The Anubis Gates, and James Blaylock of Homunculus created. As it so happened, another sub genre— cyberpunk—was on the rise in popularity, so Jeter coined the term “steampunk” as it was an interfacing with technology, only from a Victorian perspective.

That sounds pretty heavy, I know, but there are some cinematic and televised works that could easily be considered “steampunk” that pre-date Jeter’s Morlock Night. At the time, though, it was just considered science fiction set in the past. Consider Dick Van Dyke’s Caractacus Potts and his creations in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, or the ingenious contraptions from Artimus Gordon’s laboratory in the television show The Wild, Wild West. And when it comes to the lavish, lush look of steampunk, perhaps one of the best examples is Walt Disney’s realization of the Nautilus in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This visual aesthetic, however, is just a part of steampunk.

Steampunk has evolved beyond a literary sub-genre. It now extends into fashion, engineering, music, and for some, a lifestyle. With the 19th Century as their setting, steampunk projects are a challenge of making something elegant out of random bits and bobs. What others see as junk or scrap parts, steampunk artists transform it into something new and expressive, be it an original creation or a modification of a modern convenience. With so many redefining and reinterpreting the look and feel of steampunk, it’s a question that has surfaced often: Where exactly does the “punk” come into play in steampunk?

Since Pip and I entered the steampunk community, there’s been a debate about the growing commercialism diluting the “punk” aspect of steampunk. An elite few have even been so bold to say “Oh, it’s just tacked on to sound cool. This is just Victorian science fiction we do.”

Umm…no.

Steampunk is far deeper than romantic Victoriana, goggles, and brass fixtures; and it is this diversity that continues to draw Pip and myself back into writing and podcasting in it. The way we see it, the “punk” comes from going against convention, through creativity and declaration of one’s individuality be it through style, gadgets, or attitude, sets one apart. In our own work, the “punk” is embodied in Eliza D. Braun, an agent from the farthest reaches of the Empire where women have the right to vote, where the “natives” co-exist with the “colonials,” and where everyone speaks their mind frankly and honestly, she goes against the standard norms at the home office in London, England. She is paired up with Wellington Thornhill Books, Esquire, a man of the manor born now serving at the Queen’s pleasure. She is everything he is not, and vice versa; and it is their chemistry and unorthodox approach to peculiar occurrences that make them unique within a society based on conformity.

All this, and they’re having a smashing good time while doing it.

We’ve been a gateway for many people into steampunk, and Pip and I are okay with that. It’s been a fantastic ride since 2011 when we first stepped into this world, and now with four awards, one of them a Reader’s Choice Award from The Steampunk Chronicle, we feel that we have made a name for ourselves in the community. That doesn’t mean we haven’t stopped learning about steampunk, or even changed a few opinions we have about the genre. Steampunk is a voyage into science, ambition, and adventure; and we hope you find time to join us in our ride deep into the Past That Never Was.

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Tee Morris has been writing adventures in far-off lands and far-off worlds since elementary school. Inspired by numerous Choose Your Own Adventure titles and Terry Brooks’ Shannara series, he wrote not-so-short short stories of his own, unaware that working on a typewriter when sick-from-school and, later, on a computer (which was a lot quieter…that meant more time to write at night…) would pave a way for his writings.

Tee has now returned to writing fiction with The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, written with his wife, Pip Ballantine. Their first title in the series, Phoenix Rising, won the 2011 Airship Award for Best in Steampunk Literature, while both Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair were finalists in Goodreads Best in Science Fiction of 2011 and 2012. In 2013 Tee and Pip released Ministry Protocol, an original anthology of short stories set in the Ministry universe. Now in 2014, following a Parsec win for their companion podcast, Tales from the Archives, Tee and Pip celebrate the arrival of their third book, Dawn’s Early Light. When Tee is not creating something on his Macintosh, he enjoys a good run, a good swim, and putting together new playlists to write by. His other hobbies include cigars and scotch, which he regards the same way as anime and graphic novels: “I don’t know everything about them, but I know what I like.” (And he likes Avo and Arturo Fuente for his smoke, Highland Park for his scotch!) He enjoys life in Virginia alongside Pip, his daughter, and three cats.

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2 Comments

  1. Not a lot of experience with steampunk, but I’ve liked what I’ve read – intrigued by that time period.
    Teri recently posted…Cover Reveal – The Escapist by Steve PowellMy Profile

  2. Pingback: Write By the Rails Blog Tour Recap!

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