Friday, November 11, 2011

GUEST BLOG: Steve Harper on Writing Steampunk

THE SPEED OF STEAM, by Steve Harper

A couple weeks ago on a Friday afternoon, a file landed in my email. Big one. It was the copyedited manuscript for THE IMPOSSIBLE CUBE, the sequel to THE DOOMSDAY VAULT (which is now on sale and has mad scientists and zombies in it). Could I go through the manuscript and pop it back within ten days?


A number of writing blogs have already commented on the speed of writing these days, how just a few years ago, I would have received a big pile of paper in the mail with red marks all over it, and after I went though it, I would have had to make a trip to the post office. Now I read and upload a file, yada yada yada.

I just want to add that it feels wrong.  For steampunk, I mean.

See, I think part of steampunk's appeal is the way it slows us down. Steampunk puts us in a world before telephones and jet planes. When communicating with someone on the other side of town meant dashing off a postcard. When newspapers lived by the telegraph wire. When international travelers went by train or ship or even dirigible, and going around the world took eighty days instead of eighty hours. When a new advancement in processing speed meant the Royal Mail had worked out a more efficient sorting system. Our world goes so fast, it's nice to take a break in a place in which everything goes a little slower.

As a result, it feels like all steampunk should be written at a rolltop desk on a big, clunky typewriter with a sticky H and a crooked M while a Victrola plays scratchy music in the background.  Manuscripts should be bundled into boxes tied with brown string.  Letters to one's editor should be scribbled with a fountain pen and dropped into the afternoon post.

And yet, I flip words into a 2-terrabyte computer with dual-core processor hooked up to the Internet via high-speed DSL cable modem while four speakers croon a mix by Danny Elfman, and I toss letters to my editor into the aether of the Internet  It makes me feel out of sorts and wrong.

Not wrong enough to make write the long way, mind. Anachronism does have its limits.

But I'm a writer with a good imagination. So when I write steampunk, in my head my computer becomes a typewriter and my contact lenses become spectacles. My sweatshirt becomes a tweed jacket and my study with central heat becomes a drafty garret. My dog and my pot of tea become . . .

Well. I suppose not everything has to change.

Steven Harper usually lives at . His steampunk novel THE DOOMSDAY VAULT, first in the Clockwork Empire series, hits the stores in print and electronic format November 1.

1 comment:

  1. ... certainly not the tea! Steampunk would not exist without the Victorian penchant for tea!

    I wonder though ... not even technology as varied as that depicted in classic steampunk could remain static. What would the state of the technology in that alternate universe be like by, say the year 2011?