Sunday, 25 September 2016

The Wolves Of War Cover

Hi Guys,

Just a short post this time. The Wolves of War is with my editor at present, so I started on the cover and blurb stage. Unfortunately two previous attempts at using photos fell through as each time I found a photo I liked a check of the sites revealed that the owners had no idea who actually took the pictures, and I'm not game to use a photo without the permission of the owner. So in the end I did some shopping and bought a cover. I was going for something slightly fantastic as Wolves is an epic fantasy, and also a little on the scary side but trying to avoid the entire werewolf side, as the book isn't that. 

Let me know what you think.

Cheers, Greg.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Steam-Punk or Not?

Hi guys,




Having just sent my first draft of The Wolves Of War down to my editor earlier this week I had a little time to do some online browsing etc and I found myself intrigued by some of what I read. In particular one forum poster asked me a question the other day that stuck with me, and I thought I'd share my answer with you. He asked me what the boundaries of steam-punk are? When something is steam-punk and when it isn't.

That stuck with me because while I have written some books that I consider as containing elements of steam-punk in them – most notably of course The Arcanist and the upcoming Wolves of War {which I've posted a mock up of the possible cover to above}, I don't consider that I'm a true steam-punk writer. I'm a fantasy and science fiction writer and both of the books I've mentioned are epic fantasy.

So what's the difference? Is steam-punk a sub-genre of fantasy? Or of science fiction? Or is it a genre in its own right?

For me it's a genre simply because steam-punk can't really be fantasy if it's portrayed as possible. And it can't be science fiction if the science is essentially impossible. {I know, there are many science fiction books where you know the science can't possibly be possible – ever. Most of them are that simply because they are dated and science has now told us the truth. But all science fiction books hold out as their basis that single question – what if?} Steam-punk straddles this divide between science fiction and fantasy that makes it quite distinct. On the one hand it doesn't allow for the fantastical and mythical. There are no elves and dwarves. It tries hard to say to the reader – this is real science. But on the other hand the science it uses is completely mythical and can't be anything else.

As a genre steam-punk has two chief features that separate it from others. The first is of course the amazing, improbable if not impossible technology. And the second is of course the era. Traditionally steam-punk would slip somewhere into the Victorian era and the underlying basis of the technology would stem from them. So you would have of course steam power, the beginnings of electricity and magnetism, herbalism rebranded as alchemy or the art of the apothecary and so forth. This is in essence a romanticised vision of the outlook of a Victorian gentleman or woman, discovering these new technologies all around him and thinking the secrets of the universe are just around the corner.

To explain this perhaps a little more clearly, think of the classic Frankenstein. You can just imagine Shelley and Byron and the others sitting around in their parlours after dinner discussing the wonders of this new technological age, and in particular the experiments of Galvani as he made a frog's leg twitch with the application of electricity. And you can see the logical extension of this in their minds as they considered that he'd discovered the essence of life. And in fact there is a story {probably just a story} that Percey Shelley tried to reanimate the body of his first wife this way. From there it was a short step to the age old riddles of resurrection which was suddenly possible through electricity and alchemy. Only now it was reanimation via science, and then of course there were the inevitable consequences of playing God.

So from today's perspective, knowing that this sort of reanimation is impossible, that life and electricity aren't the same thing, that alchemy doesn't work, we can see this as an early example of steam-punk. Though of course when it was written it wasn't. It was a straight up science fiction / horror novel. Taking the knowledge of the time and extending it and then saying – what if? Which in itself raises an interesting question. In a hundred years time will the science fiction we write become the steam-punk of their age? Will our descendants laugh at our simplistic and unrealistic ideas and yet write books based on the dreams we have given our technology?

But getting back to the topic, this then is the heart of steam-punk. Putting ourselves back in the past, to an age that we can romanticise, and then taking the technological dreams and wonders of those times and fashioning them into a story. It is more complicated and confused than that of course, as there are a thousand different variations on the theme. And of course there are derivatives like diesel-punk, gunpowder-punk and maybe cyberpunk {I'm really in two minds about this genre as it's been around for so long and speaks less about the technology in my view and more about the nature of the human condition.}

The next question is when does a story go from being one in which there are steam-punk elements to a true steam-punk story? To me that's when the steam-punk technology goes from being mostly part of the world build to an actual plot element. This is why Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is not a full blown steam-punk novel in my view but rather a fantasy with steam-punk elements. Because while the story contains the elements of steam-punk – specifically the impossible technology, the mad inventor Professor Caractacus Potts {i.e. Crackpot} and indeed the car itself is practically a character in the work, it's not the basis of the plot. And in truth it's accepted in the story that what the car can do is not actually possible.

By contrast Wild Wild West for those who've seen the movie, is steam-punk in my view. The technology, though we know from sitting in our twenty first century homes that it's complete balderdash, is not just set out as completely feasible and justified by various ludicrous theories, it is part of the plot. It's what allows the villain to dream of taking over the country, and what makes the hero capable of catching him. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for all its wonder, is just a vehicle {pun intended!}

So this leads us to the other half of the question. When does a steam-punk story, leave the realm of steam-punk? Because there are plenty of stories out there where steam-punk is not just part of the world build but also a key plot element, but which are still not steam-punk.

To me there are two main reasons why a steam-punk work leaves the realm. The first is magic. And by this I don't just mean the existence of magic in the world build as a legitimate force of nature though this is part of it. I mean the acceptance either tacitly accepted or specifically mentioned, that the technology is itself magic. This is why for example The Arcanist is not a steam-punk novel.

To explain this consider Herbie – the spiritual successor I would guess to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The technological wonder of a car that does impossible things. Herbie could never be steam-punk, because it's accepted that what the car does is impossible. And the explanations given are that the car was simply built better or has a big heart. In doing so the story immediately gives away any pretence that Herbie is possible based on the technology of the time.

Then contrast Herbie with the Nautilus from Verne's Twenty Thousand leagues. The submarine even though we know it could not be built from our twenty first century knowledge, is based on the extension of what was believed to be known of science at the time. Even though the author did not have the knowledge to explain it exactly, its conception is completely in keeping with the beliefs in technology of the time. Thus Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is either tacitly accepted as living or magical in some way, Herbie is “alive” and the Nautilus is a technological wonder rooted in the imagined science of the age. It is only a wonder in that it is so advanced.

The other thing that ironically enough may take a story out of the genre of steam-punk is industrialisation. Mass production. Now here I'm not saying that the story can't take place in a world where the industrial revolution has happened. Obviously it can and in fact in Wolves it does. But the key feature is that that industrialisation cannot apply to the chief inventions themselves.

Consider the Nautilus again. It is a technological wonder because it's so advanced and nothing like it has ever been built before. But if mass production applies to it and there are suddenly others like it – it's no longer a wonder. It's just a sub and Twenty Thousand Leagues is just an adventure story set on a submarine. Think of Frankenstein. If the exact nature of reanimation is known and there are others around who have been reanimated through technology, then Adam is no longer a one of the kind tortured soul / monster looking for the acceptance of a father. He's just a reanimated man and it's a simple family drama.

The fact is that these technological wonders must be wonders even if they are rooted in the science of the world build. They must be one of a kind, extraordinary things – usually created by mad scientists in private labs or workshops – that go far beyond anything the rest of their fictional world can conceive of. They cannot be mundane.

So for example in The Wolves of War my villain who is the technologist of the piece, has a pistol that fires bombs, a bracelet that shoots lightning, and a miniature steam wagon that can drive through a forest. Things that make him a formidable and deadly enemy. And things which the rest of the characters have never before encountered and have to deal with.

Anyway guys, that's my take on steam-punk. You will all no doubt have your own thoughts.

Cheers, Greg.