Friday, 17 January 2014

Steam Punk and Speculative Fiction

Steam Punk and Speculative Fiction
Airships, Spaceships and Demon Lovers, with more than a dash of Swords and Sorcery

January’s RNA meeting welcomed an impressive four person industry panel. Liesel Schwarz, Erica Hayes and last year’s winner of the Elizabeth Gouge award, Kate Johnson,  three writers with a thrilling catalogue of Steam Punk and speculative fiction between them: from the darkest of historical and paranormal spook fests, to urban and contemporary, fantasy romance. The fourth person on the panel, Michael Rowley, is current Editorial Director for Sci-Fi and Fantasy at DEL RAY, an imprint of Edbury Publishing.

To begin each panel member introduced themselves to our group of eager RNA members, before some lively questioning began.

Liesel explained Steam Punk to be more of an aesthetic movement than a literary genre. Rooted in the subversion of Victorian fashion, Steam Punk revels in being an alternative reality. Typically featuring highly imaginative steam powered machinery, it's been described as a sort of, ‘Science-Fiction for girls’ or what can happen, “when Goths discover brown.’

Michael confirmed a surge in the success of genre fiction, leading publishers to seek first-rate, high quality concept writing, with an Edwardian, Belle Époque or Victoriana background, particularly when accompanied by an original hook. But its not only the women in corsets kind of Sci-Fi that's desirable, quality writing featuring spaceships is particularly sought after too, with romance not always being the central theme.

Erica mentioned high angst, high emotion, with dark epic, strong erotic paranormal themes are all the rage in USA, with the rise of e-books and digital first publication considerably widening the readers’ opportunity to enter such dangerous, paranormal worlds. But there’s always an appetite for any new style of complicated era romance. Apparently one of  Erica's current themes concerns a zombie lover. Let’s hope the wrong body parts don’t drop off.
Kate pointed out Steam Punk and speculative fiction is escapism. So, as it's a mash up of many ideas and styles, you can make it what you want. And plenty of readers have an appetite for such fiction. Although such writing is popular with all age groups, there’s a ready market with the Harry Potter/Twilight generation who have now moved into adult fiction.

With the growing rise of the nerd and with geekdom apparently becoming the done thing, alternative arts and crossover speculative fiction writing is becoming more popular than ever, but that doesn’t stop it being difficult for an unknown author to break through, no matter how high quality, and high concept their work may be. So if this type of writing is your thing, I wish you my very best luck, you'll need it ... unless you've a touch of weird magic to help you along.

(The illustration is by Leon Benett and is an 1880 illustration for The Steam House, by Jules Verne).