Today we welcome author Jon Heartless, who also writes under the name Barnabas Corbin.
A Cure for Christmas Schmaltz
by Jon Heartless
Congratulations. You’ve made it through Christmas. If you’re anything like me, you might well now be suffering from a festive hangover – not of drink, but sentiment, having been forcibly stuffed to the brim with Christmas schmaltz.
What has this to do with steampunk? Not much. But if you are feeling that you have overdone the Christmas cheer, then don’t worry, for I have the perfect remedy. Rise of the Steampunk Empire. An extremely grim work and, as such, the ideal antidote to the forced jollity of the last month or so. Think of it as a sort of literary indigestion tablet.
Why is the work so grim? Take a bow, Charles Stross. Those with good memories may recall that Stross trampled over the steampunk field some time ago, complaining that the genre was, in effect, a lie, as it didn’t realistically depict the nineteenth century. Although I could never quite grasp the logic of this, given that steampunk is a science fiction/alternate history mashup, the complaint did get me thinking about the undoubted social horrors of the era.
Child labour, colonialism, racism, slavery, the role of women, the poverty and neglect of those at the bottom of the social ladder – these are just some of the issues of the nineteenth century. All these elements began to coalesce until a story had taken root, a story that could examine the above concepts and, more importantly, the attitudes behind them.
This last is vital, as it can be overlooked that many Victorians saw society as being ordained by God, with the ‘proof’ of this divine blessing being the wealth and power of the British nation. Thus, while women were repressed by our standards, many didn’t view it as such because to them it was the natural order of things. How could you be repressed or inferior when you were put in a particular place by God? (Interestingly, I read an article recently which mentioned that some women in Saudi Arabia have much the same attitude today).
The best way of exploring this was to send modern characters back in time, to engineer a cultural clash between two opposing ideologies. Hence the plot of astronauts falling through an anomaly and emerging in the 1830s, where they are appalled at the levels of death, degradation, and inequality, but can make very few people understand their concerns. Concerns which are brushed aside by the autocratic Lord Desbois, who is determined to preserve society – and thus the world – the way God intended it to be…
So, the novel is bleak, upsetting, sometimes a little graphic, but it is also a genuine attempt to grapple with the attitudes of the nineteenth century, as well as hopefully being an absorbing read. And who knows? Maybe it will raise a fleeting smile of approval on Mister Stross’ lips…
Rise of the Steampunk Empire, published under my pen name Barnabas Corbin, is available now at Double Dragon Ebooks and third party sellers such as Kindle, Fictionwise etc.
–Jon Heartless/Barnabas Corbin