I twisted the wrench, securing the new equipment in place. The gauges and dials all read in the green. The ridiculous machine that shouldn’t have even been possible was working perfectly.
Another Lolita–I didn’t know her name, to me she has always been “the annoying one”–stepped up and frowned, tapping the instrument. “This isn’t right.”
A heavy sigh escaped me before I could stop it, but once it was out I felt better and vowed not to stifle my exasperation again. “The captain told me to make it work, and it works.”
“But it’s not right,” the annoying one insisted, tapping it again. “Anyone who knows engines will question not only its purpose but its effectiveness and–”
Calmly, I wrapped my fingers around her wrist and pulled her hand away from my invention. I might have applied a bit more pressure than necessary, but I was done playing nice with her. “And anyone who knows this ship will see that it works and, at the end of the day, that is what the captain wants. Why don’t you go about your business and do your job. I’m sure you will perform it exactly right.”
Scowling, she spun on her heel and stalked out of my engine room.
Before the door hit her skinny backside, I muttered, “I’m sure you’ll remember where to find me when you break something else.”
When writing steampunk (or any fiction for that matter), there is an issue of terminology. Often there is a proper term and a common term that an author has to decide between. When writing non-fiction, of course one should err on the side of the “correct” word. But, with fiction, an author isn’t necessarily dealing with an expert. Not everyone who enjoys science fiction is a rocket scientist (or even understands any math beyond–hopefully at a minimum–some basic algebra). Not everyone who reads historical fiction is necessarily an expert in that era or even a history buff at all. Most people who are drawn to fiction are drawn to the story. Therefore, when choosing terminology, it’s often in an author’s best interest to select things that are recognizable to a general audience.
Take, for example, Clockwork Mafia. The history of organized crime in the United States traces back to Italy and Sicily where “The Black Hand” operated. It was essentially an extortion racket wherein the group would offer “protection” for a fee. This is similar to what most people know of the early mob in America. The name traveled with the “business.” The term mafia came into use in the late nineteenth century and was used in the US, but didn’t become popular until prohibition.
Now, in the world of the Badlands, history has been tweaked. To that end, when organized crime came into the story, I had no problem whatsoever with using the word mafia. (My editor did cut “mob,” but I was okay with that.) I honestly would have argued had it been suggested that I change “mafia” to “The Black Hand.” Granted, the latter has this dramatic flair that speaks of dark evil and all sorts of foul deeds, but to the average non-history-buff, the term would have been meaningless. Everyone knows what the mafia is, and since these are steampunk romances we’re talking about the focus is supposed to be on the couple.
Anyone who knows my work knows that I aim for balance but, at the end of the day, I could either slow down the pacing of the book to explain to the average reader what The Black Hand was, or I could let the word mafia speak for itself. I chose the latter because it works and serves the purpose.
And, considering the word was used often in print by 1891 in the states, it’s actually not wrong either.