Archive for July, 2011

Happy Friday everyone,

Here’s is your steampunk gadget for today:


an instrument for measuring gamma rays emitted by a radioactive body.


Stay Steamin’
Lolita Marie-Claude 🙂
Marie-Claude is not here much these days because when she is not being a Steamed Lolita and writing Steampunk fiction, she is Dr. Bourque, a Physicist, Meteorologist and Oceanographer who is currently very busy working on a Master in Teaching High School Sciences at the University of Washington.

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Jay Kristoff is an author, professional tall-scary person and is frequently mistaken for Dave Grohl in smoky, dimly lit pubs. His steampunk novel STORMDANCER sold at auction, and will be published in Spring 2012 through St Martin’s Press and Tor UK as the first part of a trilogy. He blogs here, and reduces the signal to noise ratio of the internet here.

Japanese Steampunk

by Jay Kristoff

Presuming I’m surrounded by an audience who’s nerd-quotient is sitting comfortably above baseline, this is my reply to that dreaded question “So what’s your book about?” So when the lovely folks at Steamed agreed to let me loose on their readership, I proposed to write a post about the same topic, because honestly, I feel like the God of Clumsy Online Promotion murders a kitten every time I come out and overtly plug my novel.

The origins of what we know as Steampunk lie in the fictions of the Victorian Age, and the minds of writers like HG Wells and Jules Verne. Awesome, Jay. Tell us something we don’t know.

OK. So around the same time Verne was laying the foundations for SP, across the other side of the world in Japan, the Tokugawa Shogunate was closing up shop faster than your average Borders outlet. A country that had remained isolated from the west opened itself to foreign trade and influence (ie, control), resulting in a rapid industrial expansion. And while Japanese writers and artists remained heavily influenced by classicism and weren’t to climb aboard the SF/F train for decades, it’s not hard to imagine a world where the Scientific Romances of Verne and Co could’ve been coupled with a Japanese aesthetic.

Certainly there’s anime that might be considered Steampunk: Last Exile, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, Castle in the Sky, Steamboy, etc, but not many of these settings are even remotely Japanese, despite being penned by Japanese creators. And note that I’m not talking about so-called ‘Victorientalism’ (excellent essay about it here) or the Japanese annexation of Victorian fashion. I’m talking about telling poor Victoriana that we need to see other people, and seeding anachronistic technology into a historical setting that is distinctly Japanese.

Clockwork samurai. Chainsaw katana. Sky-ships sailing across a rising sun – Steampunk in Japan.

How would a traditionalist Shogunate evolve in a tech-heavy environment? How would philosophy and religion be impacted? How would the feudal caste system develop under a tech-empowered nobility? What would power the technology? What toll would it wreak on environment? And most importantly, would there be ninja, and exactly how much would they flip out?

For some indication of where I ended up, check out the art of Greg Broadmore and the fabulously talented Mr James Ng, who’s ‘Imperial Steamworks’ series sums up the aesthetic of my novel exactly.

Up to this point in its evolution, the vast bulk of Steampunk fiction is set in Victorian England or colonial America. But as artists, writers and creators, I feel it’s our duty to challenge tropes and expectations. Exploring the notion of Japanese SP coupled with traditional fantasy is enormously fun, and I hope as time goes on, more and more folks open themselves up to possibilities like it.

Fiction should never be limited by geography – it’s only limit is our imagination.

Six kittens were slain by the God of Clumsy Online Promotion during the making of this blog post.

~Jay Kristoff


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Got swag?  I’m running a contest over at my other blog.

Now, back to today’s post.


All the cool kids seem to be doing it.  It’s a grass-roots project incubator allowing the average person to seek investors for projects.  Investors usually get some sort of limited edition goodies for contributing towards the project’s goal.

There’s some neat steampunk projects going on right now. This is just a sampling…

Steampunk: History Beyond Imagination is a museum exhibit slated to open in October at Muzeo in Anaheim, CA,

The exhibit will introduce visitors to an era in which science and industry were combined to launch mankind into the 20th Century (and beyond) – to become a world where ordinary human beings could do the impossible. Historical pioneers like Charles Babbage and prominent personalities like Nikola Tesla will also be revealed for their contributions to the development of incredible technological advances.


The League of S.T.E.A.M is seeking funding for Season II of their webasode series.

We will spend the money to purchase essential equipment to meet the various production needs we will face throughout the season, as well as provide opportunities for us to film in new and exciting locations for our audience to enjoy. We will create new equipment to help us tell our thrilling stories, and because of our team’s history of making functional props, we can guarantee you’ll be able to see this equipment in person at our live show ventures.


Ever wanted an intergalactic transporter?

Chico Urban Artists Collective (CUAC) is building a 28 foot steampunk-style spaceship that we’re calling the Intergalactic Transporter (Mutant Vehicle) using a retired 1981 firetruck as the platform vehicle. The upper deck will be a dance floor, lower deck will be a chill space to hang out, and the exterior will provide additional seating and bike parking. It will be an interactive participatory conceptual art experience.


A Victorian Knitting Primer

The Ladies of Mischief is a collective of talented ladies who want to take the knitting and steampunk world by storm, combining the two genres into one amazing work of fantastic imagery, story telling, and creative artistry.

We have started up a blog filled with exclusive patterns, stories, journal entries, photographs and more. Please stop by to read up on each of the Ladies and follow all of their adventures.


There’s also a Pipe Organ Backpack!

I plan to make a light-weight, fully functional, small-scale WEARABLE pipe organ! I have a passion for strange instruments and I hope to create one of my own. My ultimate goal is to not only create this instrument, but to also document and share instructions on its design so that others can build them in the future. At the end of the project, I will post the instructions online for free.


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Happy Friday everyone,

Here’s is your steampunk gadget for today:


an instrument to determine direction and distance of a fog-horn.

Stay Steamin’
Lolita Marie-Claude 🙂
Marie-Claude is not here much these days because when she is not being a Steamed Lolita and writing Steampunk fiction, she is Dr. Bourque, a Physicist, Meteorologist and Oceanographer who is currently very busy working on a Master in Teaching High School Sciences at the University of Washington.

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 Leslie Dicken has spent years writing, even longer reading, and now she balances it all with work, a family, a feline huntress, and a chunky beagle. She writes stories with history or science or fantasy (maybe even all three at once), but they all have one thing in common love and a happy ending. She hopes you enjoy her stories and she’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to check out her website www.lesliedicken.com, contact her at leslie@lesliedicken.com, follow her on Twitter or friend her on Facebook!

Why I Write Steampunk

by Leslie Dicken

Steampunk seems to be all the rage lately, but I started thinking about back at the RWA National Conference in Washington, DC in 2009. My good friend and critique partner, Lisa Paitz Spindler, explained how the genre was a mash-up of science, technology, and history. As both a science fiction aficionado and a historical writer, this combination intrigued me. I went home from that conference and started reading what romance steampunks were out — and at that time, there weren’t many. But I found enough to convince me to give the genre a try.

Much of the current steampunk stories have a paranormal or fantasy element in them: vampires or fairies or werewolves. I didn’t want to go that route, but I wanted a high concept storyline to pull my readers in. What better to highlight the darker regions of Victorian London than Jack-the-Ripper? Although my story doesn’t follow the actual case of that infamous killer, I do have an alleyway killer on the loose. My hero knows far more than he’s willing to let on about that killer and my heroine has a very personal stake in seeing that he’s caught.

But what about the steampunk? Well, there is a dirigible in the story (including a love scene on it!) and my main characters each have their own personal “flying machines.” However, the elements that tie the strongest to the storyline relate to my hero, who is an inventor of automatons. And let’s just say that he has also tried to combine automaton parts with living human flesh. This photo I found is a perfect replica of what my hero used to replace his brother’s arm with.

I find steampunk fascinating (although seemingly difficult to explain) because of its innate combination of science and history…and its ability to open itself up to other subgenre elements. I guarantee there are no two steampunk stories exactly alike!

My first steampunk, THE IRON HEART, will be out from Samhain Publishing in February 2012.

~ Leslie Dicken


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This weekend I crept out of the editing bunker so the hubby (who is a great photographer) could take my author photos.

My mauve outfit I often wear doesn’t photograph well, and I obsessed and obsessed over what to wear. I finally decided to wear a black outfit that I’ve pieced together (from some rather odd places) minus the green bustle. I detail the outfit here in case you’re interested in where everything came from.

This necklace is from my book and it was really excited to have it made. I got it custom from StormTheCastle, which has such pretty stuff. I wore this in my pictures, too.

It was fun to dress up in steampunk gear on a Saturday and go out in public. We went to a park first. The hubby snapped this picture as I was messing around. The skirt is really full, like a flamenco dancer’s. It didn’t make the cut of pictures to send my editor, but I like it an awful lot.

I also really like this one, though it’s more a pic for my website then for my book. Yes, I know, I have the goggles all wrong. I still haven’t found goggles I like in my price range.

This one is okay, but it shows off the necklace better than the others.

Next we went to another park, which required us walking close to half a mile up a dirt trail. It was a good thing I wore the practical boots and not the cute boots.

I also had to climb a tree. But this was my choice. I love this oak tree and have always wanted my author photos taken there. Also oak trees play a role in my book. Climbing trees in steampunk gear is hard and I fell off once…but it’s not a very high tree, and I was just fine.

This one is the hubby’s favorite because you can see I’m in a tree.

But this one if my favorite and the one I hope they use.

Do you have a favorite?

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Happy Friday everyone,

Here’s is your steampunk gadget for today:


an instrument for measuring magnetic declination

Stay Steamin’
Lolita Marie-Claude 🙂
Marie-Claude is not here much these days because when she is not being a Steamed Lolita and writing Steampunk fiction, she is Dr. Bourque, a Physicist, Meteorologist and Oceanographer who is currently very busy working on a Master in Teaching High School Sciences at the University of Washington.

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Today we welcome Mike Perschon, also known as the Steampunk Scholar. 

Mike Perschon is a hypercreative scholar, musician, writer, and artist, husband to Jenica, father to Gunnar and Dacy, doctoral student at the University of Alberta, and English faculty at Grant MacEwan University.  He runs the blog The Steampunk Scholar

Advocating for Aesthetic 

By Mike Perschon

At my most pedantic, I refuse to think of steampunk as a genre. When I’m sitting with folks having drinks at a con, I let the term slide, since it’s abused so much in North American parlance. Whenever someone refers to genre and fashion in the same sentence, I cringe. However, beyond all my academic proclivities, I champion the understanding of steampunk of an aesthetic, not a genre, for reasons related to playing nice in the online sandbox.

To understand steampunk as a genre is to invite the tyranny of subjectivity. Look at online forum discussions on steampunk literature to see what I mean: someone joins the discussion to say they’re reading Gail Carriger’s Soulless, only to be told that isn’t real steampunk, but paranormal romance in the Victorian era. Or someone bemoans Jay Lake’s use of “magic” in the last half of Mainspring. Often, the definition of steampunk literature is tied directly to someone’s personal likes and dislikes. Those who have mistakenly assumed steampunk is science fiction are nonplussed by secondary worlds and fantasy elements; those who simply want romanticism and high adventure eschew the serious-minded, perhaps heavy handed rigors of solid alternate history; one person says Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes was certainly steampunk: another says absolutely not. Digging further, we find a number of arbitrary standards have been assigned to the moniker of steampunk, further clouding the difficulty of defining an already troublesome compound word.

Some make appeals to etymology, trying to explain the term via steam and punk, respectively. “Steam” implies the industrial revolution and the nineteenth century. “Punk” means oppositional politics, or avant-garde styles. Articles abound advocating for more steam, or more punk. Some say if you don’t have steam, you don’t have steampunk, eliminating over half the literature on my shelf in one fell swoop, including a number of seminal works such as Tim Powers’ Anubis Gates. I’ve offhandedly said that there are very few steampunk works that use steam power: usually, we see aether, phlogiston, cavorite, or some other fictional substance that will let the writer/artist/creator really take their flight of fancy where they wish. Few steampunk writers have chosen to be constrained by the limitations of steam technology. More often, we see the argument that if there’s no punk, if it isn’t opposing Empire, it can’t be steampunk. Out the window goes K.W. Jeter’s Morlock Night, along with James Blaylock’s The Adventures of Langdon St. Ives, along with any number of recent steampunk works. The argument goes that any book not engaged in postcolonial criticism of the British Empire isn’t true steampunk. I played around with etymological approaches early in my research, and abandoned them in the first few months. The term is a joke that gained cultural commodity. It’s here to stay, but it’s ultimately pretty meaningless. More power to all of you who want more steam (historical accuracy) or punk (socio-political critique), but it doesn’t need to be there for the work to be steampunk.

After reading fifty steampunk novels, seminal and contemporary alike, attending a number of steampunk conventions both at home in Canada and south of the border in the States, watching steampunk films, reading steampunk comics, and perusing countless steampunk artworks online, I concluded there are three elements present in works labeled steampunk. The first is technofantasy, which simply put, is technology that appears scientific, but is never explained using the physical sciences. Even when steam or electricity is the motive power of steampunk technology, there is rarely a Vernian attention to how this would actually work. There are only a handful of books labeled steampunk that take the time to think through how their technology would work. Most often, it just does. When there is an explanation, there is a change in the way the physical universe operates. Mark Hodder does a fantastic job of explaining this in a self-aware fashion in The Case of the Clockwork Man:  “Prognostication, cheiromancy, spiritualism—these things are spoken of in the other history, but they do not work there…” to which Burton adds, “there is one thing we can be certain of: changing time cannot possible alter natural laws” (57). Nevertheless, steampunk regularly violates natural laws, but under the guise of technology, and is therefore mistaken as a form of pure science fiction, when it might be better to understand steampunk as science fantasy.

The second element is neo-Victorianism, which I use to indicate steampunk’s evocation, but not accurate re-creation of the nineteenth century. Only the most exclusive aficionado of steampunk would demand steampunk occur in nineteenth century Victorian London. Instead, steampunk is the suggestion of this period, but not necessarily place or even time. Steampunk can occur in any time, and any locale (in this world or a secondary one, such as in Stephen Hunt’s The Court of the Air and its sequels), but it repeatedly suggests the nineteenth century and early twentieth century to us in one way or another. Another way of saying this would be Industrial Era, but I think that places too much focus on technology, whereas neo-Victorian can be inclusive of the fashion, customs, architecture, and technology of this period.

The third element is retrofuturism, which is to imagine how the past saw the future. This is closely aligned to neo-Victorianism, but takes on its own unique form, sometimes independent of the neo-Victorianism. While retrofuturism is often mistakenly understood as actual prognostication from the nineteenth century, as in the works of Jules Verne, a study of what nineteenth century people hoped for in their own speculative fiction produces the conclusion it was anything but what we’re seeing in steampunk. Speculative writers of the nineteenth century looked ahead to the end of steam, the rise of electricity, and perhaps more salient to the steampunk aesthetic, the loss of the corset in women’s fashion. Retrofuturism can be understood as how we imagine what the past hoped for in their future. It’s what we often refer to as the anachronism in steampunk, though this is often a misnomer in steampunk literature: after all, what is anachronistic about a secondary world’s inclusion of these advanced technologies in a quasi-Victorian society? That isn’t our world, so there’s nothing inherently anachronistic about such technology, save by the comparison to our world. Even most steampunk that takes place in “our” world lacks anachronism: the use of steampunk elements in Jay Lake’s Mainspring Earth isn’t anachronism: it belongs there. That’s why Mark Hodder’s novels are so brilliant – the characters understand their world is wrong. Things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be. That’s anachronism. But the airship Leviathan in Scott Westerfeld’s young adult series isn’t so much anachronism as part of the alternate world he’s created. Recently, I’ve been far more interested in how steampunk plays with retrofuturism in the socio-political sense, as in the novels of Cherie Priest and Gail Carriger, where we see the “New Woman” mentioned in Bram Stoker’s Dracula fully realized in the characters of Maria Isabella Boyd and Alexia Tarabotti. Again, I’m looking to balance the conflation of steampunk with technology. Obviously, it needs to be there, but it doesn’t need to be the focus of the narrative.

This last year has really shown the advantage of taking such an approach. I don’t have to label a book entirely steampunk or not. Rather, I can discuss how much of each aspect it uses, and what it does with those aspects. I don’t have to get into a fight about whether Firefly is steampunk. I just ask how much of the aesthetic it utilizes, and in what way it does so. If all three are present, it’s clearly the steampunk aesthetic. If we’re missing one entirely, we may not be dealing with steampunk per se: perhaps it really is just neo-Victorian fantasy, as in the case of Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Or maybe it’s just retrofuturist technofantasy, as in Alex Proyas’ Dark City (pulp era, not neo-Victorian). Is Harry Potter steampunk? No, but aspects of the steampunk aesthetic were employed by the design folks involved in the post-Chris Columbus films.

Further, the aesthetic approach can be applied to literature, film, music, fashion, and art. It enables a way of discussing steampunk without being elitist-exclusive or needlessly inclusive. This bothers some: they don’t want their steampunk to be an empty aesthetic. From my perspective, the steampunk glass isn’t half-full or half-empty: it’s empty, awaiting the artist to fill it with something. Want your steampunk to have more punk? Fill the aesthetic with your activism. Want your steampunk to have more steam? Make your aesthetic accurate. Just looking for a good time? Then add some absinthe to your aesthetic, and let loose the airships of war, or exploration, and head for the horizon. Genres are for publishers. Aesthetics are for artists.

–Mike Perschon


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Steampunk Summer!

I’m sure there are parts of the northern hemisphere that have been enjoying summer and all it’s splendor for months now, but in true Pacific Northwest fashion, summer doesn’t ever seem to show up around here until after the Fourth of July. The wonderful thing is, when she does arrive, she arrives in the most splendid gowns of gold and green, piercing blue and accompanied by enough fruit to make any hat that Gail Carriger’s Ivy Hisslepenny could devise amply covered. So what exactly did Victorian’s do to while away the dog days of summer? Lots! (Even in bustles and corsets…) In fact many of our most favorite activities today gained their popularity during the Victorian era.

Bicycling Anyone?

 The Victorian era brought us the popularity of Bicycling as a pastime. And while the first bicycles were really introduced right before Victoria’s reign, it took until the 1880s for it to become a fad that swept both Europe and the United States. Part of the reason was that it took several decades for fashions to catch up so that women as well as men could ride the contraptions.

Long, voluminous skirts could far too easily spell disaster by catching in the bicycle chain, so shorter, split skirts were introduced (that looked appropriate when one stood, but divided down the center like to enormous pant legs when seated on the bicycle).

Further complications arose when the larger wheeled bicycle was introduced in the late 1880s. One had to “hop up” to the small seat and the elevated position left no doubt it wasn’t fit for a woman to ride (as it would give ample view up her skirts!). For the extreme sports enthusiast, a woman might be so daring as to done a bloomer bicycling costume, which (gasp and horror) approximated a pair of loose pants usually gathered at the knee and accompanied by long stockings.

If you intend to steampunk your bicycle, may I suggest that you have extra brass polish on hand, and perhaps goggles if you intend to supplement pedal power with a small steam engine to drive your chain?

Image courtesy Library of Congress LC-DIGggbain-01347

Swimming at the Shore

Water was always a popular attraction when the weather got warmer. The Victorian’s loved taking in the shore. The cut of the bathing suit may have varied slightly from year to year, but the basics remained the same: a shorter-skirted and sleeved dress, accompanied by bloomers and stockings (and often laced up slippers!). While many a fashion magazine advocated for a lower necked, open collar bathing suit, women were concerned that an obvious line of tanned skin might result and show when they wore their evening gowns, so they opted instead for high necked gowns where they could disguise their unwanted tan-line from their bathing costume with a bit of black ribbon tied about the throat.

Popular fabrics included silks, taffetas (often in black or darker colors) and wool. Given the volume of fabric you can easily see how heavy it would get to swim so most shore side activity was limited to jumping waves or holding on to a rope attached to a pole that would allow the beach-frolicker to maintain their upright position even in hip deep waves.

For steampunk bathing beauties, don’t forget the details. Cogs and metal bits might corrode in salt water, staining your bathing costume. Instead opt for ribbons and flounces when you can, broad stripes and colors when you can’t.


While racquet sports had been popular for centuries among the nobility and royals, in the 1870s and 1880s the Industrial Revolution gave average Victorians ample opportunity for leisure time and the sport of kings became the popular sport of the people. In 1874 Major Walter C. Wingfield registered his patent in London for the equipment and rules of an outdoor lawn tennis, which is considered the original version of what we consider the game of Tennis. Lawn Tennis was played by both men and women, usually in the same clothing they would use to promenade about in the park, which meant women were often at a sports disadvantage in their bustled skirts and well-trimmed hats. Rackets were wooden, strung with either gut or string. And refreshments at such events would have included the fresh strawberries of the season covered in cream.

For those who wish to have a steampunk Tennis match, may I advise you leave your self-levitating or flying tennis balls at home. They can make a ruin of one’s racket.


And, of course, what would steampunk summer be without a picnic or two?  Picnics as we know them were really became popular during the Victorian era. The idea of letting down one’s stiff manner at the formal dinner to eat out of doors for fun was a contrast to the highly dictated manner of most social meals.  (Not to say there wasn’t ettiquette! One was still expected to dine with dignity!) Often food was delieverd by separate carraige and set up ahead of the picnic party and often included such things as  iced champagne rolled in wet newspapers to preserve the chill, lobster tails accompanied by homemade mayonnaise, small tea sandwiches, cold cuts of meat such as poached chicken with cream sauce, and desert in the form of trifle (chunks of pound cake, cookies, fresh fruit, rich custard and cream) with whiskey punch, lemonade or freshly boiled tea with the aid of  a kerosene burner. For some most excellent recipies including Lavender Lemonade click here.

 Gentlemen were expected to act as waiters for the ladies, and certain elements (no extreme hills, a bit of shade and no alarming sights that might upset the ladyfolk) were supposed to be taken into consideration. Games, such as tag, blind-man’s-bluff, croquet or exploring on walks or sketching were done after the repast. Wether it was celebrating holidays, accompanied by live music in the park, or just taking a family or sweetheart out to watch the ducks on a local pond, picnics were a fast favorite of the Victorian summer.  W

What better place to put your parasol, fantastic broad-brimmed hat and walking stick to good use? So go out and enjoy your summer with steampunk flair.

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First off we have some winners to announce…

We have the winner of the copy Shelley Adina’s Lady of Devices


And we have the winner of Heather Massey’s Steampunk Anthology is


I’m up to my ears in edits and will be hiding in the editing bunker for the rest of the summer.  I’m warning you ahead of time I’ll probably be cross-posting my vlogs a lot as I awkwardly vlog through the steampunk alphabet I’m doing for the Nightstand Debuts.  But…I have some good stuff in the pipelines, including a giveaway you’ll really like.  If anyone’s interested I may do a “what edits look like” post. 

Also, have you always wanted to be a Thursday guest?  Or is there someone you really want to see?  We’re booking for Thursday guests for the rest of the summer.  Posts must be steampunkian in some way and good for a general audience. 

Here’s my really terrible “A is for Aether” vlog which I’m not going to embed because it’s so awkward. 

Here is “B is for Brass” and (hopefully) slightly less awkward…

This week will be “c”…should I do corsets or clockwork?

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Hi everyone,

Here’s is your steampunk gadget for today


A device used to find direction through radio signals.


Stay Steamin’
Lolita Marie-Claude 🙂
Marie-Claude is not here much these days because when she is not being a Steamed Lolita and writing Steampunk fiction, she is Dr. Bourque, a Physicist, Meteorologist and Oceanographer who is currently very busy working on a Master in Teaching High School Sciences at the University of Washington.

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Tee Morris began his writing career with his 2002 historical epic fantasy, MOREVI The Chronicles of Rafe & Askana. In 2005 Tee took MOREVI into the then-unknown podosphere, making his novel the first book podcast in its entirety. That experience led to the founding of Podiobooks.com and collaborating with Evo Terra and Chuck Tomasi on Podcasting for Dummies and its follow-up, Expert Podcasting Practices for Dummies. He won acclaim and accolades for his cross-genre fantasy-detective Billibub Baddings Mysteries, the podcast of The Case of the Singing Sword winning him the 2008 Parsec Award for Best Audio Drama. Along with those titles, Tee has written articles and short stories for BenBella Books’s Farscape Forever: Sex, Drugs, and Killer Muppets, the podcast anthology VOICES: New Media Fiction, BenBella Books’ So Say We All: Collected Thoughts and Opinions of Battlestar Galactica, and Dragon Moon Press’ Podthology: The Pod Complex.  When he is not writing, Tee enjoys life in Virginia alongside Philippa Ballantine, his daughter, and five cats (3 female, 2 males). Considering the male-to-female ratio in his house, Tee understands how General Custer felt near his end.


Foggy Goggles:  The Problem with Steampunk Sub-genres

by Tee Morris

When reading a recent blogpost from the Parasol Protectorate’s Gail Carriger, I felt my hackles rise. They stood a hint taller when I followed a link to The Steampunk Scholar who gives an in-depth look at what I believe to be the silliest trend currently running amuck in steampunk. The gist of both posts is that Gail’s New York Times bestselling series really shouldn’t be considered “Steampunk” but a softer cousin of the genre — “Bustlepunk.” Gail, as she is a class act, opens her commentary on this as follows:

I tend to not weigh in, Gentle Reader, on the controversial subject of bustlepunk, and prefer to let the experts argue amongst themselves as to whether my books are officially steampunk… Since Soulless came out in 2009 I have obeyed to the letter the old Internet adage “do not engage.”

I admit—I’m a new kid in the community. I know this. It was only in March of this year when I (with Pip Ballantine) stepped fully into the fray. Our first steps into steampunk were with the launch of a steampunk podcast anthology. We followed this first step with our second step — the book, Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel, now just over two months old.

And yet, reading both of the earlier cited columns, I’m asking the same question:




With the accomplishments Gail has achieved with the Parasol Protectorate series, I’m stunned that there are Steampunk SMOFs (Secret Masters/Mistresses of Fandom) who believe she doesn’t write steampunk on account of — as described by Gail herself — her books being unabashedly frivolous and fun. “Of course that can’t be steampunk!” these SSMOFs trumpet from pulpits on high. “We must give it its own classification — bustlepunk! Yes! That’s it! Bustlepunk! The softer side of nitty, gritty, icky, grimy, and dirty steampunk!”

Yes, I’m the new guy, but I’m just going to say it — Enough with the sub-genres!

It’s not just bustlepunk (and yes, every time I say that word, a kitten dies) that I speak of. It’s all of these contrived sub-genres that are cropping up in order to distinguish themselves from “true” steampunk. I first discovered this segregation when explaining to a curious bystander what steampunk was. When asked for some examples from film and television, I went with a favorite example: Chitty Chitty, Bang Bang.

One of the steampunks in our group turned to me and said:

 “Well, Tee, Chitty Chitty, Bang Bangis more dieselpunk.”

Not only was the steam-curious furrowing his brow at that, so was I. Dieselpunk? What the hell is dieselpunk?

The hair-splitting continued, particularly at WorldCon 68, when I heard bandied about the other “just-like-steampunk-but-different” sub-genres:

  • Sailpunk
  • Sandalpunk
  • Ricepunk
  • Atompunk
  • Teslapunk
  • Stonepunk (No kidding — Stonepunk. Think The Flintstones.)

To those in the mainstream struggling to understand what steampunk is, dropping sub-genres like these only muddy the boiler’s water, making for a really poor performance and a bad stink coming from your analytical engine’s exhaust.

So if this rule of “a case of the whimsies” applies and Gail Carriger therefore doesn’t write steampunk, then you better tell Kaja and Phil Foglio they aren’t writing steampunk either. And someone call The League of S.T.E.A.M. They are having their steampunk card revoked, regardless of their delightfully witty writing and artistic direction.

And while you’re at it — best proceed with caution when reading Phoenix Rising. Between the explosions and intrigue, our whimsies are strong.

Part of what appeals to me (and, I imagine, outsiders of the steampunk circles) with this Science Fiction sub-genre is the passion, wit, and downright cleverness and creativity of “what could be.”  From the possibilities K.W. Jeter, Tim Powers, and James Blaylock first envisioned back in the late-1980’s came a “future-that-never-was” along with a wide definition of what steampunk is all about. When Pip and I attended The 2011 Steampunk World’s Fair, we were struggling not to gawk and gape at what people defined as steampunk, but never did I hear anyone describe someone’s outfit as being a great ricepunk outfit or how their elaborate cannon and teapot was an amazing dieselpunk creation. And when I saw rayguns of Grordbortian inspiration, never did the term retropunk ever bandy about people’s lips. What we were a part of was a celebration of ingenuity and do-it-yourself technology with style. It wasn’t about the niche you fit into, but what you as an artist were defining as steampunk.

Now as steampunk begins to approach mainstream in its appeal, we as writers, costumers, and artisans of various media should stop and ask ourselves how wise it is to search for that magic genre we fit in. If we are not edgy enough are we merely writing bustlepunk? (And there goes another kitten…) If we decide to set our steampunk in Calcutta, have we ventured into currypunk? What if our steampunk traces its true origins back to the earlier era of the Restoration? Do we dare explore the possibilities of powderpunk?

How silly can this hair-splitting get?

Steampunk is more than an era, more than Victorian London, and far more than the technology of Babbage taken to a higher plane. Steampunk is a celebration of what you can accomplish when your heart and your imagination is behind it. It is adventure. It is wonder. It is, as Nathan Fillion’s Richard Castle so eloquently puts it, “…a subculture that embraces the simplicity and romance of the past but at the same time couples it with the hope and promise and sheer super coolness of futuristic design.”

Not ricepunk.

Not retropunk.

And certainly not bustlepunk.

This is steampunk.

Let’s keep our sights on what we do together, not searching for our own little niches. That way, we are better artists, a stronger community, and an artistic movement that changes perspectives.

-Tee Morris



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Hi everyone,

Here is your steampunk gadget for today!


A device used for describing arcs of circles without compasses.


Stay Steamin’

Lolita Marie-Claude 🙂

Marie-Claude is not here much these days because when she is not being a Steamed Lolita and writing Steampunk fiction, she is Dr. Bourque, a Physicist, Meteorologist and Oceanographer who is currently very busy working on a Master in Teaching High School Sciences at the University of Washington.

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