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.
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.
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.
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?
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.