Today, as Steampunkapalooza continues, please welcome YA author Jay Kristoff.
Jay Kristoff is a Perth-born, Melbourne-based author. His first trilogy, THE LOTUS WAR, was purchased in the three-way auction by US publishing houses in 2011. He is as surprised about it as you are. The first installment, STORMDANCER, is set to be published in September 2012 in the US, UK and Australia.
Jay is 6’7, has approximately 13870 days to live and does not believe in happy endings.
by Jay Kristoff
Once upon a time, there was this fellow called Neanderthal man. He was handy in a scrap, well-suited to the freezing climates in which he hung his furs, and possessed of a brain larger than the average human. He was an apex predator, had a language and complex societal groups. Maybe not complex enough to develop grand concepts like us (reality TV, 4-chan, Sarah Palin) but you know, close.
And around 25,000 years ago, he and all his buddies disappear from the fossil record.
No-one quite knows why. The most popular theory is that he was wiped out by a more complex evolution of his genome that we now call homo sapiens, who essentially rolled up in his cabbage patch and a) Killed every Neanderthal he saw, or b) Did the sexah with every Neanderthal lady he saw, and essentially bred poor Neanderthal right the frack out of a job. Some scientists hypothesise that rapid climate change did him in. But in any event, Neanderthal’s inability to adapt cashed his check for him.
In short he didn’t change. He liked the way he was and he was going to stay that way, dammit. Extinction be damned.
Which brings me to steampunk (See what I did there? No? Maybe I need to work on my segues…)
25 years after KW Jeter coined the term ‘steampunk’, the tropes of the SP genre are pretty well established. Any geek worthy of his Browncoats membership will have a clear image in mind when you mention the word – an industrialized Victorian setting, with technology you wouldn’t expect to find in said setting, either flitting about the air or clanking about the streets amidst clouds of phlogiston or aether or another fantastical fuel source. And this is all good. Tropes need to be established. There needs to be rules before you can break them.
My personal theory is that steampunk sits at a crossroads in its evolution. Down one fork lies experimentation – the challenging of rules and norms, spectacular failures and amazing successes. And down the other lies the tropes we’re all familiar with; all goggles and corsetry and top hats and howdoyoudo’s, and Mr Neanderthal crouched on his haunches wondering WTF hit him.
I’m not saying steampunk is at risk of dying anytime soon – I’m just saying evolution from what we know and expect from it is probably a good thing. And granted, any novel, no matter how steeped in tropes it is, can be wonderful. ‘Write it well’ should always be the golden rule when it comes to fiction, genre or otherwise. But take a look at the more successful acknowledged steampunk authors around – people like Scott Westerfeld (NYT bestseller) or Cherie Priest (awards goddess) or Alan Moore (yeah, he’d probably pop an artery if anyone called him that, but hey…). These folks took the tropes and fracked with them. They took the norm and challenged it, and came up with books that really woke people up to the idea that steampunk can be almost anything we want it to be.
I like the idea of a world where people aren’t quite sure what Steampunk is. I like the idea of we as creators and community members doing our best to defy codification and tropes and convention. Steampunk doesn’t have to be corsets and goggles and phlogiston. It can be the siege tanks in Avatar: The Last Airbender. It can be iron walkers clashing with genetically engineered warbears in the Leviathan series. It can be clockwork ballerinas in The Music of Razors. You can crossbreed it faeries and other, less friendly fae. It can be set in the frontier age of colonial America. Or a magic-inspired version of tsarist Russia.
Or maybe even the samurai age of Japan.
Yeah, that segue was much better… J
Point is, it can be almost anything you want it to be, within a few sketchy guidelines. The only limit should be your imagination, and that shouldn’t be any kind of limit at all.
Go forth and evolve!