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Today we welcome Andrew Mayer, author of The Society of Steam series. One lucky commenter will win The Falling Machine (The Society of Steam Book One) AND Hearts of Smoke and Steam (The Society of Steam Book Two). I know there’s been a slew of North America only contests. Our gadget contest is open internationally, and I’ll put up a special open internationally contest this weekend with some steampunk goodies I picked up at RT. Now, back to our guest.

Andrew Mayer was born on the tiny island of Manhattan, and is still fascinated by their strange customs and simple ways. When he’s not writing new stories he works as a videogame designer and digital entertainment consultant. Over the years he has has created numerous concepts, characters, and worlds including the original Dogz and Catz digital pets. These days he resides in Oakland, CA where he spends too much time on the internet, and not enough time playing his ukulele.

Heroic Steampunks
by Andrew Mayer

I walked into a clothing store on Haight street in San Francisco this weekend. Sitting in the jewelry trays, below with all the pseudo-psychedelic trinkets, and to the left of the feathered jewelry that seems to have infested San Francisco like an avian flu over the winter, were a number of steampunk pins. They were mostly exposed wristwatch innards with a pin glued to the back—sitting there like clockwork butterflies, although not quite as colorful

After taking a long look at the items in the glass case I asked the women behind the counter the same question I ask almost everyone when I see steampunk themed items, “Do they work?”

After a bit of hemming and hawing her final answer was that no. That’s not unusual but it does make me sad—not just for the thousands of watches that have died so that we may have gear-encrusted jewelry and bowler hats, but for steampunk itself.

I know that may seem a bit hyperbolic, but I’m beginning to worry that even though steampunk itself has begun to penetrated mainstream culture, we’re missing the mechanized forest for the iron trees, and it may end up being nothing more than a broken fashion statement.

To me that Steampunk has reached a crossroads of sorts in the last year, with the true fork in the road being the Justin Bieber video Christmas video that featured a breakdancing Santa, and the Beebs wearing a mechanized arm. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the appropriation of the trappings of steampunk by mainstream culture, and I’ve said so publicly.

At the same time there’s a danger of the zeitgeist passing by without really ever really giving steampunk its chance to shine.  And like everything about this quirky, unique genre it isn’t easy to pin down where either of the many paths forward might lead.

One thing that’s become clear to me as I work on finishing up the final book in my own trilogy is that my own feelings about what Steampunk is, and the impact it has had undergone a transformation in the four years since I started writing them.

If I have any unique perspective to bring to Steampunk I think it comes from the fact that I decided to mix it with superheroes, another genre that’s had a long and winding road on its current path to mainstream success. As I’ve been pulling elements from the two genres to create my own (hopefully) unique blend, it’s also given me a chance to compare and contrast their impact on popular culture.

Superheroes are currently enjoying a strong resurgence. Not in comics, which have been on a fairly steady downward sales trend over the last decade, but in movies and television. And the genre has been here before: in the 80s, and the 60s there were plenty of superhero movies, although they were played more for camp. Even as far back as the 1940s, Batman and Superman both had serials that played in front of movies in theaters across the United States. And back then 1940s the comics regularly sold copies in the millions, and probably had as much of a hold in popular culture as the current round of films have in ours today, if not more.

Steampunk has been around since the 80s, but it seems to have never quite caught on in the same way. Despite making cameos in television, inspiring numerous video games, and clearly being the inspiration for the new Sherlock Holmes films it seems that we’ve yet to have a true culture-busting moment of impact.  Yes, a number of movies have been optioned by Hollywood, but so far none of them have reached the all-important first day of filming—usually the true point that you can tell a film is actually going to come out.

So what is it that Superheroes have the Steampunk doesn’t? They’re both visually appealing, both are highly metaphorical, and both often deal with popular themes of good vs. evil and right vs. wrong.

The first issue is that Steampunk exists in the mind of many as more of a pastiche than as an actual fully defined genre. It is, at moments, greater than the sum of its parts, but it is definitely made up of parts, with gears and corsets often being the main ones.

Secondly, I think the metaphors that Steampunk deals with best are primarily political in nature. That can present a problem because attempts to push the politics of the genre tend to run into two main issues: first is the fact that there is a strong “politically incorrect” undercurrent to the proceedings.

One of the features that makes Steampunk so enticing is that it was built on a worldview that was only possible due to massive British imperialism. While it’s fun to puncture the hot air dirigibles of political stuffed shirts, the need to keep it from going down like a lead balloon often end up either glossing over of that facts of history, or recoiling away from the more unpleasant details by moving it into a an “alternate world” setting that takes it out of any historical context at all.

Personally I think that’s a mistake as the greatest metaphorical impact of steampunk comes from the fact that the ability of mankind to inflict global suffering maintained by a rigid philosophy was what makes the Victorian era resonate so strongly. The 1800s were basically the birthplace of modern Western culture, especially technology and politics. It was, for all the ugliness it contained, the cradle for the global world that we live in today.

I can’t say that embracing the messy, uneasy parts of the genre more closely would fixe the problem, but it might add some edge to a genre that can be very hard to define. No, it’s not the easy power fantasy that superheroes enjoy, but embracing it might help us to find the elements of the genre that could resonate with a larger audience.

Steampunk also seems to defy a way to easily define the characteristics of its protagonists. Is it the spunky heroine or the spectacled engineer that is truly the archetypal hero of the genre? How about the bumbling gentry, or the intrepid scientist? Yes, superheroes come from all walks of life, but you can always expect them to overcome overwhelming odds whether they’re a playboy billionaire, or a geeky teenager.

So what’s next for this plucky little genre with a 20 year history? I do think that steampunk is going to continue to grow, but perhaps not with the same abandon that it did over the last decade. Barring a major successful movie or television series, I think it’s already lost the opportunity to make a major cultural impact on aesthetic or cultural grounds for the next few years. That saddens me not only because I love to write these stories, but because I think that there’s a case to be made that, given the right mix of ingredients it could have done a great deal.

But with the rise of post-cyberpunk digital culture, and a series of genuine political movements around the globe, we may be entering into an era where the Victorian metaphors aren’t quite as apt as they used to be.

That said, I do think the literary growth of the genre has been astounding, and does seem to be chugging along. So who knows? Maybe we’ll get that movie after all. And meanwhile this little genre that could is going to be worth watching for a while longer.

– Andrew Mayer
www.andrewpmayer.com
twitter: @andrewmayer

One lucky commenter will recieve The Falling Machine (The Society of Steam Book One) AND Hearts of Smoke and Steam (The Society of Steam Book Two). North America only please. Contest ends at 11:59 PM PST, April 24, 2012.

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Today we welcome Andrew Mayer, author of the Society of Steam Trilogy.

Andrew Mayer was born on the tiny island of Manhattan, and is still fascinated by their strange customs and simple ways.  When he’s not writing new stories he works as a videogame designer and digital entertainment consultant. Over the years he has has created numerous concepts, characters, and worlds including the original Dogz and Catz digital pets.  These days he resides in Oakland, CA where he spends too much time on the internet, and not enough time playing his ukulele.

Steampunk is coming to town

by Andrew Mayer

Have you seen the latest Jusin Bieber video? A breakdancing Santa Claus is breaking it down in Victorian underwear, and Justin is there to meet him in a gear-studded vest with a mechanical glove.  It is, for better or worse, absolutely steampunk.

And according to some very irate (and some very gleeful) nerds, it’s also supposedly the end of steampunk as we know it. And I’m here to say that while they may just be right, but it also may also be the dawn of something new.

Of all the people who seemed to be the most gleeful at the genre’s imminent demise, the ones who amuse me the most are fantasy fans. They rub their hands together with joy, claiming that steampunk is getting too watered down and too mainstream.

From my point of view, it’s all jealousy and glass houses. After all, while steampunk may have its tropes of gears and goggles, fantasy has had decades to commit far worse sins. Anyone remember Tom Cruise as the elf-boy in Legend? How about the shelves of gift stores in malls across the world that are sagging with “adorable” dragon figurines? And we’ve just survived a decade of Harry Potter with light plastic wands and vibrating nimbus brooms, and yet somehow fantasy seems to have thrived, with Peter Jackson about to send us back to Middle Earth for two more films.

But success does have its cost, and the truth is that Fantasy had been splashing around in the mainstream (and doing mostly a poor job of it) for almost forty years before it found the more genuine “gritty” aesthetic that powers so much of the modern day genre (like Song of Ice and Fire). And even so, for every gritty elf assassin, there’s a Galadriel Barbie doll.

So fantasy fans, may you mock us for Justin Bieber, but remember that it wasn’t all that long after Tolkien had finished his genre-defining masterpiece that Leonard Nimoy (still sporting his Mr. Spock hair cut) sang about Hobbits in a video that definitely feels a very, very long way from Bag End…

Besides, this isn’t the first time that we’ve heard that steampunk is “over”. It isn’t even the first time this year. Back in January there were plenty of folks claiming that its appearance in thousands of gear-encrusted tchotchkes on Etsy was proof of the apocalypse. And yet, somehow, in the last year we’ve not only gotten Justin Bieber interested, but there’s also another Sherlock Holmes film, a steampunk spinoff for Warehouse 13, and books of all types (from Romance, to my own superhero benders and beyond). There’s even more movies on the way. And every time the things take a new twist or turn, thousands more people ask the all-important question, “Hey, what is this steampunk stuff all about?”

So, while people want to see the mainstreaming of steampunk as the beginning of the end of a genre, having it appear in a huge mainstream video is probably the end of the beginning. It’s understandable that people are feeling a sense of loss. You always do when something you love grows up. And it’s always more fun when you and your friends “own” something that nobody knows about than it is telling your parents why there’s a clockwork doll hanging out with the breakdancing Santa. But, as we’ve seen with other genres, that can also be the moment of greatest opportunity as well.

Steampunk may have started out with the grit intact, but if it’s going to stick around it has to show a softer, more family-friendly side as well. Seeing that happen as it enters in the mainstream isn’t a sign of failure, it’s an opportunity for more people to discover the charms of our neo-Victorian aesthetic, and that means it’s going to stick around for just a little bit longer, even if we have to endure plush zeppelins and plastic goggles.

But that success goes both ways, and the longer steampunk lasts in the mainstream, the more likely it is that people will push the edges of the genre as well, finding ways to create something that you will love more than you thought possible.

– Andrew Mayer
www.andrewpmayer.com

twitter: @andrewmayer

facebook: www.facebook.com/societyofsteam

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First off, we’re going to give away a copy of Saundra Mitchell’s The Vespertine. 

Shannon

Shannon, you are our winner.  Please email me at suzannelazear (@) hotmail to claim your prize.  Didn’t win?  You can still win a bunch of things, like books by Mark Hodder,  a bag of swag from RT and The Vampire Dimitri.

Today we have another great Pyr author, Andrew Mayer, author of The Falling Machine.  We’ll be giving away four copies of his book!

The Falling Machine: The Society of Steam, Book One by Andrew Mayer

In 1880 women aren’t allowed to vote, much less dress up in a costume and fight crime…

But twenty-year-old socialite Sarah Stanton still dreams of becoming a hero. Her opportunity arrives in tragedy when the leader of the Society of Paragons, New York’s greatest team of gentlemen adventurers, is murdered right before her eyes. To uncover the truth behind the assassination, Sarah joins forces with the amazing mechanical man known as The Automaton. Together they unmask a conspiracy at the heart of the Paragons that reveals the world of heroes and high-society is built on a crumbling foundation of greed and lies. When Sarah comes face to face with the megalomaniacal villain behind the murder, she must discover if she has the courage to sacrifice her life of privilege and save her clockwork friend.

The Falling Machine (The Society of Steam, Book One) takes place in a Victorian New York powered by the discovery of Fortified Steam, a substance that allows ordinary men to wield extraordinary abilities, and grant powers that can corrupt gentlemen of great moral strength. The secret behind this amazing substance is something that wicked brutes will gladly kill for and one that Sarah must try and protect, no matter what the cost.

When he’s not crafting stories, Andrew Mayer works as a video-game designer and digital entertainment consultant. He has created numerous new concepts, characters, and worlds, including the original Dogz and Catz digital pets. Andrew calls Portland, Oregon, home (although he’s been traveling a lot lately). You can find his musings on writing and media at www.andrewpmayer.com. This is his first novel.

The Writing Process by Andrew Mayer

If, back when I first started writing, someone had told me that my first published novel was going to be a Victorian era adventure about a girl and a mechanical man, I would have thought that they were nuts. I was, after all, going to be a Science Fiction Writer™. There was nothing I wanted to do more than tell amazing stories about spaceships, aliens, and far-away worlds that took place in humanity’s glorious future of unlimited galactic conquest. I was certainly wouldn’t been interested in becoming mired in some fantastical age of steam based on the past.

And my complaints wouldn’t have just been about the setting—writing pseudo-historical fiction is hard. You don’t just make things up, you have to look them up as well. And at some point in the process you find yourself researching details that can simply be invented in a story of the far future. You need to figure out the little things, like how people cleaned their teeth in 1880, the finer points of Victorian home heating systems, and whether or not the term gangster was actually used before the turn of the century.*

But right or wrong, easy or hard, I discovered that the story in my head that needed telling was a steampunk story. And I set about trying to write it.

Soon after starting I realized that I actually kind of liked researching things. There’s a great feeling that comes when you find the answer you’re looking for, whether it’s buried deep in the internet, or hidden in the pages of a dusty library book. And after a few months of uncovering these hidden historical gems, I discovered that that I’d done so much spelunking in the past that I either already knew the answers, or I knew exactly where to look.

Part of the skill of writing is accepting that motivation can come from the strangest places. Because starting a novel is easy, but to finish one you need to find a story that excites you enough to get your butt into the writing chair for the days, weeks, months, and years that it takes to drag your story from the first character description to final copy edit. You have to feel the passion for your fiction, and it’s that love that keeps pushing you to keep hitting the keys long after you’ve lost any sense of perspective, and to write some more after you’ve gained it back again. And it was as I wrote this story I discovered that I had a true passion for the Steampunk genre. And I wanted to not just tell a ripping tale, but also to try and write the kind of book that would infect people with my growing love for the genre.

And as I read the reviews for the book I’ve written I’m less concerned with whether someone “likes” it or not (although people who like it are nice) than discovering if I’ve managed to communicate my passion to the reader. And if I have, even just a little bit, it gives me the fuel to back and do it again. And the aliens will just have to wait a little longer…

* Europeans did use boar’s bristle toothbrushes in 1880, but brushing didn’t take off in American until around 1885.
Central heating was popular in wealthy Victorian homes because they believed still air caused diseases.
Gangster is a perfectly fine word for the period, although it still doesn’t sound quite right to me.

~Andrew Mayer

www.andrewpmayer.com

What has been the strangest (or most difficult) thing you’ve had (or wanted) to research?  We have four copies of The Falling Machine (The Society of Steam, Book One) to give away to four lucky commenters.  You’ll have to wait to recieve your prize until May, but it’s open internationally.

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