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Saturday, February 7, 2015

GUESTPOST: "Steampunk in Seattle And Why The Pacific North-West Beckoned" by Elizabeth Bear


Hi! I’m Elizabeth Bear, and I’m salted caramel gelato. Er, I mean, I’m eating salted caramel gelato, and let me tell you, this stuff is a reason I’m glad I live in the future where ice cream flavors like this exist. But I’m not actually here to sell you Häagen-Dazs, fake umlaut and all. I’m here because I’m the author of Karen Memory, a new book that came out this month, and I’ve been invited to Fantasy Book Critic to talk to you about it. (Maybe you’d rather I was selling you Häagen-Dazs? Well, you’re on a book blog, so you’re pretty much stuck now.)

Karen Memory is a steampunk Weird West adventure set in a fictional city in the Pacific Northwest. (I don’t feel too bad about that—I’m a New Englander, and everybody from H. P. Lovecraft to Stephen King to Jane Langton has felt free to shoehorn an extra town or two into the landscape around here. So I think it’s traditional.) 

The book stars the nearly-eponymous Karen Memery. Karen’s a sixteen-year-old bordello girl with an outsize vocabulary, a shaky sense of grammar, and a complete inability to stay out of trouble for more than fifteen minutes at a time. A number of people have asked me why I might want to go and set a steampunk story in the Pacific Northwest.

Well, I’m not the first, by any means. Off the top of my head, there’s Cherie Priest’s delightful Boneshaker, for example. And an interesting thing that’s happened in the past few years is a real groundswell of the Weird Western, a subgenre that used to be pretty much staked out by Stephen King and Joe Lansdale—and also was a lot more horror focused.


But I started writing Karen Memory in 2009, and the thing I notice is that Emma Bull’s fabulous Western fantasy, Territory, came out a few years before then—and that since, there’s been a steady creep of steampunk elements into Westerns. The TV show and later movie The Wild Wild West is no doubt extremely seminal here, but then we find the blossoming of Cherie’s books, and those of Gemma Files starting with A Book of Tongues, R.S. Belcher’s The Six-Gun Tarot, John Horner Jacob’s The Incorruptibles, Catherynne M. Valente’s Six-Gun Snow White, Tim Pratt’s The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl, Felix Gilman’s The Half-Made-World… well, if you just want a list, Goodreads has a couple!

And apparently they’re bringing back Westworld now? Robot gunslingers? Well all right.

So, the simple answer is because it’s a fascinating time. Steampunk is often criticized for assuming the trappings of empire without bothering to engage with its colonialism and class issues, but honestly, that doesn’t seem to be the case with most of the Weird West steampunk I’ve read. I know that one of the things that attracted me to the Gold Rush northwest was exactly that—the chance to unfurl a cast of characters that draws some of its interest and conflict from the often whitewashed diversity of the West; the chance to show the perspective of a working-class heroine; the chance to talk about rapacious exploitation. 

And there’s the added attraction of it being a gorgeous landscape with so much scope for adventure! Meanwhile, let’s talk about the Ben & Jerry’s salted caramel blondie stuff. Because it’s totally sick, yo, and I mean that in the best of all possible ways…


GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: Elizabeth Bear was born on the same day as Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, but in a different year. This, coupled with a childhood tendency to read the dictionary for fun, led her inevitably to penury, intransigence, the mispronunciation of common English words, and the writing of speculative fiction.

She was the recipient of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2005 and has won two Hugo Awards for her short fiction along with a Sturgeon Award and the Locus Award for Best First Novel.She lives in Massachusetts with a Giant Ridiculous Dog. Her partner, acclaimed fantasy author Scott Lynch, lives in Wisconsin.

1 comments:

Daniel said...

Steampunk has been slowly entering SF/F. Mostly good books have come of it like The Infernal Devices, but there have been a few ones too that were not (if you'll pardon the expression) fleshed out well enough. I'm still excited to see more new books coming up.

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