Our last day of our Steampunk Appreciation Weeks is dedicated to Steampunk Romance. Earlier today we posted an article by Heather Massey, from The Galaxy Express. Now we open the floor to Meljean Brook, romance writer extraordinaire, whose Guardian series is one of Ana’s top favorites. The author is about to start a brand new Steampunk Romance series, The Iron Seas, which combines nanotech and pirates with a gritty, gaslit Victorian atmosphere. Ana reviewed the novella which opens the series, Here There Be Monsters a few days ago and LOVED it.
She is here today to talk about Steampunk Romance and her approach to writing it and why she thinks we will love it:
Steampunk Romance: Because ‘Eureka!’ should be followed by ‘F#@k, Yeah!’
One of my favorite Hell, yeah! moments in any SF movie takes place in Aliens, when Ripley straps herself into the loader to face the alien queen. You probably know that scene, and her classic line … and you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about an SF movie when I should be talking about steampunk.
Since I’ve announced that I’m writing a steampunk romance series, one question that I’ve received more than any other is: What is steampunk romance? And there are rules and definitions surrounding it that can be debated by readers and writers until a mad scientist invents a gargantuan automaton that crushes us all beneath its steel feet – but as far as I’m concerned, steampunk romance is about writing a story exactly like that scene in Aliens. It’s about getting to that fist pumping, Hell YEAH! moment when everything comes together and the characters you’re rooting for kick some ass.
Not always literally kicking ass, of course. Maybe it’s outthinking the bad guy or building a gargantuan automaton that’s bigger and smarter than the other guy’s. Maybe it’s two lovers overcoming society’s barriers or trauma in their past. Whatever rules surround steampunk and define it, a great steampunk romance has the same heart as every other great romance: fantastic characters and an engaging story.
It’s not the gadgets.
Don’t get me wrong, the gadgets are a hell of a lot of fun. But they’re like Ripley’s loader: the machine itself is nifty, but the payoff comes because Ripley is in that machine – a machine that represents the damage the aliens did to her career, how they turned her into an emotional wreck, until she had to take a job using a freight loader. I love other characters in that movie – Hicks, Bishop, Valdez – but if anyone else had gotten into that loader, I wouldn’t have loved the movie or that moment as much as I do.
And the more I read the question What is steampunk romance?, the more I’m realizing that a lot of readers are asking another question behind it:
Am I going to love it?
Well, I hope so. But for those who are unfamiliar with steampunk and/or haven’t read many books in the genre, I understand why this question keeps coming up: there’s a lot of talk about the tech, the science, the worldbuilding. Questions of how the elements of the story might make it steampunk, or how the elements mean that it’s not steampunk – and is there enough of that element? It’s very easy to come away with the impression that the tech and the alternate history are all there is to steampunk.
And although you might run across an element of the story that makes you think, “Hey, that’s pretty neat!” … well, quite honestly, ‘neat’ doesn’t keep you up until 3am. ‘Neat’ might earn a passing mention while you’re at dinner with your friends, but it doesn’t make you shove that book into their hands.
Just like everyone else, I don’t want to read a story that’s just ‘neat.’ I don’t want to write a story that’s ‘neat.’ I don’t just want to think Eureka! I want shout F#@k YEAH! I want the story to grab my guts and twist – and get a good hold of my heart, too. Just like any good romance does.
But am I going to love it?
Okay, okay. It’s not fair to brush aside the tech like that, as if it doesn’t really matter. It does, a lot – and I’m one of those writers who can’t just tack on a brass plate and call it steampunk; I have to make the worldbuilding integral to the characters and story. But that doesn’t mean the worldbuilding overshadows the characters or the story – quite the opposite, actually – because behind those gadgets and giant robots are the characters who created them.
As fun as the gadgets are, steampunk doesn’t let us forget that the brains behind them were amazing. Tech can be used to dehumanize and to turn people into cogs, but it can also be a celebration of guts and ingenuity and innovation. Steampunk worlds are populated with bold characters who forge ahead, exploring physical and mental landscapes despite danger and fear, and they’re worth cheering for. The gadgets might inspire wonder, but deeper than that is the realization that someone created this, and that’s far, far more marvelous than the giant robot. It’s like someone smashes together Romanticism and the Enlightenment into one rough and riveted body, and not every piece will fit, but holy mama!—look what they managed to build.
Not that it’s all about happiness and rainbows and gold stars. There are some bad guys, too, who are just as astonishingly ingenious and innovative … and that’s why our heroes and heroines have to be, too. We want them to give us that Hell, yeah! moment, but they won’t do that if the gadgets are more interesting than they are.
And if the gadgets and the worldbuilding make the characters more interesting? It’s a win/win.
So am I going to love it?
Like every subgenre, it depends. I like paranormal romances and historicals, but I don’t like every one. I don’t normally like contemporary comedies, but I could name exceptions.
…but that is the boring, careful answer, isn’t it? So let’s just say,
Hell, yeah! You’ll love it.
Hell, yeah! I am sure we will!
Want a taste of Steampunk Romance? Meljean Brook has a brand new copy of Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti ( one of Thea’s favorite Steampunk books, reviewed here) to giveaway.
A steampunkish romantic fantasy set in Ondinium, a city that beats to the ticking of a clockwork heart. Taya, a metal-winged courier, can travel freely across the city’s sectors and mingle indiscriminately among its castes. A daring mid-air rescue leads to involvement with two scions of an upperclass family and entanglement in a web of terrorism, loyalty, murder, and secrets.
In order to enter, leave a comment on this post – you can even ask the author any question about her series worldbuilding, she will be around to answer them. Contest is open to ALL and will run till Saturday April 24th 11:59pm (PST). Good luck!