Steampunk with Heart: Steampunk IS Romance
with Susan Kaye Quinn and Scott E. Tarbet
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Susan Kaye Quinn: As I was writing my steampunk romance (ThirdDaughter, The Dharian Affairs #1), it struck me that the term “Steampunk Romance” is just a bit redundant. Yes, some steampunk stories have romance as the main driver of their plot, but to me, the entire genre is inherently romantic. These stories take place in a bygone era (or entirely fictional analogue of one), alleviating some of the oppressive ideas of the past while keeping the lush aesthetics and romantic ideas about relationships and love. How could that be termed anything other than Romantic?
I discussed this very issue with fellow Steampunk Romance author Scott Tarbet, over tea and fictional crumpets (the tea was real; tea is always real):
Susan Kaye Quinn: Scott, you suggested the title for our little chat, “Steampunk IS Romance”. How is it you think Steampunk is romance?
Scott E. Tarbet: Steampunk is all about goggles, right? We use them as a convenient symbol of the entire genre. Through our steampunk goggles we look at the world in a different way, a more romantic way. We get to reimagine reality (sometimes the Victorian past, sometimes alternative futures) without the fettering realities of modern technology and recent history. We get an imagined do-over.
Let’s face it: from an historical perspective the 20th Century was horrible. Sure, there were rapid technological advances, but with them came the worst wars, genocides, and horrors in all of human history. What a wonderful thing it is to put on our Steampunk goggles and imagine a simpler, more romantic world without that 20th Century baggage!
Susan Kaye Quinn: I love the idea of using our magic googles of re-imagination! Speaking of imaginative retellings, your book, Midsummer Night’s Steampunk, is a Shakespearean love story retold in a steampunk setting. It’s like a multiplication of romances! Can you tell us a bit about it, and how the romance of steampunk plays into your story?
Scott E. Tarbet: Susan, you’re 100% right! A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk (AMNS) is just what you would expect from the title: a resetting of Shakespeare’s beloved comedy/romance into the Victorian Era. Let me do a little stage-setting:
If you ask any three Steampunks for a definition of what Steampunk is, you’ll get at least five different answers involving the clothing, the weaponry, and the literature. But common to every definition I’ve seen is the gender politics. Did the genders have equal rights and influence in the real life version of the Victorian Era? Not even close. Would the 20th Century have been very different if they had been? Ooooh yeah!
One of my favorite academic writers, who takes on Steampunk as a field of study, Dr. Mike Perschon, puts it this way: “[W]e make the past in our image, as we do whenever a nineteenth century woman isn’t slowly going crazy in a room with psychedelic wallpaper.”
Writing AMNS I had great fun projecting how history would have been different if Vicky, the mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, who happened to be the eldest daughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria, had been able to take that brat over her knee and straighten him out. There would have been no World War I, no Russian Revolution, no World War II, no Holocaust, no Cold War. Millions around the world would have lived out very different lives. The world we live in today would be a very different place.
Would the two young girls in Shakespeare’s romance also have been different people? Yes, in fundamental ways. As a result many of the elements of their respective romances would have been different in interesting ways. My heroine, Pauline, is a Sorbonne-educated engineer, the epitome of the strong, educated woman.
So AMNS gave me the opportunity to play with this romantic concept, and bring these three strong women (and several others) to the center of the stage of world politics. It was a lot of fun.
My turn to ask you, Susan: the world you create in Third Daughter also has gender politics flipped on their ear, making strong female characters possible—even necessary. How did that feel for you as a woman, and as a writer?
Susan Kaye Quinn: Wow, that’s quite a question! Third Daughter definitely turns gender politics upside down, imagining an analogue India where Queens rule and society is very used to the fact that all women, especially the Daughters of the Queen, carry significant influence and power. As a writer, I loved playing with the concept of male courtesans, and how a princess who carries true power might have to wrestle between marrying for love and marrying to keep her country from war. That premise takes a classic political intrigue and interweaves a very feminine perspective into it—without losing either the romance or the adventure. Add in the inherent lushness and romance of an east-Indian aesthetic, and I like that reviewers are calling it “vivid” and “crisp”. It tells me that I got something right in the descriptions!
Personally, as a woman who has worked in engineering but now writes fiction, strong female characters come naturally to me. But I know that female empowerment is a huge issue in India, and I hope that I can, through a small flight of fancy, give a taste of that empowerment to young woman, no matter where they live in the world.
Speaking of India, Scott, I hear you have an east-Indian character in your story as well! Can you tell us about her and her role in the story?
Scott Tarbet: I do! Her name is Lakshmi, and she is the Steampunk analogue of the character ‘Titania’ in Shakespeare’s play. In the play, Titania and Oberon are the fairy queen and king. In my adaptation they are genius inventors.Lakshmi is the daughter of the sultan of Golkondah, a physician, engineer, inventor, and philanthropist. Truth be told, not only is she my ideal woman, but she is everything I myself would like to be—my idealized feminine side. To me she embodies all aspects of love: romantic, filial, and godly. She is a profoundly romantic figure, in the best possible sense.
Her efforts to stave off the disasters that will befall the 20th Century world—the analogue extension of the conflict between Titania and Oberon over the ‘little Indian boy’—are the heart of the political intrigues of the novel. Together with the other queens, she forms the heart (literally and figuratively) of the resistance to evil.
I think of Lakshmi as embodying all that is best and most charming in the Steampunk genre: she represents the bridge between unattainable magic and the good that can come from attainable technology. The spirit of Lakshmi is why I love Steampunk.
Now, I see that Third Daughter is part of a series, The Dharian Affairs. What can you tell us about the future of the characters we meet in Third Daughter—without spoiling the surprises for us, of course.
Susan Kaye Quinn: The Dharian Affairs will be a trilogy: Third Daughter, Second Daughter, First Daughter. Aniri, the spunky Third Daughter who wrestles with love and duty, will be the main character throughout, but in Second Daughter, we’ll get to see more of Aniri’s beloved sister, the princess whose fate was sealed from the start by an arranged marriage to protect an alliance. In First Daughter, the adventure will continue closer to home, where Aniri’s oldest sister and heir-apparent, the First Daughter, plays a prominent role in bringing the trilogy to a close. In fairy tales, the number three plays an almost mystical role, and I love the idea of exploring each daughter’s role in the fate of the Queendom.
Will we see more from the characters you created in AMNS?
Scott Tarbet: Yes! There’s a short story called Ganesh that tells the backstory of one of the characters in AMNS. It is to be part of anthology of AMNS short stories at some point in the future. I’ll soon be putting it online exclusively for people who have already enjoyed AMNS.
The next book set in the AMNS universe, Lakshmi, is well underway. It’s up to Xchyler Publishing whether it will come out before or after my novel Dragon Moon.
Susan, it has been a great pleasure chatting with you. All the best to you and your readers!
Susan Kaye Quinn: The pleasure was all mine, Sir!
Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling Mindjack Trilogy, which is young adult science fiction. The Dharian Affairs trilogy is her excuse to dress up in corsets and fight with swords. She also has a dark-and-gritty SF serial called The Debt Collector and a middle grade fantasy called Faery Swap. It’s possible she’s easily distracted. Her business card says “Author and Rocket Scientist” and she always has more speculative fiction fun in the works. You can subscribe to her newsletter (hint: new subscribers get a free short story!) or stop by her blog to see what she’s up to.
Third Daughter (The Dharian Affairs #1)
Kindle | Nook | Print
The Third Daughter of the Queen wants to marry for love, but rumors of a new flying weapon force her to accept a barbarian prince’s proposal of a peace-brokering marriage.
Scott Tarbet is the author of A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk from Xchyler Publishing, Tombstone, in the paranormal anthology Shades & Shadows, and the forthcoming Lakshmi, Dragon Moon, and Nautilus Redux. He writes enthusiastically in several genres, sings opera, was married in full Elizabethan regalia, loves steampunk waltzes, and slow-smokes thousands of pounds of Texas-style barbeque. An avid skier, hiker, golfer, and tandem kayaker, he makes his home in the mountains of Utah. Follow Scott E. Tarbet online at his website or on Twitter.
A Midsummer Night’s Steampunk
Kindle | Nook | Print
Immerse yourself in this Steampunk retelling of Shakespeare’s classic, replete with the newfound wizardry of alternative Victorian technology, mistaken identities, love triangles, and deadly peril, set against the backdrop of a world bracing itself for war, and Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
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