Friday, 29 July 2011

Welcome Meljean Brook!

A little later than scheduled, but we're thrilled to have her with us last - the fabulous Meljean Brook, who has moved heaven and earth to get to us in the end! Welcome to the party, Meljean!

Steampunk – What it Isn’t

Hi, everyone, and thanks to Marie for the invite! Thankfully I’ve finally got my head together enough to be here!

I feel like a lot of the posts I write about steampunk are trying to explain what it is – but this time, I’m going the opposite way, and instead focus on two things that steampunk isn’t. 

 Steampunk isn’t necessarily Victorian. Steampunk can be set in the Victorian-era (even my series is a pseudo-Victorian period) but it doesn’t have to be. Other time periods are fine – other worlds are fine. Steampunk can be set in Feudal Japan, it can be set before (or during, or after) the European colonization of Africa, or before the conquest of the Americas. Anywhere, anywhen. The important bit is the steam, and writers can set an industrial revolution or technological advancement anywhere in history that they like. It’s science fiction, after all. 

That doesn’t mean I don’t understand the appeal of the Victorian aesthetic and era. Oh, those corsets. All of that gorgeous tightened-and-buttoned-up clothing, just waiting to burst open. And I think that most writers in the West are probably most familiar with the Industrial Revolution in the west, and the effects of culture in that particular era/locations. But, it doesn’t have to be Victorian – which is a claim that I hear a lot regarding steampunk, and which isn’t necessarily true. 

Steampunk isn’t wimpy. Whatever tone is taken with a steampunk work – light and frivolous, serious and dark – it isn’t a wimpy genre. There is the ‘punk’ aspect to consider, after all. That doesn’t mean every author/artist will make a full-on challenge of or comment on every political, social, gendered, racial, cultural, etc., aspect of their world, but as 21st century readers, writers, and artists referencing historical eras that are ripe for those challenges, we can’t ignore them, either. If a woman has no rights, it’s not enough to shrug it off and say: Ah, well, that’s the way things were back then. Modern steampunk writers are smart enough to address this  . . .  usually by making their heroines rebel against those constraints, or by pointing out other injustices and evils and recognizing the injustice and evil in them.

Steampunk can be an awesome way to give a voice to many, many people who didn’t have one, to show a different side of history through 21st century goggles. It doesn’t have to do that, and it definitely doesn’t have to preach about it, but anyone writing in this genre is essentially taking history’s balls, and giving them a little twist. Throw in adventure and mad science on top of that, and you’ve got a genre that isn’t for the faint of heart.

So I’m curious – is there anything that you think that steampunk isn’t?

From chapter two of HEART OF STEEL (November 2011) This includes spoilers for THE IRON DUKE. Yasmeen has a valuable sketch on board her airship, which once belonged to a man that she threw overboard into a mob of zombies.

Barker took his leave after finishing the drink Yasmeen owed him, but she stayed on, nursing hers until they were warm. Some nights in a tavern were meant for drinking, and others were meant for listening. Fortunately, nothing she heard suggested that word of the sketch had gone beyond Mattson and Kessler. She turned down one job—a run to the Ivory Market along the Gold Coast of Africa. Lucrative, but he hadn’t been willing to wait until she returned from England, and she wasn’t inviting anyone onto her airship before the sketch was in the Iron Duke’s fortress.
She hadn’t always been able to turn down jobs. Now, she had enough money that she could be choosy when she took on a new one. Even without the fortune that would come after selling the sketch, she could retire in luxury at any time—as could her entire crew.
She never would.
Midnight had gone when Yasmeen decided she’d heard enough. She emerged from the dim tavern into the dark and paused to light a cigarillo, studying the boardwalk along the docks. It was just as busy at night as during the day, but the crowd was comprised of more drunks. Some slumped against the buildings or slept beside crates. Groups of sailors laughed and pounded their chests at the aviators—some of them women, Yasmeen noted, and not one of them alone. The shopgirls and lamplighters walked in pairs, and most of the whores did, too.
Yasmeen sighed. Undoubtedly, she’d soon be teaching some drunken buck a lesson about making assumptions when women walked alone. 
She started toward the south dock, picking out Lady Corsair’s sleek silhouette over the harbor. Familiar pride filled her chest. God, her lady was such a beauty—one of the finest skyrunners ever made, and she’d been Yasmeen’s for almost thirteen years now. She knew captains who didn’t last a month—some who weren’t generous toward their crew, or not strict enough to control them. Some who were too careful to make any money, or too careless to live through a job.
She’d made money, and she’d lived through hundreds of jobs during the French war with the Liberé: scouting, privateering, moving weapons or personnel through enemy territory, destroying a specified target. Both the French and the Liberé officers sneered when she’d claimed that her only loyalties were to her crew and the gold, but they used her when they didn’t have anyone good enough or fast enough to do what she could.
Then the war had ended—fizzled out. All of the same animosities still simmered, but there wasn’t enough gold left in the treasuries to pay for it. So Yasmeen had left the New World, returned back across the Atlantic, and carved out her niche by taking almost any job for the right money.
Lately, that meant ferrying passengers over Horde territory in Europe and Africa—a route that most airships-for-hire would never take. Sometimes she acted as a courier, or she partnered with Vesuvius when Mad Machen carried cargo that needed airship support, fighting off anyone who tried to steal it from them.
A routine life, but still an exciting one—and the only kind of settling down that she would ever do.
Yasmeen flicked away her cigarillo, smiling at her own fancy. Routines, excitement, and a particular version of settling down. She’d have to record that thought and send it to Zenobia—along with an account of the little excitement that was about to take place. 
Someone was following her.
A man had been trailing her since she’d left the tavern. Not some drunken idiot stumbling into a woman walking alone, but someone who’d deliberately picked her out—and if he’d seen her in the tavern, he must know who she was.
But he must not be interested in killing her. Anyone could have shot her from this distance. Instead he tried to move in closer, using the shadows for cover. He needed lessons in stalking. Her pursuer paused when she did, and though he tried for stealth by tiptoeing, his attempts only made him more obvious. Of course, he couldn’t know that Yasmeen was at her best during the night—and that she had more in common with the cats slinking through the alleys than the lumbering ape that had obviously birthed him.
She’d only taken a few more steps when he finally found his balls and called her name.
“Captain Corsair!”
The voice was young, and quivering with bravado. He’d either taken a bet at the tavern or was going to ask for a position on her ship. Amused, Yasmeen faced him. A dark-haired boy wearing an aviator’s goggles and short jacket and stood quivering in the middle of the—
Pain stabbed the back of her leg. Even as she whipped around, her thigh went numb. An opium dart. Oh, fuck. She ripped it out, too late. Pumped with this amount, her mind was already spinning. Hallucinating. A drunkard rose from a pile of rags, wearing the gaunt face of a dead man.
No, not a drunkard. A handsome liar.
Archimedes Fox.
Yasmeen fumbled for her guns. Her fingers were enormous. He moved fast—or she was slow. Within a blink, he caught her hands, restrained her with barely any effort.
She’d kill him for that.
“Again?” he asked, so smooth and amused. “You’ll have to try harder.”
The bastard. She hadn’t tried at all. And though she tried now, she sagged against him, instead—and for a brief moment, wondered if she’d fallen against a zombie. Each of his ribs felt distinct beneath her hands.
But zombies didn’t swing women up into their arms. And they didn’t talk.
“My sister sends her regards,” he said against her cheek. “And I want my sketch.”
“I’d have let you have it.” She couldn’t keep her eyes open. Her words slurred. “You just had to ask.”
“Liar,” he said softly. “You’d never have given it back.”
Ah, well. He was right about that. But he might have been able to talk her down to forty percent. She began to make the offer, but couldn’t form the words. 
Blissful darkness swirled in and carried her away.

Today Meljean is generously giving away TEN packs of trading cards featuring her characters (See Rhys and Mina above), AND a copy of the anthology Wild and Steamy (out next week), which contains a short Iron Seas novella by Meljean. To enter the contest, answer Meljean's question above: Is there anything you think that steampunk isn't? Or comment on her post in some other way. The contest will close at midnight tonight and the winners will be announced tomorrow on this thread.


  1. Steampunk isn't science fiction. I would think it might be difficult to seperate the two genres.

    Meljean....I LOVE your books!!!! I'm still working on getting your backlist....phew!!!! Since I only discovered you a little while back, this is going to be quite a feat...hehe!!!

    Meljean has become my new author goddess!!!!

    in Germany

  2. It isn't boring? :)

    Thanks for finding the time to join the party, Meljean! How many Iron Seas books do you envisage?


  3. I'm late to this party. I find it revealing that steampunk does not need to be in a certain era. The notion certainly invigorates new story ideas, and that is always wonderful!

    I know steampunk can never be mediocre. It seems a demanding subgenre by curious and adventurous minds. I like that.

    I look forward to reading more by Meljean!


  4. Steampunk isn't a leisurely stroll through the park. It's always packed with a ton of action, in my experience.

    I absolutely LOVED The Iron Duke. I went around singing its praises to all who would listen. :) I can't wait to read Heart of Steel.

  5. I've only read two steampunk novels so far, so I may not be the best judge of the genre, but I think steampunk is not about our own world, a la Wild Wild West, but an alternate world or dimension where the mechanics of reality are broken down and reassembled. Just a theory. :-D

  6. I love the fact that steampunk isnt always Victorian. I think it's gritty and mostly dark, and the characters have to be both strong and broken. I'm SO looking forward to this next book, Meljean!!

  7. Steampunk isn't just an old-timey look slapped onto modern technology its inventive and not always victorian !! Its bohhharrr !! fab !! and for the adventorous at heart !! Be daring !! not a specific genre !! But well created !!

    I Love Meljeans work I have all her books ;) cant wait for WIld and steamy and the Heart of Steel !!! Congrads on the new release !! thanks for the teaser !!

    :) Kat

  8. All of the answers above cover what I would say. Will just add I LOVE the Iron Duke series and am anxiously await the new releases (thank goodness for amazon pre-ordering!).

  9. Steampunk isn't a easy, it has to be a challenge.

    zombvampire @gmail . com

  10. Squee!! Hi, Meljean!! I loved your novella in Burning Up (that was quite possibly my first real steampunk experience), which I raved about afterwards. I just started The Iron Duke, and am loving that too. As for what steampunk isn't, it isn't just one time period or one kind of character or one kind of machinery... it seems to be blasting all those conventions wide open, giving us all kinds of fascinating stories and people and things to read about.

    Your character cards are gorgeous! And can't wait for Heart of Steel! (Plus, cover yum!)

    f dot chen at comcast dot net

  11. The presence of a few steampunk type gadgets doesn't make a book steampunk. Steampunk is more defined by the plot.

    I loved "The Iron Duke" and look forward to "Heart of Steel". Is a future book going to centre around Mina again? I thought that she was an interesting character with lots of potential for more plots.


  12. Steampunk isn't just for guys (or girls). One of the things I love about steampunk is that it always blends a mix of elements that can appeal to both genders. Not to say only women like romance or only men like scifi, it's just a genre that seems to have so few limits as far as mixing in elements of other genres. Be it a western or paranormal flavoring I've found the majority of steampunk I've read I could have easily shared with my husband.

    Can hardly stand waiting for Heart of Steel! I liked Rhys and Mina but Yasmeen and Archimedes are considerably more up my alley as far as personalities go.

    P.S. -- What's up with OddShots? I've been visiting all week and the site's not been up at all. I normally visit every day to see what's up. :(

  13. Valerie -- thank you so much! I do think that steampunk is science fiction, though ... just not a future-looking science fiction. Combined with the historical aspect, though, it can often feel very close to fantasy (especially if the worldbuilding relies on more gaslight/fantastical paranormal elements rather than a scientific base.) And I'm so glad you're enjoying the books!

    Marie -- thanks again for inviting me! I'm not sure how long the series will run. Part of it will depend on my publisher and whether they want to keep the series going (the awful sales question). I am contracted for three more after Heart of Steel, however, so there will at least be five full-length books and a few novellas.

    As for how many I *can* write in the series -- I deliberately set up the world so that I can move around and explore different areas. So my first book (THE IRON DUKE) is set in England with travel over Europe/Africa, but HEART OF STEEL doesn't go to England at all. The third will either be a northern expedition (much like the famous expeditions of the nineteenth century, but with airships and steampunk elements) or set in Australia, which is probably most analogous to our own Wild Wild West.

    So I hope that I'll be able to explore as much as possible. If I ever run out of ideas or feel like I'm just telling the same story over and over, I'll probably move on to something else -- if I can't bring something new to the world every time, then I'll just be disappointing myself (and probably my readers.)

  14. Cynthia -- thanks for commenting! And, no, it doesn't have to be a certain era. It definitely is most closely associated with the Victorian era, but it can be much, MUCH more open than that.

    Jillian -- thank you so much! I hope you enjoy Heart of Steel as much, too ... and it definitely doesn't lack for action :-D

    Cerri -- Hah! Let me say, the science I sometimes use, though based on real science, definitely does seem to take place in a realm where things work just a bit differently (and much better) *grin*

  15. JK -- Ahhhh! How are you? thank you so much -- and I also love, LOVE that you have set your stories outside of England, as well. Mine also tend toward dark and gritty (it's industrial! things get dirty!), though I also love what writers like G. Carriger have done, the Victorian comedy of manners with that wonderful twist of steam. I'm just not capable of writing that way, lol.

    Katrina -- I tend to agree. Slapping a gear onto something (in a metaphorical sense, since we are mostly talking steampunk books) doesn't necessarily make for a good steampunk story. It might look pretty, but there's no function to it (other than prettiness ... which, okay, I am taking a HUGE leap away from that before my literary theory professors come and smack me on the head.)

    But for me, yes -- I want the steampunk elements to truly MATTER to the story, not just there to look pretty.

    Dawn -- Thank you so much! I hope you enjoy it :-)

    ruth -- I agree! Every good story should have a real conflict at its heart, and in steampunk, if that conflict can reflect some steampunk element, even better!

  16. flchen -- Oh, thank you! I really cannot say how thrilled I am every single time someone says they loved the stories. On this comment thread alone, I've grinned and done my happy dance in my seat a zillion times. Thank you!

    I also really, really love when we see many, many different types of machines or technology in use. Steampunk isn't all about the gadgets, of course -- but hot damn, they are fun!

    Carol -- Oh, thank you! And I do have good news -- though not a full length book, I will have a Rhys/Mina story coming out next year! It will be set after The Iron Duke, and we'll see how they are adjusting as a couple (and solving a mystery together, of course!)

    Rhianna -- Oh, I totally, totally agree with this. I'm not sure if it's the historical aspect that makes it so much more approachable, or that the tech-y bits are softened with a lot of lace, or what does it, but it definitely doesn't seem to have the same gender split that you find in typical science fiction. Not that women don't read SF (I do!) but that the marketing, covers, and often the characters are male-centric, it seems. Steampunk marketing and covers, on the other hand, rarely seem to feel that way. As a reader, I just find it more welcoming.

    Odd shots -- we disbanded it! But the site went down really quickly after that, so our farewell message disappeared, too. I added a little more on my blog, but basically: We were all just crunched for time, and didn't feel we were giving the blog the attention it (and our readers!) deserved.

  17. Hi Meljean! So excited for the new book!
    My favorite thing about steampunk is that isn't limited to or defined by a single genre. Thanks for sharing the excerpt:)


  18. Well.... I have never read a steampunk book, so I can't say! But it does sound like a pretty fearless genre!

  19. I'm more familiar with steampunk in anime and manga and kids books than adult fiction. I suppose steampunk doesn't always have to mention Babbage's difference engine. :)

    ironss [at] gmail [dot] com

  20. I'm certainly looking forward to more from your Steampunk world, Meljean!!!

    in Germany

  21. Steampunk isn't boring. Steampunk isn't just another story. Steampunk isn't a color inside the lines sort of genre. Thanks for the giveaway.

  22. Steampunk is not about the future - it's definitely supposed to be set and stay in the past. It's also highly enjoyable!
    Thanks for the giveaway!


  23. Angie Kline Brown30 July 2011 at 19:32

    Hmmm....I think steampunk is not fluffy and sweet. The happy ending may be there but it won't come easy or without a fight. I like the heavier feel of it myself. It seems somehow more "real" when going for the thrill. So, steampunk isn't your everyday stuff.

  24. Someone took my line-- steampunk isn't boring. I love steampunk-- it's not just for nerds:)

    OMG, Odd Shots is gone? Man, I've been so busy I missed that happened. I can relate to the time crunch though.

    Thanks for the steampunk goodness:)

  25. Meljean, thanks so much for all the insights into what Steampunk isn't... and more important, what it could be.

    Enjoyed your excerpt immensely!

  26. Oh, I didn't know about OddShots' farewell :( I enjoyed my visits there! Best wishes to you and the rest of the former OddShots gang, Meljean! Thanks again for hanging out!

  27. Steampunk isn't a boring romance, it makes them so much more interesting and fun to read!

  28. Good answers, and a great way of looking at the genre. Thanks for joining the party, Meljean - it's been great!

    Back in a few moments with Meljean's winners...


  29. Meljean's winners of the trading cards (chosen by extracting random numbers from my patient husband and matching them to the comments!)are:

    Angie Kline Brown

    Valerie in Germany




    Kelly 812

    Jen B




    And Angie also wins a copy of WILD AND STEAMY.

    Many congratulations, all! Could you please go here: and fill in the form on Meljean's website, and she'll send your prizes out to you.

    Thanks, everyone!


  30. Congrats, Angie, Valerie, Cerri, Dawn, Carol, Kelly, JenB, Maria, Cynthia, and Jillian! And WOW, Angie!

    Meljean, thanks again for a lovely visit and thank you for continuing to write your fabulous books!

  31. Wow cool!!! Thanks so much and congrats to all the other winners!!!

    in Germany

  32. Meljean, I would LOVE it if you set a Iron Seas book in Australia! Of course, I might be biased seeing as I hail from that part of the world...
    As for Steampunk, it certainly isn't boring, and is definitely a strange amalgam of technology and the traditional. It's also super fun times!

  33. Oh thanks soooo much for letting me know about Odd Shots Meljean 'cause I went out of town for a week and came back and it was just not there anymore. lol I'm gonna miss it but I completely get why you'd not all have time for it.