Welcome to Issue 2
Pretty much the first time I heard about a new sub-genre called “steampunk”, I hated it. Why I hated it can be explained with a much more recent development involving a writer called Paul S. Kemp, so bear with me.
Kemp writes both SF and Fantasy and a couple of months ago, he penned a post entitled “Why I write masculine stories”. Kemp explained to the reader that he liked writing characters whose behaviours are, in his words, “almost hyper-masculine, really”. This means: they’re drinking, sometimes-womanising, violent, emotionally-repressed, stoic, courageous, honour-bound men.
Kemp is free to write whatever he likes but the reason I mention him is that his list is a pretty nice summary of why I was a steampunk-hater from early on. You see, as an SF fan from childhood, the types of “masculine” characters that Kemp purports to write populated almost everything I read. Everywhere I looked, the books of my favourite genre were filled with emotionally repressed, womanising, violent men. The women were either cardboard or invisible.
It was only when I got older that I realised that this was all a crock. The trait to meet violence with violence, for example, is (a) not solely masculine and, more importantly, (b) not warranted in every situation. Likewise, I’m sure you know an emotionally-repressed or borderline-alcoholic woman or two. And to call out “courage” or “honour” as hyper-masculine traits is to open up a whole other can of worms.
I want to be clear on this. I’m not highlighting Kemp because I think he’s some kind of “throwback Neanderthal pig” (his words). I’m highlighting his list because it is a good and succinct capsule of my SF reading history and, quite honestly, not only was I sick of such dysfunctional male characters in my books, I was afraid that those traits would carry through to the new sub-genre of steampunk. Yes, I jumped to a conclusion but you have to admit, I had a precedent.
The other reason I disliked the genre before it even fully coalesced was because the British Empire era that is typically used as the model for steampunk was a happy one only for a particular segment of the Anglo-Saxon population. For us non-Anglo-Saxons, the name for the heyday of the Empire could be summed up in one word. Colonialism. To us, the “era of steampunk” was characterised by exploitation, genocide and barbarity, the consequences of which a lot of societies are still grappling with.
Despite my reservations, I am an SF geek at heart, so it was only a matter of time before my curiosity won out. I read a steampunk short story, you know just to test the waters. Then a novella. Then a novel. Hmmm, maybe several novels. Some of it may have rubbed my anti-colonialist sensibilities the wrong way, but the genre was fresh and lively in a way that I hadn’t seen in years.
When Heather turned in her Cosmic Lounge column, I was eager to see whether she’d seen the same things I had: an energy, a verve that seemed to make every reading day a little brighter. As usual, Ms. Massey didn’t disappoint. 🙂 This issue’s column outlines in beautiful form what overcame my reservations and got me reading (and yes! loving) steampunk: more true-life relationships, emotional depth to characters, meaningful and equal partnerships and, I’m happy to say, diversity dammit! Please go read her column, it’s a celebration and a wake-up call all in one. I was smiling by the end of it.
Charlee, in this issue’s Scopebox column, sounds as if she and I were in the same boat regarding steampunk, although we might have been on different decks! The insights she gleaned from several writers of steampunk are illuminating and entertaining. I hope you find them as interesting as I did.
We welcome Carrie Sessarego to this issue’s Opinion page. Just because SFR straddles more than one genre doesn’t mean writers can be lazy in how they treat either the SF or romance components. Carrie explains the what and why. I took notes and, if you’re a writer, I’m sure you will too.
This issue sees the addition of an Interview column and, to kick things off, we have two interviews for you, both from authors known for their steampunk. That would be, of course, Beth Ciotta and Gail Carriger.
And I can’t possibly close off this Editorial without mentioning The Kissing Machine from author Danielle Davis. I’m sure you’ll enjoy Ettie and Amos’ tale as much as I did.
In addition to all that, we have our usual round-up of new releases and reviews. The team and I had great fun putting this issue together but, as always, if you see anything that needs tweaking, be sure to drop us a line.
PS: I’d like to remind authors and publishers that the ad rate for SFRQ is increasing to US$16/ad from next issue. This is to help us with our future plans and I’d like to thank all of you in advance for your enthusiasm and ongoing support.