Monday, March 28, 2011

Steampunk and Publishing

Steampunk was a constant buzz at The Write Stuff, a writer's conference in Pennsylvania this past weekend. I'm on my way home from it now, a little worn out but definitely charged up. I attended pre-conference workshops by Donald Maass, author of Writing The Breakout Novel and The Fire in Fiction -- really great experiences for my own writing -- but every steampunk fan would have been thrilled by the excitement about the genre throughout the conference. It wasn't just from authors, either. The head of one publishing house wrote about how steampunk was her personal new passion and was working on several projects in the genre. A literary agent for one of the largest New York agencies commented on the surging interest in the genre shortly before adding, "Right now, if you have the best-written vampire novel the world has ever seen, you still probably won't get it published."

Back in the mid-1980s the Academy of Game Critics -- a much more laid-back collection of folks than their name suggested -- gave out satirical awards to new games, awards of a decidedly negative character. When Space: 1889 came out, they gave it the "Strontium 90 Award," for the game concept having the shortest half-life. Who would ever remember such an off-beat concept in twenty-five years?

Who indeed?


  1. I think you showed those mugs what fer!

  2. I realise that you do not know me, but I wanted to highlight some of the 1/300th scale Aeronef's that I have produced based on your Space 1889 background.

    I know that there was a time when I was thinking about producing some of the designs commercially, but when I was not able to make contact with you, this project fell by the wayside.

    Good luck in your new ventures and be aware that there are many who still follow your lead.


  3. Space 1889 has always appealed to me as the sort of world that I would like to live in. I do, however, think that there is a difference between Steampunk and Victorian Science Fiction. Steampunk, IMO, tends to be much more dystopian like its predecessor, Cyberpunk. VSF on the other hand, has much optimism. IIRC, HG Wells referred to it as "whoosh".
    I like both genres but tend to gravitate towards VSF. I think that one of the appealing points of Space 1889 is that it encompasses both themes very well.

  4. Misternizz,
    I think we all showed them. Twenty-five years ago a lot of folks just didn't "get" the whole Victorian science fiction thing. I had a retailer tell me, "The problem with Space: 1889 is that players aren't made, they're born." And he was refering to the whole Victorian science fiction thing with that. Maybe he was right, but if so there have been a LOT of steampunkers born in the last twenty-five years.

  5. Frank,

    Some Steampunk is dystopian for sure, but there is a very strong romantic, and hence optomistic, thread which runs through almost all of it. The term Steampunk, as I recall, was originally coined as a joke, but it was catchy enough it stuck. The irony is there is very little "punk" in Steampunk. Dystopian it may be, but far, far from nihilistic.

  6. Frank,

    I see your point. I'd forgotten that the term was originally coined in jest. That was about the same time that I heard the Young Guns movies described as "cowpunk". I've also heard Space:1889 described as "alternative historical fiction." I prefer the "damn this is fun" description myself.

  7. Steampunk's popularity is only rising, as are eBooks. As someone once said, 'there will never be a better time'.

    And, not saying I have the best vampire novel ever, but I've just had one released that's getting some amazing feedback, so if it gets out there I may disprove that remark. ;)

  8. Andy,
    Congratulations again on the new novel. As I recall, it's being published in the UK, and a US literary agent might have a more limited view of the market. Also my recollection is your novel is the debut of a series. Another insight from the conference was that in most genre fiction, the stand-alone book is a very difficult sell; only series are really wanted, for obvious reasons -- each book builds the readership for the following books, rather than having to start from scratch each time.

  9. I remember finding a used copy of the Space: 1889 game and not quite comprehending it but being impressed with how different it was. At the time, if a game didn't have orcs or superheroes in it, my friends and I didn't play it. It's stayed in my mind for years, and I'm glad I'll have a chance to play it. I still have more or less the same gaming group twenty-plus years later. They're excited about it, now. I may have to put an orc in it so they don't get twitchy, but interest is high! ; ^)

  10. LJ,
    Think of the High Martians as flying orcs. :^)