Steampunk Reading Almost Done

Jeff VanderMeer • February 16th, 2010 @ 8:41 pm • Culture

Well, it’s been fun, but it’s almost over. As indicated in the previous post, our deadline for submissions to the Steampunk Reloaded anthology has come and gone. Ann and I are still looking through one last batch of submissions, but otherwise we’re done. And I never have to read another steampunk story again. This isn’t a complaint about steampunk so much as the fatigue you always get when mining out a particular subgenre. That said, I’m really excited about this anthology because we found so much great content, some of it very unexpected—both Ann and I think it’s an incredibly strong book. We even have some original fiction that more or less fell into our laps. There’s also original nonfiction and art, and the look of the book, under John Coulthart’s stewardship, will be much closer to The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases than the first Steampunk volume.

The brief for the first Steampunk antho was to reprint the classic stories, for the most part; considering that brief, a wide variety of approaches and styles were represented. This time around, focusing mostly on the last decade, the biggest change is that a subgenre in which very few women wrote now features a plethora of women—as Ann and I had suspected, and stated in various interviews at the time—and thus many more female contributors to this second volume. The greater variety of setting and situation, though, is pretty even across gender. This anthology is also situated at the cusp of much more robust participation in this subgenre internationally and multi-culturally—already we see projects and individual stories that we would’ve probably been able to take if the antho were being turned in two years from now that would better reflect that fact. Indeed, Steampunk Version 2.0 seems to have reached its peak–without that infusion of new perspectives, it’s likely to eat itself rather rapidly.

As for our definition of Steampunk, we chose to stay focused on Steampunk in the expected mode of dirigibles/retro-futurism/automatons/eccentric scientists and supplement that with stories that reflect the current emphasis on the maker movement in the Steampunk culture itself. We didn’t want to expand the definition to include neo-Victorian stories, for the most part, and we have some risque material but largely steered clear of the outright erotic. (We would note, though, that Circlet Press seems to have published a very good erotic Steampunk antho, as we saw strong material from it.)

The subculture and recent fiction fitting the brief of retro-futurism can be earnestly escapist and yet also progressive, sometimes simultaneously, and I think we’ve also struck a good balance in that regard. Several stories make strong social statements or pose interesting questions, and some are satirical. As ever, there is no Steampunk movement–just an aesthetic that be riffed off of in many different ways.

This time around Ann and I decided we wouldn’t take a story unless we both liked it, a bit of a departure from past anthos, but one that worked well. And, of course, when this book and my Steampunk Bible come out we’ll be identified as Steampunks…until whatever the next project is. (“Oh–look, there go the squidpunks!”) I’ve gotten used to it. There seems to be an inability to differentiate the fascination in tackling a particular project from the identity of the person tackling it, which is perfectly understandable, even though moi as writer is often different from moi as editor. The antidote, of course, will be to do Leviathan 5, and make it as surreal, experimental, and confrontational as possible. Yep, that’ll do the trick.

Finally, thanks to Jacob Weisman at Tachyon Publications for supporting our wish to have an open reading period. From a publisher’s perspective, unsolicited submissions can often seem just lost opportunities to invite or include established writers whose reputations can help sell an anthology. But open reading periods are essential for encountering work by new and less established writers—they are also essential for editors who want to continually be rejuvenated and re-energized by new voices. As it turned out, we took five submissions from the open reading period, and we also encountered many dozens of talented writers for the first time whose work we’re now on the look-out for, and who may well contribute to future projects.

We’ll announce the complete contents of Steampunk Reloaded early next week.

9 Responses to “Steampunk Reading Almost Done”

  1. Divers Hands says:

    By that tossed off description alone, I am looking forward to Leviathan 5 (though in all fairness I own all but the first Leviathan, so even if its about pretty ponies and sad puppies I’ll probably buy it) (do NOT make it about pretty ponies and sad puppies).

    I will admit that I was not terribly impressed with the first Steampunk anthology, as all the stories in it seemed fairly par for the course. I tend to prefer my anthologies to take risks though, which is probably something that most publishers frown upon. However, given the open reading period, I am intrigued to see what you have come up with. For some reason, as the interest in Steampunk grew in tha latter half of the Aughts mine waned… I think mostly because so little of it seemed to do anything really interesting with the potential of the setting. Hopefully you have dug up some lovlies with a taste for biting social commentary, or at least re-organized priorities.

    I am however eagerly awaiting the eventual April release of your Squidpunk anthology.

  2. jeff vandermeer says:

    Everyone has their favorites. Although I can’t believe you didn’t think the Lansdale took chances! You’re a tough audience.

  3. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Scratch that–seven stories from the slushpile.

  4. Rina says:

    SQUIDPUNK!! Punkety-punk-punk. Atompunk. Whatever you two do next, I look forward to buying it and reading it. Well, especially squidpunk, I must say! :)

  5. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    heh. all you need to do is convince your husband. ;)

  6. Paul Evanby says:

    Ah well, my interest in Steampunk was a lot more keen, once. Here in the Netherlands it’s never been very popular, but then, the 19th century meant something very different here than in the Anglo-Saxon world. The British Empire was at its zenith, while Dutch international influence had recently waned to virtually nothing. It does make me curious what viewpoints from other cultures will be represented in Reloaded. Looking forward to it!

  7. jeff vandermeer says:

    Our main focus was on taking great stories–we are just not interested in anything else–and we read widely and broadly in our daily lives, including lots of material outside of genre, which influences our opinions of stories within genre. As noted, some of what we’ve taken has a political or social subtext and some does not. We’re not much for didactic, lectury stories, nor for fluffy nonsense. The story we took from Cat Valente is a good example of an approach where the message is fully integrated with the other elements. Culturally it’s more diverse than the first antho but not as diverse as, potentially, an antho of reprints published five or six years from now. A lot of strong female characters, too.

    In terms of international speculative fiction generally there are still the twin issues of getting good translations and also, quite frankly, selecting material from authors not just echoing UK/US approaches–a situation you sometimes see because cultural imperialism tends to make some writers and editors devalue more organic approaches. Some countries, too, have richer traditions of supporting nonrealistic fiction than others, which affects what is available.

    My dream, to be honest, would be that someone would pay me and Ann enough to do nothing for a couple years but just explore international nonrealistic fiction, find untranslated writers of note, commission and coordinate translations. But it isn’t likely, alas.

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