Steampunk Q&A – Part 2

Patricia said: This isn’t really about the content.. but the language. I’m from Germany and while I always got straight As in English I had some serious problems when I started reading English novels. (I was 14 back then, though) I often shy away from historicals and wondered if the language is that much different from your Guardian novels’ language. – With some things it’s okay, because I can look them up, but others.. Well. *sigh*

I can’t speak on this about steampunk in general, only my own work. The Iron Seas books are written in a different mode than my Guardian books, which incorporates more contemporary/modern slang, usage, and so on. With the Iron Seas, however, I use a structure that sounds less modern (to my ears, anyway), and am diligent about making certain the words themselves are appropriate to the time period (the etymological dictionary is my best friend while writing them.)

But my voice is similar, I think. On the level of a sentence, you won’t find the complexity of, say, a Jane Austen novel. I deliberately try to make it as accessible as possible without making it *simple,* if that makes sense — and so I would *hope* that you would find it as easy to read as the Guardian books.

That said, it’s hard for me to judge. I use terms that might be familiar to many historical readers, yet that wouldn’t be to a non-native speaker who primarily uses contemporary English, and I wouldn’t realize that I’ve made it difficult in that way. Not that I don’t deliberately select every word and phrase, because I do — but because I wouldn’t know which ones would be familiar to you from your reading.

So I’d love to give you a real answer — Yes! they will be easy!, or No! They are difficult! — but it’s simply impossible for me to guess. I suspect that if you don’t have any trouble with the excerpts on the site (link), you probably wouldn’t have any trouble with the novels. There will likely be some confusion even while reading those excerpts (simply because there is a lot of worldbuilding going on, and many aspects of the world will be unfamiliar to you whether the language is clear or not, and I introduce terms like “nanoagents” that only have meaning in this world), but it will give you a good idea of whether my writing is significantly different.

I also wondered if the people in Steampunk novels are open-minded.. No, I mean.. If it’s a historical setting then you’d expect the people to be like they were back then, but it’s also fantasy and romance.. So.. Well, I guess most of my questions are about those differences. Not the setting, but how this changes the reading experience, the personalities (and I wanted to add something else but nothing comes to my mind so I’ll just say–) etc.

My answer here is Yes and No. I often describe steampunk as history written (or re-written) through 21st century goggles, and I think that modern sensibility often bleeds through so that the behaviors that are acceptable within the story are more explicitly written/viewed through that lens. I also think that the inclusion of those modern sensibilities don’t seem as anachronistic as they can in some historical novels, simply because of the nature of the steampunk genre (that fantasy aspect, if you will.) Those modern sensibilities still have to *fit* the world — just as the advanced technology does — but if written well, it’s not as jarring as it can be in a historical novel.

I don’t want to give the impression, however, that *everyone* in a steampunk novel is more open-minded, or that all people in history were close-minded. They aren’t. It all depends on the individual character. Some men in steampunk novels will think it’s perfectly fine to beat their wives; some real historical men or men in historical novels would be horrified by the idea, and it wouldn’t be anachronistic at all. On a wider scale, however, on a social and cultural scale — yes, I think it is easier to incorporate more modern ideas without seeming anachronistic.