Okay, so it’s not really Steampunk Romance Week anymore, but since I know readers are still looking for more steampunk romance, I’m still happy to bring it to your attention. Today, I’m interviewing Christine Danse about Island of Icarus — a steampunk romance released on November 29th from Carina Press. So let’s get started!
The most succint definition I’ve found: “Victorian science fiction.” That’s the first thing I tell people when they ask me. But then I follow that up with a much longer explanation, because I don’t mean H. G. Wells or Jules Verne. Also, steampunk isn’t always Victorian, although it usually retains a 19th century aesthetic. “It’s a historical setting with advanced steam technology,” I’ll say, although that isn’t completely accurate, either, because there can be alchemy, advanced clockwork, and even a bit of electricity. I want to tell people it’s a subgenre of science fiction, but more often than not, there’s a lot of fantasy and paranormal elements included, so there goes that. When all’s said, I usually end up flapping my hands and saying, “Just go watch League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Steamboy.”
Even if you didn’t know the term ‘steampunk,’ what was your introduction to the genre? Do you recall when you first heard the term ‘steampunk’?
While reading China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, I read a review on the book’s cover which labelled the story a “steampunk.” I loved that book, and I was already a fan of cyberpunk, so I was intrigued that an entire subgenre devoted to this gritty, fantastic setting existed. Of course, I no longer consider Perdido Street Station a typical steampunk story, if such a thing exists. (Mieville calls it “weird fiction,” and I agree. PSS was certainly weird–in a very awesome way.) In any case, it inspired me to look “steampunk” up on-line and learn more about the genre.
Do you have any favorite books or movies that you’d like to recommend?
If you like dark, dense speculative fiction with richly detailed worlds, Perdido Street Station. Then there’s Whitechapel Gods by S. M. Peters, which is my personal favorite. Of course, you must read The Difference Engine by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson if you want to get into the genre. I loved it. And if you just want a quick introduction to steampunk, I suggest watching the animated film Steamboy. I consider that classic steampunk–Victorian England, lots of gadgets and steam technology, mad inventors, and adventure.
What draws you to the genre?
I enjoy the aesthetic–the tangible, hit-it-with-a-wrench brass machinery–as well as the 19th century cultures and attitudes. It’s fun to play with Victorian mores–and also to break them, because you can do that in steampunk. I also love that steampunk is very accessible to elements of magic and the supernatural, because I adore science fiction/fantasy mish-mashes. Story of my life.
How would you describe the tone of your novel?
Introspective and mellow. Not a typical steampunk story.
Will you tell us a little bit about your steampunk world?
My world, on a whole, is a “strange steampunk” setting with alchemy, occultists, dragons, fae, gargoyles, and yeah, a few vampires. However, the supernatural isn’t widely known or accepted; alchemists keep their science to themselves, the fae hide behind a veil with a host of other strange folk, and all of the other creatures–the dragons, gargoyles, and vampires–are very rare. A lot of civilized folk just “don’t believe in that stuff.” The supernatural elements don’t pop up in Island of Icarus at all, as the scope and setting of the story is rather narrow. However, I address them in some of my short stories, such as “Fear of Darkness” and “That Dratted Affair with the Dream Engine” .
And will you tell us a little bit about your characters and the challenges they will face?
Island of Icarus is told from the point of view of Jonathan, a London professor of biology. Things have been rough for him, and at first it seems like they’re only getting worse. First his fiancee leaves, and then he loses his arm in a freak accident. It’s replaced with this bulky, disruptive prosthetic that is a constant embarrassment. Just when Jon is starting to feel a little hopeful–he’s looking forward to a new semester–the dean ships him off to “field work” in the Galapagos. The trip is lonely and miserable. To top it all off, he gets shipwrecked during a storm.
Thankfully, the deserted tropical island that Jon washes up on isn’t completely deserted. One man, Marcus, makes his home there. Marcus is a surgeon and an engineer. He builds Jon a new mechanical arm–and it’s a huge improvement. Things are pretty nice for a while: Jon and Marcus are both science geeks, so they hit it off as friends right away. But something is bothering Jon. He…feels things around Marcus that he can’t explain. His body and emotions react in a way that make no logical sense. Jon will have to delve deep into himself and come to terms with his past, with who he is–and with his future.
Is there an invention that you particularly love in your story?
I really like the idea of self-winding clockwork, which is what Marcus uses to power Jon’s arm. You wind the clockwork up, but once it’s in motion, it powers its own continual wind-up. In “real life,” of course, this wouldn’t work really well. Laws of physics, energy lost as friction, and all that. But that’s why it’s fun to experiment with it in fiction.
Do you have any other steampunk romances coming up?
I’m working on an M/M/F menage that could be considered a romance (although I guess it’s more of an erotica). The story makes me feel like a dissatisfied, tireless inventor: I’m dismantling and rebuilding its plot for about the third time now. I also have several steampunk romance novels in various stages of planning, at least three of which expand upon with my short story, Fear of Darkness. And I’m working on a steampunk novelette with my writing partner, Dena Celeste, but that’s pure erotica. That one is oodles of fun.
Is there anything else you’d like the reader to know?
I’m thrilled at how popular steampunk has become (more worlds to explore and stories to choose from!), but I’m disappointed by how many people are unfamiliar with one of my other favorite “punks”–biopunk. Biopunk’s interesting, because it has a lot of cyberpunk and steampunk crossovers (Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan comes to mind), and it plays with my favorite themes: bioengineering, the nature of humanity, megacorporations, and the sanctity of life–as well as exploitation of life as a commodity. The genre is skeletal (no pun intended), but I’d like to help change that. I’ll be launching a biopunk blog later this month (after my finals and an early Christmas trip), so I encourage you to keep an eye out on my website (www.christinedanse.com) and my Twitter (@dansedesirable) for the news!
Thank you! 🙂
Thank you, Christine!
Here’s the description for Island of Icarus:
Field Journal of Jonathan Orms, 1893
En route to polite exile in the Galapagos Islands (field work, to quote the dean of my university), I have found myself marooned on a deserted tropical paradise. Deserted, that is, except for my savior, a mysterious American called Marcus. He is an inventor—and the proof of his greatness is the marvelous new clockwork arm he has created to replace the unsightly one that was ruined in my shipboard mishap.
Marcus has a truly brilliant mind and the gentlest hands, which cause me to quiver in an unfamiliar but rather pleasant way. Surely it is only my craving for human companionship that draws me to this man, nothing more? He says a ship will pass this way in a few months, but I am welcome to stay as long as I like. The thought of leaving Marcus becomes more untenable with each passing day, though staying would be fatal to my career… Read an excerpt and/or buy it at Carina Press. Buy at Amazon.
(And, just as a note for steampunk romance readers: Carina Press also recently released Bonnie Dee’s Like Clockwork. We heart you, Carina Press! Thank you for enabling our addiction.)