I’m not often moved to write articles, usually it’s fiction for me. But I was intrigued by the two “Who Killed Steampunk?” articles here and surprised by some of the responses. All genres have their ups and downs, and I’m hoping any steampunk downturn will soon turn around. Again, like the original article, I am restricting this to written steampunk only.
Nick’s articles made me think. They made me wonder what was my unwritten agenda? When I started writing the Shades of Aether series, I just wanted to write a light-hearted adventure (under my other author name I write dark gritty crime and I needed a break from that). The books started as an adventure and forbidden love story, but grew into something more. While I created that, I didn’t analyze or worry over it. It just came about organically.
My main character is a woman and a scientist who struggles to be taken seriously as either. Does that indicate a feminist agenda? Actually, it means I needed a foil for the original lead man. Besides, I’m writing steampunk, one of the leads had to be an inventor. It couldn’t be a man, because that would have been too easy in 1875, so it had to be the girl.
One of my main character’s brothers is a homosexual. Does that mean I’m promoting the LGBT+ cause? For this character, I needed a reason strong enough for family censure, but not something that made him “a bad ‘un”. So, I considered 1870s law and the story potential in the anti-gay legislation of the time. I thought a gay character to a modern readership would seem more unaccepted than unacceptable.
Of the two male leads, one is Jewish. Does that mean that I’m promoting a philosemitic agenda? I didn’t know even Jenson was Jewish until halfway through drafting the second book, when it became blindingly obvious that he’d been Jewish all along, I just hadn’t noticed (and it all stemmed from my realizing he didn’t eat bacon).
The other male lead is a battered husband. Yes, it happens now and it happened than, it’s just not often talked about. Does that mean I’m trying to raise awareness of abusive relationships? Being married to the wrong woman was always a part of the character’s backstory. The violence came about because it was a way to carry the hidden into the light. It works within the story.
The battering wife has all sorts of stability and personal issues. Does this mean I want to highlight mental health issues? There’s a huge backstory to this marriage, which comes out in the third book, but while I wasn’t knowingly championing mental health issues, the harsh and really unpleasant realities of the way Victorians dealt with mental health have a major impact on the situation in the books. I chose this because, again, I thought it worked for the story.
One of my main character’s brother-in-laws is black. Am I promoting racial awareness? Actually, in this case, yes. History has been whitewashed. Way more black people lived in Victorian London than is generally acknowledged. London has always been a bubbling cauldron of populations and ideas. While I felt no pressure for racial inclusivity, I did want to see a particular character’s reaction to it.
My main character’s chaperone is 88 years old and feisty. Does that mean I’m pro-age? Maybe, but this character was really a last-minute addition and making her an aging and loving relative avoided the need to introduce her at length.
One recurring character is a hunchback. Am I working to promote a positive view of the physically handicapped? The second male lead is accepting of the whole range of humanity, so his friends include a male-dressing lesbian and a hunchback. Of course, there’s more to both characters than those titles, but there’s always more to people than the labels we stick on them. This was a way to demonstrate one character’s inclusivity.
I have characters discussing suffrage. Is this feminism in action? Suffrage was a big topic at the time. It would have been strange not to have intelligent female characters discuss it at least once.
My main character encounters prostitutes and berates police officers. Does that mean I have a social issues agenda? Again, both actions were demonstrations of the main character’s nature. Part of which is that her circumstances have made her who she is, so it’s her politics coming through.
Politics wasn’t on my mind when I was writing the Shades of Aether series. I try to make my characters and the situations they find themselves in real and believable. If you enjoy my work, great. If you don’t, fair enough. We’re all different. If you don’t want a diverse range of characters in your novel, don’t have them. If you want to forward an agenda, do, but accept that others may feel differently. Not all steampunk fiction needs to include all things. Not all books need to have an agenda. Steampunk is, and should be, about giving room to people across the spectrum of human experience and possibility.
Inclusivity is what drew me to this genre. Tolerance is what will keep it alive.
Did I have an agenda in writing my books? Yes — to entertain.