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Author Topic: PC139: To Follow the Waves  (Read 33784 times)

Unblinking

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Reply #25 on: January 17, 2011, 03:00:18 PM
After she eventually kicks Nala to the curb for her sadism/inability to forgive, she'll settle down with a nice girl :).

I didn't get that vibe from Nala at all.  She said she would forgive, just not unconditionally (and, given the circumstances, wanting some kind of restitution is not unreasonable).  I also don't think she's sadistic, except maybe in a playful way - she just wants Hessa to understand what Nala herself went through.

I tend to agree, that I don't think Nala's sadistic.  Or rather, Hessa's dream-figment is not sadistic, because I still think that last part is more likely to be a dream.



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Reply #26 on: January 18, 2011, 05:41:40 PM
Very nice story, excellent use of imagery. I'm on the "not steampunk" side, or at least the "not really steampunk". Seems more like a fantasy, Castle Falkenstein kind of 19th century magic setting. I guess there are goggles and airships, but most of the story is about the magical dream gems.

I really liked the setup and the prose. I think Hessa got off too easy, though -- Nala should have stayed far away from her after that. Still, at least Nala didn't just fall into her arms. I'd like to see what happens with them later, and that's a good thing to come away from a story with.

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Reply #27 on: January 19, 2011, 08:25:52 AM
It didn't really occur to me that this wasn't really steampunk until reading these forums, but now that I think about it, it doesn't really fit with steampunk, there were just a few nods in the direction of the sub-genre.

However genre is just a label and I don't see why people get so fussy about it. A story is a story, genres are just the filing system.

So the story itself: I really liked this one. I love a good story about a well meaning protagonist who screws up massively through naivety and lack of understanding. I think we really feel sorry for Hessa, as well as Nala, when it's revealed what happened. I could really identify with Hessa's obsession with Nala, because it's something I've found myself doing in the past - constructing elaborate fantasies about people I see, but have never worked up the nerve to talk to - thankfully I'm slightly more emotionally balanced now.

My main criticism of this story was that it dragged a little at the start and was hard to get into. I found it hard to work out what was going on and the flashbacks didn't really help too much. Once I got into the story I was sold, but it too a while to get into.


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Reply #28 on: January 19, 2011, 05:07:32 PM
Hrm. I'm not sure whether or not to start a different discussion or not about what is steampunk, but since the discussion on this story has been so good, I'll give it a go in this thread.

For me, this story qualifies as steampunk because it takes place when Victorian England is definitely having their steampunk-age, but instead of taking place in the setting we've become so accustomed to seeing in steampunk stories, it takes place in the Middle East. Traditional steampunk-ish stuff is happening off in the distance - we see traces of it from the outside, and it affects our characters. So for me, this is steampunk from a different perspective, and thus, I'm happy to also label it steampunk. Although, sure. I'd label it fantasy, too. (I like stories with lots of labels.)

And I could do with more steampunk fantasy in my life :)


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Reply #29 on: January 20, 2011, 12:02:08 AM
Hey guys! Thank you so much for your thoughts; I can't stress enough how fantastic it is to get to see people discussing a story of mine.

I'd like to address a few things I found particularly interesting:

- Schreiber: oh man. Reading your comment was like unwrapping a gift. That aspect of the story took me COMPLETELY BY SURPRISE, and I only realised what was happening midway through the exchange, when I thought, "....wait, what am I writing about here? This is -- is it allegory? WHAT IS IT ALLEGORY FOR? I AM WRITING FICTION! I -- oh. Yes. Okay. Allegory for writing fiction? Let's go with that."

I didn't MEAN for it to be, but there it was, and now I'm writing meta about the meta, so, er. Will stop. 

- steampunk vs. fantasy: I see steampunk as a subgenre of fantasy, so the two aren't mutually exclusive to me. But I've seen a few people comment on how this story isn't steampunk because it has magic instead of tech and lacks Victoriana. To which I say: expanding the subgenre into diversity means first recognising the elements that exclude the possibility of diversity. I actually spent a slightly disproportionate amount of time researching crystals and how there might be a technologically plausible basis for what I wanted to do in the story -- but I opted to communicate that which I wanted to do in a register of language I felt was appropriate to someone who isn't a scientist or engineer, let alone a scientist or engineer from the West. Salma, Hessa's teacher, has worked with stones all her life, and stumbled upon this property; this is the way in which she knows how to teach what she's learned.

Fun fact #1: I almost wrote a scene between Hessa and her mother, where her mother -- cool-eyed mathematician par excellence that she is -- is basically debunking the way Salma talks about dream-crafting, by saying "you do realise that what she calls 'songs' are electrical impulses, and that when you're 'teaching songs to the stone' what you're actually doing is [insert complex half-invented techno-babble here]?" To which Hessa would reply, shrugging, "so? It works. And I speak to Hessa in her language, as she speaks to her stones in theirs."

But I didn't write that scene because that wasn't the story I was supposed to be telling, and my explanation of how the dream-crafting works was getting to be too long already. >.> But the point is that dream-crafting is supposed to be a craft, a matter of programming -- and while we're on the subject, you're reading these words by means of knowledge contained inside SAND and METAL, you know? Insert quotes about sufficiently advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic, etc. Further to which, if a fob-watch bearing gentleman in a waistcoat and top-hat had descended upon Damascus by airship and marvelled at the crystal-technology that allowed the Damascene to manipulate dreams by means of rigorously controlling the oscillation-chambers of quartz through gem-cutting -- would THAT be Steampunk? Please don't say yes if you think the story on its own isn't, because, well, that'd be disturbing to me, that you can't get Steampunk without a British Victorian gaze.

Fun fact #2: Did you guys know that the Greek word "elektron" actually means AMBER? That the first experiments with static electricity were done by rubbing amber? That totally blew my mind, and is the reason the copper coronets that hold the quartz are studded with amber.

Last, the relationship with Nahla. I have to break this down into a few things:

- The scene of the confrontation isn't actually occurring in a dream; it's happening for real, in Hessa's workshop. 
- ElectricPaladin expressed a preference for the relationship to NOT work out, and I am here to say, that relationship is HARD, and I was not by any means trying to broadcast a "happy ever after" type ending. Nahla's been violated, Hessa is devastated to have inadvertantly violated someone; Nahla is revolting against an imbalance of power, and Hessa didn't even know she HAD power. What I tried to do with the ending, with the last line, is show that there's hope for them -- that when Nahla makes the same rookie mistake Hessa made when she was starting out, she's showing they have something in common, some place from which to begin.
- Nahla is not a nice person.
- Nahla will totally be getting her own story somewhere down the line (in fact I itch to write it RIGHT NOW but, sigh, thesis, whatcha gonna do)

Again, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about this story! It means so much to me, and I really hope that regardless of what you thought of it that you consider picking up the anthology, because wow. It is full of absolutely gorgeous and amazing stuff!



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Reply #30 on: January 20, 2011, 05:03:05 PM
This is one of the best pieces of fantasy short fiction I've ever heard/read.  I rarely give the stories I hear here a second listen cuz I've got too many in the hopper, but this one certainly warrants another listen through.  There was such vivid imagery, such a well-imagined world, and such raw emotion.  I feel like we've all obsessed over someone that hard in our lives, and the aching and longing is so well described here it almost dredges it all back up again.  Hats off to an awesome story and an awesome reading - if I can manage to proselytize Podcastle to any of my friends, this shall be the story I direct them to.



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Reply #31 on: January 20, 2011, 06:29:33 PM
I'm glad you stopped by Amal!  :)  Always good to chat with the author.

Regarding whether it's steampunk, I wouldn't have even mentioned it if the intro hadn't been based so heavily on this being a steampunk story.  Whatever the general definition is, to me steampunk is historical fiction based around anachronistic technology.  Yes, there was anachronistic tech here (like the automaton cook) but the core idea with the dreams written in stones seemed entirely fantastical to me, though it may be based in real science at its core.  But, clearly other people see the separation differently than I do, since the story ran in a steampunk antho, and was described as steampunk by yourself and in the intro.  I don't see that difference of opinion as a big deal, but yup I still see it as fantasy.

Quote
- The scene of the confrontation isn't actually occurring in a dream; it's happening for real, in Hessa's workshop. 

I'm not surprised that that was your intent.  However, I think the other interpretation is equally valid from the text alone, and to me it makes more sense, so it's the one that's the spaghetti noodle that sticks to the wall for me. Again, I don't really see the difference of opinion as a big deal, but if a story has two interpretations that can be drawn from the text alone, I don't see either as being wrong, whatever the author intent.



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Reply #32 on: January 20, 2011, 07:54:43 PM
Unblinking: I'm glad you're glad! It's hard to know what's appropriate, as author -- it's such a treat to see discussion happening that I totally want to take part, but my DON'T RESPOND TO REVIEWS instinct kicks in, and the line between discussion and review is drawn in the sand, I think. So I want to be totally clear that I'm not trying to be proscriptive in any of this -- just to kind of offer something along the lines of DVD commentary, I guess?

About the confrontation scene -- I actually love the idea that the way it's written could sustain your interpretation! I only felt the need to clarify because I wondered if it was one of those things where reading it might be clearer than listening to it. The passage goes like this:

She put the circlet aside and rose to dress herself. She would try to understand it later that night. It would be her final one; she would ask another question, and see what tricks her mind played on her then.

But there would be no third night.

That afternoon, as Hessa opened her door to step out for an early dinner at Qahwat al Adraj, firm hands grasped her by the shoulders and shoved her back inside. Before she could protest or grasp what was happening, her braidless woman stood before her, so radiant with fury that Hessa could hardly speak for the pain it brought her.


May I ask why you see it as a dream, or what prompts you to read it that way? I'm curious! :)



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Reply #33 on: January 20, 2011, 08:33:03 PM
What would make for a better dream than one that convinces you it's not a dream?  To add in the detail of setting aside the circlet would frame the ensuing events as "real."  She never actually says that the final confrontation is not a dream; we, the readers, infer it from her actions, and that then means that the possibility is there. 

Plus, every dream-based story from "Nightmare on Elm Street" to "Inception" seems unable to resist the "But was *everything* a dream" schtick, and it's kind of gotten ingrained in the collective unconscious.

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Reply #34 on: January 20, 2011, 08:49:56 PM
Unblinking: I'm glad you're glad! It's hard to know what's appropriate, as author -- it's such a treat to see discussion happening that I totally want to take part, but my DON'T RESPOND TO REVIEWS instinct kicks in, and the line between discussion and review is drawn in the sand, I think. So I want to be totally clear that I'm not trying to be proscriptive in any of this -- just to kind of offer something along the lines of DVD commentary, I guess?

That's always a difficult line to decide where to draw.  The most common advice seems to be to never read reviews, and there's something to be said for that.  Part of that is because some reviewers just try to be snarky for the sake of snark, working with the beginning assumption that the work sucks and trying to find the most entertaining way to say why.  The main reason I stick around here is that the discussion as a whole is allowed to go either way but is based on the discussion of merits or flaws in the story itself.  I am neither expected to love, nor to hate any particular story, and I feel comfortable saying what I liked and what I didn't, and hearing where other people agreed and didn't.

I like when authors stop by (and most people around here seem to), as long as they don't try to start flame wars with people who didn't like it (which you haven't).  In particular, I like to hear:
1.  What the author meant to convey.
2.  Where the idea for the story originally sparked from.


May I ask why you see it as a dream, or what prompts you to read it that way? I'm curious! :)

I'm happy to explain.  :)  The biggest factor is the fact that the protagonist can craft dreams, even dreams for herself.  She is in the business of making the dreams seem lifelike, otherwise she wouldn't be so popular.  So because of that particular choice of speculative element, the possibility of some of the events being part of a dream was always kept in mind.

Beyond that, what really triggered me to think that that particular portion of the story was a dream was the combination of:
a.  It seemed to end a bit too conveniently with the previously unseen Nala returning Hessa's sexual attraction.
b.  It didn't seem to say how Nala could have even found Hessa.
c.  She says herself that this sort of side effect is impossible.
d.  She wonders herself if it is a dream.
e.  Much of the story of escalating masturbation, so it fits the trend for this to be the next step.

It might be unclear what I mean by escalating masturbation.  I see four steps in that escalation:
1.  Her actual manual masturbation mentioned in the story, done the good old fashioned way.

2.  The extension of her Nala fantasy into dreams made for others.  This is an escalation because she's including other people in her fantasy by making them have her fantasy by proxy.  She's rewarded not only for her pleasure in the manual masturbation, and the creation of the dreams, but also financially from her sudden success, and in artistic achievement knowing that her work is wanted, as well as the power to choose which customers she wishes to take.

3.  The amethyst dream made for herself.  This is an escalation because she's making the dream permanent and relivable and tuned to her own exact desires instead of fitting them to someone else's.  But after some period of time this turns out to be ultimately unsatisfying, because she is too aware that is only a dream.  This is evidenced by the fact that she doesn't ask for Nala's name--which she admits she would do in real life but to dream a false name and a false voice would clash with the possible reality.

4.  The last segment, the new dream in which she convinces herself that Nala has actually come to her.  The 3rd escalation proved unsatisfying because she is too aware that it is pure masturbation with no other party involved.  The absolute control which she once enjoyed has become dull to her from repitition.  So she crafts a new stone, inventing a new permutation in which Nala shows up at her shop.  She puts Nala in control because her own absolute control has grown uninteresting.  She invents her own crime of imposing her fantasy on others to justify the bondage.  At the same time, she knows she'll gain intellectual pleasure from gaining an apprentice to teach her craft to.  In the 3rd escalation, she'd neglected to give her a voice or a name, but here she explicitly does both because her voicelessness and nameless were what made it so obviously a masturbation fantasy.  She even gave her a voice that isn't the silky voice she imagines she would imagine because that juxtaposition enhances the apparent truth of it "I wouldn't have given her that vioce, therefore it must be real".  She knows herself well enough that she predicts her own argument and uses it to make the dream more convincing, allowing herself for the first time to believe within the space of the dream that this is REALLY happening, and not just another form of self-pleasure.


Anyway, I'm interested if you have any response to this justification and alternate interpretation.  :)



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Reply #35 on: January 20, 2011, 09:43:04 PM
3.  The amethyst dream made for herself.  This is an escalation because she's making the dream permanent and relivable and tuned to her own exact desires instead of fitting them to someone else's.  But after some period of time this turns out to be ultimately unsatisfying, because she is too aware that is only a dream.  This is evidenced by the fact that she doesn't ask for Nala's name--which she admits she would do in real life but to dream a false name and a false voice would clash with the possible reality.

I'm confused as to what you're basing "this turns out to be ulitmately unsatisfying" on? I don't see anything in the text that suggests Hessa was anything but satisfied by the dream fantasies she created.


amalmohtar

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Reply #36 on: January 20, 2011, 09:46:05 PM
That is TOTALLY FASCINATING!

All of that makes sense to me, except that if the bulk of the interpretation rests on it being an amethyst-dream, that's where my intent and your reading diverge, I think. Hessa considers the amethyst as a material, but then puts it aside in favour of clear quartz:

She hesitated over the choice of stone; a dream crafted in white quartz could last for up to three uses, depending on the clarity of the crystal and the time she took in grinding it. But a dream crafted in amethyst could last indefinitely—could belong to her forever, as long as she wanted it, renewing itself to the rhythm of her thoughts, modulating its song to harmonise with her dream-desires. She had only ever crafted two dreams in amethyst, a matched set to be given as a wedding gift, and the sum she commanded for the task had financed a year's worth of materials and bought her a new lathe.

Reluctantly, she chose the white quartz. Three nights, that was all she would allow herself; three nights for a week's careful, loving labour, and perhaps then this obsession would burn itself out, would leave her sated. Three nights, and then no more.


I'd meant to set this up as an extension of Hessa's guilt at using images of Nahla in the first place -- and that the guilt was based in an instinct for something about all this being wrong. Also, I admit, because I was kind of thinking aloud about how different kinds of quartz might resonate, and that the genesis of this idea began with the very commodified idea of the dream-coronet, that could last for one use or three or indefinitely, on a rising payscale, and want to play more in this world in other stories.

But I kind of see now how, in a BRAZIL-esque re-imagining, that could be the moment where the narrative becomes dream; where she crafts a dream of herself crafting a dream, but makes it in amethyst instead of quartz, hence the whole rest of it is unreal. There's nothing to indicate that, per se -- by which I mean if that had been my intention, I'd think this were sloppy execution -- but I can see what you mean, and it's really cool to see such a different reading!



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Reply #37 on: January 20, 2011, 10:01:18 PM
3.  The amethyst dream made for herself.  This is an escalation because she's making the dream permanent and relivable and tuned to her own exact desires instead of fitting them to someone else's.  But after some period of time this turns out to be ultimately unsatisfying, because she is too aware that is only a dream.  This is evidenced by the fact that she doesn't ask for Nala's name--which she admits she would do in real life but to dream a false name and a false voice would clash with the possible reality.

I'm confused as to what you're basing "this turns out to be ulitmately unsatisfying" on? I don't see anything in the text that suggests Hessa was anything but satisfied by the dream fantasies she created.

You're correct that this wasn't stated in the story, but I inferred it as her justification for escalating the fantasy.  The final dream is written in a way that blocks her from remembering that dissatisfaction in the same way that she has blocked her memory of making the dream itself.  It's a motive she'd hidden from herself because then she would see her own hand in the craftsmanship and ruin the fantasy.



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Reply #38 on: January 20, 2011, 10:15:40 PM
Reluctantly, she chose the white quartz. Three nights, that was all she would allow herself; three nights for a week's careful, loving labour, and perhaps then this obsession would burn itself out, would leave her sated. Three nights, and then no more.

Apparently I'd missed the detail of her choosing the white quartz over the amethyst.  My mistake on that one. But I think it still works if, as you suggested, that choice was the branching point of reality and dream.

Quote
There's nothing to indicate that, per se -- by which I mean if that had been my intention, I'd think this were sloppy execution -- but I can see what you mean, and it's really cool to see such a different reading!

I wouldn't call it a sloppy execution, even if this interpretation had been your intent, but a testament to Hessa's craftmanship.  If there were huge clues to indicate this meaning, then it would mean that the clues would've been caused by sloppy dream craftsmanship on Hessa's part, and if Hessa didn't pick up on those clues herself, then THAT would be more indicative of sloppy writing execution (as in, the author suppressing Hessa's otherwise certain realization for the sake of the ending).  The dream HAS to be quite convincing to most readers, otherwise how could I believe it was crafted by a master?  In fact it was so convincing that it even convinced the author of the story that the last part wasn't a dream.  "Wow, Hessa's good at what she does!" I say, as I read between the lines between the lines between the lines and I spiral into the depths of silliness.

Anyway, I'm glad you've enjoyed my unforeseen interpretation.  I'll admit that I was a little bit worried that you would see a description of "escalating masturbation" as an insult, so I'm glad that you haven't taken offense where none was meant. This is the sort of author conversation I most enjoy.  :)
« Last Edit: January 20, 2011, 10:19:22 PM by Unblinking »



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Reply #39 on: January 20, 2011, 11:21:05 PM
How does any of us know that this whole discussion isn't a mad fever dream of Dave's, after all?  ;)

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Reply #40 on: January 20, 2011, 11:57:13 PM
How does any of us know that this whole discussion isn't a mad fever dream of Dave's, after all?  ;)

Am I a man dreaming I'm a bowling ball or a butterfly dreaming I'm a plate of sashimi?

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amalmohtar

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Reply #41 on: January 21, 2011, 12:24:24 AM
Washer: Thank you so much! :) I'm so happy you enjoyed it, especially enough for a second listen.

Unblinking: I wrote the story before Inception came out, but am now lamenting the lack of a final piece of quartz falling to the ground and spinning, spinning, spinn--*cough*




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Reply #42 on: January 21, 2011, 02:27:31 PM
How does any of us know that this whole discussion isn't a mad fever dream of Dave's, after all?  ;)

I did pick up a weird stone at the pawn shop before I slept, and my hand was touching it as I fell asleep, so that makes total sense!



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Reply #43 on: January 21, 2011, 06:40:14 PM
I think it's a good idea to dispel the common misconception that all steampunk must be Victorian, but this story didn't do that for me because I would never have connected it with steampunk but for the intro and outro.  The stonework seemed like straight up fantasy to me.  *shrug* 

This, +1

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yicheng

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Reply #44 on: January 21, 2011, 08:02:31 PM
I generally liked the story.  I was a bit confused at first about the connection between stones and dreams, and how exactly that worked.  I thought the characters we well-written, and I enjoyed the small world-building details like braids used to denote one's social status.  The ending managed to be both anti-climactic and abrupt, though I'm not sure how it should have been resolved, but it didn't feel the end of a story as much as the start of a novel.

I generally don't like labels, but I was really confused by the "Steampunk" label.  Don't you have to have, well, Steam (clockwork, gears, etc) for it to be called Steampunk?  

As an aside, I wholly agree that Steampunk should be international.  I've thought for a long time about how cool a Steampunk story set during the 1800's Chinese Boxer Rebellion would be, and there are at least 1 or 2 Steampunk stories that I've read set in during the Japanese Meiji Restoration.
« Last Edit: January 21, 2011, 08:05:21 PM by yicheng »



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Reply #45 on: January 22, 2011, 01:17:52 AM
Even without the gears, this story still felt like steampunk to me, primarily because I’ve always enjoyed Victorian literature. The fantasy and adventure stories from back then center around fascinating people, elaborate cities, and an age of exploration and scientific discovery - stories that make you realize the spices in your kitchen are exotic and wonderful and we just take those things for granted these days. It’s about the language and the attitude of the story, which I felt Amal hit spot-on. I love that steampunk is popular right now because it puts me in touch with more beautiful world-building like this. Yeah, robots are a plus, but if it doesn’t evoke those feelings, no amount of clockwork automatons will make it a good story for me.

Also, speaking as a life-long rock collector, the idea that stones played such is central role in this story made me happy.



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Reply #46 on: January 22, 2011, 02:30:13 PM
Two things of note:

1) When I opened up the forum, this topic had had 666 views. DUN DUN DUNNNN.

2) To anyone who's wondering why my alleged steampunk story doesn't feature steamworks: I wrote my thoughts on that for Tor.com during their Steampunk Fortnight, in an articled called "Towards a Steampunk without Steam," in case you're interested. Believe me, the absence of steam in my story prompted a lot of soul-searching about genre labels.



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Reply #47 on: January 22, 2011, 04:00:20 PM
2) To anyone who's wondering why my alleged steampunk story doesn't feature steamworks: I wrote my thoughts on that for Tor.com during their Steampunk Fortnight, in an articled called "Towards a Steampunk without Steam," in case you're interested. Believe me, the absence of steam in my story prompted a lot of soul-searching about genre labels.

Hey, Phil Foglio doesn't even like to call Girl Genius "steampunk" when it clearly fits into the genre.
...and I forgot what point I was trying to make by mentioning that.

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Reply #48 on: January 22, 2011, 11:26:52 PM
I basically agree with Rain; I was hoping for a scholarly thing in which Syria circa Victorian times was explored; it could have been set on another planet and lacked the author's expressed aspiration to present a steampunk story, and it would have slipped under my radar completely.

I also agree with the respondent that criticizes the invoking of genre altogether when critiquing a piece - just... not in this case.   :)
« Last Edit: January 22, 2011, 11:28:51 PM by Mister Freign »



Gorbash

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Reply #49 on: January 25, 2011, 09:38:28 AM
I have little to offer that hasn't been said already, but I was utterly entranced by this story - the vividness of the imagery, the subtle use of language, the complexity of Hessa's relationship, and the perfectly matched reading by Marguerite Croft.

For what it's worth, I heard this as straight fantasy with a nod towards the trappings of steampunk.  Steampunk is a genre which has left me somewhat cold in the past (although the imagery can be pretty), but if it can encompass stories like this I may need to revisit that opinion.  I look forward to reading "Towards a Steampunk without Steam", and thinking more about it.