The Clockworks of Hanyang

I’ve been posting about brewing a lot, and not about writing, and there’s a reason for that: given the stuff going on at work, I spent October pretty much drained, and there wasn’t much going on in terms of writing or ideas for fiction.

Well, I’m still somewhat overloaded, but I’m happy to report that I’ve finally gotten some writing and revising done. Not just a flash piece I wrote a few weeks ago (or was it last week?) but also that massive rewrite of “Instead of Pinochets” that I mentioned a few days ago. And… ta-da… a new story I’m working on called “The Clockworks of Hanyang.”

I’m a couple of thousand words into what seems to be a novelette in an alternate, steampunkish history. After a couple of the articles linked to in this overview of the Steampunk Kerfuffle, particularly those of Stross and Valente (who are pretty down on the subgenre-if-it-may-be-called-that-yet), I mentioned the kerfuffle at one or another gathering of my crit group. I was asked, “Are you really so against everything fun?” which I am not–though different people define “fun” in different ways (see if you can get me into a karaoke room, for example. You can’t.)–but anyway, I guess that question stuck in my craw, because here I am, trying to see whether I can write something that falls within the genre of Steampunk and has redeeming qualities, and is fun, at the same time. I know I can do it in SF, so why not in a specific, fantastical subgenre?

By redeeming qualities, I mean taking seriously what Charlie Stross argues a lot of Steampunk doesn’t take seriously: the utter crappiness of the life of most people in the 19th century, under the iron heel of British Empire. (And yeah, I know, your favorite Steampunk novel does take this into account. But he argues most of it doesn’t.)

Of course, the location of my story is in a place not colonized by the Empire, but I am hoping that nonetheless I can bring the politics into play. We’ll see… The working title for the story is “The Clockworks of Hanyang” and it’s set in, you guessed it, Hanyang… which is the old name for what we now call Seoul. I’ve tuckerized at least one friend (Charles Lasher) and it’s shaping up to be some kind of alt-world Sherlock Holmesy kind of thing… with automata, and imperialism, and an uneasy modernity encroaching on a world nowhere near ready for it, like it was in our real world but, well, faster and harder. We’ll see. It may end up in my virtual dustbin if I decide it is devoid of all merits. But maybe it’ll work?

I’d like to think that no genre is, in and of itself, incapable of being the medium for a meaningful story. So I’m testing whether I can do it. I’m not observing Catherynne M. Valente’s banishment of automata, because I think you can have automata with the steam. Just not very good ones. Or small ones. Or controllable ones. I’m also playing with characters I don’t particularly think I’d get along with in real life. Indeed, I think most Victorian men were a lot like the average older Korean men one meets here–the higher class the guy is (or thinks he is), the less likely I am to get on with him or even find him sufferable. But these are my protagonists, for the moment. I may reverse course, though, and tell the story from a non-Western point of view, as there’s a handy semi-bicultural translator character I could use to mock the hell out of the Victorian gentlemen. And really, that sounds like fun to me.

(But I know, I know, I probably should read more steampunk. It’s like me writing fantasy–sure, on some level, I can do it, but I’m flying blind in some ways, in terms of knowing what’s been done in the genre, in knowing its internal logic and so on. Yes, flying blind in some ways. I said it. Which doesn’t immediately invalidate the experiment, mind. But this may end up in the trash. We’ll see.)

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