We could use a little steampunk now…
“It’s a subculture that embraces the simplicity and romance of the past, and at the same time couples it with the hope and promise and the sheer supercoolness of futuristic design.”
[— Castle, TV Show Season 03 Episode 04, TNT]
There’s something about the romance and victorian propriety of steampunk that brings a comforting, classic familiarity to everything it touches. And with the way the world has gone lately, I wonder if we could all use a little of that? Wouldn’t you just love to slap an eye-patch and maybe some goggles on Hillary and send her out with a steam-powered harpoon to shoot down zeppelins? (Large orange ones full of gas and hot air perhaps?) Or maybe Theresa May could insist that all her new ministers wear top hats and visible corsets? I guarantee it will add a completely new tone to Number 10 Downing St. (Wonder who the dragons would be in that scenario?)
Today’s guest, author Richard Dee, is certainly familiar with the genre, as he demonstrates in his upcoming new novel, The Rocks of Aserol. He joins us today to talk about writing, steampunk, and life.
What was your first car? An old Austin 1100, I bought it when I was a poor apprentice. As I found out in the winter, it had holes in the floor and when you turned the heater on it flooded hot water over your feet.
Star Wars, Star Trek, or Firefly? Firefly. Browncoats definitely rule, the show had so much influence and innovation. It was a real breath of fresh air in a genre that was becoming tired and formulaic. And the movie was pretty good too! It should never have been cancelled.
Worst movie ever? Hmm, there are so many, and it’s hard to choose. Probably one of the late ‘70s horror films that they used to supply merchant ships with when I was at sea. Perhaps they thought we all loved them!
Who would you most like to sit next to on an airplane? Anyone who didn’t think that my space was an extension of their seat. For conversation/plot brainstorming Isaac Asimov or Philip.K. Dick. It would be fun to bounce ideas around.
Best guilty pleasure ever? Snacking on salted cashews with a cold beer when I should be doing something serious.
Who would play you in the movie? George Clooney, he’s probably closest! (Laughs uncontrollably)
What is the one thing you can’t live without? A sense of the ridiculous, a sense of wonder and my dreams. (And the ability to count!)
As a child (or now!), what did you want to be when you grew up? I still haven’t decided yet, I’ve done a lot of good things, but I’m sure there’s more to come.
Are the names of the characters in your novels significant? Only in the way that they’re chosen to fit the period and sense of the novel. So in the Steampunk story they are vaguely Victorian, in the futuristic stories they tend to be an amalgam of different ethnicities. Some names will always suggest archetypes, which is not to say they can’t be a hero’s (or villains). Plots can hinge on such things as people not being what you might expect.
What is the single biggest challenge of creating the settings in your novels? In my field, science fiction, I think that creating a believable setting, without too much impenetrable science is vital. I don’t want to write pages of description for things which are way past the credible. And after all, in the end, it’s about engaging the reader and telling a story. As a character in Asimov’s “Foundation,” said “Nothing has to be true, but everything has to sound true.” If I can make the setting plausible it becomes another character and the reader can relax in its familiarity.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard?
Get the words on paper, you can always sort them out in the edit. At the end of the day, you just have to write. Lots. It’s all very well saying you have a story, but unless it’s on paper you just have an idea. I try to write around 2000 words a day. They will edit to maybe half that, but they at least they are down.
What are you working on right now? I have the sequel to The Rocks of Aserol and several other projects in the pipe. Proofreading my finished work gives me ideas. I’ll see a line of dialogue or description I’ve written and think, “yeah, there’s another story there.” Sometimes they develop, sometimes they end up as Flash Fiction, you never really know what will happen. I like to keep several projects on the go, so I can switch around if I get bored.
Final thoughts. I like to think that writer’s block is when your imaginary friends stop talking to you. Every day I put my fingers on the keyboard and if they’re in the mood, the right words will come out. And if they’re not; well, I’ll just have to do it myself. And there are times when I will read it back and think, ‘I don’t remember writing that.’ That’s when we’re together in the flow.
The Rocks of Aserol by Richard Dee
At first glance it was a simple enough job, go to Aserol and find out what’s happening at the Waster mine. For Horis Strongman it’s the start of an adventure, there are things that don’t add up and he stumbles upon a secret. It’s enough to kill for, but can he stay alive to expose it?
In a world where Coal is King, where machines of Metal are powered by Steam and Clockwork, those in power want him silenced by any means.
Accused of a terrible crime, Horis is forced to run, aided by those who can prove his innocence, and unsure of whom he can trust.
From the mines to the skies, on the oceans and rivers, The Rocks of Aserol could change the world.
My writing group used to meet at a steampunk pub in Glasgow, where I once got into a conversation with a couple who were dressed in 1890s-influenced costumes, complete with corset and brass-tooled telescope (her) and top hat with goggles (him). They explained with passion and in great detail how everyone else got steampunk wrong. Although I eventually sneaked off on pretext of finding the loo, I think that the couple would have been completely satisfied with the steampunk world-building in Richard Dee’s new novel, The Rocks of Aserol. As far as I could tell, he ticked off almost every trope:
- Victorian Trimmings? Step into an orgy of Victorian prudish, class-conscious sensibility, full of over the top clothes, dashing heroes who will risk all for honor, the King, and a cup of tea.
- Gadget-loving Geek? Our hero, Horis Strongman (he’s not) is a civil servant struggling to move into the middle classes, slightly ashamed of his fascination with technology and science, and completely innocent when it comes to the political machinations of his superiors, who see him as the perfect fall guy for their ruthless schemes.
- Officer and a Gentleman? Horis is saved by the dashing former military hero Maloney, a part-time hotel valet with a clockwork arm and stringent code of honor.
- Young Lady with Spirit? Grace is both smarter and more independent than the women bemused Horis has encountered before. To his amazement and delight, she makes up her mind that he needs her and proceeds accordingly.
- Alternate history? Dragons!
- Alternate technology? The internal combustion engine never had a chance against gigantic steam-powered installations and intricate clockwork artistry.
- Romance vs Science? (Did you get the part about the dragons?)
When the very junior bureaucrat Horis Strongman is tapped to investigate a mysterious development in the rural coal mines of Aserol, he is pleased at the chance to experience life far from the bustling metropolitan capital. Given the mine’s strategic importance to the coal-driven economy, he is surprised that such an insignificant member of the ministry is sent to investigate. Still, he’s excited when that experience soon includes dragons, and even more thrilled when he meets the beautiful hotel clerk, Grace. But even the innocent Horis is soon aware that something very strange is happening at the mines.
After a horrifying tragedy occurs and Horis is set up to take the blame, he’s rescued by Grace and by the dashing one-armed former military hero, Maloney. Soon the three are deeply involved in uncovering a conspiracy that extends to top levels of society.
But the conflict goes even deeper, as scientific discoveries begin to question the hitherto unchallenged superiority of the steam-driven mechanicals controlling their world, especially as they look to conquer the skies above, despite the menacing presence of dragons. Balloonists are the darlings of the day, but controlled flight is the goal. The filthy water and air of the coal powered world is contrasted with the “natural” dragons (although flight in both human and dragon form is invariably lethal). Religion, although still an influence in the more “natural” countryside, is being replaced by the new devotion to technology. “Priests were becoming a rarity in the city and worship was declining, being replaced more with the religion of science.”
Author Richard Dee uses clever little tricks to remind us that we’re not in Kansas (or London) any more. Breakfast is a “fast-breaker”, at which you might enjoy “porker” and eggs, or perhaps even some “bovine”. Of course, like all proper Victorians, you’ll pair that with a nice cup of “char” (tea). While the country carriages are still drawn by “equines”, they are slowly being replaced by the steam-driven equineless-carriages.
While The Rocks of Aserol is undoubtedly an old-fashioned adventure in the tradition of HG Wells and Jules Verne, it is also clearly and quietly subversive. At every step along the way, the rulers and leaders of society are shown with their feet of clay, just as their religion of science is exposed for both its miraculous advances and its deadly costs.
The Rocks of Aserol goes for the heroic adventure, romanticism of gorgeous “artisan” build machines, and nostalgia for a manners-driven bygone era. But author Richard Dee just as cleverly deconstructs all of that as he exposes and makes no apologies for the deadly costs of such progress. The characters begin as stock genre cutouts, but soon develop into well-rounded three dimensional people that you find yourself caring about, while the pace of the story is well-suited to the ups and downs of an old-fashioned adventure thriller. I wouldn’t hesitate to give it four stars and to look forward to the sequel.
*I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.*
Book Title: The Rocks of Aserol
Publisher: Richard Dee
Length: 236 pages
Release Date: 4Star Scifi; 1 edition (September 1, 2016)
Contact and Buy Links:
Amazon Author Page (preorder)