SteamU; Because Steampunk is really all about my electricity bill by Emma Jane Holloway

Today's Lecture by SteamU Professor: Emma Jane Holloway

Author of: A Study in Silks (book one of The Baskerville Affair)

 A Study in Silks 

 September 2013

Evelina Cooper, the niece of the great Sherlock Holmes, is poised to enjoy her first Season in London’s high society, but there’s a murderer to deal with—not to mention missing automatons, a sorcerer, and a talking mouse . . .

In a Victorian era ruled by a Council of ruthless steam barons, mechanical power is the real monarch, and sorcery the demon enemy of the Empire. Nevertheless, the most coveted weapon is magic that can run machines—something Evelina has secretly mastered. But rather than making her fortune, her special talents could mean death or an eternity as a guest of Her Majesty’s secret laboratories. What’s a polite young lady to do but mind her manners and pray she’s never found out?

But then there’s that murder. As Sherlock Holmes’s niece, Evelina should be able to find the answers, but she has a lot to learn. And the first decision she has to make is whether to trust the handsome, clever rake who makes her breath come faster, or the dashing trick rider who would dare anything for her if she would only just ask . . .

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Twitter: @EmmaJHolloway

Read the first 50 pages here: Click Here

Read the prequel short story here: Click Here

SteamU Professor Emma Jane Holloway

Ever since childhood, Emma Jane Holloway refused to accept that history was nothing but facts prisoned behind the closed door of time. Why waste a perfectly good playground coloring within the timelines? Accordingly, her novels are filled with whimsical impossibilities and the occasional eye-blinking impertinence—but always in the service of grand adventure.

Struggling between the practical and the artistic—a family tradition, along with ghosts and a belief in the curative powers of shortbread—Emma Jane has a degree in literature and job in finance. She lives in the Pacific Northwest in a house crammed with books, musical instruments, and half-finished sewing projects. In the meantime, she’s published articles, essays, short stories, and enough novels to build a fort for her stuffed hedgehog.


Because Steampunk is Really All About my Electricity Bill
by Emma Jane Holloway

Steampunk, in my view, has two basic requirements: steam and punk. Seriously, it doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. The punk aspect is the notion of rebellion against the status quo, whatever that means to the author—breaking out of the bonds of tradition, adventure, outright anarchy, or a more utopian spin.

Naturally, one of the first questions I faced when creating my world for The Baskerville Affair trilogy was—what makes it steampunk? It sounds like an obvious question, but in my opinion it had to be more than clockwork-powered tea trolleys and fancy goggles. I wanted the steam theme (pardon the rhyme) to be something that truly mattered to the characters and to be an issue that readers could relate to.

As I frowned in writerly concentration, a muse in clerk’s eyeshade writing up the order for Really Good Inspiration, two random ideas collided. One came from a period map of London that a friend found one for me on-line. It showed the different areas of the city served by different power companies. As you can see, the streets served by the various firms are shown in different colors.

The other was a news item talking about present-day conglomerates making their fortunes from conventional fossil fuel sources. They were buying up and shutting down entrepreneurs who specialized in alternative or “green” power.

When these two ideas came together, the villainous, moustache-twirling Steam Council was hatched. In my story world, they have interests in coal, gas, electricity, railways, airships, and the industrial war machine. They don’t need to be aristocrats to rule; they have all the control they need. Any company or individual who tries to generate his or her own power is shut down if not killed. Those that displease the council are Disconnected—not only are the unlucky victim’s utilities turned off, but their credit rating and social status disappear as well. Magic is also forbidden, mostly because it is a form of power that cannot be bought or sold as a commodity. Steam is king, but it’s far from kind.

Back to the map. I rearranged the boundaries of the areas served by different utility companies but I kept the idea of giving each member of the council a color.  They’re nicknamed the Gold King, the Green Queen, and so on. They use their chosen colors on the globes of the gaslights to identify the territories under their control. The night sky is pretty, but a symbol of oppression. Of course, everyone from Queen Victoria down to the street hawkers wants the Steam Council gone. Cue the rebellion.

So it is that steam power in my story becomes the source of conflict. Why I think this works is because the basic idea—an Empire torn to bits by predatory corporate interest—is as relevant to the modern imagination as to my characters. The folks that finally stand up to the barons are the makers—the rebels that kept building machines in secret despite the council’s edicts.

If I were forced to define the spirit of steampunk, I might say it was a stubborn insistence on independent creativity in the face of the industrial machine. Or I might not. I hate defining things because it somehow limits them, and when I use that many long words in one sentence I begin to second-guess everything I say. I don’t think the genre has to be serious all the time—please, no!—but in this case the nastiness of the Steam Council gives my story a dose of edginess that it needs.

And I think everyone can relate to greedy businesses making it hard to afford the basic necessities of life. After all, I think about the barons whenever I look at my electricity bill. The Steam Council is alive and well and living in my mail box. Curses!

I really loved Emma Jane's explanation of her world building in this post. Her image of a color and oppression all in one is whimsical and dangerous as once-bittersweet. A Study in Silks is a fantastic steampunk work. I encourage all SteamU students to connect with Emma Jane online (she shares great steampunk finds on Facebook) and to pick up a copy of A Study in Silks! Thank you for joining us today, Emma Jane. It was a treat!

-Class Dismissed!

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