This summer, as I rest and work towards a new school year, I have also had some time to work on a project I've cherished for a long time, which I am calling "The Boschland Hockey Chronicles," the first novel of which is "Forward in a Strange Land."
Image: how I might envision the poetess Rachajl Martujnz of "Forward in a Strange Land."
"Forward in a Strange Land" is an online experiment, a continuing manuscript rather than a novel, about an American ice hockey player who follows his dream to play professional hockey in the unknown nation of Borschland.
The manuscript is not science fiction per se, but in order to explain the existence of its setting, Borschland, I have had to resort to a science fiction premise: Borschland and the continent on which it lies is a "phase-shifting" place sometimes existing in our world, sometimes in an alternative universe. The otherworldly nature of Borschland allows it also to exist in a kind of technological cocoon: Borschland's technology is about one hundred years less advanced than ours. There are telegraphs and electric lights but no automobiles or computers. Borschland does, however, coexist with a nation of Upright Bears whose technology is similar to our present day.
At first I thought this wacky turn of imagination on my part was unique, but apparently it isn't, quite.
I had heard the word "steampunk" before, but had no idea of its definition. Turns out it has some important affinities with my Borschland project:
Alternate history, leaps of technology, airships, lightning rods, bustles, goggles, brass and gears - these are the things that Steampunks are made of. The lovechild of Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells and Nikola Tesla. Strong women, handsome men, clever tinkerers, inventors, pilots and dusty adventurers. Scoundrels or heroes, Steampunks don't sit around; they constantly seek - under the sea, across the desert, in the air or across time. Steampunks are self reliant, resilient and they love a good story.
(quote from here)
The basic idea of steampunk appears to be story-driven fiction set in Victorian times or Victorian-style worlds, with all the charm of that era's clothing, manners, and culture, along with the possibility of strange and far-out technology and situations. I think of the TV show The Wild, Wild West, which was set in the American West of the 1870's and '80's and featured some weird and wonderful secret agent action and technologies.
So far, Borschland has no airships-- blimps, as we call them now-- but I may consider putting them in at some point. And I'm sure there won't be nearly as much action in "Forward in a Strange Land" as in most steampunk novels. It is going to be a mystery and a romance and perhaps a thriller-- we'll see. I don't know that FSL is worthy of the name steampunk. Maybe I could call it steamgoof.
I liked Chapman's site, so I invested $.99 in her Kindle e-novella, "Aboard the Unstoppable Aerostat Fenris." It is what a 99 cent novella probably should be in this day and age, a good draft of what may hopefully become a fully-realized, polished work of fiction.
The story starts with action and continues with action, which is all to the good. I like the heroine and her airship-captain benefactor. What's lost is an idea of the world Chapman is trying to create. What year is it? What world is it? Why is a world war beginning? Why is her heroine homeless? Why does she speak English but find herself in Kazakhstan? And so on.
I find that, as a novelist who gravitates towards wholesale world creation, rather than setting stories in known times and places, it's maddening and fascinating to translate one's vision of a world into the words of a story. You can do it through an introduction, or you can do it through narration, or an expository conversation, but the more you do, the less the action shines through.
Chapman's is good work-- she has solid skills in description and pacing-- but I think her book can be better and I hope she will revise as she feels led.
Now that I know about steampunk, I will spend a bit more time familiarizing myself with it and see how it might affect the Borschland work. It's fun to know that there are others out there like me interested in recreating worlds of the past mixed with the present and the future.