Interview with Alisa Green – Part 1

This week, we are talking with Alisa Green, the Programming Director for Steamcon II, which takes place November 19-21, 2011. I first met Alisa at the first Steamcon in 2010 and had a chance to catch up with her in these final weeks before the big event.

Airship Ambassador: Hi Alisa, thanks so much for taking some time out of your crazy-busy schedule to talk with us. Before we get into the details of your role, first, how do you describe steampunk?

Alisa Green: Romantic Science meets a DIY culture.  When I say “romantic”, I’m not talking about candlelight dinners.  What I mean is science going back to a more innocent time where the possibilities are endless and no idea or invention seemed too far out there to pursue.  I think the reason steampunk has become such a popular movement has to do with what it offers to us in an age where technology has become cold and common place.  With steampunk we have an occasion to utilize our creative sides.  We get to repurpose discarded or ignored items and are encouraged to make them new again.  This harkens back to a time when repairing, reusing and repurposing items yourself was a necessity.  It gives us an opportunity to honor that past while gaining enjoyment from doing the work ourselves to make something unique.

AA: As the Program Chair for Steamcon, what do you have to do?

AG: I am responsible for recruiting and scheduling all panelists, coordinating schedules with other departments, leading my team in creating panels, giving Publications the information it uses for the program book, and providing our needs for programming spaces to Operations

AA: Certainly that’s something to keep you very busy! How did you get started as the head of programming for Steamcon

AG: I was recruited by the Chair & Vice Chair of Steamcon at a mutual friend’s wedding reception.

AA: They obviously knew of your skill and previous experiences. How did that experience prepare you for Steamcon?

AG: I have volunteered in various aspects of Programming for local Sci Fi conventions for 11 years and counting.  I started off as a panelist, making a few panel suggestions.  I eventually became the Costume Track leader for Norwescon.  As the track grew, I started volunteering for the Programming department more and more until I eventually became one of the Track Programmers aka Doomed Minion (I have the name tag to prove it).  I never counted the number of hours I volunteered, but I must have been in triple digits each year.  I also have more than 20 years experience in customer service and office management.

 

AA: I can see how office management and customer service would be helpful. Is there anything in particular?

AG: Organization, patience, good research skills, the ability to multi-task and see the big picture.  It also helps to have strong office skills and be detail-oriented.

AA: There are so many details to keep track of in Programming. What are some challenges you’ve had to overcome?

AG: This is a time consuming and complicated process.  You could easily become overwhelmed by the amount of information that you have to work with.  This year at Steamcon, my team and I will be managing over 100 panelist/presenters and over 200 hours of programming and special events.

 

AA: Wow, that’s a lot of cats to herd! What keeps you going?

AG: The biggest reward for me is being at the convention itself and seeing all of the hours of planning turn into a successful event.  It’s also very satisfying to bring such an eclectic mix of talented and creative people together.  Last year at Steamcon 1, I was very excited to see so many people in costume.

 

 

AA: Do you talk with other convention programming chairs to trade ideas?

AG: Not really.  Most of the programming chairs I know don’t work for themed conventions like Steamcon; instead they work for general Sci Fi conventions, which are handled a little differently than how we do programming at Steamcon.

AA: What kind of team have you put together to successfully create and implement the programming for a convention?

AG: Hard working, versatile and maybe just a little crazy.  I say that my team members are “Specialists that are also Jacks of all Trades”.  The trick is to find each person’s strengths and utilize them.  Each member has their own role, but there is overlap.

Programming can also include long waits followed by flurries of activity.  For example, one of my team members and I spent 15 hours in one day prepping information for Publications and then we came back for more the next day to meet a deadline.

AA: What is the process of programming – concept, people, scheduling, etc

AG: We compile panel ideas, invite panelists and recruit new panelists based on growth, filling holes, specialists for the theme, etc.  Once we have accepted panelists, we send them a survey to provide us with their bios, availability and any panel ideas they may have.  When we have the majority of panelists we need (which is based on the number of available programming hours we have to fill), we send them a panel list to pick their preferences from.  When we have the majority of the panel preferences back, we plug the panels into a programming grid.  This part can be a bit of a jigsaw puzzle because of all the variables involved.  Once we populate the grid, we check for conflicts and create a master time line to send to Publications.  We then send out itineraries, create the Room Bible for Operations so they know what goes where and the packets for each panelist.

 

AA: Programming can’t always be as simple as saying “Let’s have a panel on topic “A” and these are the people who will be on it.” What kind of details have to be managed?

AG: It can be for that panel, but then every panel around it won’t be, as it is affected by that initial panel.  Like I mentioned earlier; programming is a giant jigsaw puzzle that you keep working at until you get each piece to fit.  Each of the panelists’ schedules needs to be coordinated as well.  We also play psychic just a little.  We’re always making our best guess on the popularity of nearly any panel.  This will affect what size of the room and the time of day we will have the panel.  We also need to factor in any extra needs, such as equipment, room layout, amount of time, etc.

AA: There’s so much to be managed – time, people, places, along with several unknowns. What is one of the most important or helpful skills or roles in the programming process which makes your life easier

AG: Probably my biggest secret weapon is that I have writers as part of my staff.   I’ve never met another Programming department that has staff writers, but it seemed natural to me.  Programming does a huge amount of writing and editing as part of the process. We create our own forms, invitations, letters, write panel and event descriptions, edit panelist bios and presentation descriptions.

AA: Where do you get ideas for programming?

AG: Everywhere; panelist suggestions, fan suggestions, my staff, what’s hot in the media, blogs, books I’ve read.

AA: What do you look for in a program topic or session in order for it to make the cut?

AG: I ask myself three simple questions;

Is it interesting and/or entertaining?

Would it be a panel that I would want to attend or know someone that would?

Is it appropriate to our convention?

AA: Once you have that list of panel ideas, where do you look for panelists and speakers?

AG: We get approached by a lot of volunteers; I receive recommendations from other panelists and staff.  We use as many local authors and artists as possible.  We also recruit people to fill specific roles.  For example this year’s theme is Weird, Weird West, so my staff & I went looking for cowboy and locomotive experts. I use the internet a lot for research.  I actually do a Google search on every potential panelist as well as look at any websites or pictures they send me.  I have found this gives me a much better insight into their potential.

That’s a good place for us to stop today.

Please join us again next week for the conclusion of our interview with Alisa Green, Programming Director for Steamcon.

Click here to read the rest of the interview

Part 2

 

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Published in: on October 31, 2010 at 10:37 am  Comments (2)  
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Interview with Mike Perschon – Part 2

Welcome back for the conclusion of our interview with the Steampunk Scholar, Mike Perschon.

Part One can be read here.

 

AA: Welcome back, Mike. Your blog lists out the ever-growing calendar of books you plan on reviewing for your readers. What do you look for in a steampunk work as a whole to review?

MP: That it’s on my shelf. Seriously, I own a stack of steampunk books, and being that I reviewed Jonathan Green’s first Pax Britannia book, I’m clearly not being exclusive about what I’m including in my research.

 

AA: What criteria do you use for reviews

MP: I don’t really review books according to a criteria, although I recently made a list with letter grades like A+ or C- for my readers, as I know some people just want a brief statement about whether I thought it sucked or not. I did that at first, and then realized that wasn’t the goal of my blog. I will sometimes say, “if you like Jane Austen’s comedy of manners but secretly wish to be ravished by a werewolf, then you’ll like Gail Carriger’s Soulless,” but I focus more on an academic assessment of the text. That way it isn’t about liking it or not liking it, but taking the book on its own terms. One of my professors once said it was a bit pointless to go on about the book you wished the author had written, since it didn’t add anything helpful to the conversation about the book they actually wrote. So despite hating Dexter Palmer’s The Dream of Perpetual Motion, I found an awful lot of useful material for understanding the inherent juxtaposition of science and magic in technofantasy.

 

AA: What is on your shelf now for review?

MP: I complained earlier in the summer that I clearly wasn’t on anyone’s ARC review list, and then was inundated with a deluge of books, which is great, and daunting! I’m reading Steampunk Reloaded one story a day, and I’m also reading Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, which is pure joy. I love the world Scott created in Leviathan, and have been really enjoying returning to it. Leviathan is my first recommendation to people looking to get into steampunk. [Thomas] Pynchon’s Against the Day is my favorite, but it’s effing huge, so it’s not an ideal place to start. And there’s only one of the two major story threads in Against the Day that is really steampunk. One of these days I’m going to come up with a “Chums of Chance” guide to Against the Day so people can skip the whole revenge story with the Traverse family and just enjoy the Chums at work.

 

AA: What similarities and differences do you see between various successful works?

MP: Similarities – the writers are focused on writing. That is to say, they are crafting engaging characters in settings that draw the reader in. They are wordsmiths, seeking the best words for each moment, instead of using ridiculous metaphor or tired clichéd tropes. The great steampunk books would be great without the steampunk aesthetic. Take Jim Blaylock as an example – his steampunk stuff is among my favorites, but I also really love his other writing, especially The Last Coin, The Paper Grail, and All the Bells on Earth.

 

Differences? There are so many, I couldn’t even begin, but this is directly related to the strengths of the similarities. In fact, I think it’s the fact that the best writers don’t all use the same elements that makes them great. Read [Tim] Powers’s Anubis Gates and then read Blaylock’s The Adventures of Langdon St. Ives. What are the similarities? They take place in the nineteenth century, and that’s about it, aside from references to William Ashbless. Blaylock’s steampunk work is far more whimsical than Powers’s. Or compare Cherie Priest with Gail Carriger – again, nineteenth century, but that’s where the similarities end. And that’s what makes their stuff rise above the rest: it isn’t slavishly working off someone else’s. Carriger has Blaylock’s whimsy, but that isn’t the result of imitation, or even shared inspiration. Anyone who’s sitting down trying to write the next great steampunk novel is doing it wrong.

 

AA: What were some of your favorite works which have come across your desk?

MP: Well, I’ve gushed on about Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan already, but I’ll add that I read that as an audiobook first, and listening to Alan Cumming read it was a double-treat. Great book, great reader. That wasn’t work, it was fun. Working my way through Pynchon’s Against the Day was epic, but I get very excited when I think about that man’s writing. The final pages of the book make me get a bit teary-eyed, to be honest. “They fly toward grace” are the final words, and they’re so powerful in light of the book’s themes. That’s a book I can’t wait to get back to. I have a suspicion it’s going to form the crucial core of my dissertation. Gordon Dahlquist’s The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters was wonderful as well. I love how dark and delicious his prose is. There aren’t any really Big Ideas in that book, but I love inhabiting each of the three main characters’ point-of-view. It’s one of the rare books where I identify with the female lead so strongly. I don’t know if that’s because Dahlquist sucks at writing a female point-of-view (so that’s it’s actually a rather masculine one), or because he makes me want to be woman while I’m reading about Celeste Temple. I just love the characters in that book. I’m actually shocked I haven’t ever seen anyone cosplaying Cardinal Chang at a steampunk convention. And I have to give a shout out for Kenneth Oppel’s Skybreaker, which is everything a high-flying adventure should be. It’s got sky-krakens for heaven’s sake! Everything I’ve read by Joe R. Lansdale has been ridiculously fun. I still giggle about moments from Zeppelins West.  What’s been great recently was the decision to start writing in a theme each month. I stole this idea from Cory Gross, and tried it out with the Canuck Steampunk month. It was a much better process, because it was focused on a larger idea, not necessarily just one work.

 

AA: What are other books sitting on the shelf or in the mail?

MP: The list is too long to enumerate here. I have a plan up until April on the blog. You can see it at the bottom of the page, but the themes for the next few months are as follows: September, Jules Verne – not just his works, but steampunk books inspired by him, like Arthur Slade’s The Dark Deeps; October, H.G. Wells, again as both proto-steampunk and as steampunk inspiration; November, the whole month will be works by Jim Blaylock; December, steampunk comics/graphic novels; January, a remembering of the late Kage Baker; February, steampunk romance; March, steampunk in space; and April, focusing on the works of China Miéville. With all the new steampunk being released, I don’t know if I’ll ever see an end to this work!

 

AA: As a fan of all the narratives, I think that an endless supply of books to read is a nice problem to have! I have to admit that I’m a bit out of shelf space at home and there are four two-foot tall stacks of new books to be read on the floor, in addition to my books on hold at the library. If you had unlimited access, time and budget, what is one work you’d leap at to review

MP: Well, since I focus on books, budget isn’t much of an issue, unless I was wanting a copy of [Jess] Nevins’s uber-rare Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana (and I do), which sells for around $200 used on Amazon. Everything else is pretty affordable. I think it would be cool to get all the original editions of early steampunk so I could see how the covers are different from current steampunk. Just compare early copies of [Michael] Moorcock’s Warlord of the Air or [K.W.] Jeter’s Infernal Devices with later editions to see what I mean. The look of those early covers betrays how little interest there was in Victorian-era speculative fictions at the time. It’s like the marketing department told the artist, “yeah, it’s got airships, but do you think you can make them look like shiny silver rockets?”

 

AA: The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana is also on my personal library wish list – so readers, if you find two copies which need new homes, let Mike and I know! My local library has a copy, so it’s nice that I can pop in any time to borrow it for a month. Last time I had it, though, I barely made it through the “A” section. With all the reviews and dissertations you’ve done, what advice or suggestions do you have to people who want to be involved in blogging and reviews

MP: Do something you love. Don’t blog to be the popular blog, or you’ll give up when your numbers are low or you say something your readers don’t agree with. And make sure you love writing. You need to have the need to write, or blogging won’t work for you.

 

AA: Aside from Steampunk Scholar, what other steampunk things are you involved with?

MP: I speak at conventions, both here in Alberta and then down in the States. I’ve only gone to Steamcon and the Nova Albion/Steam Powered events, but those are making up for all the years of missed conventions. I’m also part of a local steampunk group in Edmonton called River City Retrofuturists. There isn’t much of a steampunk scene in Edmonton, so we’re part of helping create that.

 

AA: You were one of the moderators for the Great Steampunk Debate, how did that event come about?

MP: I honestly wasn’t privy to the genesis of the GSD. That was Nick Ottens and Allegra Hawksmoor’s doing, as I understand it. Nick emailed me and asked me if I wanted to be involved. I initially thought it was going to be a debate between the people Nick and Allegra had invited to be involved – I didn’t realize my role would be moderation until the debate began, which is largely due to my propensity for skimming emails instead of reading them in full.

 

AA: How much planning and discussion went into creating the GSD

MP: Tons. The deliberations about topics and approach went on for several months before the debate began. There was a lot of care and attention put into planning the GSD.

 

AA: It sounds like there was a great deal of discussion among the people involved as moderators, with widely varying viewpoints about what form and format the GSD should take. What were the challenges in finding common ground?

MP: The same challenges everyone involved in steampunk face: what brand of steampunk are you, and do we share the same ideas about this? Are you a fan, a lifestyler, a cosplayer? If you’re a lifestyler, are you pissed off when I say I’m wearing my steampunk “costume”? It’s the stuff I addressed tongue-in-cheek in my Steampunk Tribes article.

 

AA: Once the debate began, what challenges and rewards were there from people’s involvement?

MP: For me personally, there were few rewards, save for making a friend in Jack Horner, who is a great guy and a smart thinker – he’s @amhlaidgh on Twitter. The challenges were that a number of people who’d signed on as moderators bowed out of that role when the GSD started, leaving a small number of moderators to address issues, and that despite the careful planning, we weren’t on the same page about how moderating should be handled.

 

AA: What are your thoughts in review about the event, the process, the discussions, and any outcomes?

MP: Without disrespect to either Nick or Allegra, who poured themselves into that Debate, it was a really unpleasant experience for me, as it got ugly on several occasions. People were shitty to each other, there’s really no way to say it. Further, I was reminded of how little critical thought goes into forum debate – arguments weren’t based on evidence, but on self-identified feelings or ideas. So people weren’t saying, “I’ve examined a lot of steampunk art and come to this conclusion,” they were just saying, “I consider myself a steampunk, and because I’m a steampunk, I am what steampunk is.” It was like arguing religion all over again – what is “true” Christianity, etc., and it left a very bad taste in my mouth. I wouldn’t repeat the experience myself, and have withdrawn from forum participation for the most part. I think I’ve sort of “turtled” over at Steampunk Scholar. It’s my space. My conversation. You can’t come to Steampunk Scholar and say, “I am steampunk, hear me roar,” because I’ll treat you like I do my students when they say they hated John Updike, and think he sucks. I’ll simply ask, “Why?” and expect a better answer than “because I said so.”

 

AA: What are your interests outside of steampunk?

MP: Roleplaying. I love pen and paper tabletop roleplaying. This past year I got to hang up my Dungeon Master’s hat for the first time since 1982 and just be a player. I loved it, loved the sense of surprise and wonder. I was transported back to what attracted me to Dungeons and Dragons back in the 1980s. I really pictured the dungeon, and was tense when the monster was behind the door. It was awesome. I’m really digging Paizo’s Pathfinder upgrade to D&D 3.5, and enjoying all the geek toys they have at their site. And for anyone who cares, I’m a Bard.

 

I used to play in a band, but I don’t have much time for music, since my wife Jenica and I are parenting our two kids – a four-year-old boy named Gunnar and a two-year-old girl named Dacy. They’re a huge interest of mine. Parenting is incredible, because it takes you back through growing up. I love it. Both my kids love dragons, so I harbor the hope I’ll get to be their DM at some point. It my kids want to rebel, they’ll tell me they want to play hockey.

 

I love fantastic fiction of all kinds – SF, Fantasy, Horror, and the blending of those by recent writers. I love to read. Comics, books, short stories – I have a subscription to On Spec, a great Canadian speculative fiction magazine. And I love movies, although my work as a literary academic has ruined my ability to enjoy most of them. That said, I enjoyed Avatar just fine.

 

I want to be a writer. I think all English profs do. We’re all closet-novelists. I blogged a novel called Magik Beans the year I wrote my M.A. thesis. I haven’t had time to do the same with the dissertation, though I have plans. I get a lot of writing time with my new position at Grant MacEwan University, so I’m planning to write that steampunk Beowulf story soon. Plus I need to get back to writing Magik Beans. I left my readers hanging in the middle of book two.

 

AA: Do you find any overlap or influence of those interests with steampunk

MP: In all of them. With roleplaying, I ran a two-year campaign in a steampunked version of [J.R.R.} Tolkien’s Middle-Earth. With my kids, they like that their dad dresses up – they love costumes. I took my son with me to a day I spent in steampunk garb with friends at Fort Edmonton Park. Obviously, my work in steampunk requires me to do critical work and reading in the larger context of academic writing on speculative/fantastic fiction. And as a writer, I do want to try my hand at utilizing the steampunk aesthetic – it fits very well with a book I’ve been working on for a while.

 

AA: Are there any final thoughts which you’d like to share with our readers today?

MP: I think I’ll just quote Cherie Priest, who said that if you aren’t having fun with steampunk, you’re doing it wrong.

 

Thanks Mike, for sharing your thoughts with us in this interview. For more of Mike’s musings, visit his blog, Steampunk Scholar., and see his other published work in the September 2010 issue of Locus Magazine. Mike will also be a panelist at Steamcon in Seattle, WA, November 19 – 21, 2010.

Published in: on October 17, 2010 at 7:30 am  Comments (1)  
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Interview with Mike Perschon – Part 1

This week, we are talking with Mike Perschon, better known in the community as the Steampunk Scholar. His description of himself on his website says he is :

a hypercreative scholar, musician, writer, and artist, husband to Jenica, father to Gunnar and Dacy, doctoral student at the University of Alberta, and English faculty at Grant MacEwan University.

I first met Mike at the Steamcon convention in October, 2009, where his first panel was talking about the three stages of the personal/character evolution of Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo. It was such a great insightful presentation dealing with one of my favorite characters and books of all time that I stuck around to talk with Mike afterward.

In all the activity of the convention, we weren’t really able to connect much during the weekend, but through the marvels of modern aetheric technology, we’re in continued contact and meet again at the Nova Albion convention in March, 2010.

Airship Ambassador: Hi Mike, thanks for joining us for this interview. As readers of previous interviews here know, your name comes up frequently as a source of inspiration, information and motivation for others on several levels and aspects of the steampunk community. I, myself. thank you for your encouragement and feedback this last year. You’ve been a factor in how a number of people have gotten involved in steampunk, so how did you get started blogging as the Steampunk Scholar?

Mike Perschon: It happened a few months after I attended Steam Powered in California in the fall of 2008. I was visiting my sister and her family for the Christmas holidays in Houston Texas. I had two massive papers to write for my PhD coursework, and ended up at Rice University’s library for a day, doing research and a gargantuan amount of photocopying. While I was sitting in a cubicle with a stack of books on Verne and Space Opera, I rested my steampunk goggles on the stack, and took a photo. It started me thinking about doing a blog where I’d publish my formative ideas about the dissertation. When I got back to my sister’s place and started my writing, I took a break to create the Steampunk Scholar page on blogger.

AA: How did previous experiences prepare you for this role?

MP: If you mean the role of the Steampunk Scholar persona, then I’d have to say years of stage experience, as an actor, a speaker, and a musician. When I’m at conventions, that’s what I’m bringing to the table. Online, I’m accessing nearly 10 years of experience as a web-persona at my original site, gotthammer.com. Additionally, I’d say my recent work as an English instructor has helped me a lot – when you teach people how to write well, you teach yourself as well.

AA: What are the qualities a person needs as a blogger?

MP: Sheer nerve? I think it takes a very confident person to put themselves out there on the Internet and not sit in a dark room crying when you get slapped by detractors. There’s a certain level of arrogance involved, I suppose – the idea that what I’m doing is worth reading. No one asked me to start the blog, I just did it, and there’s an inherent arrogance to that. That said, I have a number of colleagues who just thought I was being an idiot for doing it. They figured someone would steal my ideas and research. I suppose that’s possible, but that hasn’t been the outcome yet.

AA: What are some challenges of blogging your ideas, opinions, and reviews?

MP: Avoiding repetition, especially now that I’ve nailed my thesis idea of steampunk being an aesthetic comprised of technofantasy, retrofuturism, and neo-Victorianism. I worry people are reading the blog and thinking, “Damn, he’s talking about technofantasy AGAIN.” The other challenge, which I think I’ve hurdled, is focus. Unfocused blogs don’t attract a strong readership in my experience. If you’re talking about steampunk one day and your dog the next, I’m unlikely to follow what you’re writing. I have a personal blog myself, but I don’t expect it to be the one people read regularly, aside from my mom. About a year ago I realized people were using the site as an acid test for their own steampunk reading lists, and that’s when I decided I’d focus primarily on books, and leave the fashion and DIY to more capable hands.

AA: What are the rewards of your blog, what do you look forward to?

MP: It’s been highly rewarding for pure geek-factor. I sublimated my geek for a long time while I was working as a minister – playing D&D and liking Conan the Barbarian was as bad in Baptist circles as being gay in the ‘80s, so I was definitely in the closet. As a result, I didn’t attend conventions or write about SF and Fantasy as much as I likely would have if I’d become an academic sooner. I used to get sent books on theology for review, but it was never as much as fun as getting ARCs of steampunk books. I never wanted any of the theology writers to sign their books, whereas I’m proud to have author signatures in my copies of The Anubis Gates and The Digging Leviathan. Getting to meet [Tim] Powers and [James] Blaylock was very, very cool. Or having Scott Westerfeld link to my article on the steampunk Disney stuff was very gratifying. And Gail Carriger and I are trying to work out doing a reading of excerpts from her books at some con, some day. I know this is all highly fanboy of me, but that’s been a huge part of the fun of choosing steampunk for my dissertation. I can’t deny that I’m a fan of these writers, and that has less to do with steampunk than it does their ability.

Aside from the fanboy joy, one of the other big rewards has been forming a community of friends who are into steampunk in one form or another. You know, some guy sits down at your panel and the next thing you know you’re Facebook friends, and then you’re doing an interview with him at his blog, only months before you’ll be roomies at Steamcon! That sort of thing! Chris Garcia has not only been a source of spaces for submitting articles with both Journey Planet and Exhibition Hall, but I just love hanging out with him at the cons. He’s one of those expansively gracious people – friendly to everyone. A number of the members of Legion Fantastique in San Francisco are also good friends, and have been since the start of my research – I don’t really even care if I make it to the next steampunk con in the Bay area, but I want to get back to see the people. That’s huge, because that’s something my wife shares in – she loves to hang with those people as well – it goes beyond steampunk. It’s just life. Like when she says she wants to get down to Seattle to see your garden and trade leafy green tips.

AA: Do you talk with other bloggers or authors to trade ideas?

MP: Sometimes. When I started out, I relied heavily on what other people were saying, but as time went on I stopped caring what the authors actually had to say, because I wasn’t approaching the research from that perspective. The perfect example of this is that I interviewed Ann and Jeff VanderMeer about steampunk early on, and in some correspondence early this year realized that Jeff and I don’t really agree as to what steampunk is. That’s not to disrespect Jeff, because he was instrumental in confirming the basic idea of the aesthetic for me early on, but to demonstrate how my reliance on others’ has changed.

I have Jake von Slatt to thank for breaking that reliance on others. He said something hugely encouraging at Steamcon last year, and it made me realize the same thing I did when I was working on my M.A.  In a nutshell, it was just a realization of my own abilities – some of that confidence and arrogance I was just mentioning. When I was a minister, there was a really strong push to always be mediocre – brilliance or creativity weren’t encouraged. So I’d say I spent a lot of my career trying to humble up what I was doing. That’s a reward of this as well, I suppose – realizing my own light, to paraphrase Nelson Mandela.

That’s not to say I don’t have people who are “in the conversation” with me. Up until the Great Steampunk Debate, I did a lot of corresponding with Cory Gross of Voyages Extraordinaire. He was an indispensable sounding board for my research, and continues to be, though not as often, since he’s pulled back from involvement with the steampunk community. I’m also hugely indebted to Piechur, the notorious man behind Steampunkopedia [NOTE: Piechur has sadly retired this website]. I know folks in the steampunk community have mixed feelings about Piechur, but we’ve always been on good terms, and he continues to challenge me both at the blog and through e-mail correspondence. His ideas and critical thinking spurred a lot of great discussions. Both Jha Goh and Ay-leen the Peacemaker are regular correspondents, which is very challenging for me, as they take me out of my WASP comfort zone.

AA: You’ve described steampunk as an applied aesthetic in your blog and at conventions, could you please explain that in more detail?

MP: I hated how people said steampunk could be anything. That’s a nonsensical statement, motivated largely by a wish to be inclusive. As an academic, I can’t say “steampunk can be anything.” It’s the same frustration Jess Nevins talks about in the Steampunk Reloaded anthology when he says steampunk “has no utility as a critical term.” So I was looking for a way to talk about steampunk in a critical fashion. And since I agree with Nevins, that steampunk lacks a “set of clearly-defined tropes and concepts by which it can be differentiated from historical science fiction,” I stopped trying to define the genre, and instead turned my attention to the style, or look that we call steampunk. I basically went looking for what was common to all things popularly labeled steampunk. And what I came up with was a three-fold aesthetic. The first is technofantasy: the technology of steampunk doesn’t really work, at least in literature and fashion. I can’t speak to Maker culture about this, although I do know that none of the rayguns made from brass candle-sticks will reduce me to a quivering mass of protoplasm.

The second is neo-Victorianism, which is simply to say that steampunk draws stylistically from the Victorian and Edwardian periods, though that is not to limit it geographically to England or Europe, nor to say that steampunk stories always occur in those periods. It just means the style of the clothing or setting in a steampunk book is evocative of those periods.

And thirdly, it is retrofuturistic. When steampunk draws from the Victorian and Edwardian period for its style, it is focused on how the past saw the future. This and the technofantasy are what set steampunk apart from works by writers like A.S. Byatt.

I say applied, because while I do not think steampunk is everything, I think everything can ultimately be steampunked. After seeing the Bible steampunked in the Myths and Legends challenge at CGSociety, I’m fairly confident one could apply the steampunk aesthetic to anything. Given enough thought, you’d come up with a cool take on an old thing. I challenged myself to this by coming up with a steampunk short story of Beowulf. Essentially, I don’t see steampunk as a genre – I see it as an aesthetic that gets applied to genres.

AA: that’s the best explanation I’ve heard for all those terms and it is something with which I am in complete agreement. This is a good point for us to end Part One of our chat today.

Join us next time for the conclusion of our interview with the Steampunk Scholar, Mike Perschon.

Click here to read the rest of the interview

Part 2

 

Published in: on October 10, 2010 at 8:30 am  Comments (12)  
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