Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Steampunk Tuesday - Anachronisms or You can DO that??

Steampunk laptop:  You can DO that???

First off, I have to say, I love the word "anachronism".  By which I mean, not just, "Dude, that's a sweet word with an awesome definition."  I mean I love the word.  I love saying it. Say it out loud to yourself, right now. It's a fantastically chewy word. One where you really have to enunciate each syllable or you run the risk of tripping over yourself.

Yeah. I really like saying that word.


You may recall a while ago I finally broached the subject of why I, Adrienne Kress (yes, I am Adrienne Kress) love Steampunk. I had a nice list. Said list is here.

And the first, or rather sixth but technically it was meant to mean first, reason why I love Steampunk is Douglas Adams. That is to say my love of absurdity.  That is to say my love of mixing things together that never could possibly actually be mixed together in real life.  That is to say my love of, "You can DO that??"

So today I thought I'd elaborate on my number one, or rather number six, reason why I love Steampunk. And that's when we get to say, come on, all together now:


If I was in highschool the next thing I'd say is:

The Webster's Dictionary defines Anachronism as:

1: an error in chronology; especially : a chronological misplacing of persons, events, objects, or customs in regard to each other 
2: a person or a thing that is chronologically out of place

Now if that isn't Steampunk I don't know what is.

The idea that one can set a story in the past but include all manner of things that never existed back then is just so totally mind-blowingly amazing to me.  You see, it's fiction.  It's all fake.  So . . . why not?  Why not just play with what does and doesn't belong in stories? 

I just love that.  I love the person who first thought outside the box like that.  It makes so much sense to me.  And it's also totally ridiculous.  Which makes it all the more amazing.

I love also seeing the problem solving involved in it.  The creativity, e.g.: how do I invent a means to travel to the moon using the technology of the time?  Scott Westerfeld is utterly brilliant at the how.  I love the humour, reading a description and then realising that what the author is sharing with us as seeming so foreign is actually working towards the reveal that what is being described is, say, a cell phone.  

I love how a society that shouldn't have any relationship with futuristic technology can be so laissez-faire about it: "So tomorrow morning I shall be taking the dirigible to Cambridge, that is, of course, unless you need it."  

I also like how one can be not only anachronistic with props and costumes and set pieces, one can be anachronistic in attitudes and behaviour.  One can explore race and gender issues, bring them to the surface with far more ease than in a purely historical novel.  Play with what ifs, not be constrained by what happened in the historical timeline but speculate how the timeline might have been different.

And then there's voice.  I mean the voice in which the novel itself is written.  And something that I have wanted to write about for a while: my own process at finding the voice for THE FRIDAY SOCIETY,  which I think is perfect for this subject because the voice I chose is inherently anachronistic.

So . . .

Aside from all of the above, I decided to play with with the voice of the book itself.  Now this hadn't always been my intention.  In the beginning I wrote my proposal for TFS in a lovely oldy-timey voice.  But it just wasn't working.  My editor Nancy and I were going back and forth trying to figure out why that was, and I was getting kind of frustrated. So in a rebellious mood I just re-wrote the scene in an entirely contemporary voice. And then I read it over. And I kind of liked it. And then . . . then I had a thought: "Maybe I'm approaching this wrong. Maybe the voice doesn't need to be constrained by the time period."

And then I had a nice montage flash through my brain ("This is a montage!") of works of fiction that had given me "You can DO that??" moments when it came to voice. I'm talking Sofia Coppola's MARIE ANTOINETTE, and even A KNIGHT'S TALE (which I felt didn't 100% work, but not due to the voice, so I still use it as an example). Even DEADWOOD, which seems on the surface like it stayed true to period, doesn't entirely.  The writers realised they couldn't use the swear words of the day because they sounded too cheesy and so stuck with the tried and tested F word (not that that word didn't exist back then, but it wasn't used in the same way as we use it now. It really did mean what it meant, it wasn't just used as an expression of frustration).

There was also a translation of CYRANO DE BERGERAC I had seen staged once that modernised some of the slang and swearing (while still keeping the heightened language) that I loved so much, I bought the play.

These were films/television/plays set in the past but with a contemporary flare. The attempt was to demonstrate a relatability, I think, to show that things back then in some ways could be considered similar to now. Marie Antoinette was akin to Paris Hilton. Only you know, with bigger dresses and more beheading.

I remembered too the first time I encountered it and had a good think about it. How, I realised, while we have some examples of casual everyday speech from the past, and delightful lists of slang, most of the source material we average non-linguistics major Joes use to create conversations set in the past is the literature or theatre of the past. And that that language is a heightened form of writing. It isn't actually representative of how people necessarily spoke every day (though I'm sure some people did, Oscar Wilde for example). It's like people saying that people today all speak like Aaron Sorkin screenplays, or the Gilmore Girls.

So when we emulate the literature of the past in our own, we aren't emulating how people actually spoke. We are emulating how the writers of the past represented how people of the past spoke.

Basically my realisation was: it's not verisimilitude. Despite that period's interest in verisimilitude (can you tell I was a theatre major and studied WAY too much about the history and development of that subject, oy . . . ). Now this isn't to say I don't enjoy a good period piece. I in fact adore a good period piece. And that I don't enjoy the voice myself. Anyone who has read my short story in CORSETS & CLOCKWORK will see that I really do.  It's just it made sense with TFS to write it in a contemporary voice.  It seemed more true to the story I was telling.  It suited the fun, cheeky and, to borrow a word from my back cover copy, irreverent tone of the book.

But that's not all.

Say it with me now . . .


YES! It all comes back to "You can DO that??" Because why not?  If I'm writing a book that already isn't true to period, with little anachronistic details like jet packs and steam carriages and crazy weaponry, why can't the medium itself be anachronistic?  Why not write a book set in the past, but with a contemporary voice? The whole darn book itself is steampunk! Dude! Woah!

So that's how the voice came to be.

Wow, that was a bit longer than I anticipated.  But I think it demonstrates how much I enjoy anachronisms.  And I guess not just saying the word.  But the definition itself.

But I still also really do love saying that word.

Anachronism. :)

And thus begins my series on Adrienne's Detailed Analysis of Why She Loves Steampunk.  Next week I shall move onto the number two, by which I mean five, reason I like Steampunk:  My love of SF/Fantasy.

But until then . . .  I ask all my lovely Steampunkers, what are some the coolest anachronistic moments you've seen or read in a Steampunk creation?  


Lisa Shafer said...

A well-done post indeed. I've been waiting and waiting to read Friday Society -- now I'm curious to see what I'l think of the anachronistic voice in it. Hmmm.... could be interesting.
And yes, I agree that steampunk is one of the few genres wherein one can get away with anachronisms without making it look like a mistake.
My favorite literary anachronism isn't at all steampunk; it's Shakesspeare -- when the clock strikes in Julius Caesar.

Adrienne said...

Fantastic example! I love that too :) .

And since I'm replying to this AFTER replying to your comment on the next blog post, I'm assuming you did end up liking the anachronistic voice??