Whither steampunk? Reading Stormdancer (#SFWApro)

One of the things I keep seeing in blog posts and articles is that publishers want steampunk that isn’t based in London. This has (I assume) led to the boom in American-set steampunk such as Cold Copper and Dreadnought and judging by Stormdancer: Book One of the Lotus Wars we’re going further afield than that.
(I should note here that I’m not a voracious steampunk reader so if I’m not up on the current state of the subgenre, my bad).
Stormdancer-finalcover
The novel, by Jay Kristoff is set in what feels like 20th century Japan or a more technically advanced nineteenth century. Japan has become an industrial super-power by virtue of the blood lotus, a plant that provides the fuel for everything, along with serving as an addictive narcotic. Japan is waging war on other nations with its superior tech, and winning. The price, however, is that Japan’s natural world has been plowed under to grow lotus and some districts are starving because lotus takes priority over growing food crops (I’m sure the cyborg Guild that oversees lotus production has a nasty agenda we haven’t learned yet). In many ways Stormdancer reminds me of a 1970s, environmentally-oriented SF story.
The core of the plot is that the tyrannical shogun sends one of his hunters out to capture a gryphon as a symbol of his majesty. This plunges the protagonist, Yukiko, into a world of magical beings existing on the fringes of Japanese society, as well as meeting a resistance movement dedicated to taking down the shogun, the guild and the lotus. It’s a solid story and I look forward to the next one—though I find the use of dirigibles as a staple steampunk feature now bores me (I wish Kristoff had come up with something different for such a different setting).
So if steampunk’s breaking out of the west entirely, what’s next? Steampunk in India? Sub-saharan Africa? Arabian Nights steampunk? This could lead to some cool stuff.
From the point of view of my own steampunk novel, Questionable Minds, it’s not such a good trend. It’s a novel set solidly in London and using psi-powers as the SF element isn’t as unusual now (when steampunk routinely involves magic as much as SF) as when I wrote it. If so, oh, well—at least the nice thing about historical fiction is that if I keep it until the market changes, it’s not going to date the way something current will.
And in any case, Stormdancer was a great read.
(Cover by Jason Chan, all rights to current holder).

1 Comment

Filed under Reading, Writing

One response to “Whither steampunk? Reading Stormdancer (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: Is Our Writers Learning? A Study in Silks by Emma Jane Holloway (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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