The stories for Shadow Conspiracy, Stories from the Steampunk Age are mostly in. As I read through them, the anthology is beginning to take shape in my mind. I haven’t read all the pieces so I don’t know where they all fit into the puzzle. Yet. Some have obvious (to me) places in the lineup. Most are still floating, waiting for me to weave them into a coherent whole.
I like working puzzles. The patterns for my bobbin lace are like giant dot to dot puzzles. I have to connect all the dots with the proper threads, weaving them in the appropriate places, combining them in ways that make the overall design visible both at a distance and in intricate detail up close.
That’s what this shared world anthology will be like. Each story has characters and plot points, a lovely texture that exploits fabulous steam machines and characters that move from dot to dot, connecting clues, making decisions.
But each story is a segment that must fit into the whole in the right place so that the seams are invisible and the transitions smooth.
As part of this puzzle, how much detail do I ask for in the convoluted relationships among Lord Byron, his mistress, poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife Mary? And let’s not forget the mysterious Dr. John Polidari cooking up weird schemes and weirder cures for George Gordon, Lord Byron’s club foot and manic depressive behavior.
The year without a summer, 1816, when they were all trapped in a Chateau near Geneva, they wrote weird, haunted stories in a kind of contest. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the most famous. Polidari wrote about a vampire. The stories behind those pieces of fiction make modern soap opera look calm, relaxed, and simple. But how much of that fiction came from the author’s imagination and how much was a retelling of actual events?
That’s the jumping off point. We explore the possibility that Mary Shelley’s story was real. How much came out of the misunderstood mind of a very intelligent teenaged girl during a long miserable season with little sun and chilly temperatures? Or was it all inspired by the twisted schemes of her companions?
From that momentous summer we jump around in time for the next twenty some years exploring the consequences, the scientific breakthroughs spawned by the discoveries made that season of little sun and too much rain. We examine controversies triggered by the automatic sciences and machines created by Byron’s only legitimate child. All made bigger, grander, more beautiful, and more dangerous by steam power.
Steampunk is more, much, much more than romanticizing the Victorian era with fabulous machines, daring fashion, and wild adventures. The sub genre and the lifestyle are just as complex as Lord Byron’s black moods and the entangled family trees of his mistresses, as delicate and entwined as the white Chantilly lace so popular during the period.
Phyllis Irene Radford is editor for “Shadow Conspiracy” with Laura Anne Gilman as editor in chief. They blog here most Thursdays about the process of putting together the anthology.
Phyl’s most recent print release “Enigma” by C.F. Bentley is available in hardcover from DAW Books at most major bookstores