Texas Week: Interview with Tor editor Liz Gorinsky

While Hugo nom­i­nat­ed Liz Gorin­sky is actu­al­ly a Man­hat­tan native, her par­tic­i­pa­tion on the pan­el last Sun­day in Austin, Texas deemed it appro­pri­ate to run her raw inter­view from which por­tions were used in The Steam­punk Bible prop­er. Ms. Gorin­sky has worked with some of the most promi­nent spec­u­la­tive fic­tion authors writ­ing today, includ­ing Steam­punk scribes Cherie Priest and George Mann. Below, the love­ly Ms. Gorin­sky dis­cuss­es edit­ing and trends of Steam­punk lit­er­a­ture.

SPB: What is your per­son­al def­i­n­i­tion of Steam­punk?

LG: I’m going to crib from myself and steal the def­i­n­i­tion I used for the intro­duc­tion to Tor.com’s Steam­punk Month: “There’s no sim­ple def­i­n­i­tion that works for every­one — at our staff meet­ing the oth­er day, we wound up revert­ing to that old saw about pornog­ra­phy — but I usu­al­ly start off with some­thing along the lines of ‘a Vic­to­ri­an-influ­enced spec­u­la­tive fic­tion sub­genre set in a world where steam pow­er is still in com­mon use; and the aes­thet­ic derived there­of.’”

SPB: How long have you been involved/interested in Steam­punk?

LG: I guess I’ve been offi­cial­ly involved in Steam­punk since I acquired my first Steam­punk book in, let’s see, ear­ly 2008. But I’ve been a fan of the aes­thet­ic for much longer. Long before I’d ever heard the word “Steam­punk” I fell in love with the Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Mark Caro film The City of Lost Chil­dren, which is still one of my favorite man­i­fes­ta­tions of the Steam­punk look. The first time I remem­ber con­sum­ing any­thing that know­ing­ly used the term was Joe Kel­ly and Chris Bachalo’s ear­ly-aughts com­ic book Steam­punk, which was both visu­al crack for a teenag­er who grew up on Bachalo’s Death comics, and one of the ear­li­est main­stream attempts to encap­su­late some­thing that — before that point — could bare­ly be con­sid­ered a cult fan­dom, or even a cohe­sive aes­thet­ic.

SPB: What dif­fer­ences do you see between now and when you start­ed?

LG: Obvi­ous­ly the genre has been around for decades, and has slow­ly gained pop­u­lar­i­ty since the mid-nineties, but I think the thing that took Steam­punk to the next lev­el was the arti­cle about it in the New York Times Style sec­tion in May 2008. I always feel sil­ly say­ing this, because the Style sec­tion rarely cov­ers any­thing until it’s washed up, but that was the cru­cial piece of media that made it pos­si­ble to walk into a meet­ing at a cor­po­rate pub­lish­er and explain why the sales staff had to pay atten­tion to this wacky sub­genre. Since then, every­thing has explod­ed: expo­nen­tial­ly more peo­ple have heard of Steam­punk, there are many more gath­er­ings of fans, and there’s actu­al­ly a few viable media prop­er­ties we can point at to explain why we think there’s an audi­ence for this stuff.

SPB: Who are your favorite Steam­punk fig­ures and why? Who has had the most influ­ence upon you?

LG: This is a very biased answer, but it would be an editor’s great­est dream if all her authors were half as able to explain Steam­punk sim­ply to new­bies and dis­cuss it intel­li­gent­ly with old hats, will­ing to make pub­lic appear­ances, and gen­uine­ly enthu­si­as­tic about the peri­od and the mate­r­i­al as Cherie Priest is. She knows how to look­ing the part, too. But most Steam­punk fans know about Cherie by now, so I’d like to men­tion one of the unher­ald­ed heroes of the field: Eve­lyn Kri­ete, who has tire­less­ly vol­un­teered her coun­sel and con­nec­tions to the Steam­fash­ion LJ com­mu­ni­ty, Tor.com’s Steam­punk Month, and var­i­ous con­ven­tions and par­ties and press out­lets for years now. She’s one of the first peo­ple I’d point out to any­one who has any doubt that Steam­punk is a com­mu­ni­ty in its own right.

SPB: What is it about Steam­punk that is so appeal­ing to you per­son­al­ly and to oth­ers as a whole?

LG: I’m one of the folks who sub­scribes to the notion that I didn’t find Steam­punk, it found me. So many ele­ments of the genre are things I’ve liked for­ev­er — the fash­ion, the gad­getry, the use of high-flown prose to add lit­er­ary mer­it even to action sequences — that Steam­punk just hap­pened to com­bine into one pack­age. After I had more expo­sure to the lit­er­a­ture and the com­mu­ni­ty, I got excit­ed by the extent to which it’s a pro-his­to­ry, sci­ence-pos­i­tive genre with a rev­er­ence for phys­i­cal tech­nolo­gies, and all the ways it ties into edu­ca­tion, mate­r­i­al con­ser­va­tion, and the mak­er cul­ture.

Alas, I’d be loathe to attempt to make a claim about what “oth­ers as a whole” see in Steam­punk, since I’ve encoun­tered as many dif­fer­ent rea­sons to care about the move­ment as there are peo­ple involved in it.

SPB: As an edi­tor, do you see Steam­punk becom­ing part of the writer’s tool box for a sto­ry? What I mean is – are some sto­ries bet­ter illus­trat­ed by a Steam­punk world, and why?

LG: I’m not sure I believe that any­thing can suc­cess­ful­ly be made into a Steam­punk book just by adding brass or gog­gles or set­ting it in the Vic­to­ri­an era instead of the Renais­sance. By and large, the Steam­punk nar­ra­tives I enjoy are fair­ly holis­tic exam­ples of the genre. In oth­er words, you can’t take the Steam­punk ele­ments out of a nov­el to make it a “nor­mal” sto­ry any more than you can bolt Steam­punk ele­ments onto some oth­er kind of book to make it Steam­punk, so the tool­box metaphor doesn’t real­ly apply. That said, there are some nar­ra­tives that mesh bet­ter with ele­ments of the genre than oth­ers, which I sus­pect is why so many Steam­punk books also func­tion as action or detec­tive sto­ries.

SPB: What are the chal­lenges of edit­ing Steam­punk work [as opposed to any oth­er type of fan­ta­sy and sci-fi]?

LG: Most of the things you need to keep in mind when edit­ing Steam­punk are the same sorts of con­sid­er­a­tions that come into play with works of alter­nate his­to­ry, like mak­ing sure it’s plau­si­ble — or at least inter­nal­ly con­sis­tent — that the world could have pro­gressed from some known diver­gence point to wher­ev­er it stands at the start of the sto­ry. It’s also pret­ty impor­tant that the his­tor­i­cal heft of the piece be right, which means keep­ing an eye on the fash­ion and vocab­u­lary, and flag­ging any peri­od details that feel out of place. The tricky thing is that it some­times doesn’t mat­ter whether an ele­ment can be fac­tu­al­ly traced back to the right peri­od: if it feels so mod­ern that a con­tem­po­rary read­er might start won­der­ing if peo­ple real­ly used that phrase back then and get thrown out of the story…then it’s got to go.

SPB: When acquir­ing Steam­punk work, what do you look for?

LG: This answer is not very help­ful to writ­ers, but the best Steam­punk books real­ly just feel right. I’m sure it helps to have the right peri­od, prose style, char­ac­ters, tropes, fash­ion, and tech­nol­o­gy, but I’ve cer­tain­ly encoun­tered books that had all of those ele­ments but were miss­ing some cru­cial ani­mat­ing spir­it. I’m try­ing to find books that won’t trig­ger that reac­tion for me or any oth­er Steam­punk read­ers out there.

SPB: How do you think Steam­punk lit­er­a­ture has evolved?

LG: To be hon­est, I think Steam­punk is only just start­ing to evolve into what­ev­er it’s going to become. The scat­tered list of titles between the mid-80s and the ear­ly aughts usu­al­ly just attempt­ed to play into the genre (or inad­ver­tent­ly did so) rather than push it for­ward, and by the end of that span I think most Steam­punk books still fit firm­ly in the straight-laced high-Vic­to­ri­an-plus-advanced-steam-tech are­na. I think that if we were trav­el­ing along a bell curve chart­ing the pro­gres­sion of the genre, we’d only be about one-fourth of the way along it by now.

: What is the future of Steam­punk, what would you like to see hap­pen with­in it that has not yet occurred [this can be in gen­er­al, or lit spe­cif­ic if you like]?

LG: This answer pairs well with the pre­vi­ous ques­tion, in that I think the lit­er­a­ture is final­ly start­ing to evolve, and will con­tin­ue to do so, and I’m excit­ed to see where this mat­u­ra­tion process takes it. I think — and hope — that the area it most expands into will be cov­er­ing pop­u­la­tions that are thus far insuf­fi­cient­ly rep­re­sent­ed. I want to see Steam­punk books set in coun­tries oth­er than Britain and Amer­i­ca; that fea­ture pro­tag­o­nists of dif­fer­ent races, class­es, ages, sex­u­al­i­ties, and abil­i­ties ; alter­nate his­to­ries where the diver­gence exam­ines vari­ances in the time­lines of social change; and explo­rations of oth­er ideas that take advan­tage of Steampunk’s poten­tial as a pro­gres­sive lit­er­a­ture. And in the move­ment as a whole, I’m excit­ed to see Steam­punk con­tin­ue to increase its promi­nence as a teach­ing tool and its role as a viral car­ri­er of the notion that it’s incred­i­bly cool to be able to make and mod­i­fy and repair your own cloth­ing, tech­nol­o­gy, and envi­ron­ment — not just for peo­ple on the bleed­ing edge, but for every­one.

“Texas Week: Interview with Tor editor Liz Gorinsky” was published in Uncategorized.

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