“Steampunks are Goths who discovered brown,” is a quote attributed to author Jess Nevins that was popularized by Cherie Priest. The quote holds at least a little truth from my personal perspective. I started writing short vampire fiction in 2000 and then published my first vampire novel in 2005. Although I wrote and published my first steampunk story in 2001, I really didn’t really appreciate it as a subgenre separate from historical fantasy until I was introduced to Cherie Priest’s novel Boneshaker in 2009. I was delighted to meet Ms. Priest at the very first Wild Wild West Con in 2011 just before my first steampunk novel Owl Dance was published.
Although Cherie Priest is well known for her steampunk work, I knew she’d also written Gothic fiction, including vampire fiction. Her novel Bloodshot was published in 2011, the same year I met her at Wild Wild West Con. Given my interest in returning to my Scarlet Order vampire series and given that this week, I’ve been proofreading the new edition of my steampunk novel The Brazen Shark, I thought it would be fun to take a look at Bloodshot.
Bloodshot is a mystery thriller that tells the story of a vampire thief named Raylene Pendle who is hired by a blind vampire named Ian Stott to find and steal records that should help a doctor restore some, if not all, of his sight. The military had captured Ian and experimented on him and other vampires to find ways to develop biotechnologies that could improve the fighting skills of soldiers. Right after her first meeting with Ian, someone breaks into Raylene’s warehouse in Seattle where she keeps the stolen goods which didn’t find a home. Soon after that, she manages to open some top secret documents, which trigger the government to come hunt her down.
Raylene makes her way to a facility in Minnesota where records are literally put on ice. She breaks in and gets a lead that sends her to Atlanta, but not before she attracts even more unwelcome attention from the government. Soon, she’s working with a drag queen whose sister was a vampire in the program with Ian and wants to get to the bottom of who ran the program so he can shut them down. There’s a lot of great action along the way. Raylene is the story’s narrator and she presents herself as a loner, but reveals herself to be a little lonely and someone who cares for the other people in her life, including the homeless kids Pepper and Domino who have made a home in her warehouse.
I’ve often found it interesting how two different authors can develop similar ideas in parallel without being aware of the others’ work. Clearly Cherie Priest and I share a number of common interests and I think it’s interesting that we both wrote about a government program existing to investigate and adapt vampire abilities to soldiers. We also both explore the idea of a vampire thief. Still, there are distinct differences. In Bloodshot, it’s not clear the program actually accomplished much through its experiments. In Vampires of the Scarlet Order, the government did create a kind of vampiric soldier to horrific results. Cherie Priest told her story in first person. I used an epistolary narrative, which allowed me to retain first person intimacy, but explore multiple points of view. Bloodshot and Vampires of the Scarlet Order are by no means copies of one another, but it’s interesting that our related interests led us to explore a few similar ideas in our own unique ways. So now, I need to move on and read Bloodshot’s sequel, Hellbent.
You can learn about my Scarlet Order vampire novels at http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order. If you’d like to get some sneak peeks at the new book as it develops, if you just like this blog and appreciate its ad-free experience, or if you’d like the ebook of The Brazen Shark as a bonus when it’s finished, please consider supporting my Patreon at: https://www.patreon.com/davidleesummers
“I really didn’t really appreciate it as a subgenre separate from historical fantasy until….”
I understand the concept of subgenre. But I believe genres and subgenres don’t exist in and of themselves, but exist in the mind of the beholder.
“Steampunk” was around before the term was, as was “cyberpunk.” And while many pin the beginnings of science fiction to Mary Shelley’s *Frankenstein*, I still content if goes back much, much further. Icarus’ problem with wings wasn’t because it made the gods angry, it was because of known and defined physical principles. (The science may not have been exactly right, but let’s face it, true science hadn’t yet been invented.)
The same applies to science, including astronomy. Before human beings discovered, defined and named Pluto, it followed its course through the heavens. After they discovered it and called it the ninth planet, it followed its course through the heavens. Now that scientists say it is not a planet, it follows its course through the heavens. And if they declare it a planet once again, it will still follow its course through the heavens.
Changing the definition of reality doesn’t change reality, only our perspective.
Classifications are just a way of helping us wrap our minds around concepts and group like things together. Genre is only “important” in the sense that they help us group like things together.
The problem with Pluto is that people don’t pay careful attention to its classification. No astronomer ever actually said it’s not a planet. It’s a dwarf planet. And like the Earth, Pluto orbits a dwarf star. No one ever says the sun isn’t a real star because it’s a dwarf star. There are arguably some real differences between dwarf planets and planets just as there are between moons and planets, but, in fact, it’s all a big continuum.
Which brings us back to genre. We use the term loosely today and when we say it, we really mean “marketing category” but at the end of the day, science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, steampunk, cyberpunk and all these other related fields can easily blend and fold into each other.
I certainly agree that classifications can be useful. Let’s face it, it would be hard for any of us to write or even talk about “science fiction” or “planets” or anything if people didn’t have a shared concept about them. But it can also lead to divisions. For example, I don’t know how many arguments I’ve seen and heard about whether Star Wars is “really” science fiction or not. And that’s not even getting into battles in politics and religion over words and definitions.
You obviously know a lot more about astronomy than I do (although I do know about the dwarf planet and dwarf star concepts, but think calling Sol a “yellow” dwarf is misleading). The Pluto bit actually came from something I wrote shortly after Pluto’s “demotion.” I was a small part of the effort that got “planet X” named Eris aka 136199 Eris. As far as I know, for years Michael E. Brown never officially acknowledged the effort, although in an interview he said it was “possible” it influenced him. It wasn’t until he named his 2010 book *How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming*, which was actually named partially after the effort, that it was pretty certain. He later accepted an award that directly said he was influenced by the Discordian/Erisian push to name Planet X “Eris.”
It’s certainly true that classifications can lead to divisions, which comes of people being very passionate about the classification schemes. The lines between science fiction and fantasy in particular have always been a bit fuzzy in part because of how our knowledge of science topics continuously changes and how writers have worked to fill in the unknown parts, which in turn is based on the stories those writers have wanted to tell. And, of course, some people are very passionate about their tastes in stories.
Thanks for discussing your possible part in the naming of Eris. In fact, I think the number of dwarf planets in our solar system is one of the reasons people get worked up about Pluto’s “demotion.” Most of us grew up “knowing” there were nine and exactly nine planets in the solar system. Those of us who cared about the planets could rattle off the names with no problem. It was a kind of security.
However, now Pluto is one of nine identified dwarf planets, with likely more waiting to be discovered in the outer solar system. So, if we count the dwarf planets, we’re now confronted with suddenly having to know seventeen planets after having learned our nice comfortable nine. What we know feels very much in flux. The upshot is that we “dismiss” the dwarf planets to keep this thing many of us learned in childhood more or less fixed. It’s easier to drop off one dwarf planet than add at least eight and counting.
There are certainly other factors that contribute to the passion about which side of the planet/dwarf planet divide it sits on. In the end, though, I think we would agree that the debate reveals more about human psychology than the nature of planets and dwarf planets.