Monday, May 02, 2011

Steampun, sustainability, and sex: the Carnal Machines Blog Tour

For me, one of the delights of the steampunk genre is the richness of the real Victorian era as source material. Not only can a writer draw upon the period’s inventive spirit, elegant fashions, and delightful tension between public restraint and a seething underground lustiness, the contradictions of the Victorian age offer all sorts of thematic possibilities. Never before or since has the notion of the middle-class woman as the pure, protected, and rather helpless “angel of the house” been so strong and yet the organized women’s movement began in the 19th century. In the 21st century, we’re a long way from that imaginary angel of the house, and yet in some ways we’re still revisiting Victorian arguments about gender roles, sexuality, and how sexuality, intellect and power converge. A steampunk story, Victorian in spirit but not in detail, offers tremendous scope for examining sexuality politics—and in the case of an erotic steampunk story, examining sexuality itself.
Often in steampunk stories, the Victorian fascination with invention and progress is depicted as all about the shiny gadgets and the gee-whiz factor, like Jules Verne on steroids. But the 19th-century ingenuity that gave birth to cars, sewing machines, typewriters and electric lights (and building on Victorian discoveries, to manned space flight, iPhones, and coffee machines that can brew you a fix in under a minute) was a double-edged sword. All that “progress” made lives easier and probably saved countless lives—but it also led to our current polluted, oil-dependent world that might have to relearn pre-Industrial Revolution technology to survive.
Even before the historical Victorian era, a few clever people worried about the destructive effects of the great god Progress—think William Blake’s “dark Satanic mills” spewing filthy coal smoke and destroying the ancient social fabric of the English countryside. Some people, at least, were aware that the increased comfort and convenience of their lives might have a long-term price, but it must have been hard to look past the wonders of buying a ready-made dress or having gaslight.
My story “Human-Powered” combines three of my personal fascinations--women’s changing roles in the Victorian age,sustainable technology, and of course juicy sex. Claire, my clever and determined engineer heroine has developed what she hopes will be a clean and virtually limitless source of energy—but it’s a rather dirty clean source of energy, one she can’t discuss at the women’s college where she teaches. Women, even women engineers, are supposed to be innocent and above feeling desire, after all. The only person she can trust to help her work out the bugs in her sexual-frustration fueled generator and go public with the invention is her late husband’s attractive research partner. And once they get together, the real challenge will be staying frustrated enough to test the device.
Here’s a teasing taste: “Your letter asking for my help said only that the device uses the energy of the human body to power itself. You said you would be more specific when we met and I verified that it should work as you theorized. Not only will it, but if it proves suitable for mass production, it could bring electricity to the most isolated homestead. But does it gather all the energy we generate in a day, or something more specific? Do you envision it sitting in a workshop, or in the kitchen as a housewife does her chores? Maybe a schoolyard? Children at play are certainly energetic.”
Now came the part she’d most dreaded when envisioning this meeting. On one hand, her plan would use a form of energy that was wasted otherwise—and one in unlimited supply. On the other hand, the particulars were delicate, especially to discuss with such an attractive man.
Claire schooled herself not to blush. “It gathers the yearnings of the unmarried and the unhappily married and converts all that heat into useful form while—in theory, once I get it working properly—easing a lonely person’s restlessness.”
If only she could get it to work for her. Her empty widow’s bed was driving her mad with loneliness, but most men didn’t wish a tinkering, teaching wife and she lacked both time and patience for the niceties of courtship. “To sell it, we’d have to refer to something vague like ‘electrical impulses inherent to the adult human body’, so as not to cause scandal.”
Doctor Lowell stood and leaned across his great oak desk, an aggressive move that brought him closer than propriety allowed.
Or than Claire’s own sense of propriety could combat. He loomed close enough that his aftershave filled her nostrils, layered over a scent that could only be the muskiness of an aroused man—not the same as her late husband’s, but close enough to make her heart pound against her corset boning and awaken neglected, intimate parts of her body. She ached, yearning for touch, for kisses, for caresses. For, to be frank, a man in her arms, a man’s prick inside her.
She forced the thoughts away. It was impossible for her, as for so many in this world of rigid rules, to enjoy such pleasures anymore. But that was the value of her invention. If Doctor Lowell would help her construct it, there would be no shortage of fuel for it, and people’s longings could light their lamps instead of giving them the vapors or prompting them to do things they’d regret later.
Such as kissing Doctor Lowell, which seemed like a far better idea than Claire knew it was.

Pity the “arcane engineering” in my story wouldn’t actually work. My hippie heart would rejoice to think of all that pollution-free power. And generating it would be so much more fun than anything that works in the real world!

The whole blog tour...

May 2  Teresa Noelle Roberts
May 3  Kathleen Bradean http:/
May 7  Elizabeth Schechter
May 8  Delilah Devlin
May 10 Renee Michaels (need the address!)
May 11 Elias St. James (my blog)
May 13 Janine Ashbless


At 3:35 AM, Blogger Dayle A. Dermatis said...

GMTA! I once wrote a SF story where sexual energy creates interstellar travel! (It's called "Love Makes the Universe Go 'Round"...)

At 8:43 AM, Blogger Lisabet Sarai said...

I love the mixture of ecological sensitivity with mind-blowing sex!

Can't wait to read the tale, Teresa!


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