Monday, May 3, 2010

When Goths Discover Brown

(Devon and I are switching days. I will have Monday from now on.)

"Steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown." - Jess Nevins
I hope I have the correct source of this quote. If not, please correct me. It deserves proper attribution.

Wild, Wild West was my favorite television show. Not for Robert Conrad’s tight pants, but for the stories, their train, and the villain’s wonderful contraptions. My favorite movie was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and I read everything Jules Verne wrote. Another favorite movie is Georgers Melies’ silent A Trip to the Moon, a French film based on a Jules Verne story, elements of which were reproduced by The Smashing Pumpkins in their video for Tonight, Tonight. (check out the name of the boat that rescues them up at the end)

It was probably the machines that intrigued me. Growing up with little that I could count on, I found the dependability of gears, orrerys, and clockworks soothing. Back in the Victorian age, machines were a huge investment and were meant to be shown off, so they made the wrought iron and brass fittings works of art. But there’s more to it than that. Science was viewed as a bit of alchemy, and most steampunk carries on the tradition of wonder and awe, that anything is possible, and that technology can be magical. That strange mixture can be seen in the graphic novel and movie League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the recent Sherlock Holmes movie, Gail Carriger’s wonderful novels Soulless and Changeless, Gordon Dalhquist's Dream Books of the Glass Eaters, several Circlet Press anthologies, and Ginn Hale’s Wicked Gentlemen. The paranormal is just as likely in those worlds as any scientific discovery. It’s that mix of past and future that appeals to so many people.

We think of the Victorian age was being rigid, but the truth is that there were sweeping social changes during that time. The abolition of slavery, women’s rights, the role and form of government, public sanitation, and animal rights were hotly debated topics that often led to progress. It wasn’t all rosy, not by a long shot, but the direction society headed during those years was astonishing given the general impression we have of Victorians. And of course, we can never forget that behind their public faces, they were colossal perverts. So my apologies to Jess Nevins, but I think steampunk is what happens when kinksters discover technology.

The Soul Machine

Archibald Fraser, adventurer extraordinaire, decides to confront those confounded women of the Spiritualist’s Society over their infringement on the men’s turf – namely the street on which their respective clubs sit. Instead of finding a bunch of silly women holding a séance inside the club, he falls into the clutches of a mysterious Russian Countess.

The whisper of silk skirts close by caught Archie’s attention. He turned, and immediately his eyes were drawn to the luminescent orbs of a magnificent bosom, which, like twin moons, crested at a thin horizon of black lace. The woman those orbs were attached to sat in a leather wingback chair. She wore a dress of such deep garnet silk that she was almost swallowed whole by the shadows except for the ethereal glow of her décolletage.

Archie’s ruminations on the efficacy of sliding his suddenly turgid cock between those orbs were interrupted by a heavily accented woman’s voice that rang through the room like a whip crack.

“Even if we had been properly introduced, I would find your behavior wholly unacceptable.”

The hall porter, who had followed Archie into the parlor, bowed to the shadowy figure. “Forgive me, Countess. He shoved his way in here. I will call the footmen.”

Her gloved hand lifted. At the flick of her wrist, the hall porter backed out of the room.

A tapestry footstool slammed against Archie’s ankles.


He was at last a foot taller than she, and his travels into rugged territory kept him in peak physical shape. He’d climbed mountains, paddled through dangerous waters, dined with indigenous chieftains and slept in Bedouin tents, and yet, one word from her, and he sank onto the footstool as if a hidden force compelled him.

His knees spread in an unseemly manner. He held his hat before his groin.

She lifted her garnet skirts just enough to flash a shapely, pale ankle. Her foot rose, and with a kick, sent his hat rolling across the floor.

“Leave it.”

Archie withdrew his hand. As his cock sent most urgent messages to his brain, he clasped his hands at his lap and tried to press his knees together.

The Countess leaned forward. The sweetly resinous scent of amber and myrrh filled his nose. Her magnificent bosom was inches from his face. It strained against the tight confines of her dress and threatened to spill over top. With great difficulty, he tore his gaze from the alluring sight to her eyes.

Her lips curved, as if she found him amusing. Perhaps she did. His ungainly posture made it impossible to adequately hide his erection. Another emotion glinted in her dark eyes. Her foot pressed against his most delicate gentleman’s parts.

The Countess’s henchmen drag Archie down into her lair and strap him to her Soul Machine. With the device, she can peer into the depths of a man’s soul. He expects pain. Instead, it delivers almost unbearable pleasure. Just short of satisfaction though, she turns off the device. He begs for release. She gives him what he needs.

Perhaps she had a Byzantine sense of humor, but from the mischievous turn of her lips, Archie felt as if she were offering him a grand game. Damned if he didn’t admire this woman. If it meant he might relieve the urgency in his trousers, he was willing to play along.

“What fiendish torture do you have in mind, Countess?”

Her eyes sparkled approval. “Something horrible, Mr. Fraser.” She ran her pink tongue over her obscenely plump lips as if she relished the thought of it. “Something thoroughly English.”

Archie suspected she took great delight in making him wait for the final resolution of his discomfort.

The Countess held a sleek cane in her gloved hands. The way she ran it over her palm was exceedingly lewd. If she didn’t stop, he was going to fill his undergarments with a hefty dollop of his gentleman’s vitality.


And yes, I'm aware that I've committed a cardinal sin of erotica. Euphemisms are frowned upon, but when the story is set in an age where - as Lisabet pointed out – extreme public prudery was the norm, blunt words seem anachronistic in character’s mouths. On the other hand, they were getting up to all sorts of naughtiness in private. So how is a writer supposed to balance these opposing forces? Embrace a touch of purple prose and hope the readers get that it’s meant tongue-in-cheek. Forgive me?


  1. Forgiven Kathleen!

    Then again, I don't worry too much about breaking cardinal sins, and besides the prose was just the right shade.

    It's all about the right tool for the job, methinks.

    I loved The Wild, Wild West and Tonight, Tonight. So, what is it about the repeating words here?

    Thanks for giving me lots of food for thought.


  2. Forgive you? I want more of Archibald and the Countess! :)

  3. Jvstin - it's been subbed to DL King's Carnal Machines (Cleis Press). Hopefully, it'll make the cut.

    Craig - thanks!

  4. Kathleen,

    I don't see anything wrong with euphemisms when they're an essential element of quality fiction like this.

    Good post - great writing.


  5. Oh my god, this is wonderful, Kathleen!

    I'm so jealous. I'm struggling with my tale and you've already subbed yours!

    Seriously though, I think you've caught the essence of steampunk here. The dialogue is pitch perfect.

    Can't wait to read the whole story (D.L. would be crazy not to accept it!)


  6. Thank you Ash and Lisabet.

    Lisabet, I was lucky to be smacked by the inspiration fairy as soon as I was. Please write that story, because I truly love reading your work.

  7. Forgiven. I think euphenisms are what individualises sex scenes in a story.

    I also associate the Victorian Age with those odd mystical secret societies like The Golden Dawn.


  8. Garce - I wanted to bring out some of the aspects of Victorian culture that often get skipped over. It was the age of the gentleman's clubs.

  9. Compelling reading, Kathleen! Knowing so little about steampunk, I'm finding this week's offerings fascinating. Thanks!

  10. Came across your post today as I was about to tweet this quote & was checking attribution so tho't I'd share:

    "Steampunk is nothing more than what happens when Goths discover brown." — Charles Stross

    "Because it's a thing of beauty, the ability to spin the cloth of reality, and you're a sucker for it: Isn't storytelling what being human is all about?" — Charles Stross' Halting State


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