What is Steampanku? – Part III

In the Part 1, I pitched the idea of an industrial revolution occurring in Japan, a country known for its imperialism and isolationism, resulting in the proliferation of steam technology, and a universe that is wholly steampunk, independent of the cultures and couture of Victorian society.  In part 2, I pitched the notions of the -punk ethos that can be explored in the universe of a steampunked Japan, and how several relevant themes can be explored through the dissection of a traditional society affected by groundbreaking technology.

In Part 3, I put all my ideas together, and form the universe that is Steampanku, a manifesto of the alternate history of Japan, leading to the proliferation of an industrially revolutionized Edo, and the world in which my fiction is set.

The Steampanku Manifesto

At the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600, shogun lord Tokugawa Ieyasu defeated the last remnants of Japan’s feudal lords.  He was the first shogun to truly unify the daimyo (lords of the land) with an iron fist.  Through the influence of his power, his bloodline established stability in japan by controlling national authority, and leaving regional authority to the daimyo.

Before his death in 1616, he oversaw the formation of the port town of Hirado, Nagasaki Perfecture, and opening of trade with the Dutch East India Company.  In a small presentation in his fortified castle in Edo, Ieyasu witnessed a display of magnificent potential; a miniature steam train.  Ideas unbound, Tokugawa foresaw the future of a technologically superior Japan, one with life-sized steam trains, boats, and even the possibility of travels by air.

His legacy was passed on to Tokugawa Iemitsu, who further solidified relations with the Dutch by having his brightest Japanese minds study with the Dutch in Hirado.  The Dutch knowledge of rapidly emerging western ideas, combined with Japanese ingenuity, accelerated the industrial revolution occurring by more than 100 years.

By 1637, the Shimabara Rebellion was mounted by coal miners upon the castle town of Shimabara.  With the help of the Dutch, Iemitsu easily quelled the uprising, suspecting that Portuguese catholics had been involved with the rebellion itself.  The leader of the rebellion, 16-year old Amakusa Shiro was beheaded, and his head was prominently displayed in Hirado as a cautionary tale to Kirishitans to give up their faith, or be expunged from Japan by death or deportation.

Some say that during the Rebellion, Amakusa Shiro had a lover, and had a child with her before the uprising.  No one knows what happened to them since Shiro’s execution.  Regardless, the remains of the Christian movement in Japan were either forced underground to worship God in secret, or die as martyrs.

Due to the troublesome rebellion of Portuguese missionaries and Japanese converted, Tokugawa Iemitsu mandated the seclusion of Japan from the rest of the world in 1639, closing down all trade with all external partners other than the Dutch East India Company.  In their honor, Iemitsu built a large man-made island off the coast of Nagasaki called Dejima.  Dejima became the official center of Dutch-Japanese research and technology.

From 1640 onwards, the Edo period experienced the full effect of the industrial revolution.  Due to the fascination of steam technology by the Tokugawa household, the nation’s chief engineers invented the steam engine.  The Silver Tiger, or Gintaro, was the first steam train to ever be constructed.  In the first bafaku shogunate’s honor, the Ieyasu line was constructed to connect all the major regions in Japan, from Hokkaido to the North, all the way to Nagasaki in the South.  Gintaro was primarily used by the Emperor and Shogunate to travel back and forth between old capital of Kyoto and the new capital of Edo, but as the Ieyasu line was completed, more trains were constructed to transport goods as well as armies.

The first steamships were also made by the end of the 17th century, mostly centralized around Nagasaki.  In celebration of such a feat, the Steamship festival was first introduced as a way for local culture to celebrate the evolution of seafaring in Japan.

The rapid pace of industrialization in Japan changed society as well.  Samurai, who no longer had control over their own lands, were forced to give up their swords and remain as peasants, or move to the cities and become retainers of the daimyo.  The majority of Samurai were left without their duties, and many found work with the up and coming japanese mafia, the Yakuza.

The Yakuza quickly took advantage of the growing capitalism in Japan, often grabbing power and money for their own personal gain.  With the help of corrupted daimyo, the different clans proliferated across Japan with their own corruptive use of steam technology.  Difference engines were used for gambling.  Automata were developed for the purposes of prostitution, and most important of all, the guardian was invented.
The guardian was the first tool of land-based warfare constructed for the Japanese army.  These proto-mecha ran on steam, and stood multiple times as high as the pilots that would control them.  Under the guise of military development, the Yakuza secretly funded its development for their own agenda, for use of sport and recreation.  Thus, the guardian games were born.  Bright minds from across the country competed regionally in guardian sumo, where civilian-class machines were piloted to engage in sumo.

Guardian Sumo proliferated as the spectator sport of choice for Japanese citizens, replacing regular sumo.  And with that proliferation, illegal gambling circles organized by the now rivalling Yakuza clans were organized to maximize profit from the vice of its citizens.

In Nagasaki, a young bright mind named Hanako works as an adopted apprentice to a brilliant inventor.  Her skills with machinery, quick reflexes, and dutch complexion has given her a reputation in Dejima as the tensai-onna, or genius girl of Nagasaki.  With her guardian and her secret belief in Christianity, she seeks to find herself through her inventions, and hopes to one day use her skills as a guardian pilot to explore the rest of Japan, and to discover her Dutch-Japanese roots.

This is the point in history where my novel, Guardian, takes place.  I hope you enjoyed the alternate Japanese history of the steampanku universe from which I write.


Learning From the Pros: Leviathan

Scott Westerfeld makes his Steampunk entry with the YA heavyweight, Leviathan.  Bestselling author of the Uglies novels, Scott creates a gripping alternate history based in Europe, shortly before the start of World War I.

The most notable history alternating that takes place in the novel is easily the differentiating the Central and Entente powers by way of their speculative technology.  The Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary are termed ‘Clankers,’ users of your typical steampunk war machines, such as mechanical walkers, spider-shaped tanks, and Zeppelins.  On the other side of the conflict, the ‘Darwinists’ represent the Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia.  The Darwinists are the result of Darwin’s biological research resulting in the discovery of not only evolution, but DNA as well.  The Biopunk ramifications of such a discovery leads to the bio-engineering of micro-organisms for wartime uses, particularly the titular Leviathan airship itself.

Plot-wise, alternate history is also evoked by setting the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand at night, allowing the initial inciting event to take place the same night, allowing the setting increase the effect of tension.  Likewise, the existence of Archduke’s son, Aleksander, is completely fabricated, but by being an only child allows for the importance of royal inheritance to drive the conflict between Alek and the Clanker forces that pursue him.

The pacing is tense and frantic, but somehow manages to conjure a reasonably sizable word-count for a Young Adult novel.  How he manages to do this is through managing a multitude of scenes of intense pace, but spacing them in such a way that the main characters get only a brief time to react and deal with each tight situation before they are thrust into another.  Secondly, he employs a two-pronged plot, each revolving around the two main characters, runaway prince Alek and the Darwinist GI Jane-type protagonist, Deryn Sharp.

Their stories intertwine with each other, up to the point where their paths cross, and the story truly takes off from there.

Leviathan is a great example of a well-written novel from which I can draw certain methods and techniques for my own novel.  After a nice re-read of my own manuscript, I can already see a few glaring differences between my story and Westerfeld’s.  The first glaring comparison I made was in my word count and pacing.  As I’ve already mentioned, the author manages to squeeze out a reasonable length from a relatively fast-paced read by incorporating multiple plot threads, but fleshes each one out with the proper detail and pacing so that each side feels like an independent novella on their own.

Guardian has a whopping three plotlines, centered around the three protagonists.  However, the characters themselves overlap with each other and interact with each other more often that I seem to like.  Perhaps it’s due to the quick pacing that I gave to each plotline that they seemed to meet each other at every turn.  I think I will keep them more separated from each other, not only to assist with the development of the characters themselves, but also to build the tension that grows between each character whenever they meet and separate.

This will probably require the incorporation of more secondary characters, fleshing out their respective secondary antagonists further (they are all set up against a common enemy, but there are other obstacles that they should overcome first), and treating each line as its own story, weaving through each other with great importance, to the penultimate point where they are all united at once to make their stand against the common enemy, making for an increased climactic effect.

If I follow these guidelines, I’m sure to increase my anemic word count to something more  marketable to literary enthusiasts of the steampunk genre.

Weekend Steampanku – It Begins!

It all starts at page 1.  And it will end, hopefully at a page number larger than the 241 that I have now.  It’s bare-bones, it has a lot of detail that could be fleshed out, but most importantly, it’s a work-in-progress.

I started out with a NaNoWriMo project that miraculously shaped itself into a 54,445-word beast, and it’s up to me to shape it into a beauty.  With a little help from my writing books, I have a literary framework in mind to help me continue throughout the writing process.

Having read the first chapter alone in The Weekend Novelist, I’ve come to a realization that books that teach you how to edit are pretty much the same as books that teach you how to write.  If you’re already sold on a storytelling format or system that you’ve read about prior, there’s no helping you from trying to get advice from other sources without abandoning the original beliefs that you once had.

Thus, out with TWN, back in with Truby’s The Anatomy of Story.

And forget about weekend editing – I’m unemployed, I should be doing this sort of thing whenever I humanly can, if I want to become successful (productive, even) as a writer.  It’s not going to be fun, but it’s one of those things that you can’t really help.  You either have it, or you don’t.

I’ve gone so far now, there’s really no point in turning back.  Once again, wish me luck!

Sex Trade, Women, and Steampanku

The honor-driven codes of Japanese society in the Edo period were not without its vices.  Prostitution was rampant at the city’s capital of Edo, and houses of ill-repute were established to provide pleasure services to those with deep pockets.  The women who provided these services done so under circumstances such as debt, deceit, or even kidnapping.  Many entered the trade due to false pretenses such as promises of improvement in way-of-life for women living in lower-classes, or even entered unknowingly, initially under the impression of being adopted into a higher class as a child.

Due to these practices of deceit, ‘fair-playing’ proprietors of these pleasure quarters pursued for more just regulation of prostitution, in order to minimize the corruption, while maximizing profit at the same time.  As a result, pleasure districts were created, and all forms of prostitution would be centralized around these areas in order to be managed more closely by the ruling government.

As such, these districts were societies all on their own, even to the extent of physical separation from the rest of Edo city life.  One such example was Yoshiwara, a famous sex district that was literally walled from the rest of society, and even protected by way of moat.  Entrance to the district was by a wooden bridge, through the main gate, directly into the district’s Main Street equivalent, Naka-no-cho.  Within it was a collection of establishments related to not only sex, but boisterous night-life entertainment through gambling, kabuki, teahouses, and geisha.

The women involved in the night-life of Yoshiwara were ranked according to experience, and moved up through their ranks through mentor-student relationships between experienced courtesans and fledgling whores.  Yoshiwara was an established district with a number of different brothels that varied in the rigidity of this order between women.  Some houses were simply without repute and charged less money for girls with relinquished rights, including women of respectable background, taking the fall for their husbands who had succumbed to gambling debt or were socially humiliated by the wife’s infidelity; an Edo analogue of the Fallen Woman.

This fallen woman archetype is prevalent in Victorian society, although in a much different light in Edo Japan.  Namely, this is because of the differences in the way women were viewed in relation to their rights in society.  Victorian women had no home ownership rights, but were viewed as pure, compared to the noble standard set by their monarch.  However, women in the Heian period as well as lower-class women in the bafaku were allowed to independently own and manage land.  Upper-class women in Japan were less fortunate, as they were subjected to a heavily patrilineal society, ruled by a male Shogunate or Emperor, and were treated with a less pure regard than their European counterparts.

Regardless, Japanese women were treated more or less with some semblance of autonomy and freedom.  Although they were under the mercy of their inherited debt, they had the opportunities to rise up in the hierarchy by becoming a courtesan’s apprentice, or simply by being bought out by richer men to be taken in as their mistresses.

In the steampanku universe, the role of technology provides another route of freedom for more romantic cases, worthy of storytelling.  In my manuscript of Guardian, for example, the character Yuki is a strong, free-thinking woman sold to sex slavery by her husband, who had fallen from grace due to alcoholism and gambling debt.  She has no qualms about her situation, and simply wishes for her husband’s redemption while she is far away from him.  In the meantime, she is sent to Nagasaki, the center of the steam-powered technological boom in Japan.  She is enlisted into a brothel under the ownership of Zakeda, the leader of Nagasaki’s prominent Yakuza group.

However, despite her immense debt, she is unable to make back the money she is owed, due to the existence of automata, capable of providing the same pleasures of the flesh, without the actual amorality of defiling actual feminine flesh.  She is often spared from prostitution, but at the cost of further perpetuating her lack of freedom.

As a result, she takes action, and throughout the events of Guardian, she will do what it takes to earn back her freedom, without sullying her name or her fallen husband’s.  And she will do so with the help of the other two main characters.

I am very excited to have initially written Guardian with minimal amounts of research necessary to fill in necessary details to further progress the plot, but further research into the subject of the role of women in Edo has left me even more excited to re-write and edit the manuscript, with intentions of making Yuki even more powerful as a character than before.

Weekend Steampanku: Introduction

Despite my aspiration to become a published novelist, I’ve come to admit publicly (i.e., through my blog) that I am absolutely terrified by the Editing and Revising process.  Completing a novel in a month, despite the praise it initally deserves for the feat itself, can and will be hindered further down the process by an intimidation of editing similar to that of “page fright,” where one simply does not know where to begin, and gives up finishing his or her project completely.

I have several blogger friends who are in the midst of revising their stories, with help from such programs as Holly Lisle’s How To Revise Your Novel.  Due to my lack of current funds, and a straight-up preference for an all-in-one package of the paperback format, I’ve selected Robert J. Ray’s Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel as the reference to help me tackle my manuscript in a sequential and logical order.

Ray’s Weekend Novelist is a popular series of how-to books for aspiring writers who operate on a limited timeframe due to commitments outside of their writing, which may include family, jobs, and in my case, looking for a job, gym excursions, as well as playing video games such as World of Warcraft and the Starcraft 2 Beta.  He incorporates techniques such as organizing info into grids, timed writing exercises, and charting plot features into diagrams and timelines.  All of these tools are used in the novel revision process within the span of a single, focused weekend.

As a means to hold myself accountable to revising my novel on the weekend, I hope to add Weekend Steampanku as an additional feature to this blog, as a reflection of my Novel’s progress.  Also, it makes for great post fodder to help me get back on track to providing more consistent content. In fact, The Weekend Novelist has a nice feature where a fictional character named X undergoes the process of editing and re-writing his own novel.  In this case, X will be me.

That being said, I do not plan on disclosing too much detail about my novel, other than general information such as character names, traits, settings.  I will try to keep my plot development general, as to not spoil the actual events of the story.  As such, I will most likely attribute archetypal elements to identify plot points.

Steampanku is still an up-and-coming blog of mine, and I want to give it the legs to develop into the backbone for my writing, as well as interactions with the writing community to which I belong.  I want Guardian to be a part of that blog, as it is my first true attempt at novel-writing, as well as getting a novel published at all.  Wish me luck on both the novel, and the blog!