Writer tells Edinburgh Festival audience of his struggle to be defined…
Speaking at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in a panel alongside The Teleportation Accident author Ned Beauman, Harkaway—the son of espionage author John Le Carre—embraced Steampunk as a label for his work, while remaining open to some other suggestions.
‘Steampunk is wonderful when it is thought through. It can be a kind of façade with nothing behind it. If you probe it a little bit, you can say something. [In Angelmaker] I’ve taken [John] Ruskin and Ruskin’s ethos, to comment on this post-industrial austerity Britain design ethos, where all our furniture comes from Ikea. It’s mass produced and not unique. Craftsmanship is very much an issue in the digital age. To me, Steampunk is a way you can critique that… You can say that in Ruskin’s eyes there is a narrative to each physical object made by a craftsman and that infuses it with humanity. It’s to do with the soul and personal identity. You can do that with Steampunk, but it is also a genre in which people can gloss over everything with Victorian automata! It’s great if you do it properly.’
The whole question of how authors and their work is defined when they straddles different genres has become a hot topic recently, especially as so-called ‘literary’ writers continue to dip their quills in the black inky waters of genre.
‘One of the problems I have with Angelmaker—and Gone Away World before it—is that they don’t fit into any genre readily,’ Harkaway told his Edinburgh audience. ‘Very kindly the American Library Association invented a categorisation for me, which was ‘Trans Lit’, which sounds like something completely different. They said that was work that appears to be “genre” but transcends genre to talk about things that “literature” usually talks about… I don’t see the distinction between that and literature. Somebody else called it “Existential Pulp”, which I thought was great. I wanted to call it “Lit Pop”, to rhyme with Brit Pop, but my publisher slapped me down brutally hard!’
The Edinburgh International Book Festival continues at Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, until 27 August.
Brian J. Robb
Steampunk: Victorian Visionaries, Scientific Romances and Fantastic Fictions by Brian J. Robb (Aurum) is available from 8 November.
Up-coming Book Festival events of interest to science fiction, fantasy and horror fans include:
Fri 17 August 21:30—Grant Morrison: The Changing Face of the Superhero
Sat 18 August 12:30—Hari Kunzru: Stories That Span Space and Time
Sat 18 August 17:00—Neal Stephenson: Putting the Cult into Culture
Mon 20 August 20:30—China Miéville: Going Off the Rails
Wed 22 August 19:00—Vic Armstrong: Meet the World’s Most Prolific Stuntman
Tue 21 August 20:30—Kim Newman: The Greatest Vampire Novel Since Dracula?
Wed 22 August 20:00—Iain Banks: It’s Grimly Funny Up North
Wed 22 August 20:30—Will Brooker: Will The Real Caped Crusader Please Stand Up?
Fri 24 August 15:30—Bryan Talbot
Sat 25 August 20:30—Jasper Fforde: Introducing Thursday’s Next Adventure
Mon 27 August 20:30—Ken MacLeod: Scary Futuristic Fictions
…among many other interesting and diverse events!