The Gizmo Effect
Posted October 14, 2010on:
As a bit of a follow-up to my previous post, I have been reading up on steampunk as a genre recently. I found this handy-looking little website that gave me all sorts of ideas about the kind of things they should have, they way they should talk, that sort of thing. This story I’m working on is sort of a ‘Jules Verne meets Rankin/Bass and they beget a Hallmark Special’ sort of story, complete with the stop-motion animation and the squeaky voices, and I have to get it right, since my wife has threatened to introduce me to Mr. Baseball Bat if I mess up.
If that’s not loving support I don’t know what is.
To some extent I’m a little uncomfortable with SF as a genre to write in. There seems to be such a predisposition to focus on the science, i.e., the setting, and I’m a character-driven guy. One of the reasons I write fantasy is that I can make up the setting as I go along. There are details, but fewer of them and I don’t have to worry about keeping them all straight in a single book. Steampunk as a genre seems to be all about such little details. Even Girl Genius, the brilliant steampunk webcomic, with all its wonderful characters, turns on an ever-expanding world of strangeness and new toys.
Gizmos. The Gizmo Effect is when the author becomes so in love with his gizmos that the story becomes about them, and not the character using them. So far it hasn’t ever happened to me, but I’ve read books where it’s clear the author had nothing else in mind. Surely you’ve read a few yourself.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t like gizmos. Hell, read my books. (Please.) They’re full of gizmos, from one end to the other. But always because the story needs them. People using gizmos to do things. Sure Tarkas has a wondrous sword, but his culture has no word for sword. Or weapon, for that matter. And when the Demi-God comes along and ‘educates’ him, via a dose of Triple-Distilled Elixir of Warrior, the story benefits, because now Tarkas has to deal with reflexes, skills, and even thoughts he’s never held before and what do you do with them? My gizmos tend to have an effect on the man, and it’s the man I’m interested in.
Tomparasil is so in love with his gizmos he’s forgotten what it means to be an elf, and it’s the elf I’m interested in! This time I’ll have to use his gizmos to explore him from the outside in, rather than from the inside out. What can I say, I’m stretching myself. Wish me luck?