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shes_a_geek
One of the noticeable gaps in most steampunk literature is a lack of variety and depth in dealing with sexuality. While sex in itself is a frequent topic (brothels make important settings in Paul di Filippo’s Steampunk Trilogy, Stephen Hunt’s The Court of the Air, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine, and Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, to name a few), more serious conversations about Victorian social conventions with regards to sexual behaviors and identities are often glossed over or outright neglected. This, in my mind, is a pity, particularly when one considers the wealth of information on the subject—everything from dry medical and legal texts to fiction and artwork—that could provide the basis for “queering” Victorian-based steampunk.

When I opened Gail Carriger’s debut novel Soulless, I was not expecting much depth of material at all, much less on the specific topic of sexual variance in nineteenth century London. Although I was impressed with Carriger’s interviews on sci-fi and steampunk forums, the back cover summary left me reluctantly expecting a steampunked Twilight, with vampires and werewolves fighting over our intrepid heroine, one Alexia Tarrabotti. What I found was a humorous spoof of both modern romantic comedies and Jane Austen-esque comedies of manners, with more than a bit of intriguing social commentary thrown in for good measure.

In many ways, the world of Alexia Tarrabotti could resemble a stereotypical romantic comedy. We see a feisty heroine (Alexia), her annoying family (perpetually embarrassed by their eldest daughter’s spinsterhood and Italian heritage), style-crazy best friend (Ivy Hisselpenny), flamboyantly gay friend (Lord Akeldama), and reluctant colleague/eventual love interest (Lord Maccon). However, Carriger takes what might otherwise be bland stock characters and places them in a thought-provoking setting.

Within Carriger’s alternate version of Victorian England, supernatural beings—werewolves, vampires, and ghosts--live openly in society. Instead of dominating humanity through force and brutality,they have come to gain power “by the same civilized means as everyone else: money, social standing, and politics” (Carriger, 38). While not everyone accepts the existence of such creatures in “polite” society, most human beings at least respect the social status of the more aristocratic vampires and werewolves. Under Victoria, the Bureau of Unnatural Registry (BUR)keeps tabs on vampire hives and werewolf packs, deals with attacks (both on and by those under its domain), and advises human politicians on the best ways to keep the country running smoothly for all citizens. However, as Alexia discovers, the tense relationships between vampires and werewolves make civilized political discourse difficult. While not a BUR agent herself (her family would be traumatized to see an upper-class woman working), Alexia’s status as a preternatural--a rare individual born without a soul, and therefore immune to supernatural attack--makes her a natural, if frequently frustrated, liaison for London’s hives and packs.

While it is clear that the integration of vampires and werewolves in society is a relatively recent phenomenon (in America, Alexia learns, such beings are regarded with religious dread, and often ostracized or killed by family members), this tolerance allows some individuals more personal freedom than would be acceptable in “normal” human society. Most vampires and werewolves keep or employ human followers and assistants (drones for vampires; clavigers for werewolves), who perform various tasks for their masters and mistresses in the hopes of one day being “turned” themselves. Alexia (and the reader) quickly learns, however, that these relationships frequently go beyond that of master and servant. When she is introduced to a female drone, an actress named Mabel Dair, she remarks that few women survive the change from human to vampire. Dair responds, without a hint of shame or embarrassment, “Some of us just enjoy the patronage. I have no particular interest in becoming supernatural, but my mistress provides for me in other ways” (Carriger, 43).

In many ways, Carriger uses this institution as a metaphor for sexual variety and variance in relationships, something unseen in much speculative fiction, much less in steampunk set in the Victorian era. Lord Akeldama, for instance, employs a number of handsome, foppish young men as servants, spies, and possible lovers. While he and his household at first appear frivolous and unimportant, his drones—all of whom are rich young noblemen who have taken intensive boxing and wrestling lessons—ultimately save Akeldama, Alexia, and Maccon from the clutches of unscrupulous scientists experimenting on supernatural subjects.

Although some familiar with steampunk art and literature might be taken aback by the portrayal of science in Alexia’s world—particularly with the ghoulish experiments her foes engage in as part of their research—I find it a fitting extension of the connection between supernatural and sexual Others. In some ways, their obsessive search for the “cause” of lycanthropy, vampirism, and preternaturals reminds me of the real-life Victorian medical field’s widespread attitude towards homosexuality. Some engage in detailed physiological examinations of subjects, while others devise elaborate machinery to attempt to measure the “amount” of soul a given supernatural has (the traditional explanation for the two states being “an excess of soul”).

The parallels between the sexual and the supernatural go even further in Changeless, the second (and newest) book in the Parasol Protectorate series. Here, we see a continuation of the political manuevering on Akeldama's part, as well as further political divisions between science and society. One of Alexia's opponents, an eccentric hatmaker and inventor named Madame Lefoux (who flirts shamelessly with an oblivious Alexia throughout the entire novel), is associated with a political/scientific organization seeking to explain the "source" of supernatural beings and phenomena. Even among the supernatural set, there is some division and debate about where werewolves and vampires fit into the natural order. In werewolf pack society, preternaturals like Alexia are referred to as "curse-breakers," suggesting that the lycanthropic state is a cursed existance.

Carriger is deeply aware of the discussions and suggestions within her new series. On her blog, a recent entry deals with “Queering –Up Genre One Akeldama at a Time”. In it, she discusses her childhood in San Francisco and her memories of being introduced to gay couples in her neighborhood. Part of her interest in creating a variety of characters in her work lies with representing the people and settings in her own life. Another part, which she discusses at some length, involves highlighting some of the social and sexual diversity of Victorian society:

Because I have the luxury of writing alt-history, I injected the comedy back into Victorian England through the vehicle of immortality combined with my childhood memories. This seems logical to me. After all, if you live for hundreds of years, no matter what your inclinations or orientation initially, you are likely to get, well, bored and experimental as the decades roll by. And I warn you all now, this probably goes all directions. Don't settle Lord Akeldama too firmly on the Kinsey scale, for there may well have been a young lady or two in his past. The vampires and werewolves in my books can get away with this, of course, because they are supernatural creatures. Church and moral law has no baring on them for Victorians perceive them as outside the natural order. Ironically, this allows them the
power to be even more extravagant and trend setting. It is no accident that excess soul is linked to creativity in my universe, and that my immortals are forced by procreative necessity to become, basically, patrons of the arts. My Victorian world emphasizes the split between those of a theatrical inclination and the rest of society, but also the strange power that the vampires in particular have over the aesthetic mindset of the ton. This is not so very far-fetched. Throughout history is it [sic] the disenfranchised who not only bring about social change, but underwrite society's most dearly beloved frivolities: music, sculpture, fashion, architecture, dance, or comedic literature.
(Carriger, blog post)

In Changeless, Alexia's preternatural state serves to expain some of her own acceptance of (and interest in) sexuality. As a being without a soul, she is not tied to Victorian social conventions. Due to her close friendship with Akeldama, familiarity with the more explicit material in her father's library, and lack of interest in the gossip and scandals that hold her "normal" friends and family in thrall, very little (whether sexual or supernatural) seems to shock her. Revelations surrounding her father's and Mme. Lefoux's sexualities do little more than raise her eyebrow.


One can only hope that more and more writers working in alternate history settings will adopt the complicated, thought-provoking issues and figures that Carriger manages to work into a deceptively simple novel. I look forward to reading the rest of the Parasol Protectorate series and seeing where she develops some of these ideas.


Sources:

Carriger, Gail. "Queering-Up
Genre One Akeldama at a
Time. " Blog. Posted 30 April
201 0. Accessed 6 May 201 0.
.com/1 34641 .html>

Carriger, Gail. Soulless. New
York: Orbit Books, 2009.

Carriger, Gail. Changeless. New York: Orbit Books, 2010.
 
 
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shes_a_geek
20 January 2010 @ 03:46 pm

Title: Zombie Watson Will Steal Your Jam and Eat Your Brains
Author: shes_a_geek , however reluctantly
Pairing: Moriarty/Moran, as always
Summary: Moriarty has a plan. A very secret evil revenge plot for that whole Reichenbach business. You'd best guard your supply of jam, Mr. Holmes.
Fandom: Sherlock Holmes, with additional inspiration from "The Hand-Delivered Letter" (in this anthology) and "The Case of the Two Watsons."
Warnings: Reading feminist musicology apparently makes shes_a_geek  babble on about zombies. I apologize.

Mr. Holmes--

In case you couldn't tell by the handwriting, I am alive. This may come as something of a shock. Poor Sebastian nearly lost his mind when I showed up to release him from prison. Of course, that could have been because I had replaced his guard with one of my rotting undead servants, but I digress...Speaking of Moran, by the way, I do apologize for his attempt upon your life. That was most clumsy of him, to be so utterly fooled by a wax bust. If it were me, I would be watching all of your little hideouts in London more carefully. Certainly you would have to leave sometime, if only to eat dinner and follow Watson around.

However, I am not writing this missive to quibble about past events. I WANT REVENGE! (Note: I am currently laughing in a creepy and somewhat insane manner. You may wish to picture this for the next few seconds of reading.)  You threw me off of a waterfall. That hurt a great deal, both physically and emotionally. HOW DID YOU KNOW I NEVER LEARNED HOW TO SWIM? IF MY OBNOXIOUS BROTHER TOLD YOU....Ahem.

You then proceeded to stalk dear old Seb around Europe for three years! This was more disturbing. If anyone is going to follow Moran day and night without ceasing for years at a time, it should be me!  Lesser men would be jealous, but I merely seek satisfaction for these slights.

In the early part of this letter, you probably noticed the mention of the undead. If you are anything like Moran was, you may be wondering, "Zombies? When did Moriarty get zombies? And why?" The answer would be a few months ago. I was bored, and raising the dead to do my bidding seemed somewhat easier than trying to rebuild my organization.

If it comes down to a reason, I blame you. People just aren't as scared of amoral, depraved mathematicians after you proved that we can be easily thrown off of waterfalls.  The undead, however, do not care about that.

You are also most likely wondering, as Moran did, how I have managed to prevent my creations from eating me. After all, as the most intelligent man in London, surely the zombies would want my brain. And I certainly couldn't have that, could I? 

So...I have trained my zombies to eat jam. I suppose they could also eat marmalade, but jam would be preferred. One day, my jam-eating zombies of doom and I will rule the world! Oh, and Sebastian can come along for the ride, as well. I'll need something to focus my attention on once you are dead, and I suppose being waited on hand and foot by my dashing moustachioed boyfriend might be enjoyable. (Note: I have now ceased laughing and begun leaning sleepily against the colonel. He is reading this over my shoulder, and wants me to add that the scene is incredibly manly, and not the least bit 'poofy' at all.)

In any case, said jam-eating legions of the undead have already begun their takeover of London. Which begs the question: have you seen Dr. Watson lately? He certainly seems to have become very fond of jam. Do have fun trying to stop him from eating all of your jam and destroying you, leaving behind only a few empty jars and a tattered shell.

Regards,
Prof. James Moriarty

PS. Please do not attempt to reply to this letter. Moran and I are rather busy at present, and I have not yet trained the zombies to answer mail.

 
 
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shes_a_geek
19 January 2010 @ 09:53 pm

From random_nexus :
The first TEN people to comment in this post get to request that I write a drabble of any pairing/character of their choosing. In return, they have to post this in their journal, regardless of their ability level.

1. For random_nexus : Holmes/Watson; Mycroft has taken a shine to Watson and Sherlock has to tell him 'hands off'.
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shes_a_geek
22 November 2009 @ 12:36 am
Stolen from janeturennewho I am quite sure did this a hundred times better than I could hope to do.

1. Write down the names of 10 characters.

2. Write a fic of fifteen fifty (Gimme a break. I'd like to see YOU write a fifteen word fic for the prompt and pairing on #5. C'mon. I double dare you) words or less for every prompt, using the characters determined by the numbers. DO NOT read the prompts before you do step 1.

First, some necessary shuffling of the usual suspects...



1. Colonel Sebastian Moran
2. Professor James Moriarty
3. Sherlock Holmes
4. Inspector Alec MacDonald
5. Inspector Giles Lestrade
6. Dr. John H. Watson
7. Irene Adler/Norton
8. Mycroft Holmes
9. Mrs. Hudson
10.Mary Morstan/Watson

And now...The Fun!Collapse )
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shes_a_geek
29 September 2009 @ 09:23 pm

Title: A Bizarre Proposal, Part 3B
Author: shes_a_geek
Pairing: Holmes/Watson (implied), Moriarty/Moran (discussed)
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: These are owned by ACD, with shout outs to Kim Newman's "The Red Planel League" and Not You's "Hunting Tigers".
Warnings: Unbetaed, Americanisms, Alternate History/Politics, Evil Math Geeks
Summary: Holmes has an awkward moment.
Word Count: 718

             

Oh, dear...How awkward.Collapse )
 
 
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shes_a_geek
27 September 2009 @ 07:19 pm


Title:  A Bizarre Proposal, Part 3A
Author: shes_a_geek
Rating: G/PG
Pairing:  Holmes/Watson (with Moriarty/Moran in other installments)
Warnings: Alternate history/sexology. (And a bit of angst)
Summary: Re-imagining of FINA (with some dialogue borrowed)...Watson receives a surprise visit from Holmes.
Disclaimer: They’re not mine. Oh, how I wish they were…
Author's Note: The second piece of this unbetaed jumble of crackiness is coming...soonish, I hope!

 

          
 

A blatant distortion of FINA, I believe...Collapse )

 

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shes_a_geek
19 September 2009 @ 05:20 pm

So, the school year must now officially up and running: I have a research project. For my independent study in music history, I'm writing on castrati and changing understandings of gender roles. This has led me to the gender/sexuality section of the library, where--swoon--they have loads of late 19th--early 20th century material.

Which is all well and good for my paper, of course, but also ties well into "A Bizarre Proposal," the WIP that has invaded my brain as of late. One of the books I found is an English translation of Forel's Die Sexuelle Frage (or The Sexual Question). If anything, Forel's opinion of male homosexuality was even more messed up and contradictory than Robb lets on. Despite believing (or claiming to believe) in complete sexual equality and seriously suggesting that civil marriage would be "an ideal state" for committed same sex couples, he thought they were insane. Most of the gay men he met were "neurotic" or "institutionalized" for one reason or another, while all lesbians were apparently "predatory" sorts who prey on youthful innocent victims. He also had severe doubts about their ability to be in committed relationships for any length of time.

I realize, of course, that these were considered sympathetic viewpoints during the time (not to mention images that were reinforced in popular literature), but still...As Graham Robb and numerous other contemporary writers point out, since most of the early sexologists conducted their research in mental institutions and prisons, the view of sexual behavior they would get would naturally be skewered in various directions.

And yes...that view of homosexual men visiting brothels as an attempt to "cure" themselves? Totally one of Forel's examples.



Also of note...Forel retired from writing weird books on sexuality and the human mind to...keep ants. I swear. He actually wrote a long book on ant behavior. I can almost picture him and Holmes having a post-retirement chat on social insects. That is, until Forel mentions that all inverts are sociopathic criminals...That might not go over so well. (Baritsu, anyone?)


(And the library also has plenty by Havelock Ellis and Magnus Hirschfield...which I gazed at but didn't check out due to the fact that the circulation worker already gave me a weird look for taking out loads of material on sexuality in opera over the course of the past two days. Did you know that early studies of transgenderism and homosexuality mention the castrati in great, glorious detail?  Ah, research...)
 
 
shes_a_geek
05 September 2009 @ 08:03 pm

Title: A Bizarre Proposal (part two)
Author: shes_a_geek
Pairing: Moriarty/Moran (H/W arrives in Part Three)
Disclaimer: Unfortunately, they're still not mine...
Summary: Moran has motives for wanting to go to Switzerland.
Warnings: very alternate history, slash, Moran being creepy and manipulative (but in a totally well-meaning way, I'm sure!)]
Word Count: 929
Rating: PG?

 

Only Moran knew why they had to leave London...Collapse )
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shes_a_geek
02 September 2009 @ 08:46 pm
Title: A Bizarre Proposal
Author: shes_a_geek
Pairing: Moriarty/Moran (may contain Holmes/Watson later)
Rating: PG
Disclaimer: Nothing belongs to me, least of all Dr. Forel and fictional Swiss politics.
Summary: Four Londoners decide to take advantage of a change in Swiss marriage laws.
Warnings: Um, slash, alternate history, mentions of prostitution and venereal disease, and possibly shaky representation of Switzerland. I'm fairly up on recent political events, institutions, and laws, but I can't begin to guess how these operated in 1891. Forel's major real-life contribution to sexology wasn't published until the twentieth century, but I'm assuming his research began earlier...Also, I cannot read much German, so I can't for the life of me understand what Forel's real argument for marriage between gay men actually contained. (I'm relying on various secondary historical accounts of Victorian views of sexuality, including Graham Robb's Strangers.)
Word Count: 591

 

In which Moran attempts to act romantic...Collapse )
 
 
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shes_a_geek
27 February 2008 @ 04:03 pm

Holmes-related slash is my guilty pleasure. It's kind of like putting chocolate chips on my Belgian waffles...It just makes everything a bit more interesting. And...despite my experimentation with various other Holmesian fandoms (an Irene Adler mystery that the world is not yet prepared for, numerous fics about the Moriartys, a not-so-secret passion for Sherlock Holmes: The Musical), I've never actually written slash.

Title: Lovers Meeting, Part I
Rating: PG-ish? I'm horrible with this sort of thing, but it's soppy and depressing. 
Warnings: As I mentioned, I do not write romance well. Angst, yes. Romance, not so much.
Implied Moriarty/Moran....and, if one so desires, implied Holmes/Watson. There is also gambling and reference to character death.

Note: This takes place sometime between FINA and EMPT. Mary either doesn't exist or has left Watson some years previously--I haven't yet decided.  This is also heavily unbetaed, as it just came into my mind after reading comments on the Moriarty/Moran relationship in the Holmesslash Yahoo group. 




 
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