Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Carrie Vaughn

I was excited to see a new story featuring Harry and Marlowe, especially one exploring how they met and their early relationship. What led you to write “Harry and Marlowe Escape the Mechanical Siege of Paris?”

After writing the first two stories, I knew I was going to end up writing a whole series of stories about this world and these characters, but before I went any further with it, I really needed to figure out how these two met, and how they became partners on their action-packed adventures. I knew they had to meet by chance in the middle of some crisis, preferably full of explosions, and that would set the tone for their relationship moving forward. I had fun dropping them into them middle of that situation and then seeing what happened next. I also very much wanted to include Harry’s brother George, the future King George V, who’s been mentioned in the stories but we hadn’t met yet.

Harry is such a great, complex character. She’s independent and capable, but also restricted by society’s class structure and her role as royalty. How did you develop this character? Is she fun to write?

Harry, aka Princess Maud, was a real person. I’d wanted to write about a Victorian woman adventurer for a long time, and I decided I’d love to make her one of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters. Skimming the history of the period, Maud jumped out. She really did have the nickname Harry as a child, apparently for being rambunctious and tomboyish, which was just perfect for my purposes. The rest of the details for my Harry diverge pretty significantly from the historical one—who eventually married Karl of Denmark and became the first modern queen of Norway. But that’s why they call it alternate history, isn’t it? I do plan on sprinkling my Harry’s life with select details from the historical Maud’s life. Of course this makes her great fun to write. I’ve made her someone who’s living in a world in transition, who respects tradition but at the same time isn’t going to let tradition keep her from her goals.

This story’s setting has something for everyone—Victorian Paris, steampunk, and even science fiction elements. What inspired you to combine all of these ideas when you created this world?

Really, that’s what steampunk is, what the attraction of steampunk is, at least for me. It’s piling together all these disparate aspects and finding a way to make it all work. One way to look at it—this is Jules Verne’s Paris, and the thought of dirigibles mooring to the Eiffel Tower just seems so perfect you wonder why it never happened for real. The flight from the war-torn foreign city is also a familiar trope. I get to do all these venerable, wonderful stories in a way that I hope comes across as natural and seamless. Setting the steampunk elements in such a concrete setting makes it all the better for me.

As I read the story, I thought about how technology is often developed and used for violent purposes before consideration is given to how it might be used to benefit society in other ways. Is this a theme you feel strongly about?

It’s a theme that’s been growing as my conception for the entire series of stories is coming together. In one sense, war is what spurs technological development in the first place, and some people would argue you don’t get technological development without it. But in this world I’m setting up a war that’s happening because of technology. It’s an arms race that’s both a result of the war, and the impetus for the war in the first place. It’s a world that has a brand new technology and has mostly been fighting over it—and can we do anything else? I like to think we can. Personally, I’m essentially a pacifist—but I’m also a military brat and the daughter of a Vietnam vet, so my feelings about the issues are complicated and quite emotional. I came of age in an era where we were all pretty much convinced that our technology was going to destroy the world. With these stories, I’ve introduced an admittedly outlandish technology. But that mindset will end up being the same.

This story ends with a promise of future adventures for Harry and Marlowe, a few of which we’ve already seen. Can we expect more stories set in this world? What’s next for you?

Oh yes. Just this month, even: John Joseph Adam’s anthology The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination includes my story “Harry and Marlowe Meet the Founder of the Aetherian Revolution.” Beyond that I have plans to send Harry and Marlowe to a lost island, and I dearly want Harry to meet H.G. Wells so he can tell her his idea for a cautionary tale about an alien invasion . . . In the meantime, I’m continuing with my urban fantasy series—Kitty Rocks the House will be out in March, and the sequel to my superhero novel, After the Golden Age, should be out later this year as well.

Kevin McNeil

Kevin McNeilKevin McNeil is a physical therapist, sports fanatic, and volunteer coach for the Special Olympics. He is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and The Center for the Study of Science Fiction’s Intensive Novel Workshop, led by Kij Johnson. His fiction has appeared in Every Day Fiction and is forthcoming in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. Kevin is a New Englander currently living in California. Find him on Twitter @kevinmcneil.