Science Fiction & Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Author Spotlight: Carrie Vaughn

Hi, Carrie! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us about your latest Harry and Marlow story, “Harry and Marlowe Versus the Haunted Locomotive of the Rockies.” When we last left off with “Intrigues at the Aetherian Exhibition,” the pair were headed off to the United States. What prompted you to take them across the Atlantic?

I actually know more about this side of the Atlantic! Seriously, though, sending Harry and Marlowe to my neck of the woods offered a great way to introduce “weird west” type stories and milieus to their world, and to see what Aetherian technology is doing in other places. Additionally, adventures in the “exotic” American west were a staple of Victorian adventure stories—see the Sherlock Holmes story “A Study in Scarlet,” for an example. I wanted to play with that trope.

You live in Colorado, and our heroes stop in the same neighborhood. How did it feel to set a story so close to home?

I’ve come to really enjoy setting stories in Colorado. Especially since, after considering myself rootless for most of my life, I’ve realized Colorado really is home, I have deep roots here, and I like showing off this region in my fiction—it’s diverse in many ways, historically fascinating, and has a lot to offer. It’s been a crossroads for many different cultures for 500 years, and the place reflects that. I got the idea for the haunted locomotive from a book of Colorado ghost stories. I was actually reading the book while doing research for my Kitty urban fantasy series, but was happy to snag this idea out of it for Harry and Marlowe in the meantime.

One of the things that interested me about the story—it’s set in the 1890s, which is well after the period that most people think of as the “Old West.” But the idea of the Old West is so pervasive and attractive that the tropes continued to influence people for a long time after. They still do, in some cases. But by that time, Colorado’s town and cities were modern (for the period), there were colleges and universities, museums, industry—a far cry from the wild west that a lot of people expect from the place, even now. I worked to depict what 1890s Colorado was actually like, rather than fall back on expectations based on tropes that really only existed in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show by that time.

In this story, the Aetherian tech plays a much larger role, and we get a sense that there’s more that came down than just random parts or tools. Does this hint at larger things in this particular overarching story?

Why, of course it does! We are building toward something, and part of that is Harry and Marlowe discovering more evidence and artifacts than they ever thought they would.

There’s a neat moment when Harry and Marlow come face to face with something that had been elevated to an almost legendary status, and it reminds me of Clarke’s “law”: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Is that the case here?

I think what’s meant to be happening is the characters are realizing that they really have very little understanding of this technology that has formed the basis of their modern world, and that should be terrifying.

Now that Harry and Marlow have stopped by the United States, what’s next for them?

Westward, ho! I’m working on yet another Harry and Marlowe story, which will send them across the Pacific. I can say no more.

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Andrew Liptak

Andrew Liptak

Andrew Liptak is the Weekend Editor for The Verge. He is the co-editor of War Stories: New Military Science Fiction, (Apex Publications, 2014). His writing has also appeared in io9, Gizmodo, Kirkus Reviews, Tor.com, BN Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog, Clarkesworld and others. He lives in Vermont.