Science Fiction & Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Carrie Vaughn

Hi Carrie! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us about your latest story with us, “Harry and Marlow Meet the Founder of the Aetherian Revolution”! First off, this story is less an adventure story and more of a thriller. What can you tell us about where this particular narrative came from?

This was actually the first Harry and Marlowe story I finished and sent off. It originally appeared in John Joseph Adams’ anthology The Mad Scientists Guide to World Domination. By the time I wrote this one, I had a bunch of rough drafts and notes about these characters, building up their world and trying to figure out what to do with them. The anthology gave me a chance to focus my efforts and come up with a story that introduced both the characters and the background of the world while still offering a fun read. Going back to the Victorian pulp roots of steampunk means that it’s really no holds barred — I can come up with all kinds of crazy adventures, and build them around the lady adventurer I’d always wanted to tell stories about.

As a whole, the Harry and Marlowe stories are about how this alien technology is changing humanity. That idea becomes very literal here.

This story introduces us to the secluded Ernest Carlisle, who was one of the principle architects of the Aetherian revolution that really forms this world, and it was fun to see you take on a sort of Mad Scientist trope. How do you see Carlisle justifying what he’s done?

Carlisle uses the justification that most mad scientists seem to put forward: They’re trying to make humanity better. The world will be a better place when they’re finished with it. They become so invested that any cost — even human lives — seems justified. But like Frankenstein and Moreau before him, he loses sight of what “humanity” and “better” actually mean. Also, to borrow the famous line from Jurassic Park: He spent so much time figuring out if he could, he didn’t stop to think if he should.

In an earlier interview, we chatted about how you inserted H.G. Wells into the story, but I’d be interested in hearing your take on how War of the Worlds impacted this series of stories that you’ve been telling.

In some ways this all started with War of the Worlds. But it’s War of the Worlds through the lens of the Roswell crash story. One of the great urban legends of the twentieth century is how the government secretly reverse-engineered technology from the supposed crash of an alien craft in New Mexico. What I did to build the background of the Harry and Marlowe worlds was smoosh that story up against War of the Worlds, and have the Victorians reverse-engineer technology from the wreckage of an alien craft crash landing Surrey. In this world, H.G. Wells still writes War of the Worlds pretty much exactly as he does — it just has a much different metaphorical meaning in his world.

Do you see your stories as straight-up steampunk, or science fiction in the manner of Wells and other, similar authors? How do you distinguish the two?

These stories were definitely inspired by straight-up steampunk. I had been costuming in a steampunk style for years, but it took really sticking my feet in the steampunk community before I was inspired to write stories myself. Sourcing the technology from aliens rather than extrapolating from existing steam technology is the spin I put on my world to make it different and more intriguing. Given the prevalence of ray guns and glowing green engines and things in my stories, they might actually fall under the sub-branch of steampunk known as “ray gun gothic.” But I’m not going to split hairs over it.

As for the science fiction element, I definitely try to write stories that feel like science fiction, even as they get pretty fanciful. It’s all part of the same big speculative umbrella and I use as many tools as I need to to tell the story.

Finally, my usual question: What’s next for the pair?

I have another story about Harry and Marlowe waiting in the wings. “Harry and Marlowe Meet the Founder of the Aetherian Revolution” takes place pretty early on their timeline. This new one takes place much later and moves their story forward in a number of ways. I always have more ideas about them cooking and hope to collect their adventures into one volume in the next year or so.

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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.