I find myself becoming a professional teller of lies. In a way, that’s what every fiction writer is but it’s a bit more problematic as a steampunk author. I tell lies about history, about religion, about politics, about technology, pretty much about everything. And, I have to admit, that sometimes, just sometimes, it gives me pause.
One of the things I’d like to promote in my fiction is size acceptance. It isn’t something I’ve done that directly yet. I have a tendency to use the word “voluptuous” when describing my main female characters perhaps a bit more than I should. Some of the women in my writing circle balked at a description of a female character as being buxom and voluptuous. But that’s neither here nor there.
I have a small collection of vintage photographs from Storyville. From those who don’t know, Storyville was New Orleans’ red-light district in the Victorian-era. These photos don’t involve much nudity and are fairly tasteful.
I happened upon a similar vintage photo of a big girl from the same era. She’s clad in a one-piece garment and the photo would fit in very easily with the Storyville photos although it isn’t one. I smirked and thought of including it if I ever decided to post said Storyville pics to give the impression that this large woman was also a Storyville sex worker. I wouldn’t dream of doing this with someone still alive or someone whom I thought her immediate family might still be alive but this isn’t the case.
So is it wrong? Or rather, would it be wrong? The issue of putting someone forward as being a prostitute when she wasn’t aside; would it be okay to attempt to further size acceptance through such a ruse?
I don’t know. But it made me think of the one really problematic big lie in my work so far. In my story “Songs of the Divine Pulsation,” I largely co-opted tantra and tantric ritual for my own purposes. I started to do a little research and then I put that notion aside and went whole hog into using the buzzword of “tantra” to put forward my own ideas about sex and mysticism. And yes, I do know the words “cultural appropriation” and while I do admit to using the word “problematic” a lot to describe this, I don’t feel guilty about it.
My justification is simple: I write steampunk. If you wouldn’t read one of my stories and bring it to your high school history class to prove to your history teacher that she’s wrong — if you wouldn’t read one of my stories and bring it to your high school physics teacher to prove that she’s wrong — why would you think to bring it to tell your religion teacher she’s wrong about tantra?
Or put another way, if you get your ideas about tantra or any other religious path from a steampunk story, you kinda get what you deserve.
At this point, I have to bring up a friend of mine who was pulled aside by a co-worker who quietly and cautiously asked him if Abraham Lincoln really was a vampire hunter. I’m serious. That happened. She said she hadn’t believed vampires were real up to that point but she heard about the book and the movie and so she figured she might be wrong.
When you’re finished laughing — I’ll wait, it took me a while too — you can share with me an acknowledgement of the awesome power of books. There are people, there may always be people, for whom the simple fact of words being in print in a hard-cover book is some proof of their validity, no matter how ridiculous.
So do I bear some responsibility to convey truth? Hell no. I acknowledge, freely and readily, the awesome power of books and the imagination but my job is to tell lies and if the flying battleships in the 1800s didn’t convince you of that, you just weren’t paying attention.
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Fantasy, science fiction and steampunk author Brandon Black is the editor of New Orleans By Gaslight, a first of its kind anthology of steampunk and gaslamp fantasy poetry and fiction set in Victorian-era New Orleans. Brandon is also the web content manager for the Week in Geek, New Orleans’ favourite fantasy and science fiction themed radio talk show, every Saturday at 1 pm CST on WGSO 990 AM. Click here to check out Brandon’s ever-expanding list of published works.