When I wrote my dieselpunk spy adventure The Ice War (link >>> ) some years ago, I let the story have three protagonists: two people — spy Johnny Bornewald and mechanic Linda Connor — and one continent — Alba, an alternate-history substitute for Antarctica. Transportation across Alba’s icy wastes is mainly by juggernauts, huge diesel-electric vehicles that take people and supplies from one frozen location to another. This illustration by Rob Watkins captures quite well what a freight juggernaut of the Russian army looks like.
Summary in English: I have been interviewed in a Swedish podcast about my 40+ yaers in the RPG business.
Robert Jonsson har intervjuat mig för sin podcast Bortom Bortom. I avsnitt 62, inbäddat nedan, berättar jag om hur jag började med hobbyn och tar er med på en resa igenom min karriär där världsskapandet är den röda tråden. Jag berör bland annat rollspelen Drakar och Demoner, Mutant 2, Partisan, Gondica och Wastelands.
Colonialism is a frequent backdrop to my stories, regardless whether I write dieselpunk or fantasy, stories or role-playing games. Since I have one foot in Europe and one in India, I have had the unusual experience of seeing that phenomenon from both sides. Some of the elders of my Indian clan, all of them sadly departed by now, participated in the liberation struggles in the 1930s and 1940s, whereas others served in the British Indian army and fought the Japanese. All had much to tell me and I cherish those memories. And here in Europe it is hard to avoid the “white man’s burden” narrative of colonialism; it appears in all kinds of popular culture.
So I write about characters from both sides of the fence and let them explain by themselves how they relate to an authoritarian colonial order − make no mistake about it: colonialism is getting a stranger’s fist punched in your face, even though the force of the blow may vary depending on what nation does the colonizing and when.
“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.” − From The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.
Colonialism often gets soft-pedalled in steampunk. SM Stirling’s alt-history Indian Raj in Peshawar Lancers is an illustrating example: the author unsuccessfully strives for a Kipling-ish mood in a tall tale (featuring airships, evil cults, etc) in which romanticized British and French adventurers save a colonial regime, and incidentally its native subjects, from Russian machinations, while Indian nationalists appear as terrorists and Afghan tribesmen resemble pseudo-Orcs. Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine approaches the same issues in a less rose-tinted manner, for example by an unflattering portrayal of the English protagonists’ harsh attitudes toward First Nation Americans.
So this is the above-mentioned burden of colonized peoples: to be amusing sidekicks, expendable femmes fatales, and devious adversaries to white protagonists, or to be background witnesses to the plot-shaking actions of Americo-European heroes. It reminds me of Arthur Conan Doyle’s use of foreign characters in his fiction, for example devious or temperamental Italians and South Americans, or the predatorial savage in The Sign of Four. Such aliens are strange to behold and difficult to comprehend, thus becoming menacing outsiders to white insiders − them versus us, the psychological curse afflicting colonial settlements everywhere.
However, all is not gloom. In Steve Turnbull’s novellas about Anglo-Indian sleuth Maliha Anderson, Indians are full-fledged protagonists in his steampunk Raj and Ceylon. And I approach colonialism with a critical mindset in my dieselpunk novel The Ice War, in which, for example, Eurasian spy Johnny Bornewald faces widespread racism, and is at times able to exploit that sentiment, because those contemptuous Europeans presume that he is an ignorant yokel.
After a long hiatus, I’m finally back to normal fiction writing. A few weeks ago, I began looking closely at the planned stand-alone sequel to the dieselpunk spy adventure The Ice War. After deciding that it would deal with protagonist Johnny Bornewald’s experiences after the end of the Republican Rebellion (after all, every war must end one day), when he is a decorated badly injured veteran living modestly at the German North Sea coast. I soon rediscovered Johnny’s “voice” and the story began telling itself in my mind.
Today I finished chapter 1 with a quote from the Book of Job: “[The warhorse] paws in the valley, and rejoices in his strength. He gallops into the clash of arms. He mocks at fear, and is not frightened.”
Summary in English: A Swedish podcast about what is steam- and dieselpunk. My debut in podcasting.
Den gångna helgen var min dotter Elin och jag på Silwersteam, en steampunkkongress i Eskilstuna. Där blev vi ombedda att delta i Fandompodden #49 som tar en titt på företeelserna ångpunk och dieselpunk. Bland annat använder jag Miyazaki-filmerna Howl’s Moving Castle och Laputa som exempel på vad de två genrerna kan erbjuda, och förklarar varför jag gillar att författa dieseläventyr. Länk till podcasten >>>
Artist: Ian McQue
An event in the alternate timeline of The Ice War
In May 1939 the Russian military cloudship Dmitri Donskoi foundered with all hands in the icy wilderness of the southern continent Alba*. Complications caused by the ongoing Republican Rebellion and the impending austral winter delayed search and rescue attempts. When spring arrived five months later, an ice-tracker of the Danish Canopus-patruljen gendarmerie discovered the wreck.
Artist: Mike Doscher. Click on the picture for a larger version.
*Alba: A alternate continent around the south pole, being a larger and more dramatic substitute for Antarctica. It is the location of my dieselpunk spy adventure The Ice War — link >>>