Guest Post: Eric Brown on the exploration of change in steampunk.

ericbrown-janiandthegreatergameI’ve said before that Eric Brown was the author who convinced me I could read SF and get it. I love his writing and the way his work is about humanity even if it includes aliens, space, and space ships. When his latest novel, Jani and the Greater Game, was announced as a YA steampunk novel, I blinked and I wondered how it would fit with the rest of his body of work. And it hit me that it would likely be about change and how people react to it and that’s what I love about his other books. I decided to ask Eric about this and he replied with the following guest post.  

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Jani and the Greater Game, the exploration of change in steampunk.

It has been said that all my SF works are “typified by his exploration of humanity’s reaction to change in society, clad in an SF jacket.” I wouldn’t disagree with this, but would point out that this applies to almost all SF written these days. To set out to write about the future, and about some scientific and/or technological advance in the future – allied to the explication of character (after all, that’s what all writing is about) – is by necessity to explore humanity’s reaction to these changes. I’m not a Hard SF writer – I’m not that interested in the nuts and bolts of technological invention, or the theory behind the science. What interests me is how science and technology changes people, society and culture. To me, the prime example of a writer who did this well, and, what’s more important, entertainingly, is Michael Coney. On the surface his stories are about human interaction and the emotions wrought by simple human conflict; beneath the surface, he’s writing about a society, and individuals, changed by some scientific or technological advance – or, in the case of Hello Summer, Goodbye and its sequel I remember Pallahaxi, about change brought about by alien biology.

Now, can it be said that my latest novel, the steampunk romp Jani and the Greater Game, is typified by the of humanity’s reaction to change in society? Well, ‘typified’ is a loaded word, but I can safely say that the novel is very much about the changes wrought to society – in Britain, India, and indeed the world – by one very important difference to reality as we know it. This difference is that in the world of Jani, set in an alternative 1925, the British Raj has discovered an almost magical power source in the foothills of the Himalayas. Throughout the novel this power source is alluded to, but never explained – until the denouement. It’s known simply as Annapurnite, and the reader, reading between the lines, will guess that it’s not much different to nuclear power. With it, the British Empire has secured its place at the forefront of the superpowers vying for world domination, the other contenders being Russia and China. Britain rules the waves (and waives the rules, as Jani Chatterjee points out at one point) and history has been changed by the discovery of Annapurnite… or whatever it is. There was no first World War, Europe has been at peace for decades, and America is ruled from London. However, there is Nationalist unrest in India, and Jani finds herself conflicted as to where her loyalties lie. Her mother was English, her father an Indian with pro-British leanings, and while Jani was brought up in India until the age of eight, she was educated in Blighty until she was eighteen. She can see the many benefits brought about by British rule, and the Raj’s utilisation of the mysterious Annapurnite, but she is also aware of the drawbacks; the racism, the elitism, the very iniquity of one race lording it over another.

And what she learns during the course of the novel subverts everything she ever thought true not only about the British in India, about Annapurnite, but about the very reality of which she is a small, but very significant, part.

So there we have it: Jani and the Greater Game fits neatly into he corpus of the rest of my work: it is about change, and humanity’s reaction to it… (And it’s also about Imperialism, and racism, and loyalty, both personal and societal – as well as being, I like to think, a rip-roaring, page-turning adventure story with a heroine at its centre who you’ll come to love).

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eric-brownBio: Eric Brown began writing when he was fifteen, while living in Australia, and sold his first short story to Interzone in 1986. He has won the British Science Fiction Award twice for his short stories, has published over forty books, and his work has been translated into sixteen languages. His latest include the SF novels The Serene Invasion, the collection The Angels of Life and Death, and the crime novel Murder by the Book. He writes a regular science fiction review column for the Guardian newspaper and lives near Dunbar, East Lothian.

His website can be found at: www.ericbrown.co.uk

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