“If HBO are looking for a project to follow Game of Thrones, they need seek no further . . . an epic” – Scotsman
During Discovering Steampunk, I reviewed The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by G.W. Dahlquist. A fantastic novel I’m still itching to read the sequels for. This time around, I had the opportunity to present a Q&A to Mr. Dahlquist himself. As well as this, Penguin have kindly offered to give away a copy of the book to a UK entrant! But without further ado, I present to you G.W. Dahlquist.
Welcome to the Clockwork Carnival! First of all, could you please tell us what steampunk is to you?
For me steampunk is a way of telling a certain kind of story more efficiently, of overlapping technological elements in a way that deepens a connection between our own time and one where certain social structures – government, industry, journalism – were probably more simply arranged. I think that whenever a story is set – in the future or in the past or torqued by imagination – it’s still a story being told now, and for reasons that are all about the present. For me, using steam technology and alchemically-based computer science was a way to talk about how virtual information challenges definitions of identity and experience. Loading that kind of dislocation into an earlier time-frame makes those pressure points more visible, since we’re immediately aware when we see the past shift course.
Similarly, there’s a part of steampunk that celebrates a cultural diversity, that allows for a conglomeration of influences. This feels very contemporary, but also speaks to the culture-collisions that ran throughout the society of 19th century imperial Europe. This part is also for me where the sense of risk and danger comes in, as if these cultural collisions are chemical reactions whose result is always just a bit up in the air.
How did you come to incorporate steampunk into The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters?
Those elements came very naturally. I hadn’t planned it out in so many words, but clearly a major element of the book hinged on speculative technology, and that meant pursuing an alternative view of science, and also that kind of darker attitude. The book is something of a narrative layer cake, and there’s an element of pageantry – of scope – that accompanies the narrative, so there’s a dirigible, a panopticon, alchemical factories. Equally, there’s a focus on the mechanical guts of the city: canals, tunnels, trains, prisons, and an awareness of its organic history, with new growth, retraction, and, more than anything, secrets.
It is definitely a series that goes beyond merely ‘steampunk’, how would you define it?
I think it’s an adult adventure story, written now – which is to say that a more contemporary sensibility comes through as far as the violence, the corruption, and the erotic content. I hope it’s an elegant book, and I don’t think there’s any profanity, but there’s a lot of adult material. I always find it interesting how much popular entertainment – from the 19th century or now – basically pretends that all sorts of human behavior doesn’t exist, or only exists as a very manageable source of low comedy – when in fact those ‘low’ impulses drive a lot of what humans do, as individuals or nations.
I read a while ago that you based Glass Books on a dream you had, and dreams feature quite strongly in the story in one way or another. How did the ‘glass books’ come to be?
I was about to start a four week stint of jury duty in Manhattan, and the night before I had an odd dream about people being kidnapped, which took place is some very large and dark Victorian building, like a factory, or school, or a workhouse. I was with a playwright friend of mine – someone who later on became something of a model for Doctor Svenson. I didn’t remember the details of the dream so much as the mood, which was both extremely creepy and compelling – the search for these missing people had seemed very important. This happened in the middle of a very cold winter, with ice storms that had left everything frozen, so that on breaks from the trial it was all but impossible to go out – so I stayed in the jury room and wrote, for weeks. At first I thought this might be a play, since at the time I was solely a playwright, and I tried to make the story a monologue. After a short time I decided that was impossible, and simply plunged ahead with prose. I still don’t quite know how I made the jump from the dream’s inspiration – the whiff of Svenson – to a New World heiress getting jilted by her fiancé, but somehow I did, and just kept going.
You have quite a talent! Will there be any future novels from G.W. Dahlquist?
I’ve just published a new, short novel in the US for younger readers, called The Different Girl. It’s a little like a sweeter Lord of the Flies-like story, almost a fable, with a science fiction edge, about an orphan living on a small tropical island with three other girls and two adult caretakers, whose lives change rather drastically when another girl from a very different part of the world washes up after a shipwreck. And I’m just now finishing a new book, called Second Skin, that isn’t a direct sequel to The Different Girl, but which takes place in the same larger world of that book and casts some light on some of that book’s more mysterious elements.
Both of these books are different from The Glass Books – the language is more spare and the world more constrained – but I think there’s a similar thread of curiosity going through them both that I hope readers of the early books will enjoy.
A Taster & A Giveaway (UK)
You guys might be interested to hear that Penguin Books (UK) have recently re-released Glass Books of the Dream Eaters in e-book installments, the first of which is available as a free download. Definitely check that out to get a taster!
To win a copy of The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, I’m afraid you’ll need to be a UK resident as this giveaway is being provided by Penguin UK. Simply fill in the Rafflecopter and cross your fingers. Good luck!