Find out More About the World of STEAM GEARED by Science Fiction Writer Robinette Waterson During OWS CyCon 2019

Welcome to another fantastic stop in our World-building Showcase blog hop! On this stop, we’re highlighting a story where the world changes or ends as we know it, but you can find a full list of authors and topics on the OWS Cycon website. Let’s dive in!

Welcome Robinette Waterson!



Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, what is Steam Geared about?


Steam Geared is a series of 14 interrelated stories about people in a Victorian-style world – explorers, scientists, con artists, maids, tailors, aristocrats, prostitutes, and journalists to name a few – and what happens when they intermingle with each other and their steampunk environment.


What are the main differences between the “regular world” and the world on the other side of your barrier?


Steampunk in general postulates that the great inventions of the post-industrial world utilize steam power, rather than electricity, internal combustion, or electronics. Actually my stories are set in the year 1888 (give or take), but alongside the historical actualities are innovations such as self-propelled automobiles (which resemble the horse and carriages they replace), robots (resembling the appliances and people they replace), and gadgets both practical and fantastical.


Does language play any role in your world? Did you invent any new slang or terminology during your world-building process?


To my mind, language in general plays a pivotal role in shaping the thoughts and behaviors of a society. Some of my stories use slang and terms that were spoken in Victorian times but are no longer familiar to speakers of the Queen’s English today. It is amazing what can be understood through context. I would say I use old terms in new ways; resurrecting them, so to speak.


What do people in your invented world do for fun? Are there sports, games, music, or other activities they do in their free time?


Oh my goodness, yes, there are sports and games indeed! Characters attend performances, go on holidays, have dinner parties, explore foreign climes, write and read long letters, wager on card games, and, as might be guessed from the word “erotica” in the subtitle, engage in amorous activities.

Your Process


When you build a world, what is your process like? Do you do a lot of research upfront, wing it completely, or something in between?


I do a lot of research, both upfront and during the writing process itself. For Steam Geared, I read lots of histories, journals and letters of the time, contemporary literature, takeoffs on contemporary literature, and scientific proceedings, all in an attempt to give my stories a strong sense of time and place. Once comfortable with the Victorian framework, I then added the steampunk elements, fitting them like a jigsaw puzzle into the structure of my characters’ lives.


How central is the setting of your story to the story itself? Is it more of an interesting backdrop, or is it integral to the events of the story?


I like to think of my setting as another one of my characters, integral and essential to the plots.


When helping the reader get to know the world you built, what techniques do you use? Do you tend to be upfront about things, or keep the reader in the dark and feed them only bits at a time?


This is a difficult question to answer for my world. I try to blend the real and the steampunk elements in a natural and casual way, but in terms of the storyline, there is usually a puzzle or a twist that is only resolved at the end.


bHow much of a role does realism and hard scientific fact play in your world-building? Do you strive for 100% accuracy, or do you leave room for the fantastical and unexplainable in your world?


I strive for historicity and accuracy, although I also try to keep facts relevant to the action. The historical gas lamp, the exaggerated account of an airship, and the completely fantastical kitchen robot all take on the same level of significance.


How do you keep all of the details of your world and characters straight? Do you have a system for deciding on different factors and keeping it all organized, or does it live more in your head?


I do keep an extensive computerized database of collected facts and figures, which I consult when there is a need for authenticity and consistency. Although ‘organized’ is not exactly the best word for how I work. My process is more akin to rummaging through a cluttered attic of odd bits and bobs to find that special something to take each story to the top – and then over the edge!

Where can people find you on the web?

To find out more about the world of Steam Geared by Robinette Waterson, check out:


Special thanks are given to E. A. Hennessy for hosting this interview!

For more stops on our World-building Showcase, visit the tour page on the OWS CyCon website. You can also find more great Sci Fi authors and books on our main Sci Fi event page.

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