One of my friends, the Infamous Lisa, has already bought and is tearing through Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the new super-high-concept book by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. If you haven't already heard about it – perhaps you've been living under a rock, or busy with the smoldering embers of RaceFail '09 – it's a literal re-writing of Austen's book to include hordes of the undead. And also ninjas. Two out of three of a nerd trifecta isn't bad. If the next book is a re-writing of Persuasion that includes pirates fighting ninjas who are also robots and zombies, it will have covered every possible nerd base.
Then I heard (via Torque Control) that one of the novelettes up for the Hugo this year is "Pride and Prometheus," a tale of when young Mary Bennett met Victor Frankenstein. (Just won the Nebula, too.) And hey, I already downloaded the whole Baum Plan for Financial Independence collection, so I'll read that this week.
These stories are directly Austen-derived, but the 900-pound gorilla in this burgeoning sub-genre is clearly Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. Set during the Napoleonic wars, in a slightly alternate England, it is one of the better fantasy novels I've read in the past decade.
And a few years before Clarke was dipping into Austen's stomping grounds, Jasper Fforde was meddling with early Victorian literature with The Eyre Affair. It's set about 20 to 30 years later than Austen's works, and it is considerably more metafictional, so should we include The Eyre Affair in this list?
Personally, I've always felt that Jane Eyre was a story that needed a re-write of its own. Think about it – a mysterious Gothic mansion, strange noises in the attic, madness, fire, gypsies, fears of miscegenation. The first two thirds almost read like an H.P. Lovecraft story already. Now we just need to twist what's up in that locked attic room a little bit. Perhaps it's a white ape, or a woman slowly transforming for the dive past the reef at Innsmouth.
Are we really seeing the birth of yet another new sub-genre? Austenpunk doesn't really sound right, somehow. Maybe we should call it Regencypunk? Or is the -punk suffix completely inappropriate?
All I know right now is that I'm shortly going to tackle reading Pride and Prejudice, so I can properly understand Kessel's story and the tale of zombies and upper class society. Who says reading SF doesn't broaden your literary horizons?