Steampunk. Here to stay?
For those who have been paying attention to trends in Science Fiction and Fantasy it should be evident that the influence of Steampunk has been around for a while and has been gaining ground (I dare not say gathering steam) in mainstream as well as fannish circles. At first blush it may appear to be all about costuming and gadgets. Anyone that has seen the 50th or so set of pricey goggles perched on an assortment of Victorian era hats or viewed one of the countless mini hats with or without a train/veil at a Sci-Fi convention should be aware that something was afoot. Even if you have never read Homunculus by James Baylock, Boneshaker by Cherie Priest or The Scar by China Miéville, the influence of Steampunk has probably reached you via film and TV. Some of these are not so terrific. The League of Extraordinary Gentleman being one of the failures in making a transition from print to the screen but I’m not blaming the author, Alan Moore. It was another attempt at Hollywood trying to cash in on something they really don’t understand and ending up with a watered down celebrity laden mess. Vanhelsing was another Hollywood failure but could any film could be all bad with Hugh Jackman in it?
My first contact with Steampunk was when I was still in High School and the word Steampunk had not yet been created. It was the year before Star Trek first aired. The television show Wild, Wild, West was one of my favorites. The leads on the show were Robert Conrad, as James West who was a cross between a Western James Bond and Maverick and Ross Martin, as Artemus Gordon, the sidekick who could whip up the most inventive gadgets and disguises not unlike the character of Paris on Mission Impossible. Unlike Paris, the technology that Artemus had to work with was 19th Century. Personally I was always more interested in Artemus than the hero, James West but that is fairly typical of my being drawn to the less than square jawed hero. Earlier I had been fascinated by H.G.Well’s Time Machine,&The Island of Dr. Moreau, as well as Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea . These were about life in a future as imagined by people of an earlier age. They were perhaps a source of inspiration for Steampunk but they are not the same thing. The Wild, Wild, West was created by Michael Garrison, a very 20th Century kind of guy. This brings us to what Steampunk is actually and why so many people love it.
Steampunk and its cousin Dieselpunk draw on worlds that might have been if just a few factors had been different. One of the best examples of this can be found in The Greyfriar. I see this book as post-Apocalyptic. In The Greyfriar we find the world of free humans restricted more or less to the Equatorial Zone. One hundred fifty years earlier vampires attacked humans en masse and succeeded in killing or enslaving most of humanity in the northern climates of the world. Humanity is trying to push back and regain what was lost but the technology they developed is in part dictated by the resources they have available to them in these tropical and desert climates. Humans have made many advances in genetic engineering as well as industry based on steam. Society is very stratified and resembles in part the 18th century colonial model. While I love to visit these Steampunk universes, I would hate to live in any of them. I would miss air conditioning in the dog days of summer. Cell (or mobile if you are British) phones, laptops, television and soft toilet paper to name just a few conveniences would be hard to do without.
Steampunk should be with us a very long time if not forever. It should be around as Space is used as a backdrop or the Wild West or any number of locales that provide a framework for a tale, and it makes a wonderful setting for a myriad of stories.
by June K. Williams
V.P. Buzzy Multimedia