Steampunk. Here To Stay?

Steampunk. Here to stay?

steampunk goggles

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
©steampunk clothing

 

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June Williams
June, also known affectionately as Buzzy Lady #2, has been with the company since it began. She was born in Manhattan, raised in the Bronx (the first 12 years in the heart of the south Bronx) and spent most of her adult life living in Westchester County N.Y.

Always a Science Fiction fan and dabbler in writing she had thought herself too practical to pursue a career in the field. Before coming to Buzzy she spent over 30 years in the travel industry, then one day decided it was time to spread her wings and plunge into publishing. Everyone she knew thought she had gone slightly daft but as this was not the first time they had expressed that opinion she took the red pill anyway and now spends all of her time putting together projects that make each day a pleasure.
  • Arthur DeLorenzo

    I too have been interested in Steampunk before it had a name. For me it was Jules Verne not the Wild Wild West.

  • I liked Wild Wild West, but didn’t realize that’s what Steampunk is until you mentioned it. Haven’t read any of the modern ones although I really like the costumes I’ve seen at cons. My tastes run more to post-apocalyptic Mad Max style.

  • (Wee typo above: H.G.Wells wrote The Time Machine and The Island Of Dr Moreau, not Jules Verne, of course.)

    I think I like the concept of Steampunk more than I like the execution. The big appeal for me in Steamunk is sci-fi with technology that I can actually understand, rather than sci-fi with hazily-explained warp-drives and teleporters. Hell, I don’t even understand the technology we have today, but give me a steam-engine and I can kinda figure out how it all might work.

    Unfortunately, as the genre gets ever-more categorised, (‘Oh, you have diesel engines? The ‘dielsel-punk’ room is over there. This bar is for steam-only patrons…’) the more restrictive it all becomes. I think the term ‘retro-futurism’ has more scope for imagination, personally. As you put it in the article, “… life in a future as imagined by people of an earlier age.”

    • June K.Williams

      Thanks for the catch about H.G.Wells vs Jules Verne 🙂 You are also correct about the fractionalization of the genre. Retro-futurism may be more literally correct but I believe the die is cast and when someone says Steampunk they have the image in mind of a past equipped with tools that use the then existing technology to do very advanced stuff. In the end it will always boil down to an interesting story about characters that you can care about or you’ll have no readers to speak of.

  • T. Glenn Bane

    Fascinating article. I love Greyfriar. I truly enjoyed the Griffith’s vision of this dark world.