Thursday, February 6, 2014

Would You Mind Holding My Mainspring?

Well, you didn't tell me the corsets would
be like that!
A friend told me recently his definition of steampunk was an excuse for corsets and watch gears.

I’m as up for a pretty face in a corset and watch gears as the next man, but this actually misses the whole point of the fantasy/scifi sub-genre.  Steampunk certainly includes a good number of watch parts, and really I think every book should have one decent corset scene—but steampunk, as a genre, is oh so much more.

Technically speaking, steampunk is historic fiction/fantasy in a setting where steam-power technology is dominant.  This doesn’t mean that steam is the only power, as electricity can also be available, but most often steampunk resides along an alternative history timeline in a pseudo-fantasy realm where retro technology is amped up to modern levels.

Try this.  Steampunk isn’t an excuse for corsets and watch gears, it’s all about corsets and watch gears!

Confused yet?

Historically researched and accurate.
Let’s break it down.

Corsets because, way, way back in the day, steampunk started out as speculative or science fiction.  No, true story.  That’s where the genre’s roots began in the late Victorian early Industrial periods.  Jules Verne and H.G. Wells set the stage, printed the bills and wrote the major characters.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle provided some lighting for ambiance.  Albert Robida gave everyone their lines, and Georges Melies was the director.  Mary Shelley did not sew the costumes, nor was she make-up.  She was in charge of special effects, and they were fabulous!

I’m uncertain if she wore a corset, and too lazy to do the research.

If she did, then she was fabulous in that too!

Watch gears, because steampunk can said to have been conceived by those elder artists, though not actually born until the Edwardian era became confused with the Victorian, and pocket watches went out of style.  Oh, sure, there were others establishing some of the finer tropes of the genre, labor pains long before the delivery.  The TV show (not the movie) The Wild, Wild West did an excellent job of touching on so many wonders that are steampunk.  Not only did they have the Vern-esque gadgetry, but they employed excellent villains who used and abused steam-powered devices with such malicious magnificence to rival any Bond-villain with a doomsday device.
Now THAT'S a flying machine!

Oh my, the doomsday devices.  Submarines and airships and spaceships.  That doesn’t even mention the fantastic stuff like walkers, earth-tunnelers, gliders, and an assortment of boat conversions that make one’s head swim with delight.  The gadgets, gear, clothes (yes, corsets), goggles, accoutrement, weaponry, and so forth.  The list just goes on and on.

If you can think it, it can be steam or mainspring powered!

And so, a primer, or rather a set of primers, for those who are now interested in dipping a gear-powered toe into the misty warm waters of steampunkery:

The Strange Affair of Spring-Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder
If you have to have a watch, make it a STEAMPUNK WATCH
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
Morlock Night by K.W. Jeter
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
Lord Kelvin's Machine by James Blaylock
The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Stirling

And, as George Mann so eloquently put it:

Steampunk is . . . a joyous fantasy of the past, allowing us to revel in a nostalgia for what never was. It is a literary playground for adventure, spectacle, drama, escapism and exploration. But most of all it is fun!

Happy reading!

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