Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Steampunk or back to the future with brass, brown and perhaps a just a little bit of burlesque.

I thought I might just throw up a quick post on the subject of steampunk.  The term is now well known, a sub-genre of speculative fiction that incorporates, a neo-Victorian aesthetic, it speculates on what might have been if the industrial age had developed at an even greater technological rate, what things would have been like if Babbage completed his Difference engine or if other technologies, such as rocket technology went forward with steam tech.  It celebrates a kind of Victorian discipline and Victorian enthusiasm for science and technology, combined with a kind of Victorian comportment and aesthetic, in essence it is a rich and varied sub culture that with a romantic sensibility speculates on what might have been and what could be. Personally I consider some texts that combine old technology with more recent, such as Philip Reeve's wonderful Mortal Engines series as possessing distinctly steampunk elements, though set in a dystopian future.  And while the genre does not really include the 'scientific romances' of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells they certainly provide much of the inspiration for the current genre of steampunk.

Steampunk is something of a zeitgeist idea or aesthetic, at the moment, with it currently permeating popular culture at multiple levels, everywhere in fashion at the moment one can see the influence of steampunk or neo-Victorianism.  Pop culture now embraces the ethos with things like the new invigorated Doctor Who incorporating steampunk into its narrative vision, (how cool was the Silurian Victorian vigilante from the A Good Man Goes to War episode). 

I guess I have to admit to being a bit of a fan of the whole steampunk aesthetic, and for that matter a bit of a history junkie with a fascination for all things Victorian, with a particular interest in the technology of the age both in terms of history and in terms of speculative literature.   The essential romanticism of the movement, combined as it is with a celebration of the development of technology and innovation is hard to resist, and then there are the clothes, oh my, the clothes, is there anything sexier than a corset?  When women chose to wear them, as opposed to wearing them for the sake of an unrealisable ideal, they become an object of empowerment, a kind of glorious wrapper for femininity.  And I have to say a surprisingly comfortable piece of clothing to wear,  they do wonders for posture which in turn seems to ease the aches of a slouching progress through modern life, corsets seem counter to back ache, so yay for sexy Victorian wear.  Not that it is all just about corsets, the guys look pretty hot also, weather they wear the formal attire of the Victorian gentleman or the rolled up sleeves, braces and corduroy of the working engineer, steampunk or neo- Victorianism is just plain gorgeous.  And who doesn't love the chance to play dress ups.

I have read some rather glib, if possibly accurate summations of steampunk recently, which really just further reveals the extent to which the idea is permeating pop culture, one such definition in a major newspaper was; 'steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown', and certainly steampunk has much in common with the romantic goth movement.  Another was 'steampunk is a desire for machines that aren't crap', who can't relate to that, when we have to replace our digital tools every couple of years not just because they become obsolete so rapidly, but also because they just don't last, they really are crap, (IPhone being a case in point).  And now since I have outed myself as a steampunk fan here are some  photos from the steampunk picnic I attended yesterday, (oh and after my defence of corsets I must admit to choosing not to wear one yesterday, Steampunk and neo-Victorianism is about more than just one narrowly defined dress code).

More to come.  But in the mean time and just for fun here is the link to Girl Genius: http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/ adventure, romance and mad science and very definitely one of the many steampunk texts around and this one can be read online.  Girl Genius with it's ready availability online is one of those texts I often point teen readers towards but it is not just for young adults, my other half is a huge Girl
Genius fan, in fact it was G who introduced me to the fun that is Girl Genius.


  1. Was splendid to meet you three, your outfits were most excellent. We shall have to have an Adventure! out to your city in return. Monday was an excellent example of the breadth of steampunk fashion, as you observe. It would be nice to gather more multi-cultural practitioners though, I get very jealous of the American Steampunk gatherings with the Non-Euro-centric delights.

    - PvE

  2. I've never read steampunk before, but I recently became aware of it and plan to dip my toes into it sooner or later. I have a few of Cherie Priest's steampunk novels in my voluminous to-be-read stacks. Would that be a good place to start?

  3. As good as any. I find I much prefer steampunk to that other genre of choice for young adults, the supernatural romance.