Steampunk (WFC 2009 Part 4)

Dark dirigibles glide over a Victorian skyline. Fog swirls along the dark cobbles where a man in a cravat and tall silk hat passes with a tap, tapping of his goosehead cane. Mighty Engines huff in a subterranean labyrinth, from which pipes spread outward and upward, pipes upon pipes. At the turn of a dial, the lamps rush into gas-jet life. High on a tower of skeletal girders, a girl named Sparks Mahoney clambers upward, hand over hand, checking her progress through the telescoping brass goggles on her headgear. On the platform above her, urging her to greater speed, waits Mixmore, the faithful robot assistant she assembled in her father’s workshop — a robot with fire at his core and nary a microchip, his metal limbs powered by steam, which escapes from his elbow- and knee-joints in hissing gusts. But time is of the essence, for below the tower, swarming through the city, are the ever-hungry servants of Baron Doom. . . .

It’s a fashion in clothing and jewelry; it’s a literary movement; it has spawned radio shows and rock bands; it seems to transcend boundaries of age, ethnicity, and geography. Above all, its practitioners feel it’s fun and quintessentially cool.

I’m talking, of course, about steampunk. A year ago, I don’t think I’d even heard the term. (If I had, it hadn’t registered yet on my consciousness.) Then for awhile I was hearing the word and didn’t really know what it meant. Then someone told me, “It’s The Golden Compass. There are dirigibles. There’s no electricity.” Oohh.

At this year’s World Fantasy Convention, there was a fascinating and very informative panel on the subject. One panelist even came dressed in steampunk clothing, which to me looks a lot like goth but without the spectre of death. As I learned more, something occurred to me: without realizing it, I’ve been writing a form of steampunk for years.

Take Dragonfly: we’ve got the balloon, powered by a gas that flows through hoses and ignites. We’ve got gas flames that light up Hain’s Tenebrificium — which also has a giant, whirling, walk-through kaleidoscope powered by the weight, on pressure plates, of the people walking through it. We’ve got pumphouses — again, their machinery driven by twisted automatons (of a sort) who push and pull on levers that turn the gears. Chains slide and rattle behind the walls. We’ve got (scientifically impossible) coaches designed to crawl up and down stairways, the wheel-rims equipped with stair-fitting teeth. And as luck would have it, the Harvest Moon denizens dress, for the most part, like Victorians.

Power provided by pushing and pulling. . . . Doesn’t that sound like a more recent story of mine? The Thunder Rake in “The Star Shard,” with its Pushpull Chamber?

And how about The Fires of the Deep? Loft works for an organization called Watchworks (which name is nothing if not pure steampunk!), where a giant pendulum marks the passage of time. And the subterranean skies of Loft’s world team with airships, their furnaces burning solid krale to fill the balloons — krale, dug with leather-bladed scoops wherever the fuellists can find it — leather-bladed, to avoid cutting into a squirming meeval which could, if panicked or injured, strike a spark with its posterior pincers and blow the whole operation sky-high.

And the aspect of mechanical but non-electric things: the wind-up weapons of Loft’s world — the crickets and nailers — and his own weapon of proficiency, the shikanth, a separating handle, a cable, and a blade.

I could go on, but I think the point is made-and-then-some. But anyway, steampunk.

The panel at WFC was moderated by Deborah Biancotti; the other panelists were Liz Gorinsky from Tor, who edits a lot of steampunk; Ann VanderMeer, who with her husband Jeff has edited a voluminous anthology of steampunk stories; and writers Michael Swanwick and Nisi Shawl. So, here are some things they said:

They made the point that steampunk takes us back to an age when machines were understandable. In many ways, we’re afraid of the world today, a world that is increasingly incomprehensible to the average person. Steampunk is born of the desire to make something ourselves, to manipulate physical objects — to go back to brass screws and twine and lengths of pipe. The movement is all about making things.

Interestingly, one of the panelists found that people who have come into steampunk from the fashion end are often not aware that it’s a literary movement, and vice-versa! But the fashion folks design their clothing and accessories, and the literary folks read and write stories about characters who put things together.

It offers us a world put together partly from the old, partly from the new.

Panelist Shawl talked about how the fashion world of steampunk is very multiracial, but the literary world of steampunk, not so much; she theorized that steampunk “is a reaction against writers of color in the genre,” and, as such, is a trend to watch with caution. (Cyberpunk, she said, is largely a reaction against feminism.) But she added that there is a book by S. Barnes called Lion’s Blood and Zulu Heart, which is steampunk featuring characters of color. So far, the published writers of steampunk are mostly of a white/European background, but the fandom is much more distributed. Shawl made the point that people who were limited and disadvantaged by the Victorian era are now enjoying, through steampunk, an imaginary Victoriana without the baggage of the real thing. In fiction, we can use the best parts of an era. (John Fultz and I talked about this after the “dirty Middle Ages” panel — in our medieval fantasy, we want to keep things realistic, but we don’t really want to go on for pages and pages about lice and offal in the drinking water.) So anyway, with steampunk, you can have the fashions and the atmosphere, the clockwork and the gas lights of Victoriana without the prejudices and repressions.

The panel said that steampunk is much like the Society of (for?) Creative Anachronism (SCA) in that it tries to recreate an era as it should have been, not as it actually turned out.

Steampunk is still in its infancy.

The panel was divided over whether it’s a young person’s thing or an old person’s thing — it’s very likely both.

Someone said The Anubis Gates was more or less “the birth of steampunk.” (That’s Tim Powers, right? Or will I be coming back to correct this? I’m pretty sure that book was written by Powers . . . who said hi to me at the con, probably thinking I was someone else.) So it’s a very new genre. I’m sketchy on the details of this (maybe someone who knows can help me out here), but apparently in the mid-to-late eighties, there was a letter written to LOCUS that coined the term “steampunk.”

Michael Swanwick made the point that “punk” usually means a reaction against something. The Hippies, he said, were anti-technology, and were in favor of getting back to the magical land, the mystical Earth. Steampunk, then, may be seen as a reaction against that. It brings back the technology, but it’s “technology made good, done right.” Wholesome technology.

Steampunk is usually hopeful, fun, and optimistic, but it can have a dark side. At its beginnings in the eighties, it was almost entirely done in novels. Now we’re seeing steampunk in short fiction, too.

A great many writers of steampunk are computer people. Ann VanderMeer brought this up — she’s a computer person herself, who installs systems, etc. Back in the seventies, she said, computers themselves were much more physical. If you dealt with them at all, you dealt with code. You ran punch cards through slots. Today, computer use is much farther removed from the codes. Steampunk lets computer people get back to the hands-on, physical machines. (So it awakens nostalgia in computer geeks. [My words, not hers.])

“Punk” today has mostly a positive meaning — it conveys “edgy and stylish.” But the original punk was a reaction against style, against forms — the first punks were just having fun (with music, for example) — just seeing what would happen. Steampunk recaptures that sense of unfettered adventure, unlimited possibility. [For awhile, Ann played in an all-girls’ band called “The Guise.” Isn’t that a great name for an all-girls’ band?]

Liz Gorinsky said that, for the first time in a long time, we’re seeing huge masses of enthusiasm for something in speculative fiction. Many people who don’t necessarily read fantasy are going from the steampunk fashion world to discovering the literature.

The modern increased concern for the environment is reflected in steampunk: reduce, reuse, recycle. Make your own clothes. Put things together from parts you find lying around. Take things that you love — features of Edwardian clothing, architecture, etc. — and make it your own. There are dark fears in our present society: we’re running out of materials. Steampunk is, in part, an expression of our need to develop physical skills for survival in a dark time; perhaps we’ll have to make our own furniture, our own clothes, our own tools and basic machines.

Swanwick noted that there is great potential in steampunk — but to maintain the genre, we need to keep the deep, political underpinnings of the best steampunk writing. The real enemies of the movement are books that only scratch the surface: they take the trappings of it but have no substance; those are the works that will make it seem like a flash in the pan. Since it’s so early, we may still be waiting for the Great Steampunk Novel that will absolutely define the trend.

You can find this last part on the Weird Tales website, but it’s so good, I’ll try to summarize it here. This is by the Weird Tales editorial director Stephen H. Segal, from his article “Five Thoughts on the Popularity of Steampunk.” (And by the way, the site also has a very pithy definition of steampunk: “science-fictiony stuff built on Victorian-era technology and aesthetics” — now, isn’t that simple and to the point?)

Anyway, Segal says:

1. Steampunk is geekery that the genders can share. It’s “a way to masculinize romance. That is to say: Steampunk takes something stereotypically feminine that most boys hate — Victorian lace and frills and tea and crumpets — and says, ‘Hey, how about some robots with that?'”

2. It’s an aesthetic response to the science fiction in the culture. The point here is that the eighties and nineties (Star Trek: TNG) gave us science fiction that was clean, smooth, glossy, happy, and user-friendly — but not, according to steampunkians, exciting. It was predictable. Steampunk interjects grittiness, unpredictability, and spectacle. [Go and read how Segal says this — he says it a lot better and more funnily.]

3. Steampunk is like being goth without scaring your parents. Adults fear that goths take vampires too seriously and may want to make someone bleed. “Steampunks are — what? Weirdoes who take pocket-watches too seriously? What are they gonna do, vehemently tell you what time it is?”

4. It bridges the subgenre gap. More and more, writers and artists, filmmakers and musicians are mixing in elements of other types of fantasy, horror, and superheroics. “Steampunk is helping to bring us back to the days when the subgenre categories didn’t matter so much and it was all just a big lurching conceptual mass of ‘weird fiction.'” So now we’re seeing steampunk fairies, steampunk vampires, even steampunk Cthulhu. [Hee, hee — doesn’t that sound like fun? “The Shadow of a Dirigible Over Innsmouth” . . . “The Call of Cthulhu Through the Speaking Tube”. . . .]

5. Steampunk says: “The future: UR doin’ it wrong.” The future we were promised in earlier science fiction isn’t here and isn’t coming. “We were expecting Star Trek and we got Blade Runner: all the quirky little bits of science fiction have come true, but we lost the big dream.” Our scientific solutions have often not only failed to solve problems, but have ended up creating bigger, scarier ones. Steampunk lets us go back and try again.

I’ll close with this quote from Stephen H. Segal:

“Whether you’re reading and identifying with Girl Genius or making yourself a pair of functioning telescopic brass goggles, the fact is that when you have to get your hands or brain dirty puzzling out how stuff works, you can’t be blase about technological miracles — you’re forced to realize what miracles we’ve actually wrought. And once you’ve got that sense of appreciation, once you’re not taking all our modern-day scientific accomplishments for granted because you finally understand deep down that people had to sweat them out, experiment by experiment — it seems to me you can’t help but approach the world around us, here, today, with fresher eyes and a more adventuresome spirit. / I think that’s where a lot of the young people jumping on the steampunk bandwagon right now are coming from. It’s not just cool because it’s trendy — it’s cool because it’s inspirational. You know . . . like science fiction at its best always has been.”

 

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37 Responses to “Steampunk (WFC 2009 Part 4)”

  1. Elizabeth Says:

    Steampunk Forever!

    This is awesome stuff here, Fred — or at least, for us steampunk fans. 🙂

    Tim Powers did write The Anubis Gates and it was K.W. Jeter who made the comment in a letter to LOCUS and coined the phrase “steampunk” (I think making fun of, or referencing, the big cyberpunk movement of the time.)

    I don’t know that I agree with Shawl’s analysis about steampunk & cyberpunk, but I definitely agree with Michael Swanwick — “the deep, political underpinnings” are so important if the subgenre is to survive. I can’t imagine writing or reading a steampunk novel and really enjoying, or feeling that it is of any true substance, without the political undertones there. His remarks about “the Great Steampunk Novel” are a little like a red flag to a bull, though!

    I’m so glad you found your secret steampunk heart!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks, Elizabeth! I’m very relieved that someone who actually knows and loves steampunk read this post and wasn’t offended by it! Thanks for the confirmation on The Anubis Gates and for the facts on the letter to LOCUS.

      I seriously questioned those points of Shawl’s, too, but I wanted to report them in fairness to what was said on the panel.

      Red flag to a bull! Heh, heh, heh! I was thinking that the Great Steampunk Novel might come from you. . . .

  2. mileposter Says:

    Ah–so I have been writing steampunk, and didn’t know it! My world, Placebetween, in my book Missing Carolina, definitely follows a steampunk line–“as if technology had developed in a different way.” There is electricity, but in a “kinder, gentler” form–where adventurous humans ride the power lines using simple trams–and illumination by non-electric sources is still common. There are steam engines, and various kinds of simpler machines, including the universal use of human-powered vehicles. Instead of firearms, air guns are standard, although some intruders called the Destroyers are violating that tenet.

    Since I think Fred has gone to bed for the night, I’m going to include a simpler form of the link to 23 chapters of the book: mileposters.net/carolina
    You can’t click on it, but you can key it into your browser. I’ll try a separate post with a clickable link, but the system will probably throw it out as spam.

    I’m also writing a sequel to Fred’s book The Threshold of Twilight, titled, as Fred envisioned, The Delving. I suppose the appearance of gas lights in that one is more in strict adherence to steampunk principles. Here’s an attempt at a simpler, keyable link to that: storywrite.com/story/318076
    I’ll try a clickable one in the next message.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks, mileposter! Your links follow below. (For everyone: mileposter really does have some fascinating things going on with his alternative technology!) I hadn’t made the connection, but you’re right — there is something steampunkian about your values!

  3. mileposter Says:

    Clickable links, if this works:

    Missing Carolina:
    http://mileposters.net/carolina

    The Delving:
    http://storywrite.com/story/318076

  4. I am WAY out of the loop Says:

    Victorian — yes, that is it! FINALLY I have the term I have looking for to describe the ‘feel’ of Dragonfly! Talk about an itch that is finally scratched … ahhhh …

    That said, when I see “deep political underpinnings” I recoil, much as I do when I see “social justice” for both call to mind a branch of the political spectrum I … oh, we have an agreement not to foment politics here, don’t we? Mea culpa.

    As much as I loved Dragonfly, I am not all sure I could stomach this ‘steampunk’ phase. When I think Victorian I often envisage Jean Luc Picard, the politcally correct over-sensitive wimp. Gimme James Tiberius Kirk any galatic day!

    And as for the music: punk came as a response to disco out of the London underground, and talent was not required. Few punk bands knew more than one chord — it was discord they were after anyway. Tying talent to anything labeled ‘punk’ does a disservice, I think, to the talented authors writing in this style.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Dear “loop”: Thanks for the kind thoughts toward D-fly! Myself, I know I could never write anything with “deep political underpinnings.” I’d have to know something to be able to do that! I just, as always, try to tell a good story — but I do like the concept of quieter, more mysterious times, with more shadowy corners, and curious technology that developed along different lines.

      About politics: no, we never agreed to stay away from politics on this blog! Have at it, if you want to. I just said I would most likely have nothing to say on the subject, but it’s interesting to read what readers care to say. (We just agreed to stay away from name-calling and taking the names of farm animals in vain.) 🙂

      Steampunk is, certainly, controversial. I talked to some people at the convention who absolutely hate it.

      Interesting that you bring up Picard. Did you see in the post that steampunk was, in part, a reaction against Picard’s TV show in the eighties?

      Thanks for the perspective on punk music! And as always, thanks for being here on the blog!

  5. John R. Fultz Says:

    Hey, Fred,

    Great post–very cool to get the lowdown on a panel I didn’t attend. I loved your introduction, with the original scenario. Looking forward to your “Minions of Baron Doom” story…or whatever. 🙂

    It seems to me like this whole “steampunk” thing is attempting to lay down a new archetype for the Fantasy Tale. Traditionally, the main archetype for Fantasy Tales has been the Medieval World. Now, more and more fantasists are choosing to look at the Victorian World (instead of the Dark Ages). Could this be a reaction to us have crossed millennial barrier recently? Fantasy (its writers and readers) trying to embrace the future they are living in by moving their fantasies forward in hypothetical time? Personally, I still prefer the medieval analogues for fantasy (or quasi-medieval, to be more accurate)….but in the end a good story is a good story. It doesn’t matter if it has Medieval or Victorian flavor…it only matters if it captures your imagination, gives you that sense of wonder, stimulates your thought, and makes you go “Damn, that was a good story!”

    I don’t think any writer should limit himself/herself with tags and genre labels. Far better to just explore your creativity and cross genre barriers as your story requires. In other words, just write and let other people label it as they will.

    Cheers,
    John

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      John — Amen! Very well said, and I’m with you all the way. A good story is a good story. When I was a kid, I didn’t know or care much about genre classifications. I read the books that looked interesting to me.

      I’m glad you liked my little mood-setting introduction! In fact, I got so into writing it that I thought, “Man, I’d actually like to write this story!” 🙂 For the record, I don’t think I’ve ever actually read any real steampunk, so I was hoping that intro didn’t come across as totally stupid — or as if I were making fun of the material — I wasn’t!

      I think you really may be onto something there with how steampunk gives us a “new playground” to play in that feels fresher to some people than the medieval fantasy. I agree with you — I love them both. The horse and castle fantasy is alive and well! Let’s just write good tales!

  6. fsdthreshold Says:

    Something else occurred to me: when I started working on The Fires of the Deep, the first thing I did (to avoid actual writing) was build models of my flying ships. I scavenged wood from the basement, from our barn, spools from Mom’s sewing drawer . . . I even used a golf tee I found in the woods. Rolling up one’s sleeves and building models from scratch is about as steampunk as one can get!

  7. I am WAY out of the loop Says:

    So true about the good story … whether set in 1000 BC China, 1200 Spain, 550 England or the 23rd century it is the story that matters and the setting is just a part of that story.

    I am, along with all the others, am eager to hear more about the use of violence … fill is in, Frederic …

  8. Jhagman Says:

    For excellent “Steampunk” fiction, I would like to mention Tim Power’s old friend James P Blaylock. Homunculus would be a good start. Blaylock is an excellent prose stylist. K.W. Jeter dedicated “Infernal Devices” to both Blaylock and Powers many years ago. Both Powers And Blaylock were friends of Phillip K. Dick, and friends of friends of Clark Ashton Smith.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks! I was hoping someone would tell us specifically where to find steampunk fiction!

      Speaking of Clark Ashton Smith — in the dealers’ room at World Fantasy, I found an old Ballantine paperback edition of Zothique, which I’d read when I was 15 or 16, when a friend lent it to me. That brought back such happy memories of reading outdoors in summer twilights that I had to buy it (the price wasn’t outlandish)! Ah, Zothique — sere mummies that creak when they walk . . . crypts in the desert . . . baleful priests in ochre robes. . . .

    • Elizabeth Says:

      Oh, yes, I can’t believe I forgot about him! I actually have his steampunk short stories and novellas in one book. I’ve read some of them and they are very good. Blaylock also just published a new book not to long ago, Knights of the Cornerstone I think is the title, and it was excellent. He’s a good, but often overlooked writer.

  9. Jhagman Says:

    Come to think about it,,, Frederic Durbin should know who James P. Blaylock is, he is fellow Alumni of Arkham House! “Lord Kelvin’s Machine” 1992, as “steampunk” a novel as you can get. He also wrote what I think is the first “steampunk” story of all time, “The Ape-Box Affair” 1978.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      I’ve certainly heard of Blaylock and the two titles you mentioned, though I hadn’t known they were steampunk stories — thanks!

  10. I am WAY out of the loop Says:

    Hey Fred — two friends (who have never been there) and I will be in Chicago Thurs-Sun. I will have a slice or two at Lou Malnatti’s on N. Welsh for you.

    Sunday Mass will be at Holy Name Cathedral, where, unfortunately, Francis Cardinal George will not be presiding.

    While in my favorite city, Friday will be spent at MSI and Saturday at Field Museum/Adler. Ahh — sweet home Chicago!

    The big deal? Eagles at Bears Sunday night, and the tickets only set us back $120 each!

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      How cool! I actually KNOW Lou Malnatti’s pizza! I’ve never been there, but on (I believe) two occasions I’ve had the pizza courtesy of a friend — and it is unbelievable!

      Have a fantastic time! I wish I could go to the Field Museum again!

  11. Nicholas Ozment Says:

    Heh heh heh heh. Very, very interesting…[Oh lord, what crazy thought is brewing in Nick’s head?] I’ll tell you!

    Based on the definitions of steampunk summarized above, the first steampunk writer may have been…

    [Wait for it]

    NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE

    Just read his masterpiece novella “The Artist of the Beautiful” and you’ll see it is a paragon of steampunk.

    Now, of course I realize this is partly accidental: steampunk as a literary movement has its strong element of nostalgia–nostalgia for a past that never was, which makes it fantasy not historical fiction. What Hawthorne was writing was more akin to science fiction for his time–cutting edge experiments done by nineteenth-century scientists whose rooms looked more like an alchemist’s laboratory than a modern science lab. The “Victorian era trappings” are there because he was writing during that era. BUT, if “The Artist of the Beautiful” were written today, there is no question it would fit the categorizations of steampunk. (For those unfamiliar with the story, the protagonist is a watch-maker who spends years on his crowning project: to create life out of mechanical parts, which he succeeds in doing with an achingly beautiful, intricate, and delicate mechanical butterfly.)

    The same basic argument could be made for Jules Verne (although, again, with the exception of orientation–he was looking ahead from that historical period; steampunk writers look back to a fantastical funhouse-mirror reflection of that period).

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Excellent points, and that is a fascinating subject unto itself: those Victorian-era writers, located not necessarily in Victorian England, who were looking ahead and unquestionably writing science fiction.

      Ambrose Bierce, although I don’t specifically recall a story of his involving elaborate machines. But he was definitely often writing science fiction. “The Damned Thing” . . . “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” . . . even “The Shuttered Window” (have I got the right title there?)–all start with what scientists of the day knew and then ask “What if?”

      Isn’t it an H.G. Wells story (or was it Verne?) in which they shoot the manned capsule to the moon out of a tremendous cannon? The lower part of the barrel is filled with water to absorb the shock of the blast and prevent the astronauts from being killed instantly. But it’s a one-way trip. There’s no giant cannon on the moon to shoot them back.

    • Elizabeth Says:

      Nathaniel Hawthorne is an excellent choice. Victorian authors I know for sure steampunk has drawn on are: Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Edgar Allen Poe (!), and Bram Stoker.

      Interestingly enough, the Disney movies of Jules Verne’s works — particularly 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea — are also considered excellent steampunk sources by some.

      • fsdthreshold Says:

        It’s got to be steam that powers Captain Nemo’s pipe organ, right? And simply putting a pipe organ into a submarine is already steampunk!

    • Elizabeth Says:

      Conan Doyle! I forgot about Sherlock Holmes! Those stories are also cited, although while I like them I think it’s more the late Victorian flavor that is an influence rather than any particular “steampunk” quality.

  12. Nicholas Ozment Says:

    Two quick examples from film:

    The films of Miyazaki abound with steampunk.

    Tim Burton turned Ichabod Crane (Johnny Depp) into a steampunk character in _Sleepy Hollow_ (1999).

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      In a lighter vein, how about the old movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? I had an illustrated book version as a small child, and I was almost painfully attracted by the idea of using part of a boat to make a car that looked as cozy as a bed! I guess the time frame would be a bit later, though, than the nostalgic Victorian era.

      • Elizabeth Says:

        Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was one of my childhood favorites. Maybe that’s where my steampunk interest comes from?

  13. Jhagman Says:

    Jules Verne wrote “From Earth To The Moon” where they use an enormous cannon (dug into the earth) to blast a ship to the Moon- what is interesting is that in the novel Verne has Florida and Texas competing to be the chosen location, something that actually happened decades later. An engineer told me that in something called “Project Orion” scientists developed a plan to use water hydraulics to absorb the powerful g-forces when they launched their projected spacecraft- a craft propelled through space using nuclear explosion shock waves.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks! Yes, it was “From Earth To The Moon” that I was thinking of. Jules Verne. That is fascinating about Florida/Texas and Project Orion!

  14. Chris Says:

    I am most fascinated by the designers who are working on “steampunk” styled computers and other odds and ends:

    (In fact this was where I first heard “steampunk” applied, not to writing!)

    LINKY:
    http://www.wired.com/gadgets/mods/multimedia/2007/06/gallery_steampunk?slide=1&slideView=2

    Although from what I read recently steampunk is now passe and is being supplanted by a reworking of 1930’s “aerodynamics” and art decco styles applied to the new.

    So you guys get cracking on sci-fi and horror written from a 1930’s persepctive. Stop this “oh-so-2007” steampunk stuff! 🙂

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      But wouldn’t a steampunk-styled computer keyboard be the coolest?!

      For my old computer, which has long since given up the ghost, I had a keyboard manufactured in Japan called a “Stealth Keyboard.” I’m not sure what about it was stealthy. It wasn’t any quieter than normal keyboards, but whenever I used it, I felt like I was working in covert operations.

  15. Nicholas Ozment Says:

    Chris, the only problem is “artdecopunk” just doesn’t sound as cool…

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      I saw an artdecopunk on the beach getting sand kicked into his face. . . . But no one was messing with the gaggle of steampunks nearby, with their all-brass, steam-powered surfboards.

    • Chris Says:

      I concur it doesn’t have the same lyrical cache as “steampunk”.

  16. Nicholas Ozment Says:

    Jhagman, I caught a fascinating doc (I think on the History Channel) about just how prescient writers like Verne proved to be. Not only was his ship launched near Cape Canaveral, FL (for the same reasons NASA would choose the site a century later), but many of his measurements for the size of the ship as well as the material it was constructed from were also fulfilled by NASA. Other than the fact his story used a cannon rather than a rocket (rocket technology hadn’t really been developed during Verne’s time), he had a brilliant grasp of the basic problems that would be involved, and the mathematical acumen to devise solutions.

    Oh, one more uncanny coincidence: when Verne’s spaceship returned to Earth, it “landed just three miles from where Apollo 11 splashed down on its return from the moon in 1969.” _Vision_ magazine online adds, “He correctly calculated the velocity required for his spaceship to escape earth’s gravitation and accurately described the effects of weightlessness on his astronauts. He also realized that the reentry of the craft would be fiery as it streaked through the earth’s atmosphere.”

    Pretty amazing, but just touches the tip of the iceberg. Verne was some kind of Nostradamus for the scientific age.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Sounds as if I forgot part of the story — so there was a way for the ship to return to Earth? I think I read it back in high school, or possibly earlier. [Which leads to the chilling question: What crucially important details have I forgotten about, say, LOTR?!]

  17. Nicholas Ozment Says:

    Someone on the SFReader boards tonight referred to sword-and-sorcery as “saberpunk.” 🙂

  18. SwordLily Says:

    Steampunk is the best!

    Thanks Fred for this post. I loved reading yours and others’ views on this style. Just like, you, I only learned the term itself very recently, but I’ve been creating stories about airships and awesome goggles for as long as I can remember. I just love designing my own machines especially complicated airships and kite-bicycles that can fly due to some clever gears or some new element. Once I realized there was a genre for this style, I noticed that a lot of my favorite media had steampunk elements in them ( just elements mind you, I have no idea what pure steampunk is O_o).
    I’m always saying I want to be a writer even though I struggle constantly with the restrictions of language (drawing too, I love to draw but what’s in my imagination is always so much more beautiful than what gets onto the paper). I can imagine all these stories with their cool details, but my dreams are a lot like airships in the way that they are so easy to imagine, but in this fast-paced, restricting world, dreams, even simple ones, are so hard to achieve.

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