Sunday, October 31, 2010

What’s Old Is New Again: Steampunk and Why I’m Loving It

Steampunk is what’s happening now.  Novelists from all genres are jumping on board and taking their readers back to an alternate version of Victorian times (1837-1901) and the Second Industrial Revolution (beginning in the mid-1800s). 

The scifi/fantasy con I just attended had attendees dressed in their vision of steampunk fashion.  One of the more popular dealers in the Dealer’s Room was Lord Montague and his Steam Punk Funk Bizarre.   Just this month one of my favorite television shows, Castle, had an episode featuring the steampunk scene. 

Everything steam and punk seems to be all the rage, but it is not new.  In fact, the origins of the genre are back in the 1960s and 1970s, but the term steampunk originated in the 1980s.  The story goes (see the Wikipedia article on steampunk, highly informative and laboriously documented) the term was created by author K.W. Jeter (author of Morlock Night – Random House plans to re-release this out-of-print book in paperback in April 2011) to cover his and certain other authors works which dealt with a Victorian setting and imitated the world created by H.G. Wells in his novel,  The Time Machine. 

No matter when the genre began, steampunk fiction is generally considered to be  based on the style of works by the  famous 19th Century authors, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Mark Twain and Mary Shelley. 

My first experience with steampunk was on television – way back in the 1960s.  The Wild Wild West (1965-1969) was steampunk set in the United States - -  and so cool that I still like watching the series to this day.  Who could forget the traveling laboratory on the train and Artemus (Artie) Gordon and his inventions and disguises which helped Jim West catch the bad guys threatening the United States and its President Ulysses S Grant.  Jim West’s nemesis was Dr. Loveless, and a great and evil villain he was - - he was also a midget.  If you have never seen any of this series, do.  You’ll love it.  The movie with Will Smith and Kevin Kline was okay and also very steampunk in the gadgets and weaponry, but I will always love the television series the best.

I didn’t experience steampunk again until my son turned me onto The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen – the movie (2003) and the comic book series (1999).  This treatment of the Victorian era was credited in bringing steampunk into the mainstream. 

Right now, I am reading Meljean Brook’s The Iron Duke.  This story and the prequel, “Here There Be Monsters,”  in the Burning Up anthology, are set in Queen Victoria’s England.  The British pirate Rhys Trehearne aka The Iron Duke has just defeated an evil enemy, the Horde, who had unleashed nanoagents which infected every person in London and placed them under Horde control.  The Iron Duke may have defeated the Horde, but the people still fear the return of the enemy.  The novella and novel deal with the aftermath and the fears of those who survived.  Meljean’s world building is superb and she populates her books with fascinating characters alongside a veritable treasure trove of pseudo-scientific gadgets including dirigibles, mechanical sea monsters, automatons and the other trappings of any grand steampunk story.  Think Jules Verne with romance and you’ve got the idea. 

So, this Halloween try steampunk fashion to attend that special Halloween party.  Ladies, think Victorian - - corsets, short fitted jackets, skirts with bustles, sexy stockings (fishnets ruled at the con I attended) and boots, shin-high, that lace up.  Wear an ornate watch pinned to the jacket, carry a parasol (which of course doubles as a weapon), and a bonnet with plumes.  Guys can wear Victorian era military garb, an outfit to fly a dirigible in or a rich gentlemen’s garb ala Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.  Add brass goggles, antique weaponry with a scifi twist and anything leather (aviator hats are big!).  Oh, and if you can, manufacture a metalworks arm or leg.  One guy I saw walking around the convention had on a very elegant khaki frock coat and trousers with a top hat and cane, but one arm was all brass with clock wheels and pins holding it together.  He looked like one cool and very steampunk dude. 

Why do I love steampunk?  It’s fun.  I love the combination of science and history.  I love the elegance of the fashion and the intricacy and overly ornate aspects of the machinery.  I love the imagination of the writers who take what was and make it into something totally new and different.  And, bottom line, it is entertaining - - and after all, isn’t that what fiction is supposed to do?

Monette Michaels


Monette said...

Just wanted to say Happy Halloween and welcome to my steam punk blog. -- Monette

ladydi6497 said...

Thanks for helping me understand what steampunk is. I was unsure but hearing so much about it. I will have to check out your books.

Thanks for being here.


joder said...

The steampunk genre is very cool and I love the melding of historical and futuristic. The best of both worlds. And I too loved The Wild West tv show. The movie was such a disappointment.

joderjo402 AT gmail DOT com

Jean P said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jean P said...

I have been hearing more and more about steampunk and wasn't sure what it was all about. Thank you for explaining it. It does sound like fun.

skpetal at hotmail dot com

Rae M. said...

Yes! Steampunk is becoming more and more popular. And speaking of Steampunk movies. If you haven't seen it, Ithink Sherlock Holmes is really good!

Happy Halloween!


Maria said...

I love Steampunk and just for the reasons that you mentioned. I watched reruns of The Wild Wild West and loved the movie The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I have both the books you mentioned that you are currently reading and am just waiting for the time to get to read them.


Carlie Angelus said...

I love the concept of steampunk, I just don't think I could write it. Any thoughts or suggestions?


elaing8 said...

I've read a few synopsis for a few Steampunk books.They sounded pretty good. It is becoming very popular.

Judy said...

I also did not basically know what Steampunk was. I am hearing about it all over the internet from many of the authors. Your explantation has enlightened me quite a bit. Thanks!!


Monette said...

Thanks for your comments. I don't write steam punk -- don't have the time now with four active series of my own, but maybe someday I'll try one novella length. For now, I'll sit back and enjoy the labors of others. BTW I finished The Iron Duke since drafting this blog, and LOVED IT! Now I have to wait like a year for the next one in the series. Picture me tapping my finger and sending Meljean "write faster" thoughts.

Linda Henderson said...

I don't know a lot about steampunk, I'm definitely behind in that genre. I loved the Wild Wild West tv show, I just didn't realize it was steampunk. I need to check out some authors and get up to speed.

seriousreader at live dot com

Monette said...

Here's a link to The Galaxy Express, an sff blog. They highlighted some up and coming romance steampunk in one of their blogposts. Lots of what you'll find in the steampunk genre is straight scifi. Me? I like a little romance in my steampunk.

C Scott Morris said...

I hate to say it, but I am almost saddened to see my favorite genre and sub-culture become suddenly so popular. When a genre grows so quickly and reaches the pop-culture consciousness, it tends to blossom quickly before flaming out. I don't want Steampunk to become last years thing.
I love Steampunk literature, movies, art and sub-culture. And I write it. My first novel is done and I am subbing agents, and my second just passed the halfway point. What am I going to do with a pile of steampunk manuscripts if the genre burns out?
Cyberpunk is no longer as popular, so what is next? Dieselpunk? Biopunk?
If anyone is looking for a good introduction to Steampunk literature, check out he Steampunk Anthology edited by Jeff and Ann VanDermeer.

Lil said...

I admit that although I love Jules Verne I haven't read much in steam punk. Will have to remedy that though and have been intending to do so for some time, now.

little lamb lst at yahoo dot com

chelea_girl said...

You post was really neat. I didn't know anything about steampunk, although I have heard the term before. Thank you for enlightening me!


*yadkny* said...

Oh I would love to start reading Steampunk. I kinda recently found out what it is and it certainly sounds interesting to me:) I've seen pics from some of the cons that are held yearly and wow the costumes people create are amazing! I really like the one that is posted on this post.


Kim S. said...

Happy Halloween everyone!

What an interesting post Monette. Steampunk is a new concept for me!! Thanks for explaining it for us all!

thewildtwo @ gmail [dot] com

Annie Nicholas said...

contest is closed

Monette said...

Thanks for all the comments. I'm glad you were interested. The pics in the post were ones I took at Archon in St. Louis in October.

Thanks to Annie and the gals for having me, I had a blast!

Also, congrats to Chelea_girl who won a copy of my romantic suspense novel, Eye of the Storm (no steampunk, sorry).