Junior Mad Scientist – Lab Notes

Steampunk — Still the new black

May 11th, 2008 by Weber

Working steampunk laptop built by this guy in Japan.

It’s amazing that, nine months after it’s initial post, people keep finding their way to the story on Josh Freeman’s Steampunk Ghostbuster cosplay at SDCC 07. (“Steampunk Is The New Black.”)

Based on the comments people leave and the wealth of steampunkery displayed on the Interweb, I stand as firmly as ever on the initial statement.

That being said, there is apparently much confusion about what is — and isn’t — steampunk.

To wit, Richard Morgan’s ‘lost’ New York Times article about the growing steampunk movement. The original was supposed to run in summer 2007, but got killed for unspecified reasons. Morgan posted the article on his own blog, and alerted the editors at BoingBoing, who posted it on May 10.

Click here for the BoingBoing article and its interesting comment thread, including several by yours truly.

Having read Morgan’s piece, it’s clear why it got spindled: he has no real grasp of steampunk — literarily, philosophical, or aesthetically.

Anyone looking for a nice intro to the genre would do well to get this latest anthology from Tachyon Publications:

click here to order from Tachyon Publications

As for the rest of it, here’s my take:

[I]t seems Morgan got a few things wrong, specifically what steampunk is and conflating it with (what can only be rightly called) “The Gernsback Continuum.”

How does Art Deco (1925-ish), Bauhaus (1919), the 1939 World’s Fair and it’s streamlined futurism play into the steampunk aesthetic? As I understand it, (and not just from Jess Nevin’s intro) steampunk encompasses the Victorian and (I would argue) the early-Edwardian eras, with the whole sensibility crashing to a stop when it meets the wall of Modernism. The two are wholly incompatible: a mechanistic, knowable! fixable! clockwork world vs. a relativistic universe full of indeterminism and maybes.

And if not cooled by Modernism, Steampunk’s boilers are certainly cold with the beginning of WWI.

The critical problem with Morgan’s article is unintentionally summarized by interviewee Chris Boysha: “It [steampunk] is whatever you want it to be, the way punk music or rock music is. It can be a lot of things.”

Nope. Steampunk is steampunk. Once beyond the genre’s temporal and philosophical parameters, the style — narrative and fashion — becomes something else.

But that’s just me. And I could be wrong.

As with anything, the best way to learn is to find out for yourself. Google STEAMPUNK and explore.

(Update — April 13, 2010: had to disable comments due to crazy amounts of spam. If you have comments, please email me though the ABOUT page or add them to another post and I’ll move them to the right place. Thanks. bjw)

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