Steampunk: Quirky, Funky, Sexy

I must admit that I’ve recently developed a bit of a fascination for the sub-genre and its something I’ve approached through the artwork. On my woefully underused tumblr page I have posted several steampunk’d science fiction icons (a dalek, optimus prime, predator, R2D2 and C3P0) and a computer just for the amusement. However I do find the original artwork highly appealing if only for the imagination behind it. The fashion is pretty funky (and a little bit sexy) too.

For those of you who are reading this and feeling quite clueless, steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction that involves technology fuelled by steam power rather than electricity. Broadly it seems to fall into two categories: set in the past with futuristic technology or set in the future with technology driven by steam (both anachronistic)

Personally, I see it as the youngest form of science fiction paying homage to the oldest… the science romance novels (as they were then called) of the likes of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne.

Being from a town with industrial revolution heritage, I almost see it as an obligation to enjoy steampunk. In a funny sort of a way it stirs up childhood memories of steam railways and summers rushing to the train station to see this or that celebrated engine, smelling that distinct aroma and hearing the chugging of the axles and the toot of the whistle…

*ahem* anyway…

Chances are you’ve come across steampunk at some point. The films Wild Wild West, Back to the Future III, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and more recently the Robert Downey Jr. film Sherlock Holmes are all well-known examples of the sub-genre. Even Doctor Who got in on the act. The 1996 reboot put McCann’s Doctor in 19th century clothing and designed the TARDIS in neo-gothic style. The 2008 Christmas special The Next Doctor had steampunk “cybershades” and a giant steam “Cyber King”. The 2010 Matt Smith Christmas Carol was set on a planet with Victorian aesthetics.

My steampunk reading is very limited. Alastair Reynolds’ Chasm City is set in a post melding plague society (therefore set in the Revelation Space universe but not part of the main series) that is driven by steam. I’ve yet to read Reynolds first true foray into steampunk Terminal World but it is on my Amazon wishlist. I did read The Anubis Gates and of course, some consider His Dark Materials to be steampunk.

I’ve read about some of the seminal works and it seems that part of the appeal of steampunk is its unconventional approach, its quirkiness. Is this a correct assumption to make? Certainly those that come highly recommended (see my Amazon wishlist below) seem to be a little on the quirky side.

At about the same time I had an idea for my first steampunk story, fellow wordpress blogger Little Red Reviewer posted this review of “The Steampunk Bible”. On that recommendation I have since purchased the book for research purposes.

I have discussed my idea before, a city on the top of a volcano fuelled by steam through the heat it generates. At first I intended it to be a parable about the anti-science movement but now feel I want to do more than limit it to a short story. Instead, the cyborg noir (now titled The Weight of Reason) became the anti-science critique and I’m pondering what to do with Vulcan city.

There are currently five highly recommended steampunk novels on my Amazon wishlist and I hope to have read a couple by the end of the year (in no particular order):

The Difference Engine – William Gibson
Terminal World – Alastair Reynolds
The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi
Boneshaker – Cherie Priest
Perdido Street Station – China Miéville

The last one is particularly of interest because it would kill three birds with one stone. The first bird is the steampunk sparrow, the second is the Miéville macaw and the third is the fantasy falcon. I’m very fussy about fantasy and don’t read a huge amount of it. I tend only to read that which SFX magazine raves about and even then I have to be intrigued at the plot.

So the challenge is set that I should read at least one of those and maybe two. Anybody have any suggestions which two? Or maybe any others I ought to read?

One response to “Steampunk: Quirky, Funky, Sexy”

  1. Waterstones currently have a 3 for 2 offer on all of their books. I bought six books today in that offer. Of those five books, I bought three (The Difference Engine – William Gibson; The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi; Perdido Street Station – China Miéville). The other three I bought were Catch-22 – Joseph Heller, Rivers of London – Ben Aaronovitch and Warrior of Rome III – Lion of the Son – Harry Sidebottom.

    Obviously expect book reviews in due course 😀

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