Good Reading : July 2010
categorical 2 28 goodreading ı JULY 2010 Have you heard of the sub-genre of sci-fi/fantasy called ‘steampunk’? If not, you’re in for a hellava (steam-powered) ride. Climb aboard as MICHAEL PRYOR takes us on a tour of a shiny, brass, retro-techno world. -- Verne and Wells weren't writing steampunk. The genre has a moder n sensibility underlying its gaslight setting. It's a retro-recasting, affectionately using some of the ambience of techno- Victoriana but with an approach perhaps put best by one blog: 'Our love for steampunk is a longing for machines that don't suck.' Many Victorian readers had a fascination with the astonishing developments in science and technology that were occur ring at the time. It was a time of heady optimism, when the future was grand, glorious -- and undoubtedly British. It was a time where Great Exhibitions could draw huge crowds to admire the Tempest Prognosticator (a barometer which used leeches in bottles to predict the weather) and the world's first automatic voting machine.This was the same public that stood in awe in front of the massive sewage pumping machines when they were opened by the Prince of Wales in 1865, a pinnacle of Victorian achievement and lauded as such by rich and poor alike. Of course, these were the sort of people who, as readers, thrilled to depictions of fabulous devices and startling adventures in fiction.Ver ne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea gave the world a brooding genius protagonist and his fabulous submarine. From the Earth to the Moon presented polite gentlemen being shot to the lunar surface via an immense cannon.Ver ne's novels were full of the sense of wonder that marks such imaginings. Wells's The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds added a salutary note to imagined technological advances, while his The War in the Air prophetically described the rise of air power in conflicts. When the Edwardian era passed, this sort of 'scientific romance' faded and its particular combination of plucky optimism and dauntless daring almost Future Back to the In March 2010 several thousand people gathered in London for The Great Exhibition, an 'extravaganza of Neo-Victorian Entertainments'. It featured, among other delights, 'Professor Maelstromme's steam laboratory', mechanical brass drum machines, displays of lightning bolts from a recreated Tesla machine, music from a steam-powered piano and pith-helmeted DJs. All of this was enjoyed by patrons dressed in high Victorian elegance, with crinolines, top hats, frock coats, monocles and more spats than you can poke an ebony cane at. This is living steampunk, the devoted following of a literary sub-genre full of energy, imagination and swaggering stylishness. Steampunk is a phantasmagoria of delights that inspires its audience not only to read voraciously but prompts some to go to outlandish efforts to recreate. In brief, what we call steampunk is speculative fiction set in the Victorian or Edwardian era, taking the mood of these times and applying a science fiction or fantasy approach. Steampunk isn't historical fiction, even though its sense of period is vital. Steampunk thrills in combining the streetscapes, the social strata and the for mality of 19th- and early 20th-century society with technology -- steam driven or not. It often rewrites the events of the period, with real historical personages being dragged into secret plots, bizar re mysteries and -- sometimes -- outrageously anachronistic hijinks. In some ways steampunk is a nostalgic modern take on the 'Scientific Romances' of Jules Ver ne, H G Wells and other fabulists of this period. Just to set the record straight A film still from The Prestige.