Good Reading : July 2010
categorical 2 30 goodreading ı JULY 2010 steampunk escaped from its 'of minor interest' cage, attracted attention and began to throw its weight around. Today, steampunk has grown up and become a multimedia phenomenon. The now defunct web guide Steampunkopedia.com ('the guide to a cool 19th century') estimated that well over 200 individual steampunk novels were published around the world in 2009 -- but there's more to steampunk than novels.The spirit of the movement has spilled out into graphic novels, with such splendid forays as Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series (Allan Quartermain, Dr Jekyll, Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man and other noteworthies battle nefarious villains) and Five Fists of Science (Mark Twain, Nikola Tesla and Bertha von Suttner unite to save the world from evil industrialists) from writer Matt Fraction and artist Steven Sanders. Part of the appeal of steampunk lies in the imagined visuals, and the ability of graphic novels to work with these has been important in perpetuating the 'look and feel' of the genre -- pith helmets, brass goggles and intricate steam powered machinery abound. The world of movies hasn't been slow in joining the steampunk bandwagon, for better and worse. The Wild Wild West (1999) caught some of the visual appeal of steampunk, and the film of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was a triumph of set design and special effects, let down by a muddy script. Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy is an anime triumph, and stays true to steampunk, bringing us a vivid Victorian scenario with glittering science and evil villains -- complete with a gigantic floating fortress! To my mind two of the films that are most faithful to the heart of steampunk are borderline examples. The first is The Prestige (2006), based on Christopher Priest's 1995 novel.This works well as a steampunk imagining, especially the scenes with the real-life maverick scientist, Nikola Tesla, and his revolutionary electrical experiments. The other is the 2010 movie Sherlock Holmes. It captured a brooding, expanding urban world. Underneath the propriety and respectability of this milieu is a world of plots, conspiracies and darkest hor rors. It was drenched in a steampunk feel. And don't forget to look out for Tim Burton's filming of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in 2012 which promises much steampunk goodness. Today's steampunk is a sprawling, wide-ranging grown-up which is as likely to include hor ror, fantasy or romance elements as science fiction. China Mieville's 'Bas-Lag' novels (Perdido Street Station, The Scar and The Iron Council) are called marginal steampunk by some but are enthusiastically cheered on as central contemporary steampunk texts by others. In this acclaimed series, dark and gritty steampunk jostles with sordid magic in a world that is both repellent and familiar -- and definitely not Victorian London. Steampunk is greatly marked by a distinctive look and feel. It combines the decorum and restraint of a bygone era with a sense of confidence in a world that is expanding in so many directions -- science, technology, social movements and the arts. It is a rich field for writers because characters are working on many levels, where subtlety is the key, where manners and morals are understood but changing, where modernity is just around the corner. All of this is set against the most glorious technology, which must look good and function well. Recent steampunk books to enjoy include Tim Akers's Heart of Veridon (a noirish thriller with small-time criminals caught up in events rather larger than themselves) or The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia (a struggle for power between alchemists and clockwork engineers). Or perhaps Stephen Hunt's complex and spiky The Court of the Air (full of grotesquerie, a stratified society in crisis with steam- driven slaves on the point of rebellion) would be more to your taste. Then again, perhaps an alter native 1880s America would suit, a world in which the US Civil War rages on, complete with zeppelins and zombies. If so, Cherie Priest's Boneshaker would be perfect. For those who've developed a taste for the crossover novel, the young-adult books are bulging with steampunkery. Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan has been taking the world by stor m (an alter native WWI in which the steam-driven heavy engineering of the Central Powers is lined up against the for midable biologically based weaponry of the Entente). Richard Harland has made a splash with Worldshaker (moving cities full of Dickensian squalor). From overseas, Gail Car riger's Soulless is chock full of werewolves and zombies in Victorian London, while Canadian Kenneth Oppel's Zeppelin based trilogy Airborn, Skybreaker and Starclimber has been snapped up by Hollywood. A favourite is Philip Reeve's 'Larklight' trilogy, beginning in 2006 with Larklight, then Starcross (2007) and Mothstorm (2008), a world where the Victorians have practical, working spaceflight. Adventures ensue. Of course there is my own 'Laws of Magic' series, where rational, codified magic abounds in a world suspiciously like our own just before World War I. Conspiracies, intrigue, comedy and romance in a helter-skelter imbroglio. Steampunk is full of dash and style, mixed with a healthy sense of awe. It is an area of vast variety and manifold pleasures. Break out your leather aviator's helmet, grab your white silk scarf and jump aboard! Today's steampunk ... is as likely to include horror, fantasy or romance elements as science fiction. A film still from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen .