While dieselpunk is commonly associated with a pulpy, noir-and-Jazz America, there remains a fascination in the subgenre for the crepuscular world of Interwar Europe.
It was a time of artistic ferment and architectural genius, of electricity and of the machine entwining themselves into the fabric of urban life, of cultural clashes and sexual politics, of ambitious administrators uttering proclamations and of humbled citizens trying to find a place in the brave new world.
It is this brief epoch, and the imaginative potential it nurtured, that finds a new home in the ethereal world of Les Cités Obscures.
The era of steampunk ends with the First World War. While authors have played with twilit eras of brass and steam existing deep in the twentieth century before, these tend to be aberrant epochs, places where the life of the Gilded Age has been unnaturally prolonged. When the war breaks out, as it does in Ian R. MacLeod’s House of Storms (2005), and as it is implied to do in Stephen Baxter’s Anti-Ice (1993), it symbolizes the end of an age, the final verdict of a world too frivolous to last, yet too innocent to deserve the coming judgment.
However, Scott Westerfeld, a specialist in young-adult science-fiction, who made his mark with the popular Uglies series, has taken a different tack. Rather than positioning the Great War as the end of steampunk, Leviathan imagines a war that has been colonized by the steampunk aesthetic. Continue reading “Leviathan”
For the most part, steampunk is a versatile subgenre. The tropes and themes commonly associated with it, the trappings of era fiction and the wonders of industry, can be applied and reimagined in any number of settings. Today, literary steampunk can run the gamut from straightforward Neo-Victorian adventure to imaginative alternate history to the wildest flights of high fantasy.
It is a truism of alternate history that no good deed ever goes unpunished. Whenever someone attempts to change the world for the better, the intervention all too often allows some greater calamity to transpire. Kill Hitler and the Soviet Union will conquer Europe. Start an industrial revolution in Renaissance Europe and nuclear war will break out by the end of the sixteenth century. Give the prehistoric peoples of the Americas seed grain and livestock and their conquest by Sung-dynasty China is assured.
The Company of the Dead, the first novel by Australian author David Kowalski, shares this basic conceit, describing a world not entirely unlike our own doomed to destruction by the actions of a single honest man. Continue reading “The Company of the Dead”
The First World War was one of the great catastrophes of human history. In four years of fighting, almost ten million soldiers were killed and wounded, with great swathes of the European continent laid to waste.
By the end of the war, the political landscape of Europe had changed irrevocably, with the German, Austrian, Russian and Ottoman Empires crumbling into a rabble of new nation-states straddling Central Europe and the Middle East.
Whenever a new technology is introduced, whether on the battlefield or at home, there is always a brief period when inventors, unfamiliar with the new concepts, begin experimenting with designs and plans, trying to push innovation to the limit. While these experiments occasionally produce useful results, the great majority end up on the scrap heap of history.
George Chetwynd Griffith-Jones is one of the forgotten luminaries of the classic British Scientific Romance. A best-selling author and sometime rival of H.G. Wells’ at the beginning of the twentieth century, his work has been mostly forgotten by later generations. While much of them are steeped in the opinions and prejudices of his day, Griffith’s tales contain many elements that would lay the basis for the first great boom of science-fiction.
With the gaming marketplace dominated by a glut of World War II-themed shooters, it is always refreshing to see titles experiment with depictions of obscure or allohistorical conflicts.
While Iron Storm, created by defunct French developer 4x Studio and released in 2002, takes the First World War as its starting point, it borrows and combines elements from the long history of twentieth-century warfare to create a darkly surreal experience that should surely appeal to particularly the dieselpunk enthusiast.
Rather appropriately, Iron Storm is set in an odd little history that would warm the heart of a 1920s pulp novelist.