In Defense of Victorientalism

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Reactions to the Victoriental issue of the Gatehouse Gazette (March 2010) have been pretty fierce. The opinions of those provoked by it may best be summarized by Ay-leen, who noted that using the phrase “Victorientalism” to imply a “positive, transcultural blend” of cultures is “misguided.”

Others have been less nuanced in their renunciations of what they assume to be our position.

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Steampunk Politics Anno 2010

As a genre, steampunk was hardly political. Cyberpunk, in its reverence of alienated hackers and all sorts of outcasts, might carry some political weight, but the very term “steampunk” was coined as a joke (by author K.W. Jeter in 1987) and never meant to describe the sort of movement we know today.

Because of its newly-acquired subculture status, steampunk has made bold fashion and design statements, but it struggles to find an ideology. While some recognize anarchist potential in putting the “punk” back in steampunk, others emphasize that steampunk is inherently apolitical. Others yet seek a middle way by interpreting the “punk” as a broad rejection of modern-day consumerism and the loss of individualism associated with twenty-first-century industrial society.

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The Original Steampunk Cinema

In general, the history of cinema seems to be more significantly linked to dieselpunk and cyberpunk as opposed to steampunk. This isn’t surprising, considering cinema isn’t considered to have entered its prime until the 1920s, around the beginning of the “dieselpunk” era.

However, it’s important to remember that in 1895, the Lumière brothers held their first public film screening, some thirty years before the Golden Age of Silent Film.

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Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel

Boilerplate: History's Mechanical Marvel

Patience is a virtue many modern men and women lack. Patience, to most, can be tested when queued up at Starbucks or waiting for your email to load. Yet the patience of most folks is the blink of an eye when compared to the creative endurance of artists Paul Guinan and Anina Bennett.

The husband and wife have put together the stunning Boilerplate: History’s Mechanical Marvel. The hardcover artbook, all 168 pages and 350 color illustrations (along with numerous black-and-white photos, sketches and scribbles), covers the fictional (yet lovingly pitched as real) life of Boilerplate, a robot soldier and adventurer, creation of inventor Professor Archibald Campion.

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Leviathan

Leviathan

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.

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Master of the Genre in Death: H.P. Lovecraft

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born into a rather wealthy New England family and enjoyed a comparably happy childhood. Comparably, because he was a sickly child, his health remained frail all his life and because his father died when he was five years old.

Lovecraft was also a prodigious child, capable of reciting short poems by 2 and able to read by 3 years of age.

This early ability to read later helped him to study on his own when illness prevented him from attending school for any length of time. His favorite book and main inspiration during his childhood was Arabian Nights, from which he would eventually draw the inspiration for one of his most famous characters: The mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, author of the dreaded Necronomicon.

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The Court of the Air

The Court of the Air

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.

However, there is always a risk of carrying things too far.

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