What We Already Know About Steampunk (#steampunkhands)

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LuftFlotte Steampunk...This post was sup­posed to be a steam­punk short story called The Golden Bird. The Golden Bird was sup­posed to be my con­tri­bu­tion to the Steam­punk Hands Around the World ini­tia­tive to show­case the art(s) of steam­punk on a world­wide arena via the web. Obvi­ously that is not what this is.

My short, The Golden Bird turned out to be not very short. Sev­eral thou­sand words in, I real­ized that my beloved story was turn­ing into a novella length work. When this became clear to me, I decided to put the breaks on it, because I am cur­rently embroiled in a larger long term piece of writ­ing, and unlike many of my writerly friends, I am com­pletely inca­pable of divid­ing my time and ener­gies between two large pieces. I can’t. It stunts my cre­ative juices and it steals my time, which is in very, very short supply.

Since I’m not pre­pared to post The Golden Bird quite yet, I thought I’d share the begin­ning sketches of the pic­ture that will even­tu­ally be the cover of the novella.

Emira Amin from The Golden Bird

Emira Amin by The Artist

This post has instead become my per­sonal trib­ute to STEAMPUNK.

steam∙punk – a genre of sci­ence fic­tion and or fan­tasy that typ­i­cally fea­tures steam pow­ered machin­ery rather than advance technology.

Steam­punk has become an espe­cially pop­u­lar art form within the last 20–25 years, but it has been around for much longer than that. Some of the first prog­en­i­tors of steam­punk are names we know very well from lit­er­a­ture such as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. Steam­punk is usu­ally iden­ti­fi­able via cer­tain tropes and props such as googles, brass work, clock­work mech­a­nisms, air­ships, trains, machines pow­ered by steam or magic or both, bus­tles and boots, pocket watches and gun hol­sters, buck­les, tele­scopes and com­passes. Can you see it? I can, because in a sin­gle yet inad­e­quate word, steam­punk is beau­ti­ful.

When I first heard of steam­punk, not many years ago, I was shocked to real­ize that I had been enjoy­ing the art form, pri­vately dig­ging on the beauty and artistry of it, with­out real­iz­ing it for many years. And even now, when I feel as if I have a pretty good under­stand­ing of what steam­punk is, I keep get­ting slapped in the face with the fact that there remain con­tri­bu­tions to this genre that I have enjoyed with­out once giv­ing a thought to the fact that they are con­sid­ered works of steampunk.

Just today as I was perus­ing a list of steam­punk lit­er­a­ture com­piled on Goodreads, I saw a much loved story that I never real­ized is con­sid­ered steam­punk. Full­metal Alchemist Broth­er­hood. And now that I know, I can see it. It’s the metal work, the indus­trial feel, and the magic so embed­ded in the nar­ra­tive that it feels “nor­mal”. Full­metal Alchemist Broth­er­hood is the sec­ond anime series that I ever watched and it remains at the top of my list of favorites and most mem­o­rable. Other steam­punk manga/anime include the very obvi­ous Steam­boy, Metrop­o­lis, and Howl’s Mov­ing Cas­tle, and the more sub­tly steam fla­vored, sort of new and insanely pop­u­lar Attack on Titan and Baccano!.

The Emperor’s Edge series by Lind­say Buro­ker is one of my favorite books series for its fun sto­ry­line, quirky char­ac­ters, inter­est­ing per­ils and of course, its seam­lessly woven ele­ments of steam that include magic, weird steam pow­ered con­structs, trains and sub­marines among other things. I also love how Lind­say Buro­ker throws out the occa­sional bit of odd word usage, neces­si­tat­ing the use of my dic­tio­nary and thereby mak­ing me a smarter more well-rounded per­son and writer… but that’s another story alto­gether. But this lyri­cal mixed period use of ver­biage is also com­mon with steam­punk, as it is a genre that feels caught between many time periods.

steam∙punk – a sub­genre of spec­u­la­tive fic­tion, usu­ally set in the anachro­nis­tic Vic­to­rian or quasi Vic­to­rian alter­nate his­tory setting.

Per­dido Street Sta­tion by China Mieville is another book that I really enjoyed, for alto­gether dif­fer­ent rea­sons than the EE series. This is one of those books that I read with­out being con­scious that it was a steam­punk ren­der­ing. But of course, it is. PSS is like a uhm… triple dark choco­late cookie served with a mocha latte. Deli­cious, but best if eaten slowly and in small quan­ti­ties. Or like a train wreck, it’s hard to look at but you’re com­pelled by some sick part of your psy­che to watch. None of that is to say I didn’t love PSS, because I did, even more now over a year later, but it’s a heavy piece of writ­ing, to say the least. Which is likely why it didn’t ini­tially dawn on me that this was steam­punk. There was so much other stuff hap­pen­ing that I was on overload.

Here are some other steam pow­ered books that I’ve either read or own and have yet to read: The Golden Com­pass: His Dark Mate­ri­als, Flash Gold, The Time Machine, Bone­shaker, Leviathan, Un Lun Dun, The Alchemy of Stone, Lady of Devices, and as they say, the list goes on.

My favorite steam fla­vored film has to be The Pres­tige. That was a scary smart movie about magi­cian friends turned rivals and ene­mies. The term steam fla­vored per­fectly describes this one because ele­ments of steam are quite sub­tle here as they appear to be more about time and place, which is indus­trial era Vic­to­rian Lon­don than about mag­i­cal gad­getry, although there is tons of magic. Hugo is an obvi­ous and beau­ti­ful steam­punk film. This movie is all about gad­gets and trains and automa­tons. The really mag­i­cal ele­ment is the sto­ry­telling itself.

steam∙punk – a ris­ing sub­genre, cul­ture and movement…

What all of these forms of steam­punk art have in com­mon is stun­ning imagery, genius level cre­ativ­ity, a will­ing­ness to rewrite his­tory, stretch and erupt bound­aries, and the knack for posit­ing the age old ques­tion of “What if?”. I love steam­punk because it is brave. It doesn’t care about con­ven­tion or genre expec­ta­tions. It says “absolutely any­thing goes”.

All of this is why Kevin Steil’s idea, Steam­punk Hands Around the World, is so bril­liant. This inclu­sive world­wide endeavor encour­ages diver­sity of peo­ple and thought just as steam­punk does. Peo­ple from all over the world are par­tic­i­pat­ing and I am immensely proud to have been invited to par­tic­i­pate and I hope you con­tinue the tour when you leave my site!

  • house­ofwilliams

    Glad you under­stand it and have a his­tory with it. I have only one book on that Goodreads list — The Dif­fer­ence Engine — and I haven’t even read it yet! It seems like such a fer­tile and awe­some space to be in. And I’m look­ing for­ward to your story on it because Lord knows I can’t write the stuff suc­cess­fully. Are you Hin­ter­land Chron­i­cles still happening?

    • khaal­i­dah

      Thanks for stop­ping by! Oh yeah, the Hin­ter­land Chron­i­cles is definitly still on, and it is actu­ally the larger project I allude to early in this post. The first of the sto­ries in this planned series is called One.