What We Already Know About Steampunk (#steampunkhands)


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.