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!

Review: Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, You Had to Be There

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I fin­ished this book sev­er­al days ago but wait­ed to write the review. I wasn’t sure for a long time what I would say. I mean, I know I liked the sto­ry, the set up, the com­plex­i­ty, but there was also some­thing a lit­tle off putting but I wasn’t sure what that was. Then I broke down and looked at some of the oth­er reviews to see if any­one else had the same sense that I did. I was very pleased to note that I wasn’t the only one.

Like many of the oth­er peo­ple who reviewed this book, I will not get caught up in enu­mer­at­ing the plot points. It would sim­ply take too much time and it would nev­er real­ly con­vey the true sense of the book. It’s like the old say­ing, “You had to be there.”

Per­di­do Street Sta­tion is an enor­mous book in every way. Chi­na Mieville has writ­ten a book so lay­ered, and rich, and sen­su­al that I think that one of these days I may need to go back and reread it to get the full effect. The prose is love­ly and aged and yet not. The amal­ga­ma­tion of gen­res here, because I’m not sure I would call it steam­punk (but then again, I am not the expert), is well exe­cut­ed. A blend­ing of gen­res, in the way that Mieville has achieved, I imag­ine, is not some­thing eas­i­ly done, and I give him mad kudos for that. It works so well. PSS is fan­ta­sy and sci­ence fic­tion and dra­ma and romance and steam and some­thing unname­able all rolled into one. The effect is stun­ning.

Bas-Lag, the fic­tion­al world that Mieville cre­ates in PSS is so rich­ly and thor­ough­ly con­ceived that I will have clear pic­tures of the places and peo­ple who lived there for a long time to come. Mieville’s style of world build­ing is com­plete and con­crete with so much pres­ence you can almost smell the stink of it. New Crobu­zon, the city in which this sto­ry takes place is a dirty metrop­o­lis pop­u­lat­ed with many races (as in non-human) all with their own his­to­ries, cus­toms, affec­ta­tions, and phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics.

Mieville does not pret­ty up any of the races either, by offer­ing ide­al­ized fan­tas­ti­cal elfin beings. He gives the read­er a view of each of his racial cre­ations, includ­ing humans, through the same bru­tal­ly hon­est eyes. No one is spared inspec­tion, no one is absolved of their own shame or glo­ry. And through the muck of each person’s weak­ness, beau­ty, and shame, Mieville has man­aged to weave an adven­ture, a mys­tery, bro­mance, romance, magical/science lore, and a quest.

I read every word of this book with a sense of writer­ly awe… and yet there was that off putting “thing”, for lack of a bet­ter word. But I do know the word, now, after giv­ing it a lot of thought.

VERBOSITY. Every read­er is as dif­fer­ent as every author, so I under­stand and appre­ci­ate Mieville’s style here. That said, I tend more towards crisp spare prose. I don’t need the author to guide me or con­vince me of how I should feel. I can make up my own mind. Just give me the bones, I’ll imag­ine the flesh on my own. In this tale, and con­sid­er­ing Mieville’s sto­ry telling style, I see the neces­si­ty to embell­ish and paint, so I can accept much of the wordi­ness. But not all. I would have pre­ferred to see this man­u­script pared down by at least 1/4.

There is also the ques­tion of the pro­fan­i­ty. Some peo­ple are okay with it. Some peo­ple even like it, think­ing it lends a real or raw qual­i­ty, I’d ven­ture to say. But me? I find it repel­lent. More than that, I find it not nec­es­sary. Even more than that, I find it shock­ing. Pro­fan­i­ty adds shock val­ue, caus­es the read­er to sit up, pay atten­tion, in my case cringe a lit­tle, rec­og­nize that some­thing big or deep or note­wor­thy is hap­pen­ing. In my esti­ma­tion pro­fan­i­ty is a device used to prop up weak prose. It is dis­tract­ing and lame. Mieville’s prose is absolute­ly breath­tak­ing, even in all of its ver­bose glo­ry, and total­ly DOES NOT require the mul­ti­ple help­ings of pro­fan­i­ty in order to keep a reader’s atten­tion. Not mine, in any case.

Mieville uses a lot of “big” words. I think I read in anoth­er review that it is almost as if he had a the­saurus on hand as he wrote this. That works for me. I like Mieville’s brave use of uncom­mon words. I don’t believe in dumb­ing down prose. I think its okay to ask the read­er to step up their game a lit­tle bit.

I vac­il­lat­ed about how many stars I want­ed to give PSS. For the craft­ing of unique, var­ied cul­tures and races, the inven­tive use and blend­ing of gen­res as well as lan­guage and style, and also for the cen­tral sto­ry I’d give PSS five stars any day of the week. But there is the mat­ter of the pro­fan­i­ty and ver­bosi­ty (edi­tor please!). All togeth­er I’m giv­ing PSS 3 stars.

I’d like­ly still read Mieville again. As a read­er I feel that Mieville did his job in ren­der­ing a com­pelling sto­ry. As a writer, I’ve learned tons from Mieville about writ­ing fear­less­ly and about giv­ing the imag­i­na­tion free­dom to crank out what it wills.

*****

Also post­ed on Goodreads.