Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Steampunk - A-Z Blog Challenge

Never heard of it? Nor had I until a friend introduced me to a whole sub genre of speculative fiction  - punk fiction. Steampunk sits there with cyberpunk - usually set in a future world involving cyberspace and AIs (it stands for artificial intelligence), and a number of other "punk" writings like clockpunk - a world where technology is based on clockwork and biopunk - about genetically engineered people and many more. It's a sub genre that seems able to produce an infinite variety of alternative worlds.

Of them all, though, steampunk like this and this attracts me most. It's glamorous for a start. Dress is based - somewhat loosely - on Victorian fashion although I suspect the good Queen would be horrified at the sight of women, who, not infrequently, are wearing exposed corsets and may have plunging necklines and skirts that show leg - quite a bit of leg. She would probably have approved of the hats although I'm not so sure of the jewellery which often displays internal machinelike workings. But these corsets are not undergarments and most steampunk fashion is elegant as well as fun.

For men there are just as many inventive ways to outfit themselves. Goggles and helmets are popular as is gadgetry like this that looks as if it might have a purpose or magnifying glasses and often other tools (never yet invented or likely to be) hanging from a belt. Fantastical walking sticks and pocket watches are popular too.

The fashion aspect of steampunk has led to it being very popular for cosplayers (people who dress up  and attend conventions) and there are even groups who meet regularly dressed in their finery and act out living in their own steampunk world.

There's more to steampunk than fashion, of course. It posits an anachronistic world where steam powers everything and that can be from computers to machinery. Travel is by steam train, steam driven carriages, dirigibles and often other vehicles that only exist in the fertile mind of the author. The best steampunk builds a complete world that has a feeling of the Victorian era but goes off on its own tangent to include an alternative history that never happened.

I have to admit the alternative history was difficult for me to accept at first. My background is in history - I have a degree in it - so it was hard to keep myself in the story when I came across obvious anachronisms. Once I got past that, though, I started to enjoy the romp. The trick, I found, was to make myself remember this is fiction. It is not reality and as long as the story has integrity and the world building is meticulous I can let myself enjoy the ride.

If you're tempted to try it you might find Richard Harland's steampunk novels Worldshaker, Liberator and Song of the Slums a good way to start. While they are YA I thoroughly enjoyed them. He has an excellent summary of what steampunk is here too.

You can find a list of steampunk authors and their novels here.

No comments: