Sunday, November 14, 2010

STEAMPUNK


This word had been flying around me recently and only today did I decide to find out about it. What are the best steampunk movies and novels IYHO? Where did the word come from, how long has it been used to describe its world, and are you attracted to the genre.

NEW QUESTIONS: What does the punk in steampunk mean?

Is either the Downey Sherlock Holmes movie or the new series on PBS steampunk?

28 comments:

Chris said...

The word came from a letter by K.W. Jeter to Locus Magazine in 1987, in which he coined the phrase as a riff on the then-popular "cyberpunk". He was using the term to describe the sort of gonzo-historical Victorian novel he, Tim Powers, and James Blaylock were writing at the time. Sort of alternate reality retro-futurism, along the lines of Jules Verne or H. G. Wells, and as such, usually a lot of fun.

Far as what's best, I'm no expert, but Powers' THE ANUBIS GATES is marvelous, and one of the founding texts of the genre. For a more recent work, Cherie Priest's BONESHAKER is a rollicking good time, too. And I'd slot Philip Pullman's HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy in there as well.

Anonymous said...

Patti - I have to confess that steampunk really doesn't attract me all that much. I did enjoy H.G. Wells War of the Worlds, and I acknowledge the impact of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on literature - a profound impact! But honestly? Not my cuppa.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Chris-you are better than wikipedia. I am definitely attracted to this idea and will try one. My husband is always looking for this sort of work for his classes.

Chris said...

Cool -- hope you like it! Like I said, I'm far from an expert, but I think steampunk done well makes for one heck of a fun read.

Jerry House said...

I have a great fondness for Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and for Joe Lansdale's Ned the Seal books.

Fleur Bradley: said...

I always think of MAD MAX when I think of steampunk, but maybe that's not it?

I'm not such a fan. Scott Westerfeld has a steampunk kid's book out called LEVIATHAN, might be worth checking out. The art is awesome.

Paul D. Brazill said...

I agree with Jerry, 'League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen' is great. That's as much as I know!

Anonymous said...

As a certified geezer I must confess: I have no idea what steampunk is.

But if Fleur is right I can definitely recommend Westerfeld's LEVIATHAN. The sequel should be out soon.

Jeff M.

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm out of the loop myself.

pattinase (abbott) said...

The term must have been flying over my radar for years. And suddenly I heard it. This must happen all the time.

Anne R. Allen said...

It's supposed to be the Next Big Thing, and all the agents are clamoring for it. I think mostly what they want is imitations of Pullman. The TV show Warehouse 13 has a lot of steampunk elements. And the wonderful Firefly had a fun steampunk-in-space feel.

I thought it was all quite fun until I read that it's the new trend. When something "trends" it gets sloppy and then overdone (angsty vampires, anyone?) and then dead and forever banned into the shadows of shame like chick lit. I'm so tired of one-size-fits-all publishing.

Ron Scheer said...

Thanks for clearing that up. I've heard the term and figured it was something I didn't need to know. Now that I know, you can be sure that the trend has not only arrived but will soon be over.

michael said...

There is a great steampunk graphic novel online called "Girl Genius" by Phil and Kaja Foglio that you might try.

http://www.girlgeniusonline.com

pattinase (abbott) said...

And yes, you can assume once I know about it, it's over.

Loren Eaton said...

As I understand it, the seminal steampunk novel was William Gibson and Bruce Sterling's The Difference Engine, which imagines what Victorian London would've been like if Charles Babbage's steam-powered computers had ever existed. Be warned that while the book has an incredible setting, the plot is thin as cellophane.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, Michael.
Setting only takes me so far, Loren so that may not be the best one for me.

Deb said...

Beading and jewelry-making are hobbies of mine and the first place I saw the word "steampunk" was in reference to a type of jewelry that uses metal (usually brass or copper) and a lot of dangling Victorian-esque charms--cameos, fob watches, etc. It was quite sometime later before I saw the word in connection with literature. As usual, I come to things in a sideways fashion.

Yvette said...

Deb, I love the jewelry. I have a charm bracelet that I consider 'steam punk' even if no one else knows it or knows what I'm talking about. Amy Hanna is one jewelry maker whose work, I think, fits in with what we're talking about. As for books, don't think I've ever read any. Though I consider Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels sort of 'steam-punky'.
I do, however, love the visuals of 'steam punk' - the artwork I've seen is quite wonderful. Yeah, the fact that I've heard about it makes sure its demise. HA!

Dorte H said...

How did you know I was so curious about steampunk? (but too lazy to check it out myself).

Now I know, I´m not sure it´s my taste either, but I feel much wiser, thank you :D

Chris said...

I haven't seen the new PBS Holmes yet (it's on my DVR, but I haven't found the time), but I think the Downey Holmes was heavily influenced by steampunk, yes. I think, like any mainstream attempt at cashing in on a cultish trend, it's steampunk-light at best, but you're right in seeing the influence.

As for the "punk" in steampunk, I think it was initially a joke; cyberpunk clearly played upon '80s punk and post-punk culture and fashion, and Jeter was relating steampunk to cyberpunk. But one reaosn I think it stuck is the irreverence with which the genre treats Victoriana, and the modern, often rebellious frontier attitude brought to the tales.

I second (third?) the the recommendation of Alan Moore's LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN, but only if you're comic-inclined (and good God, don't watch the movie.) And like Yvette, I too think Jasper Fforde's more than a little steampunk! (Also, entertaining as hell.)

K. A. Laity said...

I -- what? -- third the recommendation for Moore's League and for staying as far away from the horrid film as one can. A clue to their direction? Mina Harker is the head of the League, but the film has Connery's Quartermaine the leader (predictably).

Steampunk is indeed reaching the mainstream, which means publishers are still looking for it (they're still taking zombies, too, though that genre's past the sell by date, too). Publishing always lags behind. But now it's an established genre, it will sell reliably though in smaller quantities.

There was a fantastic steampunk exhibit at Oxford. Genuinely cool objects and the aesthetics (jewelry as mentioned, also costumes) are part of what's made it a trend.

How can we tell it's past peak? I'm writing a comic steampunk serial; surely satire is the death knell?

pattinase (abbott) said...

No, my learning about it, the original 8 track family.

Richard Prosch said...

Jeff Vandermeer's blog is a good source for steampunk goings on. His wife is the newest editor of Weird Tales (I think). Jeff also has a terrific book on writing called BOOKLIFE. If you Google him, you'll easily find his site, Ecstatic Days.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Richard-Just about to read your story on BTAP!

K. A. Laity said...

One more link: last year at Halloween I had suggested in my column on costumes that steampunk was the way to go.

Cool goggles and a parasol are a must, and lots and lots of brass and gears.

Kieran Shea said...

I am sooooo w/ Chris on BONESHAKER, also check out Warren Ellis' comics IGNITION CITY or CAPTAIN SWING...

also, this about says it all...

http://thebooksmugglers.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Steampunk.jpg

Todd Mason said...

Steampunk can be as demotic as THE WILD, WILD WEST, or such children of Verne as the science-fictional dime novels of the late 1900s...but CRANK! magazine was one of the incubators of the current steampunk story, even as Howard Waldrop is perhaps its most devoted and innovative forefather, though Jeter has a strong claim as well. LOCUS magazine just published a Steampunk issue that touches on the trans-literary influence the current steampunkery is enjoying, such as Deb mentions (my work colleague Natalie Rauch, who has a piece in a new webzine Kate and associates are publishing, was informing me of the upcoming Steampunk Ball that might or might not be the one associated with the PhilCon next weekend). And the VanderMeers are indeed among the great exponents editorially of this as well as the New Weird I was touching on in my FFB piece the other week (Ann V. does indeed edit WEIRD TALES now).

Todd Mason said...

And there were other "-punks" in fiction between cyber- and steam-, including splatterpunk in horror fiction (and the rock band the Adolescents) and cowpunk, which took on a greater curency in music than it did in fiction beyond Lansdale and Lo Brutto's fine antho RAZORED SADDLES.