Certainly steamers are not to be confused with Goths, the subculture that dresses in long black coats with buckles and chains, heavy spiked boots, black-dyed hair, and makeup of white foundation, heavy eyeliner, black fingernail polish, and unusual piercings. Perhaps misunderstood for their ghoulish appearance, goths scare the daylights out of non-goths. Goths are fascinated with horror, dark romance, the morbid, and the macabre.
Not so with the steamers who are interested in science and innovation, adventure and imagination—the future as envisioned from Victorian times. “Steamers,” or sometimes “steampunkers,” dream about and sometimes build their fantastical machines. If they don’t actually build them, artists draw and paint them. Hundreds of nonfiction titles exist about steampunk, and many more hundreds of novels and short story collections have been written to that theme, with at least five steampunk alphabet books for the kiddies. How would one explain the apple below to one’s four-year old?
Greyshade, a librarian by profession, goes on to say that today’s steampunk is not just Victorian although it’s generally Victorian “flavored.” Nor is it always about gadgets and goggles. According to him, these may only be clichés that writers use to produce bad books.
“Steampunk is definitely it’s own aesthetic,” he says, “with its own distinctive standards of beauty and value. It is the marriage of Victorian-era focus on manners, beauty and form with technology, given a fantastical twist of functionality and craftsmanship, with a firm grounding in community and environmental consciousness. It seeks to reconcile a modern industrial sensibility with optimism, beauty, imagination, sustainability, and even whimsy and humor, things often notably lacking from post-modern design.” (http://www.province-of-the-mind.com/steampunkphilosophy.html);” hence, the attraction to DIYers and makers.
At the FANS Conference in Dallas TX in July 2014 held in conjunction with AKON Anime Convention, a fan had this to say: “The “Punk” aspect of Steampunk infuses a healthy dose of anti-authoritarianism, rejection of patriarchy, eschewing rigid definitions and limitations imposed by culture. Defiantly individualistic, Punk gave rise to several expressions, ranging from music and fashion to technology, with the rise of the Cyberpunks, who took great delight in hacking and re-arranging computers and electronics. True to its Punk roots, Steampunk gleefully dissects the past, salvaging the useful and the beautiful, pushing metaphor into multiple dimensions and opening up new horizons of meaning, all-the-while thumbing their noses at mainstream suburban values.”
The fan continues, “The influence of each of these social and artistic movements is plainly evident in the far-flung manifestations of Steampunk – it’s all there: the love of handcrafted, well-designed art integrated into daily life, the respect for self-expression, beauty and workmanship, the love of technology and disregard for the rules and authority figures. Steampunk pushes on to include elements of ecology and permaculture, diversity and community-building.”
A fan of neither sci fi nor fantasy, I find I am not drawn to some of the steampunk literature after reading two steampunk short story anthologies. While the written words and plots are unique, thrilling, and mysterious, it is the visual representation that fully captivates my attention, in other words, the aesthetic—the films and the fashion. To that end, I embarked upon a movie marathon, loading my Netflix queue with films noted by aficionados to actually be steampunk or whose elements are heavily steampunk-influenced. What a ride of discovery! Below are the movies I watched and loosely ranked in order of my understanding of steampunk plus my enjoyment of the films.
- The City of Lost Children, 1995
- 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 1954
- Wild, Wild West, 1999
- Howl’s Moving Castle, 2004
- The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box, 2014
- Castle in the Sky, 1986
- Sherlock Holmes, 2009
- The Time Machine, 1960
- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, 2003
- Five Weeks in a Balloon, 1962
- Hellboy, 2004
- The Extraordinary Voyages of Jules Verne, 2008
- The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, 1989
These movies all contain steampunk elements of one kind or another: mad scientist or evil genius; zeppelins, armored submarines or street-worthy tanks; goggles or eyewear of some sort; mechanical tarantulas, birds, or other monsters; steam-powered wheelchairs, bicycles, trains, flying machines, or giant drills; floating castles, cities, or islands; underwater worlds; water wheels, enormous cogs and gears; fancy dress of the upper class Victorians or bare feet and rags of the lost or orphaned lower class children. Now, knowing a bit about steampunk, I found the films fascinating as I identified these special elements. However, I believe the movies would be quite entertaining and enjoyable without knowing a shred about steampunk— which I conjecture that describes 90% of the movie-going audiences.
Do you know more about steampunk than you ever did? Or, more than you ever wanted to know? Now it’s your turn to think about the genre. Write a 2500 word short story! Win a contest!