11 August 2012

Does this bustle make my butt look big?

G. D. Falksen
Steampunk icon G. D. Falksen, looking dapper and deadly serious

About twelve years ago, some friends of mine and I were knocking about some ideas on a collaborative writing project.  I found an interesting old Victorian Era drawing of an airship, added some funky lettering, and the National Hogalum Airshow and Speculative Fiction Workshoppe was born.

My creativity thus sparked, within a few months or so I was writing a (now defunct) web serial called The Secret Journals of Phineas J. Magnetron.  It was set in the 1870s, and narrated by the eponymous Phineas, a quirky inventor who also happened to be a member of the Hogalum Society, a secret organization of adventuring crime fighters.

I had unwittingly succumbed to the allure of steampunk.
I first encountered the term "steampunk" when a well-meaning friend linked to my site under the heading "Steampunk Links," which prompted my puzzled response: What in the white-hot fires of hell is steampunk?  My friend patiently explained that steampunk was a kind of retro-futurism, a re-imagining of the science fiction typified by the old masters such as Jules Verne and H. G. Wells.  In steampunk, the writer travels into the past, taking the reader along to a wondrous time when science and industry had--or seemed to have--all the answers.

I cannot begin to express how relieved I was to find that my peculiar little subgenre had an honest-to-god name.  When people asked what kind of writing I did, I no longer had to blather on about Jules Verne, retro-futurism, wondrous times, etc.  I could simply say, "I write steampunk!" and pretend that answered their question, when in fact they were left thinking "what in the white-hot fires of hell is steampunk?"

Today, the term "steampunk" still raises more questions than it ever answered.  Steampunk has morphed into a full-blown subculture, replete with funny hats and reasonably well-articulated statements of aesthetic ideals.  There is steampunk jewelry, steampunk music, steampunk clothing, and steampunk art.  Speaking as someone who wouldn't be caught dead wearing a pair of goggles unless I was using a power tool of some kind, it's a little intimidating.

I like to watch Star Trek, but some people go their sister's wedding wearing Vulcan ears.  I enjoyed a visit once to the Renaissance Festival, but some people wear tights and tunics at the grocery store and try to fit "huzzah" and "forsooth" into ordinary conversation.  And I enjoy reading and writing steampunk, but some people take the case off their electric can opener to expose the gears and post a picture on Facebook asking, "is this steampunk?"

That's not me.

But here's the beautiful thing.  Anyone can enjoy steampunk, a little or a lot.  Perhaps you'd never read a steampunk book, but you can't take your eyes off that steampunk painting.  Or perhaps you don't care for steampunk art, but you're transfixed by steampunk music.  Maybe steampunk music sounds like noise to you, but you're in the mood for some retro-futuristic neo-Victorian fiction (that's where I come in).

The point is, no one will mind.  Steampunk is not monolithic; fans of steampunk are creative, thoughtful, but--above all--open-minded and inclusive.  Do we go a little overboard sometimes?  Yes, but it's all in good fun.  You can still wear jeans and a tee to a steampunk convention, or read the latest steampunk ebook in the comfort of your own easy chair... goggles optional!

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