Monday, July 09, 2012

It's a Steampunk revolution

As touched upon briefly I picked up a Steampunk novel from Waterstones while out with the Bratii namely The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack by Mark Hodder. While the reveal was a little obvious, I think,  to any follower of speculative history and SF it was written well enough for me to pick up the sequel and to contemplate the third in the series. Then I caught Steampunk Revolution by Abney Park via Pharyngula which I think is just one of those things where you only spot it because you're thinking about it. Hey I'm a sucker for violins when they're both a) tuned and b) played well which is c) rare ;-)

I can imagine some of my readers reading this though and thinking "What the hell is Steampunk?" and hopefully "That's kind of cool" while watching the video.

For me the basic concept of Steampunk is the imagined progression of an industrial society which has been purposefully blocked from the two main modern innovations - the internal combustion engine and electrically powered devices - and then making it real.

In theory this blockage could be taken to occur at any point from the mid 17th century up to the end of the 19th, but in the main the latter is normally the point taken. One could argue that this is due to the progression of steam power that allowed it to be utilised more efficiently in industrial applications, but I think it's more to do with the culture.

This was a period of time of great upheaval for the world. Britain was trying to keep its Empire in the face of opposition who were slowly creeping up the arms race; America was newly independent and facing a civil war and machinery was moving in that promised to free the people while conversely enslaving them to feeding this new industrial behemoth. Coupled with an entrepreneurial spirit tied to a shake-up in the concepts of science and religion and Steampunk seems tied to the Victorian era particularly European customs and styles, despite (or perhaps because of*) being a largely American movement.

However while the literature is important a large part of the movement is in not just simply conceiving of what might be, but of making it so. To some this means creating devices from scratch that do not utilise those modern principles; to some it's replicating modern devices in a style that would compliment the fashion normally heavy on brass and (faux) ivory.

But why bother at all? Perhaps because this was the last era in which the general public had the opportunity to understand the majority of the devices they used. Trace the patterns of the cogs and the pneumatic tubes and one can see how this turns that and pushes that which which results in this. Barely possible today. Again though so what? Well if you can understand how the device works you can build one yourself. Rather than simply do without because your specific requirements aren't being met, you can build something that does, or modify something else that's close but not quite right.

It's an engineering spirit powering our old monkey brains of wanting to do something with our hands taking form in an anachronistic retrospective speculative world and to me it's kinda cool. "We've gotten back, to 1886, don't ask us why, that's how we get our kicks"

*notice how American Medieval/Renaissance fayres tend to be European in style rather than recreating the same time period as it would appear in their own country.


Orphi said...

Huh. Interesting. And I thought people just like dressing up in weird clothes and talking like a Jane Austin novel…

FlipC said...

A little early, think Doyle, Verne and Wells.

But well yeah people like to dress up in weird clothes, but this is weird clothes with weird contraptions; so completely different :-)