Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Age of Steampunk

A friend asked me today whether steampunk is viable or whether it's past its sell by date. Which is an interesting question, because steampunk was only ever here by the slenderest margin - it's "major canon" something you can count on the fingers of one hand - Gibson & Sterling's The Difference Engineand Paul Di Filippo's The Steampunk Trilogybeing it's most visible works. Yes, China Mieville's more recent Perdido Street Stationcan be counted, but perhaps because the book's category contains so many hyphens that steampunk is bound to be one of them.

Yet, as has been remarked upon elsewhere, steampunk may just now be coming into its own. We have the new Steampunk Magazine, and we have two steampunk anthologies forthcoming - Jeff and Ann Vandermeer's for Tachyon and Nick Gever's Steampunk! for Solaris Books. (I'll be picking up both of these.)

Even more interesting, we have steampunk breaking out of prose into all sorts of other areas, including the DIY of the Make magazine variety, as witnessed by the remarkable Steampunk Workshop. See this article, "The Age of Steampunk," in the Boston Globe. Another good site for tracking steampunk in the culture at large is Brass Goggles. And, of course, we all know Dr. Grorbort's Infallible Aether Oscillators & Other Marvelous Contraptions. What's really interesting there, beyond the gorgeous ray guns themselves, is the metafictional way they've built hints of a story around the props. To say nothing of the various comics and animated projects. And, of course, a visit to Wikipedia shows how large the canon of steampunk really is, including a lot of alternate history, much of Tim Powers, and labeling a lot of classic fiction as "proto-steampunk" in the same way PKD and Bester are sometimes said to be proto-cyberpunk.

So, is steampunk a niche of a niche of a niche? Or is the real age of steampunk just beginning?

Update 9/21/07: This discussion has jumped over to George Mann's new blog, and is really worth checking out.

16 comments:

jaylake said...

Nicely commented. I will immodestly point out that some people consider MAINSPRING steampunk (or clockpunk, which is a subset of steampunk).

Lou Anders said...

My apologies for leaving that out, especially since MAINSPRING is looming large on my radar, and I do recall hearing (or overhearing) this at the SFWJ party in Japan. Having not read it yet, I don't know whether to include it in the steampunk canon or not, though it seems to sit more to me in whatever canon Richard Garfinkle's CELESTIAL MATTERS fits in. Clockpunk works by me, as does Gonzo Brilliant Books That Do Good Things with Absurd Cosmologies.

Tim Akers said...

I'm going to be a pimp and point to...pretty much everything of mine Interzone has published. So yeah. Hope it's on the rise.

Jonathan said...

You'd need to include some of the works of Powers and Blaylock, if you're talking Steampunk, I think. Blaylock's Lord Kelvin's Machine and Homunculus are steampunk, and maybe something like Anubis Gates.

As to where it is and what's up withit: I think the VanderMeer retrospective may turn out to be early. It seems to me steampunk is really only just beginning now.

Lou Anders said...

Tim, I've got the last year of Interzone. What should I read?

Jonathan - I did reference Powers, though I think of something like Anubis Gates as "secret history" rather than steampunk. I know it can be a fine line.

Joe Sherry said...

Would you consider Ian MacLeod's The Light Ages steampunk? It has some of a steampunkish feel to it.

Jonathan said...

I was thinking about this for a moment. Is steampunk a boys-with-tooys subgenre, or do girls play too? I can't really think of much in the way of steampunk written by women, though I might just be having a brainblip.

Lou Anders said...

I haven't read THE LIGHT AGES, but it certainly seems Steampuny. And doesn't Elizabeth Bear's NEW AMSTERDAM qualify?

I also realized I neglected to mention Moorcock's Count Bastable series, and the book he has coming up from us - The Metatemporal Detective - definitely qualifies too.

Tim Akers said...

Interzone - I'm in 204, 206 and 210. 204 and 210 are the most steampunky, but I have to say that my favorite most steampunk story is in 212, which shipped out yesterday. We'll see it in the US sometime this month.

Lou Anders said...

Excellent. I just renewed my subscription yesterday! Meanwhile, I just arrived in Starbucks. If I'd seen this 30 minutes ago, I'd have snagged some Interzones to bring along. I just finished SPOOK COUNTRY yesterday and don't want to start the next manuscript in the submission pile today because I'm expecting Resnick's STALKING THE VAMPIRE manuscript tonight or tomorrow, so I have a rare reading opportunity. (No, SPOOK COUNTRY isn't submission reading - but Gibson is the one "drop everything" author for me. I think it's too important generally not to read early.)

Justin said...

RE: Spook Country -- We getting a Nu Lou Revu? It's still on my Amazon wish list--is that something I'm allowed to say and retain dignity for very long?

RE: reading opportunity -- color me jealous. I was supposed to be reading on a boat on a lake right now.

Lou Anders said...

I have been asked to take part in an online discussion of the book, about which more when it's up.

Meanwhile, realized Steve Jackson's GURPS has a Steampunk suppliment that apparently looms large in the canon, that "Weird West" is a subgenre of Steampunk, and that Joe Lansdale's been there too. My fascination grows.

Justin said...

An edifying experience for everyone!

Online discussion -- very interesting, sir. With your mellifluous vocalicizing, or a chat type thing? If, of course, it's not ruining the surprise. Sounds good.

Ted said...

According to Wired, "Steampunk is so in."

Lou Anders said...

Well, if Wired said it....

Justin, let me wait till it's up.

Lou Anders said...

Ah, George Mann jumps in:

http://georgemann.wordpress.com/2007/09/14/the-life-and-death-of-sub-genre/