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Steampunk/Gearpunk


This post originally appeared at Borders’ Babel Clash blog.

Talking about people taking chances with fantasy and pushing the genre in interesting places has me thinking about one of my favorite spec-fic subgenres: Steampunk.

I’ve been fascinated by the Steampunk (and its younger cousin gearpunk/springpunk/whatever you want to call it) since my early days enjoying the anime movies my brother would dig up here and there. (If you’re lost as to what these are, might I point you to Wikipedia? They’ll do a better job of explaining it there than I have time for here.)

There are a lot of interesting things going on in the subgenre. Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan looks very well done, and the subgenre as a whole seems to be enjoying a renaissance of books, stories, and visuals. (A lot of fantasy art lately has had a decidedly steampunk edge.) I actually wrote a very fun gearpunk story two years back—a full novel, actually, that I haven’t had time to revise or do anything with. (The Wheel of Time has proven somewhat distracting to me lately. . . .) It’s called Scribbler. Maybe I’ll get around to doing something with it eventually.

I have a lot of curiosities about this genre. What is it that draws us to it? Why do we love this classical use of technology, turned in to science fiction? Perhaps it captures that sense of exploration and wonder that used to exist to a larger extent in scientific discovery. Science is still exciting, but it’s become something much more . . . technical these days. Back in the late 1800s–early 1900s, there was a feel that science could not only solve all problems, but that it was something every day people could explore and understand. A lot of branches of science were relatively new, at least in the modern form, and there was a general excitement and enthusiasm to the process.

Now, science is something we study in school and take tests on. In general, even the common person has a grasp of basic scientific principles. What is happening is amazing, but at the same time, there’s a density to it. Trying to figure out quantum physics or other areas where breakthroughs are happening can twist the brain in knots. Some of the wonder is gone. And so, we find ourselves looking back at times when science WAS magic to us, and we create stories that explore these eras.

Or maybe that’s all just me waxing overly philosophical. What are your thoughts? Do you like Steampunk? Is it played out and overdone, or is it here to stay? Why haven’t we had a really good steampunk live-action movie? (Note that I said a GOOD one. LXG and Wild Wild West do NOT count. Hellboy gets points for having some gearpunk elements, though.) Why does this subgenre fascinate us so?


|   Castellano