Mark A. Carter
 

 

STEAMPUNK: gadget, gimmick, and gizmo

World famous Canadian Science Fiction novelist Mark A. Carter gives his two cents worth about Steampunk.

I have seen wondrous creativity, of late, in an obscure area of Science Fiction known as Steampunk. It's Science Fiction niche city now, Virginia. And Steampunk seems to be growing in popularity. Whether this popularity continues or Steampunk dies an early death is, as yet, undertermined. We shall see.

Thanks to Lia Keyes, I am now a member of The Steampunk Writers & Artists Guild. And thanks to Lee Ann Farruga, I am also a member of Steampunk Canada. I'm sure that Ms. Keyes, Ms. Farruga, and the other Steampunkers don't know what to make of me. Nevertheless, starting sometime in the foreseeable future, after I finish this, that, and the other, I may be writing Steampunk. Heaven help us all if I do. Hold onto your goggles, hats, and weapons ladies. Steampunk may never be the same. I just hope I don't break anything. Stay tuned.

 
When I dream about a Steampunk typewriter. This is it.

For those of you who are not yet acquainted with Steampunk, let me show you what Wiikipedia has to say on the subject.

Steampunk is a sub-genre of Science Fiction characterized by a setting in which steam power predominates as the energy source for industrial technologies, inspired by industrial civilization during the 19th century. Typically, therefore, works of steampunk are set in an alternate history of the 19th century's British Victorian era or American Wild West; in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has regained mainstream usage; or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. Steampunk perhaps most recognizably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in this era's perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art. Such technology may include fictional machines like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or the contemporary authors Philip Pullman, Scott Westerfeld, and China Mieville. Other examples of Steampunk contain alternate history-style presentations of such technology as lighter-than-air airships, analog computers, or such digital mechanical computers as Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace's Analytical Engine.

Steampunk may also, though not necessarily, incorporate additional elements from the genres of fantasy, horror, historical fiction, alternate history, or other branches of speculative fiction, making it often a hybrid genre. The term Steampunk originated during the 1980s and early 1990s, though now retroactively refers to many works of fiction created even as far back as the 19th century itself.

Steampunk also refers to any of the artistic styles, clothing fashions, or subcultures, that have developed from the aesthetics of Steampunk fiction. Various modern utilitarian objects have been modded by individual artisans into a pseudo-Victorian mechanical Steampunk style, and a number of visual and musical artists have been described as Steampunk.

Year ago, longer than I would like to admit, I wrote that "the science in science fiction cannot be used as a gimmick." Read The Doomsday Theme in Science Fiction, 1981. What I have seen of late with so-called Steampunk, is that the science and technology are absent altogether. Just because you run around dressed in period costume carrying a gadget doesn't make your story Steampunk. It becomes a period piece with the nouveau Victorian trappings of Steampunk but nothing more, something I would like to call the Street Urchin look or Technopunk, but without the steam that gives the sub-genre its name. The steam in Steampunk is often literal, but usually used as a symbol for the plethora of science and technology of the Victorian Period. But what I have seen recently is that the basis of the literature is simply not there.

Where would The Time Machine be without the technology of the machine as energy collector and emitter on a large scale but very electronic and transistor-like of Wells far ahead of his time and predictive as all get out, of energy being transformed from one form to another, or the nature of time itself or the theory behind time travel? Where would Frankenstein be without the biology of body parts sewn together and reanimated with electricity? As an aside, like H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley was also a visionary. Remember, I wrote back in 1981 that Science Fiction is predictive. And please stop referring to Victor Frankenstein as Doctor Frankenstein. Read the book. He is a first year biology drop out, flunky, and mental midget playing God. It's Hollywood that made him a Doctor. So, where is Steampunk without technology?

The Victorian Period was filled with so many technical discoveries and innovations. There is so much to include and to play with in Steampunk stories. So, why are current so-called Steampunk writers not including the science and technology? It confounds me. Perhaps they are merely dilettantes with mental health issues playing adult dress up who would be better off writing something else if they are even writing at all.

So, this is my promise: I'm going to put the steam back in Steampunk. My stories will always have technology at the heart of them for good or bad, and usually both. And the technology will be used as an active part of my stories, as a character in and of itself, and never used as merely a gadget, gimmick or gizmo. You have my word.

Now you know.

from the imagination of Mark A. Carter - novelist

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