Steampunk?

Visually taken with art and artifacts that get categorized as steampunk, and having enjoyed a few Jules Verne novels as an adolescent, I decided to delve into written steampunk (those dreaded subgenres again). OneMonkey very kindly went off to a not so local library to pick up Extraordinary Engines: The Definitive Steampunk Anthology (Solaris, 2008) and I had high hopes. Unfortunately I was largely disappointed; the definition of steampunk seems vague at best, one story was what I’d class as fantasy (it did feature steam, but that’s stretching things a bit) and most of the rest were greater or lesser Verne clones. Not to say there weren’t some enjoyable stories in there, but I felt there should be something fundamentally different from HG Wells et al. For what it’s worth, I did nevertheless (subgenres aside) enjoy Steampunch by James Lovegrove (a monologue at a penal colony, telling of the rise and fall of robot boxers with enjoyable detail); Speed, Speed the Cable by Kage Baker (the laying of the Trans-Atlantic telegraph cable, in true old-fashioned style including gentlemen’s clubs); Petrolpunk by Adam Roberts (parallel universes and her immortal majesty Queen Victoria); Fixing Hanover by Jeff VanderMeer (a fugitive’s fragile new existence disrupted). There were a couple that would no doubt be called feminist but if the gender roles were reversed there’d be an outcry at the portrayal of violence against women, but I’m not going to start on that old rant again.

When I started thinking about steampunk recently, Robert Rankin sprang to mind as an author in that line, but I didn’t think I’d heard anyone call him steampunk. Since then I’ve seen one or two magazines mention Rankin and steampunk in the same breath, and met someone who put me in mind of Hugo Rune who told me Robert Rankin had been the main guest at a recent steampunk convention. So that’s alright then.

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3 comments

  1. Have you read the “poststeampunk/post cyberpunk” novel The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson? I don’t know if those genre definitions I used above work at all…. It’s so confusing.

    Jeff VanderMeer’s the best fantasy writer out there in my humble opinion at the moment. Shriek: An Afterword is a wonderful and original work in a genre which desperately needs originality — and, it’s so literate!

    1. I haven’t read any Neal Stephenson, maybe I should – my cousin’s recommended his stuff before. I think subgenre classifications do more harm than good – one man’s post-cyberpunk is another’s neo-apocalyptic technofable, and then people get so snobbish about which ones they won’t read.
      I should probably try more Jeff VanderMeer too, or at the very least read the interview with him in Interzone 229 which has been sitting by my bureau for a while.

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