Friday, March 15, 2013

Fiction Features: What is Steampunk?

By Jacob Donley

Five years ago, I’d never heard of Steampunk. As the sub-genre has increased dramatically over the years, I've heard more and more, and all of it has been positive.. While listening to The Dead Robots' Society  podcast, in episode 175 with author Philippa (Pip) Ballantine  as a guest, the DRS crew talk with Pip about "What is Steam punk?" I have the book STEAMPUNK , edited by Ann and Jeff Vandermeer. I haven't been able to wrangle the time to sit down and read it quite yet, but while doing a homework assignment for school, I took the time to open a new tab on my browser and steer to one of her sites, The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences . One of the pages on the site leads you to one titled, What is Steampunk ? , which has all kinds of information for anyone who is interested in learning more about this genre of writing. I've always been interested in the ways that cultures are built, and it appears, according the website already mentioned, that a lot revolves around what if all of the devices that we enjoy today were powered by steam?  This includes airplanes, whatever they would look like if powered by some kind of steam engine, all the way down to a child's toy that in our society might run off batteries. That covers the steam portion in perhaps the broadest sense of the notion. To me, that is a great and interesting take on an amalgam of science fiction and fantasy. It's a steam powered world and the writer has control of the vent release mechanism. Brilliant!
But...where does the punk come into this equation? According to The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences  view on the "punk" in Steampunk, punk is going against the convention of that society’s norms. "That makes sense," you might say, but apparently, people have different views on this since the genres emerging popularity. It's becoming commercialized and much of the punk attitude that made it appealing in the first place is beginning to be washed out. In a sense, it is much the same as what happened to punk music as it became more popular. In the music scene, there is the "original punk" that arose in the late '70's and into the 80's and there is today's punk, which some bands were able to keep that edge of "going against THE MAN". However, a growing number of bands, many people believe, have gone commercial  and would be better labeled as pop-punk. Many original writers in the Steampunk movement have probably seen this and would like to label these writers into a different genre I like to call, Steampop. Of course that is my opinion as an outsider to the movement itself.
If you would like more information on Steampunk, I would recommend going to the "What is Steampunk?" link listed above.