Thursday, 21 February 2013

Rising Steampunk (ROYA #7)

The popularity of Steampunk has mushroomed over the last few years. Some call it a movement, others argue it's a genre. Either way, steampunk has certainly struck a chord with a whole swathe of people. If you aren't familiar with this genre, it's essentially fantasy involving chimerical machinery inspired by the technology of the Industrial Revolution. Often it is set in a romanticised Victorian age or Wild West, or similarly harsh yesteryear where certain ideals are held about the almost magical possibilities of technology. Ideals that are best represented by H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, and Fritz Lang's Metropolis [pictured right].

I first became aware of steampunk through Cassandra Clare's The Infernal Devices.  Those of you familiar with this series will be aware this means I only clicked to it about two years ago. That's not to say that I hadn't encountered it before, more that I hadn't realised what it was called. In my ignorance I'd never thought to question what type of fantasy it was, assuming it was simply historical fantasy, or something equally as dry sounding. The very word steampunk conjures up sizzling images of rebellion and excitement in my mind's eye. In fact, it's even given me the idea for another YA series I'd like to write. But I'm keeping the details of that to myself,  for now at least. What I will say though is that I'm going to be reading plenty more steampunk novels.

Turns out, practically everyone has been having a go of late.  I'm not saying I like everything that is produced. I wasn't particularly impressed with Hugo, Martin Scorsese's effort, finding it awfully cliched and lacking a certain je ne sais quoi. More recent, popular creations have been Hellboy and The City of Lost Children [pictured left], both coincidentally starring fire-hunting caveman Ron Pearlman.*  Steampunk litters book stores and cinema screens, spawning legions of fan groups and full-time dresser-uppers. What is it about it that appeals to so many, making it positively en vogue?

I was asked to review a steampunk anthology recently, and what struck me was how versatile a genre it really is. Much like Young Adult, although not quite so all-encompassing, it can be accessed through various fantasy levels. Sure, there are those who wish to define the genre, but why limit it? Why over-regulate something that has such broad appeal and accessibility? It seems akin to a child issuing the rules to their own little game, then throwing a huff when everyone else refuses to step in line. The way I see it, steampunk opens its arms to all who wish to tinker with its creative possibilities.  I've read criticisms that it whitewashes stories, and ignores some of history's harsher realities like racism and slavery.  The counter-argument is that it is fantasy, and not meant to be realistic. However, my belief is that keeping the genre open to adaptability is what is key in sustaining its success, as well as keeping both of these camps happy.

But why now? What is it about steampunk that gets us all ticking? In an age of ever advancing technology, with the world at our fingertips, it can't be the case that we all wish to regress, can it?  As employment and food prices continue to rise into the unattainable for all but the wealthy, I wonder if it is the idea of a time of hope and possibility that we all yearn for; The notion that the fruits of our manual labour can make our wildest dreams spring to mechanical life.  It appears that the ideals of an age past, where technology represented a bright and promising future, is more preferable to the reality of our technological age.

Above: Steampunk Heart by WilliemXSM
sourced from Deviantart 

*Okay, not in real life, but he was one in Quest for Fire.

Remember, if you have something that you think would be of interest to ROYA, email me at with ROYA and your name as the subject.

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