Two nights ago, my friend and recently published author, Jason Manard, revealed to me that his next work will be set in a Steampunk culture. My glassy-eyed expression revealed that I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.
He explained that there is a popular subculture called Steampunk, with its basic origins in a particular sect of science fiction literature that mashes retro-futuristic, steam-powered modern technology against stylized Victorian settings.
As a lifelong fan of all things Victoriana, this immediately perked my interest, and I’ve spent the better part of the last 48 hours learning about it.
I think the gravitational center of Steampunk is a longing for a past that never was. Creatively, it embraces a fictional time when a computer could indeed run on steam, when dapper gentlemen with clean shirt cuffs and pocket watches could be mad scientists working by gaslight in the fog-shrouded night, and when an object’s uniqueness and beauty were just as important as its functioning guts. Although I’m sure Jason would think of other popular works, perhaps graphic novels, the stories that immediately come to my mind are Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the late 60’s television show The Wild Wild West, and Sean Connery’s film The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
The idea appeals to me. Unlike some of the subcultures that posit a dark future, everything I’ve learned so far about Steampunk shows that it has a hopeful heart. It’s a balance between modern technology and tradition. It celebrates a quality of slower living with a distinct focus on fine craftsmanship. Things are moving way too fast these days, and Steampunk is a way to throw this cultural machine into reverse. I’m happy to know that I’m not the only one manifesting a desire to go back to the beginnings of modern technology, the time of the Industrial Revolution and the Victorians.
So, while I continue to dig into this new fascination, here’s wishing that Herr Manard shows up one day, dressed as a turn-of-the-century jungle explorer, smoking a hand carved meerschaum pipe like Sherlock Holmes, and with a wink behind his Steampunk-inspired gold monacle eye piece, exclaims: “Saw your piece on me! Capitol idea! You sir, are a rummy old cove!”