Quite recently, I was involved in a discussion of books, self-publishing and, in particular, my soon-to-be-published novella, Behind Her Mask was Death. During the discussion, I was talking about fantasy and how my book is not straight fantasy, but of a more steampunk-ish persuasion, and was promptly asked for a definition of the word ‘steampunk.’ As I stuttered my way through a rather confusing and (I’m sure) quite incomprehensible explanation, it occurred to me that, perhaps, there are other people who require clarification on what exactly steampunk is and why I have chosen to write it.
Steampunk is… steampunk. It is something that you recognize by sight. There is no simple, Oxford English Dictionary definition or, at least, not one that can encompass steampunk in all its multifaceted glory. Steampunk is gears and leather and grand Victoriana and blatant anachronism which, as all right minded people will agree, simply ought not to be allowed. It is dust and faded dresses, old things from your grandmothers attic torn up to make new things, costumes hung with old cogs and bits of clockwork, grand adventures in dirigibles, keys, cobblestone streets, dark back alleys, and smog. It is something I am drawn to because am repelled by our slick, clean, user friendly vision of the future, with white plastic walls and softly glowing buildings, where everything is so very safe and huggable.
There is something about the gears and the dirt and tooled leather and cumbersome dresses and intricately crafted metal filigree which attracts me. Perhaps it is because that world seems so much more hands on, full of real people doing real work to make the world run along smoothly, old clockwork and decrepit buildings and some vision of Victorian London gone wild, skylines cluttered with smokestacks and airships. It’s a world where everything is so much more complicated, and yet somehow simpler, where real people interact on an everyday basis, not through computers or screens or hand held devices. It’s a place that forces you to put down your Pokémon Go and look around at the real world (well, the imaginary one, I guess). There’s so much scope for the imagination.
So, yes, thank you, I’ll take my sulfur yellow skies and rusty old gears, all those odd little hats, goggles (of course), corsets, coal smoke, dirty rivers, afternoon tea, chintz curtains, overstuffed armchairs and soot. There’s good stuff in there. I think I’ll build something.