Saturated with Steam

Steampunk is a mad popular subgenre of SFF these days. You can’t hardly swing a frozen matchstick girl without hitting a dirigible or someone who glued a bunch of gears on a top hat. It comes in part from the joy of a comprehensible future-that-never-was, one built out of machines that are beautiful and whose workings are more easily understood than those made of silicon and electron holes. Steampunkers also get the chance to dress up in fancy neo-Victorian outfits and build ornamental devices out of brass and wood.

While I’m not devoted to the steampunk aesthetic, I enjoy elements of it and am sympathetic to its devotees. At the British Museum I stared in awe and wonder at the clock displays until Misty dragged me away. If that impulse in me was ten times stronger, I expect I’d be building steampunk computers.

As with anything that becomes popular, there’s been a pushback against steampunk. I’ve seen people complaining about Yet Another Steampunk Novel, especially those where the authors are merely aping what previous authors have written. I’ve heard the sneering claim that “steampunk is what happens when goths discover brown”. But while steampunk is popular, I’m not sure it’s that omnipresent.

Well, ok, the TV show Castle incorporated steampunk into a recent episode, but that’s an isolated case of the mainstream acknowledging this SFF subculture —

Wait, what was that, NPR? What did I just hear in the article about The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger, the new band featuring Sean “yes, John was my dad” Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl?

Muhl: “I think Victorian science is sort of our favorite aesthetic, you know. Right when the world was still sort of crafted of leather and wood, but they were discovering atoms and electricity.”

Right, steampunk’s now as overdone as zombies. Time to shoot it in the head.