Thursday, 4 December 2008

Steampunk – The genre comes of age?

That's a rather odd title really, as the Steampunk genre has been around pretty much since the era that it is so obsessed with. I have some lengthy train journeys ahead of me this weekend and thus picked up a couple of paperbacks, one of which is Extraordinary Machines, the 'definitive' Steampunk anthology (according to the cover). Now, I love the idea of the genre itself, but have never really read much, if any fiction that is labelled as such. I have friends that are huge fans of the whole concept, the whole shebang, right down to creating their own outfits and props, but that all seems a bit much for me personally. I do love the notion though, and the imagery is undeniably powerful.

But what is the draw of Steampunk for the modern audience? It can't be nostlgia, as the era that Steampunk encapsulates is much too distant for current readers. I'd put it down to a number of things, but one of the main things I think that gets people into the genre is the sense of adventure that it seems to create, a gung-ho sort of feel that isn't reliant on the latest gadgets at least not by our current standards). The genre has been bubbling away in its own little corner of SF, fantasy and horror since the seventies,SF old and new, who is only just taking a dip into the genre.

I'm curious. I'm curious about how the stories work within their era specific contexts. I'm curious as to what the characters will be like. You see, I'm picturing dashing adventurers and dastardly villains, with a healthy dose of airships, brass robots and cog-driven Doomsday machines. I'm hoping at least for escapism. That much, I think, is certain to be offered in these pages, but I'm more curious than excited. I want to see if the genre has some substance. It certainly has a readership, and it certainly has a growing fanbase all over the world, but is it actually any good?

Looking at the talent on offer in this anthology, there does seem to be a great deal of weight behind it (Robert Reed's name on a list of contents tends to always be a good sign). Really though, I am thrilled that the genre is around, as it reminds the contemporary audience of the origins of the speculative genres, not to mention pointing them in the direction of some of the books that tarted it all, and that can never be a bad thing. While the current crop of writers may never match the wonder of Verne, Wells and their peers, they can still inspire and thrill. I look forward to bringing you a full review soon, and more thoughts on a genre that seems like it shouldn't work, but does so well.

Incidentally, posts will now be much more frequent. My brain is starting to bulge with all the ideas and articles on SF, fantasy, New Media and more that I want to offer you. There will be some changes to this blog and my online presence soon, and the amount of content will grow and evolve. Here's to 2009, and all of our futures.

Andrew Hawnt, Dec 2008

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