Alternate Nineteenth Centuries

Jul 3, 01:09 by IROSF
Comment Below!
Jul 11, 14:15 by Nader Elhefnawy
Hi everybody. Ran across this post on io9 that I thought was worth mentioning here-Annalee Newitz on the "Singularity backlash" (with which she connects steampunk).

You can check it out here:
Jul 11, 15:52 by Bluejack
And, for an easier link, try this: singularity backlash
Jul 11, 16:18 by Lois Tilton
It strikes me that this is a sign of the failure of the imagination.
The post-singularity universe, which is essentially a post-human universe, is so alien that it's difficult to imagine effectively in fictional terms.
Jul 11, 16:40 by Michael Andre-Driussi
Interesting to be reminded of how the new term, when it takes hold, applies retroactively. As was the case with the term "science fiction" itself. Thus steampunk, like sf, was a word to describe something that had already been around for decades--"The Wild, Wild West," which had been seen as a James Bond/cowboy mash-up in its day, now is viewed in this different light.

So if "things keep going on . . . " with Green tech and/or post-metallic technology, we may yet validate the marginalized Stonepunk and see the thread connecting "The Flintstones" to "Gilligan's Isle," maybe even including Harry Harrison's Eden Trilogy of biotech dino-humanoids (although that would probably be the "other camp" of the new ideology).

Possible Problems

in "A Return to Literary Roots" section,
2nd para, 2nd sentence:

"And its earliest heroes and villains--Captain Nemo and Allan Quartermain . . ."

Granting the possible ambiguity of Nemo's role, I don't think Quartermain is normally considered a villain, and so I think the ordering should be "Allan Quartermain and Captain Nemo."
Jul 11, 18:03 by Nader Elhefnawy
Ms. Tilton: Agreed about the failure of imagination. I discussed that point at some length in my article on the "end of science fiction" debate in The Fix last year.

Mr. Andre-Driussi: I'll grant the point regarding the parallelism in that sentence.

In any case, the labels are generally coined to discuss something that's already there (this is frequently even the case when the label appears in a manifesto), so that tendency seems only natural, rather than an overeager application of it to anything and everything (though that does sometimes happen).

Additionally, the Bond/cowboy mash-up, which is how it was conceived at the time, is not mutually exclusive from the view of that series as steampunk. After all, James Bond is often labeled science fiction, given the imaginary tech that is routinely part of the story, though this obviously applies much better to something like Moonraker than Casino Royale (book and film).

I would go so far as to say that bringing the James Bond element (technologically and culturally anachronistic to the Victorian era) to the Western is very much in line with what we talk about when we refer to steampunk. It is also worth noting that something like that is also seen in The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne (a show which came along at a time when steampunk was already fairly mature as a labeled, recognizable and self-aware genre), in its reimagining Phileas Fogg as a 19th-century James Bond type (someone quite different from Verne's conception of him in Around the World in Eighty Days).
Jul 16, 17:31 by Adrian Simmons
Interesting article. However, I have to wonder if a big part of the trend isn't that it is easier (or perhaps a better word is more palatable) for readers to delve into fiction with gears and gaslamps than atomics and quantum whatevers.

Like it or not, most people view science as "hard" and thus instintively avoid it. Perhaps if you wrap it in enough leather and brass and corsets you can overcome that instinctive avoidance.

Then, on the flipside, you've got fairly scientfically literate readers who know (or have gathered that) there will never be lightspeed travel/warp engines/wormholes, whatever, and the idea of the technological path not-taken, becomes an easy (or easier) sell.

Jul 17, 13:38 by Nader Elhefnawy
Actually, I thought I'd discussed that point, in the section quoted below:

Few would argue against there being a substantial aesthetic component to the attraction. The roaring furnaces, the masses of gears and valves, the sheer weight of steel in so much of the visual media of steampunk-themed films, comics and television shows appear wonderfully tangible next to the molecular technologies of today, too small to be seen, their workings too abstruse for a non-specialist to have a true "feel" for them. Someone who is not a trained engineer can easily wrap their mind around an explanation of how a steam engine worksóbut not very much after that, the distance between steam and internal combustion engines (let alone atomic power) being an important break point in the relationship between science and culture.(7)

Jul 17, 13:38 by Nader Elhefnawy
I finished my reply in the last message. I just made this one by accident.
Jul 27, 03:01 by
interesting topic--original. not just 'lets review the new fantasy name that everyone's already read'....


also, would you consider the Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel book in this vein? That and the Bartimeus trilogy--both seem to fit the description well, although i'm not sure Barty is quite that far back.
Jul 27, 15:59 by Nader Elhefnawy

Jonathan Strange is an easy fit because of the Regency setting. I'm not as sure about Stroud's trilogy (which I have to admit I haven't read), mainly because of the setting.

But the pairing of those works does raise a question: is it still "steampunk" if the speculative element comes from magic and fantasy rather than what we more usually think of as technology? A lot of really foundational stuff (Powers, Jeter, etc.) does contain magic, so I'd answer yes, even if the name of the genre itself tends to conjure up an image of steam-age machinery.
Jul 27, 18:07 by Michael Andre-Driussi
More paradoxical, to me at least, is the relation of steampunk to the Oz books. Granted that any recent revision of Oz, like "Wicked," for example, is clearly steampunk, still, the Oz books, written in the real steam age, seem locked out of steampunk for this reason of history.

And yet, the Oz texts themselves seem like exactly the heady, gonzo, genre-bending mash-up that is implied (or required) by the "-punk" suffix. Oz is a land of real magic and rubbery technology. Tin Woodsmen and clockwork soldiers, to be sure, but also a powder that will cause inanimate objects to come to life--holy DIY Frankenstein! Oz is not the sort of "quasi-medieval" world that is such a huge staple of genre fantasy, but it is far less a "science fiction."

As for James Bond and The Wild, Wild West. The SF element of Bond is more the nature of the Thriller genre. The point in Moonraker, iirc the book, is that the rocket fuel was one of the real proposed fuels that later on wasn't actually used (for safety and ecological reasons). That is, the science of the dingus was quite rigid (as opposed to the ridiculous ballistics of Bond's gunplay--for example, his use of his favorite .25 caliber against a guy coming toward him in a speeding train). For Bond/West, the agent has a technology that is slightly ahead, whereas the Bad Guy usually has a technology that is, say, two steps ahead. For West, the kick here is that he can have =real= technology that is retrofitted: plastic explosive in his boot heel, etc. For Bond, in Thriller mode, this means that real technology might go in a completely different way, aging the text rapidly.
Jul 27, 22:05 by Lois Tilton
That is, as you say, the very reason Oz books can't be steampunk, they lack the alternate view, the view from outside - which is I think the essence of the "punk" element.

Jul 28, 13:38 by Nader Elhefnawy
Agreed; the element of anachronism is crucial, which is why not only Oz, but Verne, Wells and other "fantastic Victoriana" are not classed as such (except when redone later, as in some film versions). Still, that is an interesting example. And the qualifications of the Bond/West series as SF are noted.

Incidentally, it would seem worth noting here, particularly where the sense of the Victorian world's passing is concerned, that Harry Patch, the "last soldier to fight in the trenches of Europe during World War I, died Saturday at the age of 111," an event widely noted in the press. (Among other places, you can check out the story here:

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