Why Steampunk?

By Phyllis Irene Radford

Two years ago I immersed myself in all things Steampunk when I first agreed to help edit “The Shadow Conspiracy, Tales Shadow Conspiracy IIfrom the Age of Steam,” for the Book View Café.   Little did I know that that anthology was only Volume I.  Volume II was released early in 2011 and a third is in the works.  And now I will also be developing a new Steampunk anthology for Skywarrior Books.

I grew excited about the project in ways that hadn’t sparked my interest in a long time.  With Steampunk I had access to adventure, to Romance (in the classic literary sense), I could invent marvelous toys and gadgets, I had real history to tweak in ways that made sense and thumbed a nose at prejudices and haughty scholars.

The more I worked with the stories the more I realized that Steampunk is not just about the things you can do with steam.  It is a sensibility, an approach to life, and a new way of looking at issues–through goggles if you will.I have found Steampunk all around me.  Not just in books, movies, and TV shows that shouted steam at every turn, but in subtle ways.  In interior of the Tardis on Dr. Who looks and sounds as if it belongs in a Jules Verne tale.  In watching the DVDs of the TV series Farscape, I find some of the same flowing elegance in the living ship Moya as I do in many a luxurious upscale steam train.

The huge “What if” factor in both of those shows is similar to the Steampunk movement.

At PDX Gearcon 2011, my first Steampunk convention, one of the topics tossed around frequently was that Steampunk allows us to explore the human relationship with technology.  In our current reality we seem addicted to technology without the knowledge or ability to understand the microscopic layers of silicon and circuitry.  With steam, the gadgets are large enough that we can follow the hoses and coils, the pipes and the fuel, visually discover the logic of the design and fix it if need be with “found” tools and material.

Steampunk may have grown huge through the costume movement.  It lingers for other reasons than just lace, velvet, goggles, and grease.

Steam engines are not just practical; they are elegant, as elegant as an artfully draped skirt or embroidered cuff.  They come from an era when craftsmen designed beauty into their creations and took the time to make every seam align and flow into decoration.  The gilding and flounces were as much a part of the function as the hoses and coils, the heat and the hiss.

As we romp through the stories and adventures, marveling at the possibilities of science and magic entwining, the mysterious flux and flow of the ephemeral steam, we also get a chance to tweak with the laws and morality of the Victorian Age that have come to dominate modern life.  In Steampunk, (this is Alternate History after all) women can stand beside the men as equals; they can tromp through jungles, climb mountains, and fix the bloody engine.  All the while they will do it with grace and aplomb with an eye toward sensible fashion.  After all, a corset is not just a symbol of sexual bondage; it contains useful raw materials and tools within the stays.  It can become a woman’s barrier against unwanted advances.  And when she chooses to take it off?  Oh, the slow and wonderful possibilities that can follow.

I invite you to explore the age of steam, the sensibilities, the marvelous “what if” factor, and the optimistic energy of Steampunk.  I think the movement is here to stay.

Phyllis Irene Radford is a founding member of the Book View Café.  Though raised in the seaports of America she was born in Portland and has lived in and around the city since her junior year in high school.  She thrives in the damp and loves the tall trees.

For more about her and her fiction please visit her bookshelf here on BVC http://www.bookviewcafe.com/index.php/Phyllis-Irene-Radford/

Or her personal web page ireneradford.com


About Phyllis Irene Radford

Irene Radford has been writing stories ever since she figured out what a pencil was for. A member of an endangered species—a native Oregonian who lives in Oregon—she and her husband make their home in Welches, Oregon where deer, bears, coyotes, hawks, owls, and woodpeckers feed regularly on their back deck. A museum trained historian, Irene has spent many hours prowling pioneer cemeteries deepening her connections to the past. Raised in a military family she grew up all over the US and learned early on that books are friends that don’t get left behind with a move. Her interests and reading range from ancient history, to spiritual meditations, to space stations, and a whole lot in between. Mostly Irene writes fantasy and historical fantasy including the best-selling Dragon Nimbus Series and the masterwork Merlin’s Descendants series. In other lifetimes she writes urban fantasy as P.R. Frost or Phyllis Ames, and space opera as C.F. Bentley. Later this year she ventures into Steampunk as someone else. If you wish information on the latest releases from Ms Radford, under any of her pen names, you can subscribe to her newsletter: www.ireneradford.net Promises of no spam, merely occasional updates and news of personal appearances.


Why Steampunk? — 4 Comments

  1. The Age of Steam though, was awfully dangerous. There’s a reason the stokers were so often people of color — or,as before the Civil War, on the steamboats plying the MIssissippi, out-and-out slaves.

    Love, C.

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  3. Foxessa,

    Like the SCA, Steampunk practitioners are dealing with a fantasy world of how history SHOULD have been. Yes the steam engines are dangerous, especially if you don’t know what you are doing. Yes there was blatant racism at the time. But there are other issues the movement addresses and Steampunk from non-white, non-colonial points of view is emerging.

    But the moment any movement begins to take itself too seriously is the beginning of its death knoll. Steampunk is fun. That’s what keeps it exciting and different.

  4. The steampunk work I’ve liked a great deal — and very much so because that was its design — was the 2007 film version of The Golden Compass.

    Love, C.