This post is courtesy of B.J. Keeton.
Book reviews are funny things. They’re all basically opinions, and when you get lots of them together, they’re often contradictory. I mean, some might say “this book puts the sauce in awesomesauce,” while the next may scream, “this book is totes teh sux!”
In reviews for Nimbus, I’ve seen them all. I’ve been told the book is too steampunky to be considered true fantasy, too fantastic to be real steampunk, and pretty much everything in between–with my favorite being that the novel was a useful gateway into the steampunk genre. My point is that everyone sees steampunk a little differently.
At its core, steampunk is science fiction. Only instead of looking to the what-if technology and cultures of the future, it looks backward to the what-if technology of the past–to the might-have-beens.
Because it’s science fiction, there’s a reasonable expectation for verisimilitude, for elements in the book to make logical and physical sense.
For instance, if something motorized is steam-powered, there needs to be some kind of pressure buildup before the motor begins to move, to do its job. If it’s a gun, it can’t just be point-and-shoot. If it’s a vehicle, it can’t just get up and go. For everything, there has to be a process. Water has to boil, steam has to form, and pressure has to be built up in order for it to be released.
And this is where it gets sticky. Because steampunk isn’t just steampunk. Steampunk can’t just be steampunk. It’s a genre, sure, but it’s an often-mixed genre. There’s steampunk fantasy, urban steampunk, gearpunk, historical steampunk, steampunk romance, YA steampunk, paranormal…well, you get my point.
And each of those crossed genres handles the elements of steampunk a little differently. Sometimes science is replaced by magic, and verisimilitude is glossed over in favor of storytelling.
Sometimes, the author doesn’t see steampunk as a genre as much as an aesthetic.
How I See It
I’m probably going to get some flak for this, but I’m not much of a fan of the hardcore, nuts-and-bolts (or is that gears-and-cogs?) steampunk where everything makes physical sense. (To be fair, I’m not as big a fan of hardcore, Larry Niven-style sci-fi as I am Star Wars-style science-fantasy, either.)
I like the elements of steampunk that make it fun–goggles and top hats and coattails, airships and automatons. I like steampunk cosplayers because they’re civilized, polite, and nice to other people. And I like how all of this is possible because of the way the genre and aesthetic play together.
To me, steampunk is about a conglomeration of ideas, a way of bringing together specific elements and seeing how they play with each other in different combinations. Sometimes, it’s very historical, othertimes fantastical.
But each and every time, the steampunkiness works for some people and doesn’t for others. I’m not a huge fan of James Blaylock or Michael Moorcock’s steampunk, but I love Corey Doctorow’s Dickensian “Clockwork Fagin” and collections like the Vandermeers’ Steampunk Reloaded.
So for me, the steampunk club is about playfulness and experimentation. Which is why my steampunk foray, Nimbus, is full of puns and jokes and aesthetic explorations instead of historical alterations and mechanical wizardry.
So my questions to you are simple: what makes something steampunky enough for the steampunk club? What does steampunk mean to you?