Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Age of Steampunk

|   BOOKISH RAMBLES   |

My Thoughts on All Things in the Creative World


As some of you may know, my current work in progress is a novel called Run Like Clockwork. And you might be able to tell from that title that it's a steampunk story. (If you wanted to be really nitty-gritty, I think it's more clockpunk, but that's going off on a tangent.) And I'm very excited about it - I've been planning it for nearly seven years! But something else which excites me is that steampunk is coming a little more into the mainstream.

A lot of people in alternative subculture have noticed this - and even those who don't identify as steampunks, goths or hippies have probably seen it too, even if they don't know the exact term for it. Me personally, it first struck me last year when I heard about Hullabaloo: a movie project by some of the legends of the animation world. It would attempt to revive traditional 2D animation amid the tidal wave of 3D - and it would do it with a steampunk theme. Then at the beginning of this year, I had a wander around my local Ikea. After I'd finished my typical ritual of fawning over bookcases and knick-knacks, I found a collection of artsy exposed lightbulbs atop brass fixtures. They were rustic, yet modern; I could easily imagine them sticking out of some kind of Nikola Tesla apparatus.

After that, I started noticing brass everywhere. It didn't just stop at the light fittings; many ornaments started popping up. The exposed bulbs showed up on distressed wooden boxes and even reclaimed railway sleepers. Jewellery and accessories here and there started to take on a golden look, often embellished with keys or tiny pieces of clockwork. Clothes, even in some high-street shops, began appearing with a bit of lace here and there, as though gently harking back to the Victorian era.


It is clear to me, as I know it is to a lot of people. Steampunk is coming.

But what exactly is steampunk?

Renowned author G. D. Falksen explains this in his own fantastic post, but in basic terms, steampunk is essentially Victorian science fiction. Imagine if the Industrial Revolution had never ended, and the 19th century ideology never waned. Suppose electricity had never really happened and society continued to rely on steam power, which constantly evolved and improved while never leaving behind its roots.

As a movement, steampunk is relatively new when compared to other subcultures, but its literary roots go back practically to the Victorian age itself. You could argue that the works of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells were the precursors to what would become steampunk.

In their day, it was plain science fiction, and unlike anything that had been done before. But with the rise of science fiction as a genre came the chance to truly experiment with how colourful the imagination could be. The 1800s were a time of literary greats anyway; the century gave birth to the likes of the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, Emily Dickinson, Oscar Wilde and Jane Austen. And there was a growing interest of what could be achieved, not just in the machine world, but on paper. Such classics as The War of the Worlds and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea created a space where fantasy could get a foothold in later decades, bringing us J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, and all the other authors who could since follow in their footsteps.


In short, it all amounted to be a volatile yet perfect cocktail of experimentation and breaking boundaries. So it seems to make sense that nowadays, in our age of challenging the norm and encouraging change, that steampunk is on the rise. It recalls the tradition and nostalgia of the Victorian era but with a modern twist. It presents something old and reworks it in a new light. It is different, but not too much to frighten people away. Hence why it is managing to easily infiltrate its way into the mainstream, and why it is being so accepted as a new trend.



But, let's be honest, trends are nothing new. They go in circles, with different things coming in and out of fashion through time. Me personally, I find it very refreshing to see remnants of centuries past working their way back into our lives.

So, if you really think about it, we're entering the second age of steampunk - even if, like Verne and Wells - we don't really know what exactly that is until it's here.


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