Friday, October 10, 2008

Our Writing Sins... Wait, I Mean Brass Goggles and Steampunk

I had a great Yom Kippur post lined up about "writing sins," but I haven't got time to write it now. One of the perils of blogging from work is that when work is busy (or my day is artificially shortened) I don't have the time to steal for a little blogging. Anyway, I'll try to post about Writing Sins over the weekend (call it a bonus post), or Monday at the latest.

Instead, I'm going to take a moment to introduce you all to one of the inhabitants of my blogroll. Brass Goggles is a great blog all about steampunk, one of my favorite genres. What is steampunk, you ask? Let me tell you.

Wikipedia on steampunk:
"Steampunk is a subgenre of fantasy and speculative fiction that came into prominence in the 1980s and early 1990s. The term denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century, and often set in Victorian era England—but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy..."
But really, that definition is both limited and vague. The rest of the Wikipedia article is worth reading, but steampunk is so much more and so much more focused, at least for me.

To me, steampunk is best characterized by an odd juxtaposition of elements. The culture is archetypal, hyper-real Victoriana, complete with a highly stratified class structure, intimations of imperialism, and Victorian sensibilities of dress, behavior, and aesthetics. At the same time, the setting is full of advanced technology that is equal parts rough and unfinished (the "punk") and ornate, Victorian, and often ostensibly steam-powered (the "steam"). As the Wikipedia article noted, fantasy and science-fiction elements often exist side by side.

Steampunk aesthetics are increasingly popular these days. In some ways, it's become the new goth. You can find steampunk all over the place. My favorite sources that you might not have heard of already: the inimitable Girl Genius, a free webcomic by Phil and Kaja Foglio and the nifty indie roleplaying game Full Light, Full Steam by Kallisti Press. I've also got a steampunk story in the works that just might have a novel buried inside it.

What appeals to me about steampunk?

Well, first of all, I have a mania for syncreticism, the combination of disparate sources into a coherent whole. When Christianity is combined with animistic African faiths, you get Voodoo where Catholic Saints act as intercessors between man and spirits, who are all in turn masks for God. When you add fairy tale logic (not to mention fairies) to the challenges of modern life, you get urban fantasy. When you add neofeudal sensibilities to far future science fiction, you get... well, Dune and it's imitators, but it's still damned cool. And when you add outrageous high tech to Victorian England, you get steampunk. I don't know exactly what it is about the juxtaposition of elements that turns my literary crank, but it really does.

I also find the genre full of delicious, juicy possibilities. You have a strict culture that denies basic human impulses like lust and artificially stratifies society into classes. You have cool advanced technology that looks interesting: goodbye sleek, boring phasers and dime-a-dozen space ships, hello steam-powered giant robots with perfectly proportioned women's faces and electrified sword-canes.

And, of course, zeppelins. We can't forget the zeppelins.

Which brings us back to Brass Goggles (and the realization that, long as this post has turned out to be, I could have just gone and written about sinning).

Brass Goggles is a central switchboard for steampunk news, from heads ups about steampunk fiction you can buy in bookstores to steampunk flash games you can play in your browser. Best of all, in my humble opinion, are the photographs of steampunk creations, home-made costume pieces crafted by steampunk enthusiasts everywhere they have internet.

So check out Brass Goggles. And stay tuned for more writing on writing from yours truly.

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And, I almost forgot, a special thanks goes out to my friend Inga, who kindly helped me resize the burning zeppelin above so that it fits just right. Thank you, Inga - may the burning zeppelin in your sky never fall down.


Unknown said...

Hey, you forgot Steamboy!

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, I haven't actually seen Steamboy. But if I had, it'd be there.